This was written for Crusader Kings 1.3.1 + Northern Lords flavour pack. I also wrote a very similar 1-lifetime guide for Blood Eagle achievement, and this is basically a rehash of it.
I think the best option for Canute the Greater achievement is the 27 year old Sigurdr Snake-in-the-Eye of Sjaelland. The only other viable option to form the Empire of the North Sea is Haraldr ‘Fairhair’ of Vestfold – unless you create a custom character or do some cheese. You’re looking for someone tribal, young, and well-positioned to take the thrones of Denmark, Norway and England asap. Sigurdr hits all three of those – for instance, one Duchy war on Jylland will enough to gain the kingdom of Denmark, making Sigurdr much better posititioned than Haraldr, despite being 10 years older.
To be honest, I don’t think doing this achievement in one lifetime is the easiest path, but it feels pretty good. You end up with a lot of Kingdom titles and an Empire by the time you die, if everything goes according to plan, and you really can ignore vassal management / anything else except conquest. I am not a full on min-maxer, so I make no claims about this being 100% optimized. And of course, always play what feels most fun to you.
Here’s a TLDR if you don’t want the detailed walkthrough:
Reset your Stewardship Perks and choose the following perks under Avaricious: Golden Obligations, War Profiteer, It is MY Domain, and Fearful Troops. Choose Authority focus under Martial, and get Bellum Justum, Stalwart Leader, Chivalric Dominance, Never Back Down, and Kingsguard. Switch to Learning and Medicine Focus and get the entire Whole of Body tree.
Extort subjects constantly for money, as well as going on Hunt/Feasts as gold permits for Prestige.
Build one Vigman and one Bondi on Day 1, next when you have the prestige should be Varangian Veterans
Build/Upgrade War Camps in your original tribal holdings. More deadlier Champions!
Ally with Uppland to avoid AI declaring war on you. If it does happen, White Peace out, don’t waste time/troops on winning.
Conquer counties in Norway to get the King title, and award counties to Champions / high Prowess characters so they can develop their lifestyle perks. This will help form a berserker army of Champions and you don’t have to worry about control.
Duchy conquest for the Duchy of Jylland, to form Denmark, then Duchy conquest for Petty Kingdom of Mercia and Kingdom invasion of Wessex to get the England Kingdom title (then vassalize Jorvik).
Stay alive for 30 years.
Ransom any prisoner for +25 gold, execute the rest for Dread/Stress loss. Take a few as concubines when Dread/Stress is full/gone.
You should be in almost constant offensive wars. The clock is ticking!
Sometimes runs just wont go your way – don’t be afraid to restart!
Here’s the detailed walkthrough.
Go to lifestyle focus. Choose Authority Focus under Martial, for the Dread and slight control growth. Unless you already have them, reset your Stewardship perks and choose the following perks under Avaricious: Golden Obligations, War Profiteer, It is MY Domain, and Fearful Troops. These will all maximize your gold during the constant warfare that will follow. Don’t worry about the stress hit! Take the third option on the Mental Break decision and don’t get any negative traits from the first two.
This is a good moment to go to Decisions and toggle “Notify when this Decision becomes available” for Extort Subjects, Hunt, and Feast. You will be doing these as frequently as possible. For extortion, always take a choice that doesn’t involve tyranny or loss of control. This is usually the least bad option but with less gold. Give it a shot and extort them now, then as you soon as you have enough gold, do a Hunt and a Feast.
Shift your wife’s focus to Domain. Everything else can be left as is, don’t worry about changing anyone as in a couple of years you will have a much better candidate pool.
Assign your Mother Aslaug as Guardian to your daughter. Put yourself as guardian for your heir Knud.
Ally with your brother Jarl Bjorn of Uppland to the north. This is to keep the AI off your back mostly. They shouldn’t need much help in their wars. You should never be calling them into your offensive wars because of the Prestige cost, but might need them for the occasional Defensive war.
Create a Vigman and a Bondi Men-at-Arms Regiment. This is for the damage and then a screen to protect your bowmen from horsemen. After this, you will make Varangian Veterans and then maybe Huscarls.
Become a Devotee of Thor – the minor stewardship bonus is the most useful thing you can get from these.
You’re ready! Unpause the game and go declare Conquer County war on Chief Rognvaldr of þrandheimr in the north coast of Norway (Norse Holy Site). Raise your troops and send them right into the capital county. If you’re lucky you will imprison Hrolfr de Normandie, historical ancestor of William the Conqueror. Make sure to recruit him!
Once you’ve defeated þrandheimr’s meagre forces, siege down their county. If you’re lucky, you will have a general with Military Engineer. If not, finding one will be your top priority.
The second your siege is successful, pause the game. Did you get any prisoners? You should always ransom anyone over 25 gold (even if it’s like 25/50 gold), otherwise execute them for Stress loss / Dread gain. Sometimes you will find a decent Concubine, feel free to add them to your Viking harem. In these one county wars – do all this before you get peace while they still have money / a realm.
Once you have your new Norwegian county, assign it to a Champion! Giving titles to your Champion will force them to choose Lifestyle perks, and if you’re lucky they will choose good Martial ones that will make them even better than they already are. Go to your Military Tab, click on Champions, and give the title to the highest-Prowess Champion who is not your Vassal already (might be Hrolfr of Normandie!).
This is also when you should search for a Military Engineer General if you have one. Go to Find Character, Choose Relation Realm, select Not Ruler, and Male gender. You can also specifically look for this trait on the left by typing Military Engineer into the search box above your filters. Take them no matter what their martial skill as they should never be fighting battles, just sieging down counties for you. If none are there, all’s well – just keep looking every year or so! For now, go back to giving land to your current Champions or take the highest from this list after organizing by Prowess and give them Oriel.
I try to select Norse Asatru Champions first, because they are becoming your vassals, then try to take young ones so they last longer, and then try to avoid Brave if I can cause they will die quickly (100%+ chance to die in battle). Anything over 20 Prowess is a for sure get though, over 10 I follow some of those guidelines, and under they have to meet the above criteria. Avoid any champions that are sons of other vassals as well. Generally, never give out titles to non-Asatru Zealots.
Your war is over, congratulations! Now Disband your army and immediately start the next war for Maeri just south of þrandheimr. For the next 20 years you should always be in wars. For now, it will be focused on getting enough de jure Norwegian counties to form the Kingdom of Norway, while at the same time collecting Prestige and Gold (from prisoners) to expand your armies and conquest options. Eventually, you will have to Conquer a Kingdom to seize England.
Build a Runestone after this war, as soon as you have the money – you will need the prestige and piety. It will just be a Conquest runestone – might as well put in your capital, Sjaelland.
For your next war, be sure to place your Rally Point in your new county of þrandheimr. You shouldn’t face any serious opposition. Repeat what you just did to þrandheimr – defeat the army, siege the capital, ransom/execute prisoners, and assign your new county to a champion.
I usually go þrandheimr -> Maeri -> Firdafylki -> Sogn -> Hordaland -> Rogaland, just straight down the western coast of Norway, before grabbing Gauldaelfylki (back near þrandheimr). They shouldn’t have any allies, but always make sure to check what allies they have, and avoid wars with any strong allies. You want to focus on 1-county realms, because you can win the war with one siege. Even if they siege down one of your counties, so long as you siege theirs down, you can Enforce your Demands and win. Feel free to ransom Heirs as well – you will get all the warscore you need from the county Siege. I do usually win the war if I capture the Chieftain though, as the time save is well worth it.
If you ever have to disband your troops so you can declare a war, but you are still in another ongoing war, you will see there is a time delay until you can raise your troops again. Careful that you wait to declare your next war until this is over so you aren’t stuck with your weakened troops gathering for 3 months.
Once you get your first Martial point, choose Bellum Justum – the 50% savings on war declaration cost is very useful to help keep your piety and other larger wars. As more Martial points come in, go down the Gallant line: Stalwart Leader -> Chivalric Dominance -> Never Back Down -> Kingsguard. It is these Gallant perks that will change your army into an unstoppable horde of berserkers! More champions and better damage!
Once those Perks are taken, Switch to Learning Lifestyle, take Medicine Focus and get the whole Whole of Body Tree. You are looking to maximize your lifespan and will need every health boost you can get as soon as possible.
Keep building War Camps in your three Tribal counties (all other counties should be given away to your Champions!). Start early as they take 5 years, but never build them if it means you won’t have the prestige to start your next war. These will be crucial as they give you more Champions and better damage from them. Build these when you can, and upgrade them when you can as well.
Also a good time to check in with your council – replace anyone you can. Try especially to get a high martial Marshal to get those better commanders coming in. Don’t worry about relationship penalties, as you will soon be too powerful and feared to care.
As you work your way down the Norwegian coast, make sure you have saved enough money to buy a Duchy title you will have to create (I usually make Skane) and then the Kingdom title. This will help push you towards being Illustrious (Level 4 Fame).
Around 872-73 (depending if you had that military engineer!) you should just about to do your second Hunt/Feast and getting the fame to hit Illustrious. It should be right after you take Gauldaelfylki. This is important because not only do you need that prestige for MaA Regiments and War Camps, but you also need to get Illustrious so you can unlock the Conquer Duchy war.
Once you have that Duchy War, you will likely need to conquer a few more duchies (or a county) to get enough counties to form the Kingdom of Norway. One should definitely be the Duchy of Jamtaland (northwest of Uppland) as it has 4 counties, and then try to take another 3-county duchy next. You should be one or two counties away from forming the Kingdom, and it’s likely around 875-877.
These duchy wars might be the first war you’ve fought that deals with attrition. Although speed is important here, if you don’t siege your way to their capital, you will see a red skull pop up indicating how many soldier you will loose. Sometimes worth it, but if you are going too far you will be losing hundreds of men to siege the capital! Be careful, as waiting for your levies to replenish is sometimes not worth it.
Winter + Mountains in Norway can be dangerous, and brutal on your supplies. Try to keep your army together and siege to victory as quickly as possible.
Really anything can happen though, and unfortunately sometimes a run will just go wrong. You might get wounded, or sick, and that means you won’t live long enough. Or a war that should be 9 months takes 3 years. Just power through and hope for the best, or restart if you are looking for that perfect run.
Another important Duchy you will be taking is the Duchy of Jylland. This one war will let you form the Kingdom of Denmark, but be careful as Jylland can be close to the same power as you depending which allies they have. Make sure to keep pushing your MaAs and forming Norway should help push up your levies. Usually, you can have Denmark and Norway by 880 or so.
Keep in mind you will need 1000 prestige your Kingdom Invade of Wessex, start building up for that around now.
Ignore all other counties/duchies once you have the relevant Kingdom title. You can pick those up after you form all three Kingdoms.
Because you need to get to higher fame levels asap, make sure to choose the +prestige choices for any events that fire.
Remember that although your alliance with Uppland should keep any offensive wars off of you, you might have some declared against you or inherited them from the norwegian counties. The important thing for these is to just get enough warscore for a White Peace – they are almost never worth the time/effort/dead soldiers of winning. A few victories on the battlefield is usually enough to secure the white peace.
Your children will start coming of age in the 870s as well. Marry sons to good genetic carriers, as you shouldn’t need to secure alliances. Daughters are far far more valuable though. Daughters will let you secure much better Knights (sort by Prowess when marrying) – remember to marry them matrilineally! Hopefully you are producing more with your wives/concubines!
Once you have Denmark and Norway, you are setting your eyes on England.
You will have to get a country or duchy to border the Petty Kingdom of Mercia so that you can do a duchy conquest.
Then you will have to use your Kingdom Invade Casus Belli (CB) on Wessex, which is normally not ideal, but you need to form Kingdom of England as quickly as possible.
Around now you’ve hopefully just hit the Martial lifestyle perk Chivalric Dominance. This will make a big difference – feel to check the details of your battle to see how many soldiers your Champions are killing each battle!
Declare war on Wessex as soon as you can beat them, as you are really against the clock to form that last title (early-mid 880s).
Once you can conquer Wessex and Mercia, you should be able to form the Kingdom of England. If everything went well, the year should be 884 or earlier.
Hopefully you can vassalize Jorvik, or the separate duchies set up after the death of your brother. Send Gifts, switch your wife to Diplomacy, and Sway if need be to convince them. If they have gone Christian, treat them like any other heathen.
You will now spend the next 30 years making sure you complete your conquest of the North Sea Heartlands, picking up anything you’ve missed.
You also might want to conquer some other convenient neighbours – go wild! You can subjugate Uppland. The Duchies of Normandy and Britanny are big duchies and easy to take. Wales, Ireland, and Scotland also are waiting for the taking. If you’re fast and lucky enough, you could probably get the Blood Eagle achievement in the same run without a problem (doesn’t need to form Britannia Empire title, just hold the counties).
Stay alive and boost your health – there is definitely a bit of chance in this, as it is not a surprise to die before the 30 years of holding all three titles is up. Go down the Learning education trees and always make choices based on longevity. Never choose something that might make you Wounded.
Hopefully this helped! If you live the 30 years to ~914, you’ve got a good empire base that you can switch completely to feudal in one decision.