Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CANUTE the GREAT ~ c. 985 or 995 ~ November 12, 1035 CE

Cnut the Great (Old English: Cnūt; Old Norse: Knūtr inn rīki; c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035), also known as Canute or Knut or Cnut Sweynsson, was a Viking king of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden. As a statesman, with notable successes in politics and the military, and the importance of his legacy - if now obscure - Cnut seems to have been one of the greatest figures of medieval Europe. Until recently though his achievements were largely lost to history, after the death of his heirs within a decade of his own and the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

As a prince of Denmark, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity throughout the British Isles. His accession to the Danish throne within a couple of years in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut held this power-base together by uniting Danes and Englishmen under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, rather than sheer brutality. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in Trondheim in 1028. Sweden's capital at Sigtuna was held by Cnut. He had coins struck which called him king there, but no record of a coronation survives.

Cnut extended his authority into the Irish Sea, keeping the rival powers around its coasts in check.. In light of the struggles of the Danes for preeminence within Scandinavia, Cnut's rule was definitely felt by the sea-kingdoms of the Viking settlers among the Celtic nations; known as the Gall Gaidel. These were the Kingdom of the Isles (probably under direct overlordship through one of his lieutenants) in the Sea of the Hebrides, and the Kingdom of Dublin (probably on the terms of vassal and suzerain), in the Irish Sea. His chief goal was to control the western seaways to and from Scandinavia, and to check the might of the Earls of Orkney. At the height of his power, Cnut held certain Gaelic kingdoms and the Ui Imhair sea-kingdom of Echmarcach mac Ragnaill as client vassals, too.

Cnut's possession of England's archdioceses and the continental diocese of Denmark – with a claim lain upon it by the Holy Roman Empire's Hamburg-Bremen archdiocese – gave him leverage within the Church to gain concessions on the tolls his people had to pay on the way to Rome. He also gained concessions on the price of the pallium of his bishops, from the Pope, and other magnates of medieval Christendom, at the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor. After his 1026 victory against Norway and Sweden and on his way to Rome for the coronation, Cnut proclaimed himself in a letter, king of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes.

Image & text:wikipedia.com

Below is a favorite story from my childhood.


King Canute on the Seashore
by: James Baldwin

Long ago, England was ruled by a king named Canute. Like many leaders and men of power, Canute was surrounded by people who were always praising him. Every time he walked into a room, the flattery began.

"You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say.

"O king, there can never be another as mighty as you," another would insist.

"Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do," someone would smile.

"Great Canute, you are the monarch of all," another would sing. "Nothing in this world dares to disobey you."

The king was a man of sense, and he grew tired of hearing such foolish speeches.
One day he was walking by the seashore, and his officers and courtiers were with him, praising him as usual. Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

"So you say I am the greatest man in the world?" he asked them.

"O king," they cried, "there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!"

"And you say all things obey me?" Canute asked.

"Absolutely!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honor."

"I see," the king answered. "In that case, bring me my chair, and we will go down to the water."

"At once, your majesty!" They scrambled to carry his royal chair over the sands.

"Bring it closer to the sea," Canute called. "Put it right here, right at the water's edge." He sat down and surveyed the ocean before him. "I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?"

His officers were puzzled, but they did not dare say no. "Give the order, O great king, and it will obey," one of then assured him.

"Very well. Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no further! Waves, stop your rolling! Surf, stop your pounding! Do not dare touch my feet!"

He waited a moment, quietly, and a tiny wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

"How dare you!" Canute shouted. "Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!"

And in answer another wave swept forward and curled around the king's feet. The tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood before him, alarmed, and wondering whether he was not mad.

"Well, my friends," Canute said, "it seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps you have learned something today. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him."

The royal officers and courtiers hung their heads and looked foolish. And some say Canute took off his crown soon afterward, and never wore it again.

Note that Canute was King of England only thirty-one years before the Norman Conquest.

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