Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cnut's Government

King Cnut had thus made himself master of a great empire, and yet, Dane as he was, though he treated Englishmen and Danes as equals, he gave his special favour to Englishmen. He restored, as men said, the laws of Eadgar—that is to say, he kept peace and restored order as in the days of Eadgar. He reverenced monks, and once as he was rowing on the waters of the fens, he heard the monks of Ely singing. He bade the boatmen row him to the shore that he might listen to the song of praise and prayer.

He even went on a pilgrimage to Rome, to humble himself in that city which contained the burial places of the Apostles Peter and Paul. From Rome he sent a letter to his subjects. 'I have vowed to God,' he wrote, '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 is just, through headiness or negligence of youth, I am ready, with God's help, to amend it utterly.' With Cnut these were not mere words.

It is not likely that there is any truth in the story how his flattering courtiers told him to sit by the sea-shore and bade the inflowing tide refrain from wetting his feet, and how when the waves rose over the spot on which his chair was placed he refused to wear his crown again, because that honour belonged to God alone, the true Ruler of the world. Yet the story would not have been invented except of one who was believed to have been clothed with real humility.

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