Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

King Canute and the Waves

King Ethelred was a weak, ignorant, and timid monarch, and as he was never able to determine wisely what was best to do, he was surnamed the Unready. Three times during his reign the Danes invaded his territory, and three times he paid them large sums to go away. This money was raised by a yearly tax, called the Danegeld, or Danes' money, and the Danish king, Sweyn (swan), promised to keep the peace as long as it was paid.

Ethelred promised to treat all Danes kindly and to pay the Danegeld regularly, but he soon regretted his promise, and made a plot to have all the Danes in the kingdom murdered on St. Brice's day, in the year 1002. This massacre was carried out, and as King Sweyn's sister perished with the rest, he soon came over to England to avenge her death.

After some resistance on the part of the Anglo-Saxons, Sweyn became master of the country, and Ethelred the Unready fled to France with his wife Emma, who was a daughter of the Duke of Normandy. But the Danish king died the very next year, and, although an attempt was made to place his son Canute upon the throne, the Witenagemot sent for Ethelred, who again became king.

The Saxon monarch had learned nothing by his former misfortune, so before long the Danes came back, and war was waged between Canute and Ethelred's son Edmund Ironsides. After some time, the two forces met at Assandun in battle, and when the fight was over it was agreed that the land should be divided between the Saxon and Danish kings, and that the one who lived longest should be sole ruler. Ethelred having died during the struggle, Edmund Ironsides and Canute became kings. But the former did not live very long, and after his death Canute reigned alone.

Canute had been very stern and cruel at first, so as to make the people afraid to disobey him; but when he became sole King of England he tried to please his subjects. Many of the Danes were sent home, the English were made his officers, good laws were established, and peace and order reigned throughout the land.

As Canute was not married, he took Emma, Ethelred's widow, for his wife, became a Christian, and went on a pilgrimage to Rome, to receive the pope's forgiveness for his sins. About ten years after becoming sole King of England, Canute conquered Norway, and because he thus ruled two kingdoms, he was regarded as a very powerful king.

Besides being brave, Canute was wise and just, so he had plenty of admirers; and his courtiers, hoping to please him, often remarked that he was sole lord of land and sea. This flattery was distasteful to Canute, so he made up his mind to give his courtiers a lesson.



One day, at low tide, he bade his servants place his throne far down upon the beach; and accompanied by his courtiers, in their richest robes, he went down there and took his seat. Grouped around him, and still paying their stupid compliments, the courtiers kept a watchful eye upon the waves, for they did not wish to get their clothes wet.

When the tide turned they ventured to suggest to the king that he have his throne set farther up on the beach. Canute carelessly said that he did not want to move, and that as they vowed he was lord of land and sea, he would bid the waves stand still. But although he stretched out his sceptre and ordered the water not to come near him, the waves rose higher and higher, till the spray drenched the courtiers' fine clothes and forced them and the king to beat a hasty retreat.

When they were beyond the reach of the tide, Canute gravely told his courtiers that God alone was master of the sea, and made them feel so ashamed of their senseless talk that they never ventured to flatter him again.