Canute was King of England from AD 1016-1035. Originally from Denmark, he went on expedition to England and conquered it, and he later conquered Norway, thus ruling all three countries. While his massive conquests may indicate a certain covetousness and discontent with what God had given him, he nonetheless had a sober-minded view of human authority. And it is for this that we remember him. If you’ve ever heard a story about King Canute, it has not likely been about his pilgrimage to Rome, his military might, or his prudence as he established himself over the conquered English people. It has been the story of King Canute by the Seashore. Here it is from the original source, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon:
“When at the summit of his power, [Canute] ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in; thus seated, he shouted to the flowing sea, ‘Thou, too, art subject to my command, as the land on which I am seated is mine; and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.’ The tide, however, continuing to rise as usual, dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leaped backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ From thenceforth King Canute never wore his crown of gold, but placed it for a lasting memorial on the image of our Lord affixed to a cross, to the honour of God the almighty King: through whose mercy may the soul of Canute, the king enjoy everlasting rest.”*
When the things of earth tell us that we’re great and threaten to puff us up, may God grant us the humility of Canute to see our crucified Lord as the true King who is worthy of the highest honor.
*From The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon. Translated by Thomas Forester (1853), pgs. 198-199