Friday, 27 May 2011
King Canute (or Cnut - on the right of the picture above)was the Viking King of Denmark and Norway who captured the throne of England, conquering the country and ruling it from 1016-1035. Yet the only thing he is really known for is "trying to stop the tide coming in". Recent articles about the Ryan Giggs affair (Nonsuch HP is reasonably confident we can mention his name now without getting sued!) have suggested that he has acted like "King Canute" in trying to stop everyone talking about him on Twitter - ie once the cat has been let out of the bag (mixing metaphors a bit) you can't put it back in.
However, this BBC article suggests that the Canute legend is unfair. The first written account of his reign, by Henry of Huntingdon, suggests that Canute did indeed go down to beach at Bosham, Sussex, and order the waves not to come any further onto the land. However he didn't do this because he was power-mad, but because he knew that his order would fail, and would prove that there were some things beyond his control. In other words, it was an early lesson in the limitations of political power. Indeed Professor Simon Keynes regards him as quite a remarkable king rather than the pompous buffoon of legend. However, Canute in real life was unlikely to have been that humble. His successful conquest of England and his clever marriage to Emma of Normandy, widow of the Saxon King, suggests that he was a remarkably talented soldier and politician.