THE STORY OF KING CANUTE
ABOUT forty years after the death of the brave
Athelstan, the kingdom of England came to a boy whose
name was Ethelred. He was but ten years old when he
became king, and during all his reign he
 and his people were in great trouble. So ill did he
rule that men called him the "Unready."
Every year the Danes grew more and more powerful.
Sometimes the King tried to drive them out of England
by force of arms, but he was often defeated. Sometimes
he bribed them by large sums of money to go away. They
took the money and went away, but very soon came back
again. At last he tried what was the very worst and
most wicked way of all. He sent secretly to the rulers
and magistrates throughout the kingdom that on a
certain day—it was the 13th day of November in the year
1002—"all the Danish men in England should be slain."
These Danish men were living in peace among the
English; many of them had married English wives. On the
morning of this day this evil deed was done; all indeed
were not killed, but many thousands were, and women
also, and among these the sister of King Sweyn of
Denmark. The last thing that this lady said was this:
"My death will bring many wars upon
England." And so indeed it came to pass.
Year after year the Danes came and ravaged the land.
Sometimes King Sweyn came with them,
 sometimes he sent other chiefs. At last, eleven years
after the death of his sister, he came with a fleet
greater and more splendid than had ever been seen
before. The beaks of the ships were of brass, and under
the beaks were figure-heads, finely carved and painted,
of men and bulls and dolphins. On the mast-heads were
figures of birds and dragons to serve for weathercocks,
and the sterns were adorned with golden lions. The King
brought with him his son Canute, of whom I am to tell
in this story.
For six months or more King Sweyn went through the land
with his army, doing such damage as no army had ever
done before, The English could not stand up against
him; as for King Ethelred, he fled over the sea to
France. Sweyn indeed was King of England, but the crown
was never put upon his head, for on Candlemas Day he
died suddenly. Of the manner of his death the men of
the time told this story. I have spoken before of a
certain town in the East country which was called St.
after King Edmund. There had been built in the town a
house for monks, in honour of the King. Sweyn sent
messengers to say that he would burn both the town and
the monks' house with fire, and
 slay all their inhabitants, unless he should receive a
great ransom for their lives. And when the people of
the town sent to the King at Gainsborough, in the
county of Lincoln, praying that he would not ask so
great a sum of money, for that they were not able to
pay it, he said the same things again with greater
violence. When he had spoken, it seemed to him that
King Edmund suddenly appeared in the midst of the
council, no man seeing him except himself, and that he
thrust him through with a spear of gold that he carried
in his hand. Men said also that before he died he sent
for his son Canute, and bade him rule England prudently
The Danes chose Canute to be King, but the English were
not content that a foreigner should reign over them,
and sending to Ethelred, where he was in France, prayed
him to come back. So Ethelred returned, and marching
into the East country where Canute still was, compelled
him to take to his ships and sail away. The next year
he came back with more ships and men than before, and
there was war again till Ethelred died. Thereupon
Canute was crowned King by command of an assembly that
met at Southampton, but Ethelred's son, Edmund, who was
called Ironside by reason of his valour, was also
crowned in London.
 Canute sailed up the Thames, having a fleet of more
than three hundred ships. When he came to London he
found that he could not pass the bridge,
so strongly was it held against him. Thereupon he
caused a canal to be dug on the south side of the
river, and by this took some of his ships to the other
side of the bridge. But when he tried to take the town,
the citizens beat him back from the walls, killing many
of his men.
After this the two Kings met in battle at Sherston.
Edmund put his best and bravest warriors in the front
line, and he himself took his place in front of all,
for none was better or braver than he. All day long the
two armies fought, neither winning the victory. That
night they rested on the field of battle, and on the
morrow, when the day dawned, they fought again. And now
the English began to drive back their enemies, when
there went through the army the report that King Edmund
had been slain. It was a traitor that set the report
about. When King Edmund heard it, he mounted to the
top of a hill, and taking off his helmet, showed
himself to the people, that they might see that he was
yet alive. It is said also that seeing the traitor who
 told the false news, he threw his spear at him. He
indeed warded it off with his shield, but it pierced
the man that stood by his side, and wounded two others
also, so great was the strength of the Ironside.
Seven times in that year did Edmund fight with Canute,
and the last and fiercest fight of all was at Assandun.
Canute made as if he would get to his ships, and Edmund
seeing this charged him sword in hand at the head of
his men. And now again the English might have won the
day, but that a traitor, the very same that had spread
the false report of the King's death, fled from the
battle with his followers. So their line was broken;
nevertheless they still held out, even till the end of
the day, and till far into the night. Then at last
Edmund the Ironside was constrained to leave the field.
That day the flower of the English race perished.
Even so King Edmund did not lose heart. He gathered
together another army, and would have fought again, but
that all the land was weary of the war. So these two,
Canute and Edmund, met on an island in the Severn, and
agreed to divide the kingdom between them; Edmund was
to rule the South, Canute the North. But before the
year was out King Edmund died, some said of poison, and
the whole kingdom came to Canute, for it had been
 agreed that whoever of the two should live the longer,
should have the whole.
KING CANUTE AND HIS QUEEN.
And now Canute the Dane set himself with all his heart
to become a true English king. The traitor that had
played King Edmund false was rightly punished for his
wrong-doing. It is said that he even boasted to the
King that he had not only
 deserted Edmund in the hour of need, but had also slain
him. Thereupon the King cried out, "Therefore you shall
die, for you are guilty of treason both to God and to
me." And the traitor was slain. When Canute was crowned
King, he swore that he would do justice between man and
man, and that he would himself be obedient to the laws.
And this he did. So, when in a fit of rage he slew with
his own hand one of the "house-carles,"
he declared that he would pay the fine that was set on
the shedding of blood. In those days when a man was
slain, the slayer paid a fine according to the rank of
the man. So the King said to the house-carles, "Say
what fine I must pay for the killing of your comrade."
And when they, fearing to judge the King, would not
say, he fixed the fine for himself, making it nine
times greater than what it should have been of right.
And what the King did for himself, that he commanded
all that were in authority under him to do for others.
The poor were to be protected against the wrong-doing
of the rich; all men were to be judged justly but with
mercy; above all, Englishmen and Danes were to live at
peace with each other, forgetting all grudges and
And as he did his duty to man, so he did it also to
 God, judging that it was from Him that he had his
kingdom; this he showed in the manner that I will now
tell. On a certain day, when he was at the very height
of his power, he commanded that they should set his
royal chair on the sea-shore. On this he sat, his
courtiers standing about him. Then he spoke to the tide
as it flowed, "Thou art my subject, and this land on
which I have set my chair is mine; never hath there
been any one that refused to obey my bidding, and
having so refused, escaped without punishment. I
command thee therefore that thou come no further on to
my land, and that thou presume not to wet the garments
and limbs of thy lord." And when the tide, rising after
its wont, came up and had no respect to the King's
command, but wetted his feet and his legs, then the
King, leaping from his seat, cried aloud, "Let all men
know henceforth that the power of kings is an empty and
foolish thing, and that no one is in very truth worthy
to bear this name of King, saving Him only whose
bidding the earth and the sea and all that in them is
obey according to everlasting laws." After that day
Canute would never again put his crown upon his head,
but put it on the image of the crucified Christ.
The King greatly honoured the clergy, and gave great
gifts to churches and abbeys. At Assandun, where he
vanquished King Edmund, he caused a
 church to be built, that was notable for being built of
stone, for in those days they were mostly built of
wood. On the church of St. Edmund and on many others he
and his Queen Emma bestowed much wealth. Among these
was the great Church or Cathedral of Ely. They say that
one day as he was passing in his boat by this church he
made these verses that follow
"The Ely monks sang clear and high,
As King Canute was passing by;
'Row near the doors and hear them sing,'
Cried to his knights Canute the King."
Minstrels he loved greatly, and rewarded with generous
gifts, as will be seen from this story. Among those who
came to his Court was a certain man from Iceland, where
in those days poetry and learning greatly flourished.
When the King came into the hall he said, "I see one
here who is not of this country; he has the look of a
poet, yes, and of a fighter too, for I would sooner
have him as my comrade in battle than any other man
here." When the minstrel from Iceland heard these words
he sang these verses—
"To Cnut the Dane I tune my lay;
English and Irish own his sway,
And many an island in the sea;
So let us sing his praise that he
Be known of men in every land
To where heaven's lofty pillars stand."
 This done he said to the King, "Suffer me to speak a
poem that I have made in your honour." "You shall,"
said the King, "at our next meeting." So the next day
there was a great gathering. When the poet from Iceland
repeated his poem, the King highly praised it, then he
took off from his head a Russian cap that he wore; it
was broidered with gold, and had golden knots to it.
"Fill this with silver," said he to his Chamberlain,
"and give it to the poet." This the Chamberlain would
have done, but because there was a great crowd of men,
he had to reach it over their shoulders. So the silver
was turned out of the cap on to the floor. But when the
poet stooped to pick it up, the King said, "Let it be;
the poor will be the better for it, and thou shalt not
King Canute died when he was but little more than forty
years old. His subjects greatly lamented him, for never
was a king who better kept his oath to deal truly with
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