Whatever truth there is in the tale of King Canute and the waves (NCE last week), the point of it is that he knew perfectly well that however widely his sway held, there were always limits to his power.
This was a fact which some of his more foolish supporters were unwilling to accept.
To demonstrate these limitations, and inject some realism into the king/subject relationship, Canute took some of his supporters down to the seashore, sat in his chair on the beach. He unsuccessfully ordered the rising tide to go back, and waited until the sea began to lap around his ankles much to the chagrin of the onlookers.
Harvey Moores, 11 Dunstan Glade, St John's Road, Orpington, Kent BR51HU