While studying for my sermon on the stilling of the storm in Luke 8:22-25, I came across an interesting story. Tim Keller discusses Marks account of the same event in his book, King’s Cross. Keller mentions the account of King Canute’s attempt to still the storm. Canute was a Danish king who ruled over England early in the eleventh century.
Here is the account as related by Henry of Huntingdon in The Chronicle (p. 198-199) (Translated by Thomas Forester):
King Canute died at Shaftesbury, after a reign of 20 years, and was buried at Winchester in the old minster. A few particulars of his grandeur must be collected, for before him there was never so great a king of England. He was lord of the whole of Denmark, England, and Norway; as also of Scotland. Besides the various wars in which he gained so much glory, his nobleness and greatness of mind were eminently displayed on three occasions. First, when he married his daughter to the Roman emperor with an immense dowry. Secondly, when, during his journey to Rome, he reduced the oppressive tolls exacted from pilgrims on the roads through France by the redemption of one-half of them at his private expense. Thirdly, when at the summit of his power, he ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in; thus seated, he shouted to the flowing sea, “Thou, too, art subject to my command, as the land on which I am seated is mine; and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.” The tide, however, continuing to rise as usual, dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leaped 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.” From thenceforth King Canute never wore his crown of gold, but placed it for a lasting memorial on the image of our Lord affixed to a cross, to the honour of God the almighty King: through whose mercy may the soul of Canute, the king, enjoy everlasting rest.
King Canute’s inability to still the storm is a stark contrast to the One who did still the storm with a word. Canute reflects a spirit that is opposite that of earlier King Nebuchadnezzar: “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30) Canute recognized that any authority he had was delegated authority from the King of Kings. His realistic humility is a model for the ages.