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(d. 1038)
  • Emma Mason

Æthelnoth (d. 1038), archbishop of Canterbury, was a son of Æthelmær, ealdorman of the western shires, and grandson of Ealdorman Æthelweard, the chronicler. A Glastonbury story relates that, at his baptism by Dunstan, the infant held up his hand in the manner of a bishop blessing the people, whereupon Dunstan prophesied that he would become an archbishop. Æthelnoth became a monk of Glastonbury, and in later years, besides enlisting Cnut's support for Glastonbury, he donated to it a copy of Hrabanus Maurus's De laudibus sanctae crucis, and also a prayer book illuminated in gold. According to Osbern, Æthelnoth enjoyed Cnut's favour because he had given holy chrism to the king, implying his participation either in a ceremony of confirmation at Southampton in 1016, or else in Cnut's coronation by Archbishop Lyfing in 1017. Æthelnoth's brother Æthelweard was executed by Cnut in 1017, while a brother-in-law, also called Æthelweard, was banished in 1020.

Æthelnoth was dean of Christ Church, Canterbury, when, in 1020, he was elected archbishop, an elevation which may denote a reconciliation between the king and the survivors of Æthelmær's family. Archbishop Wulfstan of York notified King Cnut and Queen Emma that he had consecrated Æthelnoth according to the king's mandate, and urged that Æthelnoth should be entitled to the same rights and honours as Dunstan and his other predecessors in office. The consecration took place on 13 November 1020. In 1022, Æthelnoth travelled to Rome and received his pallium from Pope Benedict VIII, who is said, in three versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to have consecrated and blessed him with great solemnity on 7 October. On the pope's instructions, Æthelnoth immediately celebrated mass, wearing the pallium, and afterwards they dined together in state. The D text of the chronicle adds that Æthelnoth afterwards took a pallium from the altar before leaving Rome. The archbishop returned to England with an arm of St Augustine of Hippo in an ornate reliquary, which he gave to Coventry; it cost him 100 talents of silver and one of gold.

In 1023 King Cnut gave permission for the translation of the remains of the murdered Archbishop Ælfheah (Alphege) to Canterbury. The cortège set out on 8 June, and the account in the chronicle (text D) indicates the dignified and public nature of the journey. Osbern, however, reports that the relics were strongly guarded and followed by Æthelnoth with a rearguard, in order to thwart any intervention by hostile citizens of London. The procession entered Christ Church, Canterbury, on 11 June, and four days later Æthelnoth, together with Bishop Ælfsige of Winchester and Bishop Brihtwine of Wells, reinterred Ælfheah's body. The archbishop encouraged Cnut to send money to foreign churches, including Chartres, and restrained him when he spoke disparagingly of St Edith while visiting Wilton. Æthelnoth was politically useful to Cnut in consecrating Bishop Gerbrand of Roskilde, and in acting with Cnut to strengthen the position of Bishop Joseph of Llandaff; he was also a co-recipient of the letter sent by Cnut to his English subjects following his visit to Rome. Cnut issued several writs in favour of the archbishop and his church. The Encomium Emmae Reginae relates that, following Cnut's death, his son Harold Harefoot summoned Æthelnoth, 'a man endowed with great courage and wisdom', requiring the archbishop to consecrate him king, and to hand over the crown and sceptre, but the archbishop refused to consecrate anyone other than a son of Emma, and forbade all the bishops from participating in a consecration. The implied date of this story is 1036, at which time there was a possibility that Harthacnut would return to England. Harold was elected king in 1037, and Gervase reports that Æthelnoth crowned him in London. In Æthelnoth's last years, some of his duties were taken over by the royal priest Eadsige. Æthelnoth ‘the Good’ (as the chronicle calls him) died on 28 or 29 October, or else on 1 November, 1038, and was buried in Christ Church, Canterbury. Æthelric, bishop of Sussex, is said to have prayed that he would not long survive 'his dearly beloved father' Æthelnoth, and he himself duly died a week later.


  • ASC, s. a. 1020, 1022, 1023, 1038 [texts D, E]
  • The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 73 (1879–80)
  • Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870)
  • F. E. Harmer, ed., Anglo-Saxon writs, 2nd edn (1989)
  • A. Campbell, ed. and trans., Encomium Emmae reginae, CS, 3rd ser., 72 (1949)
  • The early history of Glastonbury: an edition, translation, and study of William of Malmesbury's De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesie, ed. J. Scott (1981)
  • M. K. Lawson, Cnut: the Danes in England in the early eleventh century (1993)
  • William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum / The history of the English kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., OMT (1998–9), vol. 1
D. Whitelock, D. C. Douglas, & S. I. Tucker, eds. and trans., (1961)
Oxford Medieval Texts
Camden Society
John of Worcester, ed. R. R. Darlington & P. McGurk, trans. J. Bray & P. McGurk, 2–3; OMT (1995–) [vol. 1 forthcoming]