Cnut the Great (Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035), also known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden and is probably best known for the apocraphyl tale of his attempt to command the tide.
A far less known story is of his connection with Yaxley’s great Whittlesea Mere and the tragedy that happened on its unpredictable waters.
Canute is said to have has a ‘hunting box’ at Bodsey gravel, which was accessible along a causeway from Peterborough.
In those times Whittlesa Mere was considered as a great inland sea, and navigated only in cases of necessity.
The English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms William Camden (2 May 1551 – 9 November 1623) writes in Britannia (circa 1586) that the the sons and servants of King Cnut, when crossing the Whittlesea Mere on their way from Peterborough to Ramsey, were caught in a violent storm and whirlwind, and some of them were drowned. Records state that their tombstone still exists situated in the South-east corner of the existing dining room at Bodsey Manor in Ramsey.
The king thereupon ordered a dyke to be made by his soldiers with their swords (hence called Swerdesdelf or Cnut’s-dyke), in the adjoining marshes between Ramsey and Whittlesea.
These sudden and violent squalls would continue to be a hazard for those traversing the great tract of water for centuries to come.