Ex-Classics Home Page



    After the death of Egelred, variance fell between the Englishmen for the election of their king. For the citizens of London, with certain other lords, named Edmund, the eldest son of Egelred, (a young man of lusty and valiant courage,) in martial adventures both hardy and wise, who could very well endure all pains; wherefore he was surnamed Ironside. But the more of the lords favoured Canute the son of Swanus, especially the abbots, bishops, and men of the spirituality, which before had sworn to his father. By means whereof between these two martial princes were fought many great battles, first in Dorsetshire, where Canute was compelled to fly the field. And after that they fought another battle in Worcestershire, so sore that none could tell who had the better, but either for weariness, or for lack of day, they departed one from the other, and on the next morrow fought again; but then Canute was compelled to forsake the field. After this they met in Mercia, and there fought again, where Edmund, (as stories say,) by the treason of that false Edrike duke of Mercia. (whom he before had received to favour,) had the worse. Thus many great conflicts there were between these two princes. But upon a season, when the hosts were ready to join, and a certain time of truce was taken before battle, a knight of the party of Edmund stood up upon a high place, and said these words:

    "Daily we die, and none hath the victory; and when the knights be dead on either part, then the dukes compelled by need shall accord, or else they must fight alone. And this kingdom is not sufficient for two men, which sometimes sufficed seven, But if the covetousness of lordship in these twain be so great, that neither can be content to take part and live by the other, nor the one under the other, then let them fight alone that will be lords alone. If all men fight still, at the last all men shall be slain, and none left to be under their lordship, nor able to defend the king that shall be against strange enemies and nations."

    These words were so well allowed of both the hosts and princes, that both were content to try the quarrel between them two only. Then the place and time was appointed where they both met in sight of both hosts. And when either had assayed other with sharp swords and strokes, first by the motion of Canute (as some write) hastily they were both agreed, and kissed each other to the comfort of both hosts. And shortly after they agreed upon partition of the land; and after that, during their lives, they loved as brethren. Soon after, a son of wicked Edricus, hy the mind (as appeared afterward) of his father, espied when King Edmund was at the draught, and with a spear (some say with a long knife) thrust him into the fundament, whereof the said Edmund shortly after died, after that he had reigned two years. He left behind him two sons, Edmund and Edward, whom Edrike, the wicked duke, after the death of their father, took from their mother, (not knowing yet of the death of Edmund her husband,) and presented them to King Canute, saluting him in these words, Ave rex solus. Thus Canute, after the death of Edmund Ironside, was king alone of the whole realm of England, and afterward, by the advice of his council, he sent the foresaid sons of Edmund Ironside to his brother Swanus, king of Sweveland, to be slain, who, abhorring that deed, sent them to Salomon, king of Hungary, where Edmund, being married to the king's daughter, died; Edward was married to Agatha, daughter of his brother Henry the fourth, emperor.

    When Canute was stablished in the kingdom, he called a parliament at London, where (among other things there debated) it was propounded to the bishops, barons, and lords of the parliament there present, whether that, in the composition made between Edmund and Canute, any special remembrance was made for the children or brethren of Edmund, for any partition of any part of the land. Whereunto the English lords, falsely flattering the foreign king, and speaking against their own minds, as also against their native country, answered and said, Nay; affirming moreover with an oath (for the king's pleasure) that they to the uttermost of their powers would put off the blood of Edmund in all that they might. By reason of which answer and promise they thought (many of them) to have purchased with the king great favour. But by the just retribution of God it chanced far otherwise. For many of them, or the most part, (such especially as Canute did perceive to he sworn beforetime to Edmund and his heirs, and also considering that they were native Englishmen,) he mistrusted and disdained ever after. Insomuch that some he exiled, a great sort he beheaded, and some by God's punishment died suddenly. Among whom wicked Edrike also, the traitor, (although with his sugared words he continued a while in the king's favour,) at length escaped not condign reward for his deceivable dealing. For (as the history of Jornalensis recordeth) as the king was in his palace beyond Thames, this Edrike, (being belike accused, or else suspected of the king before,) coming unto him, began to reckon up his benefits and labours bestowed for his sake. First, in forsaking and betraying Egelred, then in slaying King Edmund his son, with many such other deeds more, which all for his sake he had done. Well, saith the king, thou hast here rightly judged thyself, and worthily thou shalt die for slaying thy natural prince, and my sworn brother. And so commanded him to be bound immediately hand and foot, and to be thrown into the Thames. Some stories say, that when he had saluted the king with, Hail, king alone, and showed him the slaying of Edmund, Canute (promising that he would make him therefore higher than all the lords of the realm) commanded his head to be stricken off, and to be set upon London bridge, and his body to be cast into the town ditch; and thus with shame ended he his wretched life, as all they commonly do which with like dissimulation seek the destruction of their prince, and of their country.

    This Canute (shortly after the death of King Edmund) exiled Edmund by the counsel of Edrike, who was brother unto King Edmund, called Rex runkonnn, The king of churls. But afterward he was reconciled again to the king's favour, and lastly slain by certain of the king's secretaries or servants. Also through the counsel of the said Edrike, and of Emma his wife, he sent the two sons of Edmund Ironside (Edmund and Edward) to his brother Swanus, king of Denmark, to be slain, as is abovesaid.

    In this mean time, Swanus king of Denmark, brother to Canute, died. Wherefore that land fell to Canute, which anon after sailed thither, and took thereof possession. And after he had set it in an order, he returned into England, and married Emma, late wife before of Egelred, and by her had a son called Hardeknight, or Hardeknoutus. Moreover, this Canute assembled a parliament at Oxford, where it was agreed that Englishmen and Danes should hold the laws made by King Edgar, because they were thought so good and reasonable above any other laws.

    Thus the Danes being in England began by little and little to be Christian men. And Canute went to Rome, and so, returning again to England, governed that land the space of twenty years, leaving after him two sons, Harold and Hardeknoutus; which Hardeknoutus was made king of Denmark in his father's time.

    Harold, (called Harefoot for his activity and swiftness,) son to Canute by Elgina his first wife, began his reign over England in the year 1039. Of him is little left in memory, (for he reigned but four years,) save that he banished his step mother Emma, and took her goods and jewels from her.

    Hardeknoutus, being king of Denmark, and second son to Canute by his last wife Emma, was next king of England. in the time of these Danish kings, there was one Godwin, an earl, in England, which had been before in great favour with Canute, for his acts done in Denmark against the Norwegians; and afterward married the sister (some say the daughter) of Canute. This Godwin was of a cruel and subtle wit, as he declared no less by the two sons of King Egelred. For when these two aforesaid (whose names were Alfred and Edward) came from Normandy into England, to visit their mother Emma, and brought with them a great company of Normans, this Godwin, (having a daughter called Godith, whom he thought to marry to Edward, and set him up to be king,) to bring his purpose about, used this practice, that is, to persuade King Hardeknout and the lords not to suffer those Normans to be within the realm for jeopardy, but rather to punish them for example; by which means he gat authority to order the matter himself. Wherefore he met them on Guild Down, and there most wretchedly murdered, or rather martyred, the most number of the Normans, and that innocently. For as Swanus before had tithed the monks of Canterbury; so he, with the cruel company of English soldiers, slew nine of the said Normans, and saved the tenth. And yet, passing the fury of Swanus, (as not contented with that tyranny,) he tithed again the said tithe, and slew every tenth knight, and that by cruel torment, as winding their guts out of their bodies, as writeth Ranulphus. And, among others, he put out the eyes of the elder brother Alfredus, and sent him to an abbey of Ely; where he, being fed with bread and water, endured not long after. Of some writers it was recorded, that he was there slain with the forenamed torment, and that Edward was conveyed by some other unto his mother; who, fearing the treason of Godwin, sent him soon over the sea into Normandy again. This cruel fact of Godwin and his men against the innocent Normans, whether it came of himself, or of the king's setting on, seemeth to me to be the cause why the justice of God did shortly after revenge the quarrel of these Normans, in conquering and subduing the English nation by William the Conqueror, and the Normans which came with him. For so just and right it was, that as the Normans, coming with a natural English prince, were murdered of Englishmen; so afterward the Englishmen should be slain and conquered by the Normans, coming with a foreign king, being none of their natural country.

    Then it followeth in the story, that this King Canute, or Hardeknout, when he had reigned two years, (being merry at Lambeth,) suddenly was stricken dumb, and fell down to the ground, and within eight days after died without issue of his body; who was the last that reigned in England of the blood of the Danes.

    This foresaid Godwin had by the daughter of Canute his wife but one son, which was drowned. Of his second wife he received six sons, to wit, Swanus, Harold, Tostius, Wilmot, Sirth, or Surth, and Leofric, with one daughter called Goditha, which after was married to King Edward the Confessor.

    Concerning the story of this Alfred, I find it something otherwise reported in our English chronicles, that it should be after the death of Hardeknout; forsomuch as the earls and barons, after his death, assembled and made a council, that never after any of the Danes' blood should be king of England, for the despite that they had done to Englishmen. For evermore before, if the Englishmen and the Danes had happened to meet upon a bridge, the Englishmen should not be so hardy to move a foot, but stand still till the Danes were passed forth. And moreover, if the Englishmen had not bowed down their heads to do reverence unto the Danes, they should have been beaten and defiled. For the which despites and villanies they were driven out of the land after the death of Hardeknout; for they had no lord that might maintain them. And after this manner avoided the Danes out of England, that they never came again.

    The earls and barons, by their common assent and counsel, sent unto Normandy for these two brethren, Alfred and Edward; intending to crown Alfred the elder brother, and to make him king of England. And to this the earls and barons made their oath; but the Earl Godwin of Westsax (falsely and traitorously) thought to slay these two brethren as soon as they came into England, to the intent that he might make Harold his son king; which son he had by his wife Hardeknout's daughter, that was a Dane. And so this Godwin went privily to Southampton, to meet there with the two brethren at their landing. And thus it fell, that the messengers that went (saith mine author) into Normandy found but only Alfred the elder brother. For Edward his younger brother was gone to Hungary, to speak with his cousin the outlaw, which was Edmund Ironside's son.

    When Alfred had heard these messengers, and perceived their tidings, he thanked God, and in all haste sped him to England, arriving at Southampton. There Godwin the false traitor (having knowledge of his coming) welcomed and received him with much joy, pretending to lead him unto London, where the barons waited for to make him king, and so they together passed forth toward London. But when they came to Guild Down, the traitor commanded all his men to slay all that were in Alfred's company which came with him from Normandy; and after that, to take Alfred, and to lead him into the Isle of Ely, where they should put out both his eyes; and so they did. For they slew all the company that were there, to the number of twelve gentlemen, which came with Alfred from Normandy; and after that they took Alfred, and in the Isle of Ely they executed their commission.

    That done, they opened his body, took out his bowels, set a stake into the ground, and fastened an end of his bowels thereunto, and with needles of iron they pricked his tender body, thereby causing him to go about the stake till that all his bowels were drawn out. And so died this innocent Alfred or Alured, being the right heir of the crown, through treason of wicked Godwin. When the lords of England heard thereof, and how Alfred, that should have been their king, was put to death through the false traitor Godwin, they were wondrous wroth; and sware between God and them, that he should die a worse death than did Edrike, which betrayed his lord, Edmund Ironside; and would immediately have put him to death, but that the traitor fled thence into Denmark, and there held him four years and more, and lost all his lands in England.

    Another Latin story I have, (bearing no name,) which saith that this coming in of Alfred and the Normans was in the time of Harold, Canute's son. And how Godwin (after he pretended great amity to them) suddenly in the night came upon them at Gilford, and after he had tithed the Normans, sent Alfred to Harold at London; who sent him to the Isle of Ely, and caused his eyes to be put out.

    And thus much of Canute, and of his sons, Harold and Hardecanute, Besides these two sons, Canute had also a daughter named Gunilda, married to Henricus the emperor. Of whom some write, that she being accused to the emperor of spouse-breach, and having no champion or knight that would fight for her, (after the manner of that country,) for trial of her cause, a certain little dwarf or boy, whom she brought with her out of England, (stirred up of God,) fought in her cause against a mighty big German of a monstrous greatness, which silly dwarf, cutting by chance the sinews of his leg, after struck him to the ground, and so cut off his head, and saved the life of the queen, if it be true that Gulielmus and Fabianus reporteth.

    Of this Canute it is storied, that he following much the superstition of Achelnot, archbishop of Canterbury, went on pilgrimage to Rome, and there founded an hospital for English pilgrims. He gave the pope precious gifts, and burdened the land with a yearly tribute, called the Rome-shot. He shrived the body of Berinus, and gave great lands and ornaments to the cathedral church of Winchester; he builded St. Benet's in Northfolke, which was before an hermitage. Also St. Edmunsbury, which King Athelstan before ordained for a college of priests, he turned to an abbey of monks of St. Benet's order.

    Henricus, archdeacon of Huntington, maketh mention of this Canute, as doth also Polydore, that he, after his coming from Rome, walking upon a time by the port of Southampton, but, as Polydore saith, and Fabian affirmeth the same, that it was by the Thames side of London, when his flatterers coming about him, began to exalt him up with high words, calling him a king of all kings, (most mighty,) who had under his subjection both the people, the land, and also the sea: Canute revolving this matter in his mind, (whether for pride of his heart exalted, or whether to try and refel their flattering words,) commanded his chair of state to be brought to the sea side, at what time it should begin to flow. Polydore saith that no seat was brought; but sitting upon his garments, being folded together under him, there charged and commanded the floods, arising and coming towards his feet, that they should touch neither him nor his clothes. But the water, keeping its ordinary course, came nearer and nearer; first to his feet, and so growing higher, began to wash him well-favouredly. Wherewith the king abashed, and partly also afraid. started back, and looking to his lords; Lo, (saith he,) ye call me such a mighty king, and yet can I not command back this little water to stay at my word, hot it is ready to drown me. Wherefore all earthly kings may know that all their powers be but vain, and that none is worthy to have the name of a king but He alone which hath all things subject to the power and authority of his word, which is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator above of all things, the Father of our Christ and Lord, who with him for ever is to be glorified; him let us worship and extol for our King for ever. After this, (as histories witness,) he never suffered the crown to come upon his head, but went to Winchester, or (as some say) to Canterbury: but both those may be true; for his going to Canterbury was to acknowledge that there was a Lord much higher and of more power than he himself was, and tlmerewithal to render up his crown for ever. With that, Egelnothus, archbishop of Canterbury, informed him of the image of the crucifix before mentioned, which dissolved the matter between married priests and life of monks, and did many other miracles more, being then at Winchester. Wherewith the king, provoked to go to Winchester to the rood, there resigned up his regal crown, and made the rood king over all the land.

    Here is also to be noted in this Canute, that although (as is said) he condescended in the beginning of his reign upon King Edgar's laws; yet after, in process of time, he set forth peculiar laws of his own. Among which divers there be that concern as well causes ecclesiastical as also temporal. Whereby it may appear, that the government of spiritual matters did not depend then of the bishop of Rome; but appertained to the lawful authority of the temporal prince, no less than of matters and causes temporal. As, for example, by the ordinances of the aforesaid Canute may be well considered.

    And here an end of the Danish kings. Now to the English kings again, whose right line cometh in again in Edward here following.

Previous Next