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First episode of (Hysterical History) taken from The Hotspur issue: 1148 November 8th 1958.






For nearly a thousand years the Clotwold family has been prominent in English history. Whenever a crisis has threatened the country, a Clotwold has been at his ruler’s side, ready with help and advice. Sometimes the results have been rather different from what the King or the Clotwold expected. In the year 1016 the Danes established themselves in England. Their leader, Canute, took over the throne. At Canute’s side was the Clotwold of that day, ready to help in ruling the new kingdom. Canute had plans for a Scandinavian Empire, to include England. But first of all he had to get a firm grip on England. The people are restive, Clotwold,” he said. “They must learn to accept me as their ruler.” “Yes, sire,” said Clotwold. “I am making arrangements. First of all, taxes.” He looked pleased with himself, which was a common expression in the Clotwold family. He had a drooping, fair moustache, and the rather bulging, blue eyes that can be seen repeated in the Clotwold portraits throughout the centuries. The present day Clotwold looks very like Canute’s Clotwold, except that a bowler hat has replaced the horned helmet. “I have drawn up a scheme for heavy taxation, sire,” Clotwold went on. “Nothing is better for showing people who is master than to hit them in the pocket. Besides, your coffers are nearly empty.” “Excellent,” said the King. “Carry on, Clotwold!” Clotwold rode out into the market place to make his proclamation about the new taxes. A crowd of the local Anglo-Saxons gathered to listen. “Citizens, the good King Canute has come to liberate you!” began Clotwold. The citizens cheered dutifully. They were prodded by Danish spearmen, so they had very little choice. “We bring you a firm and progressive government,” said Clotwold. “But these things have to be paid for!” he added. Even the spearmen could not stop the people from groaning. They knew from long experience what was coming. “This is a list of taxes you will have the honour of paying,” Clotwold went on. He began to read from the scroll in his hand. He had not got far when he heard sniggers from the crowd. Clotwold paused and frowned. It was the first time he had heard taxes treated as a joke. The sniggers came from the back of the crowd. The spearmen moved in to investigate. The crowd scattered, leaving one man standing there. He held a lump of chalk in his hand. Behind him was the wall of a building, and on the wall were scrawled white letters that had been hidden by the crowd. The letters said,

England for the Angles! Danes go home!”


The spearmen pounced on the man and hustled him across to Clotwold. “Take the scoundrel before the King,” ordered Clotwold. “I’ve done nothing,” protested the man. “Those words on the wall are contrary to good order and Danish discipline,” snapped Clotwold. “I didn’t write them,” said the man. “I just saw this lump of chalk on the ground and picked it up.” “Don’t argue with me!” said Clotwold. “Take him away, men!” The man was marched into the presence of the King. Clotwold followed to make his charge. “This man is a dangerous revolutionary, sire,” announced Clotwold. “He’s stirring up the people with inflammatory messages.” “I tell you I didn’t write those words,” said the prisoner. “Silence, rebel!” said Clotwold. The prisoner shrugged. Clotwold addressed the King again. “We found him with the chalk in his hand, sire,” he announced. “He was caught red-handed! Actions such as these strike at the foundations of good government, sire,” said Clotwold. “I ask that the scoundrel be made an example of.” Canute turned to the prisoner. “Have you anything to say, fellow?” he demanded. “Only that I didn’t write the words,” said the man. “Clotwold saw you with the chalk in your hand,” said the King. “If he’d seen me with an egg in my hand, would he think I’d laid it?” said the prisoner. Clotwold’s eyes bulged out a little farther. “We want no impudence!” he boomed. “Well, it’s the same thing,” shrugged the man. “I keep telling you that the chalk proves nothing.” “And why not?” snapped Clotwold. “I can’t write!” said the man. There was a short silence. The prisoner looked innocently from Canute to Clotwold. “You ask anybody who knows me,” he added. “They’ll tell you the same.” The King cleared his throat. “You don’t appear to have a very strong case, Clotwold,” he said. “Can I go?” said the prisoner. Clotwold tugged at his drooping moustache. “I withdraw the charge, sire!” he said. “Case dismissed!” said the King.




The taxes came in slowly. The people had a good Anglo-Saxon objection to parting. There seemed to be no end to the ways they thought up for dodging the tax collectors. At last, Clotwold decided to take a hand himself. “I will ride out with the tax-collectors, sire,” he told the King. “The people won’t be able to pull the wool over my eyes.” A visitor at Canute’s court was a nobleman called De Bec, who was an ambassador from the Duke of Normandy. When De Bec heard that Clotwold was going out tax-gathering, he asked permission to accompany the party. “In Normandy we also have difficulty in raising taxes,” he told Clotwold. “I should be very interested to study your methods.” “Delighted, my dear fellow,” said Clotwold. “I think I can guarantee you will learn a thing or two.” Clotwold and De Bec rode out at the head of a party of men-at-arms. In those days spears were considered more effective than form filling for extracting taxes. Clotwold halted his men some distance from the first village on his list. Then he ordered one of his soldiers to work his way round the village unseen. “Hide on the other side,” Clotwold commanded. “See what the villagers do when they hear us coming.” Clotwold gave his men time to get into position. Then the party rode on along the narrow track that led to the village. The thud of hoofs and the jingling of harness could be heard for a great distance. Clotwold and De Bec trotted into the village at the head of the soldiers. There were few people about, but the headman came to meet them. “We come to collect the taxes due to our noble King,” announced Clotwold. The headman sighed. “Alas, we are poor here,” he said. “We would like to pay, but we have had a poor season. Our animals have died, our crops have withered. I will show you.” He took Clotwold round the village. The pig sties and the cattle byres were empty. There was hardly any grain in the barns. “How can we pay?” groaned the headman. “You see that we are starving.”


Clotwold gave a signal, and a soldier hurried towards him. It was the man who had been sent on ahead to spy on the villagers. “Well?” demanded Clotwold. “The villagers have plenty of pigs and cattle, and much grain,” reported the soldier. “They rushed to hide it all in the woods when they heard you coming.” The soldiers scattered into the woods. They came back driving pigs and cattle, and carrying baskets of grain. The headman and the villagers looked on with gloomy faces. “List what is there,” ordered Clotwold to his scribe. “Then take a tenth for the King.” De Bec watched with interest as the tax collector went on. Animals were driven away, and grain loaded into waggons that had followed Clotwold’s party. “You’re a shrewd one, Clotwold!” chuckled De Bec. “Just doing my duty, old man,” said Clotwold, looking pleased. The booty was sent back, and Clotwold rode on with his men. De Bec rode at Clotwold’s side. The Norman was studying closely everything that went on. The next place they reached was a large manor house occupied by an Anglo-Saxon lord who had managed to hold on to his lands when Canute took over. “A well kept estate,” noted Clotwold. “Observe the swans on the lake, the deer in the woods.” There were sounds of revelry from the house. When Clotwold and De Bec were admitted, they saw that a banquet was going on. Great mounds of food stood in front of the owner and his guests. They were drinking from jeweled goblets and listening to the songs of a minstrel. The revelry stopped at the sight of the tax collectors. “I see you are a rich man who lives well,” remarked Clotwold. “You can afford to make a handsome contribution. Open your treasure chest!” The lord of the manor was no longer in a party mood as Clotwold’s soldiers relieved him of a good slice of his treasure. Clotwold’s scribe wrote out a careful receipt. “Everything is perfectly legal, you understand,” Clotwold explained to De Bec. Away went the tax collectors again. This time they halted at a great abbey. There was no sign of luxury here. The monks lived in bare cells with few comforts. “You spend very little,” Clotwold told the abbot. “You must have been able to save a great deal. Bring out your treasure chest!” Once again the soldiers removed a large helping of treasure. De Bec chuckled as they all rode away. “A magnificent tax system!” he said.




Clotwold’s tax tour was a great success. Revenue poured into the King’s coffers, and Canute was delighted. With plenty of money behind him, Canute began making plans for his Scandinavian Empire. His ambition was to unite Denmark, Norway and England into one kingdom. He discussed this in private with Clotwold, and Clotwold had a number of helpful suggestions to make. “You’re a loyal servant, Clotwold,” declared Canute. “When I’m Emperor, you shall have high office me.” “Thank you, sire,” murmured Clotwold. Canute glanced round to make sure they were not overheard, and lowered his voice. “Between you and me, I have other ambitions as well,” he confided. “I wouldn’t like De Bec to know this, but it occurred to me that Normandy would be a useful addition to my Scandinavian Empire.” “I have had the same idea, sire,” said Clotwold. The two men chuckled. Then Canute scratched his ear thoughtfully. “The Normans are handy with battleaxe and arrow,” he said. “It might be a good idea to set spies to work to discover just strong they are.” “I have already sent men to Normandy,” said Clotwold. “Excellent, Clotwold,” beamed the King. “I knew I could rely on you!” Not long after this a report arrived from one of Clotwold’s spies in Normandy. It was a report that sent Clotwold hastening to the King. “The Normans are even stronger than we suspected, sire,” he announced. “But worse than that, they know just how strong we are!” “You mean they’ve been spying on us?” exclaimed Canute. “My man reports that their intelligence service is equipped with up-to-date information about the whole of your Kingdom, sire,” said Clotwold. “He says he managed to get a look at a list which gives a very accurate picture of affairs here—our wealth, the state of our industries and agriculture, the number of men under arms.” “But all that information is top secret!” declared Canute. “I can’t understand how the Normans could have got hold of it, sire,” frowned Clotwold. “If they’re collecting information of that sort, they may be planning to attack us before we can attack them!” said Canute. “It’s treachery, that’s what it is!” “I’ll speed up the mobilisation of our armed forces,” answered Clotwold. “We must consolidate your Scandinavian Empire, and be ready to meet any attack from Normandy.” He began to hurry out and Canute called after him. “And try to find the spy, Clotwold! He must have been riding round the country making a list of our wealth.” “He won’t escape me, sire,” promised Clotwold.


He had walked another fifty yards before he stopped as if a battleaxe had landed on his horned helmet. “Riding round the country!” he gasped. “Making a list of our wealth!” Clotwold swung round and strode for the house where De Bec lodged. But the Norman envoy had gone. He had left a message that urgent business had caused his recall to Normandy. Clotwold now had no doubt where the Normans had got their information from. De Bec under the pretence of being interested in tax collecting, had been able to make a very full survey of England. But when Canute asked Clotwold later what progress the spy-hunt was making, Clotwold had a tactful answer ready. “I tracked the man down, sire,” he said. “But he escaped to Normandy before he could be caught.” “Then you’d better press on with raising an army,” snapped Canute. “We may need one soon.” Raising an army was easier said than done. Canute’s Danes were ready, but the native Anglo-Saxons weren’t interested. Having paid their taxes, they felt they had done enough. Clotwold issued stirring proclamations trying to attract men to the colours. His heralds galloped through the land trumpeting, “Canute and country need you!” But the Anglo-Saxons just didn’t want to know. They preferred to lead a quiet life at home. When Clotwold was summoned to an audience with the King, he had plenty on his mind besides a horned helmet. “Where’s this army you’re supposed to be raising, Clotwold?” snapped Canute. “The people just won’t volunteer, sire,” said Clotwold. “I’m afraid many of them wouldn’t object if the Normans took over. I’ve even seen slogans chalked up saying, ‘Long live the Duke of Normandy!’ ” “You mean some of them doubt my ability to beat the Duke of Normandy?” demanded Canute. “Well, yes, sire, as a matter of fact they do,” mumbled Clotwold. “Only last night a fellow was arrested for shouting, ‘One Norman could lick three Danes with his hands tied behind his back!’ ” “This won’t do, Clotwold!” snapped Canute. “This is defeatism! You’ve got to convince the people that I’m a ruler who can’t be beaten!” Clotwold was in a gloomy mood when he withdrew from the audience. The Anglo-Saxons were a stubborn lot, and when they got an idea into their heads it was hard to shift. At the moment the idea they had got was that the Normans were a tougher proposition than the Danes. Clotwold wandered down to the shore and gazed out across the sea. If the Norman invasion fleet appeared out there, what was to stop them! Moodily Clotwold threw stones into the water. He had to step back as the oncoming tide lapped round his feet. And that gave Clotwold his idea, the idea that made its mark on history. Full of a new enthusiasm, Clotwold hurried back to talk to the King.





Canute sat back on his throne and gazed at Clotwold. “Let me get this straight, Clotwold,” said Canute. “You want me to stop the tide?” “Think of the effect it would have if you commanded the sea to stop rolling, sire!” declared Clotwold. “The only effect I can think of is that I should get my feet wet,” said Canute. “I’ve worked it out, sire,” said Clotwold. “I can confidently promise to arrange for the tide to stop coming in when you give the word of command!” “And how do you propose to do that?” demanded Canute. “You know that little cove beyond the headland?” asked Clotwold. “It opens on to the sea through a long, narrow entrance. And that entrance is out of sight of anyone on the beach.” “Ah,” said Canute. “I’m beginning to follow you, Clotwold!” “It would be magnificent example of your power, sire,” urged Clotwold. “You command the tide to stop coming in, and it stops! Think of the stir that would cause! The people would have no more doubts. They would flock to follow you. A man who makes the sea obey him can do anything!” “And when the news reached Normandy, the Duke would think twice about attacking me,” mused Canute. “Exactly!” said Clotwold. “I shall make you the greatest man in the world, sire!” “All right, Clotwold,” nodded King Canute. “See to it!” Clotwold busied himself with the arrangements for the great demonstration. To help him he had a party of Danish soldiers whom he could trust. When he was sure that they knew exactly what he wanted, he began to advertise the great occasion. It was one of the biggest publicity campaigns of the Dark Ages. Heralds toured the countryside inviting one and all to come and watch King Canute stop the tide. Soon everybody was talking about the ruler who was said to be able to give orders to the sea. Travellers picked up the story and carried it abroad. Foreign minstrels, the reporters of the time, chanted the news in castles all over Europe. On the day of the demonstration, a Tuesday, Clotwold’s troops were out early. Crowds of spectators started flocking towards the beach, and the troops directed them into the cove. The crowds were kept well away from the headlands that guarded the entrance to the cove. The cliffs curved round, hiding the entrance from anybody standing on the beach, which was important for the success of Clotwold’s scheme. At the foot of the cliffs, by the entrance to the cove, were hidden Clotwold’s picked soldiers. The crowds packed the beach, with the common people behind and important visitors at the front. Representatives from many foreign countries were there. De Bec had not risked returning to England, but another representative from Normandy was present. A trumpet sounded, and the buzz of excited talk died away.


The soldiers made a way through the crowd. Clotwold, in his best helmet, came striding through. He was followed by four soldiers who carried a throne on a litter. On the throne sat King Canute, his crown glittered on his head. The Danes gave a lusty cheer. The Anglo-Saxons were not so enthusiastic, but they joined in. The throne was set down on the sand, a few feet away from the water. The tide was rolling in, and it would cover the spot where the throne stood before it reached the high water mark. Clotwold cleared his throat and stepped forward. “We have gathered here to watch a remarkable thing,” he announced. “King Canute is not only ruler of England, but also ruler of the sea. Today he will prove it!” The Danes cheered again. But Clotwold had not finished. In fact, he had hardly started. The Clotwolds have always been good at making speeches. Clotwold went on to explain what benefits the rule of Canute had brought to England. He pointed out how wise and just were the members of Canute’s government. He added that modesty prevented him from mentioning these wise advisers by name. He warned foreign powers from attempting to meddle with affairs in England. He said that the people, united behind their leader, would not tolerate such interference. By this time the people were beginning to get a bit restive. They had come to see a show, not to listen to Clotwold. Even King Canute had to stifle a yawn. Clotwold was in full spate when the King prodded him. Clotwold looked down and saw that the advancing tide was approaching the royal toes. “In short, ladies and gentlemen, we can look to our noble leader with every confidence,” said Clotwold, bringing his speech hurriedly to an end. “I now call upon King Canute!” There was more Danish applause. As the King got to his feet, he whispered out of the side of his mouth. “This had better work, Clotwold. I’m not due to have a bath till Saturday and this is only Tuesday.” Then Canute gazed sternly out across the cove and raised his hand. “Tide, halt!” he shouted. Clotwold cheered and waved his sword. It was the signal awaited by a soldier standing on the headland. The soldier ran to the edge of the cliff and waved to the men hidden below. The party of soldiers began to haul on ropes. Heaving together, they dragged a great dam of logs into position across the sea entrance to the cove. The waves smacked against the lashed logs, but the entrance to the cove was now completely blocked. Canute sat down on his throne again, and stared at the water. Clotwold stood at his side, leaning on his sword. The crowd fell silent. Everybody breathlessly watched the water. Another wave rolled up the beach and splashed round Canute’s feet. The King looked up at Clotwold. His adviser wore a confident smile. Another wave came running up the sand. Canute shivered as his feet got soaked. The water splashed over Clotwold as well. He blinked in surprise.


The water was still rolling in. A trickle ran round the legs of the throne. A loud Anglo-Saxon voice let out a hoarse yell. “It’s still coming in!” Clotwold swung round and glared. “Silence!” he shouted. But more voices were joining in. People were shouting and pointing. There was no doubt about it. The tide was still creeping forward over the beach. “Don’t get your feet wet, King!” bawled a voice from the back. The crowd guffawed. The representative from Normandy wore a broad smile. Clotwold’s blue eyes bulged as he stared at the tide. “What’s happened, you fool?” hissed the King. “I gave a signal, sire,” mumbled Clotwold. The King sat grimly on his throne. The cold water was round his knees by now. Clotwold tried to do a bit of baling out with his helmet, but it was no use. “The king’s freezing!” shouted an Anglo-Saxon voice. “He’s as blue as a Danish cheese!” There were more guffaws. Then the crowd started to drift away. The important visitors began to depart. Clotwold scowled as the representative from Normandy received some Anglo-Saxon cheers. The spectators trudged off. The King sat on his throne with his feet in the water. The only people left with him were his soldiers and Clotwold. Canute lifted his feet out of the sea and signalled to his men. “Take me back!” he growled. The soldiers lifted the throne and carried Canute out of reach of the sea. Clotwold was left alone on the beach. The great demonstration was at an end. Clotwold stared at the sea that had let him down. The waves were smaller now. Clotwold watched them for a moment. “The tide’s stopped!” he exclaimed. He peered at the water. He was not mistaken. The tide had not reached the high water mark, but it had stopped flowing in. Clotwold swung round. “Come back, sire!” he yelled. “Come back, everybody! The tide’s stopped! Canute’s stopped the tide!” But it was too late. There was nobody left to hear him. Clotwold had stopped the tide, but not quickly enough. He had overlooked the fact that there was a long run from the entrance of the cove to the beach. His men had dammed the entrance, but it had taken some time for the effect to be noticed on the beach. For several minutes the tide rolling across the cove from the entrance had continued to creep up the beach. That was long enough to convince the spectators that the demonstration was a failure, and that King Canute could not control the sea. Clotwold trudged slowly up the beach. An Anglo-Saxon hand had scrawled a message in the sand. It said, “Up with the Normans! Down with the Danes!”


King Canute never achieved his ambition of ruling over a Scandinavian Empire. He found it hard to make anybody take him seriously, after the sea episode. He became known to his people as Cold-Toes Canute. When William the Conqueror finally led the Norman Conquest in 1066, both Canute and Clotwold were dead. But the memory lingered on, and William the Conqueror met little organised opposition. William proceeded to rule with an iron hand. The people were no better off than they had been under Danish rule. But Clotwold’s son was well established. He rode round the country and collected taxes for William as his father had done for Canute.

HYSTERICAL HISTORY 7 Episodes The Hotspur issues 1148 – 1154 (1958)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007