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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

And recognise Canute as their King


had put himself into actual

possession of the supreme authority, being dead, they framed the largest conception of their right. They formally made conditions with Ethelred for his return, and he consented to their demands through his son.[7] Since he, however, did not fulfil his promise--for how could he have altered his nature?--they held themselves released from their engagement to maintain this family on the throne. Sven's son, Canute, had taken his father's place among the Danes; he had been long ago baptised, he was of a character which commanded confidence, and possessed at the time overwhelming power. After Ethelred's death the lay and spiritual chiefs of England decided to abandon the house of Cerdic for ever, and to recognise Canute as their King. How many jarls and thanes of Danish origin do we find around the kings under all the last governments. Edgar was especially blamed for the very reason that he took them under his protection. But they had been subjected only by war; no hereditary sentiment of natural loyalty attached them to the West Saxon royal house. The ecclesiastical aristocracy was besides determined by religious considerations; to them these disasters and crimes seemed sufficient proof of the truth of those prophecies of coming woe which Dunstan was believed to have uttered. They repaired to Canute at Southampton, and concluded a peace with him, the conditions of which were that they would abandon the descendants of Ethelred for ever, and recognise Canute as their King; he, on the
other hand, promised to fulfil the duties of a King truly, in both spiritual and temporal relations.[8] Yet once more, Ethelred's eldest son, Edmund Ironsides, who was himself half a Dane by birth, roused himself to a vigorous resistance: London and a part of the nobility took his side; he gained through force of arms a settlement by which, though indeed he lost the best part of the land and the capital itself, he maintained the crown; he died however, soon after, and then the whole country recognised Canute as King. The last scion of the royal house in the land was banished, and all the claims of the family to the crown again declared void. The Anglo-Saxon magnates undertook to make a money payment to the Danish host; in return they received the pledge from the King's hand, and the oath by his soul taken by his chiefs.[9] It was a treaty between the Anglo-Saxon and the Danish chiefs, by which the former received the King of the latter as also their own.

This extremely important event links the centuries together, and determines the future fortunes of England. The kingly house, whose right and pre-eminence was connected with the earliest settlements, which had completed the union of the realm and delivered it from the worst distress, was at a moment of moral deterioration and disaster excluded by the spiritual and temporal chiefs, of Anglo-Saxon and Danish origin. They had first tried to limit it, to bind it by its own promise; when this led to nothing, they annihilated its right by a formal resolution of the realm, and procured peace by raising to the throne another sovereign who had no right by birth. Canute did not owe the crown to conquest, though his greater power contributed to the result, but to election, which now appeared as the superior right: hitherto the Witan had always exercised it within the limits of the royal family; this time they disregarded that family altogether.


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