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Canute the Great

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 E
gland 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,

Canute said:

"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.