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The last time his ship was seen on his return, was, late in the day, off Caithness, in Scotland; a furious storm was raging, and the wind was driving him towards the Pentland Firth : neither the vessel nor any of its mariners appeared again (1). In the next year, St. Olave returned; but perished from the insurrection of his subjects, whom he had offended by his laws to accelerate their civilization.
In 1031, Canute penetrated Scotland, and subdued Malcolm, and two other kings (2). Snorre says, he conquered great part of it (3).
Canute had the fame of reigning over six kingdoms (4). As a soldier he was certainly eminent; but, fortunately for his fame, a few incidents have been preserved concerning him, which rescue his character from the charge of indiscriminate barbarism, and claim for him the reputation of a lofty mind.
He seems to have been one of those men, who feel that they are born to merit the approbation of future generations, and whose actions become sublimer, as their name seems likely to be perpetuated. He lived to posterity as well as to his country. It was in this strain, that, having in a moment of intemperance killed a soldier, and by that criminal deed violated a law which he had enforced on others, he assembled his troops, descended from his splendid throne, arraigned himself for his crime, expressed his penitence, but demanded a punishment. He proclaimed impunity for their opinions to those whom he appointed his judges; and, in the sight of all, cast himself humbly on the ground, awaiting their sentence. A burst of tears, at his greatness of soul, hedewed every spectator. They respectfully withdrew to deliberate, as he had required, and at last determined to let him appoint and inflict his own punishment. The king accepted the task. Homicide was at that time punishable by a mulct of forty talents. He fined himself three hundred and sixty, and added nine talents of gold as a further compensation (5).
There is something in the incident of the sea, which discovers a mind of power, looking far beyond the common associations of mankind. Canute had conquered many countries. In an age of
(1) Snorre, 321. Theodoric says, he was lost in the whirlpool of the Pentland Firth.
(2) Sax. Chron. 154. Hen. Hunt. 364. A northern scalld calls the kings, the two kings of Fife.
(3) P. 144. The Knytlinga Saga adds, that he appointed his son Harald to govern his conquests. On the gigantic bones said to be found, 1520, in the place of the conflicts between Canute and Malcolm, they who think it worth while may read Stephanius's note on Saxo, p. 27.
(4) Saxo, 196.; and see Encom. Emma, 492. He prevailed on Conrad II. to restore him to the Margraviate of Sleswick and the Eider then became the northern boundary of Germany. 1 Putt. Hist. 154.
(5) Saxo, 199.
valour and enterprise, his exploits had equalled the most adventurous. Poets embodied in their melodies the admiration of his people, and directed to his heart those praises with which all Europe resounded. Encompassed with flattery and subjection, Canute's mind may have been swollen into temporary presumption. He may in the frenzies of vanity have fancied, like an Alexander, that he was scarcely a mortal. But his mind was too powerful to continue the slave of his conceit. The more he gazed on nature, the more he felt the adorable Being who governed him, as well as his people; the more he was humbled with the conviction of his individual insignificance. To communicate his solemn sensations, with all their impressions, to his adulating friends, he ordered the chair of his dignity to be placed on the sea-beach. His courtiers formed around him; the tide was undulating to the shore, and Canute seated himself before it. "Ocean, the island on which I sit is mine, and thou art a part of my dominion. None of my subjects dare to resist my orders; I therefore command thee that thou ascend not my coasts, nor presume to wet the borders of my robes."
In vain the mandate issued. He was not the master whom the waters reverenced; and in contempt of his authority every wave drew nearer to his feet, till the general elevation of the ocean covered his legs with its billows. It was then that he expressed the noble sentiment which was impressing his mind. "Let every dweller upon the earth confess that the power of kings is frivolous and vain. He only is the Great Supreme, let HIM only be honoured with the name of Majesty, whose nod, whose everlasting laws, the = heavens, the earth, and sea, with all their hosts, obey." In conformity to this sublime feeling, Canute would never afterwards wear his crown (1).
Among the kingly qualities in which Canute strove to excel, his liberality was distinguished (2). Master of the tributes of several kingdoms, his resources were equal to the munificence of his heart. His journey from Flanders to Rome was a stream of expensive generosity. Whoever approached him was fed and cherished without a request (3). Canute's presents in general had three objects; charity, literature, and public services.
The literature of his age was in the hands of two very different bodies of men; the clergy and the scallds. Both have extolled his liberality (4). Of the scallds who attended him, the names and
(1) I have stated this incident from Matt. West. p. 409.; Hen. Hunt. 364.; Rad. Dic. 469.; Higden and Bromton.
(2) Knytlinga Saga, 145.
(3) Ibid. 144, 145. Encomium Emmæ, 173.
(4) For his donations to the church, see Matt. West. 404, 405. 409; Encom. Emmæ, 173.; and others. In mentioning his resources from his kingdoms, the Knytlinga Saga gives to our country the praise of that superior affluence which it seems, in every age, to have displayed:-" inter omnes septentrionales terras, opum ac thesaurorum Anglia facile sit ditissima," p. 146.
verses of many have survived to us. Sighvatr, Ottar the Swarthy, Thordr Kolbeinson, and Thorarin Loftunga, are among those whose historical poems or panegyrics have been much cited by Snorre in his northern history (1).
Thorarin was celebrated for the richness and celerity of his muse. He gave a striking specimen of this faculty. He had made a short poem on Canute, and went to recite it in his presence. On approaching the throne, he received a salute, and respectfully inquired if he might repeat what he had composed. The king was at table at the close of a repast; but a crowd of petitioners were occupying their sovereign's ear by a statement of their grievances. The impatient poet may have thought them unusually loquacious : he bore the tedious querulousness of injury with less patience than the king, and at last, presuming on his general favour with the great, exclaimed, "Let me request again, Sire, that you would listen to my song; it will not consume much of your time, for it is very short." The king, angry at the petulant urgency of the solicitation, answered, with a stern look, "Are you not ashamed to do what none but yourself has dared to write a short poem upon me? Unless by to-morrow's dinner you produce above thirty strophes on the same subject, your head shall be the penalty." The poet retired-not with alarm, for his genius disdained that, but with some mortification at the public rebuke. He invoked his Scandinavian Muses; his mind became fluent; verses crowded on it; and before the allotted time he stood before the ng with the exacted poem, and received fifty marks of pure silver as hisreward (2).
As private anecdotes best display the real character, another may be permitted; and perhaps it will be most picturesque to give it in the words of the recording eye-witness. It occurred upon Canute's journey to Rome, at St. Omer's.
"Entering the monasteries, where he was received with great honour, he walked humbly, he fixed his eyes on the ground with wonderful reverence; and pouring out (if I may say so) rivers of tears, he implored the aid of the saints. But when the moment came of presenting his gifts upon the altar, how often did he impress the pavement with his kisses! how often did he strike his venerable breast! what sighs! what prayers that he might not be found unworthy of the mercy of the Supreme! At length his attendants stretched forth his munificent oblation, which the king himself placed on the altar. But why do I say the altar, when I remember
(1) In the second volume passim. Sighvatr was the son of Thordr, a scalld. Snorre, 45.
(2) Knytlinga Saga, 146, 147. Snorre mentions this shortly, p. 297. The poet afterwards, in his Tugdrapa, sung the present. See the stanza in Knytl. p. 147. His short poem was of the kind which Snorre says, "we call Flok." The longer was of the sort called Diapa. Snorre, p. 297. He gives a long specimen of the Drapa, p. 298, 299., and a specimen of the Flok, p. 303.
that I myself saw him go round every part of the monasteries, and pass no altar, however small, on which he did not leave a present, and which he did not salute? Then came the poor, and were all separately relieved. These and other bounties of the lord Canute, I your slave! Oh, St. Omer, St. Bertin! myself beheld in your monasteries; for which do you pray that such a king may live in the heavenly habitations, as your servants, the canons and monks, are daily petitioning (1).”
This incident is inserted, because it affords a striking contrast to some actions of Canute's earlier life. A Dunstan might have acted such a scene for its theatrical effect. But in the proud master of so many conquered kingdoms, the emotions must have been those of his mind and heart.
Canute has himself described his journey to Rome in a public document, addressed to all the orders of the English nation (2): he says, he went for the redemption of his sins, and the welfare of his subjects; that he had projected it before, but had been hindered by business and other impediments. He adds:
Be it known to you, that there was a great assembly of nobles at the Easter solemnity, with the lord the pope John, and Conrad the emperor (3). There were all the princes of the people, from Mount Gargano to the sea, who all received me with dignity, and honoured me with valuable presents. I was particularly honoured with various gifts and costly presents from the emperor, as well with gold and silver vessels, as with very rich apparel. I spake with the emperor, the pope, and the princes, on the necessities of my English and Danish subjects, that a more equal law, and better safeguard, might be granted to them in their journies to Rome; that they might not be hindered at so many fortified passages, nor oppressed by such unjust exactions. The emperor assented, and Rodolph, the king (4), who rules most of the passages, and all the princes established, that my subjects, whether merchants or travellers from piety, might go and return to Rome without detention or exaction.
"I also complained before the pope, and expressed myself highly displeased that such an immensity of money should be extorted from my archbishops when they came to Rome or the pall. It was declared that this should not happen again."
(1) Encomium Emmæ, 173.
(2) This Letter of Canute's is in Flor. Wig. 394-397.; Ingulf, 56-61.; and Malmsb. p. 74, 75. Its substance is stated in Matt. West. 407., and elsewhere.
(3) He was the fourth emperor after Otho the Great.
(4) In Florence he is called Rodulph; so in Malmsb. 74. But in Ingulph, both in Gale's edition, p. 60. and that of Frankfort, p. 893., he is named Robert. The difference is not merely verbal. Rodulph was the king of Burgundy; and Robert, the son and successor of Hugh Capet, was the king of France. But as the clausuræ, or fortified passages, of which Canute speaks, were probably those of the Alps, which Rodulph commanded; and as Robert died in 1030, and Canute's journey is usually placed in 1031, there can be no doubt that Rodulph is the right reading.
Canute, after mentioning that these concessions were ratified by oaths before four archbishops, twenty bishops, and an innumerable multitude of dukes and nobles, exclaims: "Therefore I return my liberal thanks to Almighty God, that all things which I desired, I have prosperously achieved as I had contemplated, and have fulfilled all my wishes."
In the subsequent paragraphs of his public letter, he alludes nobly to his former conduct. In viewing his past actions with sentiments of regret, and in publicly confessing that he intends an amendment, he displays a greatness of mind which kings of such successful ambition have seldom reached. Canute is an instance, rarely paralleled, of a character improved by prosperity. His worst actions were in his days of peril. When the full glory of established and multiplied power shone around him, his heart became humble, pious, and ennobled. Educated among vikingr, his first misconduct may be referred to his tuition. His latter feelings were the produce of his improved intellect and magnanimity.
"Be it also known to all, that I have vowed to Almighty God to govern my life henceforward by rectitude, to rule my kingdoms and people justly, and piously to observe equal judgment every where; and if, through the intemperance and negligence of my youth, I have done what was not just, I will endeavour, hereafter, by God's help, entirely to amend it. Therefore I beseech and command all my conciliarii to whom I have confided the councils of my kingdom, that they in no shape suffer or consent to any injustice throughout my realm, neither from fear of me, nor from favour to any person of power; I command all the sheriffs and governors of all my realm, as they value my friendship or their own safety, that they impose unjust violence on no man, whether rich or poor; but that the noble and their inferiors, the wealthy and the needy, may enjoy their property justly. This enjoyment must not be infringed in any manner, neither in behalf of the king, nor any other man of power, nor on the pretext of collecting money for me, because there is no necessity that money should be obtained for me by unjust exaction."
After alluding to some enemies whom he had pacified, and mentioning that he was returning to Denmark, whence, as soon in the summer as he could procure shipping, he proposed to visit England, he continues:
"I have sent this letter first, that all my people may rejoice in my prosperity, because as you yourselves know, I have never forborne to apply myself and my labour, nor will I ever forbear to devote either to the necessary utility of all my people."
These patriotic sentiments, from a royal pen, are highly valuable. Such kings give new splendor to their thrones, and secure to themselves that perpetuity of fame which mortality so covets.