It is hard to say whether he excelled more in courage or in conduct and skill in war; but his singular piety eclipsed all his other endowments. He cleared the seas of pirates, and subdued several neighboring provinces which infested Denmark with their incursions. The kingdom of Denmark was elective till the year 1660, and, when the father of Canutus died, his eldest brother, Harold, was called to the throne. Harold died after reigning for two years, and Canutus was chosen to succeed him.
He began his reign by a successful war against the troublesome, barbarous enemies of the state, and by planting the faith in the conquered provinces. Amid the glory of his victories he humbly prostrated himself at the foot of the crucifix, laying there his diadem, and offering himself and his kingdom to the King of kings.
After having provided for the peace and safety of his country, he married Eltha, daughter of Robert, Earl of Flanders, who proved a spouse worthy of him. His next concern was to reform abuses at home. For this purpose he enacted severe but necessary laws for the strict administration of justice, and repressed the violence and tyranny of the great, thus acting without respect to persons. He countenanced and honored holy men, and granted many privileges and immunities to the clergy. His charity and tenderness towards his subjects made him study by all possible ways to make them a happy people. He showed a royal munificence in building and adorning churches, and gave the crown which he wore, of exceeding great value, to a church in his capital and place of residence, where the kings of Denmark are yet buried.
To the virtues which constitute a great king, Canutus added those which prove the great saint. A rebellion having sprung up in his kingdom, the king was surprised at church by the rebels. Perceiving his danger, he confessed his sins at the foot of the altar, and received Holy Communion. Stretching out his arms before the altar, the Saint fervently recommended his soul to his Creator; in this posture he was struck by a javelin thrown through a window, and fell a victim for Christ’s sake.
Reflection.—The soul of a man is endowed with many noble powers, and feels a keen joy in their exercise; but the keenest joy we are capable of feeling consists in prostrating all our powers of mind and heart in humblest adoration before the majesty of God.