CHARTER OF CANUTE

The following Charter affords a most important illustration of the policy of Canute with regard his English subjects, and of the general spirit of legislation after his rule was universally admitted. It probably belongs to the year 1020, in which the king returned to Denmark, as the earl Thurcyl, to whom it is addressed, was outlawed the following year. The laws of Edgar had been chosen by the Danes and English at Oxford 1018. (Select Charters Illustrative of English Constitutional History – Stubbs)

Canute the King, greets his archbishops and his suffragan bishops, and Thurcyl the earl, and all his earls and all his people, twelfhynde and tweyhynde, clerk and lay in England, friendly; and I do to you wit that I will be kind lord and unfailing to Gods rights and to the right of secular law. I took to my remembrance the writing and the word that archbishop Lyfing brought me from Rome from the Pope, that I should everywhere maintain the glory of God and put down wrong, and work full peace by the might that God would give me. Now I shrank not from the cost whilst hostility was in hand among you; now I with God’s help took away at my cost that of men told me that it threatened us with more harm than well pleased us; and then went myself to Denmark, with the men that went with me, from whence most harm came to you; and that have I with God’s help taken precautions for that henceforth should enmity come to you from thence whilst ye men rightly hold, and my life lasteth. Now I thank God Almighty for his help and mercy, that I have so allayed the harms that threatened us, that we need expect from thence no harm, but to full peace and to deliverance if need be. Now I will that we all reverently thank God Almighty for this mercy that he has done for our help. Now I beseech my archbishops and all my suffragan bishops that they all be attentive about God’s right, every one in his district which is committed to him; and also my ealdormen I command that they help the Bishops to Gods right and to my royal authority and to the behoof of all the people. If any be so bold, clerk or lay, Dane or English, as to go against God’s law and against my royal authority, or against secular law, and be unwilling to make amends, and to alter according to my bishop’s teaching, then I pray Thurcyl my earl, and command him, that he bend that unrighteous one to right if he can; if he cannot, then with the strength of us both that he destoy him in the land or drive him out of the land, be he better or worse; and I also command all my reeves, by my friendship and by all they own, and by their own life, that they everywhere hold my people rightly and judge right judgements by the shire bishops’ witness, and do so much mercy therein as the shire bishop thinks right, as a man may attain to; and if any harbour a thief, or neglect the pursuit, be he answerable to me as the thief should be, unless he can clear himself towards me with full purgtion. And I will that all people, clerk and lay, hold fast Edgar’s law, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford, for that all the bishops say that it right deeply offends God, that a man break oaths or pledges; and likewise they further teach us that we should with all might and main, alike seek, love, love and worship the eternal merciful God, and eschew all unrighteousness; that is, slaying of kinsmen, and murder, and perjury and witchcraft and enchantment, and adultery, and incest; and also we charge in the name of God Almighty, and all of his saints, that no man be so bold as to marry a hallowed nun or mynchen; and if any have done so, be he outlawed towards God, and excommunicated from all Christendom, and answerable to the king in all he has, unless he quickly alter and deeply make amends to God; and further still, we admonish that men keep Sunday’s festival with all their might, and observe it from Saturday’s noon to Monday’s dawning; and no man be so bold that he go to market or seek any court on that holy day; and all men’ poor or rich, seek their church, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, and keep earnest every ordained fast, and earnestly honour the saints that the mass priests shall bid us, that we may altogether through the mercy of the everlasting God and the intercession of his saints come to the joy of the kingdom of heaven, and dwell with Him who liveth and reigneth for ever without end. Amen

[York Gospel Book, MS.]

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