Wednesday, May 9, 2012

King Canute's Charter of Liberties (Theonomy Applied)

"Let all men know how empty and worthless is the
power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name
but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey."
- Canute the Great

Canute the great was a Danish Viking who
conquered England and ultimately ruled
a Northern Empire
(Above: Danish Vikings embarking to
invade England)
Canute the Great (994 - 1035) was a Danish Viking who conquered England, and ultimately ruled a northern empire as king of England (1016 - 1035), Denmark (1019 - 1035), Norway (1028 - 1035), and part of Sweden (1026 - 1035?).

Canute is believed to have said the following: 
"Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey."

Such a God-centered emphasis we find in his "Charter of Liberties" (probably written around 1020). In addition, one author writes of the charter, 
The Charter of Liberties given by Canute should be studied in connection with those later charters which render notable the reigns of Henry I. and John. The even-handed justice assured to all men, both English and Danes, finds a parallel in the laws enforced by William the Conqueror.[1]
Below we include most of the charter (minus some of the Roman Catholic-sounding aspects), and break it up into sections categorized by their more God-centered and theonomic aspects.

Acknowledgement of God:

Canute, the king, greets his archbishops and his suffragan bishops, and Thurcyl the earl, and all his earls and all his people, twelfhynde and twyhynde, clerk and lay, in England, friendly; and I do you to wit that I will be kind lord and unfailing to
God's rights and to right secular law. 

Stress on ruling to the glory of God/punishing evil/trusting God for strength: 

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 my cost while hostility was in hand among you; now I with God's help took away at my cost that of which men told me that it threatened me with more harm than well pleased us; and then went I myself into 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 never 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 great harms that threatened us, that we need expect from thence no harm, hut to full peace and to deliverance if need be. Now I will that we all reverently thank God Almighty for the 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 God's 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 also command him, that he bend that unrighteous one to right if he can; if he cannot, then will I with the strength of us both that he destroy him in the land or drive him from out of the land, be he better, be he worse; and also I command all my reeves, by my friendship and by all that they own, and by their own life, that they everywhere hold my people rightly and do judge right judgments by the shire bishop's witness, and do such 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, unless he can clear himself towards me with full purgation. 

Opposition to oath breaking, murder, perjury, witchcraft, enchantment, adultery, incest, Sabbath-breaking:

And I will that all people, clerk and lay, hold fast Edgar's law, which all men have chosen and sworn to 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, 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 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 either go to market or seek any court on that holy day ... [2] 


[2] Select Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History, from the Earliest Times to the Reign of Edward Ied. William Stubbs, Oxford, 1870. Cited in Lee, Source-book of English History, 103-105.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 


polymathis said...

Thank you for the historical facts about the godly kings and laws of yesteryear. Very encouraging. I plan on using them in my writings Lord willing.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

No problem Shawn, and please let me know about any writings that you might do on this topic. We can certainly learn a lot from what God has done with rulers in history.