« VorigeDoorgaan »
ceding wars, some of the English nobles had shame. fully betrayed the cause of their king and country. As long as Canute needed the treason, he cherished the traitors ; but as soon as he found himself in peaceable possession of the throne, he banished some of them, and put others to death. Still further to gain the affections of his English subjects, he married the widow of the late king Ethelred. By these and many other prudent measures, he found himself so firmly seated on the throne, that he ventured, in 1019, to make a voyage to Denmark, which kingdom was then at war with Sweden. He passed a year on this visit, and, on his return to England, found every thing in the most perfect tranquillity, which continued several years. During this time, he occupied himself in making judicious laws, building churches and monasteries, and in other popular and pious works.
In the year 1028, he undertook an expedition into Norway, reviving some old pretensions which he had to the crown of that kingdom. Olaus, the actual sov, ereign, was a weak and unwarlike prince, and Canute judged this a favorable opportunity to enforce his claims. By intriguing with the Norwegian nobility, he formed a strong party in that country favorable to his interests. He then sailed with a powerful army for Denmark, whence he suddenly crossed the sound and landed in Norway. Olaus, totally ignorant of his designs, was taken by surprise at this sudden invasion, and was still more astonished to see the greater part of his subjects join the enemy. Unable to resist the invaders, he had no resource but to abandon the kingdom, and save himself by flight. Olaus is said to have lost the attachment of his people by his untimely zeal and vain endeavours to restrain them from piracy, a practice very common at that period among the nations of Northern Europe. Canute was crowned king of Norway; and, two years after, the exiled prince, attempting to recover his dominions, was slain by his own people, which left Canute in peaceable possession of the throne.
The conquest of Norway seems fully to have satisfied his ambition and satiated his passion for war. From that time, laying aside all thoughts of augmenting his dominions, he gave himself up to acts of devotion, building and enriching churches and monasteries. Although a wise, and in many respects a great prince, he was not superior to the degrading superstition which prevailed in that age of intellectual darkness. Influ. enced chiefly by this feeling, he made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1031, attended by a numerous and splendid train of nobility, and lavished greater sums of money upon the churches and clergy of that city than any foreign prince had ever done before. He obtained, in requital, from the Pope, some additional privileges for the English college at Rome, and the travellers who visited the tombs of the apostles ; but what he probably valued more than all the rest was a plenary pardon of all his sins, and the special friendship of St. Peter.
On his return to England, he commenced hostilities against the Scots on the following account. During the early invasions of the Danes, it became necessary very frequently to bribe them with money to desist from their depredations and leave the country. The
expense of this, and the maintenance of armies for defence, much exceeded the ordinary revenues of the
A land-tax was, therefore, imposed, called Danegeld, or the Danes' pay. The Scottish kings held the province of Cumberland by a feudal tenure from the English crown; but they had constantly refused to pay this ignominious tax. Canute determined no longer to allow this delinquency, and, raising an army, he marched toward the North to enforce the payment of the Danegeld or expel the Scots from England. Malcolm, the Scottish king, knew himself to be unable to resist so powerful a foe, and, before the two nations came to battle, he thought fit to compromise the quarrel without bloodshed. He saved his honor by granting Cumberland to his grandson Duncan, who agreed to pay the tribute.
The remainder of the reign of Canute offers little to attract the notice of the historian. All his dominions enjoyed a profound peace till his death, on the 12th of November, 1035. The British annalists have not scrupled to give this prince the name of Great, an honor which he merits less perhaps by his conquests than by the pacific portion of his life. His title to the kingdoms which he subjugated was very questionable, to say the least. He shed much blood, and he trampled upon religion and justice, for his own aggrandizement. But, if there be no exaggeration in what historians say of him, many years before his death he became just, humble, modest, religious, and truly wise. From the time that he saw himself firmly fixed on the throne, he gave daily marks of piety, justice, and moderation, which gained him the affection of his subjects
and the esteem of foreigners. A. prince so prosperous and powerful, the sovereign of three great kingdoms, could not be destitute of flatterers. Some of his courtiers, if we may believe recorded accounts, carried their absurd adulation to so extravagant a length as to declare, in his presence, that the very elements were under his control, and nothing in nature dared disobey his commands.
One day, while walking with his attendants by the seaside at Southampton, he undertook to rebuke this wretched sycophancy in a striking manner. dered his chair to be placed on the beach, while the tide was beginning to rise ; and, taking his seat, he exclaimed to the waters, in a voice of authority, “ O sea ! thou art under my control, and the land on which I sit is mine: I charge thee to approach no further, nor dare to wet the feet of thy sovereign !” But the rising billows, regardless of his command, dashed upon the shore and forced him to retire. The king turned to his flatterers, and said, “Learn from this example the insignificance of all human power, and that God alone is omnipotent !" He then took the crown from his head, and, we are told, never wore it afterwards, but ordered it to be placed on the crucifix at Winchester.
Canute was the greatest and most powerful monarch of his time. Though he had been baptized in his infancy, he knew little of the doctrines of Christianity in the early part of his career. But, after the conclusion of the wars which seated him on the English throne, the ferocity of his disposition was softened by the precepts of religion ; he entered deeply and with sincerity
into the devotion of the times, and the sanguinary seaking was gradually moulded into a just and beneficent monarch. He often lamented the bloodshed and misery which his own rapacity and that of his father had inflicted on the English people, and acknowledged it his duty to make a compensation for their sufferings by a peaceful and equitable reign. In a Wittenagemote at Oxford, he persuaded the English and Danish thanes to forgive each other any existing cause of offence, and to promise a mutual friendship for the future.
As a legislator, Canute is entitled to high praise. He compiled a code of laws from the enactments of former kings, with such additions as were required by the existing state of society. By the incorporation of the Danes with the Saxons, the rites of paganism again made their appearance in England. Canute forbade the worship of the heathen gods, of the sun and moon, of fire and water, of stones and fountains, of forests and trees. He denounced punishments against those who pretended to deal in witchcraft, and the “ workers of death,” whether by lots, or flame, or any other charms. He prohibited the custom of sending Chris. tians for sale into foreign countries, not from any
disapprobation of slavery itself, but because such Christians would be in danger of falling into the hands of infidel masters, and of being seduced from their religion. He undertook to relieve his people from a portion of the burdens arising from feudal services, which in England, as well as in the other European nations, had long been on the increase.
The sincerity and earnestness with which he studied the welfare of his subjects may be seen from the fol