(nothing without the divine will)
Today I’m going to cover a bit of history involving a prehistoric King of England who was known as Canute (actually spelled Cnut). The funny pictured above is quite amusing to the average Englishman who just happens to be well up on his ancient history. To all others, any kings of the land who predated the Norman invasion are a mystery, usually. I found this on the History Today web site on April 10th and noticed the year and knew it had to be an invading king but the circumstances in the strip (or B.D. for all you French fans!) left me clueless as to who it could be. So I checked out my handy European Royalty Genealogy Chart (which I bought at the gift shop of Chateau de Villandry back in 2001) and tried to find the correct Rois d’Angleterre and came up with Knut le Grand of 1016 who reigned until his death 1035. His two sons briefly reigned for England both dying rather quickly. The Kingdom was restored to Edward the Confessor shortly thereafter and he, of course, ran the kingdom until William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.
It appears in the strip that old Cnut is showing off his wealth and taking good care of himself but I’m going to tell you the story so you’ll at least get the gist of this subtle humor of which the British are so fond. This is a great illustration for the adage for many a lost cause: ‘can’t turn back the tide’. I’m sure you’ve heard this at least a few times although it is getting rather dated in the States. This depicts an actual event . Best told by one Henry of Huntingdon, Cnut was also a Danish king who set his throne by the sea shore (somewhere around the Saxon Holy Trinity Church at Bosham near Chichester in West Sussex) and when he was in full royal costume he was set to prove himself and commanded the tide to refrain from coming in and wetting his feet and royal robe. Of course, “continuing to rise as usual, the tide dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt 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.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix and never wore it again “to the honor of God the almighty King”. Such humility from a very powerful king was just the kind of Romanticism of the 12th century which would turn heads. Kings aren’t known for such a trait and yet his character was impeccable. (Conversely, a sign put up on Southampton city’s Canute Road reads, “Near this spot AD 1028 Canute reproved his courtiers”.)
Later historians retold and revamped the story to lay things a little thicker and have Cnut staging the situation to rebuke his courtiers who were accustomed to flattering the king. Some similar Celtic stories of men who actually did command the tides include Saint Illtud, Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd in Wales and Tuirbe, of Tuirbe’s Strand in Brittany, France. I imagine they were exercising their God-given rights by the power of the blood of Jesus. I’ve tried it myself and it works !
Today’s use is more of a proverbial reference for politics or journalists twisting things to make their stories more clear. For instance, Stacy Head used it for typifying New Orleans city council’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or Mark Stephens in reference to Ryan Giggs as “the King Canute of football (soccer)” for his attempts of stopping “the unstoppable tide of information ” on the internet in the 2011 British privacy injunctions controversy. The comic strip shows a King Canute who planned ahead and makes a very arrogant show of his ability to thwart the tide by normal physical means. I suppose if we wanted to turn it into our favorite slapstick humor in the States a sudden flash flood would’ve been in order to keep the king humble. LOL.
Divine kisses from
The Castle Lady
By the way, nil sine numine happens to be the motto for Colorado. FYI