How King Canute came to stay in Littleport!

Told by Roger Rudderham

The fame of Ely spread in the middle ages due to the shrine of St. Ethelreda and the miracles that were attributed to her. Ely Abbey was even patronised by King Canute and Queen Emma, who particularly enjoyed the singing of the choir and always visited the abbey for the Feast of Purification.

The third Abbot, appointed in 1019, was Leofwine, but unlike his predecessors, who according to the Liber Eliensis were “adorned with the grace of sanctity”, he seems to have been adorned with immorality, greed and lawlessness. The monks under his ministry became lax in their devotions and took to feasting and drunkenness.

On one occasion when King Canute arrived at the abbey by barge the inebriated monks did not recognize him and turned him away. The King returned to his barge and sought shelter on the neighbouring island of Littleport, where he was given refuge in the home of a fisherman named Legge.

After giving the King a meal of eels, eels that should have been destined for the kitchen at the abbey, Legge told the King how the monks of Ely had become dissolute, spending their days feasting, drinking and enjoying the company of women, rather than their religious devotions.

He explained how he was forced to sell all the fish he caught to the Abbot for a pittance, but when he complained the monks came and beat him with a flail. The King was furious that the abbey he loved and patronised had fallen so low and swore that he would return and restore the strict rule of St. Benedict upon the abbey. The King kept his word and eventually returned with his menat- arms and turned the wayward monks out of the abbey and deposed Abbot Leofwine.

Roger Rudderham says in conclusion, “I have endeavoured to integrate the old tale of Canute’s visit to Littleport with the known historical facts The Littleport Society would welcome your views”.

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