King Canute rebukes the sycophants and stops wearing the crown

July 21, 2016

Illustration of "Cnut and the Waves" where King Canute rebukes his courtiers. Drawn by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville.

Illustration of “Cnut and the Waves” where King Canute rebukes his courtiers. Drawn by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville.

The courtiers of Canute, to please his vanity, were accustomed to extol him as the greatest of kings, whose will was obeyed by six powerful nations, the English, Scots, and Welsh, the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. Canute either had the good sense to despise, or affected to despise, their flattery. On one of these occasions, as he was sitting on the shore near Southampton, he commanded the sea to respect its sovereign. But the influx of the tide soon compelled him to retire, and he improved the opportunity to read his flatterers a lecture on the weakness of earthly kings, when compared with the power of that supreme Being who rules the elements. Impressed with this idea, he is said, on his return to Winchester, to have taken the crown from his head, to have placed it on the great crucifix in the cathedral, and never more to have worn it even at public ceremonies.

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John Lingard, The History of England: From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of William and Mary in 1688 (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1902), vol. I, 317.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 534

 

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