King Canute, Knut or Cnut

King Canute, Knut or Cnut

The King shows his court that the sea will not obey him / phlmetropolis.com

The King shows his court that the sea will not obey him / phlmetropolis.com

Canute was King of England, Denmark and Norway. There are various distinct ways of spelling his name, but he will always stay in the memory because of something he did which has either been misconstrued intentionally by historians and jesters, or properly interpreted, which I hope we will do here.

Edmund II, known as ‘Ironside’, son of Ethelred II, had briefly lost his English throne to Sweyn I of Denmark (1013-14). Edmund’s succession was challenged by Sweyn’s son Canute and during 1016 these two fought at least six battles. In October 1016 Edmund was defeated in what is now Essex at the Battle of Ashingdon. As a result Edmund was permitted to rule over part of southern England, while Canute took the rest. Whoever survived would succeed to the whole country.

At the end of 1016 someone (one wonders who) murdered Edmund Ironside and Canute began his reign over the whole country (always excepting Scotland and Wales), a period of relative peace. But King Canute was bothered by his court and courtiers, who seemed to him a fawning collection of fogeys forever bowing and scraping, and almost certainly plotting at the same time.

Being highly intelligent, and well aware of the poisonous flattery exerted on him by the ladies and gentlemen of his court, Canute decided to play a trick which might convince them that he was not all-powerful, as they constantly and boringly insisted. “If I am so powerful, and no-one and no thing can deny my power, I shall command the sea itself to obey me!” he said, and went on: “tomorrow morning we shall go to the beach, I and my throne and all of you, and I shall show you my powers by ordering the tide not to enter the bay. You will all be witnesses.”

The following morning the king made his courtiers carry him and a heavy throne down to the beach, where the tide would soon be rising. The throne was placed on the still dry stones, and the king sat on it. Raising his sceptre he commanded the tide not to dare enter the bay. Within an hour both the throne and the king were very wet indeed, something Vikings were not unaccustomed to,  and the fawning courtiers had learned their lesson. This lovely story might be apocryphal, but it is one of the longest lasting ’legends’ of England and deserves to be remembered.

By | 2013-01-07T11:58:13+00:00 January 7th, 2013|British History, English History, Scandinavian history, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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