The English King Who Drank Himself To Death In Lambeth

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By M@ Last edited 6 months ago
The English King Who Drank Himself To Death In Lambeth

A fatal wedding and a poisoned king. Was Game of Thrones inspired by an obscure chapter from London's past? The following story has us wondering.

The death of Harthacnut in Lambeth

Everyone knows Edward the Confessor — the king who founded Westminster Abbey and whose death set in motion the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings. But who's heard of his predecessor, King Harthacnut?

Harthacnut, whose name means 'tough knot' was the son of King Cnut and Emma of Normandy. He ruled England for just two years, 1040-1042, though he'd also sat on the Danish throne since 1035. Harthacnut's early demise came about under deliciously mysterious circumstances.

The young king, aged something like 24, was at a wedding in Lambeth, probably where the Archbishop's Palace stands today. The groom was a wealthy lord called Tovi the Proud while the bride was Gytha, daughter of the courtier Osgod Clapa.

The happy occasion, recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles as 8 June 1042, soon turned to tragedy. According to this account, Harthacnut rose to toast the bride and groom but never completed his speech. He 'died as he stood at his drink, and he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; and those who were close by took hold of him, and he spoke no word afterwards'.

Whether he died on the spot or lingered for several days depends on which source you believe. Either way, it's all very Joffrey, don't you think?

The official line was that Harthacnut had drank himself to death. Poisoning, though, seems a credible explanation for the sudden demise. Harthacnut was, by all accounts, an intimidating, vicious ruler. Like any medieval king, the fellow had plenty of political enemies. A leading theory (among many) suggests that Edward the Confessor, his direct successor, may have arranged the poisoned chalice, but we will never know.

Harthacnut remains an obscure and short-lived king of England yet, had he survived, the Norman invasion might never have happened. Our nation's history would have taken a very different turn and so too, we like to speculate, the plot of Game of Thrones.

Incidentally, Tovi the Proud, the groom at the fatal wedding, has inspired the name of a sweet shop in Waltham Abbey, where he once held land.

Last Updated 05 June 2018