By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: King Alfred of England - Makers of History
Author: Abbott, Jacob, 1803-1879
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "King Alfred of England - Makers of History" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Illustration: ALFRED THE GREAT]







Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand
eight hundred and forty-nine, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern District
of New York.


It is the object of this series of histories to present a clear,
distinct, and connected narrative of the lives of those great
personages who have in various ages of the world made themselves
celebrated as leaders among mankind, and, by the part they have taken
in the public affairs of great nations, have exerted the widest
influence on the history of the human race. The end which the author
has had in view is twofold: first, to communicate such information
in respect to the subjects of his narratives as is important for the
general reader to possess; and, secondly, to draw such moral lessons
from the events described and the characters delineated as they may
legitimately teach to the people of the present age. Though written in
a direct and simple style, they are intended for, and addressed to,
minds possessed of some considerable degree of maturity, for such
minds only can fully appreciate the character and action which
exhibits itself, as nearly all that is described in these volumes
does, in close combination with the conduct and policy of governments,
and the great events of international history.









Alfred the Great figures in history as the founder, in some sense, of
the British monarchy. Of that long succession of sovereigns who have
held the scepter of that monarchy, and whose government has exerted so
vast an influence on the condition and welfare of mankind, he was not,
indeed, actually the first. There were several lines of insignificant
princes before him, who governed such portions of the kingdom as they
individually possessed, more like semi-savage chieftains than English
kings. Alfred followed these by the principle of hereditary right, and
spent his life in laying broad and deep the foundations on which the
enormous superstructure of the British empire has since been reared.
If the tales respecting his character and deeds which have come down
to us are at all worthy of belief, he was an honest, conscientious,
disinterested, and far-seeing statesman. If the system of hereditary
succession would always furnish such sovereigns for mankind, the
principle of loyalty would have held its place much longer in the
world than it is now likely to do, and great nations, now republican,
would have been saved a vast deal of trouble and toil expended in the
election of their rulers.

Although the period of King Alfred's reign seems a very remote one
as we look back toward it from the present day, it was still eight
hundred years after the Christian era that he ascended his throne.
Tolerable authentic history of the British realm mounts up through
these eight hundred years to the time of Julius Cæsar. Beyond this
the ground is covered by a series of romantic and fabulous tales,
pretending to be history, which extend back eight hundred years
further to the days of Solomon; so that a much longer portion of the
story of that extraordinary island comes before than since the days of
Alfred. In respect, however to all that pertains to the interest and
importance of the narrative, the exploits and the arrangements of
Alfred are the beginning.

The histories, in fact, of all nations, ancient and modern, run back
always into misty regions of romance and fable. Before arts and
letters arrived at such a state of progress as that public events
could be recorded in writing, tradition was the only means of
handing down the memory of events from generation to generation; and
tradition, among semi-savages, changes every thing it touches into
romantic and marvelous fiction.

The stories connected with the earliest discovery and settlement of
Great Britain afford very good illustrations of the nature of these
fabulous tales. The following may serve as a specimen:

At the close of the Trojan war,[1] Æneas retired with a company of
Trojans, who escaped from the city with him, and, after a great
variety of adventures, which Virgil has related, he landed and settled
in Italy. Here, in process of time, he had a grandson named Silvius,
who had a son named Brutus, Brutus being thus Æneas's great-grandson.

One day, while Brutus was hunting in the forests, he accidentally
killed his father with an arrow. His father was at that time King of
Alba--a region of Italy near the spot on which Rome was subsequently
built--and the accident brought Brutus under such suspicions, and
exposed him to such dangers, that he fled from the country. After
various wanderings he at last reached Greece, where he collected a
number of Trojan followers, whom he found roaming about the country,
and formed them into an army. With this half-savage force he attacked
a king of the country named Pandrasus. Brutus was successful in the
war, and Pandrasus was taken prisoner. This compelled Pandrasus to sue
for peace, and peace was concluded on the following very extraordinary

Pandrasus was to give Brutus his daughter Imogena for a wife, and a
fleet of ships as her dowry. Brutus, on the other hand, was to take
his wife and all his followers on board of his fleet, and sail away
and seek a home in some other quarter of the globe. This plan of a
monarch's purchasing his own ransom and peace for his realm from a
band of roaming robbers, by offering the leader of them his daughter
for a wife, however strange to our ideas, was very characteristic of
the times. Imogena must have found it a hard alternative to choose
between such a husband and such a father.

Brutus, with his fleet and his bride, betook themselves to sea, and
within a short time landed on a deserted island, where they found the
ruins of a city. Here there was an ancient temple of Diana, and
an image of the goddess, which image was endued with the power of
uttering oracular responses to those who consulted it with proper
ceremonies and forms. Brutus consulted this oracle on the question in
what land he should find a place of final settlement. His address to
it was in ancient verse, which some chronicler has turned into English
rhyme as follows:

  "Goddess of shades and huntress, who at will
  Walk'st on the rolling sphere, and through the deep,
  On thy _third_ reign, the earth, look now and tell
  What land, what seat of rest thou bidd'st me seek?"

To which the oracle returned the following answer:

  "Far to the west, in the ocean wide,
  Beyond the realm of Gaul a land there lies--
  Sea-girt it lies--where giants dwelt of old.
  Now void, it fits thy people; thither bend
  Thy course; there shalt thou find a lasting home."

It is scarcely necessary to say that this meant Britain. Brutus,
following the directions which the oracle had given him, set sail from
the island, and proceeded to the westward through the Mediterranean
Sea. He arrived at the Pillars of Hercules. This was the name by which
the Rock of Gibraltar and the corresponding promontory on the opposite
coast, across the straits, were called in those days; these cliffs
having been built, according to ancient tales, by Hercules, as
monuments set up to mark the extreme limits of his western wanderings.
Brutus passed through the strait, and then, turning northward, coasted
along the shores of Spain.

At length, after enduring great privations and suffering, and
encountering the extreme dangers to which their frail barks were
necessarily exposed from the surges which roll in perpetually from
the broad Atlantic Ocean upon the coast of Spain and into the Bay of
Biscay, they arrived safely on the shores of Britain. They landed and
explored the interior. They found the island robed in the richest
drapery of fruitfulness and verdure, but it was unoccupied by any
thing human. There were wild beasts roaming in the forests, and the
remains of a race of giants in dens and caves--monsters as diverse
from humanity as the wolves. Brutus and his followers attacked all
these occupants of the land. They drove the wild beasts into the
mountains of Scotland and Wales, and killed the giants. The chief of
them, whose name was Gogmagog, was hurled by one of Brutus's followers
from the summit of one of the chalky cliffs which bound the island
into the sea.

The island of Great Britain is in the latitude of Labrador, which on
our side of the continent is the synonym for almost perpetual ice and
snow; still these wandering Trojans found it a region of inexhaustible
verdure, fruitfulness, and beauty; and as to its extent, though often,
in modern times, called a little island, they found its green fields
and luxuriant forests extending very far and wide over the sea. A
length of nearly six hundred miles would seem almost to merit the
name of continent, and the dimensions of this detached outpost of
the habitable surface of the earth would never have been deemed
inconsiderable, had it not been that the people, by the greatness of
their exploits, of which the whole world has been the theater, have
made the physical dimensions of their territory appear so small and
insignificant in comparison. To Brutus and his companions the land
appeared a world. It was nearly four hundred miles in breadth at the
place where they landed, and, wandering northward, they found it
extending, in almost undiminished beauty and fruitfulness, further
than they had the disposition to explore it. They might have gone
northward until the twilight scarcely disappeared in the summer
nights, and have found the same verdure and beauty continuing to the
end. There were broad and undulating plains in the southern regions of
the island, and in the northern, green mountains and romantic glens;
but all, plains, valleys, and mountains, were fertile and beautiful,
and teeming with abundant sustenance for flocks, for herds, and for

Brutus accordingly established himself upon the island with all his
followers, and founded a kingdom there, over which he reigned as
the founder of a dynasty. Endless tales are told of the lives, and
exploits, and quarrels of his successors down to the time of Cæsar.
Conflicting claimants arose continually to dispute with each other for
the possession of power; wars were made by one tribe upon another;
cities, as they were called--though probably, in fact, they were only
rude collections of hovels--were built, fortresses were founded, and
rivers were named from princes or princesses drowned in them, in
accidental journeys, or by the violence of rival claimants to their
thrones. The pretended records contain a vast number of legends, of
very little interest or value, as the reader will readily admit
when we tell him that the famous story of King Lear is the most
entertaining one in the whole collection. It is this:

There was a king in the line named Lear. He founded the city now
called Leicester. He had three daughters, whose names were Gonilla,
Regana, and Cordiella. Cordiella was her father's favorite child. He
was, however, jealous of the affections of them all, and one day he
called them to him, and asked them for some assurance of their love.
The two eldest responded by making the most extravagant protestations.
They loved their father a thousand times better than their own souls.
They could not express, they said, the ardor and strength of their
attachment, and called Heaven and earth to witness that these
protestations were sincere.

Cordiella, all this time, stood meekly and silently by, and when her
father asked her how it was with her, she replied, "Father, my love
toward you is as my duty bids. What can a father ask, or a daughter
promise more? They who pretend beyond this only flatter."

The king, who was old and childish, was much pleased with the
manifestation of love offered by Gonilla and Regana, and thought that
the honest Cordiella was heartless and cold. He treated her with
greater and greater neglect and finally decided to leave her without
any portion whatever, while he divided his kingdom between the other
two, having previously married them to princes of high rank. Cordiella
was, however, at last made choice of for a wife by a French prince,
who, it seems, knew better than the old king how much more to
be relied upon was unpretending and honest truth than empty and
extravagant profession. He married the portionless Cordiella, and took
her with him to the Continent.

The old king now having given up his kingdom to his eldest daughters,
they managed, by artifice and maneuvering, to get every thing else
away from him, so that he became wholly dependent upon them, and had
to live with them by turns. This was not all; for, at the instigation
of their husbands, they put so many indignities and affronts upon him,
that his life at length became an intolerable burden, and finally he
was compelled to leave the realm altogether, and in his destitution
and distress he went for refuge and protection to his rejected
daughter Cordiella. She received her father with the greatest alacrity
and affection. She raised an army to restore him to his rights, and
went in person with him to England to assist him in recovering them.
She was successful. The old king took possession of his throne again,
and reigned in peace for the remainder of his days. The story is of
itself nothing very remarkable, though Shakspeare has immortalized it
by making it the subject of one of his tragedies.

Centuries passed away, and at length the great Julius Cæsar, who was
extending the Roman power in every direction, made his way across the
Channel, and landed in England. The particulars of this invasion
are described in our history of Julius Cæsar. The Romans retained
possession of the island, in a greater or less degree, for four
hundred years.

They did not, however, hold it in peace all this time. They became
continually involved in difficulties and contests with the native
Britons, who could ill brook the oppressions of such merciless masters
as Roman generals always proved in the provinces which they pretended
to govern. One of the most formidable rebellions that the Romans had
to encounter during their disturbed and troubled sway in Britain was
led on by a woman. Her name was Boadicea. Boadicea, like almost all
other heroines, was coarse and repulsive in appearance. She was tall
and masculine in form. The tones of her voice were harsh, and she had
the countenance of a savage. Her hair was yellow. It might have been
beautiful if it had been neatly arranged, and had shaded a face which
possessed the gentle expression that belongs properly to woman. It
would then have been called golden. As it was, hanging loosely below
her waist and streaming in the wind, it made the wearer only look the
more frightful. Still, Boadicea was not by any means indifferent to
the appearance she made in the eyes of beholders. She evinced her
desire to make a favorable impression upon others, in her own
peculiar way, it is true, but in one which must have been effective,
considering what sort of beholders they were in whose eyes she
figured. She was dressed in a gaudy coat, wrought of various colors,
with a sort of mantle buttoned over it. She wore a great gold chain
about her neck, and held an ornamented spear in her hand. Thus
equipped, she appeared at the head of an army of a hundred thousand
men, and gathering them around her, she ascended a mound of earth and
harangued them--that is, as many as could stand within reach of her
voice--arousing them to sentiments of revenge against their hated
oppressors, and urging them to the highest pitch of determination and
courage for the approaching struggle. Boadicea had reason to deem the
Romans her implacable foes. They had robbed her of her treasures,
deprived her of her kingdom, imprisoned her, scourged her, and
inflicted the worst possible injuries upon her daughters. These things
had driven the wretched mother to a perfect phrensy of hate, and
aroused her to this desperate struggle for redress and revenge. But
all was in vain. In encountering the spears of Roman soldiery, she was
encountering the very hardest and sharpest steel that a cruel world
could furnish. Her army was conquered, and she killed herself by
taking poison in her despair.

By struggles such as these the contest between the Romans and the
Britons was carried on for many generations; the Romans conquering at
every trial, until, at length, the Britons learned to submit without
further resistance to their sway. In fact, there gradually came upon
the stage, during the progress of these centuries, a new power, acting
as an enemy to both the Picts and Scots; hordes of lawless barbarians,
who inhabited the mountains and morasses of Scotland and Ireland.
These terrible savages made continual irruptions into the southern
country for plunder, burning and destroying, as they retired, whatever
they could not carry away. They lived in impregnable and almost
inaccessible fastnesses, among dark glens and precipitous mountains,
and upon gloomy islands surrounded by iron-bound coasts and stormy
seas. The Roman legions made repeated attempts to hunt them out of
these retreats, but with very little success. At length a line of
fortified posts was established across the island, near where the
boundary line now lies between England and Scotland; and by guarding
this line, the Roman generals who had charge of Britain attempted to
protect the inhabitants of the southern country, who had learned at
length to submit peaceably to their sway.

One of the most memorable events which occurred during the time that
the Romans held possession of the island of Britain was the visit of
one of the emperors to this northern extremity of his dominions. The
name of this emperor was Severus. He was powerful and prosperous at
home, but his life was embittered by one great calamity, the dissolute
character and the perpetual quarrels of his sons. To remove them from
Rome, where they disgraced both themselves and their father by their
vicious lives, and the ferocious rivalry and hatred they bore to each
other, Severus planned an excursion to Britain, taking them with him,
in the hope of turning their minds into new channels of thought, and
awakening in them some new and nobler ambition.

At the time when Severus undertook this expedition, he was advanced in
age and very infirm. He suffered much from the gout, so that he
was unable to travel by any ordinary conveyance, and was borne,
accordingly, almost all the way upon a litter. He crossed the Channel
with his army, and, leaving one of his sons in command in the south
part of the island, he advanced with the other, at the head of an
enormous force, determined to push boldly forward into the heart
of Scotland, and to bring the war with the Picts and Scots to an
effectual end.

He met, however, with very partial success. His soldiers became
entangled in bogs and morasses; they fell into ambuscades; they
suffered every degree of privation and hardship for want of water and
of food, and were continually entrapped by their enemies in situations
where they had to fight in small numbers and at a great disadvantage.
Then, too, the aged and feeble general was kept in a continual fever
of anxiety and trouble by Bassianus, the son whom he had brought with
him to the north. The dissoluteness and violence of his character were
not changed by the change of scene. He formed plots and conspiracies
against his father's authority; he raised mutinies in the army; he
headed riots; and he was finally detected in a plan for actually
assassinating his father. Severus, when he discovered this last
enormity of wickedness, sent for his son to come to his imperial tent.
He laid a naked sword before him, and then, after bitterly reproaching
him with his undutiful and ungrateful conduct, he said, "If you wish
to kill me, do it now. Here I stand, old, infirm, and helpless. You
are young and strong, and can do it easily. I am ready. Strike the

Of course Bassianus shrunk from his father's reproaches, and went
away without committing the crime to which he was thus reproachfully
invited; but his character remained unchanged; and this constant
trouble, added to all the other difficulties which Severus
encountered, prevented his accomplishing his object of thoroughly
conquering his northern foes. He made a sort of peace with them,
and retiring south to the line of fortified posts which had been
previously established, he determined to make it a fixed and certain
boundary by building upon it a permanent wall. He put the whole force
of his army upon the work, and in one or two years, as is said,
he completed the structure. It is known in history as the Wall of
Severus; and so solid, substantial, and permanent was the work, that
the traces of it have not entirely disappeared to the present day.

The wall extended across the island, from the mouth of the Tyne, on
the German Ocean, to the Solway Frith--nearly seventy miles. It was
twelve feet high, and eight feet wide. It was faced with substantial
masonry on both sides, the intermediate space being likewise filled
in with stone. When it crossed bays or morasses, piles were driven
to serve as a foundation. Of course, such a wall as this, by itself,
would be no defense. It was to be garrisoned by soldiers, being
intended, in fact, only as a means to enable a smaller number of
troops than would otherwise be necessary to guard the line. For these
soldiers there were built great fortresses at intervals along the
wall, wherever a situation was found favorable for such structures.
These were called _stations_. The stations were occupied by garrisons
of troops, and small towns of artificers and laborers soon sprung up
around them. Between the stations, at smaller intervals, were other
smaller fortresses called castles, intended as places of defense, and
rallying points in case of an attack, but not for garrisons of any
considerable number of men. Then, between the castles, at smaller
intervals still, were turrets, used as watch-towers and posts for
sentinels. Thus the whole line of the wall was every where defended
by armed men. The whole number thus employed in the defense of this
extraordinary rampart was said to be ten thousand. There was a broad,
deep, and continuous ditch on the northern side of the wall, to
make the impediment still greater for the enemy, and a spacious and
well-constructed military road on the southern side, on which troops,
stores, wagons, and baggage of every kind could be readily transported
along the line, from one end to the other.

[Illustration: WALL OF SEVERUS]

The wall was a good defense as long as Roman soldiers remained to
guard it. But in process of time--about two centuries after Severus's
day--the Roman empire itself began to decline, even in the very seat
and center of its power; and then, to preserve their own capital from
destruction, the government were obliged to call their distant armies
home. The wall was left to the Britons; but they could not defend it.
The Picts and Scots, finding out the change, renewed their assaults.
They battered down the castles; they made breaches here and there in
the wall; they built vessels, and, passing round by sea across the
mouth of the Solway Frith and of the River Tyne, they renewed their
old incursions for plunder and destruction. The Britons, in extreme
distress, sent again and again to recall the Romans to their aid, and
they did, in fact, receive from them some occasional and temporary
succor. At length, however, all hope of help from this quarter failed,
and the Britons, finding their condition desperate, were compelled to
resort to a desperate remedy, the nature of which will be explained in
the next chapter.

[Footnote 1: For some account of the circumstances connected with this
war see our history of Alexander, chapter vi.]



Any one who will look around upon the families of his acquaintance
will observe that family characteristics and resemblances prevail not
only in respect to stature, form, expression of countenance, and other
outward and bodily tokens, but also in regard to the constitutional
temperaments and capacities of the soul. Sometimes we find a group in
which high intellectual powers and great energy of action prevail for
many successive generations, and in all the branches into which the
original stock divides; in other cases, the hereditary tendency is to
gentleness and harmlessness of character, with a full development of
all the feelings and sensibilities of the soul. Others, again, exhibit
congenital tendencies to great physical strength and hardihood, and
to powers of muscular exertion and endurance. These differences,
notwithstanding all the exceptions and irregularities connected with
them, are obviously, where they exist, deeply seated and permanent.
They depend very slightly upon any mere external causes. They have,
on the contrary, their foundation in some hidden principles connected
with the origin of life, and with the mode of its transmission from
parent to offspring, which the researches of philosophers have never
yet been able to explore.

These same constitutional and congenital peculiarities which we see
developing themselves all around us in families, mark, on a greater
scale, the characteristics of the different nations of the earth, and
in a degree much higher still, the several great and distinct races
into which the whole human family seems to be divided. Physiologists
consider that there are five of these great races, whose
characteristics, mental as well as bodily, are distinctly, strongly,
and permanently marked. These characteristics descend by hereditary
succession from father to son, and though education and outward
influences may modify them, they can not essentially change them.
Compare, for example, the Indian and the African races, each of which
has occupied for a thousand years a continent of its own, where they
have been exposed to the same variety of climates, and as far as
possible to the same general outward influences. How entirely diverse
from each other they are, not only in form, color, and other physical
marks, but in all the tendencies and characteristics of the soul! One
can no more be changed into the other, than a wolf, by being tamed and
domesticated, can be made a dog, or a dog, by being driven into the
forests, be transformed into a tiger. The difference is still greater
between either of these races and the Caucasian race. This race might
probably be called the European race, were it not that some Asiatic
and some African nations have sprung from it, as the Persians, the
Ph[oe]nicians, the Egyptians, the Carthaginians, and, in modern times,
the Turks. All the nations of this race, whether European or African,
have been distinguished by the same physical marks in the conformation
of the head and the color of the skin, and still more by those traits
of character--the intellect, the energy, the spirit of determination
and pride--which, far from owing their existence to outward
circumstances, have always, in all ages, made all outward
circumstances bend to them. That there have been some great and noble
specimens of humanity among the African race, for example, no one
can deny; but that there is a marked, and fixed, and permanent
constitutional difference between them and the Caucasian race seems
evident from this fact, that for two thousand years each has held its
own continent, undisturbed, in a great degree, by the rest of mankind;
and while, during all this time, no nation of the one race has risen,
so far as is known, above the very lowest stage of civilization,
there have been more than fifty entirely distinct and independent
civilizations originated and fully developed in the other. For
three thousand years the Caucasian race have continued, under all
circumstances, and in every variety of situation, to exhibit the
same traits and the same indomitable prowess. No calamities, however
great--no desolating wars, no destructive pestilence, no wasting
famine, no night of darkness, however universal and gloomy--has ever
been able to keep them long in degradation or barbarism. There is not
now a barbarous people to be found in the whole race, and there has
not been one for a thousand years.

Nearly all the great exploits, and achievements too, which have
signalized the history of the world, have been performed by this
branch of the human family. They have given celebrity to every age
in which they have lived, and to every country that they have ever
possessed, by some great deed, or discovery, or achievement, which
their intellectual energies have accomplished. As Egyptians, they
built the Pyramids, and reared enormous monoliths, which remain as
perfect now as they were when first completed, thirty centuries ago.
As Ph[oe]nicians, they constructed ships, perfected navigation, and
explored, without compass or chart, every known sea. As Greeks, they
modeled architectural embellishments, and cut sculptures in marble,
and wrote poems and history, which have been ever since the admiration
of the world. As Romans, they carried a complete and perfect military
organization over fifty nations and a hundred millions of people, with
one supreme mistress over all, the ruins of whose splendid palaces and
monuments have not yet passed away. Thus has this race gone on, always
distinguishing itself, by energy, activity, and intellectual power,
wherever it has dwelt, whatever language it has spoken, and in
whatever period of the world it has lived. It has invented printing,
and filled every country that it occupies with permanent records of
the past, accessible to all. It has explored the heavens, and reduced
to precise and exact calculations all the complicated motions there.
It has ransacked the earth, systematized, arranged, and classified the
vast melange of plants, and animals, and mineral products to be found
upon its surface. It makes steam and falling water do more than half
the work necessary for feeding and clothing the human race; and the
howling winds of the ocean, the very emblems of resistless destruction
and terror, it steadily employs in interchanging the products of the
world, and bearing the means of comfort and plenty to every clime.

The Caucasian race has thus, in all ages, and in all the varieties
of condition in which the different branches of it have been placed,
evinced the same great characteristics, marking the existence of
some innate and constant constitutional superiority; and yet, in the
different branches, subordinate differences appear, which are to be
accounted for, perhaps, partly by difference of circumstances, and
partly, perhaps, by similar constitutional diversities--diversities by
which one branch is distinguished from other branches, as the whole
race is from the other races with which we have compared them. Among
these branches, we, Anglo-Saxons ourselves, claim for the Anglo-Saxons
the superiority over all the others.

The Anglo-Saxons commenced their career as pirates and robbers, and as
pirates and robbers of the most desperate and dangerous description.
In fact, the character which the Anglo-Saxons have obtained in modern
times for energy and enterprise, and for desperate daring in their
conflicts with foes, is no recent fame. The progenitors of the present
race were celebrated every where, and every where feared and dreaded,
not only in the days of Alfred, but several centuries before. All the
historians of those days that speak of them at all, describe them as
universally distinguished above their neighbors for their energy and
vehemence of character, their mental and physical superiority, and for
the wild and daring expeditions to which their spirit of enterprise
and activity were continually impelling them. They built vessels, in
which they boldly put forth on the waters of the German Ocean or of
the Baltic Sea on excursions for conquest or plunder. Like their
present posterity on the British isles and on the shores of the
Atlantic, they cared not, in these voyages, whether it was summer or
winter, calm or storm. In fact, they sailed often in tempests
and storms by choice, so as to come upon their enemies the more


They would build small vessels, or rather boats, of osiers, covering
them with skins, and in fleets of these frail floats they would sally
forth among the howling winds and foaming surges of the German Ocean.
On these expeditions, they all embarked as in a common cause, and felt
a common interest. The leaders shared in all the toils and exposures
of the men, and the men took part in the counsels and plans of the
leaders. Their intelligence and activity, and their resistless courage
and ardor, combined with their cool and calculating sagacity, made
them successful in every attempt. If they fought, they conquered; if
they pursued their enemies, they were sure to overtake them; if they
retreated, they were sure to make their escape. They were clothed in
a loose and flowing dress, and wore their hair long and hanging about
their shoulders; and they had the art, as their descendants have now,
of contriving and fabricating arms of such superior construction and
workmanship, as to give them, on this account alone, a great advantage
over all cotemporary nations. There were two other points in which
there was a remarkable similarity between this parent stock in its
rude, early form, and the extended social progeny which represents it
at the present day. One was the extreme strictness of their ideas of
conjugal fidelity, and the stern and rigid severity with which all
violations of female virtue were judged. The woman who violated her
marriage vows was compelled to hang herself. Her body was then burned
in public, and the accomplice of her crime was executed over the
ashes. The other point of resemblance between the ancient Anglo-Saxons
and their modern descendants was their indomitable pride. They could
never endure any thing like _submission_. Though sometimes
overpowered, they were never conquered. Though taken prisoners and
carried captive, the indomitable spirit which animated them could
never be really subdued. The Romans used sometimes to compel their
prisoners to fight as gladiators, to make spectacles for the amusement
of the people of the city. On one occasion, thirty Anglo-Saxons, who
had been taken captive and were reserved for this fate, strangled
themselves rather than submit to this indignity. The whole nation
manifested on all occasions a very unbending and unsubmissive will,
encountering every possible danger and braving every conceivable ill
rather than succumb or submit to any power except such as they had
themselves created for their own ends; and their descendants, whether
in England or America, evince much the same spirit still.

It was the landing of a few boat-loads of these determined and
ferocious barbarians on a small island near the mouth of the Thames,
which constitutes the great event of the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons
in England, which is so celebrated in English history as the epoch
which marks the real and true beginning of British greatness and
power. It is true that the history of England goes back beyond this
period to narrate, as we have done, the events connected with the
contests of the Romans and the aboriginal Britons, and the incursions
and maraudings of the Picts and Scots; but all these aborigines passed
gradually--after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons--off the stage.
The old stock was wholly displaced. The present monarchy has sprung
entirely from its Anglo-Saxon original; so that all which precedes the
arrival of this new race is introductory and preliminary, like the
history, in this country, of the native American tribes before the
coming of the English Pilgrims. As, therefore, the landing of the
Pilgrims on the Plymouth Rock marks the true commencement of the
history of the American Republic, so that of the Anglo-Saxon
adventurers on the island of Thanet represents and marks the origin
of the British monarchy. The event therefore, stands as a great
and conspicuous landmark, though now dim and distant in the remote
antiquity in which it occurred.

And yet the event, though so wide-reaching and grand in its bearings
and relations, and in the vast consequences which have flowed and
which still continue to flow from it, was apparently a minute and
unimportant circumstance at the time when it occurred. There were only
three vessels at the first arrival. Of their size and character the
accounts vary. Some of these accounts say they contained three hundred
men; others seem to state that the number which arrived at the first
landing was three thousand. This, however, would seem impossible, as
no three vessels built in those days could convey so large a number.
We must suppose, therefore, that that number is meant to include those
who came at several of the earlier expeditions, and which were grouped
by the historian together, or else that several other vessels or
transports accompanied the three, which history has specially
commemorated as the first arriving.

In fact, very little can now be known in respect to the form and
capacity of the vessels in which these half-barbarous navigators
roamed, in those days, over the British seas. Their name, indeed, has
come down to us, and that is nearly all. They were called _cyules_;
though the name is sometimes spelled, in the ancient chronicles,
_ceols_, and in other ways. They were obviously vessels of
considerable capacity and were of such construction and such strength
as to stand the roughest marine exposures. They were accustomed to
brave fearlessly every commotion and to encounter every danger raised
either by winter tempests or summer gales in the restless waters of
the German Ocean.

The names of the commanders who headed the expedition which first
landed have been preserved, and they have acquired, as might have been
expected, a very wide celebrity. They were Hengist and Horsa. Hengist
and Horsa were brothers.

The place where they landed was the island of Thanet. Thanet is a
tract of land at the mouth of the Thames, on the southern side; a sort
of promontory extending into the sea, and forming the cape at the
south side of the estuary made by the mouth of the river. The extreme
point of land is called the North Foreland which, as it is the point
that thousands of vessels, coming out of the Thames, have to round in
proceeding southward on voyages to France, to the Mediterranean, to
the Indies, and to America, is very familiarly known to navigators
throughout the world. The island of Thanet, of which this North
Foreland is the extreme point, ought scarcely to be called an island,
since it forms, in fact, a portion of the main land, being separated
from it only by a narrow creek or stream, which in former ages indeed,
was wide and navigable, but is now nearly choked up and obliterated
by the sands and the sediment, which, after being brought down by the
Thames, are driven into the creek by the surges of the sea.

In the time of Hengist and Horsa the creek was so considerable that
its mouth furnished a sufficient harbor for their vessels. They landed
at a town called Ebbs-fleet, which is now, however, at some distance

There is some uncertainty in respect to the motive which led Hengist
and Horsa to make their first descent upon the English coast. Whether
they came on one of their customary piratical expeditions, or were
driven on the coast accidentally by stress of weather, or were invited
to come by the British king, can not now be accurately ascertained.
Such parties of Anglo-Saxons had undoubtedly often landed before under
somewhat similar circumstances, and then, after brief incursions into
the interior, had re-embarked on board their ships and sailed away.
In this case, however, there was a certain peculiar and extraordinary
state of things in the political condition of the country in which
they had landed, which resulted in first protracting their stay, and
finally in establishing them so fixedly and permanently in the land,
that they and their followers and descendants soon became the entire
masters of it, and have remained in possession to the present day.
These circumstances were as follows:

The name of the king of Britain at this period was Vortigern. At the
time when the Anglo-Saxons arrived, he and his government were nearly
overwhelmed with the pressure of difficulty and danger arising from
the incursions of the Picts and Scots; and Vortigern, instead of being
aroused to redoubled vigilance and energy by the imminence of the
danger, as Alfred afterward was in similar circumstances, sank
down, as weak minds always do, in despair, and gave himself up to
dissipation and vice--endeavoring, like depraved seamen on a wreck, to
drown his mental distress in animal sensations of pleasure. Such men
are ready to seek relief or rescue from their danger from any quarter
and at any price. Vortigern, instead of looking upon the Anglo-Saxon
intruders as new enemies, conceived the idea of appealing to them for
succor. He offered to convey to them a large tract of territory in the
part of the island where they had landed, on condition of their aiding
him in his contests with his other foes.

Hengist and Horsa acceded to this proposal. They marched their
followers into battle, and defeated Vortigern's enemies. They sent
across the sea to their native land, and invited new adventurers to
join them. Vortigern was greatly pleased with the success of his
expedient. The Picts and Scots were driven back to their fastnesses in
the remote mountains of the north, and the Britons once more possessed
their land in peace, by means of the protection and the aid which
their new confederates afforded them.

In the mean time the Anglo-Saxons were establishing and strengthening
themselves very rapidly in the part of the island which Vortigern had
assigned them--which was, as the reader will understand from what
has already been said in respect to the place of their landing, the
southeastern part--a region which now constitutes the county of Kent.
In addition, too, to the natural increase of their power from the
increase of their numbers and their military force, Hengist contrived,
if the story is true, to swell his own personal influence by means of
a matrimonial alliance which he had the adroitness to effect. He had
a daughter named Rowena. She was very beautiful and accomplished.
Hengist sent for her to come to England. When she had arrived he made
a sumptuous entertainment for King Vortigern, inviting also to it, of
course, many other distinguished guests. In the midst of the feast,
when the king was in the state of high excitement produced on such
temperaments by wine and convivial pleasure, Rowena came in to offer
him more wine. Vortigern was powerfully struck, as Hengist had
anticipated, with her grace and beauty. Learning that she was
Hengist's daughter, he demanded her hand. Hengist at first declined,
but, after sufficiently stimulating the monarch's eagerness by his
pretended opposition, he yielded, and the king became the general's
son-in-law. This is the story which some of the old chroniclers tell.
Modern historians are divided in respect to believing it. Some think
it is fact, others fable.

At all events, the power of Hengist and Horsa gradually increased,
as years passed on, until the Britons began to be alarmed at their
growing strength and multiplying numbers, and to fear lest these new
friends should prove, in the end, more formidable than the terrible
enemies whom they had come to expel. Contentions and then open
quarrels began to occur, and at length both parties prepared for war.
The contest which soon ensued was a terrible struggle, or rather
series of struggles, which continued for two centuries, during which
the Anglo-Saxons were continually gaining ground and the Britons
losing; the mental and physical superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race
giving them with very few exceptions, every where and always the

There were, occasionally, intervals of peace, and partial and
temporary friendliness. They accuse Hengist of great treachery on one
of these occasions. He invited his son-in-law, King Vortigern, to
a feast, with three hundred of his officers, and then fomenting a
quarrel at the entertainment, the Britons were all killed in the
affray by means of the superior Saxon force which had been provided
for the emergency. Vortigern himself was taken prisoner, and held a
captive until he ransomed himself by ceding three whole provinces
to his captor. Hengist justified this demand by throwing the
responsibility of the feud upon his guests; and it is not, in fact, at
all improbable that they deserved their share of the condemnation.

The famous King Arthur, whose Knights of the Round Table have been so
celebrated in ballads and tales, lived and flourished during these
wars between the Saxons and the Britons. He was a king of the Britons,
and performed wonderful exploits of strength and valor. He was of
prodigious size and muscular power, and of undaunted bravery. He slew
giants, destroyed the most ferocious wild beasts, gained very splendid
victories in the battles that he fought, made long expeditions into
foreign countries, having once gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to
obtain the Holy Cross. His wife was a beautiful lady, the daughter of
a chieftain of Cornwall. Her name was Guenever.[1] On his return from
one of his distant expeditions, he found that his nephew, Medrawd,
had won her affections while he was gone, and a combat ensued in
consequence between him and Medrawd. The combat took place on the
coast of Cornwall. Both parties fell. Arthur was mortally wounded.
They took him from the field into a boat, and carried him along the
coast till they came to a river. They ascended the river till they
came to the town of Glastonbury. They committed the still breathing
body to the care of faithful friends there; but the mortal blow had
been given. The great hero died, and they buried his body in the
Glastonbury churchyard, very deep beneath the surface of the ground,
in order to place it as effectually as possible beyond the reach of
Saxon rage and vengeance. Arthur had been a deadly and implacable foe
to the Saxons. He had fought twelve great pitched battles with them,
in every one of which he had gained the victory. In one of these
battles he had slain, according to the traditional tale, four hundred
and seventy men, in one day, with his own hand.

Five hundred years after his death, King Henry the Second, having
heard from an ancient British bard that Arthur's body lay interred in
the Abbey of Glastonbury, and that the spot was marked by some small
pyramids erected near it, and that the body would be found in a rude
coffin made of a hollowed oak, ordered search to be made. The ballads
and tales which had been then, for several centuries, circulating
throughout England, narrating and praising King Arthur's exploits, had
given him so wide a fame, that great interest was felt in the recovery
and the identification of his remains. The searchers found the
pyramids in the cemetery of the abbey. They dug between them, and came
at length to a stone. Beneath this stone was a leaden cross, with the
ARTHUR." Going down still below this, they came at length, at the
depth of sixteen feet from the surface, to a great coffin, made of the
trunk of an oak tree, and within it was a human skeleton of unusual
size. The skull was very large, and showed marks of ten wounds. Nine
of them were closed by concretions of the bone, indicating that the
wounds by which those contusions or fractures had been made had been
healed while life continued. The tenth fracture remained in a
condition which showed that that had been the mortal wound.

The bones of Arthur's wife were found near those of her husband. The
hair was apparently perfect when found, having all the freshness
and beauty of life; but a monk of the abbey, who was present at the
disinterment, touched it and it crumbled to dust.

Such are the tales which the old chronicles tell of the good King
Arthur, the last and greatest representative of the power of the
ancient British aborigines. It is a curious illustration of the
uncertainty which attends all the early records of national history,
that, notwithstanding all the above particularity respecting the life
and death of Arthur, it is a serious matter of dispute among the
learned in modern times whether any such person ever lived.

[Footnote 1: Spelled sometimes Gwenlyfar and Ginevra.]



The landing of Hengist and Horsa, the first of the Anglo-Saxons, took
place in the year 449, according to the commonly received chronology.
It was more than two hundred years after this before the Britons were
entirely subdued, and the Saxon authority established throughout the
island, unquestioned and supreme. One or two centuries more passed
away, and then the Anglo-Saxons had, in their turn, to resist a new
horde of invaders, who came, as they themselves had done, across the
German Ocean. These new invaders were the Danes.

The Saxons were not united under one general government when they came
finally to get settled in their civil polity. The English territory
was divided, on the contrary, into seven or eight separate kingdoms.
These kingdoms were ruled by as many separate dynasties, or lines of
kings. They were connected with each other by friendly relations and
alliances, more or less intimate, the whole system being known in
history by the name of the Saxon Heptarchy.

The princes of these various dynasties showed in their dealings with
one another, and in their relations with foreign powers, the same
characteristics of boldness and energy as had always marked the action
of the race. Even the queens and princesses evinced, by their courage
and decision, that Anglo-Saxon blood lost nothing of its inherent
qualities by flowing in female veins.

For example, a very extraordinary story is told of one of these Saxon
princesses. A certain king upon the Continent, whose dominions lay
between the Rhine and the German Ocean, had proposed for her hand in
behalf of his son, whose name was Radiger. The consent of the princess
was given, and the contract closed. The king himself soon afterward
died, but before he died he changed his mind in respect to the
marriage of his son. It seems that he had himself married a second
wife, the daughter of a king of the Franks, a powerful continental
people; and as, in consequence of his own approaching death, his son
would come unexpectedly into possession of the throne, and would need
immediately all the support which a powerful alliance could give him,
he recommended to him to give up the Saxon princess, and connect
himself, instead, with the Franks, as he himself had done. The
prince entered into these views; his father died, and he immediately
afterward married his father's youthful widow--his own step-mother--a
union which, however monstrous it would be regarded in our day, seems
not to have been considered any thing very extraordinary then.

The Anglo-Saxon princess was very indignant at this violation of his
plighted faith on the part of her suitor. She raised an army and
equipped a fleet, and set sail with the force which she had thus
assembled across the German Ocean, to call the faithless Radiger to
account. Her fleet entered the mouth of the Rhine, and her troops
landed, herself at the head of them. She then divided her army into
two portions, keeping one division as a guard for herself at her own
encampment, which she established near the place of her landing, while
she sent the other portion to seek and attack Radiger, who was, in the
mean time, assembling his forces, in a state of great alarm at this
sudden and unexpected danger.

In due time this division returned, reporting that they had met and
encountered Radiger, and had entirely defeated him. They came back
triumphing in their victory, considering evidently, that the faithless
lover had been well punished for his offense. The princess, however,
instead of sharing in their satisfaction, ordered them to make a
new incursion into the interior, and not to return without bringing
Radiger with them as their prisoner. They did so; and after hunting
the defeated and distressed king from place to place, they succeeded,
at last, in seizing him in a wood, and brought him in to the
princess's encampment. He began to plead for his life, and to make
excuses for the violation of his contract by urging the necessities of
his situation and his father's dying commands. The princess said she
was ready to forgive him if he would now dismiss her rival and fulfill
his obligations to her. Radiger yielded to this demand; he repudiated
his Frank wife, and married the Anglo-Saxon lady in her stead.

Though the Anglo-Saxon race continued thus to evince in all their
transactions the same extraordinary spirit and energy, and met
generally with the same success that had characterized them at the
beginning, they seemed at length to find their equals in the Danes.
These Danes, however, though generally designated by that appellation
in history, were not exclusively the natives of Denmark. They came
from all the shores of the Northern and Baltic Seas. In fact, they
inhabited the sea rather than the land. They were a race of bold and
fierce naval adventurers, as the Anglo-Saxons themselves had been
two centuries before. Most extraordinary accounts are given of their
hardihood, and of their fierce and predatory habits. They haunted the
bays along the coasts of Sweden and Norway, and the islands which
encumber the entrance to the Baltic Sea. They were banded together in
great hordes, each ruled by a chieftain, who was called a _sea king_,
because his dominions scarcely extended at all to the land. His
possessions, his power, his subjects pertained all to the sea. It is
true they built or bought their vessels on the shore, and they sought
shelter among the islands and in the bays in tempests and storms; but
they prided themselves in never dwelling in houses, or sharing, in
any way, the comforts or enjoyments of the land. They made excursions
every where for conquest and plunder, and were proud of their
successful deeds of violence and wrong. It was honorable to enter into
their service. Chieftains and nobles who dwelt upon the land sent
their sons to acquire greatness, and wealth, and fame by joining these
piratical gangs, just as high-minded military or naval officers, in
modern times, would enter into the service of an honorable government

Besides the great leaders of the most powerful of these bands, there
was an infinite number of petty chieftains, who commanded single ships
or small detached squadrons. These were generally the younger sons of
sovereigns or chieftains who lived upon the land, the elder brothers
remaining at home to inherit the throne or the paternal inheritance.
It was discreditable then, as it is now in Europe, for any branches
of families of the higher class to engage in any pursuit of honorable
industry. They could plunder and kill without dishonor, but they could
not toil. To rob and murder was glory; to do good or to be useful in
any way was disgrace.

These younger sons went to sea at a very early age too. They were
sent often at twelve, that they might become early habituated to the
exposures and dangers of their dreadful combats, and of the wintery
storms, and inured to the athletic exertions which the sea rigorously
exacts of all who venture within her dominion. When they returned
they were received with consideration and honor, or with neglect and
disgrace, according as they were more or less laden with booty and
spoil. In the summer months the land kings themselves would organize
and equip naval armaments for similar expeditions. They would cruise
along the coasts of the sea, to land where they found an unguarded
point, and sack a town or burn a castle, seize treasures, capture men
and make them slaves, kidnap women, and sometimes destroy helpless
children with their spears in a manner too barbarous and horrid to be
described. On returning to their homes, they would perhaps find their
own castles burned and their own dwellings roofless, from the visit of
some similar horde.

Thus the seas of western Europe were covered in those days, as they
are now, with fleets of shipping; though, instead of being engaged as
now, in the quiet and peaceful pursuits of commerce, freighted with
merchandise, manned with harmless seamen, and welcome wherever they
come, they were then loaded only with ammunition and arms, and crowded
with fierce and reckless robbers, the objects of universal detestation
and terror.

One of the first of these sea kings who acquired sufficient individual
distinction to be personally remembered in history has given a sort of
immortality, by his exploits, to the very rude name of Ragnar Lodbrog,
and his character was as rude as his name.

[Illustration: THE SEA KINGS]

Ragnar's father was a prince of Norway. He married, however, a Danish
princess, and thus Ragnar acquired a sort of hereditary right to
a Danish kingdom--the territory including various islands and
promontories at the entrance of the Baltic Sea. There was, however, a
competitor for this power, named Harald. The Franks made common cause
with Harald. Ragnar was defeated and driven away from the land. Though
defeated, however, he was not subdued. He organized a naval force, and
made himself a sea king. His operations on the stormy element of the
seas were conducted with so much decision and energy, and at the same
time with so much system and plan, that his power rapidly extended. He
brought the other sea kings under his control, and established quite
a maritime empire. He made more and more distant excursions, and
at last, in order to avenge himself upon the Franks for their
interposition in behalf of his enemy at home, he passed through the
Straits of Dover, and thence down the English Channel to the mouth
of the Seine. He ascended this river to Rouen, and there landed,
spreading throughout the country the utmost terror and dismay. From
Rouen he marched to Paris, finding no force able to resist him on his
way, or to defend the capital. His troops destroyed the monastery of
St. Germain's, near the city, and then the King of the Franks, finding
himself at their mercy, bought them off by paying a large sum of
money. With this money and the other booty which they had acquired,
Ragnar and his horde now returned to their ships at Rouen, and sailed
away again toward their usual haunts among the bays and islands of the
Baltic Sea.

This exploit, of course, gave Ragnar Lodbrog's barbarous name a very
wide celebrity. It tended, too, greatly to increase and establish his
power. He afterward made similar incursions into Spain, and finally
grew bold enough to brave the Anglo-Saxons themselves on the green
island of Britain, as the Anglo-Saxons had themselves braved the
aboriginal inhabitants two or three centuries before. But Ragnar seems
to have found the Anglo-Saxon swords and spears which he advanced to
encounter on landing in England much more formidable than those which
were raised against him on the southern side of the Channel. He was
destroyed in the contest. The circumstances were as follows:

In making his preparations for a descent upon the English coast, he
prepared for a very determined contest, knowing well the character of
the foes with whom he would have now to deal. He built two enormous
ships, much larger than those of the ordinary size, and armed and
equipped them in the most perfect manner. He filled them with selected
men, and sailing down along the coast of Scotland, he watched for a
place and an opportunity to land. Winds and storms are almost always
raging among the dark and gloomy mountains and islands of Scotland.
Ragnar's ships were caught on one of these gales and driven on shore.
The ships were lost, but the men escaped to the land. Ragnar, nothing
daunted, organized and marshaled them as an army, and marched into
the interior to attack any force which might appear against them. His
course led him to Northumbria, the most northerly Saxon kingdom. Here
he soon encountered a very large and superior force, under the command
of Ella, the king; but, with the reckless desperation which so
strongly marked his character, he advanced to attack them. Three
times, it is said, he pierced the enemy's lines, cutting his way
entirely through them with his little column. He was, however, at
length overpowered. His men were cut to pieces, and he was himself
taken prisoner. We regret to have to add that our cruel ancestors put
their captive to death in a very barbarous manner. They filled a den
with poisonous snakes, and then drove the wretched Ragnar into it. The
horrid reptiles killed him with their stings. It was Ella, the king of
Northumbria, who ordered and directed this punishment.

The expedition of Ragnar thus ended without leading to any permanent
results in Anglo-Saxon history. It is, however, memorable as the first
of a series of invasions from the Danes--or Northmen, as they are
sometimes called, since they came from all the coasts of the Baltic
and German Seas--which, in the end, gave the Anglo-Saxons infinite
trouble. At one time, in fact, the conquests of the Danes threatened
to root out and destroy the Anglo-Saxon power from the island
altogether. They would probably have actually effected this, had the
nation not been saved by the prudence, the courage, the sagacity, and
the consummate skill of the subject of this history, as will fully
appear to the reader in the course of future chapters.

Ragnar was not the only one of these Northmen who made attempts to
land in England and to plunder the Anglo-Saxons, even in his own day.
Although there were no very regular historical records kept in those
early times, still a great number of legends, and ballads, and ancient
chronicles have come down to us, narrating the various transactions
which occurred, and it appears by these that the sea kings generally
were beginning, at this time, to harass the English coasts, as well as
all the other shores to which they could gain access. Some of these
invasions would seem to have been of a very formidable character.

At first these excursions were made in the summer season only, and,
after collecting their plunder, the marauders would return in the
autumn to their own shores, and winter in the bays and among the
islands there. At length, however, they grew more bold. A large band
of them landed, in the autumn of 851, on the island of Thanet where
the Saxons themselves had landed four centuries before, and began very
coolly to establish their winter quarters on English ground. They
succeeded in maintaining their stay during the winter, and in the
spring were prepared for bolder undertakings still.

They formed a grand confederation, and collected a fleet of three
hundred and fifty ships, galleys, and boats, and advanced boldly
up the Thames. They plundered London, and then marched south to
Canterbury, which they plundered too. They went thence into one of the
Anglo-Saxon kingdoms called Mercia, the inhabitants of the country not
being able to oppose any effectual obstacle to their marauding march.
Finally, a great Anglo-Saxon force was organized and brought out to
meet them. The battle was fought in a forest of oaks, and the Danes
were defeated. The victory, however, afforded the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
only a temporary relief. New hordes were continually arriving and
landing, growing more and more bold if they met with success, and but
little daunted or discouraged by temporary failures.

The most formidable of all these expeditions was one organized and
commanded by the sons and relatives of Ragnar, whom, it will be
recollected, the Saxons had cruelly killed by poisonous serpents in
a dungeon or den. The relatives of the unhappy chieftain thus
barbarously executed were animated in their enterprise by the double
stimulus of love of plunder and a ferocious thirst for revenge. A
considerable time was spent in collecting a large fleet, and in
combining, for this purpose, as many chieftains as could be induced to
share in the enterprise. The story of their fellow-countryman expiring
under the stings of adders and scorpions, while his tormentors were
exulting around him over the cruel agonies which their ingenuity
had devised, aroused them to a phrensy of hatred and revenge. They
proceeded, however, very deliberately in their plans. They did nothing
hastily. They allowed ample time for the assembling and organizing
of the confederation. When all was ready, they found that there were
eight kings and twenty earls in the alliance, generally the relatives
and comrades of Ragnar. The two most prominent of these commanders
were Guthrum and Hubba. Hubba was one of Ragnar's sons. At length,
toward the close of the summer, the formidable expedition set sail.
They approached the English coast, and landed without meeting with any
resistance. The Saxons seemed appalled and paralyzed at the greatness
of the danger. The several kingdoms of the Heptarchy, though they had
been imperfectly united, some years before, under Egbert, were still
more or less distinct, and each hoped that the one first invaded would
be the only one which would suffer; and as these kingdoms were rivals,
and often hostile to each other, no general league was formed against
what soon proved to be the common enemy. The Danes, accordingly,
quietly encamped, and made calm and deliberate arrangements for
spending the winter in their new quarters, as if they were at home.

During all this time, notwithstanding the coolness and deliberation
with which these avengers of their murdered countryman acted, the
fires of their resentment and revenge were slowly but steadily
burning, and as soon as the spring opened, they put themselves in
battle array, and marched into the dominions of Ella. Ella did all
that it was possible to do to meet and oppose them, but the spirit of
retaliation and rage which his cruelties had evoked was too strong to
be resisted. His country was ravaged, his army was defeated, he was
taken prisoner, and the dying terrors and agonies of Ragnar among the
serpents were expiated by tenfold worse tortures which they inflicted
upon Ella's mutilated body, by a process too horrible to be described.

After thus successfully accomplishing the great object of their
expedition, it was to have been hoped that they would leave the island
and return to their Danish homes. But they evinced no disposition
to do this. On the contrary, they commenced a course of ravage and
conquest in all parts of England, which continued for several years.
The parts of the country which attempted to oppose them they destroyed
by fire and sword. They seized cities, garrisoned and occupied them,
and settled in them as if to make them their permanent homes. One
kingdom after another was subdued. The kingdom of Wessex seemed alone
to remain, and that was the subject of contest. Ethelred was the king.
The Danes advanced into his dominions to attack him. In the battle
that ensued, Ethelred was killed. The successor to his throne was his
brother Alfred, the subject of this history, who thus found himself
suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to assume the responsibilities
and powers of supreme command, in as dark and trying a crisis of
national calamity and danger as can well be conceived. The manner in
which Alfred acted in the emergency, rescuing his country from her
perils, and laying the foundations, as he did, of all the greatness
and glory which has since accrued to her, has caused his memory to be
held in the highest estimation among all nations, and has immortalized
his name.



Before commencing the narrative of Alfred's administration of the
public affairs of his realm, it is necessary to go back a little, in
order to give some account of the more private occurrences of his
early life. Alfred, like Washington, was distinguished for a very
extraordinary combination of qualities which exhibited itself in his
character, viz., the combination of great military energy and skill
on the one hand, with a very high degree, on the other, of moral and
religious principle, and conscientious devotion to the obligations
of duty. This combination, so rarely found in the distinguished
personages which have figured among mankind, is, in a great measure,
explained and accounted for, in Alfred's case, by the peculiar
circumstances of his early history.

It was his brother Ethelred, as has already been stated, whom Alfred
immediately succeeded. His father's name was Ethelwolf; and it seems
highly probable that the peculiar turn which Alfred's mind seemed to
take in after years, was the consequence, in some considerable degree,
of this parent's situation and character. Ethelwolf was a younger son,
and was brought up in a monastery at Winchester. The monasteries of
those days were the seats both of learning and piety, that is, of such
learning and piety as then prevailed. The ideas of religious faith and
duty which were entertained a thousand years ago were certainly very
different from those which are received now; still, there was
then, mingled with much superstition, a great deal of honest and
conscientious devotion to the principles of Christian duty, and of
sincere and earnest desire to live for the honor of God and
religion, and for the highest and best welfare of mankind. Monastic
establishments existed every where, defended by the sacredness which
invested them from the storms of violence and war which swept over
every thing which the cross did not protect. To these the thoughtful,
the serious, and the intellectual retired, leaving the restless, the
rude, and the turbulent to distract and terrify the earth with their
endless quarrels. Here they studied, they wrote, they read; they
transcribed books, they kept records, they arranged exercises of
devotion, they educated youth, and, in a word, performed, in the
inclosed and secluded retreats in which they sought shelter, those
intellectual functions of civil life which now can all be performed in
open exposure, but which in those days, if there had been no monastic
retreats to shelter them, could not have been performed at all.
For the learning and piety of the present age, whether Catholic or
Protestant, to malign the monasteries of Anglo-Saxon times is for the
oak to traduce the acorn from which it sprung.

Ethelwolf was a younger son, and, consequently, did not expect to
reign. He went to the monastery at Winchester, and took the vows. His
father had no objection to this plan, satisfied with having his oldest
son expect and prepare for the throne. As, however, he advanced toward
manhood, the thought of the probability that he might be called to the
throne in the event of his brother's death led all parties to desire
that he might be released from his monastic vows. They applied,
accordingly, to the pope for a dispensation. The dispensation was
granted, and Ethelwolf became a general in the army. In the end his
brother died, and he became king.

He continued, however, during his reign, to manifest the peaceful,
quiet, and serious character which had led him to enter the monastery,
and which had probably been strengthened and confirmed by the
influences and habits to which he had been accustomed there. He had,
however, a very able, energetic, and warlike minister, who managed his
affairs with great ability and success for a long course of years.
Ethelwolf, in the mean time, leaving public affairs to his minister,
continued to devote himself to the pursuits to which his predilections
inclined him. He visited monasteries; he cultivated learning; he
endowed the Church; he made journeys to Rome. All this time, his
kingdom, which had before almost swallowed up the other kingdoms of
the Heptarchy, became more and more firmly established, until, at
length, the Danes came in, as is described in the last chapter, and
brought the whole land into the most extreme and imminent danger.
The case did not, however, become absolutely desperate until after
Ethelwolf's death, as will be hereafter explained.

Ethelwolf married a lady whose gentle, quiet, and serious character
corresponded with his own. Alfred was the youngest, and, as is often
the case with the youngest, the favorite child. He was kept near to
his father and mother, and closely under their influence, until his
mother died, which event, however, took place when he was quite young.
After this, Ethelwolf sent Alfred to Rome. Rome was still more the
great center then than it is now of religion and learning. There
were schools there, maintained by the various nations of Europe
respectively, for the education of the sons of the nobility. Alfred,
however, did not go for this purpose. It was only to make the journey,
to see the city, to be introduced to the pope, and to be presented, by
means of the fame of the expedition, to the notice of Europe, as the
future sovereign of England; for it was Ethelwolf's intention, at
this time, to pass over his older sons, and make this Benjamin his
successor on the throne.

The journey was made with great pomp and parade. A large train of
nobles and ecclesiastics accompanied the young prince, and a splendid
reception was given to him in the various towns in France which he
passed through on his way. He was but five years old; but his position
and his prospects made him, though so young, a personage of great
distinction. After spending a short time at Rome, he returned again to

Two years after this, Ethelwolf, Alfred's father, determined to go to
Rome himself. His wife had died, his older sons had grown up, and his
own natural aversion to the cares and toils of government seems
to have been increased by the alarms and dangers produced by the
incursions of the Danes, and by his own advancing years. Having
accordingly arranged the affairs of the kingdom by placing his oldest
sons in command, he took the youngest, Alfred, who was now seven years
old, with him, and, crossing the Channel, landed on the Continent, on
his way to Rome.

All the arrangements for this journey were conducted on a scale of
great magnificence and splendor. It is true that it was a rude and
semi-barbarous age, and very little progress had been made in respect
to the peaceful and industrial arts of life; but, in respect to the
arts connected with war, to every thing that related to the march of
armies, the pomp and parade of royal progresses, the caparison of
horses, the armor and military dresses of men, and the parade and
pageantry of military spectacles, a very considerable degree of
advancement had been attained.

King Ethelwolf availed himself of all the resources that he could
command to give eclat to his journey. He had a numerous train of
attendants and followers, and he carried with him a number of rich and
valuable presents for the pope. He was received with great distinction
by King Charles of France, through whose dominions he had to pass on
his way to Italy. Charles had a daughter, Judith, a young girl with
whom Ethelwolf, though now himself quite advanced in life, fell deeply
in love.

Ethelwolf, after a short stay in France, went on to Rome. His arrival
and his visit here attracted great attention. As King of England he
was a personage of very considerable consequence, and then he
came with a large retinue and in magnificent state. His religious
predilections, too, inspired him with a very strong interest in the
ecclesiastical authorities and institutions of Rome, and awakened,
reciprocally, in these authorities, a strong interest in him. He made
costly presents to the pope, some of which were peculiarly splendid.
One was a crown of pure gold, which weighed, it is said, four pounds.
Another was a sword, richly mounted in gold. There were also several
utensils and vessels of Saxon form and construction, some of gold and
others of silver gilt, and also a considerable number of dresses, all
very richly adorned. King Ethelwolf also made a distribution in money
to all the inhabitants of Rome: gold to the nobles and to the clergy,
and silver to the people. How far his munificence on this occasion may
have been exaggerated by the Saxon chroniclers, who, of course, like
other early historians, were fond of magnifying all the exploits, and
swelling, in every way, the fame of the heroes of their stories,
we can not now know. There is no doubt, however, that all the
circumstances of Ethelwolf's visit to the great capital were such as
to attract universal attention to the event, and to make the little
Alfred, on whose account the journey was in a great measure performed,
an object of very general interest and attention.

In fact, there is every reason to believe that the Saxon nations had,
at that time, made such progress in wealth, population, and power as
to afford to such a prince as Ethelwolf the means of making a great
display, if he chose to do so, on such an occasion as that of a royal
progress through France and a visit to the great city of Rome. The
Saxons had been in possession of England, at this time, many hundred
years; and though, during all this period, they had been involved in
various wars, both with one another and with the neighboring nations,
they had been all the time steadily increasing in wealth, and making
constant improvements in all the arts and refinements of life.
Ethelwolf reigned, therefore, over a people of considerable wealth
and power, and he moved across the Continent on his way to Rome, and
figured while there, as a personage of no ordinary distinction.

Rome was at this time, as we have said, the great center of education,
as well as of religious and ecclesiastical influence. In fact,
education and religion went hand in hand in those days, there being
scarcely any instruction in books excepting for the purposes of the
Church. Separate schools had been established at Rome by the leading
nations of Europe, where their youth could be taught, each at an
institution in which his own language was spoken. Ethelwolf remained a
year at Rome, to give Alfred the benefit of the advantages which the
city afforded. The boy was of a reflective and thoughtful turn of
mind, and applied himself diligently to the performance of his duties.
His mind was rapidly expanded, his powers were developed, and stores
of such knowledge as was adapted to the circumstances and wants of the
times were laid up. The religious and intellectual influences thus
brought to bear upon the young Alfred's mind produced strong and
decided effects in the formation of his character--effects which were
very strikingly visible in his subsequent career.

Ethelwolf found, when he arrived at Rome, that the Saxon seminary had
been burned the preceding year. It had been founded by a former Saxon
king. Ethelwolf rebuilt it, and placed the institution on a new and
firmer foundation than before. He also obtained some edicts from the
papal government to secure and confirm certain rights of his Saxon
subjects residing in the city, which rights had, it seems, been in
some degree infringed upon, and he thus saved his subjects from
oppressions to which they had been exposed. In a word, Ethelwolf's
visit not only afforded an imposing spectacle to those who witnessed
the pageantry and the ceremonies which marked it, but it was attended
with permanent and substantial benefits to many classes, who became,
in consequence of it, the objects of the pious monarch's benevolent

At length, when the year had expired, Ethelwolf set out on his return.
He went back through France, as he came, and during his stay in
that country on the way home, an event occurred which was of no
inconsiderable consequence to Alfred himself, and which changed or
modified Ethelwolf's whole destiny. The event was that, having, as
before stated, become enamored with the young Princess Judith, the
daughter of the King of France, Ethelwolf demanded her in marriage.
We have no means of knowing how the proposal affected the princess
herself; marriages in that rank and station in life were then, as they
are now in fact, wholly determined and controlled by great political
considerations, or by the personal predilections of powerful _men_,
with very little regard for the opinions or desires of the party
whose happiness was most to be affected by the result. At all events,
whatever may have been Judith's opinion, the marriage was decided upon
and consummated, and the venerable king returned to England with his
youthful bride. The historians of the day say, what would seem almost
incredible, that she was but about twelve years old.

Judith's Saxon name was Leotheta. She made an excellent mother to the
young Alfred, though she innocently and indirectly caused her husband
much trouble in his realm. Alfred's older brothers were wild and
turbulent men, and one of them, Ethelbald, was disposed to retain
a portion of the power with which he had been invested during his
father's absence, instead of giving it up peaceably on his return. He
organized a rebellion against his father, making the king's course of
conduct in respect to his youthful bride the pretext. Ethelwolf was
very fond of his young wife, and seemed disposed to elevate her to
a position of great political consideration and honor. Ethelbald
complained of this. The father, loving peace rather than war,
compromised the question with him, and relinquished to him a part
of his kingdom. Two years after this he died, leaving Ethelbald the
entire possession of the throne. Ethelbald, as if to complete and
consummate his unnatural conduct toward his father, persuaded the
beautiful Judith, his father's widow, to become his wife, in violation
not only of all laws human and divine, but also of those universal
instincts of propriety which no lapse of time and no changes of
condition can eradicate from the human soul. This second union throws
some light on the question of Judith's action. Since she was willing
to marry her husband's son to _preserve_ the position of a queen, we
may well suppose that she did not object to uniting herself to the
father in order to attain it. Perhaps, however, we ought to consider
that no responsibility whatever, in transactions of this character,
should attach to such a mere child.

During all this time Alfred was passing from his eighth to his twelfth
year. He was a very intelligent and observing boy, and had acquired
much knowledge of the world and a great deal of general information in
the journeys which he had taken with his father, both about England
and also on the Continent, in France and Italy. Judith had taken a
great interest in his progress. She talked with him, she encouraged
his inquiries, she explained to him what he did not understand, and
endeavored in every way to develop and strengthen his mental powers.
Alfred was a favorite, and, as such, was always very much indulged;
but there was a certain conscientiousness and gentleness of spirit
which marked his character even in these early years, and seemed to
defend him from the injurious influences which indulgence and extreme
attention and care often produce. Alfred was considerate, quiet, and
reflective; he improved the privileges which he enjoyed, and did not
abuse the kindness and the favors which every one by whom he was known
lavished upon him.

Alfred was very fond of the Anglo-Saxon poetry which abounded in those
days. The poems were legends, ballads, and tales, which described the
exploits of heroes, and the adventures of pilgrims and wanderers of
all kinds. These poems were to Alfred what Homer's poems were to
Alexander. He loved to listen to them, to hear them recited, and to
commit them to memory. In committing them to memory, he was obliged to
depend upon hearing the poems repeated by others, for he himself could
not read.

And yet he was now twelve years old. It may surprise the reader,
perhaps, to be thus told, after all that has been said of the
attention paid to Alfred's education, and of the progress which he had
made, that he could not even read. But reading, far from being then
considered, as it is now, an essential attainment for all, and one
which we are sure of finding possessed by all who have received any
instruction whatever, was regarded in those days a sort of technical
art, learned only by those who were to make some professional use of
the acquisition. Monks and clerks could always read, but generals,
gentlemen, and kings very seldom. And as they could not read, neither
could they write. They made a rude cross at the end of the writings
which they wished to authenticate instead of signing their names--a
mode which remains to the present day, though it has descended to the
very lowest and humblest classes of society.

In fact, even the upper classes of society could not generally learn
to read in those days, for there were no books. Every thing recorded
was in manuscripts, the characters being written with great labor and
care, usually on parchment, the captions and leading letters being
often splendidly illuminated and adorned by gilded miniatures of
heads, or figures, or landscapes, which enveloped or surrounded them.
Judith had such a manuscript of some Saxon poems. She had learned the
language while in France. One day Alfred was looking at the book,
and admiring the character in which it was written, particularly the
ornamented letters at the headings. Some of his brothers were in the
room, they, of course, being much older than he. Judith said that
either of them might have the book who would first learn to read
it. The older brothers paid little attention to this proposal, but
Alfred's interest was strongly awakened. He immediately sought and
found some one to teach him, and before long he read the volume to
Judith, and claimed it as his own. She rejoiced at his success, and
fulfilled her promise with the greatest pleasure.

Alfred soon acquired, by his Anglo-Saxon studies, a great taste for
books, and had next a strong desire to study the Latin language. The
scholars of the various nations of Europe formed at that time, as, in
fact, they do now, one community, linked together by many ties. They
wrote and spoke the Latin language, that being the only language which
could be understood by them all. In fact, the works which were most
highly valued then by the educated men of all nations, were the poems
and the histories, and other writings produced by the classic authors
of the Roman commonwealth. There were also many works on theology,
on ecclesiastical polity, and on law, of great authority and in high
repute, all written in the Latin tongue. Copies of these works were
made by the monks, in their retreats in abbeys and monasteries, and
learned men spent their lives in perusing them. To explore this field
was not properly a duty incumbent upon a young prince destined to take
a seat upon a throne, but Alfred felt a great desire to undertake
the work. He did not do it, however, for the reason, as he afterward
stated, that there was no one at court at the time who was qualified
to teach him.

Alfred, though he had thus the thoughtful and reflective habits of
a student, was also active, and graceful, and strong in his bodily
development. He excelled in all the athletic recreations of the time,
and was especially famous for his skill, and courage, and power as a
hunter. He gave every indication, in a word, at this early age, of
possessing that uncommon combination of mental and personal qualities
which fits those who possess it to secure and maintain a great
ascendency among mankind.

The unnatural union which had been formed on the death of Ethelwolf
between his youthful widow and her aged husband's son did not long
continue. The people of England were very much shocked at such a
marriage, and a great prelate, the Bishop of Winchester, remonstrated
against it with such sternness and authority, that Ethelbald not only
soon put his wife away, but submitted to a severe penance which the
bishop imposed upon him in retribution for his sin. Judith, thus
forsaken, soon afterward sold the lands and estates which her two
husbands had severally granted her, and, taking a final leave of
Alfred, whom she tenderly loved, she returned to her native land.
Not long after this, she was married a third time, to a continental
prince, whose dominions lay between the Baltic and the Rhine, and
from this period she disappears entirely from the stage of Alfred's



Having thus brought down the narrative of Alfred's early life as far
and as fully as the records that remain enable us to do so, we resume
the general history of the national affairs by returning to the
subject of the depredations and conquests of the Danes, and the
circumstances connected with Alfred's accession to the throne.

To give the reader some definite and clear ideas of the nature of
this warfare, it will be well to describe in detail some few of the
incidents and scenes which ancient historians have recorded. The
following was one case which occurred:

The Danes, it must be premised, were particularly hostile to the
monasteries and religious establishments of the Anglo-Saxons. In the
first place, they were themselves pagans, and they hated Christianity.
In the second place, they knew that these places of sacred seclusion
were often the depositories selected for the custody or concealment of
treasure; and, besides the treasures which kings and potentates often
placed in them for safety, these establishments possessed utensils of
gold and silver for the service of the chapels, and a great variety
of valuable gifts, such as pious saints or penitent sinners were
continually bequeathing to them. The Danes were, consequently, never
better pleased than when sacking an abbey or a monastery. In such
exploits they gratified their terrible animal propensities, both of
hatred and love, by the cruelties which they perpetrated personally
upon the monks and the nuns, and at the same time enriched their
coffers with the most valuable spoils. A dreadful tale is told of
one company of nuns, who, in the consternation and terror which they
endured at the approach of a band of Danes, mutilated their faces in a
manner too horrid to be described, as the only means left to them for
protection against the brutality of their foes. They followed,
in adopting this measure, the advice and the example of the lady
superior. It was effectual.

There was a certain abbey, called Crowland, which was in those days
one of the most celebrated in the island. It was situated near the
southern border of Lincolnshire, which lies on the eastern side of
England. There is a great shallow bay, called The Wash, on this
eastern shore, and it is surrounded by a broad tract of low and marshy
land, which is drained by long canals, and traversed by roads built
upon embankments. Dikes skirt the margins of the streams, and
wind-mills are engaged in perpetual toil to raise the water from the
fields into the channels by which it is conveyed away.

Crowland is at the confluence of two rivers, which flow sluggishly
through this flat but beautiful and verdant region. The remains of the
old abbey still stand, built on piles driven into the marshy ground,
and they form at the present time a very interesting mass of ruins.
The year before Alfred acceded to the throne, the abbey was in all its
glory; and on one occasion it furnished _two hundred_ men, who went
out under the command of one of the monks, named Friar Joly, to join
the English armies and fight the Danes.

The English army was too small notwithstanding this desperate effort
to strengthen it. They stood, however, all day in a compact band,
protecting themselves with their shields from the arrows of the foot
soldiers of the enemy, and with their pikes from the onset of the
cavalry. At night the Danes retired, as if giving up the contest;
but as soon as the Saxons, now released from their positions of
confinement and restraint, had separated a little, and began to
feel somewhat more secure, their implacable foes returned again and
attacked them in separate masses, and with more fury than before. The
Saxons endeavored in vain either to defend themselves or escape. As
fast as their comrades were killed, the survivors stood upon the heaps
of the slain, to gain what little advantage they could from so slight
an elevation. Nearly all at length were killed. A few escaped into a
neighboring wood, where they lay concealed during the day following,
and then, when the darkness of the succeeding night came to enable
them to conceal their journey, they made their way to the abbey, to
make known to the anxious inmates of it the destruction of the army,
and to warn them of the imminence of the impending danger to which
they were now exposed.

A dreadful scene of consternation and terror ensued. The affrighted
messengers told their tale, breathless and wayworn, at the door of the
chapel, where the monks were engaged at their devotions. The aisles
were filled with exclamations of alarm and despairing lamentations.
The abbot, whose name was Theodore, immediately began to take measures
suited to the emergency. He resolved to retain at the monastery only
some aged monks and a few children, whose utter defenselessness, he
thought, would disarm the ferocity and vengeance of the Danes. The
rest, only about thirty, however, in number--nearly all the brethren
having gone out under the Friar Joly into the great battle--were put
on board a boat to be sent down the river. It seems at first view a
strange idea to send away the vigorous and strong, and keep the infirm
and helpless at the scene of danger; but the monks knew very well that
all resistance was vain, and that, consequently, their greatest safety
would lie in the absence of all appearance of the possibility of

The treasures were sent away, too, with all the men. They hastily
collected all the valuables together, the relics, the jewels, and all
of the gold and silver plate which could be easily removed, and
placed them in a boat--packing them as securely as their haste and
trepidation allowed. The boats glided down the river till they came to
a lonely spot, where an anchorite or sort of hermit lived in solitude.
The men and the treasures were to be intrusted to his charge. He
concealed the men in the thickets and other hiding-places in the
woods, and buried the treasures.

In the mean time, as soon as the boats and the party of monks which
accompanied them had left the abbey, the Abbot Theodore and the old
monks that remained with him urged on the work of concealing that part
of the treasures which had not been taken away. All of the plate which
could not be easily transported, and a certain very rich and costly
table employed for the service of the altar, and many sacred and
expensive garments used by the higher priests in their ceremonies, had
been left behind, as they could not be easily removed. These the abbot
and the monks concealed in the most secure places that they could
find, and then, clothing themselves in their priestly robes, they
assembled in the chapel, and resumed their exercises of devotion. To
be found in so sacred a place and engaged in so holy an avocation
would have been a great protection from any Christian soldiery; but
the monks entirely misconceived the nature of the impulses by which
human nature is governed, in supposing that it would have any
restraining influence upon the pagan Danes. The first thing the
ferocious marauders did, on breaking into the sacred precincts of
the chapel, was to cut down the venerable abbot at the altar, in his
sacerdotal robes, and then to push forward the work of slaying every
other inmate of the abbey, feeble and helpless as they were. Only one
was saved.

This one was a boy, about ten years old. His name was Turgar. He was
a handsome boy, and one of the Danish chieftains was struck with his
countenance and air, in the midst of the slaughter, and took pity on
him. The chieftain's name was Count Sidroc. Sidroc drew Turgar out
of the immediate scene of danger, and gave him a Danish garment,
directing him, at the same time, to throw aside his own, and then to
follow him wherever he went, and keep close to his side, as if he were
a Dane. The boy, relieved from his terrors by this hope of protection,
obeyed implicitly. He followed Sidroc every where, and his life
was saved. The Danes, after killing all the others, ransacked and
plundered the monastery, broke open the tombs in their search for
concealed treasures, and, after taking all that they could discover,
they set the edifices on fire wherever they could find wood-work that
would burn, and went away, leaving the bodies slowly burning in the
grand and terrible funeral pile.

From Crowland the marauders proceeded, taking Turgar with them, to
another large and wealthy abbey in the neighborhood, which they
plundered and destroyed, as they had the abbey at Crowland. Sidroc
made Turgar his own attendant, keeping him always near him. When
the expedition had completed their second conquest, they packed the
valuables which they had obtained from both abbeys in wagons, and
moved toward the south. It happened that some of these wagons were
under Count Sidroc's charge, and were in the rear of the line of
march. In passing a ford, the wheels of one of these rear wagons sank
in the muddy bottom, and the horses, in attempting to draw the wagon
out, became entangled and restive. While Sidroc's whole attention
was engrossed by this difficulty, Turgar contrived to steal away
unobserved. He hid himself in a neighboring wood, and, with a degree
of sagacity and discretion remarkable in a boy of his years, he
contrived to find his way back to the smoking ruins of his home at the
Abbey of Crowland.

The monks who had gone away to seek concealment at the cell of the
anchorite had returned, and were at work among the smoking ruins,
saving what they could from the fire, and gathering together the
blackened remains of their brethren for interment. They chose one of
the monks that had escaped to succeed the abbot who had been murdered,
repaired, so far as they could, their ruined edifices, and mournfully
resumed their functions as a religious community.

Many of the tales which the ancient chroniclers tell of those times
are romantic and incredible; they may have arisen, perhaps, in the
first instance, in exaggerations of incidents and events which really
occurred, and were then handed down from generation to generation by
oral tradition, till they found historians to record them. The story
of the martyrdom of King Edmund is of this character. Edmund was a
sort of king over one of the nations of Anglo-Saxons called East
Angles, who, as their name imports, occupied a part of the eastern
portion of the island. Their particular hostility to Edmund was
awakened, according to the story, in the following manner:

There was a certain bold and adventurous Dane named Lothbroc, who one
day took his falcon on his arm and went out alone in a boat on the
Baltic Sea, or in the straits connecting it with the German Ocean,
intending to go to a certain island and hunt. The falcon is a species
of hawk which they were accustomed to train in those days, to attack
and bring down birds from the air, and falconry was, as might have
been expected, a very picturesque and exciting species of hunting. The
game which Lothbroc was going to seek consisted of the wild fowl which
frequents sometimes, in vast numbers, the cliffs and shores of the
islands in those seas. Before he reached his hunting ground, however,
he was overtaken by a storm, and his boat was driven by it out to sea.
Accustomed to all sorts of adventures and dangers by sea and by land,
and skilled in every operation required in all possible emergencies,
Lothbroc contrived to keep his boat before the wind, and to bail out
the water as fast as it came in, until at length, after being driven
entirely across the German Ocean, he was thrown upon the English
shore, where, with his hawk still upon his arm, he safely landed.


He knew that he was in the country of the most deadly foes of his
nation and race, and accordingly sought to conceal rather than to make
known his arrival. He was, however, found, after a few days, wandering
up and down in a solitary wood, and was conducted, together with his
hawk, to King Edmund.

Edmund was so much pleased with his air and bearing, and so astonished
at the remarkable manner in which he had been brought to the English
shore, that he gave him his life; and soon discovering his great
knowledge and skill as a huntsman, he received him into his own
service, and treated him with great distinction and honor. In addition
to his hawk, Lothbroc had a greyhound, so that he could hunt with the
king in the fields as well as through the air. The greyhound was very
strongly attached to his master.

The king's chief huntsman at this time was Beorn, and Beorn soon
became very envious and jealous of Lothbroc, on account of his
superior power and skill, and of the honorable distinction which they
procured for him. One day, when they two were hunting alone in the
woods with their dogs, Beorn killed his rival, and hid his body in
a thicket. Beorn went home, his own dogs following him, while the
greyhound remained to watch mournfully over the body of his master.
They asked Beorn what was become of Lothbroc, and he replied that he
had gone off into the wood the day before, and he did not know what
had become of him.

In the mean time, the greyhound remained faithfully watching at the
side of the body of his master until hunger compelled him to leave his
post in search of food. He went home, and, as soon as his wants were
supplied, he returned immediately to the wood again. This he did
several days; and at length his singular conduct attracting attention,
he was followed by some of the king's household, and the body of his
murdered master was found.

The guilt of the murder was with little difficulty brought home
to Beorn; and, as an appropriate punishment for his cruelty to an
unfortunate and homeless stranger, the king condemned him to be put
on board the same boat in which the ill-fated Lothbroc had made his
perilous voyage, and pushed out to sea.

The winds and storms--entering, it seems, into the plan, and
influenced by the same principles of poetical justice as had governed
the king--drove the boat, with its terrified mariner, back again
across to the mouth of the Baltic, as they had brought Lothbroc to
England. The boat was thrown upon the beach, on Lothbroc's family

Now Lothbroc had been, in his own country, a man of high rank and
influence. He was of royal descent, and had many friends. He had
two sons, men of enterprise and energy; and it so happened that the
landing of Beorn took place so near to them, that the tidings soon
came to their ears that their father's boat, in the hands of a Saxon
stranger, had arrived on the coast. They immediately sought out the
stranger, and demanded what had become of their father. Beorn, in
order to hide his own guilt, fabricated a tale of Lothbroc's having
been killed by Edmund, the king of the East Angles. The sons of the
murdered Lothbroc were incensed at this news. They aroused their
countrymen by calling upon them every where to aid them in revenging
their father's death. A large naval force was accordingly collected,
and a formidable descent made upon the English coast.

Now Edmund, according to the story, was a humane and gentle-minded
man, much more interested in deeds of benevolence and of piety than in
warlike undertakings and exploits, and he was very far from being well
prepared to meet this formidable foe. In fact, he sought refuge in
a retired residence called Heglesdune. The Danes, having taken
some Saxons captive in a city which they had sacked and destroyed,
compelled them to make known the place of the king's retreat. Hinquar,
the captain of the Danes, sent him a summons to come and surrender
both himself and all the treasures of his kingdom. Edmund refused.
Hinquar then laid siege to the palace, and surrounded it; and,
finally, his soldiers, breaking in, put Edmund's attendants to death,
and brought Edmund himself, bound, into Hinquar's presence.

Hinquar decided that the unfortunate captive should die. He was,
accordingly, first taken to a tree and scourged. Then he was shot at
with arrows, until, as the account states, his body was so full of the
arrows that remained in the flesh that there seemed to be no room for
more. During all this time Edmund continued to call upon the name of
Christ, as if finding spiritual refuge and strength in the Redeemer in
this his hour of extremity; and although these ejaculations afforded,
doubtless, great support and comfort to him, they only served to
irritate to a perfect phrensy of exasperation his implacable pagan
foes. They continued to shoot arrows into him until he was dead, and
then they cut off his head and went away, carrying the dissevered head
with them. Their object was to prevent his friends from having the
satisfaction of interring it with the body. They carried it to what
they supposed a sufficient distance, and then threw it off into a wood
by the way-side, where they supposed it could not easily be found.

As soon, however, as the Danes had left the place, the affrighted
friends and followers of Edmund came out, by degrees, from their
retreats and hiding places. They readily found the dead body of their
sovereign, as it lay, of course, where the cruel deed of his murder
had been performed. They sought with mournful and anxious steps, here
and there, all around, for the head, until at length, when they came
into the wood where it was lying, they heard, as the historian who
records these events gravely testifies, a voice issuing from it,
calling them, and directing their steps by the sound. They followed
the voice, and, having recovered the head by means of this miraculous
guidance, they buried it with the body.[1]

It seems surprising to us that reasonable men should so readily
believe such tales as these; but there are, in all ages of the world,
certain habits of belief, in conformity to which the whole community
go together. We all believe whatever is in harmony with, or analogous
to, the general type of faith prevailing in our own generation. Nobody
could be persuaded now that a dead head could speak, or a wolf change
his nature to protect it; but thousands will credit a fortune-teller,
or believe that a mesmerized patient can have a mental perception of
scenes and occurrences a thousand miles away.

There was a great deal of superstition in the days when Alfred was
called to the throne, and there was also, with it, a great deal of
genuine honest piety. The piety and the superstition, too, were
inextricably intermingled and combined together. They were all
Catholics then, yielding an implicit obedience to the Church of Rome,
making regular contributions in money to sustain the papal authority,
and looking to Rome as the great and central point of Christian
influence and power, and the object of supreme veneration. We have
already seen that the Saxons had established a seminary at Rome, which
King Ethelwolf, Alfred's father, rebuilt and re-endowed. One of the
former Anglo-Saxon kings, too, had given a grant of one penny from
every house in the kingdom to the successors of St. Peter at Rome,
which tax, though nominally small, produced a very considerable sum
in the aggregate, exceeding for many years the royal revenues of the
kings of England. It continued to be paid down to the time of Henry
VIII., when the reformation swept away that, and all the other
national obligations of England to the Catholic Church together.

In the age of Alfred, however, there were not only these public acts
of acknowledgment recognizing the papal supremacy, but there was
a strong tide of personal and private feeling of veneration and
attachment to the mother Church, of which it is hard for us, in the
present divided state of Christendom, to conceive. The religious
thoughts and affections of every pious heart throughout the realm
centered in Rome. Rome, too, was the scene of many miracles, by which
the imaginations of the superstitious and of the truly devout were
excited, which impressed them with an idea of power in which they felt
a sort of confiding sense of protection. This power was continually
interposing, now in one way and now in another, to protect virtue, to
punish crime, and to testify to the impious and to the devout, to each
in an appropriate way, that their respective deeds were the objects,
according to their character, of the displeasure or of the approbation
of Heaven.

On one occasion, the following incident is said to have occurred. The
narration of it will illustrate the ideas of the time. A child of
about seven years old, named Kenelm, succeeded to the throne in the
Anglo-Saxon line. Being too young to act for himself, he was put under
the charge of a sister, who was to act as regent until the boy became
of age. The sister, ambitious of making the power thus delegated
to her entirely her own, decided on destroying her brother. She
commissioned a hired murderer to perpetrate the deed. The murderer
took the child into a wood, killed him, and hid his body in a thicket,
in a certain cow-pasture at a place called Clent. The sister then
assumed the scepter in her own name, and suppressed all inquiries in
respect to the fate of her brother; and his murder might have remained
forever undiscovered, had it not been miraculously revealed at Rome.

A white dove flew into a church there one day, and let fall upon the
altar of St. Peter a paper, on which was written, in Anglo-Saxon

    In Clent Cow-batch, Kenelme king bearne, lieth under Thorne, head

For a time nobody could read the writing. At length an Anglo-Saxon
saw it, and translated it into Latin, so that the pope and all others
could understand it. The pope then sent a letter to the authorities in
England, who made search and found the body.

But we must end these digressions, which we have indulged thus far in
order to give the reader some distinct conception of the ideas and
habits of the times, and proceed, in the next chapter, to relate the
events immediately connected with Alfred's accession to the throne.

[Footnote 1: A great many other tales are told of the miraculous
phenomena exhibited by the body of St. Edmund, which well illustrate
the superstitious credulity of those times. One writer says seriously
that, when the head was found, a wolf had it, holding it carefully in
his paws, with all the gentleness and care that the most faithful dog
would manifest in guarding a trust committed to him by his master.
This wolf followed the funeral procession to the tomb where the body
was deposited, and then disappeared. The head joined itself to the
body again where it had been severed, leaving only a purple line to
mark the place of separation.]



At the battle in which Alfred's brother, Ethelred, whom Alfred
succeeded on the throne, was killed, as is briefly mentioned at the
close of chapter fourth, Alfred himself, then a brave and energetic
young man, fought by his side. The party of Danes whom they were
contending against in this fatal fight was the same one that came
out in the expedition organized by the sons of Lothbroc, and whose
exploits in destroying monasteries and convents were described in the
last chapter. Soon after the events there narrated, this formidable
body of marauders moved westward, toward that part of the kingdom
where the dominions more particularly pertaining to the family of
Alfred lay.

There was in those days a certain stronghold or castle on the River
Thames, about forty miles west from London, which was not far from
the confines of Ethelred's dominions. The large and populous town of
Reading now stands upon the spot. It is at the confluence of the River
Thames with the Kennet, a small branch of the Thames, which here flows
into it from the south. The spot, having the waters of the rivers for
a defense upon two sides of it, was easily fortified. A castle had
been built there, and, as usual in such cases, a town had sprung up
about the walls.

The Danes advanced to this stronghold and took possession of it, and
they made it for some time their head-quarters. It was at once the
center from which they carried on their enterprises in all directions
about the island, and the refuge to which they could always retreat
when defeated and pursued. In the possession of such a fastness, they,
of course, became more formidable than ever. King Ethelred determined
to dislodge them. He raised, accordingly, as large a force as his
kingdom would furnish, and, taking his brother Alfred as his second in
command, he advanced toward Reading in a very resolute and determined

He first encountered a large body of the Danes who were out on a
marauding excursion. This party consisted only of a small detachment,
the main body of the army of the Danes having been left at Reading to
strengthen and complete the fortifications. They were digging a trench
from river to river, so as completely to insulate the castle, and make
it entirely inaccessible on either side except by boats or a bridge.
With the earth thrown out of the trench they were making an embankment
on the inner side, so that an enemy, after crossing the ditch, would
have a steep ascent to climb, defended too, as of course it would be
in such an emergency, by long lines of desperate men upon the top,
hurling at the assailants showers of javelins and arrows.

While, therefore, a considerable portion of the Danes were at work
within and around their castle, to make it as nearly as possible
impregnable as a place of defense, the detachment above referred to
had gone forth for plunder, under the command of some of the bolder
and more adventurous spirits in the horde. This party Ethelred
overtook. A furious battle was fought. The Danes were defeated, and
driven off the ground. They fled toward Reading. Ethelred and Alfred
pursued them. The various parties of Danes that were outside of the
fortifications, employed in completing the outworks, or encamped in
the neighborhood, were surprised and slaughtered; or, at least,
vast numbers of them were killed, and the rest retreated within the
works--all maddened at their defeat, and burning with desire for

The Saxons were not strong enough to dispossess them of their
fastness. On the contrary, in a few days, the Danes, having matured
their plans, made a desperate sally against the Saxons, and, after a
very determined and obstinate conflict, they gained the victory, and
drove the Saxons off the ground. Some of the leading Saxon chieftains
were killed, and the whole country was thrown into great alarm at
the danger which was impending, that the Danes would soon gain the
complete and undisputed possession of the whole land.

The Saxons, however, were not yet prepared to give up the struggle.
They rallied their forces, gathered new recruits, reorganized their
ranks, and made preparations for another struggle. The Danes, too,
feeling fresh strength and energy in consequence of their successes,
formed themselves in battle array, and, leaving their strong-hold,
they marched out into the open country in pursuit of their foe. The
two armies gradually approached each other and prepared for battle.
Every thing portended a terrible conflict, which was to be, in fact,
the great final struggle.

The place where the armies met was called in those times Æscesdune,
which means Ashdown. It was, in fact, a hill-side covered with ash
trees. The name has become shortened and softened in the course of the
ten centuries which have intervened since this celebrated battle, into
Aston; if, indeed, as is generally supposed, the Aston of the present
day is the locality of the ancient battle.

The armies came into the vicinity of each other toward the close of
the day. They were both eager for the contest, or, at least, they
pretended to be so, but they waited until the morning. The Danes
divided their forces into two bodies. Two kings commanded one
division, and certain chieftains, called _earls_, directed the
other. King Ethelred undertook to meet this order of battle by
a corresponding distribution of his own troops, and he gave,
accordingly, to Alfred the command of one division, while he himself
was to lead the other. All things being thus arranged, the hum and
bustle of the two great encampments subsided at last, at a late hour,
as the men sought repose under their rude tents, in preparation for
the fatigues and exposures of the coming day. Some slept; others
watched restlessly, and talked together, sleepless under the influence
of that strange excitement, half exhilaration and half fear, which
prevails in a camp on the eve of a battle. The camp fires burned
brightly all the night, and the sentinels kept vigilant watch,
expecting every moment some sudden alarm.

The night passed quietly away. Ethelred and Alfred both arose early.
Alfred went out to arouse and muster the men in his division of the
encampment, and to prepare for battle. Ethelred, on the other hand,
sent for his priest, and, assembling the officers in immediate
attendance upon him, commenced divine service in his tent--the service
of the mass, according to the forms and usages which, even in that
early day, were prescribed by the Catholic Church. Alfred was thus
bent on immediate and energetic action, while Ethelred thought that
the hour for putting forth the exertion of human strength did not come
until time had been allowed for completing, in the most deliberate and
solemn manner, the work of imploring the protection of Heaven.

Ethelred seems by his conduct on this occasion to have inherited from
his father, even more than Alfred, the spirit of religious devotion at
least so far as the strict and faithful observance of religious forms
was concerned. There was, it is true, a particular reason in this case
why the forms of divine service should be faithfully observed, and
that is, that the war was considered in a great measure a religious
war. The Danes were pagans. The Saxons were Christians. In making
their attacks upon the dominions of Ethelred, the ruthless invaders
were animated by a special hatred of the name of Christ, and they
evinced a special hostility toward every edifice, or institution, or
observance which bore the Christian name. The Saxons, therefore, in
resisting them, felt that they were not only fighting for their own
possessions and for their own lives, but that they were defending
the kingdom of God, and that he, looking down from his throne in
the heavens, regarded them as the champions of his cause; and,
consequently, that he would either protect them in the struggle, or,
if they fell, that he would receive them to mansions of special glory
and happiness in heaven, as martyrs who had shed their blood in his
service and for his glory.

Taking this view of the subject, Ethelred, instead of going out to
battle at the early dawn, collected his officers into his tent, and
formed them into a religious congregation. Alfred, on the other hand,
full of impetuosity and ardor, was arousing his men, animating them by
his words of encouragement and by the influence of his example, and
making, as energetically as possible, all the preparations necessary
for the approaching conflict.

In fact, Alfred, though his brother was king, and he himself only a
lieutenant general under him, had been accustomed to take the lead in
all the military operations of the army, on account of the superior
energy, resolution, and tact which he evinced, even in this early
period of his life. His brothers, though they retained the scepter, as
it fell successively into their hands, relied mainly on his wisdom and
courage in all their efforts to defend it, and Ethelred may have been
somewhat more at his ease, in listening to the priest's prayers in his
tent, from knowing that the arrangements for marshaling and directing
a large part of the force were in such good hands.

The two encampments of Alfred and Ethelred seem to have been at some
little distance from each other. Alfred was impatient at Ethelred's
delay. He asked the reason for it. They told him that Ethelred was
attending mass, and that he had said he should on no account leave his
tent until the service was concluded. Alfred, in the mean time, took
possession of a gentle elevation of land, which now would give him an
advantage in the conflict. A single thorn-tree, growing there alone,
marked the spot. The Danes advanced to attack him, expecting that, as
he was not sustained by Ethelred's division of the army, he would be
easily overpowered and driven from his post.

Alfred himself felt an extreme and feverish anxiety at Ethelred's
delay. He fought, however, with the greatest determination and
bravery. The thorn-tree continued to be the center of the conflict for
a long time, and, as the morning advanced, it became more and more
doubtful how it would end. At last, Ethelred, having finished his
devotional services, came forth from his camp at the head of his
division, and advanced vigorously to his faltering brother's aid.
This soon decided the contest. The Danes were overpowered and put to
flight. They fled at first in all directions, wherever each separate
band saw the readiest prospect of escape from the immediate vengeance
of their pursuers. They soon, however, all began with one accord
to seek the roads which would conduct them to their stronghold at
Reading. They were madly pursued, and massacred as they fled, by
Alfred's and Ethelred's army. Vast numbers fell. The remnant secured
their retreat, shut themselves up within their walls, and began to
devote their eager and earnest attention to the work of repairing and
making good their defenses.

This victory changed for the time being the whole face of affairs,
and led, in various ways, to very important consequences, the most
important of which was, as we shall presently see, that it was the
means indirectly of bringing Alfred soon to the throne. As to
the cause of the victory, or, rather, the manner in which it was
accomplished, the writers of the times give very different accounts,
according as their respective characters incline them to commend, in
man, a feeling of quiet trust and confidence in God when placed in
circumstances of difficulty or danger, or a vigorous and resolute
exertion of his own powers. Alfred looked for deliverance to the
determined assaults and heavy blows which he could bring to bear upon
his pagan enemies with weapons of steel around the thorn-tree in the
field. Ethelred trusted to his hope of obtaining, by his prayers
in his tent, the effectual protection of Heaven; and they who have
written the story differ, as they who read it will on the question to
whose instrumentality the victory is to be ascribed. One says that
Alfred gained it by his sword. Another, that Alfred exerted his
strength and his valor in vain, and was saved from defeat and
destruction only by the intervention of Ethelred, bringing with him
the blessing of Heaven.

In fact, the various narratives of these ancient events, which are
found at the present day in the old chronicles that record them,
differ always very essentially, not only in respect to matters of
opinion, and to the point of view in which they are to be regarded,
but also in respect to questions of fact. Even the place where this
battle was fought, notwithstanding what we have said about the
derivation of Aston from Æscesdune, is not absolutely certain. There
is in the same vicinity another town, called Ashbury, which claims the
honor. One reason for supposing that this last is the true locality is
that there are the ruins of an ancient monument here, which, tradition
says, was a monument built to commemorate the death of a Danish
chieftain slain here by Alfred. There is also in the neighborhood
another very singular monument, called The White Horse, which also
has the reputation of having been fashioned to commemorate Alfred's
victories. The White Horse is a rude representation of a horse, formed
by cutting away the turf from the steep slope of a hill, so as to
expose a portion of the white surface of the chalky rock below of such
a form that the figure is called a horse, though they who see it seem
to think it might as well have been called a dog. The name, however,
of _The White Horse_ has come down with it from ancient times, and
the hill on which it is cut is known as The White Horse Hill. Some
ingenious antiquarians think they find evidence that this gigantic
profile was made to commemorate the victory obtained by Alfred and
Ethelred over the Danes at the ancient Æscesdune.

However this may be, and whatever view we may take of the comparative
influence of Alfred's energetic action and Ethelred's religious faith
in the defeat of the Danes at this great battle, it is certain that
the results of it were very momentous to all concerned. Ethelred
received a wound, either in this battle or in some of the smaller
contests and collisions which followed it, under the effects of which
he pined and lingered for some months, and then died. Alfred, by his
decision and courage on the day of the battle, and by the ardor and
resolution with which he pressed all the subsequent operations during
the period of Ethelred's decline, made himself still more conspicuous
in the eyes of his countrymen than he had ever been before. In looking
forward to Ethelred's approaching death, the people, accordingly,
began to turn their eyes to Alfred as his successor. There were
children of some of his older brothers living at that time, and they,
according to all received principles of hereditary right, would
naturally succeed to the throne; but the nation seems to have thought
that the crisis was too serious, and the dangers which threatened
their country were too imminent, to justify putting any child upon the
throne. The accession of one of those children would have been the
signal for a terrible and protracted struggle among powerful relatives
and friends for the regency during the minority of the youthful
sovereign, and this, while the Danes remained in their strong-hold at
Reading, in daily expectation of new re-enforcements from beyond the
sea, would have plunged the country in hopeless ruin. They turned
their eyes toward Alfred, therefore, as the sovereign to whom they
were to bow so soon as Ethelred should cease to breathe.

In the mean time, the Danes, far from being subdued by the adverse
turn of fortune which had befallen them, strengthened themselves in
their fortress, made desperate sallies from their intrenchments,
attacked their foes on every possible occasion, and kept the country
in continual alarm. They at length so far recruited their strength,
and intimidated and discouraged their foes, whose king and nominal
leader, Ethelred, was now less able than ever to resist them, as to
take the field again. They fought more pitched battles; and, though
the Saxon chroniclers who narrate these events are very reluctant to
admit that the Saxons were really vanquished in these struggles, they
allow that the Danes kept the ground which they successively took post
upon, and the discouraged and disheartened inhabitants of the country
were forced to retire.

In the mean time, too, new parties of Danes were continually arriving
on the coast, and spreading themselves in marauding and plundering
excursions over the country. The Danes at Reading were re-enforced
by these bands, which made the conflict between them and Ethelred's
forces more unequal still. Alfred did his utmost to resist the tide of
ill fortune, with the limited and doubtful authority which he held;
but all was in vain. Ethelred, worn down, probably, with the anxiety
and depression which the situation of his kingdom brought upon him,
lingered for a time, and then died, and Alfred was by general consent
called to the throne. This was in the year 871.

It was a matter of moment to find a safe and secure place of deposit
for the body of Ethelred, who, as a Christian slain in contending with
pagans, was to be considered a martyr. His memory was honored as that
of one who had sacrificed his life in defense of the Christian faith.
They knew very well that even his lifeless remains would not be safe
from the vengeance of his foes unless they were placed effectually
beyond the reach of these desperate marauders. There was, far to the
south, in Dorsetshire, on the southern coast of England, a monastery,
at Wimborne, a very sacred spot, worthy to be selected as a place of
royal sepulture. The spot has continued sacred to the present day; and
it has now upon the site, as is supposed, of the ancient monastery, a
grand cathedral church or minster, full of monuments of former days,
and impressing all beholders with its solemn architectural grandeur.
Here they conveyed the body of Ethelred and interred it. It was a
place of sacred seclusion, where there reigned a solemn stillness and
awe, which no _Christian_ hostility would ever have dared to disturb.
The sacrilegious paganism of the Danes, however, would have respected
it but little, if they had ever found access to it; but they did
not. The body of Ethelred remained undisturbed; and, many centuries
afterward, some travelers who visited the spot recorded the fact that
there was a monument there with this inscription:


Such is the commonly received opinion of the death of Ethelred. And
yet some of the critical historians of modern times, who find cause to
doubt or disbelieve a very large portion of what is stated in ancient
records, attempt to prove that Ethelred was not killed by the Danes
at all, but that he died of the plague, which terrible disease was at
that time prevailing in that part of England. At all events, he died,
and Alfred, his brother, was called to reign in his stead.

[Footnote 1: "Here rests the body of Ethelred, king of West Saxony,
the Martyr, who died by the hands of the pagan Danes, in the year of
our Lord 871."]



The historians say that Alfred was very unwilling to assume the crown
when the death of Ethelred presented it to him. If it had been an
object of ambition or desire, there would probably have been a rival
claimant, whose right would perhaps have proved superior to his own,
since it appears that one or more of the brothers who reigned before
him left a son, whose claim to the inheritance, if the inheritance
had been worth claiming, would have been stronger than that of their
uncle. The _son_ of the oldest son takes precedence always of the
_brother_, for hereditary rights, like water, never move laterally so
long as they can continue to descend.

The nobles, however, and chieftains, and all the leading powers of the
kingdom of Wessex, which was the particular kingdom which descended
from Alfred's ancestors, united to urge Alfred to take the throne. His
father had, indeed, designated him as the successor of his brothers by
his will, though how far a monarch may properly control by his will
the disposal of his realm, is a matter of great uncertainty. Alfred
yielded at length to these solicitations, and determined on assuming
the sovereign power. He first went to Wimborne to attend to the
funeral solemnities which were to be observed at his royal brother's
burial. He then went to Winchester, which, as well as Wimborne, is in
the south of England, to be crowned and anointed king. Winchester was,
even in those early days, a great ecclesiastical center. It was for
some time the capital of the West Saxon realm. It was a very sacred
place, and the crown was there placed upon Alfred's head, with the
most imposing and solemn ceremonies. It is a curious and remarkable
fact, that the spots which were consecrated in those early days by the
religious establishments of the times, have preserved in almost every
case their sacredness to the present day. Winchester is now famed all
over England for its great Cathedral church, and the vast religious
establishment which has its seat there--the annual revenues and
expenditures of which far exceed those of many of the states of this
Union. The income of the bishop alone was for many years double that
of the salary of the President of the United States. The Bishop of
Winchester is widely celebrated, therefore, all over England, for his
wealth, his ecclesiastical power, the architectural grandeur of the
Cathedral church, and the wealth and importance of the college of
ecclesiastics over which he presides.

[Illustration: CORONATION CHAIR.]

It was in Winchester that Alfred was crowned. As soon as the ceremony
was performed, he took the field, collected his forces, and went
to meet the Danes again. He found the country in a most deplorable
condition. The Danes had extended and strengthened their positions.
They had got possession of many of the towns, and, not content with
plundering castles and abbeys, they had seized lands, and were
beginning to settle upon them, as if they intended to make Alfred's
new kingdom their permanent abode. The forces of the Saxons, on the
other hand, were scattered and discouraged. There seemed no hope left
to them of making head against their pestiferous invaders. If they
were defeated, their cruel conquerors showed no moderation and no
mercy in their victory; and if they conquered, it was only to suppress
for a moment one horde, with a certainty of being attacked immediately
by another, more recently arrived, and more determined and relentless
than those before them.

Alfred succeeded, however, by means of the influence of his personal
character, and by the very active and efficient exertions that he
made, in concentrating what forces remained, and in preparing for a
renewal of the contest. The first great battle that was fought was at
Wilton. This was within a month of his accession to the throne. The
battle was very obstinately fought; at the first onset Alfred's troops
carried all before them, and there was every prospect that he would
win the day. In the end, however, the tide of victory turned in favor
of the Danes, and Alfred and his troops were driven from the field.
There was an immense loss on both sides. In fact, both armies were,
for the time, pretty effectually disabled, and each seems to have
shrunk from a renewal of the contest. Instead, therefore, of fighting
again, the two commanders entered into negotiations. Hubba was the
name of the Danish chieftain. In the end, he made a treaty with
Alfred, by which he agreed to retire from Alfred's dominions, and
leave him in peace, provided that Alfred would not interfere with him
in his wars in any other part of England. Alfred's kingdom was Wessex.
Besides Wessex, there was Essex, Mercia, and Northumberland. Hubba and
his Danes, finding that Alfred was likely to prove too formidable an
antagonist for them easily to subdue, thought it would be most prudent
to give up one kingdom out of the four, on condition of not having
Alfred to contend against in their depredations upon the other three.
They accordingly made the treaty, and the Danes withdrew. They
evacuated their posts and strong-holds in Wessex, and went down the
Thames to London, which was in Mercia, and there commenced a new
course of conquest and plunder, where they had no such powerful foe to
oppose them.

Buthred was the king of Mercia. He could not resist Hubba and his
Danes alone, and he could not now have Alfred's assistance. Alfred was
censured very much at the time, and has been condemned often since,
for having thus made a separate peace for himself and his own
immediate dominions, and abandoned his natural allies and friends, the
people of the other Saxon kingdoms. To make a peace with savage
and relentless pagans, on the express condition of leaving his
fellow-Christian neighbors at their mercy, has been considered
ungenerous, at least, if it was not unjust. On the other hand, those
who vindicate his conduct maintain that it was his duty to secure the
peace and welfare of his own realm, leaving other sovereigns to take
care of theirs; and that he would have done very wrong to sacrifice
the property and lives of his own immediate subjects to a mere point
of honor, when it was utterly out of his power to protect them and his
neighbors too.

However this may be, Buthred, finding that he could not have Alfred's
aid, and that he could not protect his kingdom by any force which he
could himself bring into the field, tried negotiations too, and he
succeeded in buying off the Danes with money. He paid them a large
sum, on condition of their leaving his dominions finally and forever,
and not coming to molest him any more. Such a measure as this is
always a very desperate and hopeless one. Buying off robbers, or
beggars, or false accusers, or oppressors of any kind, is only to
encourage them to come again, after a brief interval, under some
frivolous pretext, with fresh demands or new oppressions, that they
may be bought off again with higher pay. At least Buthred found it so
in this case. Hubba went northward for a time, into the kingdom of
Northumberland, and, after various conquests and plunderings there, he
came back again into Mercia, on the plea that there was a scarcity of
provisions in the northern kingdom, and he was _obliged_ to come
back. Buthred bought him off again with a larger sum of money. Hubba
scarcely left the kingdom this time, but spent the money with his
army, in carousings and excesses, and then went to robbing and
plundering as before. Buthred, at last, reduced to despair, and seeing
no hope of escape from the terrible pest with which his kingdom was
infested, abandoned the country and escaped to Rome. They received him
as an exiled monarch, in the Saxon school, where he soon after died a
prey to grief and despair.

The Danes overturned what remained of Buthred's government. They
destroyed a famous mausoleum, the ancient burial place of the Mercian
kings. This devastation of the abodes of the dead was a sort of
recreation--a savage amusement, to vary the more serious and dangerous
excitements attending their contests with the living. They found an
officer of Buthred's government named Ceolwulf, who, though a Saxon,
was willing, through his love of place and power, to accept of the
office of king in subordination to the Danes, and hold it at their
disposal, paying an annual tribute to them. Ceolwulf was execrated
by his countrymen, who considered him a traitor. He, in his turn,
oppressed and tyrannized over them.

In the mean time, a new leader, with a fresh horde of Danes, had
landed in England. His name was Halfden. Halfden came with a
considerable fleet of ships, and, after landing his men, and
performing various exploits and encountering various adventures in
other parts of England, he began to turn his thoughts toward Alfred's
dominions. Alfred did not pay particular attention to Halfden's
movements at first, as he supposed that his treaty with Hubba had
bound the whole nation of the Danes not to encroach upon _his_ realm,
whatever they might do in respect to the other Saxon kingdoms. Alfred
had a famous castle at Wareham, on the southern coast of the island.
It was situated on a bay which lies in what is now Dorsetshire. This
castle was the strongest place in his dominions. It was garrisoned and
guarded, but not with any special vigilance, as no one expected an
attack upon it. Halfden brought his fleet to the southern shore of the
island, and, organizing an expedition there, he put to sea, and before
any one suspected his design, he entered the bay, surprised and
attacked Wareham Castle, and took it. Alfred and the people of his
realm were not only astonished and alarmed at the loss of the castle,
but they were filled with indignation at the treachery of the Danes in
violating their treaty by attacking it. Halfden said, however, that
he was an independent chieftain, acting in his own name, and was not
bound at all by any obligations entered into by Hubba!

There followed after this a series of contests and truces, during
which treacherous wars alternated with still more treacherous and
illusive periods of peace, neither party, on the whole, gaining
any decided victory. The Danes, at one time, after agreeing upon a
cessation of hostilities, suddenly fell upon a large squadron of
Alfred's horse, who, relying on the truce, were moving across the
country too much off their guard. The Danes dismounted and drove off
the men, and seized the horses, and thus provided themselves with
cavalry, a species of force which it is obvious they could not easily
bring, in any ships which they could then construct, across the German
Ocean. Without waiting for Alfred to recover from the surprise
and consternation which this unexpected treachery occasioned, the
newly-mounted troop of Danes rode rapidly along the southern coast of
England till they came to the town of Exeter. Its name was in those
days Exancester. It was then, as it is now, a very important town. It
has since acquired a mournful celebrity as the place of refuge, and
the scene of suffering of Queen Henrietta Maria, the mother of Charles
the Second.[1] The loss of this place was a new and heavy cloud over
Alfred's prospects. It placed the whole southern coast of his realm in
the hands of his enemies, and seemed to portend for the whole interior
of the country a period of hopeless and irremediable calamity.

It seems, too, from various unequivocal statements and allusions
contained in the narratives of the times, that Alfred did not possess,
during this period of his reign, the respect and affection of his
subjects. He is accused, or, rather, not directly accused, but spoken
of as generally known to be guilty of many faults which alienated the
hearts of his countrymen from him, and prepared them to consider his
calamities as the judgments of Heaven. He was young and ardent, full
of youthful impetuosity and fire, and was elated at his elevation to
the throne; and, during the period while the Danes left him in peace,
under the treaties he had made with Hubba, he gave himself up to
pleasure, and not always to innocent pleasure. They charged him, too,
with being tyrannical and oppressive in his government, being so
devoted to gratifying his own ambition and love of personal indulgence
that he neglected his government, sacrificed the interests and the
welfare of his subjects, and exercised his regal powers in a very
despotic and arbitrary manner.

It is very difficult to decide, at this late day how far this
disposition to find fault with Alfred's early administration of his
government arose from, or was aggravated by, the misfortunes and
calamities which befell him. On the one hand, it would not be
surprising if, young, and arduous, and impetuous as he was at this
period of his life, he should have fallen into the errors and faults
which youthful monarchs are very prone to commit on being suddenly
raised to power. But then, on the other hand, men are prone, in all
ages of the world, and most especially in such rude and uncultivated
times as these were, to judge military and governmental action by
the sole criterion of success. Thus, when they found that Alfred's
measures, one after another, failed in protecting his country, that
the impending calamities burst successively upon them, notwithstanding
all Alfred's efforts to avert them, it was natural that they should
look at and exaggerate his faults, and charge all their national
misfortunes to the influence of them.

There was a certain Saint Neot, a kinsman and religious counselor of
Alfred, the history of whose life was afterward written by the
Abbot of Crowland, the monastery whose destruction by the Danes was
described in a former chapter. In this narrative it is said that Neot
often rebuked Alfred in the severest terms for his sinful course of
life, predicting the most fatal consequences if he did not reform, and
using language which only a very culpable degree of remissness and
irregularity could justify. "You glory," said he, one day, when
addressing the king, "in your pride and power, and are determined and
obdurate in your iniquity. But there is a terrible retribution in
store for you. I entreat you to listen to my counsels, amend your
life, and govern your people with moderation and justice, instead of
tyranny and oppression, and thus avert if you can, before it is too
late, the impending judgments of Heaven."

Such language as this it is obvious that only a very serious
dereliction of duty on Alfred's part could call for or justify; but,
whatever he may have done to deserve it, his offenses were so fully
expiated by his subsequent sufferings, and he atoned for them so
nobly, too, by the wisdom, the prudence, the faithful and devoted
patriotism of his later career, that mankind have been disposed to
pass by the faults of his early years without attempting to scrutinize
them too closely. The noblest human spirits are always, in some
periods of their existence, or in some aspects of their characters,
strangely weakened by infirmities and frailties, and deformed by sin.
This is human nature. We like to imagine that we find exceptions,
and to see specimens of moral perfection in our friends or in the
historical characters whose general course of action we admire; but
there are no exceptions. To err and to sin, at some times and in some
ways, is the common, universal, and inevitable lot of humanity.

At the time when Halfden and his followers seized Wareham Castle and
Exeter, Alfred had been several years upon the throne, during which
time these derelictions from duty took place, so far as they existed
at all. But now, alarmed at the imminence of the impending danger,
which threatened not only the welfare of his people, but his own
kingdom and even his life--for one Saxon monarch had been driven from
his dominions, as we have seen, and had died a miserable exile at
Rome--Alfred aroused himself in earnest to the work of regaining
his lost influence among his people, and recovering their alienated

He accordingly, as his first step, convened a great assembly of the
leading chieftains and noblemen of the realm, and made addresses to
them, in which he urged upon them the imminence of the danger which
threatened their common country, and pressed them to unite vigorously
and energetically with him to contend against their common foe. They
must make great sacrifices, he said, both of their comfort and ease,
as well as of their wealth, to resist successfully so imminent a
danger. He summoned them to arms, and urged them to contribute the
means necessary to pay the expense of a vigorous prosecution of the
war. These harangues, and the ardor and determination which Alfred
manifested himself at the time of making them, were successful. The
nation aroused itself to new exertions, and for a time there was a
prospect that the country would be saved.


Among the other measures to which Alfred resorted in this emergency
was the attempt to encounter the Danes upon their own element by
building and equipping a fleet of ships, with which to proceed to
sea, in order to meet and attack upon the water certain new bodies
of invaders, who were on the way to join the Danes already on the
island--coming, as rumor said, along the southern shore. In attempting
to build up a naval power, the greatest difficulty, always, is to
provide seamen. It is much easier to build ships than to train
sailors. To man his little fleet, Alfred had to enlist such
half-savage foreigners as could be found in the ports, and even
pirates, as was said, whom he induced to enter his service, promising
them pay, and such plunder as they could take from the enemy. These
attempts of Alfred to build and man a fleet are considered the first
rude beginnings from which the present vast edifice of British naval
power took its origin. When the fleet was ready to put to sea, the
people thronged the shores, watching its movements with the utmost
curiosity and interest, earnestly hoping that it might be successful
in its contests with the more tried and experienced armaments with
which it would have to contend.

Alfred was, in fact, successful in the first enterprises which he
undertook with his ships. He encountered a fleet of the Danish ships
in the Channel, and defeated them. His fleet captured, moreover, one
of the largest of the vessels of the enemy; and, with what would be
thought in our day unpardonable cruelty, they threw the sailors and
soldiers whom they found on board into the sea, and kept the vessel.

After all, however, Alfred gained no conclusive and decisive victory
over his foes. They were too numerous, too scattered, and too firmly
seated in the various districts of the island, of some of which they
had been in possession for many years. Time passed on, battles were
fought, treaties of peace were made, oaths were taken, hostages
were exchanged, and then, after a very brief interval of repose,
hostilities would break out again, each party bitterly accusing the
other of treachery. Then the poor hostages would be slain, first by
one party, and afterward, in retaliation, by the other.

In one of these temporary and illusive pacifications, Alfred attempted
to bind the Danes by Christian oaths. Their customary mode of binding
themselves, in cases where they wished to impose a solemn religious
obligation, was to swear by a certain ornament which they wore upon
their arms, which is called in the chronicles of those times a
_bracelet_. What its form and fashion was we can not now precisely
know; but it is plain that they attached some superstitious, and
perhaps idolatrous associations of sacredness to it. To swear by this
bracelet was to place themselves under the most solemn obligation that
they could assume. Alfred, however, not satisfied with this pagan
sanction, made them, in confirming one treaty, swear by the Christian
relics, which were certain supposed memorials of our Saviour's
crucifixion, or portions of the bodies of dead saints miraculously
preserved, and to which the credulous Christians of that day attached
an idea of sacredness and awe, scarcely less superstitious than that
which their pagan enemies felt for the bracelets on their arms. Alfred
could not have supposed that these treacherous covenanters, since they
would readily violate the faith plighted in the name of what they
revered, could be held by what they hated and despised. Perhaps he
thought that, though they would be no more likely to keep the new oath
than the old, still, that their violation of it, when it occurred,
would be in itself a great crime--that his cause would be subsequently
strengthened by their thus incurring the special and unmitigated
displeasure of Heaven.

Among the Danish chieftains with whom Alfred had thus continually to
contend in this early part of his reign, there was one very famous
hero, whose name was Rollo. He invaded England with a wild horde which
attended him for a short time, but he soon retired and went to France,
where he afterward greatly distinguished himself by his prowess and
his exploits. The Saxon historians say that he retreated from England
because Alfred gave him such a reception that he saw that it would be
impossible for him to maintain his footing there. His account of it
was, that, one day, when he was perplexed with doubt and uncertainty
about his plans, he fell asleep and dreamed that he saw a swarm of
bees flying southward. This was an omen, as he regarded it, indicating
the course which he ought to pursue. He accordingly embarked his
men on board his ships again, and crossed the Channel, and sought
successfully in Normandy, a province of France the kingdom and the
home which, either on account of Alfred or of the bees, he was not to
enjoy in England.

The cases, however, in which the Danish chieftains were either
entirely conquered or finally expelled from the kingdom were very
few. As years passed on, Alfred found his army diminishing, and the
strength of his kingdom wasting away. His resources were exhausted,
his friends had disappeared, his towns and castles were taken, and, at
last, about eight years after his coronation at Winchester as monarch
of the most powerful of the Saxon kingdoms, he found himself reduced
to the very last extreme of destitution and distress.

[Footnote 1: For an account of Henrietta's adventures and sufferings
at Exeter, see the History of Charles II., chap. iii]



Notwithstanding the tide of disaster and calamity which seemed to
be gradually overwhelming Alfred's kingdom, he was not reduced to
absolute despair, but continued for a long time the almost hopeless
struggle. There is a certain desperation to which men are often
aroused in the last extremity, which surpasses courage, and is even
sometimes a very effectual substitute for strength; and Alfred might,
perhaps, have succeeded, after all, in saving his affairs from utter
ruin, had not a new circumstance intervened, which seemed at once to
extinguish all remaining hope and to seal his doom.

This circumstance was the arrival of a new band of Danes, who were, it
seems, more numerous, more ferocious, and more insatiable than any
who had come before them. The other kingdoms of the Saxons had been
already pretty effectually plundered. Alfred's kingdom of Wessex was
now, therefore, the most inviting field, and, after various excursions
of conquest and plunder in other parts of the island, they came like
an inundation over Alfred's frontiers, and all hope of resisting them
seems to have been immediately abandoned. The Saxon armies were broken
up. Alfred had lost, it appears, all influence and control over both
leaders and men. The chieftains and nobles fled. Some left the country
altogether; others hid themselves in the best retreats and fastnesses
that they could find. Alfred himself was obliged to follow the general
example. A few attendants, either more faithful than the rest, or else
more distrustful of their own resources, and inclined, accordingly, to
seek their own personal safety by adhering closely to their sovereign,
followed him. These, however, one after another, gradually forsook
him, and, finally, the fallen and deserted monarch was left alone.

In fact, it was a relief to him at last to be left alone; for they who
remained around him became in the end a burden instead of affording
him protection. They were too few to fight, and too many to be easily
concealed. Alfred withdrew himself from them, thinking that, under the
circumstances in which he was now placed, he was justified in seeking
his own personal safety alone. He had a wife, whom he married when he
was about twenty years old; but she was not with him now, though she
afterward joined him. She was in some other place of retreat. She
could, in fact, be much more easily concealed than her husband; for
the Danes, though they would undoubtedly have valued her very highly
as a captive, would not search for her with the eager and persevering
vigilance with which it was to be expected they would hunt for their
most formidable, but now discomfited and fugitive foe.

Alfred, therefore, after disentangling himself from all but one or two
trustworthy and faithful friends, wandered on toward the west, through
forests, and solitudes, and wilds, to get as far away as possible from
the enemies who were upon his track. He arrived at last on the remote
western frontiers of his kingdom, at a place whose name has been
immortalized by its having been for some time the place of his
retreat. It was called Athelney.[1] Athelney was, however, scarcely
deserving of a name, for it was nothing but a small spot of dry land
in the midst of a morass, which, as grass would grow upon it in the
openings among the trees, a simple cow-herd had taken possession of,
and built his hut there.

The solid land which the cow-herd called his farm was only about two
acres in extent. All around it was a black morass, of great extent,
wooded with alders, among which green sedges grew, and sluggish
streams meandered, and mossy tracts of verdure spread treacherously
over deep bogs and sloughs. In the driest season of the summer the
goats and the sheep penetrated into these recesses, but, excepting in
the devious and tortuous path by which the cow-herd found his way to
his island, it was almost impassable for man.

Alfred, however, attracted now by the impediments and obstacles which
would have repelled a wanderer under any other circumstances, went
on with the greater alacrity the more intricate and entangled the
thickets of the morass were found, since these difficulties promised
to impede or deter pursuit. He found his way in to the cow-herd's
hut. He asked for shelter. People who live in solitudes are always
hospitable. The cow-herd took the wayworn fugitive in, and gave him
food and shelter. Alfred remained his guest for a considerable time.

The story is, that after a few days the cow-herd asked him who he was,
and how he came to be wandering about in that distressed and destitute
condition. Alfred told him that he was one of the king's _thanes_. A
thane was a sort of chieftain in the Saxon state. He accounted for his
condition by saying that Alfred's army had been beaten by the Danes,
and that he, with the other generals, had been forced to fly. He
begged the cow-herd to conceal him, and to keep the secret of his
character until times should change, so that he could take the field

The story of Alfred's seclusion on the _island_, as it might almost
be called, of Ethelney, is told very differently by the different
narrators of it. Some of these narrations are inconsistent and
contradictory. They all combine, however, though they differ in
respect to many other incidents and details, in relating the far-famed
story of Alfred's leaving the cakes to burn. It seems that, though
the cow-herd himself was allowed to regard Alfred as a man of rank in
disguise--though even _he_ did not know that it was the king--his wife
was not admitted, even in this partial way, into the secret. She was
made to consider the stranger as some common strolling countryman,
and the better to sustain this idea, he was taken into the cow-herd's
service, and employed in various ways, from time to time, in labors
about the house and farm. Alfred's thoughts, however, were little
interested in these occupations. His mind dwelt incessantly upon his
misfortunes and the calamities which had befallen his kingdom. He was
harassed by continual suspense and anxiety, not being able to gain any
clear or certain intelligence about the condition and movements of
either his friends or foes. He was revolving continually vague and
half-formed plans for resuming the command of his army and attempting
to regain his kingdom, and wearying himself with fruitless attempts to
devise means to accomplish these ends. Whenever he engaged voluntarily
in any occupation, it would always be something in harmony with these
trains of thought and these plans. He would repair and put in order
implements of hunting, or any thing else which might be deemed to have
some relation to war. He would make bows and arrows in the chimney
corner--lost, all the time, in melancholy reveries, or in wild and
visionary schemes of future exploits.

One evening, while he was thus at work, the cow-herd's wife left, for
a few moments, some cakes under his charge, which she was baking
upon the great stone hearth, in preparation for their common supper.
Alfred, as might have been expected, let the cakes burn. The woman,
when she came back and found them smoking, was very angry. She told
him that he could eat the cakes fast enough when they were baked,
though it seemed he was too lazy and good for nothing to do the least
thing in helping to bake them. What wide-spread and lasting effects
result sometimes from the most trifling and inadequate causes! The
singularity of such an adventure befalling a monarch in disguise, and
the terse antithesis of the reproaches with which the woman rebuked
him, invest this incident with an interest which carries it every
where spontaneously among mankind. Millions, within the last thousand
years, have heard the name of Alfred, who have known no more of him
than this story; and millions more, who never would have heard of him
but for this story, have been led by it to study the whole history of
his life; so that the unconscious cow-herd's wife, in scolding
the disguised monarch for forgetting her cakes, was perhaps doing
more than he ever did himself for the wide extension of his future


Alfred was, for a time, extremely depressed and disheartened by the
sense of his misfortunes and calamities; but the monkish writers who
described his character and his life say that the influence of his
sufferings was extremely salutary in softening his disposition and
improving his character. He had been proud, and haughty, and
domineering before. He became humble, docile, and considerate now.
Faults of character that are superficial, resulting from the force of
circumstances and peculiarities of temptation, rather than from innate
depravity of heart, are easily and readily burned off in the fire of
affliction, while the same severe ordeal seems only to indurate the
more hopelessly those propensities which lie deeply seated in an
inherent and radical perversity.

Alfred, though restless and wretched in his apparently hopeless
seclusion, bore his privations with a great degree of patience and
fortitude, planning, all the time, the best means of reorganizing his
scattered forces, and of rescuing his country from the ruin into which
it had fallen. Some of his former friends, roaming as he himself had
done, as fugitives about the country, happened at length to come into
the neighborhood of his retreat. He heard of them, and cautiously made
himself known. They were rejoiced to find their old commander once
more, and, as there was no force of the Danes in that neighborhood
at the time, they lingered, timidly and fearlessly at first, in the
vicinity, until, at length, growing more bold as they found themselves
unmolested in their retreat, they began to make it their gathering
place and head-quarters. Alfred threw off his disguise, and assumed
his true character. Tidings of his having been thus discovered
spread confidentially among the most tried and faithful of his Saxon
followers, who had themselves been seeking safety in other places of
refuge. They began, at first cautiously and by stealth, but afterward
more openly, to repair to the spot. Alfred's family, too, from which
he had now been for many months entirely separated, contrived to
rejoin him. The herdsman, who proved to be a man of intelligence and
character superior to his station, entered heartily into all these
movements. He kept the secret faithfully. He did all in his power
to provide for the wants and to promote the comfort of his warlike
guests, and, by his fidelity and devotion, laid Alfred under
obligations of gratitude to him, which the king, when he was afterward
restored to the throne, did not forget to repay.

Notwithstanding, however, all the efforts which the herdsman made to
obtain supplies, the company now assembled at Ethelney were sometimes
reduced to great straits. There were not only the wants of Alfred
and his immediate family and attendants to be provided for, but
many persons were continually coming and going, arriving often at
unexpected times, and acting, as roving and disorganized bodies of
soldiers are very apt to do at such times, in a very inconsiderate
manner. The herdsman's farm produced very little food, and the
inaccessibleness of its situation made it difficult to bring in
supplies from without. In fact, it was necessary, in one part of the
approach to it, to use a boat, so that the place is generally called,
in history, an island, though it was insulated mainly by swamps
and morasses rather than by navigable waters. There were, however,
sluggish streams all around it, where Alfred's men, when their stores
were exhausted, went to fish, under the herdsman's guidance, returning
sometimes with a moderate fare, and sometimes with none.

The monks who describe this portion of Alfred's life have recorded an
incident as having occurred on the occasion of one of these fishing
excursions, which, however, is certainly, in part, a fabrication, and
may be wholly so. It was in the winter. The waters about the grounds
were frozen up. The provisions in the house were nearly exhausted,
there being scarcely anything remaining. The men went away with
their fishing apparatus, and with their bows and arrows, in hopes of
procuring some fish or fowl to replenish their stores. Alfred was left
alone, with only a single lady of his family, who is called in the
account "Mother," though it could not have been Alfred's own mother,
as she had been dead many years. Alfred was sitting in the hut
reading. A beggar, who had by some means or other found his way in
over the frozen morasses, came to the door, and asked for food.
Alfred, looking up from his book, asked the mother, whoever she
was, to go and see what there was to give him. She went to make
examination, and presently returned, saying that there was nothing to
give him. There was only a single loaf of bread remaining, and that
would not be half enough for their own wants that very night when the
hunting party should return, if they should come back unsuccessful
from their expedition. Alfred hesitated a moment, and then ordered
half the loaf to be given to the beggar. He said, in justification of
the act, that his trust was now in God, and that the power which once,
with five loaves and two small fishes, fed abundantly three thousand
men, could easily make half a loaf suffice for them.

The loaf was accordingly divided, the beggar was supplied, and,
delighted with this unexpected relief, he went away. Alfred turned his
attention again to his reading. After a time the book dropped from his
hand. He had fallen asleep. He dreamed that a certain saint appeared
to him, and made a revelation to him from heaven. God, he said, had
heard his prayers, was satisfied with his penitence, and pitied his
sorrows; and that his act of charity in relieving the poor beggar,
even at the risk of leaving himself and his friends in utter
destitution, was extremely acceptable in the sight of Heaven. The
faith and trust which he thus manifested were about to be rewarded.
The time for a change had come. He was to be restored to his kingdom,
and raised to a new and higher state of prosperity and power than
before. As a token that this prediction was true, and would be all
fulfilled, the hunting party would return that night with an ample and
abundant supply.

Alfred awoke from his sleep with his mind filled with new hopes and
anticipations. The hunting party returned loaded with supplies, and in
a state of the greatest exhilaration at their success. They had fish
and game enough to have supplied a little army. The incident of
relieving the beggar, the dream, and their unwonted success confirming
it, inspired them all with confidence and hope. They began to
form plans for commencing offensive operations. They would build
fortifications to strengthen their position on the island. They would
collect a force. They would make sallies to attack the smaller parties
of the Danes. They would send agents and emissaries about the kingdom
to arouse, and encourage, and assemble such Saxon forces as were yet
to be found. In a word, they would commence a series of measures for
recovering the country from the possession of its pestilent enemy, and
for restoring the rightful sovereign to the throne. The development
of these projects and plans, and the measures for carrying them into
effect, were very much hastened by an event which suddenly occurred in
the neighborhood of Ethelney, the account of which, however, must be
postponed to the next chapter.

[Footnote 1: The name is spelled variously, Ethelney, Æthelney,
Ethelingay, &c. It was in Somersetshire, between the rivers Thone and

[Footnote 2: As this incident has been so famous, it may amuse the
reader to peruse the different accounts which are given of it in the
most ancient records which now remain. They were written in Latin and
in Saxon, and, of course, as given here, they are translations. The
discrepancies which the reader will observe in the details illustrate
well the uncertainty which pertains to all historical accounts that go
back to so early an age.

"He led an unquiet life there, at his cow-herd's. It happened that, on
a certain day, the rustic wife of the man prepared to bake her bread.
The king, sitting then near the hearth, was making ready his bow and
arrows, and other warlike implements, when the ill-tempered woman
beheld the loaves burning at the fire. She ran hastily and removed
them, scolding at the king, and exclaiming, 'You man! you will not
turn the bread you see burning, but you will be very glad to eat it
when it is done!' This unlucky woman little thought she was addressing
the King Alfred."

In a certain Saxon history the story is told thus:

"He took shelter in a swain's house, and also him and his evil wife
diligently served. It happened that, on one day, the swain's wife
heated her oven, and the king sat by it warming himself by the fire.
She knew not then that he was the king. Then the evil woman was
excited, and spoke to the king with an angry mind. 'Turn thou these
loaves, that they burn not, for I see daily that thou art a great
eater!' He soon obeyed this evil woman because she would scold. He
then, the good king, with great anxiety and sighing, called to his
Lord, imploring his pity."

The following account is from a Latin life of St. Neot, which still
exists in manuscript, and is of great antiquity:

"Alfred, a fugitive, and exiled from his people, came by chance and
entered the house of a poor herdsman, and there remained some days
concealed, poor and unknown.

"It happened that, on the Sabbath day, the herdsman, as usual, led his
cattle to their accustomed pastures, and the king remained alone in
the cottage with the man's wife. She, as necessity required, placed a
few loaves, which some call _loudas_, on a pan, with fire underneath,
to be baked for her husband's repast and her own, on his return.

"While she was necessarily busied, like peasants, on other offices,
she went anxious to the fire, and found the bread burning on the other
side. She immediately assailed the king with reproaches. 'Why, man! do
you sit thinking there, and are too proud to turn the bread? Whatever
be your family, with your manners and sloth, what trust can be put in
you hereafter? If you were even a nobleman, you will be glad to eat
the bread which you neglect to attend to.' The king, though stung by
her upbraidings, yet heard her with patience and mildness, and,
roused by her scolding, took care to bake her bread thereafter as she

There is one remaining account, which is as follows:

"It happened that the herdsman one day, as usual, led his swine to
their accustomed pasture, and the king remained at home alone with the
wife. She placed her bread under the ashes of the fire to bake, and
was employed in other business when she saw the loaves burning, and
said to the king in her rage, 'You will not turn the bread you see
burning, though you will be very glad to eat it when done!' The king,
with a submitting countenance, though vexed at her upbraidings not
only turned the bread, but gave them to the woman well baked and

It is obvious, from the character of these several accounts that each
writer, taking the substantial fact as the groundwork of his story,
has added such details and chosen such expressions for the housewife's
reproaches as suited his own individual fancy. We find, unfortunately
for the truth and trustworthiness of history, that this is almost
always the case, when independent and original accounts of past
transactions, whether great or small, are compared. The gravest
historians, as well as the lightest story tellers, frame their
narrations for _effect_, and the tendency in all ages to shape and
fashion the narrative with a view to the particular effect designed
by the individual narrator to be produced has been found entirely
irresistible. It is necessary to compare, with great diligence and
careful scrutiny, a great many different accounts, in order to learn
how little there is to be exactly and confidently believed.]



Ethelney, though its precise locality can not now be certainly
ascertained, was in the southwestern part of England, in
Somersetshire, which county lies on the southern shore of the Bristol
Channel. There is a region of marshes in that vicinity, which
tradition assigns as the place of Alfred's retreat; and there was,
about the middle of this century, a farmhouse there, which bore the
name of Ethelney, though this name may have been given to it in modern
times by those who imagined it to be the ancient locality. A jewel of
gold, engraved as an amulet to be worn about the neck, and inscribed
with the Saxon words which mean "Alfred had me made," was found in the
vicinity, and is still carefully preserved in a museum in England.
Some curious antiquarians profess to find the very hillock, rising out
of the low grounds around, where the herdsman that entertained Alfred
so long lived; but this, of course is all uncertain. The peculiarities
of the spot derived their character from the morasses and the woods,
and the courses of the sluggish streams in the neighborhood, and these
are elements of landscape scenery which ten centuries of time and of
cultivation would entirely change.

Whatever may have been the precise situation of the spot, instead of
being, as at first, a mere hiding-place and retreat, it became, before
many months, as was intimated in the last chapter, a military camp,
secluded and concealed, it is true, but still possessing, in a
considerable degree, the characteristics of a fastness and place of
defense. Alfred's company erected something which might be called a
wall. They built a bridge across the water where the herdsman's boat
had been accustomed to ply. They raised two towers to watch and guard
the bridge. All these defenses were indeed of a very rude and simple
construction; still, they answered the purpose intended. They afforded
a real protection; and, more than all, they produced a certain moral
effect upon the minds of those whom they shielded, by enabling them
to consider themselves as no longer lurking fugitives, dependent for
safety on simple concealment, but as a garrison, weak, it is true, but
still gathering strength, and advancing gradually toward a condition
which would enable them to make positive aggressions upon the enemy.

The circumstance which occurred to hasten the development of Alfred's
plans, and which was briefly alluded to at the close of the last
chapter, was the following: It seems that quite a large party of
Danes, under the command of a leader named Hubba, had been making a
tour of conquest and plunder in Wales, which country was on the other
side of the Bristol Channel, directly north of Ethelney, where Alfred
was beginning to concentrate a force. He would be immediately exposed
to an attack from this quarter as soon as it should be known that he
was at Ethelney, as the distance across the Channel was not great, and
the Danes were provided with shipping.

Ethelney was in the county called Somersetshire. To the southwest
of Somersetshire, a little below it, on the shores of the Bristol
Channel, was a castle, called Castle Kenwith, in Devonshire. The
Duke of Devonshire, who held this castle, encouraged by Alfred's
preparations for action, had assembled a considerable force here, to
be ready to co-operate with Alfred in the active measures which he was
about to adopt. Things being in this state, Hubba brought down his
forces to the northern shores of the Channel, collected together all
the boats and shipping that he could command, crossed the Channel,
and landed on the Devonshire shore. Odun, the duke, not being strong
enough to resist, fled, and shut himself up, with all his men, in the
castle. Hubba advanced to the castle walls, and, sitting down before
them, began to consider what to do.

Hubba was the last surviving son of Ragner Lodbrog, whose deeds and
adventures were related in a former chapter. He was, like all other
chieftains among the Danes, a man of great determination and energy,
and he had made himself very celebrated all over the land by his
exploits and conquests. His particular horde of marauders, too, was
specially celebrated among all the others, on account of a mysterious
and magical banner which they bore. The name of this banner was the
_Reafan_, that is, the Raven. There was the figure of a raven woven
or embroidered on the banner. Hubba's three sisters had woven it for
their brothers, when they went forth across the German Ocean to avenge
their father's death. It possessed, as both the Danes and Saxons
believed, supernatural and magical powers. The raven on the banner
could foresee the result of any battle into which it was borne. It
remained lifeless and at rest whenever the result was to be adverse;
and, on the other hand, it fluttered its wings with a mysterious and
magical vitality when they who bore it were destined to victory. The
Danes consequently looked up to this banner with a feeling of profound
veneration and awe, and the Saxons feared and dreaded its mysterious
power. The explanation of this pretended miracle is easy. The
imagination of superstitious men, in such a state of society as that
of these half-savage Danes, is capable of much greater triumphs over
the reason and the senses than is implied in making them believe that
the wings of a bird are either in motion or at rest, whichever
it fancies, when the banner on which the image is embroidered is
advancing to the field and fluttering in the breeze.

The Castle of Kenwith was situated on a rocky promontory, and was
defended by a Saxon wall. Hubba saw that it would be difficult to
carry it by a direct assault. On the other hand, it was not well
supplied with water or provisions, and the numerous multitude which
had crowded into it, would, as Hubba thought, be speedily compelled
to surrender by thirst and famine, if he were simply to wait a short
time, till their scanty stock of food was consumed. Perhaps the raven
did not flutter her wings when Hubba approached the castle, but by her
apparent lifelessness portended calamity if an attack were to be made.
At all events, Hubba decided not to attack the castle, but to invest
it closely on all sides, with his army on the land and with his
vessels on the side of the sea, and thus reduce it by famine. He
accordingly stationed his troops and his galleys at their posts and
established himself in his tent, quietly to await the result.

He did not have to wait so long as he anticipated. Odun, finding that
his danger was so imminent, nay, that his destruction was inevitable
if he remained in his castle, thus shut in, determined, in the
desperation to which the emergency reduced him, to make a sally.
Accordingly, one night, as soon as it was dark, so that the
indications of any movement within the castle might not be perceived
by the sentinels and watchmen in Hubba's lines, he began to marshal
and organize his army for a sudden and furious onset upon the camp of
the Danes.

They waited, when all was ready, till the first break of day. To make
the surprise most effectual, it was necessary that it should take
place in the night; but then, on the other hand, the success, if they
should be successful, would require, in order to be followed up with
advantage, the light of day. Odun chose, therefore, the earliest dawn
as the time for his attempt, as this was the only period which would
give him at first darkness for his surprise, and afterward light for
his victory. The time was well chosen, the arrangements were all
well made, and the result corresponded with the character of the
preparations. The sally was triumphantly successful.

The Danes, who were all, except their sentinels, sleeping quietly and
secure, were suddenly aroused by the unearthly and terrific yells with
which the Saxons burst into the lines of their encampment. They flew
to arms, but the shock of the onset produced a panic and confusion
which soon made their cause hopeless. Odun and his immediate followers
pressed directly forward into Hubba's tent, where they surprised the
commander, and massacred him on the spot. They seized, too, to their
inexpressible joy, the sacred banner, which was in Hubba's tent, and
bore it forth, rejoicing in it, not merely as a splendid trophy of
their victory, but as a loss to their enemies which fixed and sealed
their doom.

The Danes fled before their enemies in terror, and the consternation
which they felt, when they learned that their banner had been captured
and their leader slain, was soon changed into absolute despair. The
Saxons slew them without mercy, cutting down some as they were running
before them in their headlong flight, and transfixing others with
their spears and arrows as they lay upon the ground, trampled down by
the crowds and the confusion. There was no place of refuge to which
they could fly except to their ships. Those, therefore, that escaped
the weapons of their pursuers, fled in the direction of the water,
where the strong and the fortunate gained the boats and the galleys,
while the exhausted and the wounded were drowned. The fleet sailed
away from the coast, and the Saxons, on surveying the scene of the
terrible contest, estimated that there were twelve hundred dead bodies
lying in the field.

This victory, and especially the capture of the Raven, produced vast
effects on the minds both of the Saxons and of the Danes, animating
and encouraging the one, and depressing the other with superstitious
as well as natural and proper fears. The influence of the battle was
sufficient, in fact, wholly to change Alfred's position and prospects.
The news of the discovery of the place of his retreat, and of the
measures which he was maturing for taking the field again to meet his
enemies, spread throughout the country. The people were every where
ready to take up arms and join him. There were large bodies of Danes
in several parts of his dominions still, and they, alarmed somewhat at
these indications of new efforts of resistance on the part of their
enemies, began to concentrate their strength and prepare for another

The main body of the Danes were encamped at a place called Edendune,
in Wiltshire. There is a hill near, which the army made their main
position, and the marks of their fortifications have been traced
there, either in imagination or reality, in modern times. Alfred
wished to gain more precise and accurate information than he yet
possessed of the numbers and situation of his foes; and, in order to
do this, instead of employing a spy, he conceived the design of going
himself in disguise to explore the camp of the Danes. The undertaking
was full of danger, but yet not quite so desperate as at first it
might seem. Alfred had had abundant opportunities during the months
of his seclusion to become familiar with the modes of speech and the
manners of peasant life. He had also, in his early years, stored his
memory with Saxon poetry, as has already been stated. He was fond of
music, too, and well skilled in it; so that he had every qualification
for assuming the character of one of those roving harpers, who, in
those days, followed armies, to sing songs and make amusement for the
soldiers. He determined, consequently, to assume the disguise of a
harper, and to wander into the camp of the Danes, that he might make
his own observations on the nature and magnitude of the force with
which he was about to contend.

He accordingly clothed himself in the garb of the character which he
was to assume, and, taking his harp upon his shoulder, wandered away
in the direction of the Northmen's camp. Such a strolling countryman,
half musician, half beggar would enter without suspicion or hinderance
into the camp, even though he belonged to the nation of the enemy.
Alfred was readily admitted, and he wandered at will about the
lines, to play and sing to the soldiers wherever he found groups to
listen--intent, apparently, on nothing but his scanty pittance of pay,
while he was really studying, with the utmost attention and care, the
number, and disposition, and discipline of the troops, and all the
arrangements of the army. He came very near discovering himself,
however, by overacting his part. His music was so well executed and
his ballads were so fine, that reports of the excellence of his
performance reached the commander's ears. He ordered the pretended
harper to be sent into his tent, that he might hear him play and
sing. Alfred went, and thus he had the opportunity of completing his
observations in the tent, and in the presence of the Danish king.

Alfred found that the Danish camp was in a very unguarded and careless
condition. The name of the commander, or king, was Guthrum.[1] Alfred,
while playing in his presence, studied his character, and it is (not)
improbable that the very extraordinary course which he afterward
pursued in respect to Guthrum may have been caused, in a great degree,
by the opportunity he now enjoyed of domestic access to him and
of obtaining a near and intimate view of his social and personal
character. Guthrum treated the supposed harper with great kindness. He
was much pleased both with his singing and his songs, being attracted,
too, probably, in some degree, by a certain mysterious interest which
the humble stranger must have inspired; for Alfred possessed personal
and intellectual traits of character which could not but have given to
his conversation and his manners a certain charm, notwithstanding all
his efforts to disguise or conceal them.

However this may be, Guthrum gave Alfred a very friendly reception,
and the hour of social intercourse and enjoyment which the general
and the ballad-singer spent together was only a precursor of the more
solid and honest friendship which afterward subsisted between them as
allied sovereigns.

Alfred had one person with him, whom he had brought from Ethelney--a
sort of attendant--to help him carry his harp, and to be a companion
for him on the way. He would have needed such a companion even if he
had been only what he seemed; but for a spy, going in disguise into
the camp of such ferocious enemies as the Danes, it would seem
absolutely indispensable that he should have the support and sympathy
of a friend.

Alfred, after finishing his examination of the camp of Guthrum, and
forming secretly, in his own mind, his plans for attacking it, moved
leisurely away, taking his harp and his attendant with him, as if
going on in search of some new place to practice his profession. As
soon as he was out of the reach of observation, he made a circuit and
returned in safety to Ethelney. The season was now spring, and every
thing favored the commencement of his enterprise.

His first measure was to send out some trusty messengers into all the
neighboring counties, to visit and confer with his friends at their
various castles and strong-holds. These messengers were to announce to
such Saxon leaders as they should find that Alfred was still alive,
and that he was preparing to take the field against the Danes again;
and were to invite them to assemble at a certain place appointed, in
a forest, with as many followers as they could bring, that the
king might there complete the organization of an army, and hold
consultation with them to mature their plans.

The wood on the borders of which they were to meet was an extensive
forest of willows, fifteen miles long and six broad. It was known by
the name of Selwood Forest. There was a celebrated place called the
Stone of Egbert, where the meeting was to be held. Each chieftain whom
the messengers should visit was to be invited to come to the Stone of
Egbert at the appointed day, with as many armed men, and yet in
as secret and noiseless a manner as possible, so as thus, while
concentrating all their forces in preparation for their intended
attack, to avoid every thing which would tend to put Guthrum on his

The messengers found the Saxon chieftains very ready to enter into
Alfred's plans. They were rejoiced to hear, as some of them did now
for the first time hear, that he was alive, and that the spirit and
energy of his former character were about to be exhibited again. Every
thing, in fact, conspired to favor the enterprise. The long and gloomy
months of winter were past, and the opening spring brought with it,
as usual, excitement and readiness for action. The tidings of Odun's
victory over Hubba, and the capture of the sacred raven, which had
spread every where, had awakened a general enthusiasm, and a desire
on the part of all the Saxon chieftains and soldiers to try their
strength once more with their ancient enemies.

Accordingly, those to whom the secret was intrusted eagerly accepted
the invitation, or, perhaps, as it should rather be expressed, obeyed
the summons which Alfred sent them. They marshaled their forces
without any delay, and repaired to the appointed place in Selwood
Forest. Alfred was ready to meet them there. Two days were occupied
with the arrivals of the different parties, and in the mutual
congratulations and rejoicings. Growing more bold as their sense of
strength increased with their increasing numbers, and with the ardor
and enthusiasm which their mutual influence on each other inspired,
they spent the intervals of their consultations in festivities and
rejoicings, celebrating the occasion with games and martial music. The
forest resounded with the blasts of horns, the sound of the trumpets,
the clash of arms, and the shouts of joy and congratulation, which all
the efforts of the more prudent and cautious could not repress.

In the mean time, Guthrum remained in his encampment at Edendune. This
seems to have been the principal concentration of the forces of the
Danes which were marshaled for military service; and yet there were
large numbers of the people, disbanded soldiers, or non-combatants,
who had come over in the train of the armies, that had taken
possession of the lands which they had conquered, and had settled upon
them for cultivation, as if to make them their permanent home. These
intruders were scattered in larger or smaller bodies in various parts
of the kingdom, the Saxon inhabitants being prevented from driving
them away by the influence and power of the armies, which still kept
possession of the field, and preserved their military organization
complete, ready for action at any time whenever any organized Saxon
force should appear.

Guthrum, as we have said, headed the largest of these armies. He was
aware of the increasing excitement that was spreading among the Saxon
population, and he even heard rumors of the movements which the bodies
of Saxons made, in going under their several chieftains to Selwood
Forest. He expected that some important movement was about to occur,
but he had no idea that preparations so extended, and for so decisive
a demonstration, were so far advanced. He remained, therefore, at his
camp at Edendune, gradually completing his arrangements for his summer
campaign, but making no preparations for resisting any sudden or
violent attack.

When all was ready, Alfred put himself at the head of the forces which
had collected at the Egbert Stone, or, as it is quaintly spelled in
some of the old accounts, Ecgbyrth-stan. There is a place called
Brixstan in that vicinity now, which may possibly be the same name
modified and abridged by the lapse of time. Alfred moved forward
toward Guthrum's camp. He went only a part of the way the first day,
intending to finish the march by getting into the immediate vicinity
of the enemy on the morrow. He succeeded in accomplishing this object,
and encamped the next night at a place called Æcglea,[2] on an
eminence from which he could reconnoiter, from a great distance, the
position of the army.

That night, as he was sleeping in his tent, he had a remarkable dream.
He dreamed that his relative, St. Neot, who has been already mentioned
as the chaplain or priest who reproved him so severely for his sins in
the early part of his reign, appeared to him. The apparition bid him
not fear the immense army of pagans whom he was going to encounter
on the morrow. God, he said, had accepted his penitence, and was now
about to take him under his special protection. The calamities which
had befallen him were sent in judgment to punish the pride and
arrogance which he had manifested in the early part of his reign; but
his faults had been expiated by the sufferings he had endured, and by
the penitence and the piety which they had been the means of awakening
in his heart; and now he might go forward into the battle without
fear, as God was about to give him the victory over all his enemies.

The king related his dream the next morning to his army. The
enthusiasm and ardor which the chieftains and the men had felt before
were very much increased by this assurance of success. They broke up
their encampment, therefore, and commenced the march, which was to
bring them, before many hours, into the presence of the enemy, with
great alacrity and eager expectations of success.

[Footnote 1: Spelled sometimes Godrun, Gutrum, Gythram, and in various
other ways.]

[Footnote 2: Some think that this place is the modern Leigh; others,
that it was Highley; either of which names might have been deduced
from Æcglea.]



Encouraged by his dream, and animated by the number and the elation
of his followers, Alfred led his army onward toward the part of the
country where the camp of the enemy lay. He intended to surprise them;
and, although Guthrum had heard vague rumors that some great Saxon
movement was in train, he viewed the sudden appearance of this large
and well-organized army with amazement.

He had possession of the hill near Edendune, which has been already
described. He had established his head-quarters here, and made his
strongest fortifications on the summit of the eminence. The main body
of his forces were, however, encamped upon the plain, over which they
extended, in vast numbers, far and wide. Alfred halted his men to
change the order of march into the order of battle. Here he made an
address to his men. As no time was to be lost, he spoke but a few
words. He reminded them that they were to contend, that day, to rescue
themselves and their country from the intolerable oppression of a
horde of pagan idolaters; that God was on their side, and had promised
them the victory; and he urged them to act like men, so as to deserve
the success and happiness which was in store for them.

The army then advanced to the attack, the Danes having been drawn out
hastily, but with as much order as the suddenness of the call would
allow, to meet them. When near enough for their arrows to take effect,
the long line of Alfred's troops discharged their arrows. They then
advanced to the attack with lances; but soon these and all other
weapons which kept the combatants at a distance were thrown aside, and
it became a terrible conflict with swords, man to man.

It was not long before the Danes began to yield. They were not
sustained by the strong assurance of victory, nor by the desperate
determination which animated the Saxons. The flight soon became
general. They could not gain the fortification on the hill, for Alfred
had forced his way in between the encampment on the plains and the
approaches to the hill. The Danes, consequently, not being able to
find refuge in either part of the position they had taken, fled
altogether from the field, pursued by Alfred's victorious columns as
fast as they could follow.

Guthrum succeeded, by great and vigorous exertions, in rallying his
men, or, at least, in so far collecting and concentrating the separate
bodies of the fugitives as to change the flight into a retreat, having
some semblance of military order. Vast numbers had been left dead upon
the field. Others had been taken prisoners. Others still had become
hopelessly dispersed, having fled from the field of battle in diverse
directions, and wandered so far, in their terror, that they had not
been able to rejoin their leader in his retreat. Then, great numbers
of those who pressed on under Guthrum's command, exhausted by fatigue,
or spent and fainting from their wounds, sank down by the way-side to
die, while their comrades, intent only upon their own safety, pressed
incessantly on. The retreating army was thus, in a short time, reduced
to a small fraction of its original force. This remaining body, with
Guthrum at their head, continued their retreat until they reached
a castle which promised them protection. They poured in over the
drawbridges and through the gates of this fortress in extreme
confusion; and feeling suddenly, and for the moment, entirely relieved
at their escape from the imminence of the immediate danger, they shut
themselves in.

The finding of such a retreat would have been great good fortune for
these wretched fugitives if there had been any large force in the
country to come soon to their deliverance; but, as they were without
provisions and without water, they soon began to perceive that, unless
they obtained some speedy help from without, they had only escaped the
Saxon lances and swords to die a ten times more bitter death of thirst
and famine; and there was no force to relieve them. The army which had
been thus defeated was the great central force of the Danes upon
the island. The other detachments and independent bands which were
scattered about the land were thunderstruck at the news of this
terrible defeat. The Saxons, too, were every where aroused to the
highest pitch of enthusiasm at the reappearance of their king and
the tidings of his victory. The whole country was in arms. Guthrum,
however, shut up in his castle, and closely invested with Alfred's
forces, had no means of knowing what was passing without. His numbers
were so small in comparison with those besieging him that it would
have been madness for him to have attempted a sally; and he would not
surrender. He waited day after day, hoping against hope that some
succor would come. His half-famished sentinels gazed from the
watch-towers of the castle all around, looking for some cloud of
distant dust, or weapon glancing in the sun, which might denote the
approach of friends coming to their rescue. This lasted fourteen days.
At the end of that time, the number within this wretched prison who
were raving in the delirium of famine and thirst, or dying in agony,
became too great for Guthrum to persist any longer. He surrendered.
Alfred was once more in possession of his kingdom.

During the fourteen days that elapsed between the victory on the field
of battle and the final surrender of Guthrum, Alfred, feeling that
the power was now in his hands, had had ample time to reflect on the
course which he should pursue with his subjugated enemies; and the
result to which he came, and the measure which he adopted, evince,
as much as any act of his life, the greatness, and originality, and
nobleness of his character. Here were two distinct and independent
races on the same island, that had been engaged for many years in a
most fierce and sanguinary struggle, each gaining at times a
temporary and partial victory, but neither able entirely to subdue or
exterminate the other. The Danes, it is true, might be considered as
the aggressors in this contest, and, as such, wholly in the wrong; but
then, on the other hand, it was to be remembered that the ancestors of
the Saxons had been guilty of precisely the same aggressions upon the
Britons, who held the island before them; so that the Danes were,
after all, only intruding upon intruders. It was, besides, the general
maxim of the age, that the territories of the world were prizes open
for competition, and that the right to possess and to govern vested
naturally and justly in those who could show themselves the strongest.
Then, moreover, the Danes had been now for many years in Britain. Vast
numbers had quietly settled on agricultural lands. They had become
peaceful inhabitants. They had established, in many cases, friendly
relations with the Saxons. They had intermarried with them; and the
two races, instead of appearing, as at first, simply as two hostile
armies of combatants contending on the field, had been, for some
years, acquiring the character of a mixed population, established and
settled, though heterogeneous, and, in some sense, antagonistic still.
To root out all these people, intruders though they were, and send
them back again across the German Ocean, to regions where they no
longer had friends or home, would have been a desperate--in fact, an
impossible undertaking.

Alfred saw all these things. He took, in fact, a general, and
comprehensive, and impartial view of the whole subject, instead of
regarding it, as most conquerors in his situation would have done, in
a _partisan_, that is, an exclusively _Saxon_ point of view. He
saw how impossible it was to undo what had been done, and wisely
determined to take things as they were, and make the best of the
present situation of affairs, leaving the past, and aiming only at
accomplishing the best that was now attainable for the future. It
would be well if all men who are engaged in quarrels which they vainly
endeavor to settle by discussing and disputing about what is past and
gone, and can now never be recalled, would follow his example. In
all such cases we should say, let the past be forgotten, and, taking
things as they now are, let us see what we can do to secure peace and
happiness in future.

The policy which Alfred determined to adopt was, not to attempt the
utter extirpation of the Danes from England, but only to expel the
_armed forces_ from his own dominions, allowing those peaceably
disposed to remain in quiet possession of such lands in other parts of
the island as they already occupied. Instead, therefore, of treating
Guthrum with harshness and severity as a captive enemy, he told him
that he was willing not only to give him his liberty, but to regard
him, on certain conditions, as a friend and an ally, and allow him
to reign as a king over that part of England which his countrymen
possessed, and which was beyond Alfred's own frontiers. These
conditions were, that Guthrum was to go away with all his forces and
followers out of Alfred's kingdom, under solemn oaths never to return;
that he was to confine himself thenceforth to the southeastern part
of England, a territory from which the Saxon government had long
disappeared; that he was to give hostages for the faithful fulfillment
of these stipulations, without, however, receiving on his part
any hostages from Alfred. There was one other stipulation, more
extraordinary than all the rest, viz., that Guthrum should become a
convert to Christianity, and publicly avow his adhesion to the Saxon
faith by being baptized in the presence of the leaders of both armies,
in the most open and solemn manner. In this proposed baptism, Alfred
himself would stand his godfather.

This idea of winning over a pagan soldier to the Christian Church as
the price of his ransom from famine and death in the castle to which
his direst enemy had driven him--this enemy himself, the instrument
thus of so rude a mode of conversion, to be the sponsor of the new
communicant's religious profession--was one in keeping, it is true,
with the spirit of the times, but still it is one which, under the
circumstances of this case, only a mind of great originality and power
would have conceived of or attempted to carry into effect. Guthrum
might well be astonished at this unexpected turn in his affairs. A
few days before, he saw himself on the brink of utter and absolute
destruction. Shut up with his famished soldiers in a gloomy castle,
with the enemy, bitter and implacable, as he supposed, thundering at
the gates, the only alternatives before him seemed to be to die of
starvation and phrensy within the walls which covered him, or by a
cruel military execution in the event of surrender. He surrendered at
last, as it would seem, only because the utmost that human cruelty
can inflict is more tolerable than the horrid agonies of thirst and

We can not but hope that Alfred was led, in some degree, by a generous
principle of Christian forgiveness in proposing the terms which he did
to his fallen enemy, and also that Guthrum, in accepting them,
was influenced, in part at least, by emotions of gratitude and by
admiration of the high example of Christian virtue which Alfred thus
exhibited. At any rate, he did accept them. The army of the Danes were
liberated from their confinement, and commenced their march to the
eastward; Guthrum himself, attended by thirty of his chiefs and many
other followers, became Alfred's guest for some weeks, until the most
pressing measures for the organization of Alfred's government could be
attended to, and the necessary preparations for the baptism could
be made. At length, some weeks after the surrender, the parties all
repaired together, now firm friends and allies, to a place near
Ethelney, where the ceremony of baptism was to be performed.

The admission of this pagan chieftain into the Christian Church did
not probably mark any real change in his opinions on the question of
paganism and Christianity, but it was not the less important in its
consequences on that account. The moral effect of it upon the minds
of his followers was of great value. It opened the way for their
reception of the Christian faith, if any of them should be disposed to
receive it. Then it changed wholly the feeling which prevailed among
the Saxon soldiery, and also the Saxon chieftains, in respect to these
enemies. A great deal of the bitterness of exasperation with which
they had regarded them arose from the fact that they were pagans,
the haters and despisers of the rites and institutions of religion.
Guthrum's approaching baptism was to change all this; and Alfred, in
leading him to the baptismal font, was achieving, in the estimation
not only of all England, but of France and of Rome, a far greater
and nobler victory than when he conquered his armies on the field of

The various ceremonies connected with the baptism were protracted
through several days. They were commenced at a place called Aulre,
near Ethelney, where there was a religious establishment and priests
to perform the necessary rites. The new convert was clothed in white
garments--the symbol of purity, then customarily worn by candidates
for baptism--and was covered with a mystic veil. They gave Guthrum
a new name--a Christian, that is, a Saxon name. Converted pagans
received always a new name, in those days, when baptized; and our
common phrase, _the Christian name_, has arisen from the circumstance.
Guthrum's Christian name was Ethelstan. Alfred was his godfather.
After the baptism the whole party proceeded to a town a few miles
distant, which Alfred had decided to make a royal residence, and there
other ceremonies connected with the new convert's admission to the
Church were performed, the whole ending with a series of great public
festivities and rejoicings.

A very full and formal treaty of peace and amity was now concluded
between the two sovereigns; for Guthrum was styled in the treaty a
_king_, and was to hold, in the dominions assigned him to the eastward
of Alfred's realm, an independent jurisdiction. He agreed, however, by
this treaty, to confine himself, from that time forward, to the limits
thus assigned. If the reader wishes to see what part of England it was
which Guthrum was thus to hold, he can easily identify it by finding
upon the map the following counties, which now occupy the same
territory, viz., Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and part of
Herefordshire. The population of all this region consisted already, in
a great measure, of Danes. It was the part most easily accessible from
the German Ocean, by means of the Thames and the Medway, and it had,
accordingly, become the chief seat of the Northmen's power.

Guthrum not only agreed to confine himself to the limits thus marked
out, but also to consider himself henceforth as Alfred's friend and
ally in the event of any new bands of adventurers arriving on the
coast, and to join Alfred in his endeavors to resist them. In hoping
that he would fulfill this obligation, Alfred did not rely altogether
on Guthrum's oaths or promises, or even on the hostages that he held.
He had made it for his _interest_ to fulfill them. By giving him
peaceable possession of this territory, after having, by his
victories, impressed him with a very high idea of his own great
military resources and power, he had placed his conquered enemy under
very strong inducements to be satisfied with what he now possessed,
and to make common cause with Alfred in resisting the encroachments of
any new marauders.

Guthrum was therefore honestly resolved on keeping his faith with his
new ally; and when all these stipulations were made, and the treaties
were signed, and the ceremonies of the baptism all performed, Alfred
dismissed his guest, with many presents and high honors.

There is some uncertainty whether Alfred did not, in addition to the
other stipulations under which he bound Guthrum, reserve to himself
the superior sovereignty over Guthrum's dominions, in such a manner
that Guthrum, though complimented in the treaty with the title of
king, was, after all, only a sort of viceroy, holding his throne under
Alfred as his liege lord. One thing is certain, that Alfred took care,
in his treaty with Guthrum, to settle all the fundamental laws of both
kingdoms, making them the same for both, as if he foresaw the complete
and entire union which was ultimately to take place, and wished to
facilitate the accomplishment of this end by having the political and
social constitution of the two states brought at once into harmony
with each other.

It proved, in the end, that Guthrum was faithful to his obligations
and promises. He settled himself quietly in the dominions which the
treaty assigned to him, and made no more attempts to encroach upon
Alfred's realm. Whenever other parties of Danes came upon the coast,
as they sometimes did, they found no favor or countenance from him.
They came, in some cases, expecting his co-operation and aid; but he
always refused it, and by this discouragement, as well as by open
resistance, he drove many bands away, turning the tide of invasion
southward into France, and other regions on the Continent. Alfred, in
the mean time, gave his whole time and attention to organizing the
various departments of his government, to planning and building towns,
repairing and fortifying castles, opening roads, establishing courts
of justice, and arranging and setting in operation the complicated
machinery necessary in the working of a well-conducted social state.
The nature and operation of some of his plans will be described more
fully in the next chapter.

In concluding this chapter, we will add, that notwithstanding his
victory over Guthrum, and Guthrum's subsequent good faith, Alfred
never enjoyed an absolute peace, but during the whole remainder of his
reign was more or less molested with parties of Northmen, who came,
from time to time, to land on English shores, and who met sometimes
with partial and temporary success in their depredations. The most
serious of these attempts occurred near the close of Alfred's life,
and will be hereafter described.

       *       *       *       *       *

The generosity and the nobleness of mind which Alfred manifested in
his treatment of Guthrum made a great impression upon mankind at the
time, and have done a great deal to elevate the character of our hero
in every subsequent age. All admire such generosity in others, however
slow they may be to practice it themselves. It seems a very easy
virtue when we look upon an exhibition of it like this, where we
feel no special resentments ourselves against the person thus nobly
forgiven. We find it, however, a very hard virtue to practice, when a
case occurs requiring the exercise of it toward a person who has done
_us_ an injury. Let those who think that in Alfred's situation they
should have acted as he did, look around upon the circle of their
acquaintance, and see whether it is easy for them to pursue a similar
course toward their personal enemies--those who have thwarted and
circumvented them in their plans, or slandered them, or treated them
with insult and injury. By observing how hard it is to change our
own resentments to feelings of forgiveness and good will, we can the
better appreciate Alfred's treatment of Guthrum.

Alfred was famed during all his life for the kindness of his heart,
and a thousand stories were told in his day of his interpositions
to right the wronged, to relieve the distressed, to comfort the
afflicted, and to befriend the unhappy. On one occasion, as it is
said, when he was hunting in a wood, he heard the piteous cries of a
child, which seemed to come from the air above his head. It was found,
after much looking and listening, that the sounds proceeded from an
eagle's nest upon the top of a lofty tree. On climbing to the nest,
they found the child within, screaming with pain and terror. The eagle
had carried it there in its talons for a prey. Alfred brought down
the boy, and, after making fruitless inquiries to find its father and
mother, adopted him for his own son, gave him a good education, and
provided for him well in his future life. The story was all, very
probably, a fabrication; but the characters of men are sometimes
very strikingly indicated by the kind of stories that are _invented_
concerning them.

[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF ALFRED.]



Perhaps the chief aspect in which King Alfred's character has
attracted the attention of mankind, is in the spirit of humanity and
benevolence which he manifested, and in the efforts which he made
to cultivate the arts of peace, and to promote the intellectual and
social welfare of his people, notwithstanding the warlike habits to
which he was accustomed in his early years, and the warlike influences
which surrounded him during all his life. Every thing in the outward
circumstances in which he was placed tended to make him a mere
military hero. He saw, however, the superior greatness and glory of
the work of laying the foundations of an extended and permanent power,
by arranging in the best possible manner the internal organization
of the social state. He saw that intelligence, order, justice, and
system, prevailing in and governing the institutions of a country,
constitute the true elements of its greatness, and he acted

It is true, he had good materials to work with. He had the Anglo-Saxon
race to act upon at the time, a race capable of appreciating and
entering into his plans; and he has had the same race to carry them
on, for the ten centuries which have elapsed since he laid his
foundations. As no other race of men but Anglo-Saxons could have
produced an Alfred, so, probably, no other race could have carried
out such plans as Alfred formed. It is a race which has always been
distinguished, like Alfred their great prototype and model, for a
certain cool and intrepid energy in war, combined with and surpassed
by the industry, the system, the efficiency, and the perseverance with
which they pursue and perfect all the arts of peace. They systematize
every thing. They arrange--they organize. Every thing in their hands
takes form, and advances to continual improvement. Even while the
rest of the world remain inert, they are active. When the arts and
improvements of life are stationary among other nations, they are
always advancing with _them_. It is a people that is always making new
discoveries, pressing forward to new enterprises, framing new laws,
constituting new combinations and developing new powers; until now
after the lapse of a thousand years, the little island feeds and
clothes, directly or indirectly, a very large portion of the human
race, and directs, in a great measure, the politics of the world.

Whether Alfred reasoned upon the capacities of the people whom he
ruled, and foresaw their future power, or whether he only followed the
simple impulses of his own nature in the plans which he formed and the
measures which he adopted, we can not know; but we know that, in fact,
he devoted his chief attention, during all the years of his reign,
to perfecting in the highest degree the internal organization of his
realm, considered as a great social community. His people were in a
very rude, and, in fact, almost half-savage state when he commenced
his career. He had every thing to do, and yet he seems to have had no
favorable opportunities for doing any thing.

In the first place, his time and attention were distracted, during his
whole reign, by continued difficulties and contentions with various
hordes of Danes, even after his peace with Guthrum. These troubles,
and the military preparations and movements to which they would
naturally give rise, would seem to have been sufficient to have
occupied fully all the powers of his mind, and to have prevented him
from doing any thing effectual for the internal improvement of his

Then, besides, there was another difficulty with which Alfred had to
contend, which one might have supposed would have paralyzed all his
energies. He suffered all his life from some mysterious and painful
internal disease, the nature of which, precisely, is not known, as the
allusions to it, though very frequent throughout his life, are very
general, and the physicians of the day, who probably were not very
skillful, could not determine what it was, or do any thing effectual
to relieve it. The disease, whatever it may have been, was a source of
continual uneasiness, and sometimes of extreme and terrible suffering.
Alfred bore all the pain which it caused him with exemplary patience;
and, though he could not always resist the tendency to discouragement
and depression with which the perpetual presence of such a torment
wears upon the soul, he did not allow it to diminish his exertions, or
suspend, at any time, the ceaseless activity with which he labored for
the welfare of the people of his realm.

Alfred attached great importance to the education of his people. It
was not possible, in those days, to educate the mass, for there were
no books, and no means of producing them in sufficient numbers to
supply any general demand. Books, in those days, were extremely
costly, as they had all to be written laboriously by hand. The great
mass of the population, therefore, who were engaged in the daily toil
of cultivating the land, were necessarily left in ignorance; but
Alfred made every effort in his power to awaken a love for learning
and the arts among the higher classes. He set them, in fact, an
efficient example in his own case, by pressing forward diligently in
his own studies, even in the busiest periods of his reign. The spirit
and manner in which he did this are well illustrated by the plan he
pursued in studying Latin. It was this:

He had a friend in his court, a man of great literary attainments and
great piety, whose name was Asser. Asser was a bishop in Wales when
Alfred first heard of his fame as a man of learning and abilities, and
Alfred sent for him to come to his court and make him a visit. Alfred
was very much pleased with what he saw of Asser at this interview, and
proposed to him to leave his preferments in Wales, which were numerous
and important, and come into his kingdom, and he would give him
greater preferments there. Asser hesitated. Alfred then proposed to
him to spend six months every year in England, and the remaining six
in Wales. Asser said that he could not give an answer even to this
proposal till he had returned home and consulted with the monks and
other clergy under his charge there. He would, however, he said, at
least come back and see Alfred again within the next six months, and
give him his final answer. Then, after having spent four days in
Alfred's court, he went away.

The six months passed away and he did not return. Alfred sent a
messenger into Wales to ascertain the reason. The messenger found
that Asser was sick. His friends, however, had advised that he should
accede to Alfred's proposal to spend six months of the year in
England, as they thought that by that means, through his influence
with Alfred, he would be the better able to protect and advance the
interests of their monasteries and establishments in Wales. So Asser
went to England, and became during six months in the year Alfred's
constant friend and teacher. In the course of time, Alfred placed
him at the head of some of the most important establishments and
ecclesiastical charges in England.

One day--it was eight or nine years after Alfred's victory over
Guthrum and settlement of the kingdom--the king and Asser were engaged
in conversation in the royal apartments, and Asser quoted some Latin
phrase with which, on its being explained, Alfred was very much
pleased, and he asked Asser to write it down for him in his book. So
saying, he took from his pocket a little book of prayers and other
pieces of devotion, which he was accustomed to carry with him for
daily use. It was, of course, in manuscript. Asser looked over it to
find a space where he could write the Latin quotation, but there was
no convenient vacancy. He then proposed to Alfred that he should make
for him another small book, expressly for Latin quotations, with
explanations of their meaning, if Alfred chose to make them, in the
Anglo-Saxon tongue. Alfred highly approved of this suggestion. The
bishop prepared the little parchment volume, and it became gradually
filled with passages of Scripture, in Latin, and striking sentiments,
briefly and tersely expressed, extracted from the writings of the
Roman poets or of the fathers of the Church. Alfred wrote opposite to
each quotation its meaning, expressed in his own language; and as he
made the book his constant companion, and studied it continually,
taking great interest in adding to its stores, it was the means
of communicating to him soon a very considerable knowledge of the
language, and was the foundation of that extensive acquaintance with
it which he subsequently acquired.

Alfred made great efforts to promote in every way the intellectual
progress and improvement of his people. He wrote and translated books,
which were published so far as it was possible to publish books in
those days, that is, by having a moderate number of copies transcribed
and circulated among those who could read them. Such copies were
generally deposited at monasteries, and abbeys, and other such places,
where learned men were accustomed to assemble. These writings of
Alfred exerted a wide influence during his day. They remained in
manuscript until the art of printing was invented, when many of them
were printed; others remain in manuscript in the various museums of
England, where visitors look at them as curiosities, all worn and
corroded as they are, and almost illegible by time. These books,
though they exerted great influence at the time when they were
written, are of little interest or value now. They express ideas
in morals and philosophy, some of which have become so universally
diffused as to be commonplace at the present day, while others would
now be discarded, as not in harmony with the ideas or the philosophy
of the times.

One of the greatest and most important of the measures which Alfred
adopted for the intellectual improvement of his people was the
founding of the great University of Oxford. Oxford was Alfred's
residence and capital during a considerable part of his reign. It is
situated on the Thames, in the bosom of a delightful valley, where
it calmly reposes in the midst of fields and meadows as verdant and
beautiful as the imagination can conceive. There was a monastery at
Oxford before Alfred's day, and for many centuries after his time acts
of endowment were passed and charters granted, some of which were
perhaps of greater importance than those which emanated from Alfred
himself. Thus some carry back the history of this famous university
beyond Alfred's time; others consider that the true origin of the
present establishment should be assigned to a later date than his
day. Alfred certainly adopted very important measures at Oxford for
organizing and establishing schools of instruction and assembling
learned men there from various parts of the world, so that he soon
made it a great center and seat of learning, and mankind have been
consequently inclined to award to him the honor of having laid the
foundations of the vast superstructure which has since grown up on
that consecrated spot. Oxford is now a city of ancient and venerable
colleges. Its silent streets; its grand quadrangles; its churches, and
chapels, and libraries; its secluded walks; its magnificent, though
old and crumbling architecture, make it, even to the passing traveler,
one of the wonders of England; and by the influence which it has
exerted for the past ten centuries on the intellectual advancement of
the human race, it is really one of the wonders of the world.

Alfred repaired the castles which had become dilapidated in the wars;
he rebuilt the ruined cities, organized municipal governments for
them, restored the monasteries, and took great pains to place men
of learning and piety in charge of them. He revised the laws of the
kingdom, and arranged and systematized them in the most perfect manner
which was possible in times so rude.

Alfred's personal character gave him great influence among his people,
and disposed them to acquiesce readily in the vast innovations and
improvements which he introduced--changes which were so radical and
affected so extensively the whole structure of society, and all the
customs of social life, that any ordinary sovereign would have met
with great opposition in his attempt to introduce them; but Alfred
possessed such a character, and proceeded in such a way in introducing
his improvements and reforms, that he seems to have awakened no
jealousy and to have aroused no resistance.

He was of a very calm, quiet, and placid temper of mind. The crosses
and vexations which disturb and irritate ordinary men seemed never to
disturb his equanimity. He was patient and forbearing, never expecting
too much of those whom he employed, or resenting angrily the
occasional neglects or failures in duty on their part, which he well
knew must frequently occur. He was never elated by prosperity, nor
made moody and morose by the turning of the tide against him. In
a word, he was a philosopher, of a calm, and quiet, and happy
temperament. He knew well that every man in going through life,
whatever his rank and station, must encounter the usual alternations
of sunshine and storm. He determined that these alternations should
not mar his happiness, nor disturb the repose of his soul; that he
would, on the other hand, keeping all quiet within, press calmly and
steadily forward in the accomplishment of the vast objects to which he
felt that his life was to be given. He was, accordingly, never anxious
or restless, never impatient or fretful, never excited or wild; but
always calm, considerate, steady, and persevering, he infused his
own spirit into all around him. They saw him governed by fixed and
permanent principles of justice and of duty in all that he planned,
and in every measure that he resorted to in the execution of his
plans. It was plain that his great ruling motive was a true and honest
desire to promote the welfare and prosperity of his people, and the
internal peace, and order, and happiness of his realm, without any
selfish or sinister aims of his own.

In fact, it seemed as if there were no selfish or sinister ends that
possessed any charms for Alfred's mind. He had no fondness or taste
for luxury or pleasure, or for aggrandizing himself in the eyes of
others by pomp and parade. It is true that, as was stated in a former
chapter, he was charged in early life with a tendency to some kinds
of wrong indulgence; but these charges, obscure and doubtful as they
were, pertained only to the earliest periods of his career, before the
time of his seclusion. Through all the middle and latter portions of
his life, the sole motive of his conduct seems to have been a desire
to lay broad, and deep, and lasting foundations for the permanent
welfare and prosperity of his realm.

It resulted from the nature of the measures which Alfred undertook to
effect, that they brought upon him daily a vast amount of labor as
such measures always involve a great deal of minute detail. Alfred
could only accomplish this great mass of duty by means of the most
unremitting industry, and the most systematic and exact division of
time. There were no clocks or watches in those days, and yet it was
very necessary to have some plan for keeping the time, in order that
his business might go on regularly, and also that the movements and
operations of his large household might proceed without confusion.
Alfred invented a plan. It was as follows:

He observed that the wax candles which were used in his palace and in
the churches burned very regularly, and with greater or less rapidity
according to their size. He ordered some experiments to be made, and
finally, by means of them, he determined on the size of a candle which
should burn three inches in an hour. It is said that the weight of wax
which he used for each candle was twelve pennyweights, that is, but
little more than half an ounce, which would make, one would suppose, a
_taper_ rather than a candle. There is, however, great doubt about the
value of the various denominations of weight and measure, and also of
money used in those days. However this may be, the candles were each a
foot long, and of such size that each would burn four hours. They were
divided into inches, and marked, so that each inch corresponded with a
third of an hour, or twenty minutes. A large quantity of these candles
were prepared, and a person in one of the chapels was appointed to
keep a succession of them burning, and to ring the bells, or give the
other signals, whatever they might be, by which the household was
regulated, at the successive periods of time denoted by their burning.

As each of these candles was one foot long, and burned three inches in
an hour, it follows that it would last four hours; when this time
was expired, the attendant who had the apparatus in charge lighted
another. There were, of course, six required for the whole twenty-four
hours. The system worked very well, though there was one difficulty
that occasioned some trouble in the outset, which, however, was not
much to be regretted after all, since the remedying of it awakened the
royal ingenuity anew, and led, in the end, to adding to Alfred's other
glories the honor of being the inventor of _lanterns_!

The difficulty was, that the wind, which came in very freely in those
days, even in royal residences, through the open windows, blew the
flames of these horological candles about, so as to interfere quite
seriously with the regularity of their burning. There was no glass
for windows in those days, or, at least, very little. It had been
introduced, it is said, in one instance, and that was in a monastery
in the north of England. The abbot, whose name was Benedict, brought
over some workmen from the Continent, where the art of making glass
windows had been invented, and caused them to glaze some windows in
his monastery. It was many years after this before glass came into
general use even in churches, and palaces, and other costly buildings
of that kind. In the mean time, windows were mere openings in stone
walls, which could be closed only by shutters; and inasmuch as
when closed they excluded the light as well as the air, they could
ordinarily be shut only on one side of the apartment at a time--the
side most exposed to the winds and storms.

Alfred accordingly found that the flame of his candles was blown by
the wind, which made the wax burn irregularly; and, to remedy the
evil, he contrived the plan of protecting them by thin plates of horn.
Horn, when softened by hot water, can easily be cut and fashioned into
any shape, and, when very thin, is almost transparent. Alfred had
these thin plates of horn prepared, and set into the sides of a box
made open to receive them, thus forming a rude sort of lantern, within
which the time-keeping candles could burn in peace. Mankind have
consequently given to King Alfred the credit of having invented

Having thus completed his apparatus for the correct measurement
of time, Alfred was enabled to be more and more systematic in the
division and employment of it. One of the historians of the day
relates that his plan was to give one third of the twenty-four hours
to sleep and refreshment, one third to business, and the remaining
third to the duties of religion. Under this last head was probably
included all those duties and pursuits which, by the customs of the
day, were considered as pertaining to the Church, such as study,
writing, and the consideration and management of ecclesiastical
affairs. These duties were performed, in those days, almost always by
clerical men, and in the retirement and seclusion of monasteries, and
were thus regarded as in some sense religious duties. We must conclude
that Alfred classed them thus, as he was a great student and writer
all his days, and there is no other place than this third head to
which the duties of this nature can be assigned. Thus understood, it
was a very wise and sensible division; though eight hours daily for
any long period of time, appropriated to services strictly devotional,
would not seem to be a wise arrangement, especially for a man in the
prime of life, and in a position demanding the constant exercise of
his powers in the discharge of active duties.

Thus the years of Alfred's life passed away, his kingdom advancing
steadily all the time in good government, wealth, and prosperity. The
country was not, however, yet freed entirely from the calamities
and troubles arising from the hostility of the Danes. Disorders
continually broke out among those who had settled in the land, and, in
some instances, new hordes of invaders came in. These were,
however, in most instances, easily subdued, and Alfred went on with
comparatively little interruption for many years, in prosecuting the
arts and improvements of peace. At last, however, toward the close of
his life, a famous Northman leader, named Hastings, landed in England
at the head of a large force, and made, before he was expelled, a
great deal of trouble. An account of this invasion will be given in
the next chapter.



It was twelve or fifteen years after Alfred's restoration to his
kingdom, by means of the victory at Edendune, that the great invasion
of Hastings occurred. That victory took place in the year 878. It was
in the years 893-897 that Hastings and his horde of followers infested
the island, and in 900 Alfred died, so that his reign ended, as it had
commenced, with protracted and desperate conflicts with the Danes.

Hastings was an old and successful soldier before he came to England.
He had led a wild life for many years as a sea king on the German
Ocean, performing deeds which in our day entail upon the perpetrator
of them the infamy of piracy and murder, but which then entitled the
hero of them to a very wide-spread and honorable fame. Afterward
Hastings landed upon the Continent, and pursued, for a long time,
a glorious career of victory and plunder in France. In these
enterprises, the tide, indeed, sometimes turned against him. On one
occasion, for instance, he found himself obliged to give way before
his enemies, and he retreated to a church, which he seized and
fortified, making it his castle until a more favorable aspect of his
affairs enabled him to issue forth from this retreat and take
the field again. Still he was generally very successful in his
enterprises; his terrible ferocity, and that of his savage followers,
were dreaded in every part of the civilized world.

Hastings had made one previous invasion of England; but Guthrum,
faithful to his covenants with Alfred, repulsed him. But Guthrum was
now dead, and Alfred had to contend against his formidable enemy

Hastings selected a point on the southern coast of England for his
landing. Guthrum's Danes still continued to occupy the eastern part of
England, and Hastings went round on the southern coast until he got
beyond their boundaries, as if he wished to avoid doing any thing
directly to awaken their hostility. Guthrum himself, while he lived,
had evinced a determination to oppose Hastings's plans of invasion.
Hastings did not know, now that Guthrum was dead, whether his
successors would oppose him or not. He determined, at all events,
to respect their territory, and so he passed along on the southern
shore of England till he was beyond their limits, and then prepared
to land.


He had assembled a large force of his own, and he was joined,
in addition to them, by many adventurers who came out to attach
themselves to his expedition from the bays, and islands, and harbors
which he passed on his way. His fleet amounted at least to two hundred
and fifty vessels. They arrived, at length, at a part of the coast
where there extends a vast tract of low and swampy land, which was
then a wild and dismal morass. This tract, which is known in modern
times by the name of the Romney Marshes, is of enormous extent,
containing, as it does, fifty thousand acres. It is now reclaimed, and
is defended by a broad and well-constructed dike from the inroads of
the sea. In Hastings's time it was a vast waste of bogs and mire,
utterly impassable except by means of a river, which, meandering
sluggishly through the tangled wilderness of weeds and bushes in a
deep, black stream, found an outlet at last into the sea.

Hastings took his vessels into this river, and, following its turnings
for some miles, he conducted them at last to a place where he found
more solid ground to land upon. But this ground, though solid, was
almost as wild and solitary as the morass. It was a forest of vast
extent, which showed no signs of human occupancy, except that the
peasants who lived in the surrounding regions had come down to the
lowest point accessible, and were building a rude fortification there.
Hastings attacked them and drove them away. Then, advancing a little
further, until he found an advantageous position, he built a strong
fortress himself and established his army within its lines.

His next measure was to land another force near the mouth of the
Thames, and bring them into the country, until he found a strong
position where he could intrench and fortify the second division as he
had done the first. These two positions were but a short distance from
each other. He made them the combined center of his operations, going
from them in all directions in plundering excursions. Alfred soon
raised an army and advanced to attack him; and these operations were
the commencement of a long and tedious war.

A detailed description of the events of this war, the marches and
countermarches, the battles and sieges, the various success, first of
one party and then of the other, given historically in the order of
time, would be as tedious to read as the war itself was to endure.
Alfred was very cautious in all his operations, preferring rather
to trust to the plan of wearing out the enemy by cutting off their
resources and hemming them constantly in, than to incur the risk of
great decisive battles. In fact, watchfulness, caution, and delay
are generally the policy of the invaded when a powerful force has
succeeded in establishing itself among them; while, on the other hand,
the hope of _invaders_ lies ordinarily in prompt and decided action.
Alfred was well aware of this, and made all his arrangements with
a view to cutting off Hastings's supplies, shutting him up into as
narrow a compass as possible, heading him off in all his predatory
excursions, intercepting all detachments, and thus reducing him at
length to the necessity of surrender.

At one time, soon after the war began, Hastings, true to the character
of his nation for treachery and stratagem, pretended that he was ready
to surrender, and opened a negotiation for this purpose. He agreed to
leave the kingdom if Alfred would allow him to depart peaceably, and
also, which was a point of great importance in Alfred's estimation, to
have his two sons baptized. While, however, these negotiations were
going on between the two camps, Alfred suddenly found that the main
body of Hastings's army had stolen away in the rear, and were marching
off by stealth to another part of the country. The negotiations were,
of course, immediately abandoned, and Alfred set off with all his
forces in full pursuit. All hopes of peace were given up, and the
usual series of sieges, maneuverings, battles, and retreats was
resumed again.

On one occasion Alfred succeeded in taking possession of Hastings's
camp, when he had left it in security, as he supposed, to go off for a
time by sea on an expedition. Alfred's soldiers found Hastings's wife
and children in the camp, and took them prisoners. They sent the
terrified captives to Alfred, to suffer, as they supposed, the long
and cruel confinement or the violent death to which the usages of
those days consigned such unhappy prisoners. Alfred baptized the
children, and then sent them, with their mother, loaded with presents
and proofs of kindness, back to Hastings again.

This generosity made no impression upon the heart of Hastings, or, at
least, it produced no effect upon his conduct. He continued the war
as energetically as ever. Months passed away and new re-enforcements
arrived, until at length he felt strong enough to undertake an
excursion into the very heart of the country. He moved on for a time
with triumphant success; but this very success was soon the means of
turning the current against him again. It aroused the whole country
through which he was passing. The inhabitants flocked to arms. They
assembled at every rallying point, and, drawing up on all sides nearer
and nearer to Hastings's army, they finally stopped his march, and
forced him to call all his forces in, and intrench himself in the
first place of retreat that he could find. Thus his very success was
the means of turning his good fortune into disaster.

And then, in the same way, the success of Alfred and the Saxons soon
brought disaster upon them too, in their turn; for, after succeeding
in shutting Hastings closely in, and cutting off his supplies of food,
they maintained their watch and ward over their imprisoned enemies
so closely as to reduce them to extreme distress--a distress and
suffering which they thought would end in their complete and absolute
submission. Instead of ending thus, however, it aroused them to
desperation. Under the influence of the phrensy which such hopeless
sufferings produce in characters like theirs, they burst out one day
from the place of their confinement, and, after a terrible conflict,
which choked up a river which they had to pass with dead bodies and
dyed its waters with blood, the great body of the starving desperadoes
made their escape, and, in a wild and furious excitement, half a
triumph and half a retreat, they went back to the eastern coast of the
island, where they found secure places of refuge to receive them.

In the course of the subsequent campaigns, a party of the Danes came
up the River Thames with a fleet of their vessels, and an account is
given by some of the ancient historians of a measure which Alfred
resorted to to entrap them, which would seem to be scarcely credible.
The account is, that he _altered the course of the river_ by digging
new channels for it, so as to leave the vessels all aground, when, of
course, they became helpless, and fell an easy prey to the attacks of
their enemies. This is, at least, a very improbable statement, for a
river like the Thames occupies always the lowest channel of the land
through which it passes to the sea. Besides, such a river, in order
that it should be possible for vessels to ascend it from the ocean,
must have the surface of its water very near the level of the surface
of the ocean. There can, therefore, be no place to which such waters
could be drawn off, unless into a valley below the level of the sea.
All such valleys, whenever they exist in the interior of a country,
necessarily get filled with water from brooks and rains, and so become
lakes or inland seas. It is probable, therefore, that it was some
other operation which Alfred performed to imprison the hostile vessels
in the river, more possible in its own nature than the drawing off of
the waters of the Thames from their ancient bed.

Year after year passed on, and, though neither the Saxons nor the
Danes gained any very permanent and decisive victories, the invaders
were gradually losing ground, being driven from one intrenchment and
one stronghold to another, until, at last, their only places of refuge
were their ships, and the harbors along the margin of the sea. Alfred
followed on and occupied the country as fast as the enemy was driven
away; and when, at last, they began to seek refuge in their ships, he
advanced to the shore, and began to form plans for building ships, and
manning and equipping a fleet, to pursue his retiring enemies upon
their own element. In this undertaking, he proceeded in the same calm,
deliberate, and effectual manner, as in all his preceding measures. He
built his vessels with great care. He made them twice as long as those
of the Danes, and planned them so as to make them more steady, more
safe, and capable of carrying a crew of rowers so numerous as to be
more active and swift than the vessels of the enemy.

When these naval preparations were made, Alfred began to look out for
an object of attack on which he could put their efficiency to the
test. He soon heard of a fleet of the Northmen's vessels on the coast
of the Isle of Wight, and he sent a fleet of his own ships to attack
them. He charged the commander of this fleet to be sparing of life,
but to capture the ships and take the men, bringing as many as
possible to him unharmed.

There were nine of the English vessels, and when they reached the Isle
of Wight they found six vessels of the Danes in a harbor there. Three
of these Danish vessels were afloat, and came out boldly to attack
Alfred's armament. The other three were upon the shore, where they had
been left by the tide, and were, of course, disabled and defenseless
until the water should rise and float them again. Under these
circumstances, it would seem that the victory for Alfred's fleet would
have been easy and sure; and at first the result was, in fact, in
Alfred's favor. Of the three ships that came out to meet him, two were
captured, and one escaped, with only five men left on board of it
alive. The Saxon ships, after thus disposing of the three living and
moving enemies, pushed boldly into the harbor to attack those which
were lying lifeless on the sands. They found, however, that, though
successful in the encounter with the active and the powerful, they
were destined to disaster and defeat in approaching the defenseless
and weak. They got aground themselves in approaching the shoals on
which the vessels of their enemies were lying. The tide receded and
left three of the vessels on the sands, and kept the rest so separated
and so embarrassed by the difficulties and dangers of their situation
as to expose the whole force to the most imminent danger. There was a
fierce contest in boats and on the shore. Both parties suffered very
severely; and, finally, the Danes, getting first released, made their
escape and put to sea.

Notwithstanding this partial discomfiture, Alfred soon succeeded in
driving the ships of the Danes off his coast, and in thus completing
the deliverance of his country. Hastings himself went to France, where
he spent the remainder of his days in some territories which he had
previously conquered, enjoying, while he continued to live, and for
many ages afterward, a very extended and very honorable fame. Such
exploits as those which he had performed conferred, in those days,
upon the hero who performed them, a very high distinction, the luster
of which seems not to have been at all tarnished in the opinions of
mankind by any ideas of the violence and wrong which the commission of
such deeds involved.

Alfred's dominions were now left once more in peace, and he himself
resumed again his former avocations. But a very short period of his
life, however, now remained. Hastings was finally expelled from
England about 897. In 900 or 901 Alfred died. The interval was spent
in the same earnest and devoted efforts to promote the welfare and
prosperity of his kingdom that his life had exhibited before the war.
He was engaged diligently and industriously in repairing injuries,
redressing grievances, and rectifying every thing that was wrong.
He exacted rigid impartiality in all the courts of justice; he held
public servants of every rank and station to a strict accountability;
and in all the colleges, and monasteries, and ecclesiastical
establishments of every kind, he corrected all abuses, and enforced a
rigid discipline, faithfully extirpating from every lurking place all
semblance of immorality or vice. He did these things, too, with so
much kindness and consideration for all concerned, and was actuated
in all he did so unquestionably by an honest and sincere desire to
fulfill his duty to his people and to God, that nobody opposed him.
The good considered him their champion, the indifferent readily caught
a portion of his spirit and wished him success, while the wicked were
silenced if they were not changed.

Alfred's children had grown up to maturity, and seemed to inherit,
in some degree, their father's character. He had a daughter, named
Æthelfleda, who was married to a prince of Mercia, and who was famed
all over England for the superiority of her mental powers, her
accomplishments, and her moral worth. The name of his oldest son was
Edward; he was to succeed Alfred on the throne, and it was a source
now of great satisfaction to the king to find this son emulating his
virtues, and preparing for an honorable and prosperous reign. Alfred
had warning, in the progress of his disease, of the approach of his
end. When he found that the time was near at hand, he called his son
Edward to his side, and gave him these his farewell counsels, which
express in few words the principles and motives by which his own life
had been so fully governed.

"Thou, my dear son, set thee now beside me, and I will deliver thee
true instructions. I feel that my hour is coming. My strength is gone;
my countenance is wasted and pale. My days are almost ended. We must
now part. I go to another world, and thou art to be left alone in the
possession of all that I have thus far held. I pray thee, my dear
child, to be a father to thy people. Be the children's father and the
widow's friend. Comfort the poor, protect and shelter the weak, and,
with all thy might, right that which is wrong. And, my son, govern
_thyself_ by _law_. Then shall the Lord love thee, and God himself
shall be thy reward. Call thou upon him to advise thee in all thy
need, and he shall help thee to compass all thy desires."

Alfred was fifty-two years of age when he died. His death was
universally lamented. The body was interred in the great cathedral at
Winchester. The kingdom passed peacefully and prosperously to his son,
and the arrangements which Alfred had spent his life in framing and
carrying into effect, soon began to work out their happy results. The
constructions which he founded stand to the present day, strengthened
and extended rather than impaired by the hand of time; and his memory,
as their founder, will be honored as long as any remembrance of the
past shall endure among the minds of men.



The romantic story of Godwin forms the sequel to the history of
Alfred, leading us onward, as it does, toward the next great era in
English history, that of William the Conqueror.

Although, as we have seen in the last chapter, the immediate effects
of Alfred's measures was to re-establish peace and order in his
kingdom, and although the institutions which he founded have continued
to expand and develop themselves down to the present day, still it
must not be supposed that the power and prosperity of his kingdom and
of the Saxon dynasty continued wholly uninterrupted after his death.
Contentions and struggles between the two great races of Saxons
and Danes continued for some centuries to agitate the island. The
particular details of these contentions have in these days, in a
great measure, lost their interest for all but professed historical
scholars. It is only the history of great leading events and the lives
of really extraordinary men, in the annals of early ages, which can
now attract the general attention even of cultivated minds. The vast
movements which have occurred and are occurring in the history of
mankind in the present century, throw every thing except what is
really striking and important in early history into the shade.

The era which comes next in the order of time to that of Alfred in the
course of English history, as worthy to arrest general attention, is,
as we have already said, that of William the Conqueror. The life of
this sovereign forms the subject of a separate volume of this series.
He lived two centuries after Alfred's day; and although, for the
reasons above given, a full chronological narration of the contentions
between the Saxon and Danish lines of kings which took place during
this interval would be of little interest or value, some general
knowledge of the state of the kingdom at this time is important, and
may best be communicated in connection with the story of Godwin.

Godwin was by birth a Saxon peasant, of Warwickshire. At the time when
he arrived at manhood, and was tending his father's flocks and herds
like other peasants' sons, the Saxons and the Danes were at war. It
seems that one of Alfred's descendants, named Ethelred, displeased his
people by his misgovernment, and was obliged to retire from England.
He went across the Channel, and married there the sister of a Norman
chief named Richard. Her name was Emma. Ethelred hoped by this
alliance to obtain Richard's assistance in enabling him to recover his
kingdom. The Danish population, however, took advantage of his absence
to put one of their own princes upon the throne. His name was Canute.
He figures in English history, accordingly, among the other English
kings, as Canute the Dane, that appellation being given him to mark
the distinction of his origin in respect to the kings who preceded and
followed him, as they were generally of the Saxon line.

It was this Canute of whom the famous story is told that, in order to
rebuke his flatterers, who, in extolling his grandeur and power, had
represented to him that even the elements were subservient to his
will, he took his stand upon the sea-shore when the tide was coming
in, with his flatterers by his side, and commanded the rising waves
not to approach his royal feet. He kept his sycophantic courtiers in
this ridiculous position until the encroaching waters drove them away,
and then dismissed them overwhelmed with confusion. The story is told
in a thousand different ways, and with a great variety of different
embellishments, according to the fancy of the several narrators; all
that there is now any positive evidence for believing, however, is,
that probably some simple incident of the kind occurred, out of which
the stories have grown.

Canute did not hold his kingdom in peace. Ethelred sent his son across
the Channel into England to negotiate with the Anglo-Saxon powers for
his own restoration to the throne. An arrangement was accordingly made
with them, and Ethelred returned, and a violent civil war immediately
ensued between Ethelred and the Anglo-Saxons on the one hand, and
Canute and the Danes on the other. At length Ethelred fell, and his
son Edmund, who was at the time of his death one of his generals,
succeeded him. Emma and his two other sons had been left in Normandy.
Edmund carried on the war against Canute with great energy. One of his
battles was fought in the county of Warwick, in the heart of England,
where the peasant Godwin lived. In this battle the Danes were
defeated, and the discomfited generals fled in all directions from the
field wherever they saw the readiest hope of concealment or safety.
One of them, named Ulf,[1] took a by-way, which led him in the
direction of Godwin's father's farm.

Night came on, and he lost his way in a wood. Men, when flying under
such circumstances from a field of battle, avoid always the public
roads, and seek concealment in unfrequented paths, where, they easily
get bewildered and lost. Ulf wandered about all night in the forest,
and when the morning came he found himself exhausted with fatigue,
anxiety, and hunger, certain to perish unless he could find some
succor, and yet dreading the danger of being recognized as a Danish
fugitive if he were to be discovered by any of the Saxon inhabitants
of the land. At length he heard the shouts of a peasant who was coming
along a solitary pathway through the wood, driving a herd to their
pasture. Ulf would gladly have avoided him if he could have gone on
without succor or help. His plan was to find his way to the Severn,
where some Danish ships were lying, in hopes of a refuge on board
of them. But he was exhausted with hunger and fatigue, and utterly
bewildered and lost; so he was compelled to go forward, and take the
risk of accosting the Saxon stranger.

He accordingly went up to him, and asked him his name. Godwin told him
his name, and the name of his father, who lived, he said, at a little
distance in the wood. While he was answering the question, he gazed
very earnestly at the stranger, and then told him that he perceived
that he was a Dane--a fugitive, he supposed, from the battle. Ulf,
thus finding that he could not be concealed, begged Godwin not to
betray him. He acknowledged that he was a Dane, and that he had made
his escape from the battle, and he wished, he said, to find his way to
the Danish ships in the Severn. He begged Godwin to conduct him there.
Godwin replied by saying that it was unreasonable and absurd for a
Dane to expect guidance and protection from a Saxon.

Ulf offered Godwin all sorts of rewards if he would leave his herd and
conduct him to a place of safety. Godwin said that the attempt, were
he to make it, would endanger his own life without saving that of
the fugitive. The country, he said, was all in arms. The peasantry,
emboldened by the late victory obtained by the Saxon army, were every
where rising; and although it was not far to the Severn, yet to
attempt to reach the river while the country was in such a state
of excitement would be a desperate undertaking. They would almost
certainly be intercepted; and, if intercepted, their exasperated
captors would show no mercy, Godwin said, either to him or to his

Among the other inducements which Ulf offered to Godwin was a valuable
gold ring, which he took from his finger, and which, he said, should
be his if he would consent to be his guide. Godwin took the ring into
his hand, examined it with much apparent curiosity, and seemed to
hesitate. At length he yielded; though he seems to have been induced
to yield, not by the value of the offered gift, but by compassion for
the urgency of the distress which the offer of it indicated, for he
put the ring back into Ulf's hand, saying that he would not take any
thing from him, but he would try to save him.

Instead, however, of undertaking the apparently hopeless enterprise of
conducting Ulf to the Severn, he took him to his father's cottage and
concealed him there. During the day they formed plans for journeying
together, not to the ships in the Severn, but to the Danish camp. They
were to set forth as soon as it was dark. When the evening came
and all was ready, and they were about to commence their dangerous
journey, the old peasant, Godwin's father, with an anxious countenance
and manner, gave Ulf this solemn charge:

"This is my _only_ son. In going forth to guide you under these
circumstances, he puts his life at stake, trusting to your honor. He
can not return to me again, as there will be no more safety for him
among his own countrymen after having once been a guide for you. When,
therefore, you reach the camp, present my son to your king, and ask
him to receive him into his service. He can not come again to me."
Ulf promised very earnestly to do all this and much more for his
protector; and then bidding the father farewell, and leaving him in
his solitude, the two adventurers sallied forth into the dark forest
and went their way.

After various adventures, they reached the camp of the Danes in
safety. Ulf faithfully fulfilled the promises that he had made. He
introduced Godwin to the king, and the king was so much pleased with
the story of his general's escape, and so impressed with the marks of
capacity and talent which the young Saxon manifested, that he gave
Godwin immediately a military command in his army. In fact, a young
man who could leave his home and his father, and abandon the cause
of his countrymen forever under such circumstances, must have had
something besides generosity toward a fugitive enemy to impel him.
Godwin was soon found to possess a large portion of that peculiar
spirit which constitutes a soldier. He was ambitious, stern,
energetic, and always successful. He rose rapidly in influence and
rank, and in the course of a few years, during which King Canute
triumphed wholly over his Saxon enemies, and established his dominion
over almost the whole realm, he was promoted to the rank of a king,
and ruled, second only to Canute himself, over the kingdom of Wessex,
one of the most important divisions of Canute's empire. Here he lived
and reigned in peace and prosperity for many years. He was married,
and he had a daughter named Edith, who was as gentle and lovely as her
father was terrible and stern. They said that Edith sprung from Godwin
like a rose from its stem of thorns.

A writer who lived in those days, and recorded the occurrences of the
times, says that, when he was a boy, his father was employed in some
way in Godwin's palace, and that in going to and from school he was
often met by Edith, who was walking, attended by her maid. On such
occasions Edith would stop him, he said, and question him about his
studies, his grammar, his logic, and his verses; and she would often
draw him into an argument on those subtle points of disputation which
attracted so much attention in those days. Then she would commend him
for his attention and progress, and order her woman to make him a
present of some money. In a word, Edith was so gentle and kind, and
took so cordial an interest in whatever concerned the welfare and
happiness of those around her, that she was universally beloved. She
became in the end, as we shall see in due time, the English queen.

In the mean time, while Godwin was governing, as vicegerent, the
province which Canute had assigned him, Canute himself extended his
own dominion far and wide, reducing first all England under his sway,
and then extending his conquests to the Continent. Edmund, the Saxon
king, was dead. His brothers Edward and Alfred, the two remaining sons
of Ethelred, were with their mother in Normandy. They, of course,
represented the Saxon line. The Saxon portion of Canute's kingdom
would of course look to them as their future leaders. Under these
circumstances, Canute conceived the idea of propitiating the Saxon
portion of the population, and combining, so far as was possible, the
claims of the two lines, by making the widow Emma his own wife. He
made the proposal to her, and she accepted it, pleased with the
idea of being once more a queen. She came to England, and they were
married. In process of time they had a son, who was named Hardicanute,
which means Canute _the strong_.

Canute now felt that his kingdom was secure; and he hoped, by making
Hardicanute his heir, to perpetuate the dominion in his own family. It
is true that he had older children, whom the Danes might look upon as
more properly his heirs; and Emma had also two older children, the
sons of Ethelred, in Normandy. These the _Saxons_ would be likely
to consider as the rightful heirs to the throne. There was danger,
therefore, that at his death parties would again be formed, and the
civil wars break out anew. Canute and Emma therefore seem to have
acted wisely, and to have done all that the nature of the case
admitted to prevent a renewal of these dreadful struggles, by
concentrating their combined influence in favor of Hardicanute, who,
though not absolutely the heir to either line, still combined, in some
degree, the claims of both of them. Canute also did all in his
power to propitiate his Anglo-Saxon subjects. He devoted himself to
promoting the welfare of the kingdom in every way. He built towns, he
constructed roads, he repaired and endowed the churches. He became a
very zealous Christian, evincing the ardor of his piety, whether real
or pretended, by all the forms and indications common in those days.
Finally, to crown all, he went on a pilgrimage to Rome. He set out
on this journey with great pomp and parade, and attended by a large
retinue, and yet still strictly like a pilgrim. He walked, and carried
a wallet on his back, and a long pilgrim's staff in his hand. This
pilgrimage, at the time when it occurred, filled the world with its

At length King Canute died, and then, unfortunately, it proved that
all his seemingly wise precautions against the recurrence of civil
wars were taken in vain. It happened that Hardicanute, whom he had
intended should succeed him, was in Denmark at the time of his
father's death. Godwin, however, proclaimed him king, and attempted to
establish his authority, and to make Emma a sort of regent, to govern
in his name until he could be brought home. The Danish chieftains, on
the other hand, elected and proclaimed one of Canute's older sons,
whose name was Harold;[2] and they succeeded in carrying a large part
of the country in his favor. Godwin then summoned Emma to join him
in the west with such forces as she could command, and both parties
prepared for war.

Then ensued one of those scenes of terror and suffering which war,
and sometimes the mere fear of war, brings often in its train. It
was expected that the first outbreak of hostilities would be in the
interior of England, near the banks of the Thames, and the inhabitants
of the whole region were seized with apprehensions and fears, which
spread rapidly, increased by the influence of sympathy, and excited
more and more every day by a thousand groundless rumors, until the
whole region was thrown into a state of uncontrollable panic and
confusion. The inhabitants abandoned their dwellings, and fled in
dismay into the eastern part of the island, to seek refuge among the
fens and marshes of Lincolnshire, and of the other counties around.
Here, as has been already stated in a previous chapter when describing
the Abbey of Croyland, were a great many monasteries, and convents,
and hermitages, and other religious establishments, filled with monks
and nuns. The wretched fugitives from the expected scene of war
crowded into this region, besieging the doors of the abbeys and
monasteries to beg for shelter, or food, or protection. Some built
huts among the willow woods which grew in the fens; others encamped at
the road-sides, or under the monastery walls, wherever they could
find the semblance of shelter. They presented, of course, a piteous
spectacle--men infirm with sickness or age, or exhausted with anxiety
and fatigue; children harassed and way-worn; and helpless mothers,
with still more helpless babes at their breasts. The monks, instead
of being moved to compassion by the sight of these unhappy sufferers,
were only alarmed on their own account at such an inundation of
misery. They feared that they should be overwhelmed themselves. Those
whose establishments were large and strong, barred their doors against
the suppliants, and the hermits, who lived alone in detached and
separate solitudes, abandoned their osier huts, and fled themselves to
seek some place more safe from such intrusions.

And yet, after all, the whole scene was only a false alarm. Men acting
in a panic are almost always running into the ills which they think
they shun. The war did not break out on the banks of the Thames at
all. Hardicanute, deterred, perhaps, by the extent of the support
which the claims of Harold were receiving, did not venture to come to
England, and Emma and Godwin, and those who would have taken their
side, having no royal head to lead them, gave up their opposition, and
acquiesced in Harold's reign. The fugitives in the marshes and fens
returned to their homes; the country became tranquil; Godwin held his
province as a sort of lieutenant general of Harold's kingdom, and
Emma herself joined his court in London, where she lived with him
ostensibly on very friendly terms.

Still, her mind was ill at ease. Harold, though the son of her
husband, was not her own son, and the ambitious spirit which led her
to marry for her second husband her first husband's rival and enemy,
that she might be a second time a queen, naturally made her desire
that one of her own offspring, either on the Danish or the Saxon side,
should inherit the kingdom; for the reader must not forget that Emma,
besides being the mother of Hardicanute by her second husband Canute,
the Danish sovereign, was also the mother of Edward and Alfred by her
first husband Ethelred, of the Anglo-Saxon line, and that these two
sons were in Normandy now. The family connection will be more apparent
to the eye by the following scheme:

  Ethelred the Saxon.   Emma.    Canute the Dane.
      Edward.                       Hardicanute.

Harold was the son of Canute by a former marriage. Emma, of
course, felt no maternal interest in him, and though compelled by
circumstances to acquiesce for a time in his possession of the
kingdom, her thoughts were continually with her own sons; and since
the attempt to bring Hardicanute to the throne had failed, she began
to turn her attention toward her Norman children.

After scheming for a time, she wrote letters to them, proposing
that they should come to England. She represented to them that the
Anglo-Saxon portion of the people were ill at ease under Harold's
dominion, and would gladly embrace any opportunity of having a Saxon
king. She had no doubt, she said, that if one of them were to appear
in England and claim the throne, the people would rise in mass to
support him, and he would easily get possession of the realm. She
invited them, therefore, to repair secretly to England, to confer with
her on the subject; charging them, however, to bring very few, if any,
Norman attendants with them, as the English people were inclined to be
very jealous of the influence of foreigners.

The brothers were very much elated at receiving these tidings; so much
so that in their zeal they were disposed to push the enterprise much
faster than their mother had intended. Instead of going, themselves,
quietly and secretly to confer with her in London, they organized an
armed expedition of Norman soldiers. The youngest, Alfred, with
an enthusiasm characteristic of his years, took the lead in these
measures. He undertook to conduct the expedition. The eldest consented
to his making the attempt. He landed at Dover, and began his march
through the southern part of the country. _Godwin_ went forth to meet
him. Whether he would join his standard or meet him as a foe, no one
could tell. Emma considered that Godwin was on her side, though even
she had not recommended an armed invasion of the country.

It is very probable that Godwin himself was uncertain, at first,
what course to pursue, and that he intended to have espoused Prince
Alfred's cause if he had found that it presented any reasonable
prospect of success. Or he may have felt bound to serve Harold
faithfully, now that he had once given in his adhesion to him. Of
course, he kept his thoughts and plans to himself, leaving the world
to see only his deeds. But if he had ever entertained any design of
espousing Alfred's cause, he abandoned it before the time arrived for
action. As he advanced into the southern part of the island, he called
together the leading Saxon chiefs to hold a council, and he made
an address to them when they were convened, which had a powerful
influence on their minds in preventing their deciding in favor of
Alfred. However much they might desire a monarch of their own line,
this, he said, was not the proper occasion for effecting their end.
Alfred was, it was true, an Anglo-Saxon by descent, but he was a
Norman by birth and education. All his friends and supporters were
Normans. He had come now into the realm of England with a retinue of
Norman followers, who would, if he were successful, monopolize the
honors and offices which he would have to bestow. He advised the
Anglo-Saxon chieftains, therefore, to remain inactive, to take no part
in the contest, but to wait for some other opportunity to re-establish
the Saxon line of kings.

The Anglo-Saxon chieftains seem to have considered this good advice.
At any rate, they made no movement to sustain young Alfred's cause.
Alfred had advanced to the town of Guilford. Here he was surrounded
by a force which Harold had sent against him. There was no hope or
possibility of resistance. In fact, his enemies seem to have arrived
at a time when he did not expect an attack, for they entered the gates
by a sudden onset, when Alfred's followers were scattered about the
town at the various houses to which they had been distributed. They
made no attempt to defend themselves, but were taken prisoners one by
one, wherever they were found. They were bound with cords, and carried
away like ordinary criminals.

Of Alfred's ten principal Norman companions, nine were beheaded. For
some reason or other the life of one was spared. Alfred himself
was charged with having violated the peace of his country, and was
condemned to lose his eyes. The torture of this operation, and the
inflammation which followed, destroyed the unhappy prince's life.
Neither Emma nor Godwin did any thing to save him. It was wise policy,
no doubt, in Emma to disavow all connection with her son's unfortunate
attempt, now that it had failed; and ambitious queens have to follow
the dictates of policy instead of obeying such impulses as maternal
love. She was, however, secretly indignant at the cruel fate which her
son had endured, and she considered Godwin as having betrayed him.

After this dreadful disappointment, Emma was not likely to make any
farther attempts to place either of her sons upon the throne; but
Harold seems to have distrusted her, for he banished her from the
realm. She had still her Saxon son in Normandy, Alfred's brother
Edward, and her Danish son in Denmark. She went to Flanders, and there
sent to Hardicanute, urging him by the most earnest importunities to
come to England and assert his claims to the crown. He was doubly
bound to do it now, she said, as the blood of his murdered brother
called for retribution, and he could have no honorable rest or peace
until he had avenged it.

There was no occasion, however, for Hardicanute to attempt force
for the recovery of his kingdom, for not many months after these
transactions Harold died, and then the country seemed generally to
acquiesce in Hardicanute's accession. The Anglo-Saxons, discouraged
perhaps by the discomfiture of their cause in the person of Alfred,
made no attempt to rise. Hardicanute came accordingly and assumed the
throne. But, though he had not courage and energy enough to encounter
his rival Harold during his lifetime, he made what amends he could by
offering base indignities to his body after he was laid in the
grave. His first public act after his accession was to have the body
disinterred, and, after cutting off the head, he threw the mangled
remains into the Thames. The Danish fishermen in the river found them,
and buried them again in a private sepulcher in London, with such
concealed marks of respect and honor as it was in their power to

Hardicanute also instituted legal proceedings to inquire into the
death of Alfred. He charged the Saxons with having betrayed him,
especially those who were rich enough to pay the fines by which, in
those days, it was very customary for criminals to atone for their
crimes. Godwin himself was brought before the tribunal, and charged
with being accessory to Alfred's death. Godwin positively asserted his
innocence, and brought witnesses to prove that he was entirely free
from all participation in the affair. He took also a much more
effectual method to secure an acquittal, by making to King Hardicanute
some most magnificent presents. One of these was a small ship,
profusely enriched and ornamented with gold. It contained eighty
soldiers, armed in the Danish style, with weapons of the most
highly-finished and costly construction. They each carried a Danish
axe on the left shoulder, and a javelin in the right hand, both richly
gilt, and they had each of them a bracelet on his arm, containing six
ounces of solid gold. Such at least is the story. The presents might
be considered in the light either of a bribe to corrupt justice, or
in that of a fine to satisfy it. In fact, the line, in those days,
between bribes to purchase acquittal and fines atoning for the offense
seems not to have been very accurately drawn.

Hardicanute, when fairly established on his throne, governed his realm
like a tyrant. He oppressed the Saxons especially without any mercy.
The effect of his cruelties, and those of the Danes who acted under
him, was, however, not to humble and subdue the Saxon spirit, but
to awaken and arouse it. Plots and conspiracies began to be formed
against him, and against the whole Danish party. Godwin himself began
to meditate some decisive measures, when, suddenly, Hardicanute died.
Godwin immediately took the field at the head of all his forces,
and organized a general movement throughout the kingdom for calling
Edward, Alfred's brother, to the throne. This insurrection was
triumphantly successful. The Danish forces that undertook to resist it
were driven to the northward. The leaders were slain or put to flight.
A remnant of them escaped to the sea-shore, where they embarked on
board such vessels as they could find, and left England forever; and
this was the final termination of the political authority of the
Danes over the realm of England--the consummation and end of Alfred's
military labors and schemes, coming surely at last, though deferred
for two centuries after his decease.

What follows belongs rather to the history of William the Conqueror
than to that of Alfred, for Godwin invited Edward, Emma's Norman son,
to come and assume the crown; and his coming, together with that of
the many Norman attendants that accompanied or followed him, led, in
the end, to the Norman invasion and conquest. Godwin might probably
have made himself king if he had chosen to do so. His authority over
the whole island was paramount and supreme. But, either from a natural
sense of justice toward the rightful heir, or from a dread of the
danger which always attends the usurping of the royal name by one who
is not of royal descent, he made no attempt to take the crown. He
convened a great assembly of all the estates of the realm, and there
it was solemnly decided that Edward should be invited to come to
England and ascend the throne. A national messenger was dispatched to
Normandy to announce the invitation.

It was stipulated in this invitation that Edward should bring very few
Normans with him. He came, accordingly, in the first instance, almost
unattended. He was received with great joy, and crowned king with
splendid ceremonies and great show, in the ancient cathedral at
Winchester. He felt under great obligations to Godwin, to whose
instrumentality he was wholly indebted for this sudden and most
brilliant change in his fortunes; and partly impelled by this feeling
of gratitude, and partly allured by Edith's extraordinary charms, he
proposed to make Edith his wife. Godwin made no objection. In fact,
his enemies say that he made a positive stipulation for this match
before allowing the measures for Edward's elevation to the throne to
proceed too far. However this may be, Godwin found himself, after
Edward's accession, raised to the highest pitch of honor and power.
From being a young herdsman's son, driving the cows to pasture in
a wood, he had become the prime minister, as it were, of the whole
realm, his four sons being great commanding generals in the army, and
his daughter the queen.

The current of life did not flow smoothly with him, after all. We can
not here describe the various difficulties in which he became involved
with the king on account of the Normans, who were continually coming
over from the Continent to join Edward's court, and whose coming
and growing influence strongly awakened the jealousy of the English
people. Some narration of these events will more properly precede the
history of William the Conqueror. We accordingly close this story of
Godwin here by giving the circumstances of his death, as related by
the historians of the time. The readers of this narrative will, of
course, exercise severally their own discretion in determining how far
they will believe the story to be true.

The story is, that one day he was seated at Edward's table, at some
sort of entertainment, when one of his attendants, who was bringing
in a goblet of wine, tripped one of his feet, but contrived to save
himself by dexterously bringing up the other in such a manner as to
cause some amusement to the guests; Godwin said, referring to the
man's feet, that _one brother saved the other_. "Yes," said the king,
"brothers have need of brothers' aid. Would to God that mine were
still alive." In saying this he directed a meaning glance toward
Godwin, which seemed to insinuate, as, in fact, the king had sometimes
done before, that Godwin had had some agency in young Alfred's
death. Godwin was displeased. He reproached the king with the
unreasonableness of his surmises, and solemnly declared that he was
wholly innocent of all participation in that crime. He imprecated the
curse of God upon his head if this declaration was not true, wishing
that the next mouthful of bread that he should eat might choke him if
he had contributed in any way, directly or indirectly, to Alfred's
unhappy end. So saying, he put the bread into his mouth, and in the
act of swallowing it he was seized with a paroxysm of coughing and
suffocation. The attendants hastened to his relief, the guests rose in
terror and confusion. Godwin was borne away by two of his sons, and
laid on his bed in convulsions. He survived the immediate injury, but
after lingering five days he died.

Edward continued to reign in prosperity long after this event, and he
employed the sons of Godwin as long as he lived in the most honorable
stations of public service. In fact, when he died, he named one of
them as his successor to the throne.

[Footnote 1: Pronounced _Oolf_]

[Footnote 2: Spelled sometimes Herald]


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "King Alfred of England - Makers of History" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.