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12. A Letter from Canute to the English People (1027)

From Source Book of English History Edited by Elizabeth Kimball Kendall, The Macmillan Company; New York, London; 1900; pp. 35-38

This letter of
the great
Danish king
shows the in-
fluence of the
church in
drawing to-
gether the
peoples of
Europe. It
shows also
the spirit in
which Ca-
nute ruled,
and the wide-
ness of his
As king of
the English,
the Danes,
the Norwe-
gians, and a
great part of
the Swedes,
his power was
equalled by
that of the

“CANUTE, king of all England, and of Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden, to Ethelnoth, metropolitan, and Ælfric, archbishop of York, and to the bishops and prelates, and to the whole nation of the English, both the nobles and the commons, greeting: —

“I notify to you that I have lately taken a journey to Rome, to pray for the forgiveness of my sins, and for the welfare of my dominions, and the people under my rule. I had long since vowed this journey to God, but I have been hitherto prevented from accomplishing it by the affairs of my kingdom and other causes of impediment. I now return most humble thanks to my God Almighty for suffering me in my lifetime to visit the sanctuary of his apostles, SS. Peter and Paul, and all others which I could find either within or without the city of Rome, and there in person reverentially worship according to my desire. I have performed this chiefly, because I have learnt from wise men that St. Peter the apostle has received from God great power in binding and loosing, and carries the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and therefore I esteemed it very profitable to seek his special patronage with the Lord.

“Be it known to all of you that, at the celebration of Easter, a great assembly of nobles was present with our lord, the pope John, and Conrad the emperor; that is to say, all the
John XIX.

Conrad II.

Mountains at
the eastern
end of the

The Medi-
princes of the nations from Mount Garganus to the neighbouring sea. All these received me with honour and presented me with magnificent gifts; but more especially was I honoured by the emperor with various gifts and valuable presents, both in gold and silver vessels, and in palls and very costly robes. I spoke with the emperor himself, and the lord pope, and the princes who were there, in regard to the 36 wants of my people, English as well as Danes; that there should be granted to them more equal justice and greater security in their journeys to Rome, and that they should not be hindered by so many barriers on the road, nor harassed by unjust tolls. The emperor assented to my demands, as
Rudolf III.
last king of

See No. 5.
well as king Rodolph, in whose dominions these barriers chiefly stand; and all the princes made edicts that my people, the merchants as well as those who go to pay their devotions, shall pass to and fro in their journies to Rome in peace, and under the security of just laws, free from all molestation by the guards of barriers or the receivers of tolls. I made further complaint to my lord the pope, and expressed my high displeasure, that my archbishops are sorely aggreived by the demand of immense sums of money when, according to custom, they resort to the apostolical see to obtain the
A conse-
crated vest-
ment, symbol
of archiepis-
copal author-
ity, and
conferred by
the pope.
pallium; and it is decreed that it should no longer be done. All things, therefore, which I requested for the good of my people from my lord the pope, and the emperor, and king Rodolph, and the other princes through whose territories our road to Rome lies, they have most freely granted, and even ratified their concessions by oath; to which four archbishops, twenty bishops, and an innumerable multitude of dukes and nobles who were there present, are witnesses. Wherefore I return most hearty thanks to Almighty God for my having successfully accomplished all that I had desired, as I had resolved in my mind, and having satisfied my wishes to the fullest extent.

“Be it known therefore to all of you, that I have humbly vowed to the Almighty God himself henceforward to amend my life in all respects, and to rule the kingdoms and the people subject to me with justice and clemency, giving equitable judgments in all matters; and if, through the intemperance of my youth or negligence, I have hitherto exceeded the bounds of justice in any of my acts, I intend by God’s aid to make an entire change for the better. I therefore adjure and command 37 my counsellors to whom I have entrusted the affairs of my kingdom, that henceforth they neither commit themselves, nor suffer to prevail, any sort of injustice throughout my dominions, either from fear of me, or from favour to any powerful person. I also command all sheriffs and magistrates throughout my whole kingdom, as they tender my regard and their own safety, that they use no unjust violence to any man, rich or poor, but that all, high and low, rich or poor, shall enjoy alike impartial law; from which they are never to deviate, either on account of royal favour, respect of person in the great, or for the sake of amassing money wrongfully, for I have no need to accumulate wealth by iniquitous exactions.

“I wish you further to know, that, returning by the way I went, I am now going to Denmark, to conclude a treaty for
to Olaf
of Norway.
a solid peace, all the Danes concurring, with those nations and peoples who would have taken my life and crown if it had been possible; but this they were not able to accomplish, God bringing their strength to nought. — May He, of his merciful kindness, uphold me in my sovereignty and honour, and henceforth scatter and bring to nought the power and might of all my adversaries! When, therefore, I shall have made peace with the surrounding nations, and settled and reduced to order all my dominions in the East, so that we shall have nothing to fear from war or hostilities in any quarter, I propose to return to England as early in the summer as I shall be able to fit out my fleet. I have sent this epistle before me in order that my people may be gladdened at my success; because, as you yourselves know, I have never spared, nor will I spare, myself or my exertions, for the needful service of my whole people. I now therefore command and adjure all my bishops and the governors of my kingdom, by the duty they owe to God and myself, to take care that before I come to England all dues belonging to God, according to the old laws, be fully discharged; 38 namely, plough-alms, the tythe of animals born in the current year, and the pence payable to St. Peter at Rome, whether from towns or vills; and in the middle of August the tythes of corn; and at the feast of St. Martin the first-fruits of grain (payable) to every one’s parish church, called in English ciric-sceat. If these and such-like dues be not paid before I come, those who make default will incur fines to the king, according to law, which will be strictly enforced without mercy. Farewell.”

Canute, Epistola (cited in Florence of Worcester, Chronicle. Translated by T. Forester, London, 1854, 137-139).

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