Unrecorded Dagger (Comet?) Type Penny of Cnut

Coin Description

Saxon England. Cnut. 1016-1035. Silver Penny (0.84 gm). Circa 1017-1023. Norwich mint, Ringulf moneyer. +CNVT REX ANGLOR, crowned bust left in quatrefoil, dagger to right / +RINGVLF V NOR, voided long cross on quatrefoil with single pellet apexes. BMC Anglo-Saxon II, 473 var. (for moneyer and mint); North 781 var.; Seaby 1157 var. EF.

A hitherto unrecorded type for Cnut, as no reference for this period lists a Cnut quatrefoil penny with a dagger to the right of the portrait, which this well-struck coin clearly displays. Hence, it would seem to be a new type, although BMC does record an example from this moneyer (Ringulf) and mint (Norwich).


This coin clearly shows what appears to be a dagger to the right of the bust of King Cnut. But is the symbol really a dagger? Perhaps it represents a comet, the medieval omen for changing kingdoms.

Clearly, the Danish invasions of England saw much bloodshed, but by the time this coin was struck, Cnut had conquered his opponents, and England remained in a fairly peaceful state of existence during the rest of his reign.

Cnut's father, King Swein, had invaded England in 1013. Upon his death on February 3, 1014, Cnut was proclaimed king by the Danish fleet. During the period from 1014-1016, England was claimed by both the Saxon king, Aethelred II, and then his son, and by Cnut.

During 1015 and 1016, Cnut returned to do battle, and finally secured the title of king of all England in November, 1016, after both Aethelred II and his son had died. Two years later, in 1018, Cnut inherited the Danish kingdom when his brother, Harold, died.

During this period, three comets were recorded by medieval astronomers. From mid-February, one week after the death of Swein, through March, 1014, a comet with a long tail was recorded by oriental astronomers, and would have been visible in England if clear skies prevailed.

In 1017, a comet with a large beam, or tail that lasted for four months, was recorded by European astronomers. And in August, 1018, a comet with a tail that stretched across one-third of the sky was recorded by both European and oriental astronomers.


Without additional information, it is unclear whether this coin symbol represents a comet or a dagger, but the cross bar at the handle of a dagger is not part of the symbol, and a dagger shape had been described as a comet type (Xiphias) as early as the first century by Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus), head of the western Roman fleet under Vespasian.

Given the peaceful state of England during 1017-1023, and the fact that the daggers represented on Viking coins of England a century earlier all had cross bars on the handle, it appears that a dagger shaped comet is the more likely representation. The figure below shows a comet type depicted in a 1668 manuscript. It is very similar to the symbol on the coin.

Under the assumption that the symbol is a comet, then which comet is represented? The long tailed comet of 1017, and those of 1019 and 1020 (neither recorded in Europe) were not associated with a change in sovereignty. Both the comets of 1014 and 1018 appeared at a time when Cnut assumed a new kingdom. But the comet of 1014 was not recorded in Europe, and the comet of 1018 was both recorded in Europe, and appeared during the time that this type coin of Cnut was struck.

return to main index