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Canute

Canute

 

CanuteThe early history of England is filled with accounts of the invasions of the daring Northmen and their kindred, the Danes. For over seventy years after the death of Alfred the Great, the Danes ceased to trouble the Saxons of that island; but in 978 A.D., Ethelred, surname the "Unready," ascended the throne. The ravages of the Danes were then renewed, and this weak and foolish king in attempting to buy off the invaders, only brought the pirates in larger swarms au the English shores. Rushing to an opposite extreme, he devised the mad scheme of a general massacre of Danes. The awful day was the festival of St. Brice, November 14, 1002. Tidings of the bloodshed were speedily carried across the sea. Burning with rage, Sweyn, King of Denmark, whose sister, Gunhilda, was among the slain, burst upon the coasts. Oxford and Winchester felt before the invaders. Sweyn was proclaimed Kiug of Britain at Bath, and soon after at London. He, however, died in three weeks after, leaving his conquests to his son Cnut, or as he is more commonly called, Canute.

 

The new Danish King was soon forced to leave the island, as the Saxons recalled Ethelred from Normandy, whither he had, fled and supported him most vigorously. Ethelred dying, his son Edmund Ironside agreed to a division of the kingdom; the Saxons to hold the counties south of the River Thames, and the Danes those counties to the north. In a month after this agreement Edmund died, leaving Canute sole monarch. Canute received the crown of all England 1017 A.D. His first care was to be rid of rivals. The surviving sons of Ethelred were Edwy, Edward and Alfred. Edwy he caused to be murdered, and the other two took refuge in Normandy; while their mother, Emma, meekly submitting to fate, married the King. The infant sons of Edmund were conveyed to Sweden, and thence to Hungary. Canute was now but twenty-two years of age; England lay crushed and helpless under the rule of its foreign master.

 

But the result of the Danish conquest was in fact the very reverse of what it seemed destined to be. Conquering Scandinavia did not draw England to it; but England was enabled to wield a new influence over Scandinavia. Canute's Northern realms sank into under-kingdoms, ruled by under.kings. If he visited his Northern kingdoms it was but to make such arrangements as left Denmark practically a sub-kingdom, whose interests were subordinated to those of England. The pledge he gave at the outset of his reign that he would rule after Edgar's law, that he would be true to the traditional constitution and usages of the realm, was religiously observed. Canute was anxious to reconcile the Saxons to his usurpation, and dismissed the Danish soldiers to their owu country, after first rewarding them with large sums.

 

Canute's greatest gift to the English people was that of peace. The Dane was no longer an enemy, Danish Beets no longer hung off the coasts. On the contrary, it was English ships and English soldiers who now followed Canute in his Northern wars. He retained in England, however, a bodyguard of three thousand Danes, whom he ruled with the strictest discipline. These were called" Huscarls" or ,. House guards." They were too few to hold the land against a national revolt but they were strong enough to repress local rebellion. Canute on one occasion killed a soldier in a fit of anger. In the presence of his band he laid aside his crown and scepter, and demanded that they should pronounce sentence on him. All were silent put the King imposed upon himself a fine nine times greater than the lawful sum. Again, according to a familiar story, he rebuked the flattery of his courtiers at Southampton, by setting bis chair upon the shore, and commanding the waves to retire. While the tide was flowing round his feet, he sternly reproved the rash presumption of those who compared a weak earthly king to the Ruler of the Universe. By such acts as these he endeared himself to the people, while by the vigor of his rule and the extent of his dominions he became entitled "the Great." Besides England his sway extended over Norway, Sweden and Denmark and he is said to have exacted homage from Malcolm, King of Scotland.

 

In accordance with the religious spirit of the times Canute endowed monasteries, built churches, and gave money for masses to be sung for the souls of those whom he had slain. English priests were sent to fill the Danish bishoprics even Roeskilde by Lethra, the royal seat of the first Danish kings, received its bishop from England, consecrated by an English primate. Canute, himself, went staff in hand, clad in pilgrim's gown to Rome, where he obtained from the Pope that English pilgrims should be freed from the heavy dues then levied upon travelers. From Rome he wrote the first letter ever addressed to Englishmen by an English king. In it he says: "I have vowed to God to live a right life in all things, to rule justly and piously my realms and subjects, and to administer just judgment to all. If, heretofore, I have done aught beyond what was just, through headiness or negligence of youth, I am ready, with God's help, to amend it utterly.

 

Canute died at Shaftesbury, 1035 A.D., being forty years of age, and was buried at Winchester, thus finding his last resting-place amidst the old Saxon kings. Canute, when he ceased to be an enemy to England, became her real friend. He was an unmitigated despot in his own half-Christian lauds; but he adapted his English rule to the higher civilization of his most important kingdom.

 

The reigns of the two sons of Canute, who were altogether unworthy of their great father, were short and disturbed. In 1041 the posterity of the Saxon Egbert, in the person of Edward, son of King Ethelred, regained the throne of England. He is known as Edward the Confessor, on account of his monastic virtues, and was really unfit for the throne in those troubles times.

 

CANUTE'S LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND.

 

In 1026 Canute made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his road he visited the most celebrated churches, leaving everywhere proofs of his devotion and liberality. On his return he proceeded immediately to Denmark; but dispatched the abbot of Tavistock to England with a letter, describing the object and the issue of his journey. This letter I shall transcribe, not only because it furnishes an interesting specimen of the manners and opinions of the age; but also because it exhibits the surprising change which religion had produced in the mind of a ferocious and sanguinary warrior:

 

Canute, King of all Denmark, England and Norway, and of part of Sweden, to Egelnoth the Metropolitan, to Archbishop Alfric, to all the bishops and chiefs, and to all the nation of the English, both nobles and commoners greeting. I write to inform you that I have lately been at Rome, to pray for the remission of my sins and for the safety of my kingdoms, and of the nations that arc subject to my sceptre. It is long since I bound myself by vow to make this pilgrimage; but I had been hitherto prevented by affairs of state, and other impediments. Now, however, I return humble thanks to the Almighty God, that he has allowed me to visit the tombs of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and every holy place within and without the city of Rome, and to honor and venerate them in person. And this have done, because I had learned from my teachers, that the apostle St. Peter received from the Lord the great power of binding and loosing, with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. On this account I thought it highly useful to solicit his patronage with God.

 

Be it, moreover, known to you that there was at the festival of Easter a great assemblage of liable personages with the lord, and the Pope John, and the Emperor Conrad, namely, all the chiefs of the nations from Mount Gargano to the nearest sea, who all received me honorably and made me valuable presents; but particularly the Emperor, who gave me many gold and 5ilver vases, with rich mantles and garments. I therefore took the opportunity to treat with the Pope, the Emperor and the princes, on the grievances of my people, both English and Danes; that they might enjoy more equal law and more secure safeguard in their way to Rome, nor be detained at so many barriers, nor harassed by unjust exaction's. My demands were granted both by the Emperor and by King Rodulf, to whom the greater part of the barriers belong i and it was enacted by all the princes that my men, whether pilgrims or merchants, should for the future go to Rome and return in full security, without detention at the barriers or the payment of unlawful tolls.

 

I next complained to the Pope, and expressed my displeasure that such immense sums were extorted from my archbishops when, according to custom, they visited the apostolic see to obtain the pallium. A decree was made that this grievance should cease. Whatever I demanded for the benefit of my people, either of the Pope or the Emperor or the princes, through whose dominions lies the road to Rome, was granted willingly, and confirmed by their oaths in the presence of four archbishops, twenty bishops and a multitude of dukes and nobles. Wherefore I return sincere thanks to God that I have successfully performed whatever I had intended, and have fully satisfied all my wishes.

 

Now, therefore, be it known to you all, that I have dedicated my life to the service of God, to govern my kingdoms with equity and to observe justice in all things. If by the violence or negligence of youth I have violated justice heretofore, it is my intention, by the help of God, to make full compensation. Therefore I beg and command those to whom r have confided the government, as they wish to preserve my friendship or save their own sons, to do no injustice either to rich or poor. Let all persons, whether noble or ignoble, obtain their rights according to law, from which no deviation shall be allowed, either from fear of me or through favor to the powerful, or for the purpose of supplying my treasury. I have no need of money raised by injustice.

 

I am now on my road to Denmark, for the purpose of concluding peace with those nations, who, had it been in their power, would have deprived us both of our crown and our life. But God has destroyed their means, and will, I trust, of his goodness, preserve us, and humble all out enemies. When I shall have concluded peace with the neighboring nations, and settled the concerns of my eastern dominions, it is my intention to return to England as soon as the fine weather will permit me to sail. But I have sent you this letter beforehand, that all the people of my kingdom may rejoice at my prosperity. For you all know that I never spared nor "will spare myself or my labor, when my object is the advantage of my subjects. "Lastly, I entreat all my bishops, and all the sheriffs, by the fidelity which they owe to me and to God, that the church. dues according to the ancient laws may be paid before my return; namely, the plough-alms, the tithes of cattle of the present year, the Peter pence, the tithes of fruit in the middle of August, and the kirk-shot at the feast of St. Martin, to the parish church. Should this be omitted, at my return I will punish the offender by exacting the whole fine appointed by law. Fare ye well. "-J. LINGARD.

 

Canute

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