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26 June, 2013
Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
Canute the Great
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|King from 1014-1035
The Danes, you remember, had the eastern and northern parts
of England in the time of Alfred. Alfred's successors drove them
farther and farther north, and at length the Danish kingdom in
England came to an end for a time.
But the Danes in Denmark did not forget that there had been such
a kingdom and in the year 1013 Sweyn (swane), King of Denmark,
invaded England and defeated the Anglo-Saxons. Ethelred, their
king, fled to Normandy.
Sweyn now called himself the king of England; but in a short time
he died and his son Canute succeeded to his throne. Canute was
nineteen years old. He had been his father's companion during the
war with the Anglo-Saxons, and thus had had a good deal of experience
as a soldier.
After the death of Sweyn some of the Anglo-Saxons recalled King
Ethelred and revolted against the Danes.
Canute, however, went to Denmark and there raised one of the largest
armies of Danes that had ever been assembled. With this powerful
force he sailed to England. When he landed Northumberland and
Wessex acknowledged him as king. Shortly after this Ethelred died.
Canute now thought he would find it easy to get possession of all
England. This was a mistake.
Ethelred left a son named Edmund Ironside who was a very brave
soldier. He became, by his father's death, the king of Saxon
England and at once raised an army to defend his kingdom. A battle
was fought and Edmund was victorious. This was the first of five
battles that were fought in one year. In none of them could the
Danes do more than gain a slight advantage now and then.
However, the Saxons were at last defeated in a sixth battle through
the act of a traitor. Edric, a Saxon noble, took his men out of
the fight and his treachery so weakened the Saxon army that Edmund
Ironside had to surrender to Canute.
But the young Dane had greatly admired Edmund for the way in which
he had fought against heavy odds, so he now treated him most generously.
Canute took certain portions of England and the remainder was given
to Edmund Ironside.
Thus for a short time the Anglo-Saxon people had at once a Danish
and a Saxon monarch.
Edmund died in 1016 and after his death Canute became sole ruler.
He ruled wisely. He determined to make his Anglo-Saxon subjects
forget that he was a foreign conqueror. To show his confidence in
them he sent back to Denmark the army he had brought over the sea,
keeping on a part of his fleet and a small body of soldiers to act
as guards at his palace.
He now depended on the support of his Anglo-Saxon subjects and he
won their love.
Although a king--and it is generally believed that kings like
flattery--Canute is said to have rebuked his courtiers when they
flattered him. On one occasion, when they were talking about his
achievements, one of them said to him:
"Most noble king, I believe you can do anything."
Canute sternly rebuked the courtier for these words and then said:
"Come with me, gentlemen."
He led them from the palace grounds to the sea-shore where the tide
was rising, and had his chair placed at the edge of the water.
"You say I can do anything," he said to the courtiers. "Very well,
I who am king and the lord of the ocean now command these rising
waters to go back and not dare wet my feet."
But the tide was disobedient and steadily rose and rose, until
the feet of the king were in the water. Turning to his courtiers,
"Learn how feeble is the power of earthly kings. None is worthy
the name of king but He whom heaven and earth and sea obey."
During Canute's reign England had peace and prosperity and the
English people have ever held his memory dear.