|British Museum (@britishmuseum)|
My son and I have been reading a great deal of British history this year. Vikings and Normans are particular favorites.
Canute (Cnut) did not begin by being a good king. At first he was bad and cruel. But he ended by being very good and wise. In fact he seems to have ruled so well that the English came to love him almost as if he had been an English king.
They loved him, but they flattered him too. He was certainly a great king, for he ruled not only over England, but over Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The nobles thought it pleased Canute to be told of his greatness, so they used often to let him hear them praise them.
One day as they were walking upon the seashore, the nobles began, as usual, to tell Canute how powerful he was.
"All England obeys you," they said.
"And not only England, but Denmark, Norway, and Sweden."
"Should you desire it, you need but command all the nations of the world and they will kneel before you as their king and lord."
"You are king on sea and land. Even the waves obey you."
Now this was foolish talk, and Canute, who was a wise man, did not like it. He thought he would teach these silly nobles a lesson. So he ordered his servants to bring a chair.
When they had brought it, he made them set it on the shore, close to the waves. The servants did as they were told, and Canute sat down, while the nobles stood around him.
Then Canute spoke to the waves. "Go back," he said, "I am your lord and master, and I command you not to flow over my land. Go back, and do not dare to wet my feet."
But the sea, of course, neither heard nor obeyed him. The tide was coming in, and the waves rolled nearer and nearer, until the king's feet and robe were wet.
Then Canute rose, and turning sternly to his nobles, said, "Do you still tell me that I have power over the waves? Oh! foolish men, do you not know that to God alone belongs such power? He alone rules earth and sky and sea, and we and they alike are His subjects, and must obey Him."
The nobles felt how foolish they had been, and did not try again to flatter Canute in such a silly way. From that day, too, Canute never wore his crown, but placed it in the minster at Winchester, as a proof of his humility. From this story we learn that Canute was a Christian, although many of the Danes were still heathen, but no doubt they very soon followed the example of their king, and became Christians too."
--Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, (c) 2010 Seven Treasures Publications, originally published in 1920 by Frederick A. Stokes Company
It seems to me that from this story we learn that Cnut disliked sycophants. Perhaps he took his crown off his head so that his nobles would tone it down when they were around him.