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On this day in history in 1035, died King Canute.
Canute was a Danish King of England, who was an able administrator and increased English trade, but is best remembered for his futile attempt to stop the tide from coming in.
Canute was the second son of king Sweyn of Denmark, who made war with Ethelred The Unready, King of England. Sweyn, accompanied by Canute, defeated the English army, forcing Ethelred into exile, but before he could declare himself king, took sick on a swift visit home to Denmark, and died suddenly. A hasty family agreement gave Canuteís elder brother Harold the crown of Denmark, while Canute agreed to take over as king of England. However, the English nobles refused to accept Canute as king and asked Ethelred to return home and take the throne. Ethelred raised an army and forced Canute to abandon England.
Canute felt cheated and he planned his revenge. He went home to Denmark and raised the largest invasion force that had ever been seen, over 10,000 men and launched an invasion. In April 1016, Canute entered the Thames and laid siege to London. Ethelred, on hearing the news, suffered a heart attack and died.
Ethelred was succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside, who was forced to sue for peace and agreed to split the kingdom into two. When Edmund died in 1017, Canute seized Edmundís half of the kingdom.
Canute proved to be a most effective ruler. He divided England into territorial lordships, owing allegiance to the king, providing a unified system of government that would last until the Tudors. He ended the practice of paying Danegeld, a tax payable by English kings to Danish lords, in return for their not ransacking England. Canute stabilised the English coinage, introducing a unified system, with coins of equal weight to Scandinavian coins, thereby encouraging international trade.
Canute is famous for the tale of the incoming tide. According to legend, Canuteís courtiers flattered him into believing that his word was so powerful that even the tide would recede at his command. Canute is said to have taken this compliment literally and had his throne placed by the shore and vainly attempted to command the waves to recede until he almost drowned. An alternative version states that Canute was extremely wise and put on this practical demonstration to show his courtiers that he was not taken in by their flattery. The event is commemorated by a plaque at Bosham. [Bosham, near Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 8LS]
Canute died in 1035 and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester. During the Civil War, Parliamentarian soldiers smashed the coffins of old English kings and discarded their bones. At the Restoration, the bones were collected and placed in mortuary chests, still displayed at Winchester Cathedral, but unfortunately the bones are all intermingled. [Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 0HJ]
Lawson, M K. Cnut: Danes in England in The Early Eleventh Century.
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