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Why Did Canute Want Ketil’s Farm? Why Did He Attack It In Vinland Saga?

King Canute Vinland Saga

Canute went through some major character development over the initial arcs of Vinland Saga. From being a timid prince who lacked the courage to make his own decisions, from being someone who was ridiculed and too afraid to stand-up for himself, Canute went on to be a shrewd leader and then the king of both Denmark and England.

While he had vowed to build a paradise on earth for his people, his actions, or rather the route to his goal is quite questionable when you look at it. It’s far from the idealistic picture he had painted for himself.

King Sweyn’s apparition acting as the crown’s conscience makes us wonder if he is crumbling under the burden being a ruler and the struggles of making the right choice no matter how drawn out from his moral ideals they might be.

Canute was no stranger to morally questionable and flawed decisions while wearing the crown, and one of them was the decision to attack Ketil’s farm. However, why did Canute want Ketil’s farm? Did he have a sound enough reason for it?

Well, there might be people who tell you that Canute did it to keep Denmark well fed and to have an abundance of crops. But, that answer is quite wrong. Keep reading, as I explain the motives behind his actions!

Why did Canute want Ketil’s farm?

To answer in short, Canute wanted Ketil’s farm so that he could generate income to pay for the upkeep of the Danish army that was deployed in England to enforce his rule.

King Canute Vinland Saga

That’s a very simple way of putting it. Allow me to explain the whole ordeal in detail.

After Canute became the king of England, he kept Danish soldiers in the country as he wanted to maintain peace in the newly subjugated region while enforcing his rule. However, if an army is deployed, then a king needs to have enough money in the coffers to provide for the upkeep, or to maintain the army.

In Canute’s case, he was managing the costs of maintaining the Danish army from the taxes that were collected from the English people. And this did not go down well with them, leading to unrest among the masses. In order to prevent a revolt happening in England, Canute was forced to look for a new source of income. And this new source of income needed to come from Denmark.

After a thorough research, Canute found that the number of truly rich people in Denmark were only a handful, and even if he decided to wring them dry, the crown would only amass around 3000 pounds a year. That probably wasn’t enough to maintain the army there.

The other option was to levy an increased tax on the Danish people, just after Canute took over the throne of Denmark. Remember that king Harald had just died, and Canute was not even the official King of Denmark yet. And if brought about such sudden changed, then he risked angering the Danish people, and instead of Englishmen, it will be the Danes who revolt!

I know what you’re thinking. Why wouldn’t Canute just disband his army right? That would solve the issue of needing to generate more income.

Well, it’s not like the Englishmen liked being ruled over by the Danes. As soon as the army were to be disbanded, they would revolt. So the army’s presence in England was necessary to enforce Canute’s rule over there. So finding out a new means of income, in a way which did not seed discontent throughout both the countries, was essential for him.

And that’s how he settled on Ketil’s farm as a solution to this problem. What Canute aimed to do here was expropriation, an action which lets the state or the king take over a property from its rightful owner, for the benefit of the country/kingdom/state or for public use.

Ketil’s farm was pretty bountiful. It produced a lot of grains and livestock, something which would fetch enough money for the upkeep of the Danish armies in England. And this was also a lot quicker than finding new lands and cultivating it.

A direct holding under the king (meaning a land which the king owns directly, rather than those which is under the vassals) is more profitable, because rather than just getting taxes, the kingdom gets the whole of the income that is generated from the land. In case of Ketil’s farm, the profits were quite high, which forced him to target.

In short, Canute decided to sacrifice the happiness of a few, so that he could bring peace to the many.

canute explains why he wanted Ketil's farm

Olmar becomes a pawn in Canute’s plan:

Even though Canute wanted to expropriate Ketil’s farm, he was looking for the a reason which would help him seize the lands without facing much backlash from the Danes. This meant that he needed some high level intrigue and also the readiness to get his hands dirty.

That’s when Olmar presented himself in front of the king. Seeing his airheaded pride and dull-wits, Canute decided to make him a pawn in his grand plan and use the situation to his advantage.

Olmar had requested to be a member of the Thegns under Wulf. However, his poor skills (not even being able to slice a dead pig) meant that he would be rejected without a second thought.

Canute and Wulf realized that if they were to insult and rile up Olmar, the latter would react and eventually get into a brawl with the king’s messengers. They just had to make sure that Olmar won the brawl, and win he did, thanks to a sly intervention.

Canute’s plan was to implicate Ketil for Olmar’s treason, i.e. killing the king’s messenger. The price for his son’s crimes would be the farm he owns. So, Canute gets the farm and also saves his image in front of his people, though it would be serious injustice for Ketil and his family to bear. At least that’s how it was supposed to play out.

However, thanks to Thorgil being present there, everything went haywire. He realized that Olmar was being set up by someone and he intervened, eventually getting the story out from one Wulf’s lackeys. This led to Ketil, Olmar and Thorgil fleeing back to the farm, and Canute was left with no option but to go one the offensive.

Why did Canute attack Ketil’s farm?

When Ketil and the others fled Jelling, they gave Canute the perfect reason to attack Ketil’s farm. They had committed treason, and fled from the king’s justice. There was no way they could go scot-free.

Sure, Canute wanted to expropriate the land without any bloodshed. But Ketil, and especially Thorgil left them no option. Attacking Ketil’s farm was also Canute’s way of showing that messing with him would not be a good option.

Ketil’s farm was apparently the first of many holdings that Canute planned to take for the kingdom. As he mentioned in chapter 76, he was the first test case for their appropriation. He wanted it to be a perfect show of power. That’s also a part of the reason why he decided to attack Ketil’s farm.

Ketil Canute test case

However, the surprising fact was that Canute decided to go to the farm himself, along with his forces. The Jomsvikings would have been more than enough to take down Ketil and his retainers, who had little to no military experience, save for Snake and his group.

So, for what reason did Canute himself go there?

Well, for all the talk about using his power to enforce justice, and comparisons to the king being a sword, Canute still believed that the people were the country’s wealth. He did not want to cause unnecessary casualties by sending the Jomsvikings on a rampage.

By going to Ketil’s farm himself, Canute was giving the people over there an option to surrender before the king’s authority. The presence of the king himself should waver their defiance, is what Canute was hoping for.

While this idea was not welcomed much by the Jomsvikings, they still understood Canute wanted to do and went along with it.

Canute’s actions are morally gray, even if he was gunning for the country’s peace. This makes it one of the most complex decisions to come to terms with, considering how he had called for creating a paradise on earth.

What are your thoughts on Canute attacking Ketil’s farm? Let me know in the comments below!

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