Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

King Canute by the Sea-Shore

About 100 years after good king Alfred died, the Danes began to trouble our land once more. The king of England, at that time was neither brave nor wise; so we find he was quite unable to drive away his enemies. In fact, he himself fled to another land for safety.

The leader of the Danes, named Canute or Knut, then became king of England, and ruled the country well. When quite a young man, he had been very fierce and savage, and he was once heard to say, "I call that man my friend who brings me the heads of my enemies."

Canute became a Christian, and now all he thought about was the good of his people, and how he might gain their love. He built churches and schools, and ruled the land by the laws which the wise Alfred had made.

He treated the native English just as well as his own countrymen, the Danes: indeed, he sent his large army out of the country, thus showing the English people that he could trust then. He was king of three other countries besides England.

Now, as I daresay you know, a king is often surrounded by men who wish to please him in every way. They are apt to think that, if they praise and flatter their royal master, they will get rich rewards for their trouble.

Even a foolish and bad king is sometimes made to believe that he is wise and good. Canute had his flatterers, too. They told him that he was the greatest king that ever lived. Not only was he master on land, but the sea, also, would do his bidding.

King Canute had too much sense to be pleased with such silly talk as this. So he made up his mind to teach these men a useful lesson, as soon as he had the chance to do so.

Now, not far away from the royal city of Winchester, where Canute lived, was a seaport named Southampton. Once the king was staying there, and, as usual, his courtiers were telling him of his greatŽness. "This," thought the king, "is just the time and the place to show them how foolish they are."

So he ordered his royal chair to be brought down to the sea-shore, quite close to the water's edge. The tide was coming in. Canute sat down in his chair, and in loud tones told the waves not to flow over and wet his feet.

Around him stood his flatterers—now, quite silent—for they could see they were going to be found out. Of course, as you may suppose, the waves took no notice of the king's command. In a still louder voice, he cried, "O sea, I, your king, command you to go back."

Soon, the tide was flowing all round the king's seat and where his courtiers were standing. He rose from his seat, and, turning to those near him, who were almost ashamed to look him in the face, he said: "You see how well the waves obey me. God has made me a king on land, but He, and He alone, can say to the sea, 'Thus far shalt thou come and no further.'"

Knutsford, Cheshire


It is said that, after this, Canute would never wear his crown. He hung it up in the cathedral at Winchester, over an image of our Saviour. No doubt, whenever people looked up and saw it, they would feel how wrong it is to be proud and vain.

In the town of Southampton, a buildŽing may still be seen which is said to have been a part of Canute's palace; and, on the sea-shore, there is a large stone to show where he sat.

A pretty village Cheshire, known as in the county of Knutsford, keeps in memory the name of a king who tried to do the best he could for his people. Canewdon, in Essex, is also said to be named after Canute, and marks the site of a battle that was fought between him and Edmund Ironside.