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It may be asserted, with truth, that not many English kings have left a better name behind them than Canute. He does not owe this only to the favour he showed the clergy, the authors of most of the chronicles of ancient times. He acquired it by his numerous and excellent laws, by the power he exerted in restoring order and tranquillity in the kingdom, by his wisdom in suppressing the ancient animosities between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons, as well as by the care he took to promote the knowledge and piety of his people. He issued severe laws against heathenism, and endeavoured to wipe out the traces of his forefathers' devastations by re-building convents and churches. He even caused the corpse of Archbishop Elfeg, so cruelly murdered by the followers of Thorkel the Tall, to be conveyed with great solemnity from London to Canterbury, and deposited in the cathedral. To these traits may be added his many excellent personal qualities, his sincere repentance for the acts of violence which he committed in the heat of passion, and his profound humility before God. The story of his shaming some of his courtiers, who flattered him when walking on the seashore whilst the tide was flowing, is, if possible, still better known in England than in Denmark. It would be difficult to find any one who is not acquainted with all the particulars of it, and who has not heard it stated that Canute, from that very day, placed his golden crown on the altar of Winchester cathedral, and never wore it more. This is one of those traits of true nobility and greatness of soul that are imperishable in all times and ages.
Canute was first buried in the old convent of St. Peter's at Winchester; but his body was afterwards removed into the grand choir of the cathedral, where both his and his son Hardicanute's tombs are still to be seen. Over Hardicanute's, in the wall that surrounds the middle of the choir, was placed (1661) a stone, on which a ship is carved, and the following inscription:—
Qui jacet hie regni sceptrum tulit Hardicanutus; Emmas Cnutonis gnatus et ipse fait. In hac cista Lo. 1661. Obiit A.d. 10*2. Or, "Hardicanute, who lies here, and who was a son of Emma and Canute, bore the kingdom's sceptre. He died in the year of our Lord 1042, and was placed in this coffin in 1661."
The form of the ship on the tombstone shows it to be of no older date than the seventeenth century; but it was possibly carved there because a ship of war had previously adorned the tomb of Hardicanute. At all events, it indicates his relationship with the powerful Scandinavian sea-kings, and his descent from those Northmen who for centuries were absolute on the ocean.
Above the before-mentioned wall, in the grand choir, there stands to the left of the entrance a rather plain wooden coffin, decorated with a gilt crown, half fallen off, with the inscription:—
"In this and another coffin, directly opposite, repose the remains of Kings Canute and Rufus, of Queen Emma, and of the Archbishops Winde and Alfvin."
In Cromwell's time, the coffins of the kings in the grand choir of Winchester cathedral were broken open, and the bones dispersed; but they were afterwards collected together, as far as this could be done, and again placed in the grand choir in coffins like the one just mentioned. Thus Canute the Great, whose ambition could not be bounded even by three kingdoms, has not retained so much as a grave for himself and his beloved Emma. The presentiment of the perishableness of all earthly power that seized him when he deposited his golden crown in the same place has, in truth, been fulfilled!
The other royal coffins that surround the grand choir in Winchester contain the bones of several old Saxon kings. That the Danish kings Canute and Hardicanute should be entombed among them, in the midst of Anglo-Saxon south England, is a sufficient proof of the immense change that had taken place with regard to the Danes in England since their first appearance there as barbarous heathen Vikings. Instead of their kings seeking renown by the destruction of churches and convents, and by murdering or maltreating the clergy; instead of their despising any other kind of burial than that in the open fields, on hills under large cairns, or monumental stones, their successors were now regarded as the benefactors and protectors of the Church, and as such worthy to repose in the most important ecclesiastical edifices, even in the principal district of their former mortal enemies. Nay, the clergy there were indefatigable in handing down their glory to the latest ages; and thus a statue of Canute the Great was long to be seen in the cathedral of Winchester.
But this also affords a striking proof that the Danes and Anglo-Saxons no longer regarded each other so much in the light of strangers, or with such mutual feelings of enmity as before; and that Canute had thus happily broken through the strong barrier which had hitherto separated Saxon south England from Danish north England.
The Wash.—The Five Burghs.—The Hnmber.—York.—
The Thames certainly brought many Danes in ancient times to the country south of Watlinga Strset; but the large bay on the eastern coast of England, called the "Wash," and the rivers Humber, Tees, and Tyne, attracted still more of them to the eastern and northern districts. The Wash especially seems to have been one of the landing places most in favour with them. Whether it were its situation, directly opposite to Jutland on the one side, and on the other, on a line with the fruitful midland districts of England; or whether it were rather the rapid current which sets in there that attracted the ships of the Vikings, is a point that we must leave undecided. This much, however, is certain, that the first and richest settlements of the Danes were around this bay; and from it afterwards extended itself quite up to the frontiers of Scotland, the so-called " Danelagh;" which was a district so considerable as to comprise fifteen of the thirty-two counties, or shires, then existing in England, and amongst them the extensive county of Northumberland.
South of the Wash, and extending towards the Thames, lay East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk); which, a century after the commencement of the Vikings' expeditions, was already in the hands of the Danes. Alfred the Great was compelled to cede it, together with several adjacent tracts of country, by formal treaty, to the Danish King Gudrun, or Gorm. It is certain that it had at that time, like Kent, received many Danish settlers, particularly from the neighbouring Jutland, and their number continually increased. Yet in East Anglia they seem to have been scarcely more in a condition to compete with the AngloSaxons, in regard to population and power, than in Kent. It was only on the coast, and indeed only on that of Norfolk, that they had any settlements, as the Scandinavian names of places still preserved there show. These districts lay too near to the main strength of the AngloSaxons. The Saxon inhabitants did not easily suffer themselves to be expelled, and the Danish dominion there could not, consequently, become of permanent importance.
But to the north and west of the Wash the Danes obtained a very different footing. In the province called Mercia (or the Marches), which formed the centre of England, and in that of Lindisse (or, in old Norsk, Lindisey), which extended from the Wash to the Humber, they were not only in possession of a great number of villages and landed estates, which they had selected to settle on, but had likewise made themselves masters of several towns, and particularly the five strong fortresses of Stamford, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, and Lincoln. These places, which as early as Alfred's reign belonged to the Danes, and which were distinguished by their size, their commerce, and their wealth, obtained the name of " The Five Burghs" (Femborgene). They formed, as it were, a little separate state, and possessed in common their own courts of judicature, and other peculiar municipal institu