Famous Men of the Middle Ages
By John H. Haaren (John Henry)

Presented by

Public Domain Books


Henry the Second

Canute the Great

King from 1014-1035

I

The Danes, you remember, had the eastern and northern parts of England in the time of Alfred. Alfred’s successors drove them farther and farther north, and at length the Danish kingdom in England came to an end for a time.

But the Danes in Denmark did not forget that there had been such a kingdom and in the year 1013 Sweyn (swane), King of Denmark, invaded England and defeated the Anglo-Saxons. Ethelred, their king, fled to Normandy.

Sweyn now called himself the king of England; but in a short time he died and his son Canute succeeded to his throne. Canute was nineteen years old. He had been his father’s companion during the war with the Anglo-Saxons, and thus had had a good deal of experience as a soldier.

After the death of Sweyn some of the Anglo-Saxons recalled King Ethelred and revolted against the Danes.

Canute, however, went to Denmark and there raised one of the largest armies of Danes that had ever been assembled. With this powerful force he sailed to England. When he landed Northumberland and Wessex acknowledged him as king. Shortly after this Ethelred died.

Canute now thought he would find it easy to get possession of all England. This was a mistake.

Ethelred left a son named Edmund Ironside who was a very brave soldier. He became, by his father’s death, the king of Saxon England and at once raised an army to defend his kingdom. A battle was fought and Edmund was victorious. This was the first of five battles that were fought in one year. In none of them could the Danes do more than gain a slight advantage now and then.

However, the Saxons were at last defeated in a sixth battle through the act of a traitor. Edric, a Saxon noble, took his men out of the fight and his treachery so weakened the Saxon army that Edmund Ironside had to surrender to Canute.

But the young Dane had greatly admired Edmund for the way in which he had fought against heavy odds, so he now treated him most generously. Canute took certain portions of England and the remainder was given to Edmund Ironside.

Thus for a short time the Anglo-Saxon people had at once a Danish and a Saxon monarch.

II

Edmund died in 1016 and after his death Canute became sole ruler.

He ruled wisely. He determined to make his Anglo-Saxon subjects forget that he was a foreign conqueror. To show his confidence in them he sent back to Denmark the army he had brought over the sea, keeping on a part of his fleet and a small body of soldiers to act as guards at his palace.

He now depended on the support of his Anglo-Saxon subjects and he won their love.

Although a king—and it is generally believed that kings like flattery—Canute is said to have rebuked his courtiers when they flattered him. On one occasion, when they were talking about his achievements, one of them said to him:

“Most noble king, I believe you can do anything.”

Canute sternly rebuked the courtier for these words and then said:

“Come with me, gentlemen.”

He led them from the palace grounds to the sea-shore where the tide was rising, and had his chair placed at the edge of the water.

“You say I can do anything,” he said to the courtiers. “Very well, I who am king and the lord of the ocean now command these rising waters to go back and not dare wet my feet.”

But the tide was disobedient and steadily rose and rose, until the feet of the king were in the water. Turning to his courtiers, Canute said:

“Learn how feeble is the power of earthly kings. None is worthy the name of king but He whom heaven and earth and sea obey.”

During Canute’s reign England had peace and prosperity and the English people have ever held his memory dear.

The Cid

Late one sunny afternoon one and twenty knights were riding along the highway in the northern part of Spain. As they were passing a deep mire they heard cries for help, and turning, saw a poor leper who was sinking in the mud. One of the knights, a handsome young man, was touched by the cries. He dismounted, rescued the poor fellow, took him upon his own horse, and thus the two rode to the inn. The other knights wondered at this.

When they reached the inn where they were to stop for the night, they wondered still more, for their companion gave the leper a seat next to himself at the table. After supper the knight shared his own bed with the leper. If the knight had not done this, the leper would have been driven out of the town, with nothing to eat and no place in which to sleep. At midnight, while the young man was fast asleep, the leper breathed upon his back. This awakened the knight, who turned quickly in his bed and found that the leper was gone.

The knight called for a light and searched, but in vain. While he was wondering about what had happened, a man in shining garments appeared before him and said, “Rodrigo, art thou asleep or awake?" The knight answered, “I am awake, but who art thou that bringest such brightness?” The vision replied, “I am St. Lazarus, the leper to whom thou wast so kind. Because I have breathed upon thee thou shalt accomplish whatever thou shalt undertake in peace or in battle. All shall honor thee. Therefore, go on and evermore do good.”

With that the vision vanished.

The promise of St. Lazarus was fulfilled. In time young Rodrigo became the great hero of Spain. The Spaniards called him Campeador (cam-pe--dor’), or Champion. The Saracens called him “The Cid," or Lord. His real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, but he is usually spoken of as “The Cid.”

The Goths, after the death of Alaric, had taken Spain away from the Romans. The Saracens, or, as they were usually called, the Moors, had crossed the sea from Africa and in turn had taken Spain from the Goths. In the time of Charles Martel the Goths had lost all Spain except the small mountain district in the northern part. In the time of the Cid the Goths, now called Spaniards, had driven the Moors down to about the middle of Spain. War went on all the time between the two races, and many men spent their lives in fighting. The Spanish part of the country then comprised the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and others.

The Cid was a subject of Fernando of Castile. Fernando had a dispute with the king of Aragon about a city which each claimed. They agreed to decide the matter by a combat. Each was to choose a champion. The champions were to fight, and the king whose champion won was to have the city. Fernando chose the Cid, and though the other champion was called the bravest knight in Spain, the youthful warrior vanquished him.

When Alfonzo, a son of Fernando, succeeded to the throne, he became angry with the Cid without just cause and banished him from Christian Spain.

The Cid was in need of some money, so he filled two chests with sand and sent word to two wealthy money lenders that he wished to borrow six hundred Spanish marks (about $2,000 [as of 1904]), and would put into their hands his treasures of silver and gold which were packed in two chests, but the money lenders must solemnly swear not to open the chests until a full year had passed. To this they gladly agreed. They took the chests and loaned him six hundred marks.

The Cid was now ready for his journey. Three hundred of his knights went into banishment with him. They crossed the mountains and entered the land of the Moors. Soon they reached the town of Alcocer, and after a siege captured it and lived in it.

Then the Moorish king of Valencia ordered two chiefs to take three thousand horsemen, recapture the town and bring the Cid alive to him.

So the Cid and his men were shut up in Alcocer and besieged. Famine threatened them and they determined to cut their way through the army of the Moors. Suddenly and swiftly they poured from the gate of Alcocer, and a terrible battle was fought. The two Moorish chiefs were taken prisoners and thirteen hundred of their men were killed in the battle. The Cid then became a vassal of the Moorish king of Saragossa.

After a while Alfonzo recalled the Cid from banishment and gave him seven castles and the lands adjoining them. He needed the Cid’s help in the greatest of all his plans against the Moors. He was determined to capture Toledo. He attacked it with a large army in which there were soldiers from many foreign lands. The Cid is said to have been the commander. After a long siege the city fell and the victorious army marched across the great bridge built by the Moors, which you would cross to-day if you went to Toledo. [NOTE FROM Brett Fishburne: This stunned me, so I researched it briefly and it turns out that the bridge was washed out completely in 1257, then rebuilt by Alfonso X. There were numerous other reconstructions done between then and 2000, the most recent of which I am aware was in the late 1970s using stone blocks found in situ.]

Valencia was one of the largest and richest cities in Moorish Spain. It was strongly fortified, but the Cid determined to attack it.

The plain about the city was irrigated by streams that came down from the neighboring hills. To prevent the Cid’s army from coming near the city the Saracens flooded the plain. But the Cid camped on high ground above the plain and from that point besieged the city. Food became very scarce in Valencia. Wheat, barley and cheese were all so dear that none but the rich could buy them. People ate horses, dogs, cats and mice, until in the whole city only three horses and a mule were left alive.

Then on the fifteenth of June, 1094, the governor went to the camp of the Cid and delivered to him the keys of the city. The Cid placed his men in all the forts and took the citadel as his own dwelling. His banner floated from the towers. He called himself the Prince of Valencia.

When the king of Morocco heard of this he raised an army of fifty thousand men. They crossed from Africa to Spain and laid siege to Valencia. But the Cid with his men made a sudden sally and routed them and pursued them for miles. It is said that fifteen thousand soldiers were drowned in the river Guadalquivir (Gua-dal-qui-vir’) which they tried to cross.

The Cid was now at the height of his power and lived in great magnificence. One of the first things he did was to repay the two friends who had lent him the six hundred marks. He was kind and just to the Saracens who had become his subjects. They were allowed to have their mosques and to worship God as they thought right.

In time the Cid’s health began to fail. He could lead his men forth to battle no more. He sent an army against the Moors, but it was so completely routed that few of his men came back to tell the tale. It is said by a Moorish writer that “when the runaways reached him the Cid died of rage” (1099).

There is a legend that shortly before he died he saw a vision of St. Peter, who told him that he should gain a victory over the Saracens after his death.

So the Cid gave orders that his body should be embalmed. It was so well preserved that it seemed alive. It was clothed in a coat of mail, and the sword that had won so many battles was placed in the hand. Then it was mounted upon the Cid’s favorite horse and fastened into the saddle, and at midnight was borne out of the gate of Valencia with a guard of a thousand knights.

All silently they marched to a spot where the Moorish king, with thirty-six chieftains, lay encamped, and at daylight the knights of the Cid made a sudden attack. The king awoke. It seemed to him that there were coming against him full seventy thousand knights, all dressed in robes as white as snow, and before them rode a knight, taller than all the rest, holding in his left hand a snow-white banner and in the other a sword which seemed of fire. So afraid were the Moorish chief and his men that they fled to the sea, and twenty thousand of them were drowned as they tried to reach their ships.

There is a Latin inscription near the tomb of the Cid which may be translated: *Brave and unconquered, famous in triumphs of war, Enclosed in this tomb lies Roderick the Great of Bivar.*/

Continue...

Preface  •  Introduction  •  The Nibelungs  •  Alaric the Visigoth  •  Attila the Hun  •  Genseric the Vandal  •  Theodoric the Ostrogoth  •  Clovis  •  Justinian the Great  •  Mohammed  •  Charles Martel, 714-741 A.D. and Pepin, 741-768 A.D.  •  Charlemagne  •  Harun-al-Rashid  •  Egbert  •  Rollo the Viking  •  Alfred the Great  •  Henry the Fowler  •  Canute the Great  •  Edward the Confessor  •  William the Conqueror  •  Peter the Hermit  •  Frederick Barbarossa  •  Henry the Second 1154-1189 and His Sons 1189-1216  •  Louis the Ninth  •  Robert Bruce  •  Marco Polo  •  Edward the Black Prince  •  Tamerlane  •  Henry V  •  Joan of Arc  •  Gutenberg  •  Warwick the Kingmaker

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