Saturday, November 12, 2011

Africa's Canute?

As I've admitted here once before, Swaziland's King Mswati III may be the world's most challenging contemporary monarch for monarchists to defend, as this Daily Mail article suggests, though I would still insist that the integral relationship of the monarchy to traditional Swazi culture should not be lightly tossed aside and that any regime that replaced it would almost certainly be worse. What really irritated me about this article though was its casual and ignorant reference to Danish-English King Canute (c 985-1035). Contrary to the mistaken popular belief implied by the headline and eighth paragraph, King Canute did not believe that he could control the ocean! In the famous anecdote (which may be apocryphal anyway) about Canute "trying" to hold back the tide, he was deliberately showing fawning courtiers that he was not as powerful as they said he was. It was a gesture of humility, not arrogance, and the story therefore means the opposite of what it is sometimes assumed to mean. King Mswati has little in common with King Canute other than that they are both kings.

Incidentally, I notice that Sherborne School [which King Mswati (b 1968) attended as a boy prior to becoming king in 1986] does not include him on their list of famous alumni. Perhaps they are not especially proud of this particular Old Shirburnian?

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