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Title: History of the Anglo-Saxons - From the Earliest Period to the Norman Conquest; Second Edition
Author: Miller, Thomas
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.

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Transcriber's note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

      There are several "Parts" in this book. Only the last
      one is listed in the Table of Contents. The titles of
      the parts are enclosed by equal signs (example: =The
      Saxon Invasion.=).

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      The footnotes were moved to the end of this eBook.

      Other Transcriber's notes will be found after the footnotes.

[Illustration: _Conversion of Ethelbert._]


From the Earliest Period to the Norman Conquest.



Author of "Royston Gower," "Lady Jane Grey,"
"Pictures of Country Life," etc.


David Bogue, Fleet Street.




  Obscurity of early history--Our ancient monuments a mystery--
    The Welsh Triads--Language of the first inhabitants of Britain
    unknown--Wonders of the ancient world                         p. 5



  The Celtic Tribes--Britain known to the Phoenicians and Greeks--
    The ancient Cymry--Different classes of the early Britons--
    Their personal appearance--Description of their forest-towns--
    A British hunter--Interior of an ancient hut--Costume of the
    old Cymry--Ancient armour and weapons--British war-chariots
    --The fearful havoc they made in battle                      p. 12



  Interior of an old British forest--Druidical sacrifice--Their
    treasures--Their mysterious rites and ceremonies--The power
    they possessed--Their belief in a future state--Their wild
    superstitions--An arch-Druid described--Their veneration for
    the mistletoe--Description of the Druids offering up sacrifice
    --The gloomy grandeur of their ancient groves--Contrast
    between the idols of the Druids and the heathen gods of the
    Romans                                                       p. 17



  Cæsar's reasons for invading Britain--Despatches Volusenus from
    Gaul to reconnoitre the island--Is intimidated by the force he
    finds arranged along the cliffs of Dover--Lands near Sandwich
    --Courage of the Roman Standard-bearer--Combat between the
    Britons and Romans--Defeat and submission of the Britons--
    Wreck of the Roman galleys--Perilous position of the invaders
    --Roman soldiers attacked in a corn-field, rescued by the
    arrival of their general--Britons attack the Roman encampment,
    are again defeated, and pursued by the Roman cavalry--Cæsar's
    hasty departure from Britain--Return of the Romans at spring
    --Description of their armed galleys--Determination of Cæsar
    to conquer Britain--Picturesque description of the night
    march of the Roman legions into Kent--Battle beside a river
    --Difficulties the Romans encounter in their marches through
    the ancient British forests--Cæsar's hasty retreat to his
    encampment--The Roman galleys again wrecked--Cessation of
    hostilities--Cassivellaunus assumes the command of the Britons
    --His skill as a general--Obtains an advantage over the
    Romans with his war-chariots--Attacks the Roman encampment by
    night and slays the outer guard--Defeats the two cohorts that
    advance to their rescue, and slays a Roman tribune--Renewal of
    the battle on the following day--Cæsar compelled to call in
    the foragers to strengthen his army--Splendid charge of the
    Roman cavalry--Overthrow and retreat of the Britons--Cæsar
    marches through Kent and Surrey in pursuit of the British army
    --Crosses the Thames near Chertsey--Retreat of the British
    general--Cuts off the supplies of the Romans, and harasses the
    army with his war-chariots--Stratagems adopted by the Britons
    --Cassivellaunus betrayed by his countrymen--His fortress
    attacked in the forest--Contemplates the destruction of the
    Roman fleet--Attack of the Kentish men on the encampment of the
    invaders--The Romans again victorious--Cassivellaunus sues
    for peace--Final departure of Cæsar from Britain             p. 30



  State of Britain after the departure of Cæsar--Landing of
    Plautius--His skirmishes with the Britons in the marshes beside
    the Thames--Arrival of the Roman emperor Claudius--Ostorius
    conquers and disarms the Britons--Rise of Caractacus--British
    encampment in Wales--Caractacus defeated, betrayed by his
    step-mother, and carried captive to Rome--Death of the Roman
    general Ostorius--Retreat of the Druids to the Isle of Anglesey
    --Suetonius attacks the island--Consternation of the Roman
    soldiers on landing--Massacre of the Druids, and destruction of
    their groves and altars--Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, assumes
    the command of the Britons--Her sufferings--She prepares for
    battle, attacks the Roman colony of Camaladonum--Her terrible
    vengeance--Her march into London, and destruction of the
    Romans--Picturesque description of Boadicea and her daughters
    in her ancient British war-chariot--Harangues her soldiers
    --Is defeated by Suetonius, and destroys herself--Agricola
    lands in Britain--His mild measures--Instructs the islanders
    in agriculture and architecture--Leads the Roman legions
    into Caledonia, and attacks the men of the woods--Bravery of
    Galgacus, the Caledonian chief--Agricola sails round the coast
    of Scotland--Erects a Roman rampart to prevent the Caledonians
    from invading Britain                                        p. 40



  Adrian strengthens and extends the Roman fortifications--
    Description of these ancient barriers, and the combats that took
    place before them--Wall erected by the emperor Severus--He
    marches into Caledonia, reaches the Frith of Moray--Great
    mortality amongst the Roman legions--Severus dies at York--
    Picturesque description of the Roman sentinels guarding the
    ancient fortresses--Attack of the northern barbarians--Peace
    of Britain under the government of Caracalla--Arrival of the
    Saxon and Scandinavian pirates--The British Channel protected
    by the naval commander, Carausius--His assassination at York
    --Constantine the Great--Theodosius conquers the Saxons--
    Rebellion of the Roman soldiers; they elect their own general
    --Alaric, the Goth, overruns the Roman territories--British
    soldiers sent abroad to strengthen the Roman ranks--Decline
    of the Roman power in Britain--Ravages of the Picts, Scots,
    and Saxons--The Britons apply in vain for assistance from Rome
    --Miserable condition in which they are left on the departure
    of the Romans--War between the Britons and the remnant of the
    invaders--Vortigern, king of the Britons--A league with the
    Saxons                                                       p. 50



  Great change produced in Britain by the Romans--Its ancient
    features contrasted with its appearance after their departure--
    Picturesque description of Britain--First dawn of Christianity
    --Progress of the Britons in civilization--Old British
    fortifications--Change in the costume of the Britons--Decline
    in their martial deportment--Their ancient mode of burial--
    Description of early British barrows--Ascendancy of rank     p. 56



  Origin of the early Saxons--Description of their habits and arms
    --Their religion--The halls of Valhalla--Their belief in
    rewards and punishments after death--Their ancient mythology
    described--Superstitions of the early Saxons--Their ancient
    temples and forms of worship--Their picturesque processions
    --Dreadful punishments inflicted upon those who robbed their
    temples--Different orders of society--Their divisions
    of the seasons--Their bravery as pirates, and skill in
    navigation                                                   p. 64



  Landing of Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs--Their treaty
    with Vortigern and the British chiefs--The British king allots
    them the Isle of Thanet as a residence, on condition that they
    drive out the Picts and Scots--Success of the Saxons--Arrival
    of more ships--Landing of the Princess Rowena--Marriage of
    Vortigern and Rowena--Quarrel between the Britons and Saxons
    --Description of their first battle by the old Welsh bards--
    The Britons led on by the sons of Vortigern--Death of Horsa,
    the Saxon chief--Rowena's revenge--Pretended reconciliation
    of the Saxons, and description of the feast where the British
    chiefs were massacred--Terrible death of Vortigern and the fair
    Rowena                                                       p. 72



  Arrival of Ella and his three sons--Combat between the Saxons
    and Britons beside the ancient forest of Andredswold--Defeat
    of the Britons, and desolate appearance of the old forest town
    of Andred-Ceaster after the battle--Revengeful feelings of
    the Britons--Establishment of the Saxon kingdom of Sussex--
    Landing of Cerdric and his followers--Battle of Churdfrid,
    and death of the British king Natanleod--Arrival of Cerdric's
    kinsmen--The Britons again defeated--Arthur, the British
    king, arms in defence of his country--His adventures described
    --Numbers of battles in which he fought--Death of king Arthur
    in the field of Camlan--Discovery of his remains in the abbey
    of Glastonbury                                               p. 83



  Landing of Erkenwin--The establishment of the kingdom of Wessex
    --Description of London--Arrival of Ida and his twelve sons
    --The British chiefs make a bold stand against Ida--Bravery
    of Urien--Description of the battle of the pleasant valley,
    by Taliesin, the British bard--Llywarch's elegy on the death
    of Urien--Beautiful description of the battle of Cattraeth by
    Anenrin, the Welsh bard--Establishment of the kingdom of Mercia
    --Description of the divisions of England which formed the Saxon
    Octarchy--Amalgamation of the British and Saxon population--
    Retirement of the unconquered remnant of the ancient Cymry into
    Wales                                                        p. 90



  Commencement of the civil war amongst the Saxons--Struggle
    between Ethelbert, king of Kent, and Ceawlin, king of Wessex, for
    the title of Bretwalda--Description of the slave-market of Rome
    --Monk Gregory's admiration of the British captives--Gregory
    becomes pontiff, and despatches Augustin with fifty monks to
    convert the inhabitants of Britain--Picturesque description of
    the landing of the Christian missionaries in the Isle of Thanet
    --Intercession of Bertha--Ethelbert's interview with Augustin
    and his followers--The missionaries take up their residence
    in Canterbury--Conversion of Ethelbert--Augustin is made
    Archbishop, by Pope Gregory--The rich presents sent to Britain
    by the Pope--Character of the Roman pontiff--His wise policy
    in not abolishing at once all outward forms of heathen worship
    --Eadbald ascends the throne of Kent--Marries his stepmother,
    and is denounced by the priests--He renounces the Christian
    faith--The monks are driven out of Essex--Eadbald again
    acknowledges the true faith, and the persecuted priests find
    shelter in the kingdom of Kent                               p. 99



  Adventures of Edwin, king of the Deiri--His residence in Wales
    with Cadvan, one of the ancient British kings--Ethelfrith
    having deprived him of his kingdom, seeks his life--Edwin flies
    from Wales, and seeks the protection of Redwald, king of East
    Anglia--Edwin's dream--The queen of East Anglia intercedes in
    behalf of Edwin--Redwald prepares to wage war with Ethelfrith
    --Religion of the king of East Anglia--Description of the
    battle fought between Redwald and Ethelfrith on the banks of the
    river Idel--Death of Ethelfrith, and accession of Edwin to
    the throne of Northumbria--Edwin's marriage with Edilburga,
    daughter of Ethelbert--Journey of the Saxon princess from Kent
    to Northumbria--Attempted assassination of Edwin--Paulinus
    endeavours in vain to convert Edwin to the Christian faith--
    The king assembles his pagan priests and nobles to discuss the
    new religion--Speech of Coifi, the heathen priest--Beautiful
    and poetical address of a Saxon chief to the assembly--Coifi
    desecrates the temple of Woden--Peaceful state of Northumbria
    under the reign of Edwin--Death of Edwin at the battle of
    Hatfield-chase in Yorkshire--Victories of Cadwallon, the
    British king--Triumph of the Saxons under Oswald, and death of
    Cadwallon at the battle called Heaven-field                 p. 111



  Description of the kingdom of Mercia--Character of Penda, the
    pagan king--Charity of Oswald--Barbarous cruelty of Penda--
    His desolating march through Northumbria--Attacks the castle
    of Bamborough--His march into Wessex--His invasion of East
    Anglia--Sigebert, the monk-king, leads on the East Anglians
    --Is defeated by Penda, who ravages East Anglia--The pagan
    king again enters Northumbria--Oswy offers all his treasures
    to purchase peace--Is treated with contempt by Penda--Oswy
    prepares for battle--Penda's forces driven into the river--
    Death of the pagan king--Great changes effected by his death
    --Courage of Saxburga, the widowed queen of Wessex--Perilous
    state of the Saxon Octarchy                                 p. 119



  Alfred, the learned king of Northumbria--His patronage of the
    celebrated scholar Aldhelm--Ceowulf, the patron of Bede--
    Mollo, brother of the king of Wessex, burnt alive in Kent--King
    Ina and his celebrated laws--Strange device of Ina's queen to
    induce him to resign his crown, and make a pilgrimage to Rome
    --Mysterious death of Ostrida, queen of the Mercians--Her
    husband, Ethelred, abandons his crown and becomes a monk after
    her violent death--Ethelbald ascends the throne of Mercia--
    Adventures of his early life--His residence with Guthlac,
    the hermit, in the island of Croyland--First founder of the
    monastery of Croyland--Ethelbald joins Cuthred, king of Wessex,
    and obtains a victory over the Welsh--Proclaims war against
    Cuthred--Description of the battle, and defeat of Ethelbald--
    Independence of the kingdom of Wessex--Abdication of Sigebyhrt,
    king of Wessex--His death in the forest of Andredswold--Rapid
    accession and dethronement of the kings of Northumbria--Summary
    of their brief reigns                                       p. 129



  Offa ascends the throne of Mercia--Drida's introduction and
    marriage with the Mercian king--Character of queen Drida and
    her daughter Edburga--Offa's invasion of Northumbria--He
    marches into Kent--Is victorious--Defeats the king of Wessex
    --His victory over the Welsh--Description of Offa's dyke--
    Offa's friendly correspondence with Charlemagne--Adventures of
    Egbert--Murder of Cynewulf, at Merton, in Surrey--Brihtric
    obtains the crown of Wessex, and marries the daughter of Offa--
    Ethelbert, king of East Anglia, visits the Mercian court--Queen
    Drida plots his destruction--Description of a Saxon feast--
    Dreadful death of Ethelbert--Offa's daughter, Alfleda, seeks
    shelter in the monastery of Croyland--Murder of Queen Drida
    --Edburga poisons her husband, Brihtric, king of Wessex--She
    flies to France--Her reception at the court of Charlemagne--
    She dies a beggar in the streets of Pavia                   p. 139



  Character of Egbert--His watchful policy--Death of Kenwulf, and
    decline of the kingdom of Mercia--Egbert annexes the kingdom
    of Kent to Wessex--Compels Wiglaf, king of Mercia, to pay him
    tribute--He conquers the kingdom of Northumbria, and subjects
    the whole of the Saxon kingdoms to his sway--Northumbria
    invaded by the Danes--They sack the abbey of Lindisfarne, and
    slay the monks--The Danes again land in Dorsetshire--Egbert
    presides over a council in London, to devise measures to prevent
    the ravages of the Danes--The remnant of the ancient Britons
    who have been driven into Wales, form a league with the Danes,
    and are defeated--Death of Egbert                           p. 145



  Origin of the Danish invaders--Habits of the early Vikings--
    Their warlike education--Picturesque description of their wild
    life--Their hatred of the Saxons--Description of their ships
    and warlike weapons--Arrangement of their plans to plunder--
    Their vows on the golden bracelet--Power of their leader only
    acknowledged in battle--Their rude festivities              p. 150



  Ethelwulph, king of Kent--His unfitness to govern--The brave
    bishop of Sherbourne--The two characters contrasted--Boldness
    of the Danes--They occupy the Isle of Thanet--Battle of the
    field of Oaks--Character of Osberga, mother of Alfred the Great
    --Ethelwulph visits Rome in company with his son Alfred--The
    king of Kent marries Judith, daughter of Charles of France--
    His presents to the Pope--Returns to England with his youthful
    wife--Rebellion of his son Ethelbald--Death of Ethelwulph
    --Ethelbald marries his stepmother Judith--She elopes from a
    monastery with Baldwin, the grand forester--Death of Ethelbald
    --Brief reign of Ethelbert--Alfred begins to distinguish
    himself--The celebrated sea-king, Ragnar Lodbrog--His bravery
    --Builds a large ship--Is wrecked on the coast of Northumbria
    --Made prisoner by Ella, and dies in a dungeon--His celebrated
    death-song--The sons of Ragnar Lodbrog prepare to revenge
    their father's death--England invaded by their mighty fleet--
    Their march towards Northumbria--Ravage York--Horrible death
    of Ella, king of Northumbria--The Danes occupy the kingdoms
    of the Deiri and Bernicia--Nottingham taken by the Danes--
    Alfred accompanies his brother Ethelred, and the king of Mercia,
    in their attack upon the Danes--They enter into a treaty
    with the invaders--Alfred's marriage and attainments at this
    period                                                      p. 159



  Ravages of the Danes in Lincolnshire--Destruction of the
    monastery of Bardney--Gallant resistance of the Mercians--
    Battle near Croyland Abbey--Destruction of Croyland Abbey, and
    murder of the monks--Sidroc, one of the sea-kings, saves a boy
    from the massacre--The abbey of Peterborough destroyed by the
    Danes--Description of the country through which the invaders
    passed--Their march into East Anglia--The Danes enter Wessex
    --Battle of Ash-tree hill, and victory of the Saxons--Death of
    Ethelred                                                    p. 169



  Miserable state of England when Alfred ascended the throne of
    Wessex--He is disheartened by the rapid arrival of the Danes
    --Enters into a treaty with them, and they abandon Essex--The
    Danes occupy London--Burrhed, king of Mercia, retires to Rome
    --The Danes now masters of all England, excepting Wessex--
    Alfred destroys their ships--Again enters into treaty with them
    --He encounters them at sea--Treaty at Exeter--His strange
    conduct at Chippenham--Vindication of the character of Alfred
    --His conduct during retirement--Alfred the Great in the
    cowherd's hut--Discovery of his retreat--His skirmishes with
    the Danes--Odin, the earl of Devonshire, captures the magical
    banner of Hubba, the sea-king--Alfred and his followers fortify
    their island retreat--Poverty of the great Saxon king       p. 179



  Alfred in disguise visits the Danish camp near Westbury in
    Wiltshire--His interview with Godrun, the sea-king--Alfred
    musters the Saxon forces at Selwood forest--The arrival of his
    followers described--His preparation for battle--Description
    of the combat--Defeat of the Danes--Alfred besieges the
    Danish encampment--Surrender of Godrun--Policy and generosity
    of Alfred the Great--Peaceful appearance of England--Landing
    of Hastings, the famous sea-king--Alfred increases his navy--
    Character of Hastings, the sea-king, the most skilful of all the
    Danish invaders--Alfred marches his army between the Danish
    forces--His masterly generalship--Hastings offers to quit the
    kingdom--His treachery--Is again conquered by Alfred--The
    Danes of East Anglia and Northumbria rise up against Alfred--
    The wife and children of Hastings are taken prisoners by Alfred,
    and discharged with presents--After many struggles the Danes
    are at last defeated--Hastings quits England--Death of Alfred
    the Great                                                   p. 192



  His boyhood--Early love of poetry--Self-cultivation--Wisdom
    displayed in his conduct with the Danes--Difficulties under
    which he pursued his labour--His patronage of literary men
    --Method of study--Summary of his works--He reforms the
    Saxon nobles--Divides his time--Various purposes to which he
    appropriates his revenue--His invention for marking the hours
    --Cultivates an acquaintance with foreign countries--His
    severity in the administration of justice--Establishment of a
    rigid system of police--His laws--Intellectual character of
    Alfred the Great                                            p. 199



  Ethelwold lays claim to the throne of Wessex--Is backed by the
    Danes, and crowned at York--Battle of Axeholme and defeat of
    Ethelwold--Edward ravages Northumbria--The Danes attack
    Mercia--They enter the Severn--Battle of Wodensfield, and
    defeat of the Danes--Edward strengthens his frontier with
    fortresses--Their situation described--Bravery of his sister
    Ethelfleda--The Danes enter North Wales--Edward again
    victorious--Submission of the Welsh princes and the Danes of
    Northumbria--Death of Edward the Elder                      p. 202



  Athelstan, the favourite grandchild of Alfred the Great--While
    but a boy his grandfather invests him with the honours of
    knighthood--He is educated by Alfred's daughter, Ethelfleda--
    Athelstan's sister married Sigtryg, a descendant of the famous
    sea-kings--The Dane repudiates his wife, and renounces his new
    religion--Athelstan invades his dominions--Death of Sigtryg,
    and flight of his sons--Preparation for the invasion of England
    --The force arrayed against Athelstan--Measures adopted by the
    Saxon king--Preparations for battle--Picturesque description
    of the battle of Brunanburg--Anglo-Saxon song on Athelstan's
    victory--High position attained by Athelstan--Otho the Great
    marries Athelstan's sister--The Saxon monarch forms an alliance
    with the emperor of Germany and the king of Norway--Harold of
    Norway suppresses piracy--Sends his son Haco to be educated
    at the Saxon court--Presents a beautiful ship to Athelstan--
    Death of Harold, king of Norway--List of the kings who were
    established on their thrones by Athelstan--His presents to the
    monasteries--His charity and laws for the relief of the poor--
    Cruelty to his brother Edwin--Death of Athelstan            p. 212



  Accession of Edmund the Elder--Anlaf, the Dane, invades Mercia,
    and defeats the Saxons--Edmund treats with Anlaf, and divides
    England with the Danes--Perilous state of the Saxon succession
    prevented by the death of Anlaf--Change in Edmund's character
    --His brilliant victories--Cruelty to the British princes--
    Edmund assassinated while celebrating the feast of St. Augustin,
    by Leof, the robber--Mystery that surrounds the murder of
    Edmund the Elder--Edred ascends the Saxon throne--Eric, the
    sea-king--His daring deeds on the ocean--Description of
    his wild life--Edred invades Northumbria--Eric attacks his
    own subjects--Edred's victory over the Danes--Scandinavian
    war-song on the death of Eric--Death of Edred               p. 218



  Edwin's marriage with Elgiva--Odo, the Danish archbishop--
    St. Dunstan--His early life--He becomes delirious--His
    intellectual attainments--His persecution--He falls in love
    --Is dissuaded from marriage by the bishop, Ælfheag--He is
    again attacked with sickness--Recovers, and becomes a monk--
    Lives in a narrow cell--Absurdity of his rumoured interviews
    with the Evil One--His high connexions--Analysis of his
    character--Dunstan's rude attack upon King Edwin, after the
    banquet--Dunstan again driven from court--Remarks on his
    conduct--Elgiva is cruelly tortured, and savagely murdered
    by the command of Odo, the archbishop of Canterbury--Dunstan
    recalled from his banishment--Supposed murder of Edwin      p. 227



  Power of Dunstan--He is made Archbishop of Canterbury--He
    appoints his own friends counsellors to the young king--His
    encouragement of the fine arts--Enforces the Benedictine
    rules upon the monks--Speech of Edgar in favour of Dunstan's
    reformation in the monasteries--Romantic adventure of Elfrida,
    daughter of the Earl of Devonshire--Death of Athelwold--
    Personal courage of Edgar--His love of pomp, and generosity--
    His encouragement of foreign artificers--His tribute of wolves'
    heads--England infested with wolves long after the commencement
    of the Saxon period--Many of the Saxon names derived from the
    wolf--Death of Edgar--Elfric's sketch of his character--
    Changes wrought by Edgar                                    p. 233



  Dunstan still triumphant--Is opposed by the dowager-queen Elfrida
    --Her attempts to place her son, Ethelred, upon the throne,
    frustrated by Dunstan--Contest between the monks and the
    secular clergy--The Benedictine monks driven out of Mercia--
    The Synod of Winchester--Dunstan's pretended miracle doubted--
    The council of Calne--William of Malmesbury's description of
    the assembly--Dunstan's threat--Falling in of that portion
    of the floor on which Dunstan's opponents stood--Reasons
    for supposing that the floor was undermined by the command of
    Dunstan--Death of his enemies, and triumph of the archbishop
    --Edward's visit to Corfe Castle--He is stabbed in the back
    while pledging his stepmother, Elfrida, at the gate--His
    dreadful death--Character of Elfrida                        p. 238



  Elfrida still opposed by Dunstan--Ethelred crowned by the
    archbishop of Canterbury--His malediction at the coronation
    --Dislike of the Saxons to Ethelred--Dunstan's power on the
    wane--Insurrection of the Danes--The Danish pirates again
    ravage England--Courageous reply of the Saxon governor of Essex
    --Single combat between the Saxon governor, and one of the
    sea-kings--Cowardly conduct of Ethelred--He pays tribute,
    and makes peace with the Danes--Alfric the Mercian governor,
    turns traitor, and joins the Danes with his Saxon ships--The
    Saxon army again commanded by the Danes, and defeated--Olaf,
    the Norwegian, and Swein, king of Denmark, invade and take formal
    possession of England--Ethelred again exhausts his exchequer,
    to purchase peace--Swein's second invasion of England--Cruel
    massacre of the Danes by the Saxons--Murder of Gunhilda, the
    sister of Swein, king of Denmark--Swein prepares to revenge
    the death of his countrymen--Description of his soldiers
    --Splendour of his ships--His magical banner described--
    His landing in England--Alfric again betrays the Saxons--
    Destruction of Norwich--Ethelred once more purchases peace of
    the Danes---Ælfeg, archbishop of Canterbury, made prisoner by the
    sea-kings--He refuses to pay a ransom--Is summoned to appear
    before the sea-kings while they are feasting, and beaten to death
    by the bones of the oxen the pirates had feasted upon--Ethelred
    lays an oppressive tax upon the land--He raises a large fleet
    --Is again betrayed by his commanders--Sixteen counties are
    given up to the Danes--Ethelred deserted by his subjects--
    Escapes to the Isle of Wight, and from thence to Normandy--
    Swein, king of Denmark, becomes the monarch of England--Death
    of Swein--His son Canute claims the crown--Is opposed by
    Edmund Ironside--Canute's cruelty to the Saxon hostages--
    Miserable state of England at this period, as described by a
    Saxon bishop                                                p. 249



  Courageous character of Edmund Ironside--His gallant defence of
    London--His prowess at the battle of Scearston--Obstinacy of
    the combat which is only terminated by the approach of night--
    Renewal of the battle in the morning--Narrow escape of Canute,
    the Dane, from the two-handed sword of Edmund Ironside--
    Conduct of the traitor Edric--Retreat of the Danes--Battles
    fought by Edmund the Saxon--Ulfr, a Danish chief, lost in a
    wood--Meets with Godwin the cowherd, and is conducted to the
    Danish camp--Treaty between Canute the Dane and Edmund Ironside
    --The kingdom divided between the Danes and Saxons--Suspicious
    circumstances attending the death of Edmund--Despondency of the
    Saxons                                                      p. 254



  Coronation of Canute the Dane--His treaty with the Saxon nobles
    --He banishes the relations of Ethelred, and the children of
    Edmund--Fate of Edmund's children--Canute's marriage with
    Emma, the dowager-queen of the Saxons--Death of the traitor,
    Edric--Canute visits Denmark--Death of Ulfr, the patron of
    Godwin the cowherd--Canute invades Norway--Habits of the
    Norwegian pirates--Canute erects a monument to Ælfeg, the
    murdered archbishop of Canterbury--Carries off the dead body
    of the bishop from London--Night scene on the Thames--Kills
    one of his soldiers--His penance--Establishes the tax of
    Peter's-pence--Picturesque description of Canute rebuking his
    courtiers--His theatrical display, and vanity--His pilgrimage
    to Rome--Canute's letter--His death                         p. 264



  Sketch of Canute's reputed sons--The succession disputed--
    Rise of earl Godwin--Refusal of the archbishop to crown
    Harold Harefoot--Harold crowns himself, and bids defiance
    to the church--Conduct of Emma of Normandy--Her letter to
    her son Alfred--He lands in England, with a train of Norman
    followers--His reception by earl Godwin--Massacre of the
    Normans at Guildford--Death of Alfred, the son of Ethelred
    --Emma banished from England--Her residence at Bruges--
    Hardicanute prepares to invade England--Death of Harold
    Harefoot--Accession of Hardicanute--Disinters the body of
    Harold--Summons earl Godwin to answer for the death of Alfred
    --Godwin's defence--Penalty paid by earl Godwin--Character
    of Hardicanute--His Huscarls--The inhabitants of Worcester
    refuse to pay the tax, called Dane-geld--They abandon the
    city--Reckless conduct of Hardicanute--He invites Edward,
    the son of Ethelred, to England--Hardicanute, the last of the
    sea-kings, dies drunk at a marriage-feast in Lambeth        p. 272



  Edward established on the throne of England by the power of
    earl Godwin--Edward marries Editha, the earl's daughter--
    Description of the Lady Editha, by Ingulphus--Godwin's jealousy
    of the Norman favourites, who surrounded Edward--Friendless
    state of Edward the Confessor, when he arrived in England--
    Changes produced by the arrival of the Normans in the Saxon
    court--Independence of Godwin and his sons--Emma banished
    by her son Edward--Threatened invasion of Magnus, king of
    Norway--The Saxons and Danes alike jealous of the Norman
    favourites--Eustace, count of Boulogne, visits king Edward--
    His conduct at Dover--Several of the count's followers are
    slain--Earl Godwin refuses to punish the inhabitants of Dover
    for their attack on Count Eustace--The Normans endeavour to
    overthrow Earl Godwin--He refuses to attend the council at
    Gloucester--Earl Godwin and his sons have recourse to arms--
    The Danes refuse to attack the Saxons in king Edwin's quarrel--
    Banishment of the Saxon earl and his sons--Sufferings of queen
    Editha                                                      p. 282



  Description of the English court, after the banishment of Earl
    Godwin--William, the Norman, surnamed the Bastard, and the
    Conqueror, arrives in England--William's parentage--Sketch of
    his father, surnamed Robert the Devil--His pilgrimage to Rome,
    and death--Bold and daring character of William the Norman--
    His cruel conduct to the prisoners of Alençon--His delight on
    visiting England--Circumstances in his favour for obtaining
    the crown of England--Return, and triumph of Earl Godwin--
    England again on the verge of a civil war--Departure of the
    Norman favourites--Sketch of the English court after the return
    of the Saxon earl--Death of Godwin--Siward the Strong--
    Rise of Harold, the son of earl Godwin--Imbecility of Edward
    the Confessor--Harold's victory over the Welsh--Conduct of
    Tostig, the brother of Harold--Coldness of the church of Rome
    towards England--struggle of Benedict and Stigand for the
    pallium--Mediation of Lanfranc--William the Norman becomes a
    favourite with the Roman pontiff--Suspicious death of Edward,
    the son of Edmund Ironside--Edward the Confessor suspects the
    designs of William the Conqueror--Harold, the son of Godwin,
    obtains permission to visit Normandy                        p. 296



  Harold shipwrecked upon the coast of France--Is made captive,
    and carried to the fortress of Beaurain--Is released by the
    intervention of William of Normandy--Harold's interview with
    Duke William at Rouen--Affected kindness of the Norman duke--
    William cautiously unfolds his designs on the crown of England--
    His proposition to Harold--Offers Harold his daughter, Adeliza,
    in marriage--Duke William's stratagem--Harold's oath on the
    relics of the saints--Description of William the Norman's
    courtship--Character of Matilda of Flanders--Harold's return
    to England--The English people alarmed by signs and omens--
    Appearance of a comet in England--Description of the death of
    Edward the Confessor                                        p. 304



  Harold elected king of England by the Saxon witenagemot--
    Becomes a great favourite with his subjects--Restores the
    Saxon customs--Conduct of William the Norman on hearing that
    Harold had ascended the throne of England--Tostig, Harold's
    brother, forms a league with Harold Hardrada, the last of the
    sea-kings--Character of Harold Hardrada--His adventures in
    the east--He prepares to land in England--Tostig awaits
    his arrival in Northumbria--The duke of Normandy's message
    to Harold king of the Saxons--Harold's answer--He marries
    the sister of Morkar of Northumbria--Duke William makes
    preparations for the invasion of England--Arrival of Harold
    Hardrada with his Norwegian fleet--Superstitious feeling of
    the Norwegian soldiers--He joins Tostig, the son of Godwin--
    They burn Scarborough, and enter the Humber--Harold, by a rapid
    march, reaches the north--He prevents the surrender of York
    --Preparation for the battle--Harold surprises the enemy--
    Description of the combat--Harold offers peace to his brother
    --The offer rejected--Description of the battle--Deaths of
    Harold Hardrada and Tostig--Harold's victory                p. 314



  Preparations in Normandy for the invasion of England--Description
    of duke William's soldiers--He obtains the sanction of the pope
    to seize the crown of England, and receives a consecrated banner
    from Rome--Meeting of the barons and citizens of Normandy--
    Policy of William Fitz-Osbern--Measures adopted by the Norman
    duke--His promises to all who embarked in the expedition--
    Vows of the Norman knights--Protest of Conan, king of Brittany
    --Death of Conan--The Norman fleet arrives at Dive--Conduct
    of duke William while wind-bound in the roadsteads of St. Valery
    --Consternation amongst his troops--Method pursued by the
    Norman duke to appease the murmurs of his soldiers--The Norman
    fleet crosses the Channel, and arrives at Pevensey-bay--Fall
    of the astrologer--Landing of the Norman soldiers--William's
    stumbling considered an ill omen--He marches towards Hastings
    --Alarm of the inhabitants along the coast--Tidings carried to
    Harold of the landing of the Normans                        p. 325



  Harold, king of the Saxons, marches from York--Despatches a fleet
    to intercept the flight of the Normans--Disaffection amongst
    his troops--He arrives in London--His hasty departure from
    the metropolis--Cause of Harold's disasters--Description of
    the Norman and Saxon encampments--William's message to Harold
    --Occupation of the rival armies the night before the battle--
    Gurth advises Harold to quit the field--Morning of the battle
    --The Saxon and Norman leaders--William the Norman's address
    to his soldiers--Inferiority of the Saxons in numbers--Strong
    position taken up by Harold--Commencement of the combat--
    Courage of the Saxons--The Normans driven back from the English
    intrenchments--Skill of the Norman archers--Cavalry of the
    invaders driven into a deep ravine--The battle hitherto in
    favour of the Saxons--Rumour that William the Norman was slain
    --The effect of his sudden appearance amongst his retreating
    forces--Unflinching valour of the Saxons--Stratagem adopted
    by the Norman duke--Its consequence--William again attempts
    a feigned flight, and the Saxons quit their intrenchments--
    Dreadful slaughter of the English--Death of Harold, the last
    Saxon king--Capture of the Saxon banner--Victory of the
    Normans--Retreat and pursuit of the remnant of the Saxon army
    --The field of Hastings the morning after the battle--The dead
    body of Harold discovered by Edith the Swan-necked          p. 338


  Their religion--Government and laws--Literature of Anglo-Saxons
    --Architecture, Arts, &c.--Costume, Manners, Customs, and
    Everyday life                                               p. 357



Under the Anglo-Saxons.



 "This fortress, built by Nature for herself
  Against infection and the hand of war,--
  This earth of majesty--this little world--
  This precious stone set in the silver sea--
  England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
  Whose rocky shore beats back the envious surge
  Of watery Neptune."


Almost every historian has set out by regretting how little is known of
the early inhabitants of Great Britain--a fact which only the lovers of
hoar antiquity deplore, since from all we can with certainty glean from
the pages of contemporary history, we should find but little more to
interest us than if we possessed written records of the remotest origin
of the Red Indians; for both would alike but be the history of an
unlettered and uncivilized race. The same dim obscurity, with scarcely
an exception, hangs over the primeval inhabitants of every other
country; and if we lift up the mysterious curtain which has so long
fallen over and concealed the past, we only obtain glimpses of obscure
hieroglyphics; and from the unmeaning fables of monsters and giants, to
which the rudest nations trace their origin, we but glance backward and
backward, to find that civilized Rome and classic Greece can produce no
better authorities than old undated traditions, teeming with fabulous
accounts of heathen gods and goddesses. What we can see of the remote
past through the half-darkened twilight of time, is as of a great and
unknown sea, on which some solitary ship is afloat, whose course we
cannot trace through the shadows which everywhere deepen around her,
nor tell what strange land lies beyond the dim horizon to which she
seems bound. The dark night of mystery has for ever settled down upon
the early history of our island, and the first dawning which throws the
shadow of man upon the scene, reveals a rude hunter, clad in the skins
of beasts of the chase, whose path is disputed by the maned and shaggy
bison, whose rude hut in the forest fastnesses is pitched beside the
lair of the hungry wolf, and whose first conquest is the extirpation
of these formidable animals. And so, in as few words, might the early
history of many another country be written. The shores of Time are
thickly strown with the remains of extinct animals, which, when living,
the eye of man never looked upon, as if from the deep sea of Eternity
had heaved up one wave, which washed over and blotted out for ever all
that was coëval with her silent and ancient reign, leaving a monument
upon the confines of this old and obliterated world, for man in a
far and future day to read, on which stands ever engraven the solemn
sentence, "_Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further!_"--beyond this
boundary all is Mine! Neither does this mystery end here, for around
the monuments which were reared by the earliest inhabitants of Great
Britain, there still reigns a deep darkness; we know not what hand
piled together the rude remains of Stonehenge; we have but few records
of the manners, the customs, or the religion of the early Britons; here
and there a colossal barrow heaves up above the dead; we look within,
and find a few bones, a few rude weapons, either used in the war or
the chase, and these are all; and we linger in wonderment around such
remains. Who those ancient voyagers were that first called England the
Country of Sea Cliffs we know not; and while we sit and brood over the
rude fragments of the Welsh Triads, we become so entangled in doubt
and mystery as to look upon the son of Aedd the Great, and the Island
of Honey to which he sailed, and wherein he found no man alive, as the
pleasing dream of some old and forgotten poet; and we set out again,
with no more success, to discover who were the earliest inhabitants of
England, leaving the ancient Cymri and the country of Summer behind,
and the tall, silent cliffs, to stand as they had done for ages,
looking over a wide and mastless sea. We then look among the ancient
names of the headlands, and harbours, and mountains, and hills, and
valleys, and endeavour to trace a resemblance to the language spoken by
some neighbouring nation, and we only glean up a few scattered words,
which leave us still in doubt, like a confusion of echoes, one breaking
in upon the other, a minglement of Celtic, Pictish, Gaulish, and Saxon
sounds, where if for a moment but one is audible and distinct, it is
drowned by other successive clamours which come panting up with a still
louder claim, and in very despair we are compelled to step back again
into the old primeval silence. There we find Geology looking daringly
into the formation of the early world, and boldly proclaiming, that
there was a period of time when our island heaved up bare and desolate
amid the silence of the surrounding ocean,--when on its ancient
promontories and grey granite peaks not a green branch waved, nor a
blade of grass grew, and no living thing, saving the tiny corals, as
they piled dome upon dome above the naked foundations of this early
world, stirred in the "deep profound" which reigned over those sleeping
seas. Onward they go, boldly discoursing of undated centuries that have
passed away, during which they tell us the ocean swarmed with huge,
monstrous forms; and that all those countless ages have left to record
their flight are but the remains of a few extinct reptiles and fishes,
whose living likenesses never again appeared in the world. To another
measureless period are we fearlessly carried--so long as to be only
numbered in the account of Time which Eternity keeps--and other forms,
we are told, moved over the floors of dried-up oceans--vast animals
which no human eye ever looked upon alive; these, they say, also were
swept away, and their ponderous remains had long mingled with and
enriched the earth; but man had not as yet appeared; nor in any corner
of the whole wide world do they discover in the deep-buried layers
of the earth a single vestige of the remains of the human race. What
historian, then, while such proofs as these are before his eyes, will
not hesitate ere he ventures to assert who were the first inhabitants
of any country, whence they came, or at what period that country was
first peopled? As well might he attempt a description of the scenery
over which the mornings of the early world first broke,--of summit and
peak which, they say, ages ago, have been hurled down, and ground and
powdered into atoms. What matters it about the date when such things
once were, or at what time or place they first appeared? We can gaze
upon the gigantic remains of the mastodon or mammoth, or on the grey,
silent ruins of Stonehenge, but at what period of time the one roamed
over our island, or in what year the other was first reared, will for
ever remain a mystery. The earth beneath our feet is lettered over with
proofs that there was an age in which these extinct monsters existed,
and that period is unmarked by any proof of the existence of man in
our island. And during those not improbable periods when oceans were
emptied and dried up, amid the heaving up and burying of rocks and
mountains,--when volcanoes reddened the dark midnights of the world,
when "the earth was without form, and void,"--what mind can picture
aught but His Spirit "moving upon the face of the waters,"--what mortal
eye could have looked upon the rocking and reeling of those chaotic
ruins when their rude forms first heaved up into the light? Is not
such a world stamped with the imprint of the Omnipotent,--from when He
first paved its foundation with enduring granite, and roofed it over
with the soft blue of heaven, and lighted it by day with the glorious
sun, and hung out the moon and stars to gladden the night; until at
last He fashioned a world beautiful enough for the abode of His "own
image" to dwell in, before He created man? And what matters it whether
or not we believe in all these mighty epochs? Surely it is enough for
us to discover throughout every change of time the loving-kindness of
God for mankind; we see how fitting this globe was at last for his
dwelling-place; that before the Great Architect had put this last
finish to His mighty work, instead of leaving us to starve amid the
Silurian sterility, He prepared the world for man, and in place of the
naked granite, spread out a rich carpet of verdure for him to tread
upon, then flung upon it a profusion of the sweetest flowers. Let us
not, then, daringly stand by, and say thus it was fashioned, and so it
was formed, but by our silence acknowledge that it never yet entered
into the heart of man to conceive how the Almighty Creator laid the
foundation of the world.

To His great works must we ever come with reverential knee, and before
them lowly bow; for the grey rocks, and the high mountain summits, and
the wide-spreading plains, and the ever-sounding seas, are stamped with
the image of Eternity,--a mighty shadow ever hangs over them. The grey
and weather-beaten headlands still look over the sea, and the solemn
mountains still slumber under their old midnight shadows; but what
human ear first heard the murmur of the waves upon the beaten beach, or
what human foot first climbed up those high-piled summits, we can never

What would it benefit us could we discover the date when our island
was buried beneath the ocean; when what was dry land in one age became
the sea in another; when volcanoes glowed angrily under the dark skies
of the early world, and huge extinct monsters bellowed, and roamed,
and swam, through the old forests and the ancient rivers which have
perhaps ages ago been swept away? What could we find more to interest
us were we in possession of the names, the ages, and the numbers, of
the first adventurers who were perchance driven by some storm upon our
sea-beaten coast, than what is said in the ancient Triad before alluded
to? "there were no more men alive, nor anything but bears, wolves,
beavers, and the oxen with the high prominence," when Aedd landed upon
the shores of England. What few traces we have of the religious rites
of the early inhabitants of Great Britain vary but little from such
as have been brought to light by modern travellers who have landed in
newly-discovered countries in our own age. They worshipped idols, and
had no knowledge of the true God, and saving in those lands where the
early patriarchs dwelt, the same Egyptian darkness settled over the
whole world. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered all nations,
excepting themselves, barbarians; nor do the Chinese of the present
day look upon us in a more favourable light; while we, acknowledging
their antiquity as a nation, scarcely number them amongst such as
are civilized. We have yet to learn by what hands the round towers
of Ireland were reared, and by what race the few ancient British
monuments that still remain were piled together, ere we can enter those
mysterious gates which open upon the History of the Past. We find the
footprint of man there, but who he was, or whence he came, we know
not; he lived and died, and whether or not posterity would ever think
of the rude monuments he left behind concerned him not; whether the
stones would mark the temple in which he worshipped, or tumble down and
cover his grave, concerned not his creed; with his hatchet of stone,
and spear-head of flint, he hewed his way from the cradle to the tomb,
and under the steep barrow he knew that he should sleep his last sleep,
and, with his arms folded upon his breast, he left "the dead past to
bury its dead." He lived not for us.



 "Where the maned bison and the wolf did roam,
  The ancient Briton reared his wattled home,
  Paddled his coracle across the mere,
  In the dim forest chased the antlered deer;
  Pastured his herds within the open glade,
  Played with his 'young barbarians' in the shade;
  And when the new moon o'er the high hills broke,
  Worshipped his heathen gods beneath the sacred oak."


Although the origin of the early inhabitants of Great Britain is still
open to many doubts, we have good evidence that at a very remote period
the descendants of the ancient Cimmerii, or Cymry, dwelt within our
island, and that from the same great family sprang the Celtic tribe;
a portion of which at that early period inhabited the opposite coast
of France. At what time the Cymry and Celts first peopled England we
have not any written record, though there is no lack of proof that
they were known to the early Phoenician voyagers many centuries before
the Roman invasion, and that the ancient Greeks were acquainted with
the British Islands by the name of the Cassiterides, or the Islands of
Tin. Thus both the Greeks and Romans indirectly traded with the very
race, whose ancestors had shaken the imperial city with their arms, and
rolled the tide of battle to those classic shores where "bald, blind
Homer" sung. They were the undoubted offspring of the dark Cimmerii of
antiquity, those dreaded indwellers of caves and forests, those brave
barbarians whose formidable helmets were surmounted by the figures
of gaping and hideous monsters; who wore high nodding crests to make
them look taller and more terrible in battle, considering death on the
hard-fought field as the crowning triumph of all earthly glory. From
this race sprang those ancient British tribes who presented so bold a
front to Julius Cæsar, when his Roman galleys first ploughed the waves
that washed their storm-beaten shores. Beyond this contemporary history
carries us not; and the Welch traditions go no further back than to
state that when the son of Aedd first sailed over the hazy ocean, the
island was uninhabited, which we may suppose to mean that portion on
which he and his followers landed, and where they saw no man alive,
for we cannot think that it would long remain unpeopled, visible as it
is on a clear day from the opposite coast of Gaul, and beyond which
great nations had then for centuries flourished. What few records we
possess of the ancient Britons, reveal a wild and hardy race; yet not
so much dissimilar to the social position of England in the present
day, as may at a first glance appear. They had their chiefs and rulers
who wore armour, and ornaments of gold and silver; and these held in
subjection the poorer races who lived upon the produce of the chase,
the wild fruits and roots which the forest and the field produced, and
wore skins, and dwelt in caverns, which they hewed out of the old grey
rocks. They were priest-ridden by the ancient druids, who cursed and
excommunicated without the aid of either bell, book, or candle; burned
and slaughtered all unbelievers just as well as Mahomet himself, or the
bigoted fanatics, who in a later day did the same deeds under the mask
of the Romish religion. For centuries after, mankind had not undergone
so great a change as they at the first appear to have done; there was
the same love of power, the same shedding of blood, and those who had
not courage to take the field openly, and seize upon what they could
boldly, burnt, and slew, and sacrificed their fellow-men under the plea
that such offerings were acceptable to the gods.

By the aid of the few hints which are scattered over the works of the
Greek and Roman writers, the existence of a few remaining monuments,
and the discoveries which have many a time been made through numberless
excavations, we can just make out, in the hazy evening of the past,
enough of the dim forms of the ancient Britons to see their mode of
life, their habits in peace and war, as they move about in the twilight
shadows which have settled down over two thousand years. That they were
a tall, large-limbed, and muscular race, we have the authority of the
Roman writers to prove; who, however, add but little in praise of the
symmetry of their figures, though they were near half a foot higher
than their distant kindred the Gauls. They wore their hair long and
thrown back from the forehead, which must have given them a wild look
in the excitement of battle, when their long curling locks would heave
and fall with every blow they struck; the upper lip was unshaven, and
the long tufts drooped over the mouth, thus adding greatly to their
grim and warlike appearance. Added to this, they cast aside their upper
garments when they fought, as the brave Highlanders were wont to do a
century or two ago, and on their naked bodies were punctured all kinds
of monsters, such as no human eye had ever beheld. Claudian mentions
the "fading figures on the dying Pict;" the dim deathly blue that they
would fade into, as the life-blood of the rude warrior ebbed out, upon
the field of battle.

How different must have been the landscape which the fading rays of
the evening sunset gilded in that rude and primitive age. Instead
of the tall towers and walled cities, whose glittering windows now
flash back the golden light, the sinking rays gilded a barrier of
felled trees in the centre of the forest which surrounded the wattled
and thatched huts of those ancient herdsmen, throwing its crimson
rays upon the clear space behind, in which his herds and flocks were
pastured for the night; while all around heaved up the grand and gloomy
old forest, with its shadowy thickets, and dark dingles, and woody
vallies untrodden by the foot of man. There was then the dreaded wolf
to guard against, the unexpected rush of the wild boar, the growl of
the grizzly bear, and the bellowing of the maned bison to startle him
from his slumber. Nor less to be feared the midnight marauder from
some neighbouring tribe, whom neither the dreaded fires of the heathen
druids, nor the awful sentence which held accursed all who communicated
with him after the doom was uttered, could keep from plunder, whenever
an opportunity presented itself. The subterraneous chambers in which
their corn was stored might be emptied before morning; the wicker
basket which contained their salt (brought far over the distant sea by
the Phoenicians or some adventurous voyager) might be carried away;
and no trace of the robber could be found through the pathless forest,
and the reedy morass by which he would escape, while he startled the
badger with his tread, and drove the beaver into his ancient home; for
beside the druids there were those who sowed no grain, who drank up
the beverage their neighbours brewed from their own barley, and ate up
the curds which they had made from the milk of their own herds. These
were such as dug up the "pig-nuts," still eaten by the children in the
northern counties at the present day; who struck down the deer, the
boar, and the bison in the wild unenclosed forest--kindled a fire with
the dried leaves and dead branches, then threw themselves down at the
foot of the nearest oak, when their rude repast was over, and with
their war-hatchet, or hunting-spear, firmly grasped, even in sleep,
awaited the first beam of morning, unless awoke before by the howl of
the wolf, or the thundering of the boar through the thicket. They left
the fish in their vast rivers untouched, as if they preferred only that
food which could be won by danger; from the timid hare they turned
away, to give chase to the antlered monarch of the forest; they let
the wild goose float upon the lonely mere, and the plumed duck swim
about the broad lake undisturbed. There was a wild independence in
their forest life--they had but few wants, and where nature no longer
supplied these from her own uncultivated stores, they looked abroad and
harassed the more civilized and industrious tribes.

Although there is but little doubt that the British chiefs, and those
who dwelt on the sea-coast, and opened a trade with the Gaulish
merchants, lived in a state of comparative luxury, when contrasted
with the wilder tribes who inhabited the interior of the island, still
there is something simple and primitive in all that we can collect of
their domestic habits. Their seats consisted of three-legged stools,
no doubt sawn crossways from the stem of the tree, and three holes
made to hold the legs, like the seats which are called "crickets,"
that may be seen in the huts of the English peasantry in the present
day. Their beds consisted of dried grass, leaves, or rushes spread
upon the floor--their covering, the dark blue cloak or sagum which
they wore out of doors; or the dried skins of the cattle they slew,
either from their own herds or in the chase. They ate and drank from
off wooden trenchers, and out of bowls rudely hollowed: they were not
without a rough kind of red earthenware, badly baked, and roughly
formed. They kept their provisions in baskets of wicker-work, and
made their boats of the same material, over which they stretched
skins to keep out the water. They kindled fires on the floors of
their thatched huts, and appear to have been acquainted with the use
of coal as fuel, though there is little doubt that they only dug
up such as lay near the surface of the earth; but it was from the
great forests which half covered their island that they principally
procured their fuel. They had also boats, not unlike the canoes still
in use amongst the Indians, which were formed out of the hollow
trunk of a tree; and some of which have been found upwards of thirty
feet in length; and in these, no doubt, they ventured over to the
opposite coast of France, and even Ireland, when the weather was calm.
Diodorus says, that amongst the Celtic tribes there was a simplicity
of manners very different to that craft and wickedness which mankind
then exhibited--that they were satisfied with frugal sustenance, and
avoided the luxuries of wealth. The boundaries of their pastures
consisted of such primitive marks as upright stones, reminding us of
the patriarchal age and the scriptural anathema of "cursed is he who
removeth his neighbour's land-mark." Their costume was similar to that
worn by their kindred the Gauls, consisting of loose lower garments, a
kind of waistcoat with wide sleeves, and over this a cloak, or sagum,
made of cloth or skin; and when of the former, dyed blue or black, for
they were acquainted with the art of dyeing; and some of them wore a
cloth, chequered with various colours. The chiefs wore rings of gold,
silver, or bronze, on their forefingers; they had also ornaments, such
as bracelets and armlets of the same metal, and a decoration called the
torque, which was either a collar or a belt formed of gold, silver,
or bronze, and which fastened behind by a strong hook. Several of
these ornaments have been discovered, and amongst them, one of gold,
which weighed twenty-five ounces. It seems to have been something like
the mailed gorget of a later day, worn above the cuirass or coat of
mail, to protect the neck and throat in battle; their shoes appear
to have been only a sole of wood or leather, fastened to the foot by
thongs cut from off the raw hides of oxen they had slaughtered. The
war weapons of the wilder tribes in the earlier times, were hatchets
of stone, and arrows headed with flint, and long spears pointed with
sharpened bone; but long before the Roman invasion, the more civilized
were in possession of battle-axes, swords, spears, javelins, and other
formidable instruments of war, made of a mixture of copper and tin.
Many of these instruments have been discovered in the ancient barrows
where they buried their dead; and were, no doubt, at first procured
from the merchants with whom they traded--ignorant, perhaps, for a
long period, that they were produced from the very material they were
giving for them in exchange. In battle they also bore a circular
shield, coated with the same metal; this they held in the hand by the
centre bar that went across the hollow inner space from which the boss

But the war-chariots which they brought into battle were of all
things the most dreaded by the Romans. From the axles projected those
sharp-hooked formidable scythes, which appalled even the bravest
legions, and made such gaps in their well-trained ranks, as struck
their boldest generals aghast. These were drawn by such horses as, by
their fire and speed, won the admiration of the invaders; for fleet on
foot as deer, and with their dark manes streaming out like banners,
they rushed headlong, with thundering tramp, into the armed ranks of
the enemy; the sharp scythes cutting down every obstacle they came in
contact with. With fixed eyes the fearless warrior hurled his pointed
javelins in every direction as he rushed thundering on--sometimes
making a thrust with his spear or sword, as he swept by with
lightning-speed, or dragged with him for a few yards the affrighted
foeman he had grasped while passing, and whose limbs those formidable
weapons mangled at every turn until the dreaded Briton released his
hold. Now stepping upon the pole, he aimed a blow at the opponent who
attempted to check his speed--then he stopped his quick-footed coursers
in a moment, as if a bolt from heaven had alighted, and struck them
dead, while some warrior who was watching their onward course fell
dead beneath so unexpected a blow; and ere the sword of his companion
was uplifted to revenge his death, the Briton and his chariot were far
away, hewing a new path through the centre of veteran ranks, which the
stormy tide of battle had never before broken. The form of the tall
warrior, leaning over his chariot with glaring eye and clenched teeth,
would, by his valour and martial deportment, have done honour to the
plains of Troy, and won an immortal line from Homer himself, had he
but witnessed those deeds achieved by the British heroes in a later
day. What fear of death had they before their eyes who believed that
their souls passed at once into the body of some brave warrior, or that
they but quitted the battle-field to be admitted into the abodes of
the gods? They sprang from a race whose mothers and wives had many a
time hemmed in the back of battle, and with their own hands struck down
the first of their tribe who fled,--sparing neither father, husband,
brother, nor son, if he once turned his back upon the enemy: a race
whose huge war-drums had, centuries before, sounded in Greek and Roman
combats. And from this hardy stock, which drooped awhile beneath the
pruning arms of civilized Rome, was the Gothic grandeur of the Saxon
stem grafted, and when its antique roots had been manured by the bones
of thousands of misbelieving Danes, and its exuberant shoots lopped by
the swords of the Norman chivalry, there sprang up that mighty tree,
the shadows of whose branches stretch far away over the pathless ocean,
reaching to the uttermost ends of the earth.



        "----You Druids now maintain
  Your barbarous rites, and sacrifice again;
  You what heaven is, and gods alone can tell,
  Or else alone are ignorant: you dwell
  In vast and desert woods; you teach no spirit,
  Pluto's pale kingdom can by death inherit:
  They in another world inform again,
  The space betwixt two lives is all the death."

        LUCAN'S PHARSALIA, _T. May's Translation_, 1635.

To Julius Cæsar we are indebted for the clearest description of the
religious rites and ceremonies of the Druids; and as he beheld them
administered by these Priests to the ancient Britons, so they had no
doubt existed for several centuries before the Roman invasion, and
are therefore matters of history, prior to that period. There was a
wild poetry about their heathenish creed, something gloomy, and grand,
and supernatural in the dim, dreamy old forests where their altars
were raised: in the deep shadows which hung over their rude grey
cromlechs, on which the sacred fire burned. We catch glimpses between
the gnarled and twisted stems of those magnificent and aged oaks of
the solemn-looking druid, in his white robe of office, his flowing
beard blown for a moment aside, and breaking the dark green of the
underwood with the lower portion of his sweeping drapery, while he
stands like a grave enchanter, his deep sunk and terrible eyes fixed
upon the blue smoke as it curls upward amid the foliage--fixed, yet
only to appearance; for let but a light and wandering expression
pass over one single countenance in that assembled group, and those
deep grey piercing eyes would be seen glaring in anger upon the
culprit, and whether it were youth or maiden they would be banished
from the sacrifice, and all held accursed who dared to commune with
them--a curse more terrible than that which knelled the doom of
the excommunicated in a later day. There were none bold enough to
extinguish the baleful fire which was kindled around the wicker idol,
when its angry flames went crackling above the heads of the human
victims who were offered up to appease their brutal gods. In the centre
of their darksome forests were their rich treasures piled together,
the plunder of war; the wealth wrested from some neighbouring tribe;
rich ornaments brought by unknown voyagers from distant countries in
exchange for the tin which the island produced; or trophies won by
the British warriors who had fought in the ranks of the Gauls on the
opposite shore--all piled without order together, and guarded only
by the superstitious dread which they threw around everything they
possessed; for there ever hung the fear of a dreadful death over the
head of the plunderer who dared to touch the treasures which were
allotted to the awful druids. They kept no written record of their
innermost mysteries, but amid the drowsy rustling of the leaves and
the melancholy murmuring of the waters which ever flowed around their
wooded abodes, they taught the secrets of their cruel creed to those
who for long years had aided in the administration of their horrible
ceremonies, who without a blanched cheek or a quailing heart had grown
grey beneath the blaze of human sacrifices, and fired the wicker pile
with an unshaken hand--these alone were the truly initiated. They left
the younger disciples to mumble over matters of less import--written
doctrines which taught how the soul passed into other bodies in
never-ending succession; but they permitted them not to meddle in
matters of life and death; and many came from afar to study a religion
which armed the druids with more than sovereign power. All law was
administered by the same dreaded priests; no one dared to appeal from
their awful decree; he who was once sentenced had but to bow his head
and obey--rebellion was death, and a curse was thundered against all
who ventured to approach him; from that moment he became an outcast
amongst mankind. To impress the living with a dread of their power
even after death, they hesitated not in their doctrines to proclaim,
that they held control over departed and rebellious souls; and in the
midnight winds that went wailing through the shadowy forests, they
bade their believers listen to the cry of the disembodied spirits who
were moaning for forgiveness, and were driven by every blast that blew
against the opening arms of the giant oaks; for they gave substance
to shadows, and pointed out forms in the dark-moving clouds to add
to the terrors of their creed. They worshipped the sun and moon, and
ever kept the sacred fire burning upon some awful altar which had been
reddened by the blood of sacrifice. They headed the solemn processions
to springs and fountains, and muttered their incantations over the
moving water, for, next to fire, it was the element they held in the
highest veneration. But their grand temples--like Stonehenge--stood
in the centre of light, in the midst of broad, open, and spacious
plains, and there the great Beltian fire was kindled; there the distant
tribes congregated together, and unknown gods were evoked, whose very
names have perished, and whose existence could only be found in the
wooded hill, the giant tree, or the murmuring spring or fountain, over
which they were supposed to preside. There sat the arch-druid, in his
white surplice, the shadow of the mighty pillars of rough-hewn stone
chequering the stony rim of that vast circle--from his neck suspended
the wonderful egg which his credulous believers said fell from twined
serpents, that vanished hissing high in the air, after having in vain
pursued the mounted horseman who caught it, then galloped off at full
speed--that egg, cased in gold, which could by its magical virtues
swim against the stream. He held the mysterious symbol of office, in
his hands more potent than the sceptre swayed by the most powerful of
monarchs that ever sat upon our island throne, as he sat with his brow
furrowed by long thought, and ploughed deep by many a meditated plot,
while his soul spurned the ignorant herd who were assembled around
him, and he bit his haughty lip at the thought that he could devise no
further humiliation than to make them kneel and lick the sand on which
he stood.

They held the mistletoe which grew on the oak sacred, and on the sixth
day of the moon came in solemn procession to the tree on which it grew,
and offered up sacrifice, and prepared a feast beneath its hallowed
branches, adorning themselves with its leaves, as if they could never
sufficiently reverence the tree on which the mistletoe grew, although
they named themselves druids after the oak. White bulls were dragged
into the ceremony; their stiff necks bowed, and their broad foreheads
bound to the stem of the tree, while their loud bellowings came in like
a wild chorus to the rude anthem which was chaunted on the occasion:
these were slaughtered, and the morning sacrifice went streaming up
among the green branches. The chief druid ascended the oak, treading
haughtily upon the bended backs and broad shoulders of the blinded
slaves, who struggled to become stepping-stones beneath his feet, and
eagerly bowed their necks that he might trample upon them, while he
gathered his white garment in his hand, and drew it aside, lest it
should become sullied by touching their homely apparel. Below him stood
his brother idolators, their spotless garments outspread ready to catch
the falling sprigs of the mistletoe as they dropped beneath the stroke
of the golden pruning-knife. Doubtless the solemn mockery ended by the
assembled multitude carrying home with them a leaf or a berry each,
of the all-healing plant, as it was called, while the druids lingered
behind to consume the fatted sacrifice, and forge new fetters to bind
down their ignorant followers to their heathenish creed. Still it is
on record that they taught their disciples many things concerning
the stars and their motion; that they pretended to some knowledge
of distant countries, and the nature of the gods they worshipped.
Gildas, one of the earliest of our British historians, seeming to
write from what he saw, tells us that their idols almost surpassed in
number those of Egypt, and that monuments were then to be seen (in his
day) of "hideous images, whose frigid, ever-lowering, and depraved
countenances still frown upon us both within and outside the walls of
deserted cities. We shall not," he says, "recite the names that once
were heard on our mountains, that were repeated at our fountains,
that were echoed on our hills, and were pronounced over our rivers,
because the honours due to the Divinity alone were paid to them by a
blinded people." That their religion was but a system of long-practised
imposture admits not of a doubt; and as we have proof that they
possessed considerable knowledge for that period, it is evident that
they had recourse to these devices to delude and keep in subjection
their fellow-men, thereby obtaining a power which enabled them to live
in comparative idleness and luxury. Such were the ancient Egyptian
priests; and such, with but few exceptions, were all who, for many
centuries, held mighty nations in thrall by the mystic powers with
which they cunningly clothed idolatry. True, there might be amongst
their number a few blinded fanatics, who were victims to the very
deceit which they practised upon others, whose faculties fell prostrate
before the imaginary idols of their own creation, and who bowed down
and worshipped the workmanship of their own hands.

All the facts we are in possession of show that they contributed
nothing to the support of the community; they took no share in war,
though they claimed their portion of the plunder obtained from it;
they were amenable to no tribunal but their own, but only sat apart
in their gloomy groves, weaving their dangerous webs in darker folds
over the eyes of their blinded worshippers. We see dimly through the
shadows of those ancient forests where the druids dwelt; but amongst
the forms that move there we catch glimpses of women sharing in their
heathen rites; it may be of young and beautiful forms, who had the
choice offered them, whether they would become sacrifices in the fires
which so often blazed before their grim idols, or share in the solemn
mockeries which those darksome groves enshrouded--those secrets which
but to whisper abroad would have been death.

The day of reckoning at last came--as it is ever sure to come--and
heavy was the vengeance which alighted upon those bearded druids;
instead of such living and moving evils, the mute marble of the less
offensive gods which the Romans worshipped usurped the places where
their blood-stained sacrifices were held. Jupiter frowned coldly down
in stone, but he injured not. Mars held his pointed spear aloft,
but the dreaded blow never descended. They saw the form of man
worshipped, and though far off, it was still a nearer approach to the
true Divinity than the wicker idol surrounded with flames, and filled
with the writhing and shrieking victims who expired in the midst of
indescribable agonies. Hope sat there mute and sorrowful, with her head
bowed, and her finger upon her lip, listening for the sound of those
wings which she knew would bring Love and Mercy to her aid. She turned
not her head to gaze upon those heathenish priests as they were dragged
forward to deepen the inhuman stain which sunk deep into the dyed
granite of the altar, for she knew that the atmosphere their breath had
so long poisoned must be purified before the Divinity could approach;
for that bright star which was to illume the world had not yet arisen
in the east. The civilized heathen was already preparing the way in
the wilderness, and sweeping down the ruder barbarism before him. There
were Roman galleys before, and the sound of the gospel-trumpet behind;
and those old oaks jarred again to their very roots, and the huge
circus of Stonehenge shook to its broad centre; for the white cliffs
that looked out over the sea were soon to echo back a strange language,
for Roman cohorts, guided by Julius Cæsar, were riding upon the waves.



 "The cliffs themselves are bulwarks strong: the shelves
  And flats refuse great ships: the coast so open
  That every stormy blast may rend their cables,
  Put them from anchor: suffering double war--
  Their men pitched battle--their ships stormy fight;
  For charges 'tis no season to dispute,
  Spend something, or lose all."

        THE TRUE TROJANS, 1633.

Few generals could put in a better plea for invading a country than
that advanced by Julius Cæsar, for long before he landed in this
island, he had had to contend with a covert enemy in the Britons, who
frequently threw bodies of armed men upon the opposite coasts, and by
thus strengthening the enemy's ranks, protracted the war he had so long
waged with the Gauls. To chastise the hardy islanders, overawe and
take possession of their country, were but common events to the Roman
generals, and Cæsar no doubt calculated that to conquer he had but
to show his well-disciplined troops. He was also well aware that the
language and religion of the Britons and Gauls were almost the same,
and that the island on which his eye was fixed was the great centre
and stronghold of the druids; and, not ignorant of the power of these
heathen priests, whose mysterious rites banded nation with nation, he
doubtless thought, that if he could but once overthrow their altars, he
could the more easily march over the ruins to more extended conquests.
He had almost the plea of self-defence for setting out to invade
England as he did, and such, in reality, is the reason he assigns; and
not to possess the old leaven of ambition to strengthen his purpose,
was to lack that which, in a Roman general, swelled into the glory of
fame. Renown was the pearl Julius Cæsar came in quest of; he was not
a general to lead his legions back to the imperial city, when, after
having humbled the pride of the Gauls, he still saw from the opposite
coast the island of the presumptuous Britons--barbarians, who had
dared to hurl their pointed javelins in the very face of the Roman
eagle;--not a man to return home, when, by stretching his arm over that
narrow sea, he could gather such laurels as had never yet decked a
Roman brow.

The rumour of his intended invasion had already reached the Britons,
who, well aware of the victories he had won in the opposite continent,
and probably somewhat shaken by the terror which was attached to the
name of the Roman conqueror, lost no time in sending over ambassadors
with an offer of submission, and hostages. But although Cæsar received
the messengers kindly, and sent back with them Comius, a Gaul, in
whose talent and integrity he had the greatest confidence, still his
attention was not to be diverted from the object he had in view; and
much as he commended their pacific promises, he but waited the return
of the galley he had sent out to reconnoitre, before he embarked.
Nor had he to wait long, for on the fifth day after his departure,
Volusenus returned from his expedition, with the meagre information
he had been able to glean about the coast without landing; though,
such as it was, it induced Cæsar to set sail at once, and, with twelve
thousand men and eighty transports, he started from the sea coast which
stretches between Calais and Boulogne, and steered for the pale-faced
cliffs of Albion. It was in a morning early in autumn, and before the
Britons had gathered in their corn-harvest, when the Roman general
first reached the British shore; nor can we, from the force which
accompanied him, suppose that he was at all surprised to see the white
cliffs of Dover covered with armed men ready to oppose his landing.
But he was too wary a commander to attempt this in so unfavourable a
spot, and in the face of such a force, and therefore resolved to lie
by, until past the hour of noon, and await the arrival of the remainder
of his fleet; for beside the force which we have already enumerated,
there were eighteen transports in which his cavalry were embarked,
but these were not destined to take a share in his first victory; so
finding both wind and tide in his favour, he, without their aid, sailed
six or seven miles further down the coast, until he reached the low
and open shore which stretches between Walmer Castle and Sandwich.
This manoeuvre, however, was not lost upon the Britons, for as he
measured his way over the sea, so did they keep pace with him upon the
land, and when he reached the spot which was so soon to be the scene
of slaughter, he found the island-army drawn up ready to receive him,
with their cavalry and war-chariots placed in the order of battle,
while many a half-naked and hardy soldier stood knee-deep amongst the
breakers, which beat upon the beach, with pointed javelin, and massy
club, and rough-hewn war-hatchet, eager to oppose his landing;--the
proud Roman himself confesses that they presented a bold front, and
made a brave defence. Superior military skill, and long-practised
discipline, together with the formidable war-engines which he brought
over in his galleys, and from which showers of missiles were projected
that spread death and consternation around, were too much for the
Britons, few of whom, except such as had fought in the ranks of the
Gauls on the opposite shore, had ever before looked upon such terrible
instruments of destruction; and under cover of these, after a short
contest, the Roman general managed to disembark two of his legions.
But for this mode of warfare, and those dreadful engines opening so
suddenly upon them, Cæsar would probably never have been able to land
his forces; for we may readily imagine that, unaccustomed as they
were to such a mode of attack, the consternation that it spread could
scarcely be exceeded by a first-class line-of-battle ship pouring in a
broadside amongst the startled savages of the South Sea Islands, whose
shores had never before echoed back the thunder of a cannon. Although
Cæsar himself states that for a time the Roman soldiers were reluctant
to leave their ships, owing to the extent of water which flowed between
them and the shore, still there is but little doubt that the fearless
front presented by the Britons, as they stood knee-deep among the
waves, in spite of the missiles which were sent forth in showers from
the Roman galleys, somewhat appalled their highly disciplined invaders.
Cæsar has left it on record that his soldiers hesitated to land, until
one of his standard-bearers, belonging to the tenth legion, sprang
from the side of the galley into the sea, and waving the ensign over
his head, exclaimed, "Follow me, my fellow-soldiers! unless you will
give up your eagle to the enemy. I, at least, will do my duty to the
republic and to our general." It was then, roused by the example of
the courageous standard-bearer, that the Roman soldiers quitted their
ships, and the combatants met hand to hand.

Although upon that ancient battle-ground have the winds and waves for
nearly two thousand years beaten, and scarcely a name is left of those
who fought, and fell, and dyed the stormy sea-beach with their blood;
still, as we gaze down the dim vista of years, the mind's eye again
catches glimpses of the unknown combatants--of the warm autumn sunshine
falling upon those white and distant cliffs--of the high-decked Roman
galleys rising above the ever-moving waves, and we seem to hear the
deep voice of the Roman general rising beyond the murmur of the ocean;
we see the gilded eagle rocking and swaying over the contending ranks,
as they are driven forward or repulsed, just as the tide of battle ebbs
and flows; and ever upon the beaten beach where the waves come and go,
they wash over some mangled and prostrate form, throwing up here a
helmet and there a shield, while figures of the mailed Roman, and the
half-naked Briton, lie dead and bleeding side by side, their deep sleep
unbroken by the shout, and tramp, and tumult of war. The javelin with
its leathern thong lies useless beside the bare brawny arm that could
hurl it to within an inch of its mark, then recover it again without
stepping from out the ranged rank; the dreaded spear lies broken, and
the sharp head trodden deep into the sand by a Roman footstep. Higher
up the beach, we hear the thunder of the scythe-wheeled war-chariots
of the Britons, and catch glimpses of the glittering and outstretched
blades, as they sparkle along in their swift career like a silvery
meteor, and all we can trace of their course is the zig-zag pathway
streaked with blood. Faint, and afar off, we hear the voices of the
bearded druids hymning their war-chaunt, somewhere beyond the tall
summits of the bald-faced cliffs. Anon, the roar of battle becomes more
indistinct--slowly and reluctantly the Britons retreat,--the Roman
soldiers pursue them not, but fall back again upon their galleys,
and we hear only a few groans, and the lapping of the waves upon the
sea-shore. And such might have been a brief summary of that combat,
interspersed here and there with the daring deeds of warriors whose
names will never be known; and then the eye of the imagination closes
upon the scene, and all again is enveloped in the deep darkness of
nearly two thousand years.

As the Roman cavalry had not yet arrived, Cæsar was prevented from
following up the advantage he had gained over the Britons, and marching
to where they were encamped, a little way within the island. The
natives, however, doubtless to gain time, and better prepare themselves
for a second attack, sent messengers to the Roman general, who were
deputed to offer hostages as a guarantee of their submission to the
Roman arms. They also liberated Comius, whom he had sent over with
offers of alliance; and after a sharp rebuke, in which the Roman
invader no doubt attempted to show how wrong it was on their part
to attempt to oppose his landing and seizing upon their island, he
forgave them, on condition that they would send him a given number
of hostages, and allow him, without interference, to act as he chose
for the future. Such, in spirit, were the terms on which the haughty
conqueror dismissed the British chiefs, who probably returned with
the determination of breaking them whenever an opportunity presented
itself. A few hostages were, however, delivered, and several of the
British leaders presented themselves before Cæsar, perhaps as covert
spies, although they came with avowed offers of allegiance, smarting as
they were under their recent defeat.

The Roman general was not destined to accomplish his conquest without
meeting with some disasters. The vessels which contained his cavalry,
and were unable to accompany the first portion of his fleet, were again
doomed to be driven back by a tempest upon the coast of Gaul, even
after they had approached so near the British shore as to be within
view of Cæsar's encampment. The fatal night that saw his cavalry dashed
back upon the opposite coast, also witnessed the destruction of several
of his galleys, which were drawn up on the beach behind his encampment;
while those that were lying at anchor in the distant roadstead were
either wrecked or cast upon the shore, and so battered by the winds
and waves as to be wholly unfit for sea-service; for a high tide
seemed to have rushed over his galleys; and this, together with the
storm, scarcely left him in the possession of a vessel in which he
could put out to sea with his troops. Without either provisions to
feed his soldiers, or materials to repair his shattered ships, and
his whole camp deeply dispirited by these unforeseen calamities, the
Roman general found himself, at the close of autumn, on a stormy
and unfriendly coast, and in possession of but little more of the
island than the barren beach on which he had won his hitherto useless
victory. The Britons were not long before they discovered the full
extent of these disasters; frequent visits to the Roman encampment
had also made them better acquainted with the number of the troops;
and as they had already measured their strength against the Roman
arms, and the Roman weapons had doubtless lost much of their former
terror in their eyes, they began to make preparations for sweeping
off the whole force of the invading army, for they clearly saw that
it was without either provisions, cavalry, or ships; and though they
commenced their work cautiously, they made sure of obtaining an easy
victory, and such as they thought would intimidate the hearts of all
future invaders. Cæsar was too wary a general not to see through
their designs, for he perceived that the visits of the chiefs to his
encampment were less frequent than formerly; that they were also slow
in sending in the hostages they had promised to give up; so, Roman-like
he determined to arm himself against the worst. He ordered some of
his troops to repair such ships as were sea-worthy, out of the wreck
of those which were useless; these, when ready, he sent over to Gaul
for stores; others of his soldiers he sent out to scour the country
in search of provisions, and to gather in whatever corn they could
find, which must have been very trifling, as he states that, except
in one field, all beside in the neighbourhood had been harvested. In
this field, which stood at a short distance from one of those old
primeval forests which everywhere abounded in the island, one of his
legions were busily engaged gathering in corn, when they were suddenly
attacked by the armed islanders, who rushed out of their hiding-places
from the neighbouring thicket. Fortunately for the Roman soldiers,
this chanced to be no great distance from their encampment; and as
the ever-watchful eye of Cæsar was open while he stood looking out
from his strong fortifications, he saw a huge cloud of dust rising
in the air in the direction of the distant corn-field, and sallying
out of the encampment, at the head of two of his cohorts, he bade the
remainder of the legion follow him with the utmost speed, and rushed
off to the rescue of his soldiers. A few more minutes and he would
have arrived too late to save any of them, for he found his legion,
which had already suffered considerable loss, hemmed in on every side
by the cavalry and war-chariots of the Britons; and he had no sooner
succeeded in withdrawing his engaged forces from the corn-field,
than he hurried back to his strong entrenchments, the brave islanders
having compelled him to make a hasty retreat. Several days of heavy
rain followed, during which the Roman general confined his soldiers
to the camp. But the hardy Britons were not to be deterred by the
elements from following up the slight advantage which they had gained;
so mustering a strong force of both horse and foot, they drew up and
surrounded the Roman entrenchments. Cæsar was too brave to sit quietly
down and be bearded in his own stronghold by an army of barbarians; so
watching a favourable moment, he marshalled forth his mailed legions,
which were by this time strengthened by a small body of cavalry that
had returned with Comius from Gaul; and with these he fell upon the
Britons and dispersed them with great slaughter, also pursuing them
into the country, and setting fire to many of their huts, before he
again returned to his encampment. The Britons, as before, sued for
peace, which Cæsar readily granted, as he was anxious to return to Gaul
with his leaky ships and wearied troops; nor did he wait to receive the
offered hostages, but with the first fair wind set sail, having gained
but little more than hard blows by this his first invasion.

[Illustration: _Combat between the Romans and Britons._]

The warm spring days which brought back the swallow from over the sea,
saw the Roman galleys again riding on the sunny waves that broke upon
our rock-girt coast. From the surrounding heights and smooth slopes
which dipped gently down into the sea, the assembled Britons beheld
eight hundred vessels of various sizes hastening shoreward from the
opening ocean. Amid waving crests and glittering coats of mail, and
Roman eagles blazing like gold in the distance, and long javelins whose
points shone like silver in the sunlight, as they rose high above the
decks of the galleys, they came rolling along like a moving forest of
spears, swayed aside for a moment as some restive war-steed, impatient
to plant his sharp hoof upon the earth, jerked his haughty neck, and
shook out his long dark mane upon the refreshing breeze, while his
shrill neigh came ringing upon the beach above the hoarse murmur of the
breakers, which rolled at the feet of the terrified Britons. On those
decks were above thirty thousand Roman soldiers assembled, headed again
by Julius Cæsar, and now strengthened by two thousand cavalry. It is
said that the excuse offered by the Roman general for this his second
invasion, was, that hostages had not been sent in according to treaty,
though the truth beyond doubt is, that his ambition was dissatisfied
with the hasty retreat he was compelled to make; his pride mortified at
the bold front the islanders had presented, for he must have felt, in
his hurried departure to Gaul, that he bore back but little to entitle
him to the much-coveted name of Conqueror, a name which his wars with
the Britons never won him, for even Tacitus deigned to honour him
with little more than the title of Discoverer, after all his exploits
in our island had terminated. Unlike his former reception, he this
time landed without having to strike a blow, for the sight of such an
armed host struck terror into the hearts of the natives, and they fled
in the direction of the Stour, or near to that neighbourhood where
Canterbury now stands. A proof how earnestly Cæsar commenced his second
campaign in the island, and how resolved he was to bring the war to
a speedy end, is found, in his setting out at midnight to pursue the
Britons, scarcely leaving a sixth part of his army behind, to protect
his shipping and encampment. Perchance, the haughty Roman had boasted
how soon he would bring over a few of the barbaric chiefs for his
friends, and add to their stock of foreign curiosities a few dozens
of war-chariots, and had laughed amongst his officers at the joke of
their being picked up by some island warrior, and carried off in his
scythe-armed car by a couple of swift-footed steeds. He frequently
wrote to Rome, and perhaps occasionally boasted in his epistles, what
speedy work he would make of the conquest of Britain. Be this as it
may, there is proof in the strength of the force which he this time
landed, that he already began to appreciate aright the brave blood that
flowed through those ancient British veins.

In the still depth of midnight did the measured tramp of Roman infantry
ring upon the silence, as they strode inland towards the heart of Kent,
and beside those old forests and reedy morasses was the heavy tread of
Cæsar's cavalry heard; the rattle of their mail, and the jingling of
their harness, broken by the short answers of the scouts as they rode
hastily in and out, announcing a clear course, or with low obeisance
receiving the commands of the general. We may picture some poor peasant
startled from his sleep by that armed throng, dragged out of his
wattled hut by the side of the wild forest, and rudely handled by the
Roman soldiers, because he either refused to tell, or was ignorant of
the position his countrymen had taken up. We may picture the herdsman
hurrying his flocks into the forest fastnesses as he heard that solemn
and distant tramp coming like subdued thunder upon the night-breeze, so
unlike the wild shoutings and mingled rolling of his own war-chariots,
amid which the voices of women and children were ever mingled; so
solemn, deep, and orderly would march along those well-disciplined
Roman troops, contrasted with the irregular movements of the Britons.
Cæsar reached the reedy margin of a river in the cold grey dawn of a
spring morning; and as the misty vapour cleared up from the face of
the water, he beheld the hardy islanders drawn up on the rising ground
beyond the opposite bank, ready to dispute the passage if he ventured
across. The charge was sounded, and at the first blast of the Roman
trumpets the cavalry dashed into the river, and the well-tempered steel
blades of the invaders soon began to hew a path through the opposing
ranks, for almost at the first stroke the swords of the Britons, which
were made of tin and copper, bent, and became useless, while those
wielded by their assailants were double-edged, and left a gash every
time they descended. The horses broke through the British infantry,
as if they had been but a reed fence; and as their cavalry was the
heaviest, they met in full career the rush of the island war-chariots,
plunged their long javelins into the chests of the horses, and received
the shock of the British cavalry on the points of their highly-tempered
and strong-shafted spears. The whole affray seemed more like a skirmish
than a regular engagement, as if the war-chariots and cavalry of the
Britons were only employed to check the advance of the Roman columns,
while the remainder of their force retreated to a strong fortification,
which stood at some distance in the woods, and which was barricaded by
felled trees, fastened together and piled one above another; thither
the remainder of the army also fled, leaving the Romans to follow
after they had regained the order of march, and sent back to their
camp those who were wounded in the skirmish on the river bank. These
marches through wild, uncultivated forests were very harassing to
the heavy-armed Roman legions, who made but slow progress compared
to the light-footed troops of the Britons, for they were inured to
this woodland warfare, and as familiar with the forest passes as the
antlered deer.

Pursuit was again the order of the day; the stronghold in the forest
was carried by the Romans, and amongst the legions which distinguished
themselves in the contest, was the one who, but for the timely
arrival of Cæsar, would probably have left their bones to whiten
in the harvest-field, from which they had had so narrow an escape
in the preceding autumn. Another evening darkened over the forest,
under cover of which the Britons again retreated further inland,
without being pursued; for the Roman general seemed to have a dread
of those gloomy old woods, through which the paths, even in the open
noon-day, were rugged, uncertain, and difficult, and were as likely
to lead towards some bog, lake, or dangerous morass, as to any of the
British fortifications; the Roman soldiers were therefore employed in
throwing up intrenchments, and strengthening their position in case
of a surprise. It came, but not until morning, and instead of the
Britons, was brought by a party of Roman horsemen from the camp; the
galleys were again driven upon the shore by the waves, and many of them
wrecked; the angry ocean had once more risen up against the fortunes
of Cæsar. These unwelcome tidings arrived just as he had given the
order to advance; a few minutes more, and he would have been off in
full pursuit after the Britons; the unexplored forest stretched before
him; his eagles glittered in the morning sunshine; the trumpets had
sounded the march, when the order was given to halt, and above twenty
thousand armed Romans were compelled to return at the bidding of the
waves. The mound they had thrown up was deserted; the river, which
had but a few hours before been reddened by the blood of many a brave
warrior, was repassed without opposition; and both cavalry and infantry
now commenced a rapid retreat in the direction of the Roman encampment.
When Cæsar reached the sea-shore, he beheld a sight discouraging enough
to blanch even a Roman cheek; many of his finest galleys had become
total wrecks; others it seemed almost impossible to repair; the few
that were saved he despatched at once to Gaul for assistance, set
every hand that could use a saw, axe, or mallet, immediately to work,
and instead of sitting down and bemoaning his ill-fortune, he, like
a brave-hearted Roman as he was, began to make up for his loss, and
gave orders for building several new ships. Added to this, he had the
remainder drawn on shore, and ran up a barrier to protect them from the
ravages of the ocean, thus including a dry-dock within his fortified
encampment. All these preparations necessarily consumed some time,
during which the islanders remained undisturbed.

Returning to the Britons, who had not been idle during this brief
interval, we find their army greatly increased, and a renowned prince,
named Cassivellaunus, placed as commander at the head of the states,
they wisely judging that one who had so signalized himself in his
wars with the neighbouring tribes, was best fitted to lead them on,
now that they were banded together for mutual protection against the
Romans. Nobly did the barbaric chief acquit himself; he waited not to
be attacked; but having selected his own battle-ground, charged upon
the Roman cavalry at once, with his horsemen and war-chariots. Although
Cæsar did at last gain a slight victory, and, as he himself says,
drove the Britons into the woods, and lost several of his soldiers
through venturing too far, still it does not appear that he obtained
the day, for the Britons already began to find the advantages they
obtained through occasional retreats, which enabled them to draw the
enemy either nearer to, or into the woods--a stratagem which in this
skirmish they availed themselves of; for while the Romans were busy, as
was their custom, in protecting their camp for the night, by throwing
up ramparts and digging trenches around it, the Britons sallied out
from another opening in the wood, and slaughtered the outer guard. The
Roman general ordered two cohorts to advance to the rescue; they were
also repulsed, and a tribune was slain; fresh troops were summoned into
action, and the Britons betook themselves to their old leafy coverts
with but very little loss. On this occasion, the Roman general was
compelled to acknowledge, that his heavy-armed soldiers were no match
for an enemy who only retreated one moment to advance with greater
force the next, and would, whenever an opportunity presented itself,
dismount from their horses, or leap out of their chariots, and renew
the battle on foot, and that, too, on the very edge of some dangerous
bog, where an armed horseman was sure to founder if he but made a leap
beyond the boundary line with which they were so familiar. Another
day, a disastrous one for the Britons, and the battle was renewed,
and they, as before, commenced the attack, waiting, however, until
the Roman general had sent out a great portion of his cavalry and
infantry to forage--a body amounting to more than half his army, no
mean acknowledgment of the estimation in which the island force was
held, while it required from ten to fifteen thousand men to collect
the supplies he needed for one day; a tolerable proof that he had
not forgotten the all but fatal skirmish in the corn-field when he
first landed. Emboldened by their success on the previous day, the
Britons this time charged up to the solid body of the Roman legions,
rushing fearlessly against the wall which their well-disciplined ranks
presented, a firm phalanx, that had withstood the shock of the bravest
armies in Europe without being broken--an array strengthened every
moment by the return of the foragers. One solid, impenetrable mass now
bore down, like a mighty avalanche, upon the congregated Britons; a
vast sea of spears, and shields, and swords, all heaving onward without
resistance, Cæsar heralding the way, like the God of the storm, the
armed cavalry thundering onward like the foremost wave, until the
whole mass struck upon the iron stems of the gnarled oaks, which stood
at the edge of the forest, then rolled back again into the plain,
leaving a ridgy line of wounded and dead to mark their destructive
course. It was the first open shore on which the full tide of the Roman
arms had flowed on the islanders. The waves had many a time before
gathered together and broken, but here the full surge of battle swept
uninterrupted upon the beach. Although the sun still sets over that
great grave-yard of the dead, not a monument remains to tell of its
"whereabout," or point out the spot where many a brave soldier looked
round and took his rest.

Through Kent, and along the valley which stretches at the foot of
the Surrey hills, did Cæsar pursue the shattered army of the British
prince, his march probably extending over that level line of beautiful
meadow-land on which the old palace of Eltham still stands, along the
wooded neighbourhood of Penge and Sydenham, and out at the foot of the
Norwood hills, to where, far beyond, the Thames still glitters like a
belt of silver as it goes winding round near Chertsey. Here the British
leader had rallied; on the opposite bank stood his forces, and in the
bed of the river he had caused pointed stakes to be planted, to prevent
his pursuers from crossing the ford. These were but slight obstacles
in the path of Cæsar; he ordered his cavalry to advance, commanded the
infantry to follow at their heels, or at their sides, as they best
could; and so they passed, some grasping the manes of the war-horses
with one hand to steady their steps in the current, while with the
other they held the double-edged sword, ready to hew or thrust, the
moment they came within arm's length of the enemy. Cassivellaunus
was once more compelled to retreat, though never so far but that he
was always in readiness to fall upon any detached cohorts, and with
his five thousand war-chariots to hang upon and harass any party of
foragers: Cæsar was at last compelled to send out his legions to
protect the horsemen while they gathered in provisions. Even then the
island prince drove and carried off all the cattle and corn which was
pastured or garnered in the neighbourhood of the Roman encampment. The
invaders were never safe except when within their own entrenchments;
for they had now to deal with an enemy who had grown too wary to trust
himself again in the open field, but contented himself by harassing and
hanging upon the detached masses which he could waylay. He was well
acquainted with all the secret passes and intricate roads, and kept
the Roman guards in a continual state of alarm; and when it was not
safe to attack them, the Britons would at times suddenly assemble at
the outskirts of the woods, and shaking their javelins, to the foot of
which a hollow ball of copper, containing lumps of metal or pebbles,
was affixed, commence such a sudden thundering and shouting as startled
the horses, and caused them to run affrighted in every direction; they
then seized upon the forage, and ere the heavy legions could overtake
them, they were off at full speed far away in the forest passes, along
paths known only to themselves. Such a system of warfare was new
even to Cæsar, and as yet he had only gained the ground he encamped
upon--that which contained his army, for the time, was all he could
call his own.

But the Britons could not long remain true to themselves; petty
jealousies and long-stifled murmurs began at last to find vent; one
tribe after another came to the Roman camp; to all he made fair
promises, took their corn and their hostages, sowing no doubt the
seeds of dissension deeper amongst them at the same time, and getting
them also to inform him where the capital of their warlike chief was
situated, which secret they were base enough to betray; for many of
the petty princes envied the renown which Cassivellaunus had won by
his valour. Even Cæsar's narrative at this turn of events enlists our
sympathies on the side of the British general, and the handful of
brave followers who still remained true to their country's cause. His
capital, which is supposed to have stood on the site of St. Albans, and
which in those days was surrounded by deep woods and broad marshes, was
attacked; many were slain, some prisoners taken, and numbers of cattle
driven away; for the forest town of this courageous chief appears to
have been nothing more than a cluster of woodland huts surrounded by
a ditch, and strengthened by a rampart of mud and trees, a work which
the Roman legions would level to the earth in a brief space of time.
Though beaten and forced from his capital, the British prince retreated
upon another fortress further into the wood; from this he was also
driven. Still his great heart buoyed him up; and although defeated, he
determined to have another struggle for the liberty of his unworthy
country, and despatched messengers into Kent, bidding the Britons to
fall at once upon the Roman camp and fleet. Had the prince himself been
present, it is not improbable that this daring deed would have been
executed, for he was unequalled in falling upon the enemy, and carrying
his point by surprise: but he was not; and although the attack did
honour to the valour of the brave men of Kent, it failed. Many were
slain, and the Romans returned victorious to their camp. It wanted
but the genius who meditated so bold a stroke to have carried it into
effect; had he been there, Cæsar's eagles would never more have spread
out their golden wings beneath the triumphal arches of haughty Rome.

Fain would we here drop the curtain over the name of this ancient
British warrior, and leave him to sleep in the heart of his high-piled
barrow undisturbed. Alas! he was compelled to sue to the Roman general
for peace, who no doubt offered it him willingly, conscious that, had
he succeeded in his bold attempt upon the camp and fleet, the Roman
would have had to kneel for the same grant at the foot of the Briton.
Cæsar demanded hostages, got them, and hurried off to his ships, and
without leaving a Roman troop behind, hastened with all his force to
the coast of Gaul, and never again did he set foot upon our island
shore. Over the future career of Cassivellaunus the deep midnight of
oblivion has settled down; the waves of time have washed no further
record upon that vast shore which is strewn over with the wrecks of so
many mighty deeds; the assembled druids who chaunted his requiem, and
the Cymric or Celtic bard who in rude rhymes broke the forest echoes as
he recounted his exploits in battle, have all passed away; and but for
the pen of his Roman opponent we should never have known the bravery
of that British heart, which, nearly two thousand years ago, beat with
hopes and fears like our own.



 "And many an old man's sigh, and many a widow's,
  And many an orphan's water-standing eye,--
  Men for their sons', wives for their husbands' fate,
  And orphans for their parents' timeless death,--
  Did rue the hour that ever thou wert born."


For nearly a century after the departure of Cæsar, we have no records
of the events which transpired in England; that the inhabitants made
some progress in civilization during that period is all we know;
for there can be but little doubt that a few of the Roman soldiers
remained behind, and settled in the island after the first invasion,
and introduced some degree of refinement amongst the tribes with whom
they peaceably dwelt. No attempt, however, was made, during this long
interval, to fortify the island against any future invasion; and when
the Roman commander, Plautius, landed, about ninety-seven years after
the retirement of Cæsar, he met with no resistance until he had led
his army some distance into the inland country. After a time a few
skirmishes took place--some of the tribes submitted--but nothing like
a determined resistance seems to have been offered to the Roman arms,
until Plautius had extended his victories beyond the Severn, and
compelled the Britons to retreat into the marshes beside the Thames.
Here it was that the Roman commander first learned to estimate aright
the valour of the force he had to contend against; for the bogs and
swamps which had so often checked the meditated movements of Cæsar,
proved nearly fatal to the force headed by Plautius, who, after
suffering a severe loss, retreated to a secure position beside the
Thames. In this strong encampment he calmly awaited the arrival of the
Emperor Claudius, who, after a time, joined him with a considerable
reinforcement--just stayed long enough to look round him--received the
submission of a few petty states--and then returned most triumphantly
to Rome; for it is questionable whether he ever fought a single battle.
It is at this period that the figure of Caractacus heaves up slowly
above the scene; we see him but dimly and indistinctly at first, but,
after a time, he towers above all his compeers, as Cassivellaunus
did in the days of Cæsar. We see him moving now and then between the
divided legions commanded by Vespasian and Plautius, but nothing of
importance is done on either side. The Isle of Wight is for a short
time subdued; a small portion of the island south of the Thames is
occupied by the invaders; then Plautius is recalled to Rome, and before
he well arrives at the imperial city, the whole camp is in disorder;
the Roman legions can no longer protect the states that have submitted
to them. Caractacus is up, armed, and in earnest. Ostorius Scapula next
appears, and places himself at the head of the Roman ranks, strikes an
unexpected blow in the midst of winter, and gains some advantage over
the Britons. About this time it appears that the Romans first commenced
the erection of forts in the island, thus keeping the conquered states
within well-guarded lines, and protecting them from the attacks of
the unsubdued tribes, taking good care, at the same time, that they
did not escape and join their independent countrymen. His next step
was to disarm all the states within these limits; and as some of them
had become willing allies, rebellion soon broke out within these
circumscribed bounds. Once disarmed, it will readily be imagined how
easily they were beaten. Ostorius had now work enough on his hands; the
tribes that occupied the present counties of York and Lancashire next
arose, attacked the Roman legions, and were defeated. It was then that
the ancient Silures sprang up, the bravest of all the British tribes,
the true Cimbrii of early renown. The battle-ground now shifts into
Wales, and Caractacus is the commander. Almost every mountain-pass and
ford were familiar to him; his renown already rang through the island;
wherever the Roman eagle had bowed its haughty neck, he had been
present; the Roman general knew with whom he had to deal, and moved
forward with all his available force. Around the standard of Caractacus
had rallied every tribe from the surrounding country, who refused
to bow their necks to the invaders. Tacitus says that he chose his
ground with great skill, in the centre of steep and difficult hills,
raising ramparts of massive stones, where the ascent was possible;
while between his army and the road by which the Romans must approach,
there flowed a river which it was difficult to ford. As the enemy drew
near, he exhorted his soldiers to remember how their forefathers had
driven Cæsar from Britain, spake to them of freedom, their homes,
their wives and children, in a style which the Roman historians would
have pronounced eloquent, had the address flowed from the mouth of one
of their own generals. The Britons again were conquered, though they
fought bravely--their naked bosoms and helmetless heads were sure marks
for every well-tempered Roman blade, while their own copper swords
bent back at the first thrust they made at their mail-clad enemies.
Caractacus was not slain, though he only escaped to be given up in
chains to the Romans by his treacherous stepmother, Cartismanda, after
having for nine years waged war against the invaders of Britain. The
British leader was dragged (with his wife and children) a prisoner to
Rome; his fame had flown before him, and the Romans, who ever respected
valour, crowded round to look at the renowned island chief. He alone,
of all the British captives, shrunk not when brought before the Roman
emperor, Claudius. There was a noble bearing about the man: that eye
which had never quailed before the keen edge of the uplifted blade in
battle--that heart which had never sunk, though it was the last to
retreat from the hard fought field, buoyed him up in the presence of
his enemy, and the noble Roman ordered his chains to be struck off, an
act which did honour to the successor of Cæsar. Caractacus would have
done the same, had Claudius obtained the same renown, and so stood a
captive before him. Whether the brave barbarian died in some contest
with a gladiator in the arena of Rome, "butchered to make a holiday"
in a later day, before Nero, or returned to his country, or joined the
legions of his conquerors, and fell fighting in some foreign land, we
know not--we see his chains struck off before the Emperor Claudius,
then he vanishes for ever from the page of history.

[Illustration: _Caractacus carried captive to Rome._]

Even this undoubted victory was of but little advantage to the Roman
arms. The Silures proved themselves worthy descendants of the ancient
Cymry, the terror of whose name, as we have before shown, had in former
times carried consternation even to the very gates of Rome. They broke
up the enemy's camp, fell upon their lines and forts, drove the Roman
legions back to their old intrenchments, and, but for the timely
arrival of a party of foragers, would have cut up every soldier within
the Roman encampment in Wales. Nor could Ostorius, when he brought
up all his legions to battle, conquer them again. One skirmish was
but the forerunner of another; the Britons but retreated to-day, to
advance with stronger force on the morrow; until at last, harassed and
vexed, ever fighting but obtaining no advantage, the commander, who had
conquered Caractacus, fortified himself within his camp, and died. He
was the bravest general that the Britons had ever looked upon since the
days of Cæsar. Pass we by Frontinus, Didius, and Veranius; there are
other shadows to pass over this dimly-lighted stage of our history, who
"will do strange deeds and then depart."

Wearied and harassed by such a succession of invasions, the chiefs of
the druids, with many of the Britons who refused to submit to the Roman
yoke, retired to the island of Anglesey, that they might, amid its
shadowy groves and deep passes, follow their religious rites without
molestation, and sleep securely without being aroused by the din of
arms which was ever awakening the echoes that dwelt amongst gloomy
Albion's white cliffs. To this island, guarded more by the terrors of
superstition than the substantial array of arms, the Roman commander,
Paulinus Suetonius, determined to cross; and to accomplish his purpose,
he built a number of flat-bottomed boats in which he placed his troops.
As the invading force neared the opposite shore, they were struck with
terror by the strange scene which rose before them, and many a Roman
heart that had never before quailed in the stormy front of battle,
stood appalled before the dreaded array which had there congregated.
It seemed as if they had reached the shores of the fabulous Hades
of their ancient poets; for there women were seen rushing in every
direction in dresses on which were woven the forms of dismal objects;
and while their long dishevelled hair streamed out in the sea-breeze,
they brandished their flaming torches aloft as they rushed to and fro,
their eyes glaring wildly out of the dense smoke, as it blew back again
in their angry faces, while they looked out "fierce as the furies,
terrible as hell." Behind them were the grim druids collected, with
hands and eyes uplifted, as they invoked the curses of the gods upon
the heads of the Roman legions; before them the huge fires which were
already kindled, blazed and crackled, and shot out their consuming
tongues of flame, as if they were hungry for their prey, while the
druids pointed to the invading force, and bade their warriors hasten
and bring their victims to the sacrifice. The Roman soldiers seemed
paralysed; they stood almost motionless, as if they had not power to
strike a blow. They fell back affrighted before the lighted torches
of the women, and the curses of the druids, which struck more terror
into their souls than if the thunder of a thousand war-chariots had
borne down upon them, in all their headlong array. Aroused at last by
the voice of their leader, who bade them to despise a force of frantic
women and praying priests, they rushed boldly on, even to the very foot
of the dreaded fires; and many a bearded druid was that day driven
before the points of the Roman spears into the devouring flames which
they had kindled for the destruction of their invaders. Dreadful was
the carnage that ensued; even the sacred groves were fired or cut down;
if the Britons escaped the flames, it was but to rush back again upon
the points of the Roman swords--the sun sunk upon a scene of desolation
and death--a landscape blackened with ashes--fires that had been
extinguished by blood, whose grey embers faded and died out, as the
last sobs of the expiring victims subsided into the eternal silence of

The spirit of British vengeance, though asleep, was not yet dead, and
at the rumour of these dreadful deeds it sprang up, awake and armed,
on the opposite shore; as if the blow which struck down their sacred
groves, and overthrew their ancient altars, had sent a shock across
the straits of Menai, which had been felt throughout the whole length
and breadth of the land; as if at the fall of the sacred groves of
Mona the spirits of the departed dead had rushed across, while the
voices of the murdered druids filled all the air with their wailing
cries of lamentation, until even women sprang up demanding vengeance,
and Boadicea leaped into her war-chariot, as if to rebuke the British
warriors by her presence, and to show them that the soul of a woman,
loathing their abject slavery, was ready to lead them on to either
liberty or death, and to place her fair form in the dangerous front
of battle--for her white shoulders had not escaped the mark of the
Roman scourge. Her daughters had been violated before her eyes, her
subjects driven from their homes, the whole territory of the Iceni
over which she reigned as queen groaned again beneath the weight of
cruelty, and oppression, and wrong; her subjects were made slaves; her
relations were dragged into captivity by the haughty conquerors; her
priests slaughtered; her altars overthrown, and another creed thrust
into the throats of those over whom she ruled, at the points of the
Roman swords. Her sufferings, her birth, the death of her husband
king Prasutagus, her towering spirit, her bold demeanour, and the
energy of her address, struck like an electric shock throughout all
the surrounding tribes, and many a state which had bowed in abject
submission beneath the haughty feet of the conquerors, now sprang up,
and as if endowed with a new life, rushed onward to the great mustering
ground of battle, like clouds hastening up to join the dark mass which
gathers about the dreaded thunder-storm, before the deafening explosion
bursts forth.

On the Roman colony of Camaladonum did this terrible tempest first
break, scattering before it a whole Roman legion, and scarcely leaving
one alive behind to tell the tale. The voices of pity and mercy were
unheard amid that dire and revengeful din; no quarter was given, no
prisoners were made; blinded with revenge, stung to madness by the
remembrance of their grievous wrongs, the assailants rushed forward,
sparing neither age nor sex; destruction seemed to have set all her
dreadful instruments at once to work, and in a few days upwards of
seventy thousand Romans perished by the gibbet, the fire, and the
sword. Such of the Roman officers as could escape, fled to their
galleys, and hurried off to Gaul. Even Suetonius, who had hastened back
at the first rumour of this dreadful carnage, was compelled to abandon
London, already a place of some distinction, in despair, and hurry off
with his legions into the open provinces. As he retreated, the Britons
entered; and out of the vast multitude which a few hours before those
walls had inclosed, scarcely a soul remained alive. The Roman soldiers
rushed into their temples to avoid the assailants; the figure of the
goddess of Victory which they worshipped fell to the ground; the
females ran wailing and shrieking into the streets, into the council
chambers, into the theatres, with their children in their arms. In
the red sunsets of the evening sky their heated imagination traced
moving and blood-coloured phantoms, colonies in ruins, and overthrown
temples, whose pillars were stained with human gore, and in the ridges
which the receding tide left upon the shore, their fancies conjured up
the carcases of the dead. Before the desolating forces of the stern
Boadicea ran Fear and Terror, with trembling steps and pale looks; by
her side grim Destruction, and blood-dyed Carnage stalked, while behind
marched Death, taking no note of Sorrow, and Grief, and Silence, whom
he left together to mourn amid the solitude of those unpeopled ruins.
Meantime, Suetonius, having strengthened his army to a force which now
amounted to upwards of ten thousand men, chose the most favourable
position for his troops, where he awaited the arrival of the Britons
to commence the battle. Nor had he to wait long; for, flushed with
victory, and reeking fresh from the carnage, the assailants came up,
with Boadicea, thundering in her war-chariot, at their head, and soon
drew together in the order of battle. The Romans were now actuated by
feelings of revenge.

With her long yellow hair unbound, and falling in clusters far below
the golden chain which encircled her waist, her dark eyes flashing
vengeance as she glanced angrily aside to where the Roman legions were
drawn up in the distance, (an impenetrable mass, looking in their
coats of mail like a wall of steel, bristling with swords and spears,)
and with the curved crimson of her cruel lip haughtily upturned,
Boadicea rose tall and queen-like from the war-chariot in which her
weeping daughters were seated, and turning to the assembled tribes who
hemmed her round with a forest of tall spears, she raised her hand to
command silence; and when the busy murmur of subdued applause which
acknowledged her bravery had died away, she bade them remember the
wrongs they had to revenge, the weight of oppression which had so long
bowed their necks to the dust; the sword, and fire, and famine, which
had desolated their fair land; their sons and daughters carried off
and doomed to all the miseries of slavery; their priests ruthlessly
butchered at the foot of the altar; their ancient groves hewn to the
ground by sacrilegious hands, and consumed by fire; she pointed to
her daughters whom the invaders had violated, and raising her white
and rounded arm, showed the marks which the scourge of the ruffianly
Catus had left behind; then brandishing her spear aloft, she shook
the loosened reins over her restive steeds, and was soon lost in the
thickest of the battle. But the lapse of a century, and the many
battles in which they had fought, had not yet enabled the Britons to
stand firm before the shock of the Roman legions. They were defeated
with tremendous slaughter; and the queen, who had so nobly revenged
her country's wrongs, only escaped the carnage to perish by her own
hand. Even down the dim vista of time we can yet perceive her; the
flower of her army lying around dead; the remnant routed and pursued
by the merciless Romans, while she, heartbroken, hopeless, and alone,
sacrifices her own life; and though but a heathen, does a deed which
in that barbarous age would have ennobled her had she been born in
the country of her civilized invaders, who would proudly have erected
a statue to her memory in that city whose haughty emperors proclaimed
themselves the conquerors of the world. Little did the vanquishers
dream a woman would spring up and emulate the deeds of their most
renowned warriors, and that the fair barbarian would in after ages
leave behind her a more than Roman name.

But neither the destruction of the druids, the death of Boadicea, nor
the destruction of her immense army, enabled the Romans to extend their
possessions with safety in the island. They were ever, as in the days
of Cæsar, upon the defensive; no colony, unless a legion of soldiers
were encamped in the immediate neighbourhood, was safe; and even after
defeating the queen of the Iceni, and receiving a great force of both
infantry and cavalry, Suetonius left the island unconquered, and the
war unfinished, and returned to Rome.

It is a pleasure to turn from these scenes of slaughter, to find
that the next Roman general of note who came over to govern Britain,
subdued more tribes by the arts of peace, and by kindness, than all
his predecessors had done by the force of arms. Such is the power of
genius, that we seem again to be in the company of one we have long
known; for Agricola was the father-in-law of Tacitus, the eloquent
historian, and there is but little doubt that the record of the few
facts we are in possession of connected with this period were dictated
by the general himself to his highly gifted son-in-law; we can almost
in fancy see the grey-headed veteran and the author seated together in
some Roman villa discoursing about these "deeds of other days." He had
served under Suetonius, was present at that dreadful massacre in the
island of Anglesey, where men, women, and children were so mercilessly
butchered--had with his own eyes looked upon Boadicea. What would we
not now give to know all that he had seen? To write this portion of our
history with his eyes--to go on from page to page recording what he
witnessed from day to day--to have him seated by our hearth now as he
no doubt many a time sat beside Tacitus. What word-pictures would we
then paint--what wild scenes would we portray!

It was Agricola who first taught the ancient Britons to erect better
houses, to build walled cities instead of huts; who bestowed praise
upon their improvements, instructed them in the Roman language, and
persuaded them to adopt a more civilized costume; to erect baths and
temples; to improve their agriculture; and thus by degrees he so led
them on from step to step, that instead of a race of rude barbarians,
they began to assume the aspect of a more civilized nation. Still he
had to contend with old and stubborn tribes, who held it a disgrace
to adopt any other manners than those of their rude forefathers--the
same difficulties beset the path of the Norman on a later day--the
same obstacles are met with in Ireland at the present hour--pride,
indolence, ignorance, and a host of other evils have first to be
uprooted before the better seed can be sown. It would but be wearisome
to follow the footsteps of the Roman general through all his campaigns;
before him the imperial eagles were borne to the very foot of the
Grampian hills; he erected forts for the better protection of the
country he had conquered, and the huge rampart which ran from the Frith
of Clyde to the Forth was begun under Agricola. He appears to have been
the first of the Roman commanders who brought his legions in contact
with the Caledonians, or men of the woods, and even there he met with
a formidable opponent in the Caledonian chief named Galgacus; the same
struggle for liberty was made there as in England--battles, bloodshed,
death, and desolation are about all that history records of these
campaigns, if we except what may be called a voyage of discovery; for
it appears that the Roman general sailed round the coast of Scotland to
the Land's End in Cornwall, and thence to the point from which he had
first started--supposed to be Sandwich--being the first of the Roman
generals who, from personal observation, discovered that Britain was
an island. Shortly after completing this voyage Agricola was recalled
to Rome. The next period of our history carries us to other conflicts,
which took place before those mighty bulwarks that the Roman conquerors
built up to keep back the northern invaders, who in their turn overran
England with more success than the Romans had done before them. It was
then a war between the Romans and the Picts and Scots, instead of, as
before, between the Romans and the Britons. Although they doubtless
originally descended from the same Celtic race, yet through the lapse
of years, and their having lingered for some time in Ireland and in
Gaul, we are entangled in so many doubts, that all we can clearly
comprehend is, that three different languages were spoken in the
island of Britain at this period, namely, Welsh, Irish, and another;
but whether the latter was Gothic or Pictish, learned men who have
dedicated long years of study to the subject have not yet determined by
what name it is to be distinguished.



 "He looked and saw wide territory spread
  Before him; towns and rural works between,
  Cities of men, with lofty gates and towers,
  Concourse in arms, fierce forces threatening war--
  Assaulting: others, from the wall defend
  With dart and javelin, stones and sulphurous fire:
  On each hand slaughter and gigantic deeds."


The fortified line erected by Agricola was soon broken through by
the northern tribes, and the Emperor Adrian erected a much stronger
barrier, though considerably within the former; and this extended from
the Tyne to the Solway, crossing the whole breadth of that portion of
the island. Urbicus, as if determined that the Romans should not lose
an inch of territory which they had once possessed, restored the more
northern boundary which Adrian had abandoned, and once more stretched
the Roman frontier between the Friths of Clyde and Forth; they thus
possessed two walls, the more northern one, first begun by Agricola,
and the southern one, erected by Adrian. Forts were built at little
more than a mile distant from each other along this line, and a broad
rampart ran within the wall, by which troops could readily march from
one part to another. This outer barrier was the scene where many a hard
contest took place, and in the reign of Commodus it was again broken
down, and the country ravaged up to the very foundations of the wall
of Adrian. This skirmishing and besieging, building up and breaking
down of barriers, lasted for nearly a century, during which period
scarcely a single event transpired in Britain of sufficient importance
to be recorded, though there is every proof that the Britons were,
in the meantime, making rapid strides in civilization; for England
rested securely under the guardianship of the Roman arms. The battles
fought at the northern barriers disturbed not the tranquillity of the
southern parts of the island. It was not until the commencement of
the third century, when old and gouty, and compelled to be borne at
the head of his army in a litter, that the Emperor Severus determined
to conquer the Caledonians, and boldly sallied out for that purpose
beyond the northern frontier. His loss was enormous, and between war
with the natives, and the wearisome labour in making roads, felling
forests, and draining marshes, which had hitherto been impassable to
the Roman troops, fifty thousand soldiers were sacrificed. Nothing
daunted, however, the gouty old emperor still pressed onward, until he
reached the Frith of Moray, and was struck with the difference in the
length of the days, and shortness of the nights, compared with those
in southern latitudes. Saving making a few new roads, and receiving
the submission of the few tribes who chanced to lie in his way, he
appears to have done nothing towards conquering this hardy race; so he
returned to Newcastle, and began to build a stronger barrier than any
of his predecessors had hitherto erected. On the northern side of this
immense wall, he caused a deep ditch to be dug, about thirty-six feet
wide, while the wall itself was twelve feet in height; thus, from the
bottom of the ditch on the northern side there rose a barrier about
twenty-five feet high, which was also further strengthened by a large
number of fortifications, and above three hundred turrets. But before
Severus had well completed his gigantic labours, the Caledonians had
again over-leaped the more northern barrier, and fought their way up to
the new trenches. The grey-headed old hero vowed vengeance, and swore
by "Mars the Red," that he would spare neither age nor sex. Death, who
is sometimes merciful, kindly stepped in, and instead of allowing him
to swing in his litter towards new scenes of slaughter, cut short his
contemplated campaign at York, about the year two hundred and eleven;
and after his death, the northern barrier was again given up to the

A wearisome time must it have been to those old Roman legions, who had
to keep guard on that long, monotonous wall, which went stretching for
nearly seventy miles over hill and valley; nothing but a desolate
country to look over, or that wide, yawning, melancholy ditch to
peep into from the battlements, or a beacon-fire to light on the top
of the turret, as a signal that the barbarians were approaching. An
occasional skirmish must have been a relief to that weary round of
every-day life, made up in marches from fort to fort, where there
was no variety, saving in a change of sentries--no relief excepting
now and then sallying out for forage; for between the outer and
inner wall, the whole country seems at this period to have been a
wilderness--a silent field of death, in which the bones of many a brave
man were left to bleach in the bleak wind, and from which only the
croak of the raven and the howl of the wolf came upon the long dark
midnights that settled down over those ancient battlements. Sometimes
the bold barbarians sailed round the end of the wall in their wicker
boats, covered with "black bull's hide," and landed within the Roman
intrenchments, or spread consternation amongst the British villages;
but with the exception of an occasional inroad like this, the whole
of the northern part of the island appears to have been quiet for
nearly another century, during which the Roman arms seem to have become
weakened, and the British tribes to have given themselves up more to
the arts of peace than of war. Such privileges as were granted to
the Roman citizens, were also now extended to the Britons; and under
the dominion of Caracalla, the successor of Severus, there is but
little doubt that the southern islanders settled peaceably down in
their homesteads (now comfortable abodes), and began to be somewhat
more Romanized in their manners, that marriages took place between
the Romans and the Britons, and that love and peace had now settled
down side by side, in those very spots which the stormy spirits of
Cassivellaunus, Caractacus, and Boadicea had formerly passed over. The
wheels of the dreaded war-chariots seem to have rested on their axles;
we scarcely meet with the record of a single revolt amongst the native
tribes, excepting those beyond the wall of Adrian. Through the pages
of Gildas we catch glimpses of strange miracles, and see the shadow of
the cross falling over the old druidical altars, but nothing appears
distinct; and although we may doubt many passages in the writings of
this our earliest historian, it would be uncharitable to the memory
of the dead even to entertain a thought that he wilfully falsified a
single fact. The only marvel is, that, living in an age when so few
could write--when only common rumours were floating about him--when he
was surrounded with the faint outlines of old traditions, he should
have piled together so many facts which are borne out by contemporary
history. To place no faith in the narrative of Gildas, is to throw
overboard the writings of the venerable Bede, and float over the sea
of time for many a long year, without a single record to guide us.
Although we have confidence in many of these ancient chronicles of
the undefended dead, we shall pass on to undisputed facts, founded
upon their faint records; for we have scarcely any other light to
guide us through these dark caverns, which the ever-working hand of
slow-consuming Time hath hollowed out.

About the commencement of the fourth century, a new enemy made its
appearance upon the British coast, and though it only at first flitted
about from place to place like a shadow, it at last fixed itself firmly
upon the soil, never again to be wholly obliterated. This was the
Saxon--not at that period the only enemy which beside the Caledonians
invaded Britain, for there were others--Scandinavian pirates, ever
ready with their long ships to dart across the British channel upon
our coast. These invaders were kept at bay for a time by a bold naval
commander called Carausius, supposed himself originally to have been a
pirate, and occasionally to have countenanced the inroads of the enemy;
and on this account, or from the dreaded strength of his powerful
fleet, a command was issued from Rome to put him to death. He, however,
continued for some time to keep the mastery of the British Channel,
defied Rome and all its powers, assumed the chief command over Britain,
and was at last stabbed by the hand of his own confidential minister
at York. Allectus, Constantine, Chlorus, and Constantine the Great,
follow each other in succession, each doing their allotted work, then
fading away into Egyptian darkness, scarcely leaving a record behind
beyond their names; for the eyes of the Roman eagle were now beginning
to wax dim, and a fading light was fast settling down upon the Eternal
city, and gloomy and ominous shadows were ever seen flitting athwart
the golden disc whose rounded glory had so long fallen unclouded
upon the Imperial city. Even in Britain the wall of Severus had been
broken through, a Roman general slain, and London itself pillaged by
these hordes of barbarians. The plunderers were, however, attacked by
Theodosius, the spoils retaken, and the inhabitants, whom they were
driving before them in chains, liberated. These assailants are supposed
to have been mingled bodies of the Picts, Scots, and Saxons, and the
addition of Saxonicus was added to the name of Theodosius, in honour of
this victory.

The Roman soldiers in Britain now began to elect their own generals,
and to shake off their allegiance to the Emperor: one undoubted cause
for so few legions being found in England at this period, and a proof
that that once mighty arm had already grown too weak to strike any
effective blow in the distant territories. Chief amongst those elected
to this high rank in Britain stood Maximus, who might doubtless have
obtained undisputed possession of the British Island, had not his
ambition led him to grasp at that portion of the Roman empire which
was in the possession of Gratian. To accomplish this, he crossed over
to Gaul with nearly all his island force, thus leaving Britain almost
defenceless, and at the mercy of the Picts, and Scots, and Saxons, who
were ever on the look-out for plunder. He attained his object, and
lost his life, having been betrayed and put to death by Theodosius the
Great, under whose sway the eastern and western empire of Rome was
again united. Alaric the Goth was now pouring his armed legions into
Italy, and to meet this overwhelming force, Germany, and Gaul, and
Britain were drained of their troops, and our island again left a prey
to the old invaders, who no doubt reaped another rich harvest; for the
Britons, no longer able to defend themselves against these numerous
hordes of barbarians, were compelled to apply for assistance to Rome.
Probably some time elapsed before the required aid was sent, for we
cannot conceive that Stilicho would part with a single legion until
after he had won the battle of Pollentia, and seen the routed army
of Alaric in full retreat. Such was the penalty Britain paid for her
progress in civilization,--the flower of her youth were carried off to
fight and fall in foreign wars,--and when she most needed the powerful
arms of her native sons to protect her, they were attacking the enemies
of Rome in a distant land, and leaving their own island-home a prey to
new invaders. Nor was this all: when the arms of Rome had grown too
feeble to protect Britain,--when beside their own legions, the country
had been drained of almost every available soldier--when in every
way it was weakened, and scarcely possessed the power to make any
defence, it was deserted by the Romans, left almost prostrate at the
feet of Pictish, Scottish, and Saxon hordes, either to sue for mercy
on the best terms that could be obtained, or to perish, from its very
helplessness. Alas! Rome could no longer defend herself, her glory had
all but departed; and the Britons, who for about two centuries had
never been allowed to defend themselves, and were now almost strangers
to arms, were left to combat a force which many a time had driven back
the Roman legions.

The few Roman troops that yet remained in Britain began to elect and
depose their own commanders at pleasure. They first chose Marcus,
allowed him to rule for a short period, then put him to death. Gratian
was next elevated to power, bowed down to and obeyed for three or
four months, then murdered. Their next choice fell upon Constantine,
influenced, it is said, by his high-sounding name; and it almost
appears, by his carrying over his forces to Gaul, as Maximus had
done before him, and aiming at a wider stretch of territory, that he
scarcely thought Britain worth reigning over. Numbers of the brave
British youth were sacrificed to his ambition; and England seems
at this time to have only been a great nursery for foreign wars.
Gerontius, who appears to have been a British chief, now rose to some
influence, and basely betrayed his countrymen by entering into a league
with the Picts, and Scots, and Saxons, and no doubt sharing the plunder
they took from the wretched Britons; he also appears to have carried an
armed force out of the island, probably raised by means of the bargain
he made with the barbarians; he was pursued into Spain by the troops of
the Roman emperor, Honorius; fled into a house for shelter after the
battle; it was set fire to, and he perished in the flames--a dreadful
death, yet almost merited by such a traitorous act as, first selling
his country to these northern robbers and pirates, carrying off those
who were able to protect her, and then leaving his kindred a prey to
the barbarians. The Britons, in their misery, again applied for help
to Rome: Honorius could render none, so he sent them such a letter as
a cold friend, wearied out by repeated applications, sometimes pens to
a poor, broken-down bankrupt; he could do nothing for them, they must
now assist themselves; he forgave them the allegiance they owed, but
had not a soldier to spare. So were the Britons blessed with a liberty
which was of no use to them; they were left to shift for themselves,
like an old slave, who, instead of being a help, becomes an encumbrance
to his task-master, who, to get rid of him, "God blesses him," and
turns him out a free man, with the privilege to beg, or starve, or
perish, unless in his old helpless age he can provide for himself. Not
that the Roman emperor was so unkind in himself; he would perhaps have
assisted the Britons if he could; he was but one in a long chain of
evils, and that the last, and least powerful, which, by disarming the
Britons, and draining off all their strength to feed other channels,
had reduced them to their present helpless state. True, they had now
temples, and baths, and pillared porticoes, and splendid galleries,
and mosaic pavements, and beautifully shaped earthen-vessels; had some
knowledge of Roman literature, and, above all, Roman freedom. Alas!
alas! their old forest fortresses, and neglected war-chariots, and
rude huts, guarded by the dangerous morass, and quaking bog, would
now have stood them in better stead; their splendid mansions were
but temptations to the barbarians, their broad, firm roads so many
open doors to the robbers. They may not inaptly be compared to some
poor family, left in a large and splendid mansion in some dangerous
neighbourhood, which the owner has deserted, with all his retinue and
wealth, for fear of the thieves and murderers who were ever assailing
him, leaving only behind a book or two for their amusement, a few
useless statues to gaze upon, and but little beside great gaping
galleries, whose very echoes were alarming to the new possessors. Sir
Walter Scott has beautifully said, when speaking of the Romans leaving
the Britons in this defenceless state, that "Their parting exhortation
to them to stand in their own defence, and their affectation of having,
by abandoning the island, restored them to freedom, were as cruel as
it would be to dismiss a domesticated bird or animal to shift for
itself, after having been from its birth fed and supplied by the hand
of man."[1] Strange retribution, that whilst the sun of Rome should
from this period sink never to rise again in its former glory, that of
Britain should slowly emerge from the storm and clouds which threatened
nothing but future darkness, and burst at last into a golden blaze,
whose brightness now gilds the remotest regions of the earth.

But Britain had still a few sons left, worthy of the names which their
brave forefathers bore; the blood of Boadicea still flowed in their
veins; it might have been thinned by the luxury of the Roman bath, and
deadened by long inactivity, but though it only ran sluggishly, it was
still the same as had roused the strong hearts of Cassivellaunus and
Caractacus when the Roman trumpets brayed defiance at the gates of
their forest cities. There was still liberty or death left to struggle
for; the Roman freedom they threw down in disdain, and trampled upon
the solemn mockery; and when they once cast off this poisoned garment,
they arose like men inspired with a new life; they seemed to look about
as if suddenly aroused from some despairing dream--as if astonished
to hear their old island waves rolling upon a beach unploughed by the
keel of a Roman galley--as if wondering that they had not before broken
through those circumscribed lines, and forts, and ramparts, while they
were yet guarded with the few Roman sentinels; they saw the sunshine
streaming upon their broad meadows, and old forests, and green hills,
and tall pale-faced cliffs, turning to gold every ripple that came
from afar to embrace the sparkling sands of the white beach, and they
felt that such a beautiful country was never intended to become the
home of slaves. They shed a few natural tears when they remembered how
many of their sons and daughters had been borne over those billows in
the gilded galleys of the invaders; they recalled the faces they had
seen depart for ever over the lessening waves; the mother weeping over
her son; the manacled father, whose "eyes burnt and throbbed, but had
no tears;" the pale-cheeked British maidens, who sat with their faces
buried in their hands, as, amid the distant sound of Roman music,
their lovers were hurried away to leave their bones bleaching upon
some foreign shore; and they would have fallen down and prostrated
themselves upon the ground for very sorrow, had not the thunder of
their northern invaders rung with a startling sound upon their ears,
and they felt thankful that much work yet remained to be done, and
that they were now left to fight their own battles, even as their
forefathers had fought, in the dearly remembered days of their ancient

With a population so thinned as it must have been by the heavy drainage
made from time to time from the flower of its youth, we can readily
conceive how difficult it was to defend the wall which Severus had
erected, after the departure of the Romans. But we cannot imagine that
the Britons would hesitate to abandon a position which they could no
longer maintain, or waste their strength at an outer barrier when
the enemy had already marched far into the country. On this point
the venerable Gildas must have been misinformed, and the narrative
of Zosimus is, beyond doubt, the correct one. From his history it
is evident that the Britons rose up and boldly defended themselves
from the northern invaders; they also deposed the Roman rulers that
still lingered in the British cities, and who, no longer overawed by
the dictates of the emperor, doubtless hoped to establish themselves
as kings, or chiefs, amongst the different tribes they had so long
held in thrall. But the Britons threw off this foreign yoke, and at
last rooted out all that remained of the power of Rome. Thus, beside
the Picts and Scots, who were ever pouring in their ravaging hordes
from the north, and the Saxons, who came with almost every favourable
breeze which blew, to the British shore, there was an old and stubborn
foe to uproot, and one which had for above four centuries retained a
tenacious hold of our island soil. Many of the Romans who remained
were in possession of splendid mansions, and large estates, and as the
imperial city was now over-run with bands of barbarians, they were
loath to leave a land abounding with plenty, for a country then shaken
to its very centre by the thunder of war. Though not clearly stated,
there is strong reason for believing that these very Romans, who were
so reluctant to quit Britain, connived at the ravages of the Picts and
Scots, as if hoping, by their aid, once more to establish themselves in
the island.

This was a terrible time for the struggling Britons--it was no longer
a war in which offers of peace were made, and hostages received, but
a contest between two powers, for the very soil on which they trod.
This the islanders knew, and though often sorely depressed and hardly
driven, they still continued to look the storm in the face. Every man
had now his own household to fight for--the Roman party was led on by
Aurelius Ambrosius, the British headed by Vortigern; a name which they
long remembered and detested, for the misery it brought into the land.
As for Rome, she had no longer leisure to turn her eye upon the distant
struggle, for Attila and his Goths were now baying at her heels; there
was a cry of wailing and lamentation in her towered streets, and the
wide landscape which stretched at her imperial feet, was blackened by
the fire of the destroyer. She had no time, either to look on or send
assistance to either party; and when Ætius had read the petition sent
by the Britons, who complained that "the barbarians chase us into the
sea; the sea throws us back upon the barbarians; and we have only the
hard choice left us of perishing by the sword or by the waves," he
doubtless cast it aside, and exclaimed, "I also am beset by a host of
enemies, and cannot help you:" a grim smile, perhaps, for a moment
lighting up his features, as he recalled the Romans who, false to their
country, had basely lingered in the British island, and thus deserted
him in the hour of need; and as the stern shadow again settled down
upon his features, he consoled himself for a moment by thinking that
they also had met with their reward--then again prepared to defend
himself against the overwhelming force of Attila.

Harassed on all sides, the Britons now began to look to other quarters
for aid, for they appear to have assembled at last under one head,
and to have been guided in their course by Vortigern. The character
of this ancient British king is placed in so many various lights by
the historians who have recorded the events of this obscure period,
that it is impossible to get at the truth. What he did, is tolerably
clear; nor are we altogether justified in ascribing his motives only
to self advancement; pressed within and without by powerful enemies,
he, no doubt, sought assistance from the strongest side, though it
is not evident that he ever made any formal offer. He must have had
some acquaintance with the Saxons, whom he enlisted in his cause--it
is improbable that he would hail an enemy, standing out at sea with
his ships--invite him to land and attack a foe, with whom this very
stranger had been leagued. One man might have done so, but what
Vortigern did had, doubtless, the sanction of the British chiefs who
were assembled around him at the time. They must have had strong
faith in the Saxons, and it is not improbable that some of them had
been allowed to settle in the Isle of Thanet--had already aided the
Britons in their wars against the Romans, who were located in the
island, as well as against their northern invaders, before they were
intrusted with the defence of Britain. But we must first glance at
the England of that day before we introduce our Saxon ancestors--the
"grey forefathers" of our native land, whose very language outlived
that of their Norman conquerors, and who blotted out almost every
trace of the ancient Britons by their power--"A tribe which, in the
days of Ptolemy," says Sharon Turner, in his admirable history of the
Anglo-Saxons, "just darkened the neck of the peninsula of Jutland, and
three inconsiderable islands in its neighbourhood. One of the obscure
tribes whom Providence selected, and trained to form the nobler nations
of France, Germany, and England, and who have accomplished their
distinguished destiny." These stand dimly arrayed upon the distant
shore of time, and calmly await our coming.



 "What, though those golden eagles of the sun
  Have gone for ever, and we are alone,
  Shall we sit here and mourn? No! look around,
  There still are in the sky trails of their glory,
  And in the clouds traces where they have been.--
  Their wings no longer shadow us with fear.
  Let us then soar, and from this grovelling state
  Rise up, and be what they have never been."

        ODE TO HOPE.

Britain, after the departure of the Romans, was no longer a country
covered every way with wild waving woods, dangerous bogs, and vast
wastes of reedy and unprofitable marshes. Smooth green pastures, where
flocks and herds lowed and bleated, and long slips of corn waved in the
summer sunshine, and fruit-trees which in spring were hung with white
and crimson blossoms, and whose branches in autumn bowed beneath the
weight of heavy fruitage, now swelled above the swampy waste, and gave
a cheerful look to the grassy glade which had made room for the bright
sunshine to enter into the very heart of those gloomy old forests.
Walled towns, also, heaved up above the landscape, and great broad
brown roads went stretching for miles through a country over which,
a few centuries before, a mounted horseman would have foundered. The
dreamy silence which once reigned for weary miles over the lonesome
woodland, was now broken by the hum of human voices; and the ancient
oaks, which for many a silent year had only over-shadowed the lairs
of beasts of the chase, now overhung pleasant footpaths, or stretched
along the sides of well-frequented roads, sure guides to the lonely
wayfarer that he could no longer mistake his course from town to town.
Though many a broad bog, and long league of wood and wilderness still
lay on either hand, yet, every here and there, the home of man rose
up amid the waste, showing that the stir of life had begun to break
the sleep of those solitudes. Instead of the shadowy avenue of trees
which marked the entrance to their forest fortresses, lofty arches now
spanned the roads which opened into their walled streets, and above
the roofs of their houses tall temples towered in all the richness
of Roman architecture, dedicated to the classical gods and goddesses
whose sculptured forms graced the lofty domes of the imperial city.
Few and far between, in the dim groves, whose silent shadows remained
undisturbed, the tall grass climbed and drooped about the neglected
altar of the druids, and on the huge stone where the holy fire once
burned, the grey lichen and the green moss now grew. Even the Roman
sentinel, as he paced to and fro behind the lofty battlement, sometimes
halted in the midst of his measured march, and leaned on his spear to
listen to the low "Hallelujah" which came floating with faint sound
upon the air, as if fearful of awakening the spirit of some angry
idolator. In the stars which pave the blue floor of heaven, men began
to trace the form of the cross, and to see the spirit of the dove in
the white moonlight that threw its silver upon the face of the waters,
for Britain already numbered amongst her slaughtered sons those who had
suffered martrydom for the love they bore to their crucified Redeemer.
Under the shadow of the Roman eagles had marched soldiers, proud that
they bore on their hearts the image of the cross of Christ. In spite
of the decree of Diocletian, the Gospel sound still spread, and around
the bleeding head of the British martyr St. Alban, there shone a glory
which eclipsed all the ancient splendour of Rome. The mountains, the
rivers, and the ancient oaks, were soon to echo back the worship of
the true God, and no longer to remain the objects of idolatry. The
unholy doctrine of the druids was ere long to be unmasked, and instead
of the gloomy gods which frowned down in stone amid the darksome
groves, and whose dead eyes ever looked upon the melancholy water that
murmured around the altars on which they stood, the light of a benign
countenance was about to break in beauty over the British isle, and a
voice to be heard, proclaiming peace and good-will to all mankind. For
the Picts and Scots had already fallen back affrighted before the holy
Hymns of Zion, and been more startled by the loud Hallelujah chaunted
by the soldiers of Christ, who were led on by Germanus, than ever
they were by the loud braying of the brazen trumpets of Rome. British
ladies, ever foremost to tread the paths of religion and virtue, had
boldly heralded the way, and in spite of the lowering and forbidding
looks of the druids, Græcina and Claudia had already knelt before the
throne of the True God. Though the vanguard came heavily up amid cloud
and storm, Hope, and Love, and Mercy, rode fearlessly upon the wings of
the tempest.

It is but just to the memory of those ancient Roman invaders, that we
should confess they never reduced to slavery and total subjection the
tribes which they conquered; that, generally, in return for the taxes
they imposed, and the expense to which they put the invaded country,
they instructed the inhabitants in the Roman arts--and although they
humbled their martial spirit, and left the conquered tribes less able
to defend themselves, still the signs of civilization everywhere
marked their course. Beside being brave generals, the Roman commanders
were also able statesmen; nor had the Britons for centuries before,
nor did they for centuries after, sleep in that peaceful security
which they enjoyed under the sway of the wise Agricola. Though the
conquerors taxed their corn, they taught the Britons a better method
of cultivating it; though they made heavy levies upon their cattle,
they were the first to set them the example of reclaiming many an
acre of pasturage from the hitherto useless marsh and forest. They
instructed them in planting the fruit-trees, from which the tithe was
taken; and, in addition to orchards, pointed out to them the art of
dressing vineyards. Fifteen hundred years or more may have chilled our
climate, but in those days the purple and bunchy grape drooped around
many a British homestead. The chief towns were governed by Roman laws;
London and Verulamium were already celebrated cities, and the latter
reared high its lofty towers, and temples, and theatres, in all the
architectural grandeur of Roman art. For centuries after did many of
these majestic monuments remain, even when the skeleton of the once
mighty Rome had all but crumbled into dust, as if to proclaim that
the last work of those all-dreaded conquerors was the civilization
of Britain. They divided our island into five provinces, appointed
governors and officers to administer justice, and collect taxes in each
division. Over all these a chief ruler was placed, who was accountable
for his actions to the Roman emperor, and whose written orders were
given to him in a green-covered book, emblazoned with golden castles,
when he was installed in the dignity of his office--as, in almost
all colonies, there were doubtless many who, "clothed in authority,"
ruled with an iron hand over their fellow-men; not that such always
escaped--for, as we have before stated, the revolt of Boadicea was
caused by the oppression of Roman rulers, and dreadful was the
reckoning of her vengeance.

We have already had occasion to remark how easily the Romans broke
through the ancient British fortresses, and how frequently the Picts
and Scots made inroads through the ramparts erected by the Romans.
Saving, however, in such works as appear to have been hastily thrown
up by the Britons, when they retreated into their native forests, they
displayed considerable skill in the erection of their strongholds. They
occasionally constructed high walls, with blocks of granite five or six
feet long, and these they piled together without the aid of cement,
digging a deep ditch outside, to make access more difficult; and as
this fortress was built in the form of a circle, and the wall was of
sufficient thickness to permit half a dozen men to walk on it abreast,
it must, although not of such extent, have been as difficult to storm
as the barriers thrown up by the Romans. The huge stone, supposed to
weigh upwards of seven hundred tons, which is placed on the points of
two rocks in Cornwall, and the massy blocks raised and piled on each
other at Stonehenge, show that, ages before the Roman invasion, Britain
was inhabited by a tribe whose knowledge of the power of leverage, and
skill in removing such gigantic blocks from the distant quarries, were
only surpassed by the builders of the Egyptian Pyramids. No wonder that
a race possessed of such natural genius was, under tuition of the Roman
architects, enabled to produce such a class of workmen, that a demand
was made for them even in Gaul, and that the skill of the British
mechanic was in that early age acknowledged on the continent. Industry
led to wealth, and the latter to luxuries to which the simple Britons
had, before the Roman period, been entire strangers; instead of the
cloak of skin, and the dyed sagum, those who dwelt in towns now wore
the Roman toga, and the British ladies began to decorate themselves
with jewels of gold, silver, and precious stones, instead of their own
island pearls, once so celebrated as to cause even a grave historian
to attribute the invasion of Julius Cæsar to no other motive than a
wish to fill his galley with them. They now wore bracelets and collars
of gold, and amongst the imports to Britain, we find mention of ivory
bridles, chains of gold, cups of amber, and drinking-vessels of glass,
made in the most elegant forms. A great change had taken place in the
habits of these ancient in-dwellers of the forest, whose eyes in former
days had seldom been gladdened by a sight of such treasures, unless
when brought, now and then, by some warrior from the Gaulish wars, to
be looked on and wondered at, or caught sight of for a moment amongst
the coveted hoards of the druids. We have it on record, that the waist
of queen Boadicea was encircled by a chain, or girdle of gold; and
shortly after we have proof that nearly the whole of the British tribes
were in subjection under the Roman power--clear evidence that wealth,
refinement, and civilization had softened down the rugged and hardy
sinews of war--that the old warriors of the wild woods were better
adapted for the struggles of battle than their sons who had put on the
Roman toga, and reared their homes within the limits of walled cities.
As it was with the Britons, so it was with the Saxons--they also became
less courageous, as they grew more civilized. And here a grave question
naturally intrudes itself into our narrative, which to answer aright
must either yield in favour of a state of barbarism, or pull down that
great idol called a hero--though there are many exceptions on record
to uphold the latter, some of which we have already instanced, as in
Cassivellaunus and Caractacus.

It is apparent that the more southern inhabitants of the British
island had by this time adopted the Roman custom of interring their
dead. Formerly the northern tribes did but little more than place the
body in the naked earth, cover it up, and mark the spot by a pile
of stones; and that rude monument was left to point out the last
resting-place of the departed. The more southern tribes erected huge
barrows above their dead, burying with them all that was considered
most valuable, articles of gold and silver, weapons used in the war
and in the chase, and even the body of the favourite dog, when he
died, was not considered unworthy of sharing his master's grave.
Many of these mounds of earth were immense, and in several cases it
is clear that the soil which formed them had been brought from a
considerable distance, perhaps from the very spot which had been marked
by the valorous though now forgotten deeds of the dead. These ancient
sepulchres varied greatly in size and shape. Those which appear to have
contained the remains of the earlier inhabitants of our island, were
frequently above a hundred yards in length; and if, as it has been
supposed, each follower brought his wicker basket of earth to empty
upon the chieftain's grave, or the high-piled hillock was the work
of the friends of the departed, though so many long centuries have
elapsed, they yet speak of the respect in which those early warriors
were held. Sometimes the body was placed in a cist, with the legs drawn
back towards the head, and this position of burying seems to have been
adopted at a very remote period by the Britons. Sometimes the trunk of
a large tree was cut up into a proportionate length, hewn hollow, and
the body placed within it. This again appears to have been a custom of
very ancient date. They were also in the habit of burning the bodies of
the dead--of collecting the burnt bones and placing them in the lowest
bed of the barrow, then piling the stupendous mound above the ashes.
Those tribes that became more Romanised appear to have followed the
custom of their conquerors of burning the bodies, and collecting the
ashes in urns; many of these have been discovered in what are called
the Roman-British barrows, which display but indifferent workmanship.
Others which have been dug out of old Roman burying-places show much
elegance both in their forms and ornaments. With these have also been
found mingled incense and drinking cups of the most beautiful patterns.
The Britons appear to have had no common grave-yard; one barrow seems
to have covered the remains of a chief, another that of his wife and
children; perchance those who fell in the same battle were sometimes
interred together, or it may be that the lesser hillocks covered the
remains of the vassals, hemming around the huge barrow under which the
chieftain slept, as if to protect him even in death--a silent guard
surrounding his remains, as when living they had rallied about him.
What were the forms of their solemn processions--what ceremonies they
used while burying their dead--what heathen prayers they offered up to
their rude gods, or what war-hymns they chaunted over the remains of
their chiefs, we know not. The snows of nearly two thousand winters
have fallen, whitened, and melted upon, their graves, but whether the
latter were interred amid the deep war-cry of the tribe, or consigned
to the earth amid tears and sorrowful sounds, we can never know. The
glass beads, the amulets, and breastplates of gold--the spear-heads
of bronze and flint, the rude necklaces of shells, and the pins and
ornaments which we have discovered, throw no light upon the name, rank,
or history of the dead.

The barbarous custom of painting or tatooing their skins soon grew into
disfavour as the Britons became civilized. They began to find other
uses for the dye which they extracted from the herb called woad, and
instead of distinguishing themselves by the hideous forms of beasts
or reptiles which they were wont to puncture and imprint upon their
bodies, they now bore the marks of their rank in the form of their
costume, and sought for their renown in the plaudits of other men. They
began to look for their leaders amongst the ancient families, and to
trace back their genealogies to their earliest heroes. This ended all
Roman claims, for they refused to grant any land to such as had not
descended from the primitive tribes; it led also to much dissension,
to many heart-burnings and bitter jealousies; family was divided
against family, and tribe against tribe; petty kings sprang up in every
province; there was much blood shed--more to be spilt; and as Vortigern
alone had maintained his claim, he was determined to support his
position at any sacrifice. Whether Hengist and Horsa came on a mission
of peace, or as traders or pirates, or were driven by a storm upon the
coast, or were exiled from their country, are matters of no moment.
They were hired--their business was to fight--they were paid for doing
so--they accepted the terms offered by the British king, acquitted
themselves manfully, and finally were the means of establishing the
Saxons in Britain. To the commencement of this period we have now
arrived, and the next who pass through the gate of history are our old
English forefathers, the Saxons.

=The Saxon Invasion.=



 "The stupendously holy gods considered these things:
  They gave names to the night and to the twilight;
  They called the morning and mid-day so.
  There sat an old man towards the east in a wood of iron,
  Where he nourished the sons of Fenris.
  Every one of these grew up prodigious--a giant form,--
  The sons of the two brothers inhabit the vast mansions of the winds.
  A hall stands brighter than the sun,
  Covered with gold in Gimle."--THE VOLUPSA.

The Saxons were a German or Gothic race, possessing an entirely
different language to that of the Celts or ancient Britons; and
although they do not appear to have attracted the same attention as
the other tribes, they were, doubtless, settled at a very early period
in Europe. At the time when they begin to stand forth so prominently
in the pages of history, they occupied the peninsula of Jutland, now
a portion of Denmark, with two or three neighbouring islands, known
by the names of North Strande, Busen, and Heligoland, all situate
near the mouth of the Elbe. As they, however, consisted of three
tribes--namely, the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons--they probably,
at a former period, stretched over a much larger surface of country,
the boundaries of which it is now difficult to define. As early as the
time of Ptolemy, a branch of this ancient Scythian race was denominated
the Saxons. They claimed their descent from Odin, probably some old and
celebrated warrior, whose deeds grew up under magnified traditions,
until at last he was dignified with the title of their god. Like the
Britons, they were a brave and fearless race, delighting in plunder
and slaughter, ever choosing the most dangerous and perilous paths,
loving the roll of the wave, and the roar of the storm, and generally
landing under a gloomy and tempestuous sky, to surprise and attack the
enemy. Their arms were a sharp sword, a keen-pointed dagger, a tall
spear, and a ponderous battle-axe, all made of good iron. But the most
dreaded weapon they wielded seems to have been a large heavy hammer,
from which projected a number of sharp-pointed spikes. This fearful
instrument was the terror of their enemies, and no helmet was proof
against its blows. Their chiefs wore a kind of scaly armour, which
appears to have been formed of iron rings, locked together upon a
tight-fitting coat, or leathern doublet. The rims and bosses of their
shields were of iron, while the body was sometimes formed of wood,
and covered with leather. Many of these shields were large enough to
protect the whole form, and as they were convex, no doubt the point of
the enemy's weapon would glide off, unless it was struck firmly into
the centre; thus they formed a kind of moveable bulwark, behind which
the warrior sheltered himself in battle. They believed that the souls
of those who bravely perished on the hard-fought field were at once
wafted into the halls of Valhalla, and the terrible heaven which they
pictured in a future state consisted in those dreadful delights so
congenial to their brutal natures while on earth--being made up of a
succession of conflicts and struggles, cleaving of helmets and hacking
of limbs; and that when the twilight deepened over those awful halls,
every warrior was again healed of his wounds; that they then sat down
to their grim and hideous banquet, where they fed upon a great boar,
whose flesh never diminished, however much they ate, and when they had
satiated themselves with these savoury morsels, which they cut off with
their daggers, they washed them down with deep draughts of mead, which
they drank out of the skulls of their cowardly enemies. Into those
halls the brave alone were admitted--the craven, and the coward, and
those who fell not in the red and reeking ranks of battle, were doomed
to dwell in the dark regions of Niflheim, where Hela, the terrible,
reigned; where gaunt Famine stalked like a shadow beneath the vaulted
dome; where Anguish ever writhed upon her hard bed, and dark Delay
kept watch against the sombre doors which she never opened. Such were
the eternal abodes those barbarians believed they should enter after
death--the realms which their stormy spirits would soar into, when they
could no longer guide their barks over the shadows of the overhanging
rocks--when the tempestuous sea no longer bore them upon the thunder
of its billows, and cast them upon some distant coast, to revel in
carnage and slaughter;--it was then that they turned their dying eyes
to the coveted halls of Valhalla, and that huge banquet-table on which
the grisly boar lay stretched, surrounded by drinking-cups formed of
human skulls.

Those who had not courage enough to win an entrance into these envied
realms by their own bravery, put one of their slaves to death,
considering that such a sacrifice was acceptable to Odin, and a sure
passport into this ideal world. They, however, believed that Valhalla
would at last pass away; Odin himself perish; that the good and the
brave would inhabit another heaven, called Gimle; and the evil and the
cowardly be consigned to a more awful place of punishment than that
over which Hela reigned; that the gods would sit in judgment; that
Surtur, the black one, would appear; and an evil spirit be liberated
from the dark cave in which he had been for ages bound with chains of
iron. That for three years increasing snow would fall from all quarters
of the world, and during this long winter there would be no interim
of summer, neither would any green thing grow, but all mankind would
perish by each other's hands. That two huge monsters would appear; one
of which would devour the sun, the other, the moon; that mountains
and trees would be torn up, and the earth shaken to its deepest
foundations. That the stars would be blotted out of heaven, and one
wide shoreless sea cover the whole world, over which a solitary ship
would float, built of the nails of dead men, and steered by the tall
giant Hrymer. Then would the huge wolf Fenris open his enormous mouth,
the lower jaw of which would touch the earth, the upper the heaven,
over which a serpent would breathe poison, while the sons of Muspell
rode forward, led by the black Surtur. A blazing fire, spreading out
its myriad tongues of flame, would burn before and behind him; his
sword would glitter like the sun, and the bridge which spanned across
heaven, be broken. Towards a large plain would these terrible forces
move, followed by Fenris, the wolf. The brazen trumpet of Heimdal would
ring out such a startling peal, as would awaken the gods, and cause the
mighty ash of Ygdrasil to tremble. Odin would put on his golden helmet,
and all the gods rise up in arms, and after the wolf had devoured him,
and its jaws had been rent asunder by Vidar, the whole universe would
be destroyed.

Such a creed as this was calculated to nourish and keep alive the
most benighted superstitions amongst its believers. Thus we find them
drawing omens from the flight and singing of birds, placing their trust
in good and evil days, and considering the full or new moon as the most
favourable seasons in which to put into operation any important plan.
They were influenced by the moving of the clouds, and directed by the
course of the winds; and from the entrails of the victims sacrificed,
they drew their auguries. The breastplates they wore were imperfect,
unless the smith who forged them muttered a charm while he wielded his
ponderous hammer. Even the graves of dead men were frequented, and
those who slept their last sleep were intreated to answer them. They
judged of the fate of a battle by seizing an enemy, and compelling
him to fight with one of their own race. From the branches of the oak
they cut short twigs, marked them, then scattered them at random upon
a white garment, and while the priest looked upward, he took those on
which his hand chanced to alight, and if they proved to be those on
which the favourite mark was impressed, it was considered a good omen.
They rode out the perilous tempest on the deep with better heart if,
on the departure of their bark from the stormy beach, some priestess,
with her hair blown back, stood upon the giddy headland, and chaunted
the mystic rhyme which they believed would waft them, more safely than
the most favourable breeze, to the distant shore. Even through the
long night of time we can picture her standing upon the dizzy edge of
the rock, while the white-winged sea-gull wheeled and screamed above
her head; with the subdued thunder of the hoarse waves ever rolling at
her feet--her drapery blown aside, and her wan thin lips moving; while
they, tugging at the long oar with their brawny arms and bowed heads,
sent up a silent prayer to the god of the storm.

Such were our forefathers--men who would startle at the stirring of
a leaf, or the shooting of a star, yet brave enough to rush upon the
point of a spear with a flushed cheek and a bright eye, and who could
look death full in the face without a feeling of fear. Nor would it be
difficult to point out, even in our own day, numbers of superstitious
signs and omens, which are as implicitly believed in by the peasantry
of the present age, as they were by the ancient Saxons during this
dark period of our history. The chattering of a magpie, the croaking
of a raven, the howling of a dog in the night, a winding-sheet in the
candle, or a hollow cinder leaping out of the fire upon the hearth,
are even now held amongst our superstitious countrymen as ominous of
ill-luck, sickness, or death. Scarcely an obscure English province
is without its wise-man, or cunning fortune-teller, those lingering
remains of the Wicca of the Saxons, which have descended to us through
the long lapse of nearly two thousand years, in spite of the burnings
and other executions which were so common in our country only two or
three centuries ago, when not to believe in witchcraft would have
been held a crime equal to Atheism, by our more enlightened and
comparatively modern forefathers.

The temple erected to their war-god, in their own country, appears
to have been spacious and magnificent. On the top of a marble column
stood this idol, in the figure of a tall, armed warrior, bearing a
banner in his right hand, on which a red rose was emblazoned, while
in his left he held a balance. His helmet was surmounted with a cock;
on his breastplate a bear was engraven, while on the shield which was
suspended from his shoulder was the image of a lion, upon a ground of
flowers. Here, women divined, and men sacrificed, and into the battle
was this warlike image borne by the priest; for as they could not trust
themselves upon the sea without a charm being first muttered, so in
the field did they require the image of their idol to countenance the
contest. To this grim deity did they offer up their captives, and even
those of their own tribe who had fled, and turned their backs upon the
fight, for they looked upon cowardice as the greatest of crimes amongst
their men, and wantonness in their women they punished with death.

Some of their idols are surrounded by a wild poetry, and an air of
almost classic beauty, recalling to the mind the divinities worshipped
by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Of such was their goddess, called
the Mother of Earth, who was held so sacred, that only the priest
was permitted to touch her. Her temple stood amid the solemn shadows
of a silent grove; her figure was always covered by a white garment,
which was washed in a secret lake; in those waters the slaves who
administered at her shrine were drowned--no one, saving the priest,
was allowed to go abroad, who were once entrusted with her mysteries.
On holy days her image was borne in procession, on the backs of
beautifully marked cows. Nothing but joy and peace then reigned
throughout the whole length and breadth of the land: the bark was
moored upon the beach; the spear and battle-axe hung upon the beam
above the hearth, and Odin himself seemed to sleep. But this lasted
no longer than the days allotted to these processions: when they had
passed, the keel was again launched, the weapons taken from their
resting-place, while "grim-visaged war resumed his wrinkled front."
Even the cattle that fed upon the island where this temple stood were
held so sacred, that it was a crime to touch them, and he who drew
water from the fountain that flowed beside the grove, dared not, even
by a whisper, disturb the surrounding silence. We might almost fancy,
while reading the description of the idol they named Crodus, that we
saw before us the embodiment of one of Spenser's beautiful stanzas, or
that he himself had but turned into verse some old record, in which he
found pictured this image of one of the ancient Saxon gods. It was of
the figure of an old man, stooping through very age: he was clothed
in a white garment; a girdle of linen, the ends of which hung loose,
encircled his waist; his head was grey, and bare. He held in his right
hand a vessel, in which flowers floated in water; his left hand rested
upon a wheel, while he stood with his naked feet upon the back of a
prickly perch. How like Spenser's description is the above, of his "Old
January wrapped well in many weeds, to keep the cold away--of February,
with the old waggon-wheels and fish--of the hand cold through holding
all the day the hatchet keen." Such a resemblance would the eye of a
poet trace, and so would he transform old Crodus, the Saxon idol, into
the personification of one of his months.

Whoever broke into one of their temples, and stole the sacred vessels,
was punished with a slow, lingering, and terrible death. To the very
edge of the sands of the sea-shore was he dragged, when the tide was
low, and there made fast--his ears were cut off, and other parts of his
body mutilated--then he was left alone. Wave after wave came and went,
and washed around him, as the tide came in; he felt the sea rising
every minute, inch by inch--higher still, higher it came--every ripple
that made a murmur on the shore rang his death-knell, until the last
wave came that washed over him--then vengeance was satisfied. A more
awful death can scarcely be imagined.

They were a tall, big-boned, blue-eyed race of men, and it appears
from an old law made to punish a man who seized another by the hair,
that they at one period wore it so long as to fall upon the shoulders.
The females wore ornaments on their arms and necks. The government
was generally vested in the hands of the aged, and they appear to
have elected their ruler in war by the chiefs assembling and drawing
lots. He on whom it fell, they followed and obeyed; but when the war
was over, they were again all equal. They were divided into four
orders--the Etheling, or noble, who never married below his own rank;
the Free-man, who shared in the offices of government; the Freed-man,
or he who, either by purchase or merit, had obtained his liberty; and
the Serf, or slave. They reckoned their time by the number of nights,
and counted their years by the winters. April they named Easter-month,
after their goddess, Eostre. Thus we still retain a name which, though
commemorating the worship of an ancient idol, has now become endeared
to us by the Resurrection of Christ--a holy time which we can never
forget, for at every return it seems to bring back a spirit of beauty
into the world, whose pathway is strown with the sweetest and earliest
flowers of spring. Bright spots of light every way break through this
age of barbarism, and May, which again hangs the snow-white blossoms
upon the hawthorn, they called milk-month; nor can we now repeat the
name without images of lowing cattle and pleasant pastures springing up
before us, and we marvel how so warlike a race ever came to make use of
such poetical and pastoral names. The sun they worshipped as a goddess;
the moon as a god. A Saxon poet would have called the former, "The
golden lady of the day."

Although they appear to have been ignorant of the use of letters, yet
there is but little doubt that they used certain signs, or characters,
which they were able to interpret. Some of these Runic hieroglyphics
seem to have been engraven upon their swords. Their war-songs were
committed to memory, and it is probable that many a one ranked high
amongst their minstrels, who possessed no other talent than that of
remembering and repeating these ancient lays. It might be that they
were just enabled to form characters clear enough in their resemblance
to some natural object, which, when inscribed upon the rugged
monumental stone, bore some allusion to the name or bravery of the
chief whose memory it perpetuated. Their only books seem to have been
the bark of trees; the rind of the beech their favourite register;
a tablet on which the rustic chronicler of the present day still
makes the mark of his fair one's name, in characters only legible to
himself. In point of civilization, they were at this time centuries
behind the Britons, and an old author, describing them about the fifth
century, says, "You see amongst them as many piratical leaders as you
behold rowers, for they all command, obey, teach, and learn the art
of pillage. Hence, after your greatest caution, still greater care is
requisite. This enemy is fiercer than any other; if you be unguarded,
they attack; if prepared, they elude you. They despise the opposing,
and destroy the unwary; if they pursue, they overtake; if they fly,
they escape. Shipwrecks discipline them, not deter; they do not merely
know, they are familiar with, all the dangers of the sea; a tempest
gives them security and success, for it divests the meditated land of
the apprehension of a descent. In the midst of waves and threatening
rocks they rejoice at their peril, because they hope to surprise."
"Dispersed into many bodies," adds Zosimus, "they plundered by night,
and when day appeared, they concealed themselves in the woods, feasting
on the booty they had gained."[2]

When the Saxons first approached the British coast, they issued out
from the mouth of the Elbe, in wicker boats covered with leather,
which seem to have been but little better than the coracles used by
the ancient Britons. These were so light, that they found but little
difficulty in carrying them overland, from one river or creek to
another, then paddling their way under cover of the banks, wherever
sufficient water was to be found, until at last they came unaware upon
the natives. The chiules or keels which they possessed at the time they
were called upon to aid Vortigern, were capable of containing above
a hundred men each, a wonderful improvement on the frail barks with
which they first ventured into the British seas. Such as we have here
described them, were the tribe destined to overthrow an ancient race,
whom the Romans never wholly subjugated.



 "They bargained for Thanet with Hengist and Horsa,
  Their aggrandizement was to us disgraceful,
  After the destroying secret with the slaves at the confluent stream,
  Conceive the intoxication at the great banquet of Mead,
  Conceive the deaths in the great hour of necessity;
  Conceive the fierce wounds--the tears of the women--
  The grief that was excited by the weak chief (Vortigern);
  Conceive the sadness that will be revolving to us,
  When the brawlers of Thanet shall be our princes."


We have no account of the preliminary arrangements between the British
king, and the Saxon chiefs, when the latter arrived with three ships,
and landed at Ebbs-fleet, a spot which now lies far inland, though at
that period the Wanstum was navigable for large vessels, and formed a
broad barrier between the Island of Thanet and the mainland of Kent.
Vortigern and his chieftains were assembled in council when the Saxons
appeared, and Hengist and Horsa were summoned before them. The Saxon
ships, which contained about three hundred soldiers, were drawn up
beside the shore, where the adventurers anxiously awaited the issue
of the interview between their leaders and the British king. Such
a meeting as this could scarcely result from chance; the time of
landing--the assembled council--the attendance of Hengist and Horsa,
all bear evidence of some previous understanding between the parties,
similar to what we have before alluded to. Vortigern first interrogated
the Saxons as to the nature of their creed; Hengist enumerated the
names of the gods they worshipped, and further added, that they also
dedicated the fourth and sixth days in the week to Woden and Frea.
Inference might be drawn from the reply of Vortigern, that the Britons
were already Christians, though such a conclusion ought, doubtless, to
be limited in its application to the inhabitants of our island, for we
have evidence that all were not.

It was agreed that the Saxons were to assist the Britons, to drive the
Scots and Picts out of the island--that for such service they were to
receive food and clothing, and when not engaged in war they were to be
stationed in Ruithina, for by that name was the Isle of Thanet called
by the ancient Britons. There is no evidence that Vortigern intended to
give up this island, at that period, to the Saxons; the arrangement he
made had nothing new in it. Centuries before, the Britons had crossed
the sea, and fought in the wars of the Gauls; they had also aided the
Romans: it was a common custom for one nation to hire the assistance
of another; when the time of service was over, the soldiers either
returned to their own country, or settled down amongst the native
tribes, whom they had defended, as in Britain, many of the Romans and
Gauls had done before-time. In this case, however, the result proved
very different, though it would have been difficult for any one endowed
with the keenest penetration to have foreseen that three small ships,
probably containing in all not more than three hundred men, and these
willing to render assistance on very humble terms, should point out
a way over the waves, by which their companions in arms should come,
and conquer, and take possession of a country which it had cost the
Romans so many years of hard warfare to subjugate. The Saxons appear
to have done their duty; fighting was their every-day trade: their
robust natures had received no touch of Roman refinement, they earned
their bread with the points of their swords, and the blows of their
heavy battle-axes; they drove back the northern hordes beyond the
Roman walls, and they soon grew into great favour with the Britons.
All this was very natural to a nation now making rapid progress in
civilization, and one wealthy enough to pay others for fighting its
battles--it was a much easier life to sit comfortably in their walled
cities, to follow the chase, and enjoy the luxury of the bath, than
to be chasing the Picts and Scots from one county to another, through
forests and morasses, and over hills and dales, day after day; but to
do this securely more aid was required. Hengist and Horsa had left
numbers of their countrymen behind, who would willingly fight on the
same terms which they had accepted. Vortigern agreed to the proposition
they made, and more Saxons were speedily sent for. Seventeen ships
soon arrived, and on the deck of one of these vessels, from the stern
of which the banner of the white horse waved, stood a conqueror whose
long silken locks blew out in the breeze, unencumbered by either helmet
or crest, who bore neither sword, spear, shield nor battle-axe, but
was armed only with a pair of beautiful blue eyes, and a face of
such strange and surpassing beauty as had never before been mirrored
in our island waves: such was the Saxon Princess Rowena, destined to
win more broad acres from the Britons without striking a single blow,
than all the northern barbarians had ever gained by their numberless
invasions. On the landing of his daughter, accompanied by so many of
her countrymen, a great feast would, of course, be held to celebrate
the event, and there Vortigern and the British chiefs would, beyond
doubt, be assembled to welcome their new allies; there is nothing
remarkable in such an occurrence, nor in Rowena drinking to her
father's royal guest, nor in the island king falling at once in love
with the beautiful barbarian. Her drinking his health in a tongue to
which he was a stranger, her natural bashfulness, on first standing
in the presence of the British king--her confusion when she found her
language was not understood by him--all, doubtless, contributed to
make her look more interesting. Then above all to know that the blood
of Woden flowed in her veins, that she had descended from a hero,
whose renown in battle had raised him to the grandeur of a god, in the
idolatrous estimation of his own countrymen; all these things coupled
together had surely romance and poetry enough about them, aided by
such a beautiful countenance, to turn a calmer brain than Vortigern's,
heated as his was by love and wine. He had no peace until he married
her; her image seems to have haunted his memory, and caused him more
uneasiness until she became his wife, than all the inroads of the
northern hordes had hitherto done. Even before this period, all had
gone on smoothly and evenly between the Britons and the Saxons; but
now Love himself had landed amongst the last-comers, and received the
warmest welcome of them all. Who could dream that he but heralded the
way for slaughter, conquest, and death to follow in, or that the beauty
he accompanied should be the cause of bloodshed between the Saxons and
the Britons?--yet so it was.

[Illustration: _Vortigern and Rowena._]

The Saxons were, shortly after, the sole possessors of the isle of
Thanet, and the influence of Vortigern's pretty pagan wife was soon
visible to the jealous eyes of the Britons. Hengist and Horsa began
to demand more liberal supplies, and to cast a longing glance upon
Kent; but the Britons had spirit enough to resist such a concession,
and here we for a time lose sight of Vortigern and Rowena, though it
is highly probable that they retreated into the isle of Thanet, then
held by the Saxons, from the coming storm. Vortimer and Catigern, the
two sons of Vortigern by a former marriage, now took the command of
the Britons, with whom the Roman settlers in the island appear to have
joined; all resolved to make head in one common cause, and to drive the
Saxons out of Britain. Hengist and Horsa, to strengthen their force,
formed a league with their old brothers in plunder, the Scots and
Picts, and war once more broke out in the land, more terrible in its
results than it had ever been in the struggles between the Britons and
the Romans. What few fragments we find in the old Welsh bards, alluding
to these ancient battles, are filled with dreadful descriptions, and
awful images of slaughter. We are borne onward, from the shout of the
onset, to the mighty shock when the opposing ranks close in battle,
when blade clashes against blade, when dark frowning men sink with
gory seams on their foreheads, and tall chieftains rock and struggle
together in the combat, and as each knee is brought to the ground, it
rests upon a bed of gore, while battle-axes, as they are uplifted,
and glitter a moment in the air, shed down crimson drops. Then gloomy
biers pass by, on which "red-men" are borne; and ravens come sweeping
through the dim twilight which settles over that ancient battle-field,
to prey upon the fallen warriors. Such wailings as these must have
caused the heart of Vortigern to have beat painfully, even when the
fair head of Rowena was pillowed upon it, and to have made him sigh,
and regret that such beauty had been purchased at so great a sacrifice.
At the battle of the Ford-of-Eagles, long after called Eaglesford,
but now Aylesford, in Kent, did Horsa, the brother of Hengist, fall;
he whose banner of the white-horse had waved over many a victorious
field, and been the terror of the northern tribes, now fell to rise
no more. On the side of the Britons, also perished Catigern, and a
sore reproach must his death have been to his father, Vortigern, when
he heard the tidings! for, alas, he was wasting the hours in soft
dalliance with his blue-eyed idolater, while his sons were fighting
and falling in defence of their country. Vortimer had now the sole
command of the Britons, and, if the ancient bards are to be believed,
it was by his hand that Horsa was slain. A sad pang must such a rumour
as this have sent through the aching heart of poor Rowena, as she
gazed upon her husband, and in him beheld the father of her uncle's
murderer, the destroyer of her father's companion in arms--he who
had shared the fortunes of Hengist, from the hour when first the prow
of their ship ploughed together the sands on the British shore. One
of our old chroniclers (Roger de Wendover) states that, on a future
day, Rowena bitterly revenged the death of Horsa, by bribing one of
Vortimer's servants to poison her son-in-law, and that thus fell, in
the bloom of life, one of the noblest of the British warriors--a victim
to the vengeance of his step-mother. Whether this is true or not, it
is now impossible to decide, so much are the statements of our early
historians at variance; one thing, however, is clear, the Saxons were
defeated, and compelled to escape in their long chiules, or ships; nor
do they appear to have returned until after the death of Vortimer,
when, at the suggestion of Rowena, her father was again invited to
Britain, and this time Hengist returned with a larger force than had
hitherto landed in our island. When the Saxon landed, he made an offer
of peace to the Britons, and invited the chiefs to a feast, which he
gave on the occasion. Both parties were to come without their arms,
such was the command issued by Hengist, and enforced on the part of the
British leaders by Vortigern, who was also present. The treacherous
Saxon had, however, given orders to his followers to conceal short
swords or daggers under their garments, and when he gave the signal,
to fall upon and slaughter every Briton present, with the exception
of Vortigern. The feast commenced, the wine-cup circulated, the Saxon
and British chiefs sat side by side; those who had fought together,
face to face and hand to hand, were drinking from the same cup, for it
appears to have been so contrived that a false-friend should be placed
between every foe. Vortigern seems to have sat secure, and never once
dreamed of the treachery that surrounded him; and, perhaps, even before
the smile had well faded from Hengist's face, as he talked of the
pleasant days that were yet in store for his unsuspecting son-in-law,
he turned round and exclaimed: "_Nimed eure saxes_," "unsheath your
swords," and in a few moments after three hundred British chiefs and
nobles lay lifeless upon the ground. The motto prefixed to our present
chapter is from one of the poems of Golyddan, a Welsh bard, who lived
within a century or two after this cold-blooded massacre, a deed which
must for many a long year afterwards have rankled in the minds of the
Britons, and which their bards would never allow to slumber, whenever
they sang the deeds of their departed chieftains. Doubtless Rowena
was present at that bloody banquet, and with a cruel look confronted
"the weak chief," as he stood pale and horror-stricken, glancing from
father to daughter, and cursing the hour, as he looked into the face of
the beautiful heathen, whose blue eyes could perchance gaze, without
shrinking for a moment, upon those wan and clay-cold countenances that
were now upturned in death. Though long years have passed away, and the
hawthorns have put out their blossoms above a thousand times since the
fatal May in which this terrible tragedy took place, still the eye of
the imagination can scarcely conjure up the scene without a shiver. It
is supposed to have been near Stonehenge where this cruel butchery took
place, probably within the very circle of those Druidical monuments,
some of which still stand, though at that period the whole temple was,
doubtless, perfect. If, as we are led to believe, many of the British
chieftains were Christians, there was something in keeping with the
stern character of the Saxon pagans, in thus slaughtering their enemies
in the presence of the very altars on which the islanders had formerly
sacrificed to the gods they themselves worshipped, and such an act
might, in their eyes, hallow even this savage revenge. To slaughter all
who did not believe in their heathen creed, was with the Pagan Saxons a
religious duty; they believed such acts were acceptable to their gods.

We shudder at the very thought of such a deed--nearly fourteen
centuries have elapsed since the sands of Salisbury Plain drank in
the blood of these victims. Yet we startle to see the dead thus piled
together around the grey old stones which the footsteps of Time have
all but worn away, as if we still looked calmly on while they were
brought bleeding to our very thresholds. Still the historian of the
past might mingle his sympathy, and carry back many a deed which has
since then been done, to be rolled up and mourned over in the same
great catalogue of cruelty. The shadows that move through the old
twilight of time, bend under the weight of the "red-men" that are borne
upon the bier. The form of Hengist seems to stand leaning upon the red
pillars that mark the entrance to the Hall of Murder in Valhalla, as if
wondering "why the chariot wheels so long delayed," and the guests that
still tarried behind, hastened to the banquet of sculls, which stood
awaiting their coming, in the halls of Odin. For such a deed stamps him
as a fitting servitor in that horrible hall of slaughter.

At Crayford in Kent, another great battle was fought between the
Saxons and the Britons, in which the latter were defeated with great
slaughter, and so complete was the victory, that the remnant of the
British army were compelled to retreat into London. But with all his
success, Hengist was unable to keep possession of little more than the
county of Kent, and the island of Thanet, and even this, it appears,
he would have found it difficult to retain, but for the dissensions
which were ever breaking out amongst the British chiefs. The Britons
were able at this very time to send out twelve thousand armed men into
Gaul, to war against the Visigoths, so that there can be but little
doubt that, had unity reigned amongst them, they would have found no
difficulty in driving out the Saxons, as they had done before-time.
The island seems to have been so divided at this period, and under
the command of so many different chiefs or kings, that they cared not
to bring their united forces to bear upon one corner of the kingdom,
especially that where the presence of Vortigern still appears to have
been acknowledged; for it is probable that the British king, after the
death of his son, settled down in his old age, amongst the Saxons,
"a sadder and a wiser man." We even hope, in spite of his misdeeds,
and the miseries into which his love for a fair face plunged the
whole island of Britain, that there is no truth in the statements
of our early Saxon historians, who have left it on record that he
fled into Wales, where, hated alike "by slave and free-man, monk and
layman, strong and weak, small and great," he at last perished with
the fair Rowena, and all his family, in those flames which destroyed
the fortress where he had sought shelter from his enemies. Yet many
venerable names might be brought forward in support of this story of
the terrible end of an ancient British king. A dreadful fate for fair
Rowena, if true, and all the evidence is sadly in its favour, and from
our hearts, we cannot help pitying the poor girl, who with downcast
eyes, as she held the golden goblet in her hand, listened to the
promises which the island monarch poured into her ears; who stepped
from the deck of her father's galley, to share a throne, yet appears
never to have forsaken her husband in all the varied vicissitudes
of his chequered life; but through battle, flood, and fire, to have
trod the same perilous path with him, hand in hand, sometimes, it may
be, when alone, shedding tears at the remembrance of her father's
cruelties, weeping one hour, for the death of her own friends, and the
next, comforting Vortigern for the loss of those he mourned. We picture
her, as in the joyousness of her heart she left her native home to
meet her father--no mother appears to have accompanied her--and, pagan
as she was, we know not how pure and holy the feelings of that heart
might be; for, red with blood as the hands of Hengist were, they had,
doubtless, many a time parted her silken ringlets, as he stooped down
and imprinted a father's kiss upon her lips. Perhaps a tear stole down
the deep furrows which time and care had ploughed in the weather-beaten
countenance of Hengist, as he embraced her when she first landed on
our island shore, as in her pure countenance he traced the image of
her mother, whom he had once so fondly loved. Poor Rowena! she might
have moved like a ministering angel, through all the terrors of those
stormy times, her mild blue eyes beaming comfort on every woe-begone
countenance on which they glanced--now soothing the restless slumber of
her father, as he started up, dreaming of some new revenge, and by her
falling tears, and low-breathed whispers, chasing away the dark demon
from his couch; for even through the past, those gentle eyes seem to
beam upon us, and the tears by which they are dimmed quench the cruel
light, that when in anger, flashed from beneath her fringed eye-lids.
Oh, Mercy! thou wouldst not leave that beautiful Saxon mother to perish
shrieking amidst the surrounding flames! What crimes she had, sprang
from her faith; she was nursed in a cruel creed; when the grim shadow
of Odin fell not over and darkened her gentle heart, she was a fond
woman, even as our mothers have ever been. But she is dead and gone.
Hengist is now no more, and Eric, his son, reigns sole king over the
white-cliffs, and green hills, and pastoral valleys of Kent, and the
keels of other chiules are grating upon our chalky headlands. The grey
curtain of Time again drops down over the dead which in fancy stood
before us, and after the night of death is past, a new morning breaks,

  "Laughs aside the clouds with playful scorn."



 "He was a shield to his country:
  The courteous leader of the army;
  His course was a wheel in battle,
  He was a city to old age;
  The head, the noblest pillar of Britain;
  An eagle to his foe in his thrust,
  Brave as generous;
  In the angry warfare, certain of victory."


The next Saxon chieftain of any note, who effected a landing in
Britain, and established himself in the country, was Ella; he came,
accompanied by his three sons and the same number of ships, the latter
being anchored beside the Isle of Thanet, where Hengist and Horsa,
twenty-eight years before, became auxiliaries under Vortigern. From the
south of Kent, a vast forest extended into Sussex and Hampshire, a huge
uncultivated wilderness, called Andreade, or Andredswold, measuring
above a hundred miles in length, and a long day's march in breadth, for
it was full thirty miles wide, and abounded with wolves, deer, and wild
boars. Near the Sussex entrance of this primeval English forest, Ella
fought his first battle, and drove the Britons into the wide wooded
waste. After a time, the Saxon chief received fresh reinforcements,
and not until then did he venture to attack the ancient British town
which was named Andredes Ceaster, and stood, strongly fortified, on
the edge of the forest. While the Saxons were attempting to scale the
walls, a body of the Britons rushed upon them from the wood, and, thus
attacked in the rear, the invaders were compelled to turn their backs
upon the town and carry the fight into the forest. Three times was
the assault renewed, for no sooner were the Saxons at the foot of the
wall than the Britons were upon their heels; each time Ella's loss was
severe; night came, and both parties rested until the morrow, encamped
within sight of each other. With sunrise, the battle was renewed, and
the Saxon chief this time drove the Britons still further into the
forest, but all was useless--they knew every turning and every thicket
that afforded a shelter, and by the time the besiegers had again
reached the town, the brave islanders were there, ready to pin the
first Saxon to the wall who attempted to scale it, with the unerring
javelins which they could hurl to an inch. The forces under Ella became
furious; they stood between two enemies; they were attacked both from
the town and the forest; whichever way they turned, the pointed spears
of the Britons were presented. At length, the Saxon chief divided his
army into two bodies: one he commanded to drive the Britons into the
forest, and to prevent them from returning; the other, at the same
time, began to break down the walls. Revenge was now the order of the
day: maddened by their losses, and irritated by the long delay, the
merciless Saxons put every soul within the walls to death--neither
man, woman, nor child, did they leave alive; such a massacre had never
before taken place. Even the walls were levelled to the earth, and, for
ages after, that town stood by the gloomy forest, silent, ruined, and
desolate; until even the time of Edward the First it was pointed out to
the stranger; and though the long grass, and the moss, and the lichen,
had grown grey upon its ruins, there were still traces of its fallen
grandeur "which," in the words of the old chronicler, "showed how noble
a city it had once been."

It is painful, even only in fancy, to picture the return of those
British warriors from the forest; how startling must have been the
very silence which reigned over those ruins, the vast dreary woodland
wilderness behind, the levelled walls and the bodies of the dead
before--here the remains of a beloved home which the destroying fire
had blackened--on the hearth a beautiful form, with her long hair
steeped in her own heart's blood, her child stretched across her arm,
over which the heavy rafter had in mercy fallen, the wolf already
prowling about the threshold. Even through the night of time, we can
almost hear their moans--each warrior reproaching himself for having
fled, and envying the unbroken sleep of the slain. How looked those
British fathers and husbands when they again met the Saxon slayers in
battle? Who marvels, after reading of such deeds as these, that they
hung the heads of their enemies at their sides--that they found music
in the gurgling of their blood--that as the foe expired they stood
calmly looking on, mocking him with a solemn death-chaunt, and telling
the dying man of the wife and home he would never see again--of the
savage laugh, "bitter and sullen as the bursting of the sea, of the
dead which in their fury they mangled--of the joy with which they
hailed the flapping of the raven's wings, as they heard them descending
upon the battle-field?" Such images would maddened revenge select to
express its triumph in, and the only marvel is, that so many beautiful
passages, expressive of grief, and sorrow, and heart-broken despair,
are scattered over the wild wailings of the early British bards. Yet
such scenes as we have here depicted it was theirs to deplore--such
revenge as they took, when the current of battle bore them on to
victory, it was theirs to exult in, and their bards, gifted with the
power of song, retired to mourn like the dove, or sallied forth to
destruction with the scream of the eagle. They were familiar with the
images of death, were called upon every day to defend their lives, and
were never certain that she, whose beautiful smile beamed love on their
departure in the morning, would in the evening stand waiting upon the
threshold to welcome their return. Neither the weeping mother, nor
the smiling child, had, in those days, power to turn aside the edge
of the Saxon sword. Thus was the second Saxon kingdom called Sussex,
established, by Ella, and his three sons.

Eighteen years after, another of Woden's descendants, named Cerdric,
came with his followers in five ships. Where they landed is uncertain,
though it does not appear that we should be much in error if we fixed
upon Yarmouth, which for centuries after was called Cerdricksand, and
known by that name even in Camden's day. At the time of his landing,
the Britons were in possession of the whole island, with the exception
of Kent and Sussex, and the Saxons who inhabited these kingdoms appear
to have aided the new-comers. Battle followed upon battle as usual,
and we are thankful that only so few scanty records exist, for it
would be wearisome to go over such successive bead-rolls of slaughter.
Nor was Cerdric allowed to land peaceably, for, like Julius Cæsar
above five centuries before, he had to fight his way from the first
moment of leaving the deck of his vessel. One great battle, however,
was fought, in which the British king Natanleod was slain; the two
armies met at Churdfrid, and in the onset the islanders appear to have
had the advantage. Natanleod commenced the attack on the right wing
of the Saxons, broke through the line, bore down the standards, and
compelled Cerdric to retreat. Years had passed away since the Britons
had before mustered such a force; they pursued the routed foe across
the field with terrible slaughter. The victory, however, was far from
being complete, for while the Britons plunged forward, hot and eager in
the pursuit, the forces under the command of the son of Cerdric closed
upon the flank of the pursuing army and compelled them to wheel round
and defend themselves. The Saxon chief also recovered from the panic,
and attacked them in front; thus the Britons were hemmed in on both
sides, and their centre was soon broken. All was now hurry, retreat,
confusion, and slaughter; quarter was neither craved nor given, those
who could not escape fought and fell, and when the battle was ended,
the body of the British king lay surrounded by five thousand of his
lifeless warriors. It will be readily imagined that Cerdric must have
received great assistance from Kent and Sussex to have won such a
victory, and it is evident that the leagued forces did not separate
without extending their ravages--many a fair province was desolated,
the inhabitants slaughtered, their houses burnt to the ground, and
their priests mercilessly butchered; for wherever the Christian
religion abounded, there the sword of the Saxon was found unsheathed.

Stuf and Wihtgar next came, both of them Cerdric's kinsmen, and it
seems as if scarcely a favourable wind now blew, without wafting a
fresh fleet of Saxon chiefs to the British coast. They evidently
began to look upon Britain as their own; so many relations came one
after the other and settled down, and never returned, that we can
imagine the only topic of conversation now in Jutland was about
Britain--that houses and lands were at a discount--that everybody was
either purchasing or building ships--that the old crones reaped quite
a harvest in standing upon the headlands and sending prayers after the
vessels, for Jutes, Angles, and Saxons were now all astir; rumours
had flown over the ocean that there were kingdoms for those who dare
venture for them, and that, no matter how distant the descent might
be, so long as the voyager had a drop of Woden's blood in his veins,
there was a crown for him if he could but find followers to fight
for it. Nor had the poor Britons any hope left, for as one died off
there was always another ready to succeed. Cynric followed Cerdric; he
passed away, and Cealwin came--killed two or three British kings, of
whom we know nothing, excepting that one was called Conmail, another
Condidan, and the third Farinmail--added the cities of Gloucester,
Cirencester, and Bristol to his dominions--and finally established the
kingdom of Wessex, which included several counties, beside the Isle
of Wight. But we must not thus hurry over this stirring period, for a
new champion had sprung up amongst the Britons, the king Arthur of old
romance, the hero of poetry and fable, the warrior whose very existence
has, to many, become a matter of doubt. What little we know of any of
the British kings who existed at this period, is almost limited to
the bare mention of their names. A new language had sprung up, and,
excepting among the conquered, there was no one left to record the
deeds of the British heroes, but the Welsh bards; for what sympathy
could the worshippers of Woden have with the warriors who spoke another
language, and followed a creed so different to their own? What should
we have known of the earlier Britons but for Julius Cæsar? Who can
doubt but that the Saxons cared only to chronicle the deeds of their
own countrymen, or who can tell how many records were destroyed by
the misbelieving Danes on a later day? We have more than tradition to
prove the existence of Arthur: he is alluded to by the ancient bards,
and mentioned by them in succession, for as one caught up and carried
forward the Cymric lay of another, so did he allude to warriors of
other days. The Saxons had enough to do to record their own conquests,
and left the Britons to mourn over their own disasters, for what they
remembered with feelings of pride would to the new-comers be a source
of regret; a British victory would but afford them a theme for a dirge,
and the very memory of a hero who had occasionally triumphed over them
would be a source of pain. Those who furnished Gildas and Nennius with
the subjects for their histories would not be such as kept a record of
the bravery of the Britons, yet Arthur is mentioned by them both. These
venerable chroniclers could but tell what they heard; many of the Welsh
bards fought in the battles of which they sang, and even defeat, as
well as victory, was alike woven into their lays. No such remains are
found amongst the Saxon historians, yet they both mention the battles
in which Arthur fought: he was a British king; and, though Gildas was
living within twenty years after the death of Arthur, he had but little
sympathy for him--nevertheless he praises his valour.

Arthur is the last British king in whose fortunes we strongly
sympathize. We see his native land about to be wrested from him. In
every corner of the island are strangers landing, and taking possession
of the soil. In almost every battle the Britons are defeated; they
who, from the first dawning of history, had been the possessors of the
island, are about to be driven from it, and that, too, at a period
when they were just becoming familiar to us. As we feel for and with
them at this time, so do the Saxons at last interest us, and there
our sympathy ends; the Normans never become so endeared to us as they
have been. From their first landing we seem to dislike them, even more
than we do the Saxons, whom we begin to see darkening every point of
the land, for as yet they are Pagans, and just as they gather upon our
favour, the Danes approach; and then we feel as much interested on
the side of the Saxons as we do now on that of the Britons. For there
are currents in history which bear us forward against our will--we
struggle against them in vain--we are swept onward through new scenes,
and whirled so rapidly amongst past events, that we no longer cling to
passing objects to retard our courses; but as the wide ocean opens out
before us, we gaze upon its vastness in wonderment, and are lost in
the contemplation of the shifting scenes which are ever chasing each
other over its surface. The forms that fall upon the pages of history,
are like the sunshine and shadow pursuing each other over the face
of the ocean, where the golden fades into the grey; and as each wave
washes nearer to the shore, it is ever changing its hue, from gloom
to brightness, until it breaks upon the beach, and is no more. Arthur
leading on the Britons, with the image of the Virgin upon his shield,
seems, in our eyes, only like some armed phantom, standing upon the
rim of the horizon at sunset, and pointing with his sword towards the
coming darkness; then he sinks behind the rounded hill, never to appear
again. His twelve battles have a glorious indistinctness,--they sink
one behind the other in the sunset, just as we can trace the bright
armour, and the drooping banners, and the moving host, in the fading
gold of the clouds,--they then melt around the dying glories of heaven.
Something great and grand seems ever shaping itself before the eye; but
ere we are able to seize upon any distinct feature, all is gone, never
to appear again.

Arthur first appears to us checking the flight of a British prince; we
see his hand on the rein, he is about to bear off the beautiful lady,
but is dissuaded from it by his companions. The cavalcade passes on,
and he rides moodily at the head of his followers,--then one of the
dark turnings of time shuts him out from the sight.

Sword in hand, we next behold him, in hot pursuit after a British
chief, who has slain some of his soldiers; the image of the Virgin is
borne rapidly through the air, his teeth are clenched, and there is a
frown upon his brow. A priest approaches--others come up--they tell him
that there are enemies enough to slay amongst the Saxons. The angry
spot fades from his forehead, and he sits calmly in his saddle--again
he vanishes.

His wife is then borne away, and we meet him breathing vengeance
against the king of Somersetshire, vowing that he will, ere night,
leave Melva to sleep shorter by the head--he slackens his rein for
a few moments beside the gate of a monastery: good and holy men are
there, the hand of a venerable man is placed upon his bridle, the image
of the Virgin he bears upon his shield is appealed to; he muses for a
time with his eyes bent upon the ground, he allows his war-horse to be
led under the grey gateway of the monastery--his wife is restored, and
Melva forgiven, and the curtain again falls.

Huel, another king of the Britons, has been tampering with the enemies
of his country; he is upbraided by Arthur for his treachery, then slain
by his own hand. We see him ever in the van, at the battles of Glen,
Douglas, Bassas, the Wood of Caledon, Castle Gunnion, on the banks of
the Rebroit, on the mountain of Cathregonian, and the battle in which
the Saxons were routed on the Badon Hills, and we no longer wonder at
the slow progress made by Cerdric, or that he died before the kingdom
of Wessex was established. The armed troops, headed by king Arthur,
stood between his advance into Wales; they remembered the hills of
Bath, and the number of slain they had left upon those summits. Saving
the feud with Medrawd, in which the British king received the blow by
which he died, these few facts are about all that we can gather of the
renowned deeds of the mighty King Arthur.

Excepting the slight mention made of him in the works of Gildas and
Nennius, the former of whom, as we have before stated, was living about
the period ascribed to Arthur, we find, no other record of his deeds,
beyond those tradition has preserved in the lays of the Welsh bards.
After the battle of Camlan, where Arthur received his death-blow, he
was carried from the field, and conveyed to Glastonbury Abbey, and
consigned to the care of a noble lady, named Morgan, who appears to
have been a kinswoman of king Arthur's; in her charge he was left to
be cured of his wounds. He, however, died, though his death was long
kept a secret, and rumours were sent abroad that he had been removed
into another world, but would one day again appear, and reign sole king
of Britain. Ages after, this was believed in; it was a thought that
often cheered the fading eyes of the dying Celt; he believed that he
but left his children behind him for a time; and that Arthur, with the
Virgin upon his shield, and his sword, "Caliburne," in his hand, would
assuredly one day come and lead the remnant of the ancient Cymry on
to victory. No historian, who has looked carefully into the few facts
which we possess relating to this British king, has ever doubted the
existence of such a belief; it was a coming devoutly looked for--the
dreamy solace of a fallen nation, their only comfort when all beside
had perished. No marvel that round his memory so many fables are
woven--that miracle upon miracle was ascribed to him, and deed upon
deed piled together, until even the lofty summit of high romance at
last toppled down with all its giants, and monsters, and improbable
accumulation of enemies slain, which in the days of Gildas amounted
to hundreds, and that down with it tumbled nearly all the few facts
which had swelled into such an inordinate bulk from his fair fame.
How it would have astonished the true Arthur, could he but have been
restored to life, and by the light of the few embers which glimmered
in the British huts in the evening twilight, have heard some bard, the
descendant of Llywarch the aged, who knew him well, and had looked on
him, face to face, recounting his deeds at the battle of Llongberth!
Yet, through the traditions of these very bards, by whom his deeds were
so magnified, is his memory preserved, though above thirteen centuries
have glided away. All belief in his return must, ages before this, have
perished; yet his memory was not forgotten, and it is on record, that a
secret had been entrusted to one who had probably descended from a long
line of ancient minstrels; for the druids, who numbered bards amongst
their order, had mysteries which they only confided to each other, and
these were seldom revealed until the approach of death. Nor can we tell
how much they were interested in keeping the death of Arthur a secret,
for we must not forget that the fires upon their altars were not wholly
extinguished when the British king fell beneath the fatal blow, which
he received from the hand of his nephew in the field of Camlan, for
that his death was kept a secret has never been disputed.

Though the discovery of the remains of king Arthur has long been a
matter of doubt, yet while it is supported by such high authority as
Giraldus Cambrensis and William of Malmsbury, who were living at the
period it is said to have taken place, and while even Sharon Turner has
admitted it into his "History of the Anglo-Saxons," we should scarcely
be justified in rejecting it from our pages. The discovery is said to
have originated as follows:--

Henry the Second, during his visits into Wales, freely admitted the
Welsh bards into his presence; and as he numbered amongst his own
household a minstrel of some celebrity, named Pierre de Vidal, there is
every reason to conclude that he was a willing listener to the ancient
lays which were chanted in those days in the halls of the nobles. By
one of the old British bards he was told that king Arthur was interred
in Glastonbury Abbey; that the spot was marked by two pyramids, or
pillars; that the body was buried very deep, to prevent the Saxons from
discovering it; and that, instead of a stone coffin, the remains would
be found in the trunk of a hollowed oak--a form of interment, as we
have before shown, very common amongst the ancient Britons. The king
transmitted this information to the abbot of Glastonbury, commanding
him to dig between the pillars, and endeavour to discover the body
of the British king. In the cemetery of the abbey, and between the
monuments which the Welsh bard had pointed out, they commenced the
search, and dug, it is said, until they came to a stone, under which
they found a leaden cross, and the following inscription: "Hic jacet
sepultus inclytus Rex Arthurus in insula Avollonia." Though we must
confess that there is something very doubtful about the inscription
of a British king not being in Welsh, when the Cymry were said, at
this period, to have been acquainted with letters, we will pass it by,
and go on with the narrative. Sixteen feet lower, it is said, they
found the outer coffin, which, as before described, was formed out
of the solid stem of an oak, hollowed in the centre to contain the
body. The leg-bones, we are told, were of an unusual size, being the
breadth of three fingers longer than those of the tallest man present.
These bones Giraldus, it is said, took in his hand, and also read the
inscription, for he was present at the disinterment. The skull was
large, and marked with ten wounds--nine of these had healed in the
bone, the tenth was open, and probably showed where the mortal blow was
struck that terminated his life. Near at hand, were found the remains
of his wife; the long yellow hair which the ancient bards loved to
dwell upon, in their descriptions of the fair queen, appeared perfect,
until touched. The remains were removed into the abbey, and placed in
a magnificent shrine, which, by the order of Edward the First, was
placed before the high altar. In the year one thousand two hundred and
seventy-six, nearly a hundred years after the bodies were discovered,
the same king, accompanied by his queen, visited Glastonbury, and had
the shrine opened to look upon the remains of the renowned warrior and
his once fair consort. King Edward folded the bones of the reputed
Arthur in a rich shroud, while his wife did the same with those of
the yellow-haired queen; then placed them again reverentially within
the shrine. The pillars which marked the spot where the bodies were
discovered, long remained; and William of Malmsbury, who was living
at the period when they were disinterred, has left an account of the
inscription and figures upon the pillars, which were five-sided, and
twenty-six feet high.[3] Neither the meanings of the inscriptions, or
the figures, were at the period of the discovery rightly understood.
What befel them afterwards we know not, though the fate of the abbey
is well known. Whether the discovery of these remains be true or not,
there cannot be a doubt about the existence of king Arthur; for, were
there even no allusion made to him by Gildas and Nennius, who lived
near upon the period when he was waging war with Cerdric and Cealwin;
or by the British bards, who knew him personally, and even fought under
his command,--were there no such undeniable evidence as the above, the
traditions which so long preserved his remembrance would go far to
prove his existence. But these throw no light upon the achievements by
which he became so renowned; it is like discovering the casket without
the gem--there is evidence of the treasure, and the care with which it
was preserved, but what the treasure itself was, we know not. What few
facts we have thrown together, are all that can really be depended
upon as the true history of king Arthur: his knights, his round table,
and the deeds which are attributed to him, must ever stand amongst the
thousand-and-one tales which a wonder-loving people have treasured in
all ages, and some of which are found even amongst the most barbarous
nations. They appear to have been such as raised Woden into a god in
the darkest era of Saxon paganism; and as Roman civilization seems
never to have spread far amongst the ancient Cymry in Wales, we are
justified in concluding that they also loved to shed around the memory
of their bravest chieftain the same mysterious reverence, and that what
was wanting to make up the unnatural stature of the image of their
idolatry, they piled up from old legends and time-out-of-mind fables,
that "give delight, but hurt not." The discovery of king Arthur's
remains is at best but doubtful history.



 "Over the hawk's station, over the hawk's banquet of heads,
  Over the quivering of the spears, reddening was the wing;
  Over the howling of the storm the course of the sea-gull was seen;
  Over the blood, whirling and flowing, the exulting ravens were
  They hovered above the treasure of the fierce-winged race,
  And their clamour went spreading through the sky."


During the period in which the events occurred that are narrated in the
opening pages of our last chapter, another body of Saxons had arrived
in Britain, and settled down in Essex, where under Erkenwin they laid
the foundation of that kingdom or state, which eventually extended
into Middlesex, and included London--then a town of considerable note,
though bearing no marks of its high destiny, as its few houses heaved
up and overlooked the Thames. Little did the fisherman dream, as he
turned back to gaze upon his humble home, where the morning sunbeams
fell, that the hut in which he had left his children asleep, stood
where a city would one day rise, that should become the metropolis
of England, and the envy of surrounding nations. Still less did those
ancient Saxons, as they landed in the marshes of Essex, ever imagine
that they were marching onward towards a town, whose renown would one
day spread to the uttermost ends of the earth, a city which would at
last arrest the gaze of the whole wide world, whose grandeur would only
be eclipsed by its greatness, and stand the sun of the earth, defying
all eyes to point out, amid the blaze of its splendour, where its
brightness began or where it ended. But while the tide which bore on a
new population was thus setting in, and the kingdom of East Anglia was
formed by a portion of the Saxon tribe, who have left no other names
behind than those given to the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, the
most formidable force that had hitherto arrived in Britain, since the
time of the Romans, landed between the Tweed and the Firth of Forth.
Forty ships were at once anchored near the mouths of these rivers, and
from them stepped on shore, Ida and his twelve sons, with a number
of nameless chiefs, who belonged to the tribe of Angles, and a long
train of Saxon followers, all of whom had sworn to acknowledge Ida as
their king, for he also claimed descent from the inexhaustible stock
of Woden. Between the Clyde and the Humber, the country was divided
amongst many of the British tribes, all of whom had their separate
king, or chief, and were ever doing their utmost, unconsciously, to aid
the conquest of the Saxons, by waging war with each other. Bernicia
and Deira, as they were afterwards called, were at the time of Ida's
landing governed by the following kings or chiefs, for it is difficult
to distinguish their proper titles, named Gall, Dyvedel, Ysgwnell,
Urien, the patron of Taliesin the bard, Rhydderc the generous, Gwallog,
Aneurin, himself a poet, together with other sovereigns whose very
names have perished, and who all appear to have, for once, united, and
made a bold stand against the advance of Ida.

We have now the light of these ancient bards to guide us through
this remote period, and some of them fought in the battles of which
they have left us descriptions. Chief amongst these British warriors
appears to have been Urien; Taliesin calls him the "shield of heroes,
the thunderbolt of the Cymry," and compares his onset to "the rushing
of mighty waves, and fiery meteors blazing athwart the heavens." Ida,
they designated the flame-man, or flame-bearer, so terrible was the
devastation which he made. Many battles were fought between these
renowned chieftains. It was on the night which ushers in the Sabbath,
when the "Flame-bearer" approached, with his forces divided into
four companies, to surround Goddeu and Reged, provinces over which
Urien governed. Ida spread out his forces from Argoedd to Arfynnydd,
and having assumed this threatening position, he daringly demanded
submission and hostages from the Britons. Urien indignantly spurned the
proposition, and turning to his brother chieftains, exclaimed: "Let us
raise our banners where the mountain winds blow--let us dash onward
with our forces over the border--let each warrior lift his spear above
his head, and rush upon the destroyer, in the midst of his army, and
slay him, together with his followers." Taliesin, who was present, and
fought under the banner of Urien, thus describes the "Battle of the
Pleasant Valley:" "When the shouts of the Britons ascended, louder than
the roaring of the waves upon the storm-tossed shore, neither field nor
forest afforded safety to the foe: I saw the warriors in their brave
array, I saw them after the morning's strife--oh, how altered! I saw
the conflict between the perishing hosts, the blood that gushed forward
and soaked into the red ground:--the valley which was defended by a
rampart was no longer green. Wan, weary men, pale with affright, and
stained with blood, dropped their arms and staggered across the ford;
I saw Urien, with his red brow--his sword fell on the bucklers of his
enemies with deadly force--he rushed upon them like an eagle enraged."
In this battle, the Britons appear to have been victorious--others
followed in which they were defeated, for the "flame-bearing man"
spread terror wherever he trod. He, however, at last fell by Owen the
son of Urien, one of the poets, who also perished by the hand of one
of his own countrymen, and his death was bemoaned by the British bard
Llywarch, in such a plaintive strain that there are few compositions
which excel this ancient elegy, for its beautiful pathos and wild,
mournful images; some of these are as follows: "I bear a head from the
mountains; the body will ere night be buried under the cairn of stones
and earth! Where is he that supported and feasted me? Euryddiel will
be joyless to-night. Whom shall I praise, now Urien is no more? The
hall is stricken into ruins,--the floor desolate, where many a hound
and hawk were trained for the chase. Nettles and weeds will grow over
that hearth, which, when Urien lived, was ever open to the tread of
the needy; the shout of the warriors as they uplifted the mead cups,
no more will be heard rioting. The decaying green will cover it, the
mouldering lichen will conceal it, the thorn will above it grow; the
cauldron will become rusted that seethed the deer, the sword of the
warrior will no longer clank over it, no sound of harmony will again
be heard there; where once the blazing torches flashed, and the deep
drinking horn went round, the swine will root, and the black ants
swarm, for Urien is no more!" Such were the immortal echoes that
floated around our island, nearly a thousand years before Shakspere
"struck the golden lyre."

After the death of Urien, another severe battle was fought in the north
between the Britons and Angles, who accompanied Ida. Aneurin, who was
in the fight, has composed the longest poem which has descended to us
descriptive of those ancient conflicts; it is called the "Gododin,"
and was held in such reverence by the Welsh bards, that they entitled
him their king. It is frequently alluded to by the minstrels of the
period. The poem descriptive of the battle of Cattraeth, from which
Aneurin escaped, when three hundred and three score British nobles,
all wearing the "golden torque," fell, contains nearly a thousand
lines. Only three renowned warriors survived this awful combat; the
bard was amongst the number. The British chieftains had been drinking
the pale mead by "the light of rushes" all night long; with the first
streak of dawn, they set out to attack the Saxons; when they came in
sight of the enemy, they "hastened swift, all running together--short
were their lives." Like the melancholy chorus in a dirge is this "pale
mead" banquet ever repeated throughout the poem; its effects are sadly
deplored, it is ever turning up and coming in upon the end of some
sorrowful reflection; "pleasant was its taste, long its woe--it had
been their feast, and was their poison--it was a banquet for which
they paid the price of their lives." Hear Aneurin's own words: "The
warriors that went to Cattraeth were furious--pale golden wine and mead
had they drank; they were three hundred and three score and three, all
wearing golden torques, who hastened to battle after the banquet. From
the edges of the keen-slaying swords, only three escaped the war-dogs,
Aeron and Dayarawd, and I, from the flowing blood were saved. The
reward of my protecting muse." The battle appears to have been fought
in the morning of one of their festive days; and in the grey dawn, the
intoxicated chiefs ran upon the enemy all together, probably having
boasted over their cups that one would outstrip the other, and be the
first to dye his sword in Saxon blood. The scene of the battle cannot
now be ascertained; that it was in the north we have proof, from the
men of Bernicia and Deiri being present.

After these events, the kingdom called Mercia was established; it
appears to have extended over our present midland counties, occupying
the most important space which stretches from the Severn to the
Humber, and even pushing its frontier upon the borders of Wales.
This formed the eighth kingdom, state, or colony, established by the
Saxons since the day when Hengist and Horsa first entered the service
of Vortigern--a period occupying but little more than one hundred
years, and during that time there was scarcely an interval in which
the Saxons had not either to defend their hard-won possessions, or aid
their countrymen when they were close pressed. The Britons had still
their own kingdoms in Wales, Cornwall, a portion of Devonshire, and the
district of Strathclyde; and some of these they maintained even after
the death of Alfred.

We will now take a rapid glance at the eight kingdoms established by
the Saxons, for although Bernicia and Deiri are frequently classed
together as one state, and called Northumbria, and were occasionally
under the sway of one sovereign, they were, nevertheless, distinct
kingdoms for a time. Thus an octarchy was established, formed of the
following eight distinct states.

First, the Jutes, who had gained Kent, where Hengist first established
himself, and to which his followers added the Isle of Wight, and a
portion of the opposite coast of Hampshire. This formed the kingdom of

Second, the South Saxons, who landed under Ella, and, after many a
severe combat with the Britons, founded the kingdom of Sussex.

Third, the East Saxons, who, under the command of Erkenwin, gradually
spread over the counties of Essex, Middlesex, and the southern portion
of Hertfordshire, which afterwards became known as the kingdom of Essex.

Fourth, the West Saxons, who, headed by Cerdric, conquered the
inhabitants of Surrey, part of Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire,
Dorsetshire, Somerset, a portion of Devonshire and Cornwall, (though
long after this period) and finally, founded the kingdom of Wessex.

Fifth, East Anglia, containing Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, the Isle
of Ely, and some portion of Bedfordshire, all included in the state or
kingdom of East Anglia.

Sixth, Deiri, which included the counties of Lancaster, York,
Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Durham.

Seventh, Bernicia, where Ida first landed, and which extended from
Northumberland into Scotland, somewhere between the rivers Forth and

Eighth, and last, Mercia, which swallowed up the chief portion of the
midland counties, and was divided into the north and south by the river
Trent, though all were within the limits of the dominion of Mercia.
Such were the kingdoms that formed the Saxon Octarchy, and which were
no sooner established, than one state began to wage war against the
other, in which they were occasionally aided by the Britons.

Hitherto we have had to feel our way cautiously along the shores which
skirt the dark sea of History, and have been compelled to put into many
a creek and harbour at a venture, as abler mariners have done before
us; but, in no instance have we stirred, without consulting the compass
and carefully examining the chart which Gildas, Nennius, and Bede,
those ancient voyagers, have drawn up as a guide, and which Turner and
Mac Cabe[4] have carefully examined, and marked anew every point that
is dark and doubtful.

Many events transpired before the final establishment of the Saxon
Octarchy, which we have hurriedly passed over as being of little
importance, and which to have narrated would have carried us again
over the ground already traversed. Of such are the deaths of the Saxon
kings or chiefs; the contests that arose in selecting a successor, and
the bickerings and breakings out, which were necessarily consequent
upon the formation of so many separate states, for few of them could
be called kingdoms. Nor must we suppose, that in all cases where
the conquerors settled down, the ancient inhabitants fled before
them--many, doubtless, remained behind, and gradually intermixed
with the Saxons; of such, probably, would be those who had grown
civilized under the Roman government, and were skilled in the arts
and manufactures, and had still continued to improve in agriculture,
ever since the time of Agricola. Men possessing this knowledge, and
acquainted with these secrets, would, beyond doubt, be tempted to
reside amongst the invaders; and we shall soon arrive at a period,
which will show that civilization had tamed down the martial spirit of
the Saxon, as it had before-time done that of the Britons, and that
they were for a long season as apparently helpless under the attacks
of the Danes, as the ancient inhabitants of the island were under
their own repeated assaults. It would be a work of great labour, and
one that would require an acute analysis, to trace, step by step,
this degenerative process. Many of the Britons emigrated. We have
shown that twelve thousand, under a free king, Riothamus, went out to
war against the Visigoths, but it would only be carrying us into the
history of other countries were we to follow their footsteps. Even the
Britons that remained behind, though dispossessed of nearly the whole
of their country for a long time, "bated not a jot of heart nor hope;"
they clung to their old prophecies, and, through the dark night of
oppression, saw the ruddy streak which they believed would ere long
break into the bright morning of vengeance, when they should drive the
Saxons before them triumphantly out of Britain. Strengthened by this
belief, they fought many a battle which we have not recorded, and even
when defeated, it was only to retire to their "stony paradise," as
their bards called Wales, and there await the breaking of that bright
morning which had so long been foretold. There is something wild and
beautiful in the very idea of this never-to-be-realized hope; it forms
a prominent feature in the character of the Welsh population to this
very day, though now turned into a feeling, which arms them, better
than any other, against the lesser evils of life. They are ever in the
hope of seeing "better days." We can readily fancy that every rumour
of the outbreak amongst the Saxon tribes, must have been received with
as much acclaim in their mountain fortresses, as would the first note
awakened by Aneurin or Llywarch when they struck their harps. We can
picture the eagerness with which they hurried down, to aid one Saxon
chief to make war upon another, scarcely caring which chief conquered,
so long as they themselves escaped, and believing that the body of
every enemy which they left in the field was a unit nearer to the
fulfilment of their fancied Millennium. They never lacked a leader,
if an attack was contemplated, and we probably err not in surmising
that many an onset was made after the night had been consumed "by the
light of the rushes," and while they were brimful of valour and "pale
mead," and heated by the lay which some bard less renowned than Aneurin
chanted. Cattraeth may not be the only instance in which the wearers of
the "golden torques," the ensign of nobility, fell. Still there seems
to have been a hearty faith in the ancient Cymry, which endears them to
us, and in nothing was this evinced more, than in their belief of the
predictions of their bards. A pale ray of light, like the lingering of
a subdued smile, falls upon our page whilst we write, as we contrast
the "then" with the "now." The bards of other days were kings, chiefs,
and renowned warriors; their harps raised them to these dignities:
the bards of the present age are bards only, and however great their
fame, can only receive due honour by first passing through the gate
of death. The extracts with which we have enriched this chapter show
the appreciation of the beautiful, in a barbarous age, and oh! let not
this sentence be forgotten. All that we know of the lives of many of
those ancient British kings, who were great and renowned in their day,
is what has been preserved in the lays of our early bards; but for
these, their very names would have perished, and Urien himself would
never again have awakened the throb of a human heart. The cold contempt
of the proud and the haughty, chilled not the heart of the true
minstrel; with his harp in his heart, he ever goes, making music his
companion, when there is none beside to hear it; and the notes he often
carelessly scatters behind him, if of the true tone, are never lost.
A thousand years pass away, and they still ring as freshly about the
heart as those which we have here gathered, and which Llywarch, above
thirteen hundred years ago, poured forth between his sighs, when he
mourned for the loss of his chieftain, for there is a sadness about the
dirges which we yet feel. The monuments of brass, of iron, and marble,
have ages ago decayed or mouldered away, yet the echoes which arose
from that ancient harp have not yet died. Time destroyeth all things
excepting the Immortality of the Mind.



 "The oracles are dumb, no voice or hideous hum
  Runs through the archëd roof, in words deceiving.
  Apollo from his shrine can no more divine,
  With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
  No nightly trance or breathéd spell
  Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell."


It will be readily supposed that many of the early Saxon chieftains, or
kings, for it matters not by which title we call them, had by this time
died, and been succeeded by their sons and kinsmen. That many had also
perished in the wars with the Britons we have already shown, and now
when the Octarchy was established, and the ancient inhabitants of the
country were either conquered or driven into one corner of the island,
when it might be expected that Peace had at last alighted and taken
up her abode in the land, the Saxon sovereigns began to war with each
other. We have before shown that when the Saxons went out to battle,
they with one consent selected a king--no matter how high might be
the rank of those who had sworn to serve under him, they obeyed his
commands; when the war was over, each again stepped into his former
dignity, and the power thus given for a time to the war-king was at
an end. Some such king was acknowledged by the Saxon sovereigns, and
he was called the Bretwalda, or king of Britain, though it is not
clear that the other sovereigns ever paid him any homage, and the only
inference we can draw from the claim set up by Ethelbert, the young
king of Kent, is, that it was conferred upon that prince who was the
nearest akin to Woden. Something of the kind is shadowed forth in the
claim, which is grounded alone on his descent from Hengist. Ella,
king of Sussex, appears to have been the first who bore the title of
Bretwalda in Britain; he died, and it seems as if some time elapsed
before any other of the Saxon kings assumed the title; the next that
did was Ceawlin, king of Wessex. Ethelbert of Kent rose up, and
disputed the claim. Ceawlin was not a man to be moved from his high
estate by the descendant of Hengist, and from this dispute sprang the
first civil war between the Saxon kings. Ethelbert was but little more
than sixteen, when he so daringly threw defiance in the face of the
king of Wessex, and Ceawlin was at that time one of the most powerful
of all the Saxon kings, and, after having defeated Ethelbert, he, on
the death of Cissa, king of Sussex, annexed that kingdom to his own;
nor was there a sovereign throughout the whole Saxon states bold enough
to wrest the plunder from his hand. For a youth like Ethelbert to have
thus bearded so powerful a king, and to have been the first to commence
hostilities, and finally to have succeeded in gaining the envied title,
evinces a courage and a perseverance which draw the eye anxiously
forward to watch the result of his future career, nor shall we be
disappointed in the issue. But, before passing to the most important
event in his life, we must detail the circumstances by which it was
brought on.

One day, as a monk named Gregory was passing through the market of
Rome, looking, like others, on the great variety of treasures which
were piled there, and for which nearly every corner of Europe had
been ransacked, he was struck by a group of beautiful boys. There was
something in their white naked limbs, fair complexions, and light long
flowing hair, which at once arrested the eye of the kind-hearted monk.
He turned to a keen-eyed merchant who was awaiting a purchaser (and who
had probably many other things beside these beautiful boys to sell),
and inquired from what country they had been brought? He was answered,
Britain. The next question he asked was whether the inhabitants were
Christians or Pagans? He was told that they were Pagans. Gregory sighed
heavily when he heard this, and, as he fixed his eye with a tender
and pitiful look upon these fair and beautiful slaves, he exclaimed:
"Oh, grief of griefs! that the author of darkness should lay claim to
beings of such fair forms--that there should be so much grace in the
countenance, yet none in the soul."

When told that they were of the race of the Angles, he said they
were worthily named, for their faces were angelic; and when informed
that the province from which they came was called the Deiri, he
paused--divided the word, dwelt upon it, then exclaimed, "De-ira Dei
(from the wrath of God) they must be torn." But when he further heard
that the king of the country from whence they came was named Ella, the
beautiful picture which had opened before his imagination, merely
conjured up from the ideas created by suggestive sound, was complete,
and, in his happy enthusiasm, he exclaimed, "Hallelujah! the praise
of God must yet be sung in that land." Imagine the quivering lip and
tearful eye which would first show the impression of a kind-hearted man
and a scholar, when told that these fair children had been dragged from
their homes, and brought from a distant island, far away over the sea,
and stood there huddled together, seeking to avoid the merciless eye
of the unfeeling merchant, who found them the most troublesome part of
the cargo he had brought, for the bales he probably sat upon required
no feeding, and as a point of business he had been compelled to keep
those young slaves plump and in good order, and doubtless, while
showing them to the monk, he made them display themselves to the best
advantage. They, struck by the kindness which must have beamed, like a
glory, around the countenance of the good monk Gregory, perhaps wished
that they might be purchased by so friendly-looking a master, for they
would be unable to comprehend a single word he said beyond the names
of their country and kings. The quivering lip and tearful eye would
soon change into the lighted look of enthusiasm, as, bit by bit, the
Pagan island rose before the fancy of the tender-hearted monk, as he
saw their beautiful heathen mothers and fairer sisters kneeling before
senseless stocks and stones; and oh! what a chill must have come over
his kind heart when the pope, whom he entreated to send missionaries
into that heathen land, rejected his petition. Still it prevented not
good Gregory from purchasing the slaves, who had so deeply interested
him. He further clothed and educated them, and would, had he not been
prevented, have accompanied them on their return to Britain.

Monk Gregory, at last, became the Roman pontiff; but the splendour
by which he was now surrounded altered not his gentle nature; he
remembered those beautiful barbarians,--had many a time thought of
their island home over the waves, and the fair mothers who looked
in vain for their return; and he solicited a monk, to whom he had
doubtless before-time confided this wish, which ever seems to have been
nearest his heart, to undertake the journey; and Augustin was chosen to
fulfil this mission. The monks who were appointed to attend Augustin in
his mission had heard such rumours of the ferocity of the Saxons, that
they expressed a desire to return to Rome, although they had proceeded
some distance on their journey; and they so far gave way to their fears
as to prevail upon Augustin to go back and solicit the pope to recall
them. The pontiff, however, told them that to abandon an undertaking
which they had commenced was more disgraceful than if they had not
accepted it; bade them proceed in God's name, appointed Augustin abbot
over them, and commanded them to obey him. Further, he gave them
letters to the prelates and kings through whose countries they would
have to pass.

To the daughter of Charibert, king of the Franks, Ethelbert was
married; and although she was a Christian, and he a pagan, it had been
no bar to their union; Bertha was to follow her own creed, Ethelbert
his: he bowed before Woden, she acknowledged the existence of the
true God. Vortigern and Rowena had lived together on the same terms
before-time. Augustin arrived in Britain, with his train of fifty monks
and interpreters, which the king of the Franks had provided, and landed
in the isle of Thanet. How different the intent of his mission to that
of the Saxon chiefs who had landed there a century and a half before
him! They came to kill, to earn their wages by bloodshed; these came to
save, and were neither armed with spear, sword, nor battle-axe; their
only shield was the cross of Christ, and on their banner the figure of
the Redeemer was borne. They came with no other war-cry than the Litany
which they chanted as they moved gravely along. What glorious scenes
illustrative of the progress of our religion yet remain to be painted!
How easy to picture that ancient procession as it passed: their landing
from the ship: their prayer offered up on the beach: the misbelieving
Saxons looking on in wonder: some priest of Woden pouring into the ear
of a listening chief a disparaging story: the countenances of children
looking on with a mixture of fear and wonder: heathen mothers pitying
the figure upon the banner, and wondering what he had done to be nailed
upon the cross; or perhaps thinking that they had come to solicit aid
against those who had been guilty of such inhuman cruelty, and their
motherly hearts at once enlisted in favour of the strangers, who
came to seek the means of vengeance for such an outrage. Or perhaps
they pitied the poor monks who had no arms to defend themselves, and
entreated their husbands to assist them. Such fancies would naturally
float over their benighted minds, for at what other conclusions could
they arrive from what they now saw? Doubtless the ship, when first
seen out at sea, would awaken other thoughts, and many an armed figure
paced the shore impatiently, and awaited the arrival of the vessel,
drawing circles upon the sand with their pointed weapons, to while away
the time, as they stood ready to offer up fresh victims on the altar of

Ethelbert received the tidings of their coming rather coldly, but
still not unkindly; he bade them to remain where they were, supplied
them with such things as their immediate wants required, and promised,
in the meantime, to consider what he would do for them. The bright
eyes of Bertha had had their influence; her sweet voice had made an
inroad into the stony heart of Ethelbert; but for her beautiful face,
he would probably have consigned the whole race of trembling monks to
Neiflheim and Hela the terrible, or offered them up as a rich sacrifice
to Odin. But even Bertha, great as her power appears to have been over
him, could only influence him in their favour by slow degrees; he
deliberated for several days before he consented to meet them, and when
he did at last agree to a conference, he chose the open air,--still
true to his ancient faith, for there he had been taught to believe
that all magical influence was powerless. How looked he when he first
beheld them?--Perhaps he clung to the fair Christian that stood by his
side, and as she pressed his arm, and he felt that she also was of
the same faith, the colour mounted his cheek for a moment, and, as it
would appear, his heart half reproached him for having treated them so
coldly, for he at once kindly commanded the missionaries to sit down.
Doubtless the spot chosen for this interview was a circle surrounded
with seats of turf, such as the Saxons assembled in, in the early ages,
when their witena-gemots were held in the open air. Surrounded with his
nobles, the king listened attentively until Augustin had made known the
object of his mission. Ethelbert, who was endowed with clear judgment,
waited patiently till the abbot had finished, and then answered: "Your
promises are fair, but new and uncertain. I cannot abandon the rites
which my people have hitherto observed; but as you have come a long
way to tell us what you believe to be true, we will not only hold you
harmless, but treat you hospitably. Nor will we forbid any one you can
convince to join in your faith." Such was the substance of Ethelbert's
answer; a more candid or a kinder one never issued from a pagan's
lips; but those lips had been breathed on by the prayers of Bertha,
and her own rounded roses had kissed their way into his heart; he had
found the honey that hung upon them, far sweeter than the richest
sacrifice that ever steamed up from the altars of Woden. Ethelbert gave
them a church in Canterbury, which was built in the time of the Romans.
The British Christians had there bowed to their Maker; it had been
Bertha's place of worship, and was probably the only one in the wide
county of Kent where prayers to the true God were offered up,--where
she herself had many a time, amid hopes and fears, prayed for the day
to come which had at last arrived. She, a stranger in a foreign land,
far away from the home of her fathers, surrounded by pagan altars and
the hideous images of rude idols, had never once despaired, as she
leant, like Hope, upon her anchor, with no one near to comfort her, but
even while the hymns of Odin rang upon her ear, in the midst of her
devotions, had kept her eye fixed upon the star which was mirrored in
the troubled waters that washed around the cold anchor, and chilled her
naked feet.

In this ancient British church, Augustin and his monks administered the
rites and ceremonies of the Christian religion unmolested,--numerous
converts were soon made, and baptised, and chief amongst these was
king Ethelbert. As a proof of his earnestness and sincerity, the newly
converted Saxon sovereign granted the monks permission to repair all
the British churches in his kingdom, which had before-time been devoted
to Christian worship. The pope also conferred on Augustin the title
of archbishop, and sent him over a pall, woven from the purest and
whitest lamb's-wool, and chequered with purple crosses, that, when worn
over his shoulders, it might remind him of Christ the good Shepherd,
and of the crosses and perils he endured in bringing home the lost
sheep on his shoulders, and gathering them together in the fold. But
vestments for the altar, sacerdotal garments, sacred vessels, and
relics of martyrs, were not all that Gregory sent over to Britain; for
manuscript Bibles, copies of the Gospels, psalters, and legends of the
saints and martyrs, were among the more substantial treasures which the
learned pope poured into our island, and some of which our own immortal
Alfred translated with his own hand in a later day. The bindings of
many of these manuscripts were emblazoned with silver images of our
Saviour, and glittering glories of yellow gold, from the centre of
which blazed precious stones, so that when uplifted by the priest, who
stood high above their heads as he expounded the holy mysteries, their
eyes were dazzled by the splendour of those richly bound volumes, and
their senses impressed with a solemn reverence, as they looked upon
the image of their Redeemer. He also sent over other fellow-labourers,
and amongst these were men distinguished for their piety and learning.
Gregory was a man endowed with great discernment, possessing also those
peculiar qualities which have ever marked the profoundest statesmen;
in these essentials he stood high above his archbishop Augustin. The
far-seeing pope knew that he had to deal with a race of idolaters,
many of whom would change their creed to please their sovereign, or
from other interested motives; and, conscious of the purity of his own
design and the holiness of his cause, he resolved that there should
be nothing startling or forbidding, or much at variance with their
ancient customs, in the outward signs and ceremonies of the Christian
religion. With a liberality of opinion far outstriding that of the age,
he rightly concluded, that whatever was not really evil in itself,
it was useless to abolish. Let them retain their sacrifices, argued
Gregory; when the idols are removed, and the remembrance of them
destroyed, let them slaughter their cattle, sacrifice, and feast upon
the offering, and thank God for his great abundance. What mattered it
if on saint-days they erected arbours of green branches around the
church, feasted, and made merry within them, so long as it was done in
remembrance of the saint to whom the building was dedicated? Surely
this was better than holding such celebration in honour of senseless
idols. Even their pagan temples he would not allow to be hurled down,
conscious that if such places had been held sacred while set apart for
the worship of graven images of wood or stone, they would be doubly
revered when the light of the true gospel broke in glory within those
ancient walls.

Pope Gregory had, doubtless, become acquainted with the principal
points of their heathen faith, and had concluded that if only rapine
and slaughter, and brave but brutal deeds, had been extolled within
those walls, and were the sure passports that opened the envied halls
of Valhalla, he might safely venture to wrestle with this pagan idol,
and overthrow him upon his own ground: that the doctrines which
breathed only of peace and goodwill, and love and charity, and holy
faith in a dying Redeemer, would still be the same if offered up from
the very altars on which Odin himself had stood. It was the substance
and the spirit which dawned upon the great intellectual eye of Pope
Gregory, and made him tread boldly amongst the broken idols which lay
scattered at his feet, where others would have hesitated to have moved.
He daringly grafted the true faith upon a heathen stock, well knowing
that neither the stem nor the soil would militate against the growth of
the goodly fruit with which the branches would on a future day be hung.
Gregory would never have entered into that fatal controversy beneath
the oak, as Augustin had done, about the celebration of Easter Sunday,
and which, if it did not lead to the slaughter of the monks of Bangor,
as some have believed, lessened the archbishop in the eyes of the
English priests, and caused much dissension and bitter feeling amongst
the Saxons. But Ethelbert, Bertha, and Augustin died; and Eadbald
became king of Kent.

Eadbald took possession of his father's throne and widow at the
same time; for, after the death of Bertha, Ethelbert had married
another princess of the same nation as his former wife. The priests
raised their voices, and denounced the marriage of Eadbald with his
step-mother; he heeded them not, but turned pagan again, and a great
portion of his subjects changed their religion with him. Sigebert, the
king of Essex, his father's friend, who had become a Christian, also
died about this time, and his sons again embraced their old heathen
creed, though they still occasionally visited the Christian church.
They were one day present while the bishop was administering the
Eucharist: "Why dost thou not offer us that white bread which thou art
giving to others," said they, "and which thou wert wont to give to our
father's sib?" The bishop made answer, that if they would wash in the
same font in which their father the king was baptized when he became a
Christian, they might partake of the white bread. They replied, that
they would not be washed in the fountain, yet they demanded the bread.
The bishop refused to give it them, and the heathen chiefs drove the
monks out of Essex. Some of them went into Kent, others left Britain
for a time; and as the remnant were on the eve of departing, Eadbald,
by a strange interposition, again renounced his pagan faith, and
intreated the priests to remain behind, promising also to assist them,
as his father Ethelbert had before done, in the work of conversion.
Whether it was a dream, or the reproaches of his own conscience, or
the penance which Laurence had inflicted upon himself, before he again
appeared in the presence of Eadbald, or the working of His mighty hand
"who moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform," can never be
known. Suffice it that the Saxon king saw the "error of his ways" and



 "How oft do they their silver bowers leave
  To come to succour us that succour want;
  How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
  The flitting skies, like flying pursuivant,
  Against foul fiends to aid us militant;
  They for us fight, they watch, and duly ward,
  And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
  And all for love, and nothing for reward;
  Oh! Why should heavenly God to men have such regard."


Bernicia and the Deiri formed, at this period, two Saxon kingdoms,
which lay bordering on each other. Ethelfrith governed the portion
that stretched from Northumberland to between the Tweed and the Frith
of Forth; and Ella, dying, left his son Edwin, then an infant, to
succeed him as king of the Deiri--a part of England now divided into
the counties of Lancaster, York, Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Durham.
The Northumbrian king, Ethelfrith, appears at this time to have been
the most powerful of all the Saxon monarchs; and no sooner was Ella
dead, than he took possession of the Deiri; nor was a sovereign to be
found throughout the whole of the Saxon kingdoms bold enough to draw
his sword in the defence of Edwin. The child was, however, carried into
Wales, and entrusted to the care of Cadvan, who was himself a British
king, though now driven into the very corner of those territories over
which his forefathers had for ages reigned. There is something romantic
in this incident of the child of a Saxon king having to fly to his
father's enemies for shelter, and in being indebted to those whom his
own countrymen had rendered all but homeless, for his life. Ethelfrith,
however, had at one period desolated more British districts than any
of his predecessors, and in proportion as he was hated by the Cymry,
so would they endeavour to cherish an object armed with such claims as
Edwin's, in the hope of one day seeing him a leader, and at their head,
when again they measured swords with their old enemies. But this they
were not destined to witness, nor were they able to protect the young
king when he grew up, for Ethelfrith was ever in pursuit of him--the
figure of the stripling Edwin seemed to stand up between him and the
kingdom of Deiri, as if he felt that, whilst the son of Ella was alive,
he but sat insecurely in the midst of his new territory. For several
years Edwin was compelled to wander about from province to province,
keeping both his name and rank a secret, and trusting to strangers
to protect him, as if he feared that the emissaries of Ethelfrith
were ever at his heels--until even his existence seems to have been a
burthen to him, and he doubtless many a time cursed the hour that ever
he was born the son of a king. From infancy had his life been sought,
by one who ought to have defended him when he was left a helpless
child, and heir to the possessions his father had won by conquest--by
murder; for sorry we are, as true historians, to state, that not a
Saxon king throughout the whole British dominions could trace his
origin to any other source: nor had William the Norman, on a later day,
any better claim to the British crown. The title of royalty was ever in
ancient times written with a red hand. Thank Heaven! it is no longer
so, nor has the brow which a golden crown encircles, any need now to be
first bathed in human blood.

Edwin is somehow endeared to us, through having descended from that
king whose name attracted the attention of monk Gregory in the
slave-market of Rome, when he was first struck by the beauty of those
British children; for they came from the Deiri, the kingdom which he
governed, whose name called forth the Allelujah to which the good
monk, in the joyousness of his heart, as he saw the figure of Hope
glimmering brightly in the far distance, gave utterance. From very
childhood Edwin's life was a romance, and many a painful feeling must
he have endured whilst sheltering amongst the Britons in Wales, who
were then writhing beneath the oppression of their Saxon conquerors:
allusions to his own father, or his kindred, or curses heaped upon his
countrymen, must ever have been issuing from the lips of the humbled
Cymry; and who can tell but that to avoid these painful feelings, he
set out alone--a stranger amid strangers. Weary of this wandering
life, he at last threw himself upon the generosity of Redwald, king of
East Anglia, and who was at that time honoured with the proud title of
the Bretwalda of Britain, as Ethelbert of Kent had been before. Edwin
acquainted him with his secret, and Redwald promised to protect him.
But his hiding-place was soon known to Ethelfrith, who lost no time in
sending messengers to Redwald, first with the offer of rich presents,
then with threats: and when he found that neither persuasion nor
bribes were effective, he determined to wage war against the king of
East Anglia, unless he at once gave up Edwin. Redwald at last wavered,
for in almost every battle the Northumbrian king had been victorious;
nor would he probably have seized upon the Deiri, in the face of six
powerful Saxon sovereigns, but for the consciousness of the strength
he possessed, and the terror attached to his name. The East Anglian
king at last reluctantly promised to surrender his guest. Edwin had a
friend in Redwald's court who made him acquainted with the danger that
awaited him, and urged him at once to escape. But the poor exile, weary
of the miserable existence he had so long led, and the many privations
he had endured, refused to fly for his life. "If I am to perish,"
said the young king, "he that destroys me will be disgraced, and not
myself. I have made a compact with Redwald that I will not break. And
whither should I fly, after having wandered through so many provinces
in Britain without finding a shelter? How can I escape my persecutor?"
His friend was silent, and left Edwin to sit alone and brood over his
own thoughts. Night came and found the sorrowful king still sitting
upon the same cold stone beside the palace, where he appears to have
fallen asleep, and to have dreamt that a strange figure approached him,
placed his hand upon his head, and bade him to remember that sign;
after having caused him to make several promises as to what he would do
in future, if restored to his kingdom, the stranger seemed to depart,
having first held out hopes that he should conquer his enemies, and
recover the territory of Deiri. There was nothing very wonderful in
such a dream, beyond the fact that it should afterwards become true;
and, although we cannot go so far as the venerable chronicler Bede,
in the belief that some spirit had appeared to the young king--still
dreams and visions are so interwoven with the sleep that resembles
death, and seem, somehow, more allied with the shadows which we believe
to people another state of existence, that we can easily imagine,
at that dark period, how firm must have been the reliance of our
forefathers upon the phantoms which were thus conjured up, by the
continuation of such a train of waking thoughts.

Such miracles as the early monkish historians devoutly believed in, the
boldest writer would scarcely venture to work out in a book professedly
treating of only the wildest subjects of fiction. Yet there are amongst
the writers of history those, who think it an act of dishonesty to pass
over the dreams, visions, and miracles of the early ages, and a want
of faith not to believe in them now, as our forefathers did in the
olden time. They might as well insist upon our copying out the recipes
from such old works as were to be found in the closets of our grave
grandmothers many generations ago; and adopting all the spells and
charms therein recorded, as invaluable cures for almost every disease
under the sun. What we look upon as firm faith in one age, and believe
to be such, we treat as the weakest folly in another, without in either
case outraging reason, or bringing to the investigation an uncharitable
spirit. For past credulity, a sigh or a smile are enough to mark our
pity or censure, but to be partakers of the same belief are thoughts
against which the common understanding rebels, even much as we may love
the marvellous. A dream is not a miracle, nor the fulfilment of it a
proof of the interference of the Almighty.

The young king had found favour in the eyes of the queen of East
Anglia, and she reasoned with Redwald, and boldly showed him how base
an act it would be, to give up their guest to the man who, having
robbed him of his kingdom, now sought to take away his life. "A king
should not violate his faith," said she, "for gold, for good faith
is his noblest ornament." Redwald's heart seems ever to have guided
him aright when he admitted not fear into the counsel, so he nobly
resolved, instead of giving up his guest, to fight for him, and in
place of basely selling his life, to win him back the province he had
been driven from. And, after such a resolve, he doubtless felt himself
more worthy of the title of the Bretwalda of Britain. We regret that
Time has not even spared us the name of this noble Saxon queen, that we
might add one more woman to the list of these angelic immortalities,
who stand like stars upon the brow of the deep midnight, that then
hung so darkly above the clouded cliffs of Albion. When Redwald had
once decided, he began to act; he waited not to be attacked, but, with
such forces as he could muster, rushed at once to the boundary of the
Deiri. He met Ethelfrith, ere he was wholly provided for his coming,
on the banks of the river Idel, near Retford, in Nottinghamshire, at
that time probably a portion of the kingdom he had wrested from Edwin.
Redwald had his guest, his honour, and his kingdom to fight for: Edwin
his life, and the possessions he inherited from his father--Ethelfrith,
a long-cherished vengeance to appease--a kingdom he had seized upon
without any one having before dared to dispute his claim--and East
Anglia, now a fair prize, if he could but win it: he had a bad cause,
yet not a doubt about obtaining the victory, for he had many a time
driven the Picts and Scots, with whole hosts of the Cymry, banded
together, before him, further to the north than any, excepting the
Romans, had ever before done. His dreams had never been broken by the
thought of a defeat, even when the monks of Bangor were praying against
him; he conquered, and drove the British kings before him like withered
leaves before a storm when the yellow Autumn is waning into Winter.
No Christian fire had ever burnt upon his pagan altars--to Woden, the
god of battles, had his sacrifices ever been offered up. Redwald, more
vacillating, kept two altars in the temple in which he worshipped,--one
dedicated to the grim idol which his warriors still believed in--the
other where he at times knelt beside his fair queen, and sent up his
wavering prayers, between the shrine of Woden, and the True God. No
truer picture was probably ever drawn of the state of these truly pagan
and half-Christian Saxons in the early times, than is here presented;
that mingled fear of offending Woden, while the heart yearned for the
love of Him whom they believed to be the Giver of all good, for God and
good were in their language the same.

Before commencing the battle, Redwald divided his forces into three
divisions; one of these he placed under the command of his son, Rainer,
and the wing which the young prince headed, commenced the attack.
Ethelfrith commanded his veteran forces to dash at once into the
centre of the enemy's line; and so suddenly and unexpectedly was this
manoeuvre accomplished, that it was like the instantaneous bursting
of a thunder-storm down some steep hill side, covered over with the
tall and yellow-waving corn of summer, through which the torrent and
the tempest cut a path, for so was the division under prince Rainer
dispersed, driven aside and cut asunder, that before the two bodies led
on by Redwald and Edwin had time to wheel round, and check the force of
that mighty avalanche, the prince was slain, and scarcely a warrior,
who but a few moments before had charged so cheerfully under his
war-cry, remained alive.

For a few moments the terrible tide of battle rolled backward, seeming
to recoil from beneath the very force with which it had broken, as
if the vanward waves but rushed again upon those that followed, to
be driven on with greater might upon the desolated and wreck-strewn
beach. Back again was the overwhelming tide borne with mightier force,
and thrown off in a spray of blood from the points of ten thousand
unflinching weapons, while Redwald himself, with lowering brow, and lip
compressed, strode sullenly onward, and hewed his way into the very
heart of the contest. Ethelfrith, outstripping his followers, rushed
headlong into the very centre of the battle; the gap he had hewn with
his own powerful arm closed behind him, and there stood between him
and the remains of his army, an impenetrable wall of the enemy--where
he fell, the last billow of the battle broke, for the companion waves
had rolled out far to seaward, and only the shore over which they had
broken was left, strewn over with the wrecks of the slain. Death had at
last done his mighty work; and under his dark and awful banner Edwin
had distinguished himself; those gloomy gates had opened the way to the
kingdom from which he had so long been driven. Through the assistance
of Redwald, he not only became the king of the Deira, but conquered the
broad provinces of Bernicia, driving before him the sons of Ethelfrith,
and sitting down sole king of Northumbria, for he united under his
sway the kingdoms which Ida had governed, and Ella, his father, had
won. Thus, the youth who had so long been a wanderer and an exile,
who scarcely knew where to fly for shelter, who was ever in fear of
his life, became at last the undisputed monarch of two mighty Saxon
kingdoms, the Deira and Bernicia.

Edwin no sooner found himself firmly seated on the throne of
Northumbria, than he sent into Kent, and solicited the hand of
Edilburga in marriage. She was the daughter of the late Ethelbert, so
distinguished for his kindness to the Christian missionaries. Probably
Edwin had become acquainted with her while he wandered "homeless,
amid a thousand homes." Her brother Eadbald had, by this time, become
a Christian, had hurled down his heathen idols and pagan altars, and
established himself beside the church at Canterbury, which had long
been the metropolis of Kent. Eadbald justly argued, that it was wrong
for a Christian maiden to become the wife of a pagan husband, of one
who could neither share with her the holy sacrament, nor kneel down
to worship before the altar of the same Holy God. Edwin bound himself
by a solemn promise that he would offer no obstacle to the royal lady
following her own faith, but that all who accompanied her, whether
women, priests, or laymen, should have full liberty to follow their own
form of religion; and that if, upon close examination by the wise and
good men of his own faith, he found the Christian creed better than
that of Odin, he might at last adopt it. The Saxon princess had the
fullest confidence in the promise of the pagan king, and with a long
train of noble and lowly attendants, headed by Paulinus, who was by
this time created a bishop, she left the home of her fathers in Kent,
and as Rowena had beforetime done, went to sojourn among strangers.
Many a prayer was offered up by the way, and the holy rites of the
church to which she belonged were daily celebrated. Timidly must the
maiden's heart have beaten when she first set foot within that pagan
land; but she probably remembered the time when many of her father's
subjects were idolaters.

Nothing for the first year seems to have ruffled the smooth course of
love between the pagan king and his Christian queen. Paulinus continued
to preach, but made no converts; and the love of Edilburga, and the
worship of Odin, went on together hand in hand; for though Edwin
himself listened to the music of lips as sweet as those of Bertha,
which had murmured conversion into the ears of Ethelbert, yet his creed
remained unchanged. He loved, listened, and sighed, with his heathen
faith still unshaken. It was at the holy time of Easter, while Edwin
was seated in his palace beside the Derwent, that a messenger suddenly
arrived from Cwichhelm, the pagan king of Wessex, and sought an
audience, to make known his mission. He was, of course, admitted. While
kneeling lowly to deliver his message, the stranger suddenly started
up, drew forth a dagger which was concealed under his dress, and was
in the act of rushing upon the king, when Lilla, a thane in attendance,
threw himself, in a moment, between the body of the monarch and the
assassin--just in that brief interval of time which elapsed between the
uplifting and the descending of the weapon; yet with such force was
the deadly blow driven home, that the dagger passed clean through the
body of Lilla, and slightly wounded the king. Although the swords of
the attendants were instantly drawn, yet the assassin was not cut down
until he had stabbed another knight with the dagger, which he had drawn
from the body of the faithful thane who so nobly sacrificed his life
to save that of the king. On the same evening, (it was Easter Sunday,)
Edilburga was delivered of a daughter--the event probably hastened by
the shock the murderer had occasioned. Edwin returned thanks to Odin
for the birth of his child; and when Paulinus again drew his attention
to the God who had so miraculously preserved his life, he promised he
would follow the new faith which the bishop was so anxious to convert
him to, if he was victorious over the king of Wessex, who had sent out
his emissary to destroy him. Edwin further consented that his daughter
should be baptized, as an earnest of his good faith. Several of his
household were at the same time united to the Christian church.

The account of Edwin's campaign against the king of Wessex is so
very vague and uncertain, that we are compelled to pass it over
altogether. It appears, however, that he slew his enemy and returned
home victorious--still he delayed his baptism, although he abandoned
his idol-worship, and might often be seen sitting alone, as if holding
serious communion with himself; still he was undecided whether or
not to change his ancient faith. He also held long and frequent
conversations with Paulinus, and had many serious discussions with his
own nobles. He was even honoured with a letter from the pope, urging
him to abandon his idols. Edilburga also received a letter from the
same high authority, pointing out her duty, to do all that she could,
by her intercession, to hasten his conversion; but Edwin still remained
unchanged. The stormy halls of Odin and the boisterous revels in which
the spirits of the departed warriors were ever supposed to partake,
were more congenial to the martial hearts of the Saxons, than the
peace, humility, and gentleness which clothed the Christian religion.
A vision or a miracle is again called in by the venerable Bede to
complete the conversion of Edwin. This we shall pass over without
openly expressing a feeling of doubt or disbelief. The means which
the Almighty might take to bring about the conversion of a heathen
nation are beyond the comprehension of man. We doubt not the light
which fell upon and surrounded Saul, when breathing slaughter against
the Christians whilst he was on his way to Damascus, for there we at
once acknowledge the wonder-working hand of God. It required no such
powerful agency for Paulinus to become acquainted with Edwin's previous
dream. Nor does there appear to have been anything miraculous in the
token which the king was reminded of; neither was the incident at all
so startling as it first appears to be, for he had beyond doubt made
Edilburga acquainted with the subject of his dream, and what would not
a woman do, to accomplish the conversion of a husband she loved? Even
after all, Edwin assembled his nobles and counsellors together openly,
to discuss the new religion before he was baptized, for the vision or
miracle had not yet dispelled his doubts.

When Edwin assembled his pagan priests and nobles together, and threw
open before them the whole subject, Coifi, who had long administered
the rites at the altar of Odin, and, as it appears, reaped but little
benefit, thus spoke out, plainly and feelingly, at once. (We trust
Edilburga was not present.) "You see, O King, what is now preached
to us; I declare to you most truly, what I have most certainly
experienced, that the religion which we have hitherto professed,
contains no virtue at all, nor no utility. Not one of your whole court
has been more attentive to the worship of your gods than myself,
although many have received richer benefits, greater honours, and have
prospered more than I have done. Now, if these gods had been of any
real use, would they not have assisted me, instead of them? If, then,
after due inquiry, you see that these 'new things' which they tell us
of will be better, let us have them without any delay." Coifi was weary
of waiting for the good things which stood ready prepared for him in
the halls of Valhalla; he wanted to have a foretaste whilst living.

But we will leave plain-spoken Coifi to introduce the next orator, who
was one of Nature's poets, though a pagan; and the passage is doubly
endeared to us, by the knowledge that on a later day, Alfred the Great
translated it, word for word, and letter for letter. We regret that we
cannot give the original, for there are many words in it which seem
out of place, such as we believe the eloquent orator never uttered,
although Bede lived about this time, and probably heard it from the
lips of some one who was present when it was spoken. It ran nearly
as follows: "The life of man while here, O King, seems to me, when I
think of that life which is to come, and which we know not of, like
a scene at one of your own winter feasts. When you sit in your hall,
with the blaze of the fire in the midst of it, and round you your
thanes and ealdermen, and the whole hall is bright with the warmth, and
while storms of rain and snow are heard out in the cold air, in comes
a small sparrow at one door, and flies round our feast; then it goes
out another way into the cold. While it is in, it feels not the winter
storm, but is warm, and feels a comfort while it stays; but when out
in the winter cold, from whence it came, it goes far from our eyes.
Such is here the life of man. It acts and thinks while here, but what
it did when we saw it not, we do not know, nor do we know what it will
do when it is gone." He then finished by adding something about the
new religion, and prayed of them to adopt it, if it was more worthy of
their belief, and opened clearer views respecting a future state than
the old.

Paulinus was present, and when he had satisfactorily answered all
questions, a fearful feeling still seemed to linger amongst the pagans,
as to who should first desecrate their old temple, and overthrow the
idols and altars before which they had so long worshipped. "Give me a
horse and a spear," said Coifi, "and I will." They were brought to him.
We cannot help picturing Coifi in his eagerness to get rid of the old
religion, nor how Paulinus, with his dark hair, hooked nose, swarthy
countenance, and darker eyes, just looked for a moment at Edwin, as
the pagan priest hurled his spear at the idol temple, and profaned
it. "The people without thought him mad." What Coifi thought of the
people is not on record. He knew what the idols were better than they
did. Witness the results of his own experience; for day after day,
and year after year, had he administered to the shrine, yet received
no reward; and doubtless Coifi thought that, let the new religion be
what it might, it could not be worse than the old one. When he had
hurled his spear against the temple, it was profaned, and could never
more be dedicated to the worship of Odin; for such an act was held
impious by the ancient Saxon pagans. The building was then destroyed,
and the surrounding enclosures levelled to the ground. This scene
took place near the Derwent, not far from the spot where Edwin had so
narrow an escape from the assassin Eumer. In Bede's time it was called
Godmundham, or the home of the gods. After this, Edwin and his nobility
were baptized, and through his persuasion, the son of his protector,
Redwald, embraced Christianity, and diffused it amongst his subjects
in East Anglia. Edwin himself, as we have shown, had in his younger
days been a wanderer and an exile; and although we have no account of
the privations he endured, they were doubtless great, and perhaps we
should not much err in surmising that many a time he had endured the
pangs of hunger and thirst: for on a later day he caused stakes to be
fastened beside the highways wherever a clear spring was to be found,
and to these posts, brazen dishes were chained, to enable the weary
and thirsty traveller to refresh himself. For houses were then few and
far apart, and the wayfarer had often to journey many a dreary league
before he could obtain refreshment, as the monasteries were the only
places in which he could halt and bait. In Edwin's reign, and through
his kingdom, it is said that a woman with an infant at her breast might
walk from the Tweed to the Trent without fearing injury from any one.
He seems to have been beloved by all, and Edilburga ever moved beside
him like a ministering angel.

But Edwin was not destined to go down peaceably to his grave; some
quarrel arose between him and the son of his old Welsh host, Cadvan:
what the cause was, we know not; it, however, led to a severe battle,
and as it was fought near Morpeth, it is evident that the Welsh
king was the invader. Edwin was, as usual, victorious, and chased
Cadwallon into Wales. Some time after this event, there sprang up a
renowned pagan warrior amongst the Saxons, named Penda, who governed
the kingdom of Mercia, a portion of Britain that up to this period
scarcely attracts the historian's attention. This Mercian king,
Cadwallon prevailed upon to unite his forces with his own, and attack
the Northumbrian monarch. The battle is believed to have taken place
at Hatfield Chase, in Yorkshire, at the close of autumn in the year
633; in it king Edwin was slain, together with one of his sons, named
Osfrid. Most of his army perished--a clear proof of the stern struggle
they made to conquer. Cadwallon, and his ally, Penda, the pagan king,
overran the united kingdoms of Northumbria, desolating the Deiri and
Bernicia in their march, and spreading terror wherever they appeared.
Edilburga escaped with her children into Kent; Paulinus accompanied
her, for the Christian churches appear to have been the chief objects
which the Mercian monarch sought to destroy.

The world seemed to have no charms for Edilburga after the death of
her royal husband. Her brother, Eadbald, the king of Kent, received
her kindly and sorrowfully: the widowed queen, by his consent, built a
monastery at Liming, and afterwards took the veil.

Such was the end of the beautiful daughter of Ethelbert, she who when a
girl had many a time seen Augustin at her father's court, and doubtless
looked with childish wonder on the holy banner which the missionaries
bore before them, whereon the image of the Blessed Redeemer was
portrayed, when they first appeared in Kent. Upon the death of Edwin,
the kingdom of Northumbria was again divided. Osric, a descendant
of Ella, ascended the throne of the Deiri, and Eanfrid, the son of
Ethelfrith, whom Edwin had driven into exile, reigned over Bernicia.
Osric soon perished, for Cadwallon still continued his ravages, and
while the king of Deiri was besieging a strong fortress which the Welsh
monarch occupied, an unexpected sally was made, and in the skirmish
Osric was slain. Eanfrid met with a less glorious death, for while
within the camp of Cadwallon, suing for peace, he was, even against all
the acknowledged laws of that barbarous age, put to death. This Welsh
king appears to have been as great a scourge to the Saxons as ever king
Arthur was in his day, nor does his old ally, Penda, seem to have been
a jot less sparing of his own countrymen;--but his doings will form the
subject of our next chapter.

In fourteen battles and sixty skirmishes is Cadwallon said to have
fought, and so odious was the last year in which he distinguished
himself--so blotted by his ravages and the apostasy of many of the
Saxon kings, that Bede says, the annalists, by one consent, refused to
record the reigns of these renegades, so added it to the sovereignty
of Oswald. The most important event that we have to record in his
reign was the victory he obtained over Cadwallon, which occurred soon
after he was seated upon the throne of Bernicia. Oswald was already
celebrated for his piety, and previous to his battle with the Welsh
king, he planted the image of the cross upon the field, holding it
with his own hands, while his soldiers filled up the hollow which
they had made in the earth to receive it. When the cross was firmly
secured, he exclaimed, "Let us all bend our knees, and with one heart
and voice pray to the True and the Living God, that He in His mercy
will defend us from a proud and cruel enemy: for to Him it is known
that we have commenced this war, for the salvation and safety of our
people." All knelt, as he had commanded, around the cross, and when the
last murmur of the solemn prayer had died away, they marched onward
with stouter hearts to meet the terrible enemy. Of the battle we have
scarcely any other record than that which briefly relates the death of
Cadwallon and the destruction of his army. The spot in which the cross
was planted was called "Heaven-field," and was for ages after held in
great reverence. But neither the piety of Oswald, nor his victory over
the Welsh king, could protect him from the wrath of Penda: and the
scene of our history now shifts to the kingdom of Mercia, which, up to
this time, had seemed to sleep in the centre of the Saxon dominions:
for those who had settled down in the midland districts had, with the
exception of Crida, scarcely left so much as a name behind, and he is
only known as the grandfather of Penda. To the deeds of the latter we
have now arrived, and he who assisted to slay five kings, is the next
stormy spirit that throws its shadow upon our pages.



 "The gates of mercy shall be all shut up:
  And the fleshed soldier,--rough and hard of heart,--
  In liberty of bloody hand, shall range
  With conscience wide as hell: mowing like grass
  Your fresh fair virgins and your flowering infants."


Hitherto the kingdom of Mercia has scarcely arrested our attention,
but the time at last came when it was destined to rise with a
startling distinctiveness above the rest of the Saxon states, under
the sovereignty of Penda. As the midland counties bordered upon the
Deiri, it is not improbable that Mercia had been subject to the sway
of the more northern monarchs, until the grandson of Crida appeared,
and, struck by its fallen state, resolved at once to raise it to its
true dignity. We have seen him before figure in the battle where he
joined Cadwallon, and overthrew the once-powerful Edwin; then he
gained but an empty victory, he now resolved to retrace his steps
and reap a more substantial harvest or perish in the attempt. Above
sixty years had already rolled over his head, yet for military skill
and talent he had scarcely an equal, and when, ten years before, he
was crowned king of Mercia, many foresaw that his would be a terrible
reign; he had linked himself with the British--daringly thrown down his
gauntlet and challenged all comers; no one was found bold enough to
pick it up. Wherever he appeared, Mercy fled with a shiver, and Hope
placed her fair hands before her eyes to weep: from step to step did
he advance as he grew grey in crime, still glorying in the hoariness
of his iniquities. Bold, ambitious, and cruel, he sought out danger
wherever it was to be found, and attacked Power in the very heart of
his stronghold; he knew only Mercy by the name of Death, nor shunned
he the fate to which he consigned others. He hated not the Christians
who adhered rigidly to the tenets of their new creed, but if they
halted between two opinions, he abhorred them; while on his part he
worshipped Odin, and never left the altars of his grim war-god dry for
want of a victim. Endowed with a strong and fearless mind, and a body
that age only seemed to harden, he led the way from battle to battle,
and victory to victory, while the neighbouring kings looked on and
trembled. No marvel that such a conqueror found ready allies amongst
the Cymry, or that they were ever eager to join him when he required
their aid, while he in return seems to have stood ready armed for any
cause, that might chance to fall in his way, and but for his assistance
to Cadwallon, Edwin might probably have died an old man in his bed,
with Edilburga and his children kneeling beside him. But ambition was
the rock on which nearly all these ancient kings were wrecked; the
open ocean was not wide enough for them; wherever it was rumoured that
danger lurked, there they at once steered--they deemed it but cowardly
to wait for the coming of death, so seized the helm and sailed boldly
out to look for his dark dominions. To be chained to the domestic
hearth was to them a misery, the bark of the old hound, and the
recognising flutter of the familiar hawk, and the prattle of children
became weary! weary! Old household affections but palled; Edilburga
might smile, and Paulinus pray, but the tramp of the war-horse, and the
ringing of the sword upon the buckler, and the clang of the battle-axe,
as it cleaved its way through helmet and armour, were sweeter sounds
than these; the spirit within but yearned for the sleep which was
purchased by a dearly won victory; even the eyes of grey-headed old men
brightened when the contest was talked over in which they had fought,
and they went out of the hall, tottering at every step, to bask in
the sunshine, and sigh over the deeds done in those "good old times."
Wearisome was the morning light to their eyes, which dawned not upon
the tented field; they loved better to see the banner of the red dragon
of the Britons waving upon some distant height, opposite to which their
own standard of the white horse fluttered, than to watch the motion of
the trees, or the rustle of the yellow corn, or to hear the bleating
and the lowing of "the cattle upon a thousand hills:" to such belonged
Penda, the ruler of Mercia.

Whether the death of Cadwallon, the British king, with whom Penda's
forces were allied when Edwin was defeated at the battle of
Hatfield-chase, caused the Mercian monarch to invade Bernicia, to
revenge his fall and defeat, or whether the love of conquest alone
induced Penda to undertake this expedition, is not recorded, neither
is it clearly made out that he was not present at the battle in which
Cadwallon was slain. Whatever were his motives, he attacked and slew
Oswald, without any apparent cause of quarrel, and in him perished one
of the best of the Northern kings. It is said that while the barbed
javelin which caused his death was still fixed in his breast, he never
for a moment ceased to pray; and that for centuries after his death
his name was ever linked with the following pious sentence: "May the
Lord have mercy on their souls! as Oswald said, when he fell on the
battle-field." It is also recorded of Oswald that one day, as he was
about to partake of the refreshments which were placed before him in
a silver dish, the almoner, whose office it was to relieve the poor,
stepped in and informed him that a number of beggars were waiting
without soliciting alms:--when his eye alighted upon the rich vessel
in which the dainties were piled, the thoughts of their wants, and
his own unnecessary luxuries, rose before him with so striking a
contrast, that he ordered the untouched food to be distributed amongst
the beggars, and the silver dish to be broken up and given to them;
yet Penda caused the head and limbs of this pious and charitable king
to be severed from the body, transfixed on stakes, and exposed to the
public gaze. He then marched through Northumbria, spreading death
and desolation wherever he trod; attacked the castle of Bamborough,
and, unable to carry it by storm, demolished all the buildings in the
neighbourhood, and piled up the wood and thatch around the strong
fortress, and then set fire to the ruins he had heaped together.
Fortunately for the besieged, the wind changed just as the flames began
to rise, and the eddying gust blew back the blazing ruins upon the
besiegers. Penda then turned his back upon Northumbria, and we next
meet with him in Wessex, where he makes war upon Cenwalch, for some
insult the latter had offered to Penda's sister; Cenwalch is driven
out of his kingdom, remains in exile three years, and then returns,
having doubtless reconciled himself to the Mercian king. When he had
finished his work in Wessex, and Sigebert had resigned his crown, he
directed his steps to East Anglia, for Redwald had long since slept
with his fathers: he had also founded a school, from which it is not
improbable the present University of Cambridge sprung; and having given
his kingdom to his kinsman Ecgric, and built a monastery, into which
he at last retired, he had long since taken a farewell of all his
greatness. But Sigebert had been renowned in his day; and now danger
was knocking at the door, the East Anglians were unwilling that an old
warrior should be pattering his prayers when he ought to be wielding
his battle-axe; and it is recorded that his former subjects drew him
forcibly out of the monastery, and compelled him to lead them on
against Penda. With only a white wand in his hand, and probably robed
in his monkish habiliments, the old soldier took the command of the
battle; his religious scruples, however, preventing him from using any
warlike weapon. We can almost picture him, pale with his ascetic life,
for no one had adhered more rigidly to the monastic rules than he had
done, standing with his white wand uplifted amid a throng of warriors,
pointing to the most salient points of the opposing army, with a
martial glimmer just lighting up for a moment the cold grey eye, which
for years had only contemplated that glory which he hoped to enjoy
beyond the grave. We can imagine the sudden contrast of sounds--from
the low muttered prayer, or the holy hymns chaunted within the walls
of his monastery, to the shout, the rush, the struggle, and the
clanging of arms. Nor is it difficult to picture the look of contempt
with which the pagan king Penda would gaze upon his ghostly opponent,
or to imagine the bitter jeers to which the hardened heathen would
give utterance as he wiped his bloody battle-axe, and gazed upon the
monk-king and his crowned kinsman, as they lay together amid the
slain--for both Sigebert and Ecgric fell, and their whole army was
routed or slaughtered by the hitherto invincible Penda.

Anna succeeded Ecgric, and Sigebert; but scarcely was he seated upon
the perilous throne of East Anglia, before the pagan warrior again made
his appearance; for although Penda was now an old man, grey-headed, and
eighty years of age, he could no more live without fighting than he
could without food. Anna had been guilty of sheltering Cenwalch, the
king of Wessex, after Penda had dethroned him; an unpardonable offence
in the eyes of the hoary old heathen; so he marched once more into East
Anglia, and slew him. He had by this time sent five kings and thousands
of their followers as offerings to Odin, and not yet satisfied, he
resolved once more to visit the northern kingdoms, for the pleasant
vallies which stretched on either side the Trent had no charms for
Penda. The "thirty-armed river," as Milton has called it, could not
retain him within its boundaries; he liked not the air of our midland
counties, so set off to pay another visit to the Deiri or Bernicia,
with every mile of which he was doubtless familiar. He had grown grey
in fighting battles, had been a king thirty years, and during the whole
period was either preparing to attack, marching, or fighting. The
old chroniclers compare him to a vulture, a wild beast, ravenous for
prey, and one whose chief delight was in the clashing of arms, and the
shedding of human blood.

After having slain Oswald and brutally exhibited his remains, he
appears to have paid frequent visits to Oswy, who succeeded him. But
Oswy had no disposition to fight, and therefore endeavoured to keep
the quarrelsome old Mercian quiet by exhausting the Northumbrian
treasury. Growling like a tiger, Penda refused to accept all the
treasures he could heap together; he was neither to be bought over by
gold nor prayers; he came to fight, and fight he would; he seemed like
a drunken man who is determined to quarrel, even if he has to run his
head against the first post he meets with. He had come, he said, to
extirpate the whole race of the Northumbrians--the Deiri, Bernicia, and
all--he came to kill.

When Oswy found that all entreaties were in vain, he mustered his
forces together, which were far inferior to Penda's in number. Before
commencing the battle, Oswy vowed, like Jephthah of old, that if he
obtained the victory, he would dedicate his daughter to the service of
the Lord; and having formed this resolution, he issued forth to meet
the mighty man-slayer, who had hitherto scarcely sustained a single
defeat. The Northumbrian, with a heavy heart, divided the command of
his little army between himself and his son Alfred. The battle took
place somewhere in Yorkshire, but where cannot now with certainty
be pointed out; it was in the neighbourhood of a river, and not far
distant from York. The contest was terrible; the army under the command
of Penda appears to have been made up of Britons and Saxons, some of
whom were dragged reluctantly into the battle, and but waited the first
favourable moment to turn their arms against the dreaded chieftain.
The low land in the rear of Penda's army was flooded; beyond, the
deep-swollen river was already roaring as if in expectation of its
prey. Penda charged as usual--hot, eager, and impetuous, as if the
victory was already his own; but the old man's arms were not so strong
as they had been,--he could not see his way so clearly as he had done
beforetime. Odilwald, who occupied a favourable position, had not yet
stirred a step. It seems as if one portion of Penda's mighty force
was jealous of another; there was the river roaring behind, and Oswy
bearing down upon them before. Midway all was confusion, and in the
midst of it stood Penda, blinded with fury, and bleeding from his
wounds. Over the dying and the dead trampled the victorious army of
Oswy. Over Penda they trod, who lay upon the ground a hideous mass,
his grey head cloven open by a blow from a battle-axe. None paused to
survey him. Before the Northumbrians the routed host rushed onward,
onward, until the ringing of armour, and the clashing of blade upon
blade, sunk into a gurgle, and a moan, and a splash; and still the
river tore on its way, as if in haste to make room for more. Downward
the defeated plunged, into deep beds, where the hungry pike slept, and
the slimy eel lay coiled. The flooded fields were manured with the
dead; hideous sights which many a rich harvest has since covered; the
river-bed was clogged up with the bodies of the slain, which fishes
fed upon, and winter rains at last washed away--rich relics to pave
the floor of that gloomy hall, where Hela the terrible reigned. If
ever there was a clattering of skulls in Valhalla it was then; or if
Odin ever rushed out with open arms, to meet the bloodiest of his
worshippers, it was when the soul of Penda came. What a crimson country
is ours! what rivers of gore has it taken to make our green England
what it is! No marvel that even the rims of our daisies are dyed
crimson by contact with such a sanguinary soil.

Oswy, after this unexpected victory, now overran Mercia, and subjected
it to his sway. His daughter Alchfleda he also gave in marriage to
Peada, the son of Penda, and installed him in his father's kingdom, on
condition that he should introduce Christianity into his dominions.
Alfred, the son of Oswy, in return married the daughter of Penda,
whose name was Cyneburga. Thus on each side a pagan was united to a
Christian, and the work of conversion went on prosperously; for there
were now but few corners of the British dominions in which the true
faith was not introduced. Such changes were enough to make the stern
old Saxon heathen leap out of his grave. In his lifetime no one would
have been found bold enough to have proposed them. Alchfleda's mother
was still living, and remained a firm follower of the old idolatrous
creed; she seems to have accompanied her daughter into Mercia, and had
doubtless in her train many a grey old veteran, who still bowed the
knee before the altars of Odin, and who looked upon a religion which
taught peace, good will, and charity to all mankind, with disdain. It
is not clearly made out by whose instigation Peada was assassinated.
Both his wife and her mother stand accused of the deed, but no cause
is assigned for the former perpetrating so dreadful a crime; nor can
any other reason be assigned for the latter having done it, beyond what
we have given. Peada, however, fell at the holy time of Easter, which
seems to have been a favourite season for assassination amongst the
pagan Saxons, in proof of which numerous instances might be quoted.
Before his death, Peada commenced the famous monastery of Peterborough,
which his brother Wulfhere completed. Nor was Wulfhere content with
only finishing the minster, for he gave to the Abbot Saxulf, to the
monks, and their successors for ever, all the lands and waters, meads,
fens, and weirs, which lay for many miles around it, and covered in
extent what forms more than one English shire. Wulfhere, like Sigebert,
appears to have been as much of a monk as a warrior, though a little
of old Penda's blood still flowed in his veins; and when Cenwalch, of
Wessex, who had been humbled and disgraced by Penda, resolved to have
his revenge upon the son, although he was at first successful, the
Mercians at last became conquerors, and Cenwalch was again exiled, and
his kingdom fell into the hands of the Mercian sovereign.

The king of Essex, about this time, made frequent visits to Oswy's
court, and the Northumbrian sovereign lost no opportunity of dissuading
him from following his idol worship. The arguments Oswy used, though
simple, were convincing; he told him that such objects as were
fashioned out of stone or wood, and which the axe or the fire could
so readily destroy and consume, could not contain a Godhead. Such
reasoning had the desired effect, and the king of Essex, together with
numbers of his subjects, abandoned their pagan belief. The sovereign
of Sussex was also converted through the instrumentality of Wulfhere,
who was as eager to spread the doctrines of Christianity as his father
had ever been to uphold the worship of Woden. Cenwalch, the king of
Wessex, who, like so many others about this period, keeps crossing the
busy stage at intervals, only to fill up the scenes, at length died,
but whether in exile or not is uncertain. Saxburga, the widowed queen,
stepped into the vacant throne; but the Wessex nobles refused to be
governed by a woman, although she wielded the sceptre with a firmer
hand, and ruled the kingdom better than her husband had ever done;
strengthening her forces, and ever holding herself in readiness in
case of an invasion. Still there was ever some one amongst her nobles
who shared her rule; and one of these, a descendant from the renowned
Cerdric, led her forces against the king of Mercia. Essex was at this
time under the sway of Wulfhere, and it is likely enough that he
looked with a jealous eye upon the bold front which Saxburga's kingdom
presented, after the death of Cenwalch, who had been so frequently
conquered. A battle was fought in Wiltshire, in which neither party
appear to have reaped any material advantage; and in little more than
a year after the contest, both the leaders were in their graves. Oswy,
the conqueror of Penda, had before this died, and his son Ecgfrid
became the king of Northumbria, in which the Deiri and Bernicia were
now united. Alfred, who had married Penda's daughter, after having
aided in destroying her father and his powerful army, at the battle
in Yorkshire, was not allowed to succeed Oswy, on account of some
flaw in his birth. Nearly all beside, of any note, who figured in
this busy period, had passed away, excepting the last son of Penda,
named Ethelred, who, after the death of Wulfhere, ascended the Mercian
throne. Ecgfrid fell in a battle against the Picts, though not before
he had invaded Mercia, for although Ethelred had married his sister,
it seemed as if the hostile blood which had so long flowed between the
sons, Oswy and Penda, was not to be blended by marriage. The archbishop
Theodore stepped in between the combatants, and healed up the breach
long before Ecgfrid perished. About this time, also, died Cadwaladyr,
the last of the Cymry who aspired to the sovereignty of Britain. His
death was the cause of a battle being fought. Similar unimportant
events make up the catalogue which closes the account of this period.
The Saxon kingdoms seemed to stand upon an ever-moving earthquake: one
was swallowed to-day, and cast up again on the morrow: the earth was
ever rocking and reeling: kings came and went, as the images shift in a
kaleidoscope. If one year saw a sovereign victorious, the next beheld
him dethroned and an exile; he put on his crown, or laid it aside,
just as his more powerful neighbour bade him. When fortune placed him
uppermost, he retaliated in the same way on his former conqueror. Still
we have before us the stirring times of Offa the Terrible; Egbert and
Ethelwulf followed by the stormy sea-kings, whose invasions were more
merciless than those of the Saxons; for the history of this period is
like an ocean studded with islands, some of which lie near together,
others wide apart; and many which, from the distance, seem to have a
barren and forbidding look, are, on a nearer approach, found rich in
ancient remains; and though now silent and desolate, we discover in
what is left behind traces of the once mighty inhabitants, that ages
ago have passed away. Such is the history of the early Saxon kingdoms.
Where an idle voyager would yawn and grow weary, his intelligent
companion would linger, and gaze, and ponder in silent wonder and
reverential awe.



              "Let us sit upon the ground,
  And tell sad stories of the death of kings:--
  How some have been deposed, some slain in war;
  Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
  Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed;
  All murdered:--For within the hollow crown
  That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
  Keeps Death his court."--SHAKSPERE.

The remainder of our journey through the kingdoms which anciently
formed the Saxon Octarchy now lies in a more direct road, where there
are fewer of those perplexing paths and winding ways, such as we have
hitherto been compelled to thread, in our difficult course through this
dimly-discovered country of the Past. We are now on the sun-bright
borders of those dark old forest fastnesses, amid which we could
scarcely see what flowers were at our feet, or catch a clear glimpse
of the outstretched sky that hung above our heads; a few steps from
this, and we leave this land of twilight and uncertain shadows behind.
After the death of Ecgfrid, Alfred, who is already distinguished as
having fought in the battle in which Penda fell, and afterwards, as
having married his daughter, ascended the throne of Northumbria. We
have before shown how, on account of his birth, his succession was
disputed by the nobles; against their decision he offered neither
defence nor resistance, but betaking himself to study, he so enriched
his mind, under the instruction of the famous Bishop Wilfrid, that
Bede classes him as first amongst the kings of Anglo-Saxons for his
literary acquirements. He "waded not through slaughter to a throne,"
but calmly abided his time, and when it came, quitted his study to sway
the sceptre. His court was the resort of literary men and enlightened
travellers, and Aldhelm, the celebrated scholar of that day, stood
high in his favour. There was a firmness about his character worthy
of the name which afterwards becomes so endeared to us, for when he
could not conscientiously agree in certain matters with his old tutor,
Wilfrid, he allowed the bishop to quit his dominions, nor had a letter
from the Pope influence enough to alter his resolution. Nothing of
note appears to have occurred in Northumbria during his reign, for the
expulsion of Eadwulf, and the ascension of Osred, were accomplished
without difficulty. Ceolwulf came next, to whom Bede dedicated his
Ecclesiastical History; but we must not step too suddenly into the
familiar light which seems all at once about to break upon us.

Ceadwalla, a descendant of the renowned Cerdric's, after the death of
Ecgfrid, made a stand against the nobles of Wessex, who had banished
him from that kingdom. He first attacked the king of Sussex, slew
him, and desolated his dominions. He then, accompanied by his brother
Mollo, made an inroad into Kent, where they ravaged and destroyed the
towns and villages for miles around. While Mollo, with several of his
soldiers, were busied in plundering a house, they were surrounded by
the enraged men of Kent, who, preventing the escape of the marauders,
set fire to the building on every side, and burnt all within alive. The
king of Wessex revenged his brother's death, and, far and wide, around
the scene of this terrible sacrifice, he made "a land of mourning."
After this he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, was baptized by the Pope,
and died the week after.

Ina then ascended the throne of Wessex; his celebrated laws are still
in existence, and as they throw considerable light upon the manners
of this remote period, we will take a hasty glance at them before
proceeding further. If a child was not baptized within thirty days
after its birth, a penalty of thirty shillings was demanded; if that
period elapsed and the ceremony was still neglected, the priest or the
parents must forfeit all they possessed. If a slave or theow worked on
Sunday by his master's commands, he became free; if a freeman worked on
that day, by his own consent, he forfeited his freedom. If any one sold
his servant, whether a slave or a freeman, he must pay his full value.
If a poor man died, and left his wife with a child, six shillings
a-year was to be paid for its maintenance, together with a cow in the
summer, and an ox in winter--its kindred was to take charge of the
house until the child became of age. If a man was killed, his life was
valued according to what he was worth, and the slayer had to pay a
fixed price for his death. Crude as these laws are, and barbarous as
they prove the people to have been for which they were made, still they
are the first landmarks, reared in a wild and uncivilized country,
which point out to man the extent of his possessions and his power;
the first attempt to draw an even line between might and right; for
here the poor theow, the slave of the soil, he who was sold, like the
cattle upon the estate, to the next purchaser, felt secure within his
allotted mark. The day of holy rest was his own; if his lord compelled
him to labour, the laws of Ina, next day, made him a free man. Ina,
like his predecessors, was compelled to fight his way to peace, and
amid his hostilities, he became involved in a war with Ceolred, king of
Mercia. His queen appears to have been as courageous as himself, and is
said to have besieged one of her husband's enemies at Taunton, and to
have levelled the castle in which he was sheltered to the ground. Ina
rebuilt the abbey of Glastonbury, and endowed it with rich gifts. It
seems to have grown a custom amongst the Saxon kings at this period,
to go on pilgrimage to Rome, resign their crowns, and become monks.
Ina's queen had long tried, but in vain, to induce her husband to
follow what she considered such worthy examples; but her entreaties had
hitherto proved useless. She at last hit upon the following device.
A feast had been held in one of Ina's castles; and the morning after
the banquet they went out together to ride; when they returned, she
conducted Ina into the banqueting hall, which was now covered with
filth, and occupied by a herd of swine, a litter of which was resting
upon the very couch he had before occupied. Well might so sudden a
change astonish him, and we can readily imagine the dark spot that
gathered upon his angry brow. Such a mode of conversion would have
startled either Augustin or Paulinus, and made even cunning Coifi pause
before he changed his opinion. The queen pleaded guilty to the fault,
and reasoned upon the matter as follows: "My lord," said she, "this is
very different from the noise and hilarity of yesterday; there are no
brilliant hangings now; no table weighed down with silver vessels, no
delicacies to delight the palate, neither flatterers nor parasites--all
these have vanished like the smoke before the wind--have all passed
away into nothingness. Ought we not, then, to feel alarmed, who covet
them so much, yet are everyway as transient? Are not all such things
so? and are we not ourselves like a river, that hurries headlong and
heedlessly along to the dark and illimitable ocean of time? Unhappy
must we ever be if we let such things occupy our minds. Think, I
entreat you, how disgusting those things become of which we are so
enamoured; and see what filthy objects we have become attached to; for
in those filthy relics we may see what our pampered bodies will at last
become. Oh! let us reflect, that the greater we have been, and the more
powerful we now are, the more alarmed we ought to be, for the greater
will be the punishment of our misconduct."

Ina listened, sighed, resigned his crown, and set off for Rome, where
he founded a school, and imposed a tax of a penny upon every family
in his kingdom, which was called Romescot, and which went to support
the institution he had raised. As a proof of his sincerity, he wore
a common dress, lived meanly, cut his hair, laboured hard, and dwelt
in retirement with his queen, until he died "a good old man." His
brother, Inigils, had died a few years before him, a name that falls
silent as snow upon the pages of History; yet like the snow, doing its
silent work, for he must have been a man of some note in his day and
generation, to have been the father of Egbert and the grandfather of
Alfred the Great, from whom descended a long line of kings.

The Mercian nobles rose up and put to death Ostrida, the wife of
Ethelred their king, for what cause history is altogether silent;
neither the why nor the wherefore is given--the sentence reads in the
Saxon Chronicle like an epitaph upon a gravestone, yet she was the
daughter of the once powerful Oswy of Northumbria, and when destroyed,
queen of the Mercians. The very mystery which hangs around her fate
interests us, and we want to know something about what she had done
to draw down such dreadful punishment, but all our inquiries are
vain; beyond the mere entry of her violent death, not even a doubt is
registered, for us to pause over. The deed was done, and is recorded
in one brief, terrible sentence, and we know no more. Her husband,
Ethelred, abandoned the crown of Mercia to his nephew Cenred, and
entered the monastery of Bardney, as a monk, going through all the
routine of common duties, like a humble brother, until at last he rose
to the rank of abbot in the monastery which he himself had founded.

Ethelbald is the next king of Mercia who commands our attention.
He had been nursed in the stern school of privation; like Edwin of
Northumbria, he had been persecuted in his youth, and owed his life
to Guthlac, the hermit of Croyland. Picture the warrior monk and the
young king in those wild marshes--where no monastery was as yet built
up, and where, upon that swamp, which was afterwards crowned with a
splendid abbey, only a humble hut, and a rude cross of wood, were then
to be seen. The stormy old warrior, Guthlac, who had done battle in
many a hard-fought field, was at last weary of a soldier's life, and
hearing that there was an island surrounded by a lake in a corner of
Mercia, he got one of the rude Lincolnshire fishermen to row him to
the spot, where for some time he remained alone; here he was visited
by Ethelbald, a man elegant in form, with a frame of iron, and a bold,
undaunted spirit. There must have been some strange charm in the
society of the soldier-monk, thus to have won over the young king to
share with him such a solitude, for the marshes of Croyland must in
those days have worn a most forbidding appearance, and even now, as
they wave in summer, with their dark, coarse patches of goose-grass,
and in some places, no stir of life is seen, excepting where the
gosherd drives before him his noisy flock, an air of melancholy reigns
over the scenery, and the mind unconsciously wanders back among the
shadows of the dead. Nor did Ethelbald, when he ascended the throne of
Mercia, forget his exile, or his companion Guthlac, but gave the island
of Croyland to the monks who had accompanied his friend, and preserved
their piety amid all the privations which surrounded that solitude,
and over the monument which the Mercian king erected to the monk, was
afterwards built the monastery of Croyland.

Ethelbald conquered Northumbria, and, aided by Cuthred, king of Wessex,
obtained a victory over the Welsh; but although they had thus fought
side by side, a spirit of jealousy lurked within each bosom, and the
Wessex king only waited for the first favourable opportunity to throw
off the mask, and free himself from the power of the Mercian monarch.
Unforeseen circumstances, for some time, prevented Cuthred from openly
taking the field against Ethelbald; his son rose up in rebellion, and
no sooner was he put down, than one of his nobles, named Edelhun, took
up arms, and would have conquered Cuthred, had he not been wounded
at the very time when the battle had turned in his favour. These
rebellions Ethelbald is accused of having fomented. The rival kings
at last met near Burford in Oxfordshire; Ethelbald had under his
command the combined forces of Essex, Kent, East Anglia, and Mercia;
Cuthred, the soldiers of Wessex alone, and the powerful arm of the
former rebel, Edeldun, who was now his friend. From Roger de Wendover,
we, with a few slight alterations, copy the following description of
the battle, as being one of the most picturesque accounts which we
have met with in the pages of the early historians: "The attack on
each side was headed by the standard-bearers of the opposing king;
Edeldun bore the banner of Wessex, on which was emblazoned a golden
dragon, and rushing forward with the ensign in his hand, he struck
down the Mercian standard-bearer, a daring deed which called forth a
loud shout from the army of Cuthred. A moment after, and the noise was
drowned by the clashing of weapons, the mingled din, and roaring, and
shouting, which swelled into the prolonged thunder of battle, amid
which, if a brief pause intervened, it was filled up by the shrieks and
groans of the wounded and the dying, or the falling of some dreaded
instrument which terminated the agony of death. Havoc spread like
the destroying flames, into the midst of which the maddened masses
plunged. Death and danger were disregarded; they fought as if the fate
of a kingdom rested upon the blows dealt by each single arm. For a
moment the sunlight fell upon a mass of dazzling armour, gilding the
plumed helmet, the pointed spear, the uplifted sword, and broad-edged
battle-axe, and the rich banner, which, as it was borne onward amid
the hurried charge, fluttered in gaudy colours, high over the heads
of the eager combatants; a few moments more, and all this brave array
was broken; another moving mass rushed onward in the thickest of the
strife, the banner rocked and swayed, then went down; point after point
the uplifted spears rose and sank, the helmets seemed as if crowded
together; then the space which they occupied was filled up by others
who passed onward, the moving waves heaved and fell, and passed along,
while over all rolled that terrible sea of death which had swallowed
up horse, rider, banner, sword, and battle-axe. Foremost in the ranks,
stood Edeldun; wherever he moved, the spot was marked by the rapid
circles which his ponderous battle-axe made around his head. At every
stroke, death descended; wherever that terrible edge alighted, the
hollow earth groaned, as it made room for another grave; no armour
was proof against the blows which he dealt, for the fall of his arm
was like that of a dreaded thunderbolt that rives asunder whatever it
strikes. Like two consuming fires, each having set in from opposite
quarters and destroyed all that lay in their path, so did Edeldun
and Ethelbald at last meet, flame hurrying to flame, nothing left
between to consume; behind each lay a dead, desolated, and blackened
pathway." Here we are compelled to halt; the sternest image we could
gather from the pages of Homer, would still leave the idea of their
meeting imperfect. Ethelbald fled, having first exchanged a few blows
with his dreaded adversary. Wessex shook off the Mercian yoke, and
Ethelbald never again raised his head so high as it had before been,
when he looked proudly above those of the surrounding kings. Cuthred
died, and the king of Mercia was soon after slain in a civil war in
his own dominions. After his death, our attention is riveted upon the
events which took place between these rival kingdoms, for the rest of
the Saxon states, with scarcely an exception, were soon swallowed up in
that great vortex, which at last bore the immortal name of England.

After the death of Cuthred, the throne of Wessex was occupied by
Sigebyhrt, whose reign was brief and unpopular; he paid no regard
to the laws which had been established by Ina; he took no heed of
the remonstrances of his subjects, but when Cumbra, one of the most
renowned of their nobles, boldly proclaimed the grievances of the
people, he was put to death. This was the signal for a revolt--the
nobles assembled, the people were summoned to the council, and
Sigebyhrt was deposed. Fearful of the vengeance of his subjects,
the exiled king fled into the wild forest of Andredswold, where he
concealed himself amid its gloomy thickets. Here it is probable that
for a time the rude peasantry supplied him with food, and that the
wild man of the wood was the whole talk and wonder of the neighbouring
foresters. One day, however, he was met by a swineherd named Ansiam,
who had doubtless seen him beforetime when he visited his murdered
master Cumbra--the swineherd knew him at the first glance, and although
he did not kill the king on the spot, yet he waited his time, and
revenged his master's death by stabbing Sigebyhrt to the heart. He
appears to have watched him to his hiding-place, and when the fallen
king lay stretched upon his couch of leaves, under the shade of gloomy
and overhanging boughs, the savage swineherd stole silently through
the thicket, and with one blow sent the unhappy sovereign to sleep his
last sleep. As in the death of queen Ostrida, we find but a brief entry
of his terrible ending in the old chronicles; he suited them not, was
slain, cast aside, and so made room for another, and Cynewulf, in
whose veins the blood of Woden was believed to flow, reigned in his

We will now hasten on and make a brief survey of the state of
Northumbria. Ceolwulf, the patron of Bede, resigned his crown for the
quietude of the cloister. Eadbert succeeded to the vacant throne.
Whilst he was warring with the Picts, his dominions were invaded by
the Mercians; he reigned for twenty-three years, then retired to a
monastery, making the eighth Saxon king who had voluntarily laid aside
the crown for the cowl. It is said that the fate of Sigebyrht and the
fall of Ethelbald caused him to contrast their turbulent ending with
the peaceful death-bed of Ceolwulf--a strange change was thus wrought
in the minds of these old Saxon kings--the glory of Woden had departed;
no eager guests now rushed to the banquetting-halls of Valhalla;
they looked for other glories beyond the grave. Osulf succeeded his
father to the throne of Northumbria, scarcely reigned a year, and was
treacherously slain. Taking no warning by his fate, Edelwold was bold
enough to accept the crown; as usual, the path from the throne to the
tomb was but a brief step, and he perished. Another and another still
succeeded. Alred, a descendant of Ida, stepped into the empty seat,
just looked around, and was driven out of the kingdom. Then Ethelred
came, put two of his generals to death on the evidence of two others,
when, a few months after, the accusers turned round upon him, conquered
him, and drove him from the throne. He fled like Alred. Alfwold was
the next king that came to be killed; he just reigned long enough to
leave his name behind before he bade the world "good night." Osred
next mounted, made his bow, was asked to sit down, then driven out.
Ethelred was beckoned back again; he came, stabbed Eardulf, who had
aspired to the crown, and left him bleeding at the gate of a monastery;
dragged the children of Alfwold from York, and slaughtered them; put
to death Osred, who, like himself, had been deposed, and just when he
thought he had cleared away every obstacle, and was about to sit down
upon the throne which he had stuffed with the dead to make it more
easy, his subjects rewarded him for what he had done by slaying him.
He was followed by Osbald, who sat trembling with the crown upon his
head for twenty-seven days, but not having reigned long enough to merit
death, he was permitted to retire into a cloister. Eardulf, whom we
left bleeding at the gates of the monastery, was taken in and cured
by the monks, fled to Rome, was received by Charlemagne, and at last
placed upon the throne of Northumbria, where he had not sat long before
his subjects revolted. The crown and sceptre of Northumberland were
then thrown aside--men shunned them as they would have done a plague;
the curse of death was upon them, no man could take them up and live.
"Death kept his court" within the one, and when he wielded the other,
the gold had ever pointed either to the grave or the cloister. From
such a murderous court numbers of the nobles and bishops fled--the
throne stood vacant for several years; no man was found bold enough to
occupy it. The sword which ever hung there had fallen too often--not
another Damocles could be found to ascend and survey the surrounding
splendour from such a perilous position.

In looking over this long list of natural deaths, murders, and escapes
which took place in one kingdom after the abdication of Eadbert,
we have but recorded the events which occurred within forty short
years, from seven hundred and fifty-seven to about seven hundred and
ninety. From the landing of Hengist and Horsa, about three centuries
before, nearly one hundred and fifty kings had sat upon the different
thrones of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The bulk of these are unknown to
us excepting by name; we can with difficulty just make out the petty
states they reigned over, and that is nearly all. Some died in the
full belief of their heathen creed, with a firm faith that from a
death-bed in the field of battle to the brutal immortality which their
bloody deeds had merited was but a step, and that their happiness
hereafter would consist in feasting and holiday murders in the halls
of Woden. Others calmly breathed their last with their dying eyes
fixed upon the cross of Christ, while the anchor of their faith sunk
noiselessly into the deep sea of death, and their weary barques were
safely moored in that tranquil harbour where neither waves beat nor
tempest roared, and where, at last, the "storm-beat vessel safely
rode." What a fearful history would those three centuries present if it
could but be truly written--if we could but have the everyday life of
those all but unknown kings! forgotten as their very graves are, and
scattered their ashes into dust, which ages ago mingled imperceptibly
with the breeze, and was blown onward, unseen and unfelt. Yet there
was a time when even the meanest and the most unknown marched in pomp
to the Pagan temple, or lowly Christian church, when before them the
noisy heralds went, and the applauding mob swelled behind, and rude
as the crown and sceptre might be, and all the barbaric pearl and
gold, still the holy oil was poured forth, and solemn prayers offered
up, and the whole witena-gemot, with the neighbouring nobles, were
assembled together, and the little world around them for days after
talked only of the coronation of the king. Thousands at their command
had mustered in battle, high nobles had bowed their heads before them;
on a word from their lips life or death frequently hung; valour and
beauty were gathered around their thrones, and, when they rode forth
in grand procession, the wondering crowd rushed out to gaze,--even as
it does now. Edwin, with his banner borne before him, and Offa, with
his trumpets sounding in the streets, were as much a marvel above a
thousand years ago, as her present Majesty is in the provinces in our
own time. Yet there are many in the present day who think it a waste of
time to dwell for a few hours upon the fates of those ancient kings,
who, forsooth! because they have been so long dead, are considered as
undeserving of notice by those who seem to measure the events of the
past by their own present insignificance, who, conscious that they
themselves will be forgotten for ever as soon as the grave has closed
over them, look begrudgingly upon almost every name that Time has not
wholly obliterated.



                "Come, come you spirits
  That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here;
  And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
  Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood,
  Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
  That no compunctious visitings of nature
  Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
  The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
  And take my milk for gall."--SHAKSPERE.

To the kingdom of Mercia must we again turn the reader's attention for
a few moments, and take up the thread of our history from the death
of Ethelbald, who, it will be remembered, fell, while endeavouring
to put down the rebellion which was headed by Bernred. Of the latter
we know nothing, excepting that he reigned for a few months, when he
was either banished by the nobles, or driven from the throne by Offa,
surnamed The Terrible, who descended from a brother of the king-slaying
Penda. Though we have no clear proofs of the means by which Offa got
possession of the crown of Mercia, there are many dark allusions
scattered over the works of the monkish historians who were living
about this period, which scarcely leave a doubt that he obtained the
title of The Terrible through the violent measures he had recourse to
in attaining it. Bede says, he won the kingdom of Mercia "with a bloody
sword." One of the most romantic incidents which occur in the records
of this period, is that which first introduced the future queen, Drida,
into Offa's presence. She was a bold, beautiful, ambitious, and cruel
woman, and appears to have been related to Charlemagne. She committed
some crime, for which she was doomed to undergo the ordeal of iron or
fire; but although her deeds were so clearly proved, yet, as she was
allied to Charlemagne, she was allowed the more merciful ordeal of
water, and launched alone upon the pathless ocean, in a small boat,
without either oar, rudder, or sail. She was supplied with food for a
few days, and left to the winds and waves, by which she was driven upon
the British coast, somewhere on the territory over which Offa reigned.
The storm-tossed beauty was conducted to the presence of the Mercian
monarch, and having had ample time, while thrown from wave to wave,
companionless upon the ocean, to make up a false tale, she at once
gave utterance to a story which won both the pity and the love of Offa
at the same time. He resigned her to the care of his mother for a few
days, frequently visited her, and speedily married her.

 "He loved her for the dangers she had passed,
  And she loved him that he did pity them."

Such is the account given in his life, written by a monk of St. Albans,
the abbey of which was founded by Offa. Could we prove that Homer was
familiar to the monkish historian, we should be justified in imagining
that he had transformed Ulysses into Drida, and changed Calypso to
Offa; but whether or not, the wild legend has a doubtful look, though
it has been quoted by grave authors, and is admitted into several

Offa was not a king who sat asleep with the sceptre in his hand;
there was the wakeful and ambitious queen Drida now by his side;
and, startling as it may seem, the dark events which stained their
reign, and the deeds of Offa's daughter, Edburga, would in the hands
of a Shakspere furnish the materials for another tragedy, that might
stand side by side with Macbeth. Her cold cruel pride, and chilling
haughtiness, are said to have broken the heart of Offa's mother, and,
in a few months, to have hurried her into the grave. The blinded king
saw only her superb beauty, for she appears to have been a female
fiend, that outwardly wore an angel's form. Brave as a lion, and
possessing talents that would have broken through the gloom of the
most benighted period, the Mercian king marched onward from conquest
to conquest, now achieving deeds that win our admiration, then sinking
down to commit such crimes as must have made his subjects shudder. On
each side of him Drida and his daughter are ever rising up, like two
spirits that attract our attention, as they come out in the sunshine
to smile, or rush shrieking from amid the darkness, into which they
had plunged, to accomplish some new and horrible deed; they seem to
come and go with a terrible distinctness, that makes us tremble as they
either approach or vanish, as if Mercy fled before them, and we heard,
in the place from which she had hurried affrighted, dying moans, and
Love wailing upon the very lips on which he, expiring, kissed the
poison of death. All is dim as a dream, or startling as some appalling
reality which we look upon with a doubtful consciousness. So perplexing
and unnatural appear the events of this period, that the generality of
historians seem to have paused, looked round for a moment, in doubt
and wonder, then hastened off to visit less forbidding scenes: as if
they feared to grapple with the shadows and the realities, that here
seem to be ever exchanging places, throwing aside what is only doubtful
as feeble, and dreading to look among events which seem cruel and
unnatural for their horrible truth, as if years, because they have
rolled away, were empty of events, and days dawned not upon hopes and
fears as in the present day. Wild-roses blew, and nightingales sang,
as they do now, and the smell and sound were as sweet to those who
went out to look and listen, in the noonday, or in the twilight, and
returning, were stabbed by the way, or laid their heads upon their
pillows unconscious of the poison that would, before the dawning, with
a noiseless power, unlock and throw open the silent gates of death. The
murdered kings who were hurried into their graves by these merciless
women, once enjoyed the tender green of Spring, and the sober gold
of the Autumnal foliage, as we still do. What a period are we now
picturing! A king is murdered and consigned to his grave; his successor
builds a monastery, or makes a pilgrimage to Rome, and believes that
he has purchased forgiveness. A queen rushes out of the chamber, and
leaves behind her the yet warm body of the husband she has poisoned,
crosses the sea, and becomes an abbess. A young king comes wooing, in
all the hey-day of life, is allured from the banquet by the mother
of the fair princess for whose hand he is suing, taken into the next
apartment, and put to death. And these are the solemn truths of English
history--the dark deeds that were done by those who sat on the very
throne which Alfred the Great himself occupied. The events which we
record in this chapter, were written down by Alfred nearly a thousand
years ago; he heard them from the lips of those whose fathers had lived
and moved through all these stirring scenes.

We have before shown in what a defenceless state Northumbria was
left. Offa, doubtless well acquainted with the civil dissensions by
which it was rent asunder, attacked it, as his uncle Penda had done
beforetime; what advantages he gained, are not recorded. He next
marched into Kent, fought a hardly contested battle at Otunford or
Otford, conquered, and annexed that kingdom to Mercia. At the battle
of Bensington, he defeated Cynewulf, king of Wessex, and either took
possession of his dominions, or compelled him to become his ally; that
Offa did not dethrone him is evident from an incident which we shall
shortly have to narrate. The ancient Britons were not yet at rest, for
whenever a favourable opportunity occurred, they sallied forth from the
corners into which they were driven, slew and plundered the Saxons,
and hastened back again into their mountain-fortresses as soon as
they saw a stronger force approaching. They had several times invaded
Mercia, and, emboldened by their success, at length drove the Saxons
who dwelt beside the Severn, further into the heart of the kingdom.
Offa at last armed, and led on, a powerful force against them. The
Welsh fled into their hidden fastnesses, where they stood until his
back was turned upon them, when they again ventured forth. The Mercian
king once more approached, when the mountaineers, as usual, fled, and
all the open country, from the Severn to the river Wye, was cleared
of them; this time Offa determined to imprison this daring remnant
of the old Cymry within their own limited territories. To accomplish
this, he commanded a vast trench to be dug, and a huge rampart to be
thrown up, as the Roman generals had done centuries before; and this
gigantic work he extended for nearly a hundred miles, carrying it over
marsh, and morass, and mountain, from the river Dee to the entrance of
the Wye, strengthening it also with fortresses, which he manned with
chosen and hardy soldiers. But the Welsh were not long before they
filled up a large portion of the ditch, made a wide gap through the
ramparts, and fell upon Offa's warriors while they were holding their
Christmas feast, and more than one Saxon fortress was left standing all
throughout that dark winter night without a sentinel. Offa again arose,
and revenged the deaths of his followers; the king of North Wales, and
many of the old British nobles, fell at the battle of Rhuddlan, and
those who were taken prisoners were doomed to the severest slavery.
Mercia was not disturbed again by the Welsh during the reign of Offa
the Terrible. The remains of the immense work, which ages after
retained the name of Claudh Offa, or Offa's Dyke, are still visible,
and for centuries were the acknowledged barrier that divided England
from Wales; many an unrecorded combat was fought on those ancient
boundaries, and the remains of many a hero, whose name will never now
be known, lie buried deep down within those filled-up trenches.

Perhaps Offa's marriage with Drida was the first cause of his opening
a correspondence with the renowned Charlemagne; but whatever it might
be, the letters that passed between them reveal the earliest traces
of a protected trade with the continent. The Frankish king offered to
permit all pilgrims to pass securely through his dominions; and such
as came not on religious missions, but were engaged in commerce, were
to pass safely to and fro, after paying the requisite duties. To Offa,
Charlemagne sent as proofs of his kindness and friendship, a rich belt,
an Hungarian sword, and two cloaks of silk. Trifling as these matters
may at first appear, they show what silent strides civilization was
already making; duties paid on commerce for protection are different
things to the dogs and horses which, centuries before, the Britons were
wont to present to the Roman emperors whenever they required their aid.

Egbert, who was destined to become the grandfather of Alfred the Great,
resided for a time at Offa's court; but when Brihtric ascended the
throne of Wessex, and demanded the hand of Edburga, Egbert hastened to
France, where he became a great favourite with Charlemagne; and there
he not only improved himself in learning and military tactics, but
by departing from Britain, saved his life, for Brihtric was already
jealous of the fame he had won, while residing with Offa, and sought
to destroy him. Had the gifted young prince offended Edburga by
refusing her hand, and was this jealousy aroused by queen Drida and
her daughter? There is one of those mysterious blanks here which we
are at a loss to fill up rightly, for it is not clear that Egbert fled
to Offa for protection, but on the contrary he appears to have been
a guest of the Mercian king's, for some time before Brihtric sought
the hand of Edburga. According to William of Malmesbury, Egbert's
claim to the throne of Wessex was superior to Brihtric's; but we must
not pass over the event by which the throne of Wessex became vacant.
Cynewulf we have already seen measuring arms with Offa at the battle
of Bensington, where he was defeated. He became jealous of Cyneheard,
who was a brother of Sigebyrht, a king who had been driven from the
throne of Wessex, and he either sought to slay him, or banish him from
the kingdom. Cyneheard made his escape, but no further than into a
neighbouring wood, near Merton in Surrey, where he lay concealed,
having, however, a number of spies about him, who were ever on the look
out after the king, for Cyneheard had resolved to strike the first
blow; nor was it long before an opportunity occurred that favoured his

A fair lady lived at Merton, whom Cynewulf frequently visited, often
coming with only a few attendants; his enemy was on the look out, and
soon surrounded the house after he had seen the king enter. Cynewulf
threw open the door, rushed out, and wounded Cyneheard; a dozen swords
were at once uplifted against him; the king of Wessex fought alone
against them all; his followers were in another part of the house;
there was not one by to aid him, and he was slain. Assistance came too
late; the tumult had aroused those within, and, snatching up their
weapons, they hastened out to defend their master; they beheld him
fallen and bleeding beside the threshold. Cyneheard parleyed with them
for a few moments, offered them broad lands, and rich rewards, if they
would serve him; they threw back his offer with disdain, and foot to
foot, and hand to hand, did they fight until only one remained alive;
the dead followers, and the dead king, lay side by side. The tidings
of Cynewulf's death were soon blown abroad, and others speedily rode
up to revenge the murder of their sovereign. To these Cyneheard made
the same offers, and received the same reply, their only answer being
the naked weapons they presented; they had come to revenge the death of
their king, to demand life for life, and with but few words they fell
upon Cyneheard and his followers, and slew them all, excepting one, who
was severely wounded. Thus Brihtric ascended the throne of Wessex, and
married the daughter of Offa,--and dark was the bridal chamber into
which he entered.

Turn we to another scene. A young lady was leaning upon the ledge
of the palace-window, watching a long train of knights entering the
court-yard, and admiring the beauty of one who appeared to be their
chief, when she called upon her mother to come forward and witness
the scene. That lady was the youngest daughter of Offa, the woman she
called her mother, queen Drida, the youth she had admired, Ethelbert,
who had just succeeded to the throne of East Anglia, and had now come
with costly presents, to seek her hand, and form an alliance with the
powerful house of Mercia. Drida had those beyond the sea whom she
wished to serve, with whom she had in vain endeavoured to unite her
daughter in marriage; there was but one left single now, the youngest,
Alfleda, and the youthful king of East Anglia had come to carry her
off also. She had seen her husband welcome him, and the warm reception
Ethelbert had received, was gall and wormwood to her. The evil spirit
rose strong within her, and she resolved he should never again quit her
roof until he was carried to his grave.

She called Offa aside. She well knew the power of her beauty: the
weak point of her husband--ambition. She pointed out the number of
followers who, encamped without the palace walls, had accompanied
Ethelbert,--assured him that marriage was not the errand he had come
upon;--that his design extended to the crown of Mercia. Offa doubted
her assertions. Cunning as she was cruel, she suddenly turned round
the point of her argument, then proceeded to show him that if even
the young king did marry their daughter, he would, from the moment
of his union, consider himself as heir to the throne of Mercia, and
hourly look for Offa's death; nay, seek to hasten it if an opportunity
offered. She showed him how Ethelbert had made himself acquainted with
the roads which led through Mercia--how he must have observed every
salient point of the kingdom as he passed along; and, perceiving that
the king looked perplexed, she added--"Either he will shortly be the
cause of your death, or you must now be the cause of his."--The poor
blinded husband admitted the truth of her argument, confessed that he
was exposed to peril; yet, according to one of the old chroniclers,
turned away, and firmly refused to partake in such a "detestable crime
as she suggested; which," added he, "would bring eternal disgrace upon
me and my successors."

The two kings sat down to the feast; the hall of the palace resounded
with mirth. Drida came in every now and then, and when called upon to
account for her absence, said she had been looking after the apartment
which she was fitting up for the reception of her royal guest: for
Ethelbert had spent the previous night in his camp, as the day was
drawing to a decline long before he reached the royal residence. In the
room which the queen had set apart for the East Anglian king, she had
caused a splendid throne to be erected, which was overhung with curious
drapery, and surmounted by a rich canopy. In the adjoining apartment a
beautiful couch was fitted up, on which he was to sleep. She came in
again with the same smiling look, and armed with that beauty which
Time had only rendered more imposing and majestic. She sat down to the
feast, and whiled away the hour with pleasant and playful conversation.
All without looked calm, and cheerful, and captivating, while within,
there rolled dark and deep-moving murder, and savage vengeance; and
all the awful turmoil, which ever beats about the restless brain
of disappointed ambition. The Saxon gleemen sung, and tumbled; the
wine-cup circulated--rich pigment, sweetened with honey, and flavoured
with spices, was handed round in costly vessels; mead mellowed with
the juice of mulberries, and strong wines, made odoriferous with the
flowers and sweet-herbs which had been used in the preparation, passed
from hand to hand; and all went "merry as a marriage bell," when the
antiquated syren turned sweetly round, and assumed one of those studied
looks which had saved her from the fiery ordeal--which, when tossed
like a wave upon the ocean, had won its way through Offa's heart to his
throne; she exclaimed, (and probably laid her hand upon the shoulder
of her unsuspecting victim, as she spoke;) "Come, my son, Alfleda
anxiously awaits you in the chamber I have prepared; she wishes to hear
the words of love which her intended husband has to say." It is not
improbable that she led him in playfully by the hand--not one of his
attendants followed. When he entered the room, she bade him sit down
upon the throne, which stood in readiness to receive him; and, looking
round with feigned wonder, marvelled why her daughter had not already
arrived. With the merry mead playing about his brain, we can almost
picture Ethelbert uttering some jest as he threw himself laughing into
the gorgeous seat. We can see the last smile linger about Drida's eye,
the sparkling fire of vengeance heaving up, as the demon-like glare
flashed forth, the instant she had released her hand--for the moment
Ethelbert threw himself upon the throne, it sunk beneath him, into the
pit, or well over which it had been placed. There was help at hand,
men behind the arras, who listened silently for the fall. They rushed
forth, Drida aided them. Beds, pillows, and hangings, were thrown upon
the shrieking king, to drown his cries; and when all was silent, the
trap-door was again closed. There is scarcely a doubt that Offa was
privy to the deed. The fact of his taking possession of East Anglia
immediately after the murder of Ethelbert, is a strong proof of his
guilt; though some have attempted to show that he but seized upon it
in self-defence, when the East Anglians swore to revenge the death of
their sovereign.

Alfleda, the fair betrothed, fled from the murderous court, to the
monastery of Croyland; and in the midst of those wild marshes, where
the bittern boomed, and the tufted plover went ever wailing through the
air, she assumed the habit of a nun, and dedicated the remainder of her
days, which were few, to the service of God.

In the "Life of Offa," which we have before alluded to, it is stated
that the Mercian monarch banished the royal murderess to one of the
most solitary fortresses in his dominions,--that she carried with her
an immense treasure, which she had reaped from many a crime, and wrung
from many a one who had groaned beneath her oppression: that, lonely
and neglected, she was left to gloat over the gold for which she had
perilled her soul. But vengeance was not long before it overtook her.
The lonely fortress to which she was banished was attacked by robbers,
her treasures taken from her, and she herself cruelly tortured, then
thrown into a well, where she was left to expire, unwept, and unpitied.
A strange resemblance does her end bear to that of the youthful king,
whom she caused to be so ruthlessly butchered.

Edburga inherited all her mother's vices; she was envious, ambitious,
and cruel. Those who became favourites with her husband, Brihtric, she
hated, allowing no one to share his confidence or his counsel without
drawing down her vengeance; and when she could not succeed in obtaining
their disgrace or banishment, she caused them to be secretly poisoned,
for there were ever emissaries at her elbow, ready to do their wicked
work. Like her mother Drida, she found a pleasure in the execution
of dark and dreadful deeds. There was a youth who stood high in the
estimation of the king, whom Edburga had long endeavoured, but in
vain, to overthrow. Brihtric turned a deaf ear to all her complaints,
and seldom trusted his envied favourite out of his sight. But she had
sent too many of her victims to the grave, and was acquainted with
too many ready roads, which led direct to death, to abandon her prey;
so, following her old sure and speedy path, she poured poison into
his wine-cup. That night the king drank out of the same vessel as his
favourite, and died. She sent one soul more to the dark dominions than
she had intended; and, dreading the vengeance of her nobles, she
packed up all the treasures she could find in the palace, and hastened
off to France. The West Saxons passed a decree that no king's consort
should in future share her husband's throne, but that the title of
queen should be abolished.

The murderess presented herself before Charlemagne, with all her
treasures, and, doubtless, as her mother Drida had before-time done,
when tossed by the angry ocean upon the British coast, she feigned some
story to account for her coming, for Charlemagne asked her whether
she would choose himself or his son, who stood beside him, for her
husband. She boldly replied--"Your son, because he is the youngest."
The monarch answered: "that if she had chosen him, it was his intention
to have given her to his son; but now," added he, "you shall have
neither." A strong proof that she had forged some tale about the death
of Brihtric, for such a proposition would never have been made to her
had Charlemagne known that she had just hurried, with breathless haste,
from the dead body of her murdered husband. She went into a monastery,
became abbess, and was quickly driven out for the immoral and infamous
life she there led. "Last scene of all"--the haughty daughter of Offa
became a common beggar in the streets of Pavia, where she was led about
by a little girl. King Alfred mentions these facts; he heard them from
those who knew her well. Offa was then in his grave. His son reigned
but a few months--Edburga died a beggar in the streets--Alfleda soon
after in the monastery of Croyland. The whole race was swept away;
not one was left alive in whose veins there ran the blood of Offa the
Terrible. Neither sable tragedy nor dark romance were ever woven from
wilder materials than the historical truths which form this gloomy



 "O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows!
  When that my care could not withhold thy riots,
  What wilt thou do, when riot is thy care?
  O, thou wilt be a wilderness again,
  Peopled with wolves, thy old inhabitants!"--SHAKSPERE.

Egbert was no sooner apprised of the death of Brihtric, than he
hastened out of France, to take possession of the throne of Wessex,
and never had a Saxon sovereign that had hitherto swayed the perilous
sceptre come armed with the experience of the new king. He had studied
in the stern school of Charlemagne, had narrowly scanned the policy
pursued by that great monarch, both in the council and in the camp, and
was well prepared to collect and reduce to order the stormy elements
which had so long been let loose over Britain; for, in addition to the
civil discords which shook the land, the Danes had already invaded
our island. Few kings had ever received a warmer welcome from their
subjects than that which awaited Egbert on his accession, for he was
the last descendant of the race of Cerdric. Kent, Essex, and East
Anglia, had already acknowledged the power of Mercia; Northumbria had
long been rent asunder by internal dissensions; and Sussex was by this
time united to Wessex. Having thus doubled its strength and enlarged
its territories, the kingdom over which Egbert reigned was, with the
exception of Mercia, the only independent state that stood unbroken
amid the ruins of the Octarchy.

Kenwulf sat firmly upon the throne, whose foundation Offa had so well
consolidated. Egbert watched him with an eagle eye, but though ever on
the alert, the Mercian king was too wary to become an aggressor; and
the Wessex sovereign knew too well the strength of his rival, to be
the first to commence an attack. Both kingdoms seemed overhung with
the same threatening sky, but no one could tell on which it would
first break, though all could foresee that, in spite of its remaining
so long stationary, the storm must at last burst forth. As the petty
states around them crumbled to pieces, were gathered up and built in
upon other foundations, so did each silently seek to possess himself
of the ruins and overtop the other, making an outward parade of their
strength; yet each tacitly acknowledging, by their forbearance,
how much they envied, yet respected, their neighbours' power. Like
two expert wrestlers, each retained his hold, without venturing to
overthrow his adversary. This state of things could not last long;
yet while Kenwulf lived, he kept the balance so equally poised, that,
with all his ambition, Egbert ventured not to touch the scale. The
king of Mercia died, and, from that moment, Wessex slowly gained the
ascendancy. Hitherto Egbert had contented himself by carrying his arms
into Cornwall and Devonshire, and waging war with the Britons. After
Kenwulf's death, he aimed at the sole sovereignty of Britain, and
circumstances soon favoured his long-meditated conquest. Had Egbert
died first, Kenwulf would have aspired to the same power.

The Mercian king left his son Kinelm, who was only seven years of age,
and heir to the throne, to the charge of his sisters. Windreda, the
eldest, was not long before she caused her brother to be put to death.
His tutor, Askebert, was the instrument chosen by this unnatural sister
to accomplish the deed. It is said that she promised to share with him
the sovereignty. Under the pretence of hunting, the unsuspicious prince
was led into a neighbouring wood, and there murdered. The spot in which
the body was interred was, after some time, discovered by a herdsman,
who went in search of one of his cows which had gone astray; a miracle
in the old monkish legends is appended to the discovery. The sceptre of
Mercia was wrested from the hands of Windreda by her uncle, Ceolwulf,
who, however, did not retain it long before he was driven from the
throne by Beornwulf, which revolution soon shook the kingdom of Mercia
to its very centre. Egbert still stood aloof; the time for action had
not yet arrived. He foresaw that the last usurper would not long remain
inactive; nor was he wrong. Beornwulf rushed headlong into a war with
Wessex. The battle took place at Wilton, which, in ancient times, was
called Ellan; and although the Mercians mustered together the largest
force upon the field, Egbert, after a sharp contest, won the victory.

Although the king of Wessex did not carry his victorious arms at once
into Mercia, he lost no time in annexing Kent to his dominions, thus
weakening at once his rival's power. To accomplish this, he despatched
his son Ethelwulf, the father of our Alfred the Great, with a strong
force into Kent, who drove the vassal king across the Thames. Egbert
next promised to support the East Anglians, if they would rise and
declare themselves independent of the Mercian king. He kept his word.
Beornwulf fell in the first battle. Ludecan succeeded him, and also
perished in the next contest. Wiglaf then took the command of the
Mercian forces, but before he had time to strengthen his army, and
make up for their previous defeats, Egbert was upon him, and the power
of Wessex was at last triumphant. Wiglaf fled into the monastery of
Croyland, and appears to have been so closely pursued, that he was
compelled to seek shelter in the very cell which the daughter of
Offa occupied--the sanctity of which the invaders respected: here he
remained four months. What a shock must the feelings of the fair nun
have undergone when the last defender of Mercia rushed into her little
apartment to save his life--from the very night when she fled from her
father's palace, pale and woe-begone, and horror-struck at the murder
of her intended husband--from that very night had the fortune of her
family begun to decline, and now she was all that remained of the once
powerful house of Offa. What changes had that Saxon princess witnessed,
what shifting scenes could she recal as she sat in the solitude of her
cell, contemplating the past as it rose before her!

By the intercession of Siward, Wiglaf was permitted to occupy the
throne of Mercia, on condition that he paid tribute to Egbert--the
abbot of Croyland attested the payment. Prior to this period, the
Northumbrians grew weary of being without a king, and Eanred now
sat upon the throne. During the reign of Kenwulf he had been bold
enough to invade Mercia. As Egbert had by this time subdued the whole
Octarchy, with the exception of Northumbria, he determined to carry his
victorious army into Deiri and Bernicia. Eanred well knew that it was
useless to measure arms with a monarch who had already compelled five
Saxon kingdoms to acknowledge his power, so he came forth submissively,
and, like the rest, became a tributary vassal to the king of Wessex.
Egbert next invaded Wales, and penetrated into the very heart of
Snowdon: victory still attended him. From the Tweed to the Land's End
of Cornwall, no one now arose to dispute his sovereign sway. No Saxon
king had ever before ruled over such a vast extent of territory, for
he was at last sole king of England, although he never assumed that
proud title; neither did any Saxon king after him ever rule over such a
length and breadth of land.

We have before stated that, during the reign of Offa, the Danes had
landed in England; they first arrived with three ships, approached
one of the royal cities, when the sheriff of the place, thinking they
were foreign merchants, rode up with a few attendants to inquire their
business. Their answers being unsatisfactory, he ordered them to be
driven away, when they fell upon him, and he, with all who accompanied
him, were slain. The Danes then plundered the town; but before they
escaped to their ships, Offa's soldiers attacked them. After this
defeat, they returned again, landed in Northumbria, ravaged the
country, sacked the abbey of Lindisfarne, slew several of the monks,
then retreated with an immense spoil to their ships. At several other
parts of the island they had also landed, before Egbert occupied the
throne of Wessex. In the year 832 they came again; Egbert had made
the whole kingdom of the Octarchy bow before the power of Wessex, and
doubtless had sat down, expecting to doze away the remainder of his
days peaceably upon his throne, when tidings came that a number of
these savage pagans had landed in the Isle of Sheppey, slaughtered
several of the inhabitants, and, laden with plunder, had again escaped
to sea without a single vessel pursuing them.

The next year, the Danes came with thirty-five ships, and were met
by Egbert at Charmouth, in Dorsetshire, and if the English were
not defeated in this engagement, they lost a considerable number
of men, amongst whom were two bishops and two ealdermen; while the
Danes sustained but little loss, and escaped, as before, with their
ships. So serious had the ravages of the sea-kings now become, that a
council was held in London, to devise the best means to prevent their
depredations. At this council Egbert presided, and, according to the
charter which Wiglaf granted to the abbey of Croyland, wherein direct
allusion is made to a promise given at the time, there were present,
"Egbert, and Athelwulf his son, and all the bishops and great ealdermen
of England, consulting together as to the best means of repelling the
constant incursions of the Danes on the English coast." These northern
invaders soon found ready allies amongst the remnant of the ancient
Cymry, who still inhabited a corner of Cornwall and the adjacent
neighbourhood, and were as ready as in the days of king Arthur, to
league themselves with any enemy who was bold enough to attack the
Saxons. But the martial spirit of the ancient Britons had all but died
out; the few embers that remained, when stirred, retained all their
former glow, then faded again in their old ashy grey, and sank into a
lesser compass at every touch; for the smouldering waste had slowly
gone on, year after year, and no new fuel having been added, the hidden
sparks huddled hopelessly together--Liberty had neglected to come,
as the bards had promised she would do: the altar and the spark were
still there, but the long-looked for sacrifice never came, which was to
light the whole island with its blaze. Still, the old Cymry were not
yet dead; they hailed the Danes as their deliverers, and thinly as they
were sprinkled over the surrounding country, they gladly mustered what
force they could, and joined the stormy sea-kings at Hengston Hill,
in Cornwall. Egbert met them with a well-appointed army, and defeated
their united forces with terrible slaughter.

The following year, Egbert died, after a reign of thirty-seven years,
and was succeeded by his son, Ethelwulf, the father of Alfred the
Great. The king of all the Saxons sank into his grave, with the fond
hope that the whole Octarchy had now become united like one family,
all acknowledging one sway; that the civil dissensions by which each
separate state had so long been torn asunder had for ever ceased; and
as the Danish invaders had not again appeared since their dreadful
defeat at Hengston Hill, he closed his dying eyes, and left his country
at peace. But scarcely was he within his grave, before the northern
hordes again poured into England, spreading greater consternation than
the Saxons had ever done amongst the Britons. The hour of retribution,
which the Cymry had so long looked for, was fast approaching, but few
of their ancient race lived to witness its fulfilment; for time, and
conquest, and slavery, and death, had left but few of those early
inhabitants behind, whose forefathers first landed upon our island,
and called it the Country of Sea Cliffs. But we have reached another
of those ancient landmarks, which stand wide apart along the shores of
History, the grey monuments which overlook that still sea of death,
where nameless millions have for ages been buried. From these we must
now turn away to gaze upon another race, more savage and uncivilized
than the preceding invaders ever were, when, nearly four centuries
before, they first rowed their long chiules over the same stormy seas,
and marvelled to find an island in the ocean, which contained walled
cities and stately temples, and tall columns, that might have vied with
classic Rome. To the Danes must we now turn--those children of the
creeks, who, under the guidance of their sea-kings, followed the road
of the swans, as they called the ocean, and hewed out a home with their
swords, wherever the winds or the waves wafted or drifted them.

=Invasion of the Danes.=



 "The Northmen sailed in their nailed ships,
  On the roaring sea over deep water--
  They left behind them raw to devour
  The sallow kite, the swarthy raven with horny nib,
  And the house vulture, with the eagle swift,
  And that grey beast, the wolf of the wold,
  To consume the prey."

        ANGLO-SAXON WAR SONG.--Ingram's _Translation_.

The Danes, Norwegians, or Norsemen, for it matters not by which title
we distinguish them, descended from the same primitive race as the
Anglo-Saxons--the old Teutonic or Gothic tribes. But to enter fully
into the mixed population, all of whom sprung from this ancient stock,
and at different periods invaded England, we should have to go deeply
into the early history of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Their religion
was the same as that which we have described at the commencement of
the Saxon invasion. They worshipped Odin, and died in the hope of
enjoying the brutal delights which their imaginations pictured as
never-ending in the halls of Valhalla. From the rocky coast of Norway,
and the very islands where Hengist, and Cerdric, and Ella, first led
their followers, the stormy sea-kings came: across the rough Baltic
they rode; they swarmed like locusts along the neighbouring shores,
and were neither intimidated by the tempest, nor disheartened by the
defeats which they frequently sustained. The kingdoms from whence they
came were divided into petty sovereignties, where one chief made war
upon the other--where the conqueror of yesterday was likely enough to
be driven on the morrow to the sea-coast, and, finally, out into the
ocean, when, with his ships, he became a sea-king, and over the billows
rode merrily to discover some other country. If he returned enriched
with plunder, he was respected; if he came back empty-handed, he was
despised. His vessels laden with spoil soon procured him plenty of
followers, and then his former conqueror fell a victim; for over each
province, or state, that could furnish forth a dozen ships, each of
which contained about sixty or seventy armed men, there a sea-king was
to be found. Norway alone, at one period, was divided into about thirty
of these sovereignties.

Others there were who possessed not a rood of territory, whose only
property was their ships, the crews their subjects, the sword their
sceptre; who had no alternative but to plunder or perish, to slay or
starve, or stay at home and prey upon their brethren, who themselves
were ever darting out from the herbless coast to seize whatever they
saw passing upon the sea. If the family retained any landed possession,
one son stayed at home to inherit it, the rest sallied out with their
ships to seek their fortune across the deep; for a few vessels, well
equipped and ably manned, were considered a rich inheritance amongst
the Danes. At twelve years of age, they were initiated into this
piratical profession, and taught to believe that to plunder and to
slay were the only honourable passports to wealth and glory--the only
employments that were considered noble. The lessons their fathers
taught them, all tended to the same end, for they left their children
no wealth. "Go, my sons," said they, "and reap riches and renown,
with your ships and your swords." They learned to despise inherited
property; they valued that most which had been won by the greatest
danger, and prized highest the plunder which they had become possessed
of by venturing into the most perilous paths.

In bays and creeks, and in the shadows of jutting headlands, they
concealed themselves, where they were ever ready, at a moment's notice,
to rush upon the passing prey. When out at sea, they cared not where
they were driven to, so long as it was not to their own coast. They
called the storm their servant, and wherever it carried them, they said
"that was the spot where they desired to go--the tempest that hurled
them along with its mighty breath but came, that the rowers might rest
their weary arms." Those who were drowned, they believed, went safely
to Odin; those who survived, but laughed at the storm they had escaped.
Danger depressed them not, and death they but considered as a common
and necessary companion, who went on his appointed mission to conduct
them to the halls of Odin, and returned again unheeded, and dwelt
amongst them from day to day; coming and going like a common messenger
that scarcely merited a passing remark. They looked upon the Saxon
Christians as traitors to their gods; and as they had been crushed
under the iron hand of Charlemagne, and been subjected to revolting
cruelties to compel them to renounce their ancient creed, they believed
that they rendered true service to Odin by slaughtering the priests,
and destroying the churches of Christ. Such of the unconverted Saxons
as still inhabited the neighbourhood of Jutland, readily formed a
league with the more distant sea-kings, and, thus banded together,
they made head against their common enemies, though their near
brethren; for they now looked upon them as renegades, and neither the
resemblance which they bore to each other in feature or language, nor
the remembrance that all were once of the same religion, checked for a
moment their hostile spirit. In former times, they worked themselves up
into fits of madness, bit their shields, and imitated the howling of
wolves, and the barking of dogs; and, under this excitement, performed
feats of unnatural strength, such as maniacs alone are capable of
achieving. When in this state, woe to the warriors they rushed upon!
Such savage deeds were common in early times amongst the followers of
Odin. It is said that, in the darker centuries, they ate the flesh
of horses raw, dragged the infant from the breast of its mother, and
tossed it from one to another upon the points of their lances.

They decorated the prows of their ships with the figures of animals:
the heads of shaggy lions, and savage bulls, and hideous dragons, were
placed at the front of their vessels, and threw their grim shadows upon
the waves. Along the sides of their ships they hung their shields,
which, placed together, threw back the billows, and thus protected them
from the surges of the sea, as they did from the blows dealt in battle.
On their masts were placed the figures of birds, whose outstretched
wings veered round with every wind that blew. Some of their vessels
were built in the form of a serpent, the prow resembling the head, the
long stern forming the tail; these they called the great sea-serpents,
or sea-dragons. When they unloosed their cables, and left their ships
to career freely over the waves, they called it giving their great
sea-horses the rein. They lashed the prows of their vessels together,
and while thus linked, steered right into their enemies' ships; over
the dragons', and the bulls', and the lions' heads they leaped, and
courageously boarded the foe. The huge club, studded with spikes, which
dealt death wherever it fell, they called the "star of the morning."
When they fought, they called their war-cry, "chaunting the mass of
lances;" to show their contempt for the Christian creed, they stabled
their horses in the Christian churches; and when they finished the
repast which they had compelled the reluctant host to furnish, they
slew him, and burnt his house.[5]

When they ascended the rivers, and found a convenient and secure
station, they drew up their vessels, as the Romans had done beforetime,
threw up intrenchments, and left a guard behind, while the bulk of
their force sallied out to scour the country, burning and slaying
wherever they came, seizing upon all the horses they could capture,
to carry their plunder over-land; and when hotly pursued, or followed
by a superior force, they broke up their encampment, and trusted for
safety to their ships. After a time, they became bolder; drove away
or slaughtered the natives, and settled down upon the land they had
taken from the inhabitants. Some they allowed to reside amongst them,
on condition that they renounced their religion; and the ceremony of a
Christian becoming a pagan consisted of his partaking of the flesh of
a horse, which was sacrificed on one of their altars dedicated to the
worship of Odin. When the sea-kings made a solemn vow, they swore upon
a golden bracelet. In their social hours, all were equal; no man was
then addressed as chief; all distinction was levelled. They sat in a
circle, and passed the drinking-horn from hand to hand. He whom they
obeyed in battle, whom they followed wherever he chose to steer his
ship--when the victory was won, laid his dignity aside; for the stormy
spirit who ruled in the tempest and heralded the way in the fight,
(though still a sea-king if the alarm was given,) was, while peace
lasted, and the feast continued, on a level with the lowest of his
followers. This very unbending, during these festive moments, linked
the chief closer to his subjects, and made them feel that he was one
of themselves; it left ambition less to aspire to, and lowly valour
to receive the same meed of praise. He was chosen king, who was best
fitted to endure the greatest hardships, and not for his high rank
alone; one who had never slept under a house-roof, nor emptied a cup
beside the domestic hearth, but whose habitation had, from childhood,
ever been his ship, was the sea-king they would follow to the gates of
the grave; such a one they chose, when the leader in whose veins the
blood of Woden was believed to have flowed, either slept beneath the
waves, or furnished a feast for the ravens in the deserted battle-field.

The dangers they recklessly dared, would necessarily require a frequent
change of chieftains; and as such qualities as we have enumerated were
essential to the character of a sea-king, the command was left open to
all who, by their bravery, chose to aspire to it; and nothing could
be more conducive to the cultivation of a high spirit of valour than
that levelling of all distinction. He who in his social moments hailed
all as his equals, would, in the hour of trial, rally around him the
stoutest and the truest hearts; and to prove their devotedness, they
would follow him through fire and flood, nor leave him when he fell
across the dark threshold of death.

Such were the stormy sea-kings, whose ships were now darkening the
ocean, who were soon to become sharers of the island which their
adventurous brethren had wrested from the Britons, and who were
destined to enrich the plains of England with each other's blood. The
grim gods of the ancient Cymry seemed to require some savage sacrifice
before they departed for ever from the wave-washed island on which
their altars had for centuries blazed.

Through a land whose skies were reddened by the fires of the destroyer,
and whose fields were heavy and wet with the blood of the slain, are we
now about to journey; and after toiling through two weary centuries of
slaughter, we shall but sit down upon the shore, to be startled again
by the sound of the Norman trumpets. A king lives and dies, a battle
is won and lost; and he who next succeeds to the throne, or wins the
victory, sweeps over the dead who have passed away, as the autumn-blast
whirls the withered leaves before it, until the very storm itself dies
out, and others awaken from the caverned sleep in which they have grown
strong enough to contend with the green array of a new summer. Briton,
Saxon, Dane, and Norman, are like the four seasons which make up the
long year of our history.



 "On Norway's coast the widowed dame
    May wash the rock with tears,
  May long look o'er the shipless seas
    Before her mate appears;
  May sit and weep, and hope in vain,--
    Her lord lies in the clay,
  And never more will he again
    Ride o'er the salt sea-spray."


Ethelwulph, although placed, in his father's life-time, upon the throne
of Kent, had assumed the monastic habit, and a dispensation from the
pope had to be obtained before he could be crowned king of Wessex. He
appears to have been a man of a mild and indolent disposition, one
who would have made a better monk than a monarch, and have been much
happier in the dreamy quietude of the cloister, than in the stir and
tumult of the camp. Alstan, the bishop of Sherbourne, who had shared
the council and favour of Egbert, was the first to arouse Ethelwulph
from his natural lethargy; for the bishop possessed a fiery and
military spirit, better adapted to lead an army into battle, and to
sound the war-cry, than to guide a peaceful flock along those pleasant
pastures, where prayer and praise ought alone to be heard. Could the
king and the priest but have exchanged places, the spirit of Egbert
would yet have been left in the land; as it was, however, Alstan did
his best--recruited the exchequer, raised a strong military force, and,
though but feebly backed by his sovereign, he placed the country in
an abler state of defence than it otherwise would have been, and was
instrumental in baffling many of the daring incursions of the Danes.
Every attack they now made became more formidable; they ventured up the
largest rivers; pillaging all the towns they came near, and escaping
with the spoil;--for four days, with a favourable wind, was time enough
to sail from their own shores to the southern coast of Britain. At
length, they began to think that the hours lost in voyaging to and fro
might be turned to better account if they settled down at once upon
our coast; and in the year 851, they took up their winter quarters
in the island of Thanet. There could now no longer remain any doubt
of their intentions; they were treading in the very footsteps which
Hengist and Horsa had left behind; they had taken possession of the

The following spring, three hundred and fifty ships entered the Thames;
London and Canterbury were plundered; the Danes marched onward into
Mercia, defeated Bertulph, ravaged the country for miles, then turned
round again and entered Surrey. Here, however, they found Ethelwulph,
and his son Ethelbald, at the head of the West Saxons, ready to receive
them; and at Okely, or the Field of Oaks, as the spot was then called,
the Saxons, after a hard fight, won the victory--such a desperate and
deadly struggle had not taken place for many years in Britain; more
than half of the Danish army perished in the field. Another son of
Ethelwulph's had defeated the Danes at Sandwich, and captured nine
of their ships. The men of Devonshire had also obtained a victory
over them at Wenbury. Such was the consternation they had already
spread, that every Wednesday was now set apart as a day of prayer, to
implore the Divine aid against the Danes. Hitherto it had but been
the muttering of the tempest, with a few flashes playing about the
dark edges of the thunder-cloud; the terrible and desolating burst had
yet to come. But there was now slowly growing up to manhood one who
was soon destined to stand in the front of the storm--who was born
to tread, sure-footed, through the rocking of the whirlwind:--to his
boyish days will we now for a few moments turn aside.

The mother of Alfred was named Osberga; she was the daughter of Oslac,
the king's cup-bearer--as ambassador of Ethelwulph, he signed the
charter in which Wiglaf gave the monastery and lands of Croyland to
the abbot Siward and his successors. Osberga was a lady celebrated for
her piety and intellectual attainments, talents which could have been
of but little service in the education of Alfred, for before he had
reached his seventh year, Ethelwulph, in his old age, became enamoured
of a youthful beauty--Judith, the daughter of Charles of France, and
her he married, although there scarcely remains a doubt that Osberga
was still living. It was on his return from Rome with the youthful
Alfred, that Ethelwulph first became smitten with the princess Judith.
We have shown that it was customary for the Saxon kings to make a
pilgrimage to Rome, and as Ethelwulph is said to have loved Alfred
"better than his other sons," he had him introduced to the pope,
and anointed with holy oil, although he was the youngest of all his
children--a clear proof that he intended him to become his successor.
The presents which Ethelwulph made to the pope were of the costliest
description, and show that even at this early period the Saxon kings
must have been in the possession of considerable wealth. They consisted
of a crown of pure gold, which weighed four pounds, two vessels of
the same material, two golden images, a sword adorned with pure gold,
and four dishes of silver gilt, besides several valuable dresses. He
also gave gold and silver to the priests, the nobles, and the people;
rebuilt the school which Ina had founded, and which, by accident or
carelessness, had been burnt down; and above all, procured an order
from the pope, that no Englishman, while in Rome, whether an exile or
a public penitent, should ever again be bound with iron bonds. When he
returned to England with his girlish wife, and the youthful Alfred,
he found his eldest son Ethelbald at the head of a rebellion, backed
by his old friend bishop Alstan, and the earl of Somerset. The cause
assigned for this insurrection was, that Ethelwulph had raised Judith
to the dignity of queen, contrary to the law of Wessex, for, as we have
before shown, the West Saxons had abolished that title, on account of
the crimes committed by Edburga. The real cause, however, appears to
have been a jealousy of the favour shown to Alfred. But Ethelwulph was
now in his dotage, and as in his younger days he had never evinced
much of a warlike spirit, he by the intercession of his nobles came to
an amicable arrangement with his son, and after this survived about
two years, leaving Ethelbald the crown, which he had been so eager to

But neither crown, throne, nor sceptre, satisfied Ethelbald, unless he
also possessed the young widow, Judith. It is said that she was but
twelve years old when Ethelwulph married her, and that she had never
been more to the old king than a companion. This, however, silenced
not the clamour of the church, and Ethelbald is said to have dismissed
her;--a point much doubted,--although it is clear enough that he did
not survive his father above three years. The monkish writers attribute
his short career to his unnatural marriage. Judith left England, and
for a short time resided in France, in a convent near Senlis. While
here, she captivated Baldwin, surnamed the Arm of Iron, by whom she
was carried off (nothing loth) and married. Her father, it is said,
applied to the pope to excommunicate Baldwin, for having taken away
a widow forcibly. But whether the pretty widow told another tale, or
Baldwin had influence enough to reach the ear of the pontiff, or by
whatever other means the matter was arranged, the pope took a very
lenient view of the affair, and Judith's third marriage was solemnized
with the full approbation of her father. Baldwin became earl of
Flanders. The son of Judith, on a later day, married the daughter of
Alfred the Great, from whom Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror,
afterwards descended, and from whom has come down our long race of
English kings to the present time. The adventures of queen Judith, her
marriages with Ethelwulph and his son, together with her elopement from
the convent with Baldwin, the grand forester, are matters that still
sleep amongst the early records of the olden time, and such as require
the hand of a bold historian to bring them clearly before the public

We are now reaching the border-land of more stirring times. Ethelbert
succeeded his brother Ethelbald; and his short reign was disturbed
by the repeated attacks of the Danes, who again wintered in the isle
of Thanet, overran Kent, and extended their ravages to the eastern
parts of the country. After a reign of six years, Ethelbert died, and
Ethelred ascended the throne of Wessex;--during his reign, Alfred
began to take an active part in the government. But we must now glance
backward, and bring before our readers a few of the Danish leaders.
Chief amongst the sea-kings who invaded England about this period,
was Ragnar Lodbrog, whose celebrated death-song has been frequently
translated, and is considered one of the oldest of the northern poems
which we possess. It was this famous sea-king who led on that terrible
expedition which overran France, and destroyed Paris. After this, he
returned to Norway, and built two of the largest ships which had ever
sailed upon the northern seas. These he filled with armed men, and
boldly steered for the English shore. The art of navigation was then
in its infancy; the mighty vessels which Ragnar had built he had no
control over; they were thrown upon the coast of Northumberland, and
wrecked. A Saxon king, named Ella, at this time ruled the northern
kingdom, for Egbert had long before placed tributary sovereigns over
all the states he conquered. The bold sea-king had no choice left to
him, but either to plunder or perish, no matter how powerful the
enemy might be that came out against him; his ships were wrecked,
and all means of escape cut off. With an overwhelming force compared
with that of Ragnar, Ella met the sea-king, and though so unequally
matched, the pirate and his followers behaved bravely. Four times did
Ragnar rush into the opposing ranks, making an opening through them
wherever he appeared. He saw his warriors perish around him one by
one, until he alone was left alive out of all that daring band,--every
soul, excepting himself, was slain in the combat. Ella took the brave
sea-king prisoner, and, bleeding as he was with his wounds, shut him up
in a deep dungeon, among live and venomous adders. The charmed mantle
which his wife Aslauga had given him, had proved of no protection;
and it was upon his death that the celebrated song, which we have
before-mentioned, was composed. It has been attributed to the sea-king
himself, though it is hardly possible that it could have been his
own composition; for as he perished in the dungeon, it is not likely
that his enemies would preserve a lay that set at defiance all their
tortures, and triumphed over their former defeats. The following
extracts will convey some idea of the ancient Scandinavian war-songs:--

"We struck with our swords, when in the flower of my youth I went out
to prepare the banquet of blood for the wolves, when I sent the people
from that great combat in crowds to the halls of Odin. Our lances
pierced their cuirasses--our swords clave their bucklers.

"We struck with our swords, and hundreds lay around the horses of the
island rocks--those great sea promontories of England. We chaunted
the mass of spears with the uprising sun. The blood dropped from our
swords; the arrows whistled in the air as they went in quest of the
helmets. Oh! it was a pleasure to me, equal to what I felt when I first
held my beautiful bride in my arms.

"We struck with our swords, on that day when I laid low the young
warrior who prided himself on his long hair, and who had just returned
that morning from wooing the beautiful girls. But what is the lot of a
brave man but to die amongst the first? A wearisome life must he lead
who is never wounded in the great game of battle--man must resist or

"We struck with our swords! but now I feel that we follow the decrees
of fate, and bow to the destiny of the dark spirits. Never did I
believe that from Ella the end of my life would come, when I urged
my vessels over the waves--but we left along the bays of Scotland a
banquet for the beasts of prey. Still it delights me to know that the
seats of Odin are ready for the guests, and that there we shall drink
ale out of large hollowed skulls. Then grieve not at death in the dread
mansion of Fiolner.

"We struck with our swords! oh! if the sons of Aslauga but knew of my
danger, they would draw their bright blades and rush to my rescue. How
the venomous snakes now bite me. But the mother of my children is true;
I gained her that they might have brave hearts. The staff of Vithris
will soon stick in Ella's heart. How the anger of my sons will swell
when they know how their father was conquered. In the palace of my
heart the envenomed vipers dwell.

"We struck with our swords! in fifty and one combats have I fought, and
summoned my people by my warning-spear-messenger. There will be found
few kings more famous than I. From my youth I loved to grasp the red
spear. But the goddess invites me home from the hall of spoils; Odin
has sent for me. The hours of my life are gliding away, and, laughing,
I will die."

The tidings of the terrible death of Ragnar were not long in travelling
to the rocky coast of Norway; in every creek, and bay, and harbour, it
resounded, and wherever a sea-king breathed around the Baltic, he swore
on his bracelet of gold to revenge the death of the renowned chieftain;
all petty expeditions were laid aside; Dane, Swede, and Norwegian,
united like one man; and eight kings, and twenty jarls, or petty
chieftains, all joined in the enterprise, at the head of which Ingwar
and Hubba, the two sons of Ragnar, were placed; all the relations and
friends of Ragnar, no matter how remote, swelled the force that had
congregated to revenge his death.

Although this mighty fleet was directed towards Northumbria, by some
chance it passed the coast, and came to anchor on the shores of East
Anglia. No one in England was apprized of its approach. Ethelred had
not been long seated on the throne of Wessex, and Northumbria was still
shaken by internal revolutions; for Osbert, who had been expelled by
Ella from the Deiri, was now making preparations to regain the kingdom.
The Danes did not, however, commence hostilities so soon as they
landed, but quietly overawing the country by their mighty force, they
took up their winter quarters within their intrenchments, and moored
their vessels along the shore. They demanded a supply of horses;
the king of East Anglia furnished them; he intruded not upon their
encampment, neither did they molest him. The rest of the Saxon states
looked calmly on, trusting that the tempest would burst where it had
gathered, and that they should escape the terrible storm; but they
were doomed to be disappointed. With the first warm days of Spring,
the whole Danish host was in motion; such an army had never before
overrun the British island. The sons of Ragnar strode sullenly onward
at its head. They halted not until they reached York, the metropolis
of the Deira; they swept through the city in their devastating march,
leaving sorrow, and slaughter, and death, to mark their footsteps;
destroying all before them as they passed, until they reached the
banks of the Tyne. Osbert and Ella had by this time become united, and
began to advance at the head of a large army, which numbered amongst
its commanders eight earls. The Danes had again fallen back upon
York, and near the outskirts of that city were first attacked by the
Northumbrians. The assault was so sudden that the pagans were compelled
to fly into the city for shelter. Flushed with this temporary victory,
the Saxons began to pull down the city walls, and once within its
streets, the Danes then rose up, and fell upon the Northumbrians, whom
they cut down with terrible slaughter--nearly the whole of the Saxon
army perished. Ella fell alive into their hands, and horribly did the
sons of Ragnar revenge their father's death. All the tortures which
cruelty could devise, they inflicted upon him. So decisive was the
victory, that Northumbria never again became a Saxon kingdom, but was
ruled over with an iron hand by one of the sons of Ragnar. The work of
vengeance could go no further; they had put the king to a lingering and
agonizing death, and having desolated his kingdom, one of the sons of
the terrible sea-king, whose spirit they had appeased, sat down upon
the vacant throne, and, from the Tyne unto the Humber, reigned the
undisputed sovereign. Thus was the death of Ragnar revenged. Having
once taken possession of the kingdom, the Danes began to fortify York,
and to strengthen the principal towns in the neighbourhood. From
Northumberland to the shores of the Humber they strengthened their
great mustering ground, and made it a rallying point for all the
sea-kings who had courage enough to brave the perils of the Baltic, and
venture their lives, like the sons of Ragnar, for a kingdom. All who
had aided in revenging the death of Ragnar, now invited their kindred
and followers over to England. They came in shoals, until Northumbria
was filled like an overstocked hive that awaits a favourable
opportunity to swarm.

That deep buzzing was soon heard which denoted that they were ready to
swarm, for there was now no longer room for so many. The dark cloud
passed with a humming sound through the Deiri, along the pleasant
valley of the Trent, through the wild forest of Sherwood, whose old
oaks then stood in all their primitive grandeur, until they saw before
them the walls of Nottingham rising high above their rocky foundation.
The inhabitants fled into the surrounding forest, or hurried over the
Trent into the adjoining county of Lincolnshire, where Burrhed, the
king of Mercia, resided. Alarmed by the rumour of such an host, the
Mercian king sent into Wessex for assistance; and Ethelred, joined by
his brother Alfred, who was now slowly rising, like a star on the rim
of the horizon, hastened with their united armies to assist the Mercian
king. But the Danes were too strongly entrenched within the walls
of Nottingham to be driven out by the combined forces of Mercia and
Wessex. The Saxons, well aware of the strength of these fortifications,
were compelled to encamp without the walls, for the tall rocky barriers
on which the castle yet stands, and the precipitous and cavernous
heights which still look down upon the river Lene, formed strong
natural barriers from which the Danish sentinels could look down with
triumph, and defy the assembled host that lay encamped at their feet.
After some delay, a treaty was entered into between the contending
armies, and the Danes agreed to fall back upon York; the river Idel,
which is so narrow that the points of two long lances would meet, if
held by a tall chieftain on either shore, was the slender barrier that
divided the opposing nations; a roe-buck from a rising summit could
readily overleap it, and in an hundred places it was fordable. Ethelred
and his brother Alfred, (who had now numbered about nineteen years,)
led back their army into Wessex, and allowed the Danes to pursue their
way quietly into Deiri. This forbearance is greatly censured by the
early historians, but we must bear in mind that Alfred was not yet
king, and that Ethelred but came up as an ally on the side of Mercia.
He who was destined to become the greatest sovereign that ever sat upon
the English throne, was at this period one of the most daring followers
of the chase, for, although he was from childhood a martyr to a painful
disease, yet where the antlered monarch of the forest led the way,
there was Alfred to be seen foremost amongst the hunters. Young as he
was, he had already married a Mercian lady, called Ealswitha, and some
portion of Wessex was allotted to him, probably such as had been held
by his father Ethelwulph, when the subjects rebelled on account of
his step-mother Judith. Slightly as we have passed by this frail fair
lady, Alfred was greatly indebted to her; she first tempted him to read
when he was only twelve years of age; but for her he might, like his
brothers, have remained in ignorance. She first pointed out the path
which guided him to the literature of Rome; he had trod the streets of
the "eternal city," and his wise laws tell us the use he made of his

We are compelled to drag the great king bit by bit before our readers,
lest we should startle them by his too sudden appearance; for he
seems to rise above the age in which he lived with an unnatural
majesty--there is no relief near to where he stands, no neighbouring
summit which he might descend that would seem to lessen his giant form
in its shadow;--bold and bare and giant-like his god-imaged figure
heaves up, and with its mighty shadow eclipses the very sunset which,
though ever sinking, leaves not in gloom the bright form that makes the
"darkness visible" by which it is surrounded.



 "We look in vain for those old ruins now,
    For the green grass waves o'er that ample floor,
  And where the altar stood rank nettles grow;
    None mourned its fall more than the neighbouring poor,
  They passed its ruins sighing, day by day,
    And missed the beadsman in his hood of gray,
  Who never bade the hungry turn away."--THE OLD ABBEY.

Spring, that gives such life and beauty to the landscape, but aroused
the Danes to new aggressions, and they this time marched into the
opposite division of Mercia, crossing the Humber and the Trent, and
landing in that part of Lincolnshire which is still called Lindsey,
where they spread death and desolation wherever they passed. From north
to south they swept onward like a destroying tempest; the busy hamlet,
the happy home, and the growing harvest, all vanished beneath their
footsteps. Where in the morning sunshine, the pleasant village, and
the walled town, stood upon the high cliffs and overlooked the wild
wold and reedy marish; the dim twilight dropped down upon a waste of
smoking ruins, and blackened ashes, while such of the inhabitants as
escaped the merciless massacre, either sheltered in the gloomy wood,
where "the grey wolf of the weald" had its lair, or in the sedgy swamp
where the wild swan built, and the black water-hen went paddling onward
before her dusky and downy young ones. Wherever a church or a monastery
stood up amid the scenery, thitherward the Danes directed their steps,
for to slaughter the priest at the altar, and carry their clamorous
war-cry into the choir, where they changed the hymning of the psalter
into the groans and shrieks of agonised death, was to them a delight,
equal to that of the heaven which they hoped to inhabit hereafter. But
sack, slay, burn, and destroy, are words which but faintly describe
the ravages of these Northern pagans, that fall upon the ear with an
indistinct meaning; and it is only by following them step by step,
and bringing their deeds before the eye of the reader, that we can
throw the moving shadows of these savage sea-kings for a moment
upon our pages. Having ravaged the district of Lindsey, destroyed
the beautiful monastery of Bardney, and killed every monk they found
within its walls, they crossed the Witham, and entered that division of
Lincolnshire which is called Kesteven--here a stand was made against
them. The earl of Algar, with his two officers, Wibert and Leofric,
mustered together the inhabitants who dwelt around the wild and watery
neighbourhood of Croyland, and being joined by the forces which Osgot
the sheriff of Lincoln had collected, and aided by a monk who had once
been a famous warrior, and now cast aside his cowl to don a heavy
helmet, they sallied forth in the September of 868, and gave battle to
the Danes. After a sharp contest, in which three of the sea-kings were
slain, the men of Mercia drove the pagans into their intrenchments, nor
did they cease from assailing them in their stronghold until darkness
had settled down upon the land. But a thousand men, though backed by
so good a cause, were sure to fall at last before such a mighty and
overwhelming host as the invaders presented.

It so chanced that during the day, when the handful of brave Saxons
were victorious, the Danish forces had divided, but in the night the
division, which had been delayed by their work of destruction, entered
the camp, into which the defeated force had been driven. Thus, by
daylight, the pagan army was more than doubled. Amongst these new
comers were the two sea-kings who had taken such terrible vengeance
on Ella, for the death of their father, Ragnar. The arrival of such a
force spread great consternation amongst the little band of Saxons,
who were encamped without the Danish intrenchments, and many of the
peasants fled during the night to their homes--the brave only remained
behind to die. In the early dawn of that bygone Autumn morning, the
Danes arose and buried the three sea-kings who had fallen the day
before in battle. The Saxons looked calmly on, but moved not, until
the solemn ceremony was ended: the savage Hubba was present at that
funeral. Algar stood ready, with his little force drawn up in the form
of a wedge; he placed himself and his officers in the centre, confided
the right wing to the monk Tolius, and the left to the sheriff of
Lincoln; they planted their shields so closely together, that each one
touched its fellow; they held their strong projecting spears pointing
outward with a firm grasp, for they knew that their safety depended
upon being thus banded together, and thus, awaiting the attack, the
solid wedge-like triangle stood. Leaving behind a sufficient force to
protect their encampment, which was filled with plunder and captives,
the remainder of the Danes, headed by four kings and eight jarls or
earls, sallied forth to give battle to the Saxons. The first shock was
terrible, but it broke not the well-formed phalanx, though it jarred
along the lines like a chain that is struck; for a moment each link
swung, there was a waving motion along the ranks, then the horsemen
recoiled again, for the line was still unbroken. The Danish javelins
penetrated only the shields, the horses shrank back from the piercing
points of the Saxon spears. Savage Hubba could not get near enough to
strike with his heavy battle-axe--the morning-star, which made bright
flashes around the head of Ingwar as he wielded it, swung harmless
before that bristling forest of steel.

Upon the lonely moors and the damp marshes a dim mist began to gather,
and along the distant ridge where the wild forest stretched far away,
the evening shadows began to fall, when the Danes, wearied and enraged
at being so long repulsed, made another attack;--then wheeling round,
feigned a defeat. In vain was the warning voice of the earl of Algar
raised; in vain did the monk intreat of them, by the name of every
blessed saint in the calendar, to stand firm; it was too late--the
little band was broken--they were off in the pursuit--the Danes were
flying before them--and onward they rushed, making the air resound
again with the shouts of victory. Suddenly the Danish force turned upon
their pursuers. Hubba made a circle with his cavalry to the right; to
the left the centre came back like an overwhelming wave, and the Saxons
were surrounded. All was lost. Neither the skill of Algar nor the
bravery of Tolius were now of any avail; there was nothing left but to
stand side by side, and to fight until they fell. But few of that brave
band escaped; those who did, availed themselves of the approaching
darkness, and plunging into the adjoining forest, hastened to the
distant monastery of Croyland, to publish their own defeat.

It was the hour of matins, when, pale, weary, and breathless, two or
three of the Saxon youths who had escaped from the scene of slaughter,
rushed into the choir of the monastery with the tidings that all
excepting themselves had perished. The abbot uplifted his hand to
command silence when he saw them enter, and the solemn anthem in a
moment ceased. He then bade the monks who were young and strong,
to take a boat, and carry off the relics of the saints, the sacred
vessels, jewels, books, and charters, and all the moveable articles
of value, and either to bury them in the marshes, or sink them beneath
the waters of the lake, until the storm had passed over. "As for
myself," added the abbot, "I will remain here, with the old men and
children, and peradventure, by the mercy of God, they may take pity on
our weakness." The children were such as at that period were frequently
brought up, by the consent of their parents, in the habits of a
monastic life, and who in their early years sung in the choir:--amongst
the old monks were two whose years outnumbered an hundred. Alas! the
venerable abbot might as well have looked for mercy from a herd of
ravenous and howling wolves, that came, gaunt, grey, and hungry, from
the snow-covered wintry forest, as from the misbelieving Danes, who
were then fast approaching. All was done as he commanded; the most
valuable treasures were rowed across the lake to the island of Thorns,
and in the wood of Ancarig, those who were not brave enough to abide
the storm found shelter. One rich table plated with gold, that formed
a portion of the great altar, rose to the surface, and as they could
not sink it, it was taken back, and again restored to its place in the

Meantime the flames which shone redly between the forest-trees, told
that the last village had been fired; every moment brought nearer the
clamour of the assailants, until at last the tramp of horses could be
distinctly heard: then the ominous banner on which the dusky raven
was depicted hove in sight, and the whole mass came up with a deep,
threatening murmur, which drowned the voice of the abbot and the monks,
and the little children, as they continued to chaunt the psalter in the
monastery. At the foot of the altar, in his sacerdotal robes, was the
abbot hewn down; the grey hairs of the venerable priests protected them
not--those who rushed out of the choir were pursued and slaughtered;
there was scarcely a slab on the floor of the sacred edifice that was
not slippery with blood. Some were tortured to make them confess where
their treasures were concealed, and afterwards beheaded, for the Danes
acted more like fiends, let loose to do the work of destruction, than
like men. There was one exception on that dreadful day--one human
life was saved by the intervention of a Dane, and but for him every
soul would have perished. The prior had been struck down early in the
massacre by the battle-axe of Hubba; as he lay dead upon the pavement,
a little boy about ten years of age clung to him and wept bitterly,
for he had been greatly attached to the prior. The slaughter was still
going on, when Sidroc, one of the sea-kings, paused with the uplifted
sword in his hand to gaze on the boy, who knelt weeping beside the dead
body of the prior. Struck by his beautiful and innocent countenance,
the Danish chief took off his cassock, and throwing it around the
little chorister, said, "Quit not my side for a moment." He alone was
saved--excepting those who had previously fled with the boat and the
treasures. Disappointed at finding neither gold nor jewels, the pagans
broke open the tombs, and scattered around the bones of the dead,
and as there was no longer any one at hand to slay, they set fire to
the monastery. Laden with cattle and plunder, they next proceeded to
Peterborough, burning and slaying, and destroying whatever they met
with on their march.

The abbey of Peterborough was considered at this time as one of the
finest ecclesiastical edifices in England. It was built in the solid
Saxon style, with strong stunted pillars, crypts, vaulted passages,
oratories, and galleries, while the thick massy walls were pierced
with circular windows, and contained the finest library which had ever
been collected together in Britain; the gift of many a pilgrim who had
visited the still proud capital of Italy. The doors of this famous
building were so strong that for some time they resisted the attacks
of the Danes, and as the monks and their retainers had resolved to
defend themselves as long as they could, neither the besieged nor the
besiegers remained idle. From the circular windows, and the lofty roof
of the abbey, the monks and their allies threw down heavy stones, and
hurled their sharp javelins at the enemy, who had hitherto endeavoured
in vain to break open the ponderous doors. At last the brother of Hubba
was struck to the earth by a stone, and carried wounded into his tent.

This act seemed to redouble the fierce energy of the Danes, and in a
few minutes after they drove in the massy gates. In revenge for the
wound his brother had received, the brutal Hubba, with his own hand,
put eighty-four monks to death;--he demanded to be the chief butcher
on the occasion, and the request was freely granted him. The child
whom Sidroc had rescued from death at Croyland stood by and witnessed
that savage slaughter, and the friend who had saved him stooped down,
and whispering in his ear, bade him not approach too near Hubba. The
boy, as we shall see, needed not a second warning. All who had aided
in defending the monastery, excepting the few who escaped at the
commencement of the attack, were put to death. The library was burnt,
the sepulchres broken open, and the abbey fired; and for nearly fifteen
days was that noble edifice burning, before it was totally consumed.
Many a deed and charter, and valuable manuscript, which would have
thrown a light on the manners and customs of that period, were consumed
in the flames.

Laden with spoil, the merciless pagans next marched towards Huntingdon.
Sidroc had charge of the rear-guard, which brought up the plunder. Two
of the cars, containing the spoil of the monastery, were overturned
in a deep pool, while passing a river, and as the sea-king lingered
behind, and was busily engaged in superintending his soldiers, and
aiding them to save all they could from the wreck, the child who had
witnessed such scenes of bloodshed took advantage of the confusion, and
escaped. Having concealed himself in a wood until the faint and far-off
sounds of the Danish army had died away, he set off across the wild
marshes alone, and in the course of a day and a night found his way
back again to Croyland. Poor little fellow! the smoking ruins and the
weeping monks, who had returned from their hiding-place in the island
of Thorns, and who were then wailing over their murdered brethren, were
the melancholy sights and sounds that greeted his return home;--a stern
school was that for a child of ten years old to be nursed in! He told
them all he had witnessed at Peterborough; they gathered around him to
listen; they ceased to throw water on the burning ruins until his tale
was ended; they left the headless body of their venerable abbot beneath
the mighty beam which had fallen across it, nor attempted to extricate
it until he had finished "his sad, eventful history." Then it was that
they again wept aloud, throwing themselves upon the ground in their
great anguish, until grief had no longer any tears, and the sobbing of
sorrow had settled down into hopeless silence. That over, they again
commenced their sad duty: the huge grave was deepened, the dead and
mutilated bodies were dragged from under the burning ruins, and placing
the abbot on the top of the funeral pile, they left them in one grave,
covered beneath the same common earth, to sleep that sleep which no
startling dream can ever disturb.

Scarcely was this melancholy duty completed, before the few monks who
had escaped from the massacre of Peterborough made their appearance.
They had come all that way for assistance, for, excepting themselves,
there were none left alive to help to bury their murdered brethren,
on whose bodies the wolves from the woods, they said, were already
feeding. With heads bent, and weeping eyes, and breaking hearts, those
poor monks had moved mournfully along, leaving the wolves to feed
upon their butchered brothers beside the blackened ruins of their
monastery, until they could find friends who would help them to drag
the half-consumed remains from beneath the burning rafters, place them
side by side, and, without distinction, bury them in one common and
peaceful grave. How clearly we can picture that grave group on their
journey! their subdued conversation by the way, of the dead, whose
good deeds they discussed, or whose vices they left untouched, as they
recalled their terrible ending; the country through which they passed,
desolate; the inhabitants, who were wont to come on holy-days to
worship, fled; a hamlet here reduced to ashes, there a well-known form,
half consumed, stretched across the blackened threshold. We can picture
the wolf stealing away until they had passed; the raven, with his iron
and ominous note, making a circle round their heads, then returning to
the mother or the infant, half hidden in the sedge beside the mere, or
with her long hair floating loose amongst the water-flags, amid which
she was stabbed as she ran shrieking, with the infant at her breast.
Wherever they turned their eyes, there would they behold desolation,
and death, and decay,--see homes which the fire had consumed, in ruins;
or where the children had escaped, witness them weeping beside the
roofless walls, fatherless, motherless, hopeless; for such was the
England of those days, over which the destroying sea-kings passed. Let
us, however, hope, that there were a few like Sidroc amongst them; that
the raven and the wolf were not their only attendants, but that the
angel of mercy, though concealed in a pillar of cloud by day, and in
a pillar of fire by night, was still there, and though unseen, many a
time stretched forth his hand to rescue. It is painful to picture such
scenes as our history presents at this period; they are all either
soaked through with the blood of the slain, or black and crackled with
the scorching flames which have passed over them. It makes us shudder
to think what they who once lived and moved as we now do, must have
endured; while, after the lapse of nearly a thousand years, we cannot
portray their sufferings without sympathizing with their sorrows, and
experiencing a low, heart-aching sensation. The grave that covers up
and buries the past, inters not all pain and sorrow with the dead,
but leaves a portion behind, that the living may feel what they once
suffered--the agonizing shriek, and the heart-rending cry, ring for
ages after upon our ears;--such sounds disturb not the silent chambers
of the dead!

The Danes now proceeded to march into East Anglia, a kingdom whose
inland barrier was marked by vast sheets of water that set in from
the Wash, and went winding away into the low marshes of Cambridge,
far away beyond Ely, over a country above an hundred miles in extent.
Along this boggy and perilous course did the pagans advance with their
plunder, their cars, and their cavalry; razing the monastery of Ely to
the ground as they passed, nor pausing until they came to the residence
of the king of East Anglia, which stood beside a river that then
divided Suffolk from Norfolk. When the Danish king came in sight of
Edmund's residence, he sent him a message, commanding him to divide his
treasures with him; also bidding the messenger to tell the East Anglian
king that it was useless to oppose a nation whom the storms of the
ocean favoured--whom the tempests served as rowers, and the lightning
came down to guide, that they might in dark nights escape the rocks.
They gave the Saxon king but little time for hesitation before they
dragged him forth, and bound him to a tree. They had no words to waste:
slaughter was their work, and they commenced it at once. They began by
shooting arrows at his limbs, without injuring the body; but finding
that they could neither get him to confess their superiority, nor show
any symptom of fear, Ingwar at last uplifted his heavy battle-axe,
and severed the head at a blow. Thus, East Anglia, like a portion
of Northumbria, became a Danish province; and Godrun, a celebrated
sea-king, whom we shall again meet during the reign of Alfred, was
placed upon the throne.

Their next step was towards Wessex; for they well knew that if they
could but once conquer that kingdom, the dominions of Mercia would
become an easy prey, as these were the only two Saxon states that
seemed able to withstand them. Wessex, as we have shown, was much
enlarged since the first formation of the octarchy, and was soon
destined to swallow up for ever the kingdom of Mercia; for Burrhed was
not competent to stand long at the helm and steer safely through such
a storm as surrounded him. Having reached Berkshire, the Northmen took
possession of Reading without opposition, when they at once sent out
a strong body of cavalry to plunder, while the remainder of the army
commenced throwing up an intrenchment to strengthen their position.
Scarcely had they time to complete this work before the West Saxons
attacked them; and though at the first they seem to have had the best
of the battle, they were in the end compelled to retreat, and leave
the invaders masters of the field. At the second attack, both Ethelred
and Alfred were present; they led up the strongest array that could be
mustered;--to every town, thorpe, and grange, war-messengers had been
despatched with the naked sword and arrow in their hands, uttering the
ancient proclamation, which none had hitherto disobeyed, and which bade
"each man to leave his house and land, and come;" the mustering ground
was near Æscesdun, or Ash-tree Hill. The Danes divided their army into
two bodies, each of which was commanded by two kings and two earls.
Ethelred followed the example they had set him, giving the command of
one division of his army to Alfred. As the Danes had been the first to
form into battle order, so did they commence the attack; and although
they had the advantage of the rising ground, Alfred, nothing daunted,
led his forces in close order up the ascent to meet them. Near the
hoar ash-tree the contending ranks closed, and there many a Dane and
Saxon fell, who never more passed that barrier until they were borne
away on the bier. Although Ethelred had heard the war-cry, and knew
that the battle had commenced, he refused to leave his tent until his
priest had finished the prayer which he was offering up, when the Danes
first charged down the hill-side. By the time it was ended, Alfred,
with his inferior force, though fighting their way foot to foot, were
slowly losing ground, and but for the timely appearance of Ethelred,
and the division under his command, he must have retreated. As it was,
however, the sudden arrival of such a strong force changed the fortune
of the day. One of the sea-kings fell; and beside him, Sidroc, who had
saved the child from the massacre of Croyland; then the Danish ranks
began to waver, for thousands of the invaders had already fallen. But
the carnage ended not here: all night long did the Saxons chase their
pagan enemies, until, towards the evening of the next day, and from
the foot of the hill where the battle was fought--far away over the
fields of Ashdown, and over the country that now lies beside Ashbury,
up to the very intrenchment at Reading--was the whole line of road
strewn with the dying and the dead;--there the massacre of Croyland
and Peterborough was revenged, and for days after the bodies of the
Danes lay blackening in the sun. But terrible as was the slaughter, and
complete the victory, a fortnight saw the Northmen again in the field,
strengthened by reinforcements, who had landed upon the coast, and by
these were the Saxons, in their turn, defeated. In the next battle that
was fought between them, Ethelred received his death wound; and Alfred
the Great ascended the throne of Wessex. Over the threshold of this
perilous period must we now pass, to the presence of one of England's
greatest kings.



 "In fortune's love--then the bold and coward,
  The wise and fool, the artist and unread,
  The hard and soft, seem all affin'd and kin;--
  But in the wind and tempest of her frown,
  Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan,
  Puffing at all, winnows the light away."--SHAKSPERE.

Alfred was scarcely twenty-two years of age when he ascended the
throne of Wessex--it was on the eve of a defeat when the sceptre fell
into his hands--when the Danes were flushed with victory, and nearly
all England lay prostrate at their feet. With such a gloomy prospect
before him, we can easily account for the reluctance he showed in
accepting the crown, although it was offered to him by all the chiefs
and earls who formed the witenagemot, when there were children of his
elder brother Ethelbald alive, who, according to the Saxon order of
succession, were the next heirs to the crown. But the Wessex nobles
were already well acquainted with Alfred's talents, for during the
twelve months prior to his accession, he had distinguished himself in
eight pitched battles against the Danes, and had fought in many an
unrecorded skirmish against parties of the enemy who were sent out
to forage. Alfred well knew that the death of Ethelred would hardly
leave him breathing-time, before he should again be compelled to take
the field; that he also had to fight under the disadvantage which
necessarily attends a defeat; while the enemy came swelling in all the
triumph of recent victory; that he had to repair his late losses, and
rouse afresh his subjects, who were still smarting with the wounds they
had received from their conquerors, while the invaders were made more
daring by every conquest, and more insolent by every concession. Such
was the state of the kingdom into which Alfred was ushered by the death
of his brother: nor was this all--he no doubt, with his clear eye, saw
that it was no longer a mere struggle between two parties, where the
one seeks to plunder, and the other to protect his property, but a
contest for the very land on which they fought. The Danes had ceased to
trust for safety to their "sea-horses"--they had abandoned "the road
of the swans," they but travelled over it to a land in which their
countrymen were now kings, where their brethren were in the possession
of cities and lands--they came to share in the inheritance of the
soil--either to find their future homes, or their graves in England.
The prize each party was now contending for, was England itself--it
was neither more nor less than to decide whether our island should in
future be ruled over by the Danes, or the Saxons. It was but what the
Romans had beforetime aspired to, and what, after a hard struggle, the
Saxons themselves had accomplished. Well might Alfred despair when he
looked at his shattered army, and saw how small a portion of England he

What had he gained by the eight hard-fought battles he shared in the
year before his accession to the crown? The places of those whom he
had helped to hew down were filled up again by the first favourable
wind that blew towards his ill-starred kingdom; as the grave closed
over the dead, the sea threw another living shoal upon the coast--none
returned--if they retreated, it was but to some neighbouring
intrenchment, or some kingdom over which a sea-king reigned. Alfred
had not sat upon the throne of Wessex a month, before his army was
attacked, at Wilton, during his absence, and defeated by the Northmen.
Wearied of a war which only brought victory to-day, to be followed by
defeat on the morrow, he made peace with his enemies, and they left the
kingdom of Wessex, though on what terms we know not, unless it was that
Alfred agreed not to assist the king of Mercia, as his brother Ethelred
had frequently done. It would almost appear by their marching at once
into Mercia, that such were the conditions on which they quitted Wessex.

Nine battles in one year must have made a sad opening amongst the West
Saxons, for, unlike the Danes, they had no ships constantly arriving
upon the coast to fill up the places of those that were slain. Oh, how
the young king must have yearned for retirement, and his books! when
he looked round and saw the miserable and almost defenceless state
of his kingdom--his brave warriors dropping off daily, and none to
close the gap that was left open in his ranks. Let us leave him for a
brief space--his heart heavy, his soul sad, and his head resting upon
his hand, with not a ray of hope to cheer him, excepting his trust in
God--while we follow the footsteps of the Danes.

That part of the Danish army which abandoned Wessex took up its winter
quarters in London, at about the same time that another portion of
the invaders marched from Northumbria, and wintered at Repton, in
Derbyshire, where they sacked and destroyed the beautiful monastery,
which for above two centuries had been the burial-place of the Mercian
kings; and, as at Croyland and Peterborough, they broke open the
sepulchres and scattered abroad the ashes of the Saxon monarchs. Twice
had Burrhed, the king of Mercia, negotiated with these truce-breakers,
as the old chroniclers called them, and finding that they paid no
regard to their oaths, and wearied with such a repetition of conflicts,
Burrhed quitted his throne, went to Rome, where he died, and left his
subjects to struggle on, or perish, as they best could. Instead of
placing one of their own kings upon the throne of Mercia, the Danes
gave the crown to Ceolwulf, under the stipulation that he should pay
them tribute, and assist them with his forces whenever he was called
upon; and that when he ceased to fulfil these conditions, he should
from that moment resign his power. It would almost appear that there
was so little left in the kingdom of Mercia worth their taking that
they left him to gather up the remainder of the spoil, while they
turned their attention to more substantial plunder; but his reign was
short, he was hated by those by whom he was employed, as well as by
those whom he plundered, for he robbed alike the peasant, the merchant,
the clergy, and even on the remnant of the poor monks of Croyland,
whose brethren had been slain, and whose abbey had been destroyed,
regardless of their losses and their sufferings, he imposed a tax of
a thousand pounds. But in spite of this stern severity, he soon grew
into disfavour with his new masters, was stripped of everything, and
perished miserably. After his death, Mercia never existed again as a
kingdom, but was blotted out for ever from the Saxon octarchy as a
distinct state; and in an after day, when the power of the invaders
began to wane, it was united by Alfred to Wessex, never again to exist
as a separate province.

The arena of England was now only occupied by two powers; on the one
hand, by Alfred, with his little kingdom and his mere handful of West
Saxons: on the other, by the Danes, who were in possession of nearly
the whole of the remainder of the island--for, with the exception of
the kingdom of Wessex, all the rest of the Saxon states were in the
hands of the invaders.

Three of the Danish sea-kings, named Godrun, Oskitul, and Amund,
having, with their army, wintered at Cambridge, set out again, early in
the spring, to attack Wessex; to give Alfred another proof how useless
it was by either treaty or concession to hope to put off the evil
day. This time they brought a large force to oppose him, and besides
crossing the country, they sailed round by Dorsetshire, where they
stormed the castle of Wareham; and though Alfred destroyed their ships,
those who passed inland devastated the country for miles around. Alfred
seems at this period to have grown weary of war, to have lost all heart
and hope, and, for the first time, he purchased peace of them with
gold; nor was he long before he had to repent of such timid policy, for
although they swore as usual upon their bracelets, and even, at his
request, pledged themselves solemnly upon the relics of the Christian
saints, yet only a few nights after this useless ceremony, they rushed
upon his encampment, slew a great portion of his cavalry, and, carrying
off the horses, mounted their own soldiers upon them, and rode off
to Exeter, where they passed the following winter. Though weary and
dispirited, Alfred did not remain idle, but commenced building larger
ships and galleys, so that he might be better able to compete with his
enemies upon the ocean. Such a plan, had it been pursued earlier by
the Saxon kings, would have caused thousands of the Northmen to have
found their graves in the ocean ere their feet touched our coast; but
now the whole land behind him was filled with enemies, from the edge
of the Channel, which his own kingdom overlooked, deep down, and far
inland, to where the green lands of England stretched unto the Frith
of Forth. Hopeless as it now was, Alfred boldly sallied forth with
his ships, to encounter a fleet of Northmen off the Hampshire coast,
where, having suffered much damage in a previous storm, the Danes were
defeated, with the loss of one hundred and twenty of their ships.
Emboldened by this success, Alfred collected his army and went forth to
attack the Danes in their stronghold at Exeter. Here, however, instead
of renewing the assault, and turning to advantage the victory which
he had obtained at sea, he contented himself with a few hostages, and
a renewal of the oaths, which his experience ought to have taught him
they would break on the first favourable occasion, and allowed them
once more to depart into Mercia. We can only account for this strange
conduct on the part of Alfred by believing that the population of
Wessex had been greatly thinned by the rapid succession of battles
which had been fought at the close of the reign of Ethelred.

We now arrive at the most unaccountable action in the life of this
great king, the abdication of his throne, and desertion of his
subjects. His real cause for acting in this strange manner (unless some
new and authentic document should be brought to light) will never be
known. In the January of 878, the Danes attacked Chippenham; it is not
clearly proved that Alfred struck a single blow; all we really know
for truth is that many of the West Saxons fled, some of them quitting
England, that Alfred was nowhere to be found, not even by his most
intimate friends. These are historical truths, too clearly proved to
remain for a moment doubtful. The cause we will as carefully examine as
if the great Saxon king stood on his trial before us, for the honour of
Alfred is dear to every Englishman, for though dead "he yet speaketh"
in the wise laws he has bequeathed to us.

We know, from many authorities, that when the Danes invaded Wessex
in January, numbers of the inhabitants fled. The effect such conduct
would produce on a sensitive mind like Alfred's, it is easy to
picture; his sensations would be a minglement of pity, contempt, and
disgust, and his proud heart would inwardly feel that they knew not
how to value him aright; that if left to themselves for a little time
they would then know how to estimate the king they had lost. We could
fill a chapter with good, tangible reasons, showing why Alfred acted
as he did, and yet we should, probably, after all, fall far short of
the true cause. It might be injured pride, stern necessity, or the
very despair which drives men to retire from the contest, to wait for
better days. There is one undeniable point clearly in his favour, he
did not retreat to enjoy a life of luxury and ease, but to endure one
of hardship, privation, and suffering. In this he still remained the
great and noble-hearted king. Asser, who loved him, clearly proves that
Alfred, at this time, laboured under a low, desponding, and melancholy
feeling. His words are, "He fell often into such misery that none of
his subjects knew what had befallen him."

Surely no king had ever greater cause to feel unhappy; the man who, day
after day, struggles on, and still finds matters worse on the morrow,
becomes weary of the ever-flickering rays of hope, grows desperate, and
plunges amongst the deepest shadows of despair; others, again, through
very despondency, fold their arms, and wait until the worst comes, as
if a fatality overwhelmed them, for all human perseverance hath its
limits; these once passed, men become believers in inevitable destiny.
To these Alfred, at this time, probably belonged.

It appears that Alfred did not desert his subjects before they deserted
him; and after the many battles that were fought within the year
which saw him king of Wessex, we can readily conceive he had not a
single soldier to spare. He is accused, by those who knew him well,
who conversed with him frequently, and saw him daily, of having been
high, haughty, and severe; in a word, of looking down with contempt
upon those around him. This is a grave charge; but where, with one
or two exceptions, could he in his whole kingdom find a kindred mind
to his own? Asser loved him, but he was an exception. His relation,
Neot, rebuked him, and a young king would but ill brook lecturing. His
chiefs or earls were brave, but illiterate men, not even fit companions
for his own cabinet; for he was familiar with the forms of government
in civilized Rome and classic Greece; and, excepting when engaged in
the battle-field, there could be no reciprocal feeling between them.
These were the sharp and forbidding angles that time was sure to
smooth down; but the Saxon nobles could not comprehend how they ever
came to exist--they did not understand him. There is nothing new in
this--it occurs every day. Let a man of superior intelligence rise up
in a meeting of unlettered boors, and he will find some amongst the
herd ready to oppose him, and these generally the least ignorant of
the mass, but jealous of one whose capabilities stretch so far beyond
their own. Who knows how many heart-burnings of this kind he had to
endure, when assembled with his barbarous councillors--His mind was
not their mind, his thoughts soared far above their understanding.
Where they believed they distinguished the right, he would at a glance
discover palpable wrong; where they doubted, he had long before come
to a clear conviction. And no marvel that he at times treated their
ignorant clamours with contempt, for he appears to have been as decided
and hasty as he was intelligent and brave. He was young. The children
of his eldest brother were now men, and from their high station would
take an active part in the government. According to the order of Saxon
succession, one of these ought to have sat upon the throne of Wessex.
Who more likely than they to oppose his wise plans--to thwart him when
he was anxiously labouring for the good of his subjects? All that has
been brought against him but proves that he was hasty in his temper,
high and haughty, and unbending when in the right; and somewhat severe
in the administration of justice, especially upon those whom he had
appointed as judges, when he found them guilty of tampering with it for
selfish ends.

It will be borne in mind, that after Alfred had compelled the Danes
to abandon Exeter, they retired into Mercia, where, in the autumn,
they were joined by a strong force of Northmen, another cloud of those
"locusts of the Baltic." They entered Wessex at the close of the year,
and in January had taken up their winter quarters at Chippenham in
Wiltshire, it would almost appear, without meeting any opposition; for
very little dependence can be placed on the account of Alfred having
been attacked while celebrating Christmas there; of numbers being
slaughtered on both sides, and Alfred escaping alone in the night.
No mention has been made of such a battle in the records which were
written during Alfred's life, and which have descended to us. All we
know for a certainty is, that on the approach of the Danes, many of
the inhabitants fled in terror, some to the Isle of Wight, others
into France; while numbers went over to Ireland. It is at this time
that we find Alfred himself absent from his kingdom. "Such became
his distress," says Turner, quoting from the old chronicles, "that
he knew not where to turn; such was his poverty, that he had even no
subsistence but that which by furtive or open plunder he could extort,
not merely from the Danes, but even from those of his subjects who
submitted to their government, or by fishing and hunting obtain. He
wandered about in woods and marshes in the greatest penury, with a
few companions; sometimes, for greater secresy, alone. He had neither
territory, nor for a time the hope of regaining any."

Near to that spot where the rivers Thone and Parret meet, there is a
beautiful tract of country, which still retains its old Saxon name of
Athelney, now diversified by corn and pasture lands; but at the time of
Alfred, according to the description in the Life of St. Neot, written
at that period, "it was surrounded by marshes, and so inaccessible,
that no one could get to it, but by a boat; it had also a great wood
of alders, which contained stags, goats, and many animals of that
kind. Into this solitude Alfred had wandered, where, seeing the hut
of a peasant, he turned to it, asked, and received shelter." It was
in this hut that the incident occurred between the cowherd's wife and
Alfred, which is so familiar to every reader of English history. We
quote Asser's description, for there is no doubt that he gave it nearly
literally, as he heard it from king Alfred's own lips: "It happened,
that on a certain day the rustic wife of this man prepared to bake her
bread; the king, sitting then near the hearth, was making ready his
bows and arrows, and other warlike instruments, when the rough-tempered
woman beheld the loaves burning at the fire. She ran hastily and
removed them, scolding 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 done.' This unlucky woman little thought," continues Asser, "that
she was addressing the king, Alfred."

This anecdote was often told in an after day, and no doubt awakened
many a smile around the cheerful Saxon hearths, among both noble and
lowly, when the brave monarch had either driven the ravagers from his
dominion, or compelled the remnant to settle down peaceably in such
places as he in his wisdom had allotted to them. And now, even through
the dim distance of nearly a thousand years, we can call up the image
of the Saxon king, with his grave, intelligent countenance, as he sat
in the humble hut, preparing his weapons of the chase, his thoughts
wandering far away to those he loved, or brooding thoughtfully over
the causes which had forced him from his high estate. We can fancy the
angry spot gathering for a moment upon his kingly brow, as, startled
by the shrill clamour of the cowherd's wife, he half turned his head,
and the faint, good-natured smile that followed, while the glowing
embers threw a sunshine over his face, as he afterwards stooped down
and turned the loaves which the rough-tempered, but warm-hearted Saxon
woman had prepared for their homely meal; and this anecdote is all
the more endeared to us by the fact that the noble-minded king, on a
later day, recommended the cowherd Denulf to the study of letters,
and afterwards promoted him to a high situation in the church. While
residing in the neighbourhood of this cowherd's hovel, says an old
manuscript, written a century or two after these events, and attributed
to an abbot of Croyland, "Alfred was one day casually recognised by
some of his people, who, being dispersed, and flying all around,
stopped where he was. An eager desire then arose both in the king and
his knights to devise a remedy for their fugitive condition. In a
few days they constructed a place of defence as well as they could;
and here, recovering a little of his strength, and comforted by the
protection of a few friends, he began to move in warfare against his
enemies. His companions were very few in number compared with the
barbarian multitude, nor could they on the first day, or by their first
attacks, obtain any advantages; yet they neither quitted the foe nor
submitted to their defeats; but, supported by the hope of victory, as
their small number gradually increased, they renewed their efforts, and
made one battle but the preparation for another. Sometimes conquerors
and sometimes conquered, they learned to overcome time by chance,
and chance by time. The king, both when he failed, and when he was
successful, preserved a cheerful countenance, and supported his friends
by his example."

What a rich, unwritten volume, does this last extract contain; what
a diary of valorous deeds, keen privations, and patient sufferings!
What "footmarks on the sands of time" are here left! These are the
great gaps in history which we mourn over--the changes which Time
has made, as he passed through the human ranks he has hewn down, and
which we regret he has not chronicled. We would forgive the grim
scythe-bearer the ten thousand battles he has buried in oblivion, had
he but preserved for us one day of the life of Alfred on this lonely
island--one brief record of what he said and did between sunrise and
sunset, whilst he sojourned with Denulf, the cowherd. Alas! alas! Time
has but shaken off the blood that dappled his pinions, upon the pages
of History; the sweet dew-drops which hung like silver upon his plumes,
and fed the flowers, have evaporated in the sunsets that saw them

Although a gloom seemed to have settled down upon the land during the
absence of Alfred, yet all was not so hopeless as it appeared; for
Hubba, who with his own hand had shed the blood of so many monks at
the massacre of Peterborough, had himself been slain by Odun, the earl
of Devonshire; and the magical banner which the three sisters of Hubba
are said to have woven in one noontide, during which they ceased not to
chaunt their mystic rhymes, had fallen into the hands of the Saxons.
The rumour of such a victory cheered the heart of Alfred, and he must
have felt humbled at the thought that, while he himself was inactive,
there still existed English hearts that preferred pouring forth their
best blood to becoming slaves to their invaders.

To render his island retreat more secure, Alfred caused a defensive
tower to be erected on each side of the bridge; and, as this was the
only point of access by land, he there placed, as sentinels, a few of
his most trusty followers, so that they might be ready to give the
alarm in the event of their hiding-place being discovered. Scarcely a
day passed, but he sallied forth at the head of his little band and
assailed the enemy. Too weak to attack the main body, he hung upon,
and harassed their foragers; he waylaid the Danish plunderers as they
passed on their way to their camp with the spoil, and again wrested
from them what they had wrung from his own countrymen. Day and night,
Alfred and his followers were ever springing unaware upon the invaders
from out the wood, the marsh, and the morass; wherever a clump of trees
grew, or a screen of willows gave them shelter, there did the Saxons
conceal themselves until the enemy appeared, when, rushing forth, they
laid the spoilers low. Such a system of warfare made the king well
acquainted with all the secret passes in the neighbourhood, and thus
enabled him with his little band to thread his way securely between
the bog and the morass, and to attack the Northmen at such unexpected
points as they never dreamed it was possible for the enemy to pass.
Such a rugged method of attack also inured them to hardships, kindled
the martial spirit which had too long slumbered, and thus schooled
Alfred in that generalship which he so skilfully brought to bear upon
a larger scale when he overthrew the Danes. Even before his rank was
discovered, his fame had spread for miles around the country; and all
who had spirit enough to throw off the Danish yoke, who preferred a
life of freedom in the woods and wilds and had sufficient courage
to abandon their homes for the love of liberty, gathered around and
fought under the banner of the island stranger. Such of the Saxons as
had stooped to acknowledge the Danish rulers, did not escape scathless
from the attacks of Alfred and his followers; for he made them feel
how feeble was the power upon which their cowardly fears had thrown
themselves for protection, when measured beside the strength of their
own patriotic countrymen.

Of the straits to which he was sometimes driven, Time has preserved one
touching record, which beautifully illustrates the benevolence of his
character. One day, while his attendants were out hunting, or searching
for provisions, and the king sat alone in the humble abode which had
been hastily reared for his accommodation, whiling away the heavy hours
by the perusal of a book, a poor man came up to him, weary and hungry,
and asked his alms in God's name. Alfred took up the only loaf which
remained, and, breaking it asunder, said, "It is one poor man visiting
another;" then, thanking God that it was in his power to relieve the
beggar, he shared his last loaf with him; for he well remembered his
own privations when he first applied for shelter at the cowherd's hut.

Turn we now to a brighter page in the life of this great king, when,
emerging from his hiding-place, he seemed to spring up suddenly into
a new existence, and by his brave and valorous deeds to startle alike
both friend and foe.



        "'Tis much he dare:
  And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
  He hath a wisdom that doth guide his brain
  To act in safety."--SHAKSPERE.

Near Westbury, in Wiltshire, may still be seen a hill, which, as it
overlooks the neighbouring plain, appears rugged, lofty, abrupt, and
difficult of ascent; its summit is marked with the trenches and ditches
which the Danes threw up when they were encamped upon and around it
during the reign of Alfred. This spot the Saxon king resolved to visit
in disguise before he risked the battle on which the fate of his
kingdom depended. To accomplish this, he assumed the character of a
harper, or gleeman, and approaching the enemy's outposts, he attracted
the attention of the sentries by his singing and music; after playing
for some time among the tents of the common soldiers, the minstrel
was at last led by one of the Danish chiefs to the camp of Godrun,
the sea-king. What were the thoughts of Alfred while he looked full
in the face of his enemy as he stood before him in his tent? what was
the air he played--the words he sang?--though Fancy stands ready, with
her lips apart, to pour both into our ear, Truth, with a grave look,
bids us pass on, and from her silence we know they are lost for ever.
That Alfred narrowly reconnoitred their position, is best proved by
the plan he adopted after the victory, when he drew a belt around the
whole intrenchment. After he was dismissed from the Danish encampments
with praise and presents (the latter the plunder of his own subjects),
he hastened to his island retreat at Athelney, and began to make
preparations for attacking the enemy. The naked sword and arrow were
borne by faithful emissaries throughout the whole length and breadth of
the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, and Somersetshire;
and in addition to the ancient and imperative summons brought by
these war messengers, they were intrusted with the secret of Alfred's
hiding-place, and all were commanded to meet him with the strongest
military force they could muster, within three days from the time
they first received a message. The east side of Selwood Forest, or,
as the Saxon name signifies, The Wood of Willows, was the mustering
ground. The spot itself was marked by Egbert's stone, said to have been
the remains of a druidical monument, and celebrated on account of a
victory which Egbert once won there. This Wood of Willows, in the time
of Alfred, extended about fifteen miles in length, and six in breadth,
stretching over the country which now lies from beyond Frome to Burham.

[Illustration: _Alfred describing the Danish Camp on his return._]

The news of Alfred's being alive, when no tidings had been heard of
him for nearly six months, spread hope and delight throughout all
the adjoining counties; and for three days the west Saxons rushed in
joyfully to the appointed place of meeting; and never before had the
silent shades of Selwood forest been startled by such a braying of
trumpets and clamour of voices as were ever and anon raised to welcome
each new comer--never had Alfred before received such warm-hearted
homage as he did during those three days from his subjects, nor had
king ever before so boldly perilled himself as to enter alone into the
enemy's encampment. A grand sight must it have been to have witnessed
the Saxon banner, with the white horse displayed upon its folds,
floating above that grey old druidical monument--to have seen that
assembly of brave warriors in the morning sunshine encamped beside the
great willow wood, which was then waving in all the green luxuriance
that adorns the willow-tree at the latter end of May. It was a sight
which, once to have seen, would have made an old man die happy. How we
long to know how Alfred looked, and what he wore, the colour of the
horse he rode upon, and what he said to each new-comer, and whether,
during his absence, he looked thinner, or older, or more care-worn. Yet
all this was seen and heard by thousands, although not a record remains
to bring him again before our "mind's eye."

When all was ready, Alfred marched his newly-raised forces into the
enemy's neighbourhood; and though not clearly made out, it would almost
appear as if he encamped for the night on a hill, which fronted the
intrenchments of the Danes. Next morning, both armies drew up on the
plains of Ethandune. Behind the forces commanded by Godrun rose Bratton
Hill, with its strong encampment, and on this the Danes could fall
back if they were defeated; behind Alfred, there lay, miles away, the
little island of Athelney, the bridge, the towers, and the cowherd's
hut; there was nothing, if he looked back, to tempt him to retreat,
only the broad marshes and the wild willow wood for him again to fall
upon. The sea-king little thought, as he looked on, a shade paler than
when he sat listening to the Saxon gleeman in his tent, that the same
minstrel commanded the mighty force which was then arrayed before him.
By his richest armlet of gold, and the shoulder-blade of his choicest
war-horse, he would have sworn, that had he known of the quality of
his harper, he would that night have sent him to have played in the
banquet-hall of Odin.

The Saxons commenced the attack; for the Danish leader, as if something
foreboded a defeat, seemed with his army to hug the foot of his
encampment;--eager, hot, and impetuous, Alfred's soldiers rushed upon
the enemy in that reckless order which often ends in defeat, unless
it is the impulsive outbreak of determined valour. The Danish ranks
were broken for a few moments, then rallied again in the hand-to-hand
fight as they met the foremost Saxons, who had been thrown in amongst
them. In this mingled _mêlée_ of uplifted swords, battle-axes, and
javelins, and while the Danes were slowly regaining the ground they had
lost, a shower of arrows was suddenly poured in amongst them, which
came full and blinding into their faces, and this was followed by the
instant charge of the Saxon spearmen; and to add to the panic which
had fallen upon the Danes, a cry was raised amongst the superstitious
soldiers under Alfred, that one of the Saxon saints had suddenly
appeared amongst them, had seized the banner, and borne it into the
very thickest of the enemy's ranks. From that moment, the Danes began
to retreat; there was no withstanding an army which fought under the
belief that they were led on by a supernatural leader. Alfred himself
had risen up so unexpectedly amongst them, that their enthusiasm,
which had taken the place of despair, was raised to the highest pitch,
they were ready to believe that St. Neot, or any other saint in the
Saxon calendar, had taken their king under his special protection, and
they cheerfully followed the mysterious standard-bearer into the very
heart of the Danish ranks. They scattered the enemy before them like
thistle-down before the autumnal blast; wherever the sea-kings rallied
for a moment, and made head against the islanders, the Saxon storm
tore over them, and they vanished like the foam which the wind tears
from the billow, and bears howling along as it rushes over the waves,
which roll away affrighted before its wrath. The field was strewn with
the dead; never before had the Danes met with so sudden and decisive a

Godrun retreated with the shattered remnant of his army into the
intrenchments. Alfred surrounded him in his stronghold; every day
which saw the Danish garrison grow weaker for want of provisions and
water, saw the army of Alfred strengthened by the arrival of new
forces. The Saxon king had not left his enemies a single passage by
which they could escape, without first fighting their way through the
besieging army. On the fourteenth day, Godrun capitulated, and humbly
sued for peace. Generous as he was brave, Alfred readily acceded to
his request, on such mild terms as must have made the invaders ashamed
of the cruelties they had formerly inflicted upon their conquerors.
Alfred well knew the little value that the Danes placed either upon
their oaths or their hostages; the former they had ever broken the
moment they escaped; and as to the latter, they left them either to
perish or be liberated, just as chance directed. They cared not to
come back and redeem their pledges when there was plunder before
them. Alfred knew that England was ample enough for them both; and he
proposed that if they would abandon their pagan creed, and settle down
peaceably, to cultivate the soil, instead of the arts of war, they
should for the future be friends, and he would give them East Anglia
for an inheritance. Godrun thankfully accepted the noble offer, and
was baptized. Alfred became answerable for the "promises and vows"
made by the Danish king at the font. The boundaries of the two nations
were sworn to in a solemn treaty, and Godrun was installed in his new
territory, which he parcelled out amongst his followers. The immense
space of ground which Alfred allotted to the Danish king and his
soldiers consisted of that which is now occupied by the counties of
Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Essex, together with portions
of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and even a part of Huntingdonshire.
But Alfred did not rest content with merely presenting them with such
vast territory; he also protected them with the same equal laws; he
made no distinction in the punishment of a crime, whether it was
committed by a Dane or a Saxon--each was to be alike tried by a jury
of twelve men. He made Ethelred, who afterwards married his daughter
Ethelfleda, commander over the kingdom of Mercia, strengthened his
army, and thus planted a strong barrier between that kingdom and the
Danish settlements of Deiri and Bernicia. Cities, and castles, and
fortifications which had fallen into neglect and ruin, he repaired
and rebuilt; he separated the country into hundreds and tythings, and
established a militia, which were to serve for a given number of weeks,
then return home again, and their places to be supplied by others, each
changing about in succession. Hitherto, the Saxons had but little to
defend; but now the country was so well protected, that the soldier
came and went with a cheerful heart, for he no longer found a pile of
blackened ashes to mark the spot where his home had once stood. Instead
of shuddering lest he should see the mangled remains of his wife and
children, or the Danish fires reddening the sky, he now approached
the calm comforts of his humble English home, and slept securely in
the assurance that the eagle eye of Alfred was ever sweeping over
sea and land, and that ten thousand Saxon swords were always ready
to be uplifted at his bidding. Saxon carols were chaunted in the
harvest-fields at the close of the summer of 878; and merry voices were
heard, where only the year before there sounded "the wailing tones of
sad lament," for a mighty mind was now engrossed with the welfare of
the people.

About this time, a large fleet of Danes, under the command of the
famous sea-king Hastings, arrived in the Thames, and, crossing
the country, sought the alliance of Godrun, who with his soldiers
was following the peaceful occupations of husbandry, and the more
useful arts of civilized life, when their Northern brethren landed.
Hastings, finding that he could not win Godrun from his allegiance
to Alfred, after wintering at Fulham, crossed over into Flanders,
where he remained for some time at Ghent. Meantime, Alfred continued
to increase his navy, to build ships of a larger size, and of such
forms as were better adapted to ride out the storm, and to grapple
with the enemy on their own element. The Saxon and Danish ships were
constantly coming in contact on the ocean, and now victory generally
declared itself in favour of the former. In 884, another Danish fleet
invaded England and besieged Rochester, but the citizens valiantly
defended the place until Alfred with his army arrived to relieve them.
No sooner did the Saxon king appear, than the Danes abandoned their
fortress, leaving behind the horses and captives they had brought
over from France; and, hurrying off with their ships, they again set
sail for the coast of Gaul. No sooner were they driven out of England,
than Alfred had to hasten into East Anglia, where a strong force of
Northmen had arrived, and who seemed determined to force the followers
of Godrun into rebellion. Many of the Danish settlers preferred their
old piratical habits to the more peaceful mode of life which Alfred
had compelled them to adopt, and readily took down the battle-axe from
the smoke-discoloured beam where it had so peacefully rested,[6] and
withdrew the club, bristling with iron spikes, the star of the morning,
from its hiding-place, to join the new comers. The first Danish ships
the Saxons attacked, they either captured or sunk, and the Northmen are
said to have fought so fiercely, that every soul on board perished.
Another fleet arrived, and gained some slight advantage over the
Saxons; but in the end Alfred conquered, and compelled the Danes who
occupied East Anglia again to settle down to their peaceful occupations.

The most celebrated sea-king that tried his strength with Alfred, was
Hastings, or Haestan--who again made his appearance--for the weight of
his arm had hitherto fallen upon France and Flanders, and the opposite
coast. For years this famous Vikinger had lived upon the ocean; the
poets of the period extol him as a monarch whose territories were
unbounded, whose kingdom no eye could ever take in at a glance; for
his home was upon the sea, his throne where the tempest rose, and his
sceptre swayed over realms into which the shark, the sea-horse, the
monsters of the deep, and the birds of the ocean dare only venture. He
called his ships together by the sound of an ivory horn, which was ever
suspended around his neck, and the shrill tones of which might be heard
for miles inland, and over the sea--the Saxons called it the Danish
thunder. Whenever that blast broke out, the herdsman hurried his cattle
into the darkest recesses of the forest--the thane barricaded the doors
of his habitation, and the earl drew up his drawbridge, looked up his
armour and his attendants, and never ventured to parley with either
the sea-king or his followers, unless the deep moat was between them.
For a quarter of a century had he harassed the neighbouring nations,
living upon the plunder he obtained, until, weary of leading such an
unsettled life, he resolved to become a king either over the Danes or
the Saxons, and, now that Godrun was dead, he doubted not but that, if
he could conquer Alfred, his own countrymen would gladly accept him for
their monarch.

The mighty mind of Alfred was busy meditating upon the welfare of his
people, and devising plans for their future improvement, when his
study was interrupted by the arrival of this new horde of Northmen,
and he was compelled to throw aside his books and take up the sword.
Skilled alike in a knowledge of both arts and arms, he readily
transformed himself from the statesman to the soldier, and moved, with
but little preparation, from the closet to the camp. A heart less
brave than Alfred's would have quailed at beholding two hundred and
fifty Danish vessels darkening the Kentish coast, especially when the
forces they contained landed safely near the large forest of Andreade,
that far-stretching land of gloomy trees, which had proved so fatal
to the Britons, when Ella led on his Saxon hosts to battle with the
ancient islanders. But Alfred looked on, and remembered the battle of
Ethandune, and his large eye-lids quivered not, neither did a motion
of fear cloud his firmly-chiselled countenance; for he knew that he
reigned in the hearts of his subjects. He saw the fortress carried
which had been erected in the marshes of Romney; beheld his enemies
ravaging the country along the coast, and as far inland as Berkshire;
saw Hastings enter the mouth of the Thames, with eighty ships, and
strongly fortify himself near Milton, and then he began to act.
Wheeling up his army midway, the Saxon king struck in between the two
divisions of the Danish forces; on his right he left them the gloomy
forest of Andreade, and the straits of Dover to fall back upon; on his
left the deep mouth of the Thames, which opens upon the coast of Essex,
yet even there planting a strong force between the shore and their

Wherever the Danes moved, to the right or to the left, landward or
seaward, the forces of Alfred were upon them. If they endeavoured to
cross over into Essex, they were driven back upon their intrenchments;
if they sought to rejoin their brethren beside the sea-coast, the West
Saxons drove them back. The sea-shores and the skirts of the forest
were guarded with jealous eyes. Wherever a Danish helmet appeared,
there was a Saxon sword already uplifted. Hastings was awe-struck; he
was a prisoner in his own stronghold; he lay like a giant, manacled
with the very fetters his own strength had forged. If he but stirred
a foot, Saxon blows fell thick and heavily upon it, and jarred again
upon the other limb, which stood useless, and so far apart. Alfred left
the Danes who inhabited East Anglia to break loose and ravage at their
will, they could but prey upon each other. He kept them aloof from the
quarry he was hunting down.

Shut up within his camp, and not able to send out a single forager with
safety, Hastings had at last recourse to stratagem, and sent messengers
to Alfred, offering to leave the kingdom if he would guarantee him a
free passage to his ships. To this proposition Alfred consented; but
no sooner had Hastings embarked, as if to fulfil his engagement, than
the other division of the army rushed across the country, in the rear
of Alfred's forces, and crossing the Thames where it was fordable,
landed in Essex, where they met the division assembled under Hastings
at Benfleet. Only a portion, however, passed; for, turning his back
upon the North Foreland, Alfred pursued the remainder into Surrey, and
overtook them at Farnham, where he obtained a complete victory; for
Alfred had so manoeuvred his forces as to place the remnant of the
Danish army between himself and the Thames, and that too at a spot
where it was no longer fordable. Thus, those who escaped the Saxon
swords plunged into the river, and were drowned. Those who could swim,
and a small portion who were fortunate enough to pass the current on
horseback, escaped through Middlesex into Essex, where Alfred pursued
them across the Coln, and finally blockaded them in the isle of Mersey.
Alfred continued the siege long enough to compel the Northmen to sue
for peace, which he granted them, on condition that they at once
quitted England.

But scarcely had Alfred succeeded in defeating the enemy in one quarter
before a new force sprung up, ready armed, and began to make head
against him. The Danes of Northumbria and East Anglia, who had for a
number of years exchanged their swords and spears for the sickle and
the pruning-hook, were no longer able to withstand the temptations
which war and plunder offered; but uniting their forces together,
resolved to attack Wessex. The Essex fleet, which, combined with
that of Hastings, consisted of about a hundred sail, passed without
interruption round the North Foreland, and along the southern coast,
as far as Devonshire, where they laid siege to Exeter. The other
division, consisting of forty vessels that had been fitted out in
Northumbria, sailed round the north of Scotland, and along the western
coast, until they reached the Bristol channel, where they laid siege to
a fortified town on the north of the Severn. No sooner did the tidings
of this new invasion reach the ears of Alfred, than he hastened off to
the relief of Exeter, where he again conquered the Danes, drove them
back to their ships, then, crossing over to the Severn, he compelled
the Northumbrian fleet to hasten out of the Bristol channel, and once
more left the west of England in a state of security.

The movements of Hastings at this period are not very clearly laid
down. He appears to have crossed the Thames again, and once more to
have established himself in Essex, at South Benfleet. But whether it
was here that the camp of the Danish king was broken up and plundered,
and his wife and children taken prisoners, or whether it was when he
abandoned his encampment in Kent that these disasters befel him, it is
difficult to understand, so rapid were the movements of both the Danes
and the Saxons at this period. Alfred, however, baptized both the sons
of Hastings, and loading them with presents, sent them back again,
together with their mother, in safety to the camp of the Danish king.
But delicacy and kindness were alike wasted upon this Danish chief.
Having neither home nor country which he could call his own, and a vast
family of rapacious robbers to provide for, he had no alternative but
either to plunder or starve. He probably would have quitted England,
but he knew not where to go; and his Danish brethren, fearful that he
should settle down with his numerous followers, and take possession of
the land which they had for several years so peacefully cultivated,
chose what appeared to them the least evil, and assisted him to win new
territories from the Saxons.

[Illustration: _Alfred releasing the family of Hastings._]

Leaving a portion of his followers to protect the intrenchment in
Wessex, Hastings marched at the head of a powerful force into Mercia:
for he found it difficult to secure supplies in a neighbourhood which
was so narrowly watched by Alfred. Scarcely was his back turned, before
the Saxons attacked the stronghold he had quitted, and again carried
off his wealth, his family, and his ships. This was the second time
the wife and children of Hastings had fallen into the hands of Alfred.
His chiefs intreated of him to put them to death, for Hastings had
again violated the oath which he had taken to quit the kingdom, but the
noble nature of Alfred recoiled from so cruel and cold-blooded an act,
and loading them a second time with presents, he sent his own followers
to conduct them in safety to the camp of the Danish king. Another
division of the Danes had again attacked Exeter; Alfred hastened with
his cavalry across the country as before, and compelled them to retreat
to their ships. The fleet put out to sea, then doubled again towards
the land, and attacked Chichester; but here they were defeated by the
citizens and the neighbouring peasantry, and hundreds were slain.

When Alfred returned from Exeter, he found Hastings once more
intrenched in Essex, with his forces greatly strengthened by the
Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes, who had joined him in Mercia.
A less active king than Alfred would never have kept pace with the
rapid motions of the Danish monarch. Hastings now boldly sailed up the
Thames. He then marched across to the Severn, where he was followed
by the governor of Mercia, and attacked by the united forces of the
Saxons and the men of South Wales. Alfred again advanced to join them,
and the invaders were hemmed round by the Saxon army in the strong
fortress of Buttington on the Severn. Here Hastings and his followers
were compelled to endure all the horrors of a sharp siege, for to such
straits were the Danes driven, that they were under the necessity of
killing their horses for food. Blockaded alike on the land and on the
river, and reduced to such a state of famine that numbers perished, the
Northmen resolved at last to sally out upon the Saxons, and either to
force a passage through the besieging army, or perish in the attempt.
They rushed out headlong from their intrenchments, with a determined
valour, worthy of a better cause. Thousands were either slain or
drowned; and the remnant, with Hastings at their head, again escaped
into Essex. The loss on the part of the Saxons was also severe; since,
exhausted as the Danes must have been by siege and famine, it would
not have been difficult to have cut off their retreat, had not the
battle been so desperate; for Alfred had to fight with an enemy who was
compelled either to conquer or perish; who had been defeated and driven
from nearly every kingdom on the continent, and who seemed to pine
for a home in a fertile country, where so many of his brethren had
taken up their abode. The very bread he ate depended upon the chances
of plunder; he would have been contented to settle down peaceably, as
Godrun had beforetime done, but when Alfred saw the East Anglian and
Northumbrian Danes rendering their aid to every new-comer, and eager,
as of old, to oppose him, he found that a further extension of such
lenient policy would soon wrest the remainder of the island entirely
from his hands, and he resolved they should yet feel that a Saxon arm
grasped the sceptre of England. None of the sea-kings had kept their
faith like Godrun; he, alone, regarded the oaths which he swore on the
golden bracelets that were sacred to his gods, and remained true to his

The army of Hastings was soon recruited again from the former
resources, and early in the spring he once more set out into the
midland counties, plundering along his march until he reached Chester,
where he again threw up a strong intrenchment. Alfred, at the head
of his army, was soon in pursuit of the dangerous sea-king, and when
he found how strongly he had fortified himself at Chester, the Saxon
monarch had recourse to his old plan of starving out the garrison;
and to effect this purpose he gathered up all the cattle in the
neighbourhood, and all the corn in the district for miles around.
Hastings and his followers had too bitter a remembrance of the famine
they had endured at Buttington, to run another risk of suffering
such privation, while there yet remained a chance of escape; so they
once more forced their way through the Saxon army, rushed into North
Wales, carried off from thence what booty they could, and retreated
into East Anglia through such counties as were inhabited by the Danes,
carefully avoiding every spot which Alfred and his army occupied.
The county of Essex seems always to have been the favourite rallying
point of Hastings, and here he appears to have settled down amongst
his countrymen in the autumn of 896; to protect his ships during the
winter, he built a fortress on the river Lea, which divides Middlesex
from Essex, and there drew up his fleet within a distance of twenty
miles from London. In this neighbourhood he appears to have reposed in
safety until the following summer, when London poured forth its troops
to attack the Danish fortress; but so strongly had Hastings intrenched
himself, that all the military array of Middlesex was unable to
penetrate the encampment of the sea-king.

At the close of summer, Alfred considered it necessary to be in the
neighbourhood of the metropolis, to protect his subjects from the
attacks of the Danes while they gathered in their harvest. Driving
in foragers, attacking outposts, and checking attempted sallies, had
rendered Alfred as familiar with the construction of the invaders'
fortresses as they were themselves; and one day while meditating how he
could most advantageously strike a decisive blow, and compel the enemy
to abandon their stronghold, he hit upon the daring plan of draining
the river Lea, and leaving the whole of the Danish fleet aground. To
accomplish this, he ordered his soldiers to dig three new channels
below the level of the river, and to raise two fortresses on either
side the Lea to protect their operations. He drew off the waters into
a tributary stream which emptied itself into the Thames, so that,
as an old writer says, "where a ship might sail in time afore past,
then a little boat might scarcely row." In the night, Hastings again
broke through the toils with which the inventive genius of Alfred had
encompassed him; and abandoning his ships, which were now useless, he
contrived to send off the wives and children of his followers into East
Anglia, to the care of his countrymen; he thus escaped from Alfred,
and reached Bridgenorth, near the Severn, where he again intrenched
himself. Although, as usual, he was quickly followed by the Saxon king,
yet so strong was the military position which the Danes occupied, that
with the exception of a slight skirmish or two, they were allowed to
pass the winter unmolested. Many of the Danish vessels which Hastings
had left behind were again set afloat, and conducted with great triumph
into the Thames. The remainder were burnt and destroyed.

Harassed and defeated on every hand, the spirit of Hastings at last
bowed down before the superior genius of Alfred; and as dissensions
already began to break out in the Danish camp, the brave but
unfortunate sea-king fitted up his shattered fleet as he best could,
and in the spring of 897 departed for France, where some small portion
of territory was allotted to him by the king, and there he passed the
remainder of his days. A few naval engagements of but little note took
place after the departure of Hastings, in all of which the Saxons were
victorious; and towards the close of his reign Alfred treated these
sea-pirates with great severity, and on one occasion ordered several
of them to be executed. These, however, appear to have belonged to
either Northumbria or East Anglia,--and all such had sworn allegiance
to Alfred. Before the close of his reign, the Saxon fleet consisted of
above a hundred strongly-built and well-rigged vessels, many of these
were manned by Frieslanders, and as they were placed in such situations
as the Danes had generally selected for their landing-places, they
silently overawed and checked the inroads of the enemy, as they went
prowling about "like guardian giants along the coast." This great king
did not survive the departure of Hastings above three years. He died
on the 26th of October, in the year 900, or 901. Hitherto we have been
compelled to confine ourselves to the military achievements of this
celebrated monarch. A summary of his great intellectual attainments,
which a volume would scarcely suffice to contain, we shall attempt to
crowd within the brief space of another chapter.



 "Hear him but reason on divinity,
  And, all-admiring, with an inward wish,
  You would desire the king were made a prelate;
  Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,
  You would say--it hath been all-in-all his study:
  List his discourse of war, and you shall hear
  A fearful battle rendered you in music."


We have seen the shadow of this great king pass, through the clouds of
sorrow and suffering, into the glory and immortality which still shed
their lustre around his memory, after the darkness of nearly a thousand
winters has gathered and passed over his grave. Even the gloomy gates
of death could not extinguish, in the volumed blackness they enclose,
the trailing splendour which accompanied his setting, without leaving
behind a summer twilight, over a land where before there was nothing
but darkness to mark the departing day. Upon a sky dim, and unsprinkled
with the golden letters of light, Alfred first rose, the evening star
of English history. From his first appearance a brightness marked his
course; even in the morning of life, he "flamed upon the forehead of
the sky." Instead of the dull, cold, leaden grey, which announced the
appearance of other kings, his crowned head broke the stormy rack, in
a true splendour that befitted such majesty, and though dimmed for
awhile, every observant eye could see that it was the sun which hung
behind the clouds.

In childhood, long before his step-mother, Judith, had taught him to
read, his chief delight was in committing to memory the poems which
the Saxon bards chaunted in his father's court; and who can doubt
but that many a wandering minstrel descended from the ancient Cymry,
struck his harp within the Saxon halls, and made the boyish heart of
Alfred thrill again, as he heard the praises of those early British
heroes sung, whose bare breasts and sharp swords were the bold bulwarks
that so long withstood the mailed legions which the haughty emperor
of Rome had sent, swarming over our own island shores. In this rude
school was Alfred first taught that the names of the good, the great,
and the brave can never die; that valour and virtue were immortal;
and he resolved to emulate the deeds of those whose memories time can
never obliterate; by whose names we number the footsteps of eternity,
when marble and monumental brass have crumbled into dust. It was at
the Castaly of the Muses, which then but trickled from a rude, grey
Saxon font, where Alfred first drank in the draught that gave him
immortality. Eager for knowledge, he looked around in vain for any one
to instruct him; he had not a clergyman about him who could translate
the prayers he read in Latin, into Saxon; until poor old Asser came
from Wales, he could not find in his whole court a scholar equal to
himself. His nobles could hunt and fight; his brothers could do no
more: they lived and died, and their names would never have been
remembered had they not chanced to have been kings. The mind of Alfred
was fashioned in another mould; accident had made him a king, and he
resolved to become a man, to think and act worthy of a being who bore
on his brow God's image--to be something more than the mere heir to
a hollow crown and the lands of Wessex; so he threw aside his sword,
which he knew a thousand arms could wield as well as his own, and took
up his pen. He was the first Saxon king who attempted to conquer his
enemies without killing them--who offered them bread instead of the
sword. He was much wiser than many legislators in our own enlightened
times. He gave Godwin and his Danes land and seed, bade them work,
and live honestly and peacefully; they had felt the weight of his arm
before-time, and, for a long period after, they disturbed not his
study again. What benefit was it to Alfred to whiten with human bones
a land which he knew it would be better to cultivate?--there was room
enough for them all, so he sat down again to enrich his own mind. We
can readily imagine that he never took up his sword without a feeling
of reluctance--that he thought a man could not be worse employed than
in slaying his fellow men. Alfred was England's earliest reformer. When
his nobles found that he had determined to find them no more fighting,
they took to reading and writing, for time hung heavily upon their
hands. He then allowed them to share in his councils, and they began
to make laws for the living, instead of slaying, and then fixing a
price to be paid to the kindred of the dead for the murder they had

A lingering and painful disease, which had for years baffled the skill
of all his physicians--the constant inroads of the northmen, who were
ever keeping the country in a state of alarm--a dearth of kindred
spirits to cheer him in his intellectual labours--prevented not the
persevering king from struggling onward, in his toilsome journey, in
search of knowledge and truth. Bede, with the exception of a single
poem, had composed all his works in Latin; and, with scarcely an
exception, there was no production of any merit that Alfred could
obtain, at that period, but what was written in the same language; and
when he looked round amongst all the thousands he ruled over, not one
could be found, until Asser appeared, who was capable of instructing
him, or who could translate into the Saxon tongue the knowledge for
which he thirsted. He sent in quest of literary men to Rome, to France,
to Ireland; wherever they could be found, he despatched messengers
with presents to intreat and tempt them to visit his court. When
they arrived, he made them equals and friends--he promoted them to
the highest offices in his government--he valued them higher than
all his treasures of gold and silver--by day and night they were his
inseparable companions. He listened to the passages they translated,
stopped them from time to time, and made notes of the most striking
thoughts, and, in an after day, in numerous instances, he extended the
crude ideas of the ancient writers, and threw in a thousand beautiful
illustrations of his own, and such as were never dreamed of by the
original authors; they reflect his own thoughts and feelings; and while
we peruse them we know that we are drinking in the wisdom of Alfred.
In his translation of Orosius he made a great portion of the geography
and history of the world, as it was then understood, familiar to his
countrymen; by his translation of Bede he gave them an insight into
the records of their own land, and showed his nobles how indifferently
their predecessors had conducted the government. By his Boethius he
instilled into their minds many moral axioms, imparted to them his own
thoughts and feelings, and slowly raised them to that high intellectual
station to which he had, by his own exertions, attained; for though he
still ever soared high above them, yet there were eminences up which
they never could have climbed unless by his aid. He found his nobles
but little better than the northern barbarians, and he left them wise
and thinking men. He made a green and flowery place of what had been
before but a wide and weedy wilderness. He divided his attendants into
three bodies, and when one party had served him a month, they returned
home, and were succeeded by another; for it was not in the nature of
Alfred to compel any of his attendants to neglect their own private
affairs while serving him. By this means he but claimed their services
during four months in the year, the remainder of the time they were
allowed to dedicate to their own domestic matters. He divided his
income into separate portions, appropriating each part to a particular
purpose--first, he allotted a portion to his warriors and attendants;
the next allotment was expended in building, in the improvement of
which he collected many eminent architects from different nations; the
third he expended in the relief of foreigners; no matter from what
country they came, they left not the court of Alfred empty-handed: the
remainder of his revenue was dedicated to religious purposes, to the
support of the monasteries he had built, the schools he had erected,
and of the various churches throughout the whole of the dominions. Out
of this division the larger portion was religiously dedicated to the
relief of the poor. Not only his treasures, but his time, was also
equally divided; he but allowed one-third for rest and retirement, and
within it scrupulously included the whole that he thought necessary
to be consumed in partaking of his meals. The second eight hours he
devoted wholly to the affairs of his kingdom, to the meeting of his
council, to the assembling of his witena-gemot, audiences, plans of
protection for the repelling of invasions, and for the better working
of the great machinery which he had set in motion to better the
condition of his subjects and weaken the power of his enemies. The
remaining third of his time he appropriated to study and his religious
duties. It was in this division, doubtless the happiest of all, that
Asser and Grimbald read and translated while he listened, and in the
little note-book which Asser had made him, he put down such thoughts
as made the greatest impression on his mind. Alfred had neither clock
nor chronometer with which to measure out the hours, only the sun and
moving shadow by which he could mete out time, and they could neither
guide him on the dull, cloudy day, nor the dark night. To overcome this
difficulty, and mark the divisions of the twenty-four hours, he had
wax candles made, twelve inches in length, each of which was marked
at equal distances, and although the time taken up in replacing and
re-lighting them would scarcely serve to mark accurately the lapse of
minutes, yet they were so equally made, that six of them, with but
little variation, used in succession, lasted out the twenty-four hours.
To guard against the casualties of winds and draughts, he inclosed his
candles in thin, white, transparent horn, and this result led to the
invention of lanterns; and thus he measured time, which to him was the
most valuable of all earthly treasures, for he considered his life as
a trust held for the benefit of his people; and the knowledge which
he himself accumulated he felt it a sacred duty to impart to others.
From what was then considered the remotest corners of the earth, he
despatched emissaries to gather information; he sent an embassy to
India, and had messengers continually passing to and from Rome. The
Danes, whom he had permitted to settle down peaceably in his dominions,
he placed upon the same footing as the Saxons, giving to them equal
laws, and punishing the criminals of both nations with the same
impartial rigour, which many historians have considered to be somewhat
too severe. Justice was then but little understood; and when the
judges came to such decisions as Alfred considered unfair to the party
injured, he occupied the tribunal, and had the matter brought before
him, and according to his own judgment decided the case. He caused one
of his own judges, named Cadwine, to be hanged, for having condemned a
man to death without the consent of the whole jury. Freberne he also
ordered to be executed, for sentencing one Harpin to suffer death, when
the jury were undecided in their verdict; for when there was a doubt,
Alfred concluded it was but just to save the accused. He would neither
permit the jury to return an unjust verdict, nor the judge to influence
their decision; but where there was doubt and difficulty to contend
against, he brought the whole weight of his own clear, unbiassed
intellect to bear upon the subject.

Without breaking down the warlike spirit of the people, he by a
salutary law checked the thirst of personal revenge, permitting no man
to slay his enemy in secret, not even if he knew that that enemy was
seated at home beside his own hearth, he was not allowed to fight with
him until he had publicly demanded redress. If the body of a murdered
man was found, the penalty, which, considering the value of money in
those times, was heavy, fell upon the whole hundred or tything in
which the dead body was discovered. By this means, the innocent had
the powerful motive of self-interest to induce them to give up the
murderer. Rude and primitive as such a system may at first appear,
these laws were well adapted to the spirit of the barbarous age in
which he lived, when a pagan Dane considered it a meritorious work
to slay a Saxon Christian, and the latter thought that he was doing
Heaven service when he sent the spoiler of its monasteries, and the
slayer of its priests, to revel in the halls of the blood-stained
gods he worshipped. Elders were appointed over each hundred, and were
answerable for the conduct of all who belonged to them. If a crime
was committed, the roll was called over, and suspicion naturally fell
upon the missing man who had fled. No other hundred could register his
name until he had dwelt a given time amongst them; and through this
strict system of espionage, pardonable only in such turbulent times,
the land, as it were, was engirded with a continuous chain, not a link
of which could be broken without the gap becoming visible. Alfred not
only introduced the decalogue into his laws, but so adapted the Mosaic
code to the habits of the age in which he lived, as to render it as
effective amongst the Anglo-Saxons as it had been with the Israelites
of old. His witena-gemot, or assembly of nobles, or parliament, or
by whatever name we choose to designate the council of the land, was
called upon to give its consent to these enactments, before they
were put into operation, and such clauses as it objected to, Alfred
blotted out from his Dom-boc. He first drew the bold outline of our
present mode of government; and limned with his hand, though rudely,
the grand form of our glorious constitution. He was proverbially known
amongst his subjects by the title of the "Truth-teller;" and it was a
saying during his reign, that golden bracelets might be hung upon the
landmarks beside the common highways without a fear of their removal,
such a vigorous watch did the law keep.

In the character of Alfred was embodied all the elements which the
poet, the dramatist, and the novelist attempt to throw around their
most perfect ideas of a hero. He was a warrior, a statesman, and a
scholar, and as perfect in each of these capacities as if he had spent
his whole life in the battle-field, had dedicated his days and nights
to law and politics, or been only a fond dreamer amongst books in the
flowery fields of literature. He would have taken the lead in any age
as the commander of an army; have either risen to the dignity of a
chancellor or a premier in civil government, or have stood first in
the high and ambitious rank of authorship. In him were beautifully
blended courage and tenderness, perseverance and patience; justice
which would have been stern, but for the softening quality of mercy,
high-mindedness, and humbleness, and, above all, a universal love for
his fellow men, not disfigured by the weak partiality of unworthy
favouritism. He found England in a state of despondency, raised and
cheered her, and then elevated her to a much higher station than that
from which she had fallen. But for Alfred the Great, England would have
been a desert, and never have recovered from the destructive fires and
desolating ravages of the Danes. His name will be revered until time
shall be no more.



 "Awake remembrance of these valiant dead,
  And with your puissant arm renew their feats;
  You are their heir, you sit upon their throne;
  The blood and courage that renowned them
  Runs in your veins.----
  All do expect that you should rouse yourself,
  As did the former lions of your blood."--SHAKSPERE.

Edward the Elder, in the year 901, was, by the unanimous consent of
the Saxon nobles, elected king of Wessex. He had already distinguished
himself for his valour, as he fought by the side of his father Alfred
against Hastings. Although he was the son of Alfred, and elected by
the consent of the whole witena-gemot, his cousin Ethelwold laid claim
to the crown, and took possession of Wimburn, which he vowed death
alone should compel him to give up. No sooner, however, did Edward
appear before the gates of the town with his army, than Ethelwold
fled; and escaping by night, reached Northumbria, where he was gladly
received by the Danes, who, doubtless, thinking that they should have
a better claim to the land of England, if a Saxon prince reigned over
them, chose him for their sovereign, and at York he was appointed
head monarch over all the sea-kings and their chiefs. With the Saxon
king at their head, the Danes were not long before they aspired to
the sovereignty of the whole island. But Ethelwold could not remain
long amongst his subjects without partaking of their piratical habits,
so he set up sea-king; and finding that the ocean yielded but a poor
harvest, he visited the coast of France, and, either by promises or
presents, mustered such a force as enabled him to man a considerable
fleet, with which he returned to England and ravaged Mercia. As he
landed in Essex, the East Anglian Danes readily joined him. Edward led
his army into Lincolnshire in pursuit of Ethelwold, and overtook him a
little below Gainsborough. The battle appears to have been fought on
a small island, still called Axeholme, which is situated beside the
river Trent, and the inhabitants of which are still called "The men of
the Isle." Edward, having ravaged the neighbourhood around the isle of
Axeholme, ordered his forces to retreat slowly, but on no account to
separate. This order the Kentish troops neglected to obey, and either
took a different route from the rest of the army, or remained behind to
plunder, when Ethelwold, at the head of a superior force, rushed upon
them, and they were defeated. Although it appears to have been more of
a skirmish than a pitched battle, victory was purchased, on the part of
the Danes, by the death of Ethelwold, and England then enjoyed a two
years' peace.

After this brief interval, war again broke out. Edward, at the head of
his Saxons and Mercians, over-ran and plundered Northumbria. In the
following spring, the Danes retaliated, and attacked Mercia on each
side of the river Trent. While Edward was busy on the south-eastern
coast, repairing and collecting together his ships, a rumour circulated
amongst the Danes that he had gone over to the opposite shore with his
fleet. Misguided by these tidings, the Danish army passed across the
country in the direction of the Severn, plundering every place they
approached, and moving about in that irregular manner which showed that
they were not apprehensive of any attack. Great was their surprise when
they saw a powerful army approaching them; they discovered not the
danger until it was too late to fly from it, for Edward was upon them,
and there was no alternative but to fight. The battle took place at
Wodensfield, and thousands of the Danes were slain, for, beside many
earls and chiefs, they left two of their kings dead upon the field. The
result of this battle established the power of Edward, and insured the
safety of the Saxon kingdom. Like his father Alfred, he trusted not to
the chances of war alone for security, but protected his frontiers by a
line of strong fortresses, and placed a powerful guard over such weak
points as had been most open to the invasion of the enemy. He filled
these garrisons with chosen soldiers, who, united with the provincials
or militia which Alfred had established, rushed out upon the Danes the
moment they approached, without either awaiting the command of the
king or of his earls, and by such watchful energy they ever kept the
enemy in subjection. Inheriting her father's bravery, Ethelfleda, who
was now a widow, acted in concert with her brother Edward, and made
her name a terror to the Danes on the frontiers of Mercia, so that the
governorship which had been intrusted to her husband Ethelred lost none
of its power in her hands.

The fortresses which Edward thus reared, in time, became inhabited
towns; around them sprung up human habitations and cultivated fields,
for the soldiers had their allotted hours of duty and recreation, and
when not employed in keeping a watch over the enemy, they followed the
more peaceful occupations of agriculture. Many of these fortifications
were placed in commanding situations; of such were Wigmore in
Herefordshire; Bridgnorth and Cherbury in Shropshire; in Cheshire,
Edesbury; in Staffordshire, Stafford and Wedesborough; all admirably
adapted to coerce the Welsh upon the western boundaries; while Runcorne
and Thelwall in Cheshire, and Bakewell in Derby, served to protect the
northern frontier of the Saxon kingdom from the invaders. Manchester,
Tamworth, Leicester, Nottingham, and Warwick, also formed strong
barriers of defence to that portion of Mercia, while other places
guarded the entrance of important rivers, which the Danes had never
failed to avail themselves of, when they poured their forces over the
land. Never in Alfred's time had the Saxon states presented such an
impenetrable frontage as they did during the reign of Edward, and the
governorship of his sister Ethelfleda; for the Saxon princess hesitated
not to head the forces intrusted to her command, whenever the enemy
appeared: since she had shared in all the hardships of those stormy
times, and proved herself a worthy daughter of Alfred. Edward was
not long before he was again compelled to take up arms against the
northmen, who, after having entered the Severn and ravaged North Wales,
carried their devastation into Herefordshire. But the military force
established in the fortresses of Hereford and Gloucester, joined by the
neighbouring inhabitants, rushed upon the Danes, and compelled them
to seek shelter in an adjacent wood. They soon made head again; but
Edward, who had by this time drawn his army together, kept so narrow
a watch over them, that they despaired of escaping, and were fearful
of again measuring their strength with the Saxons. In the night they
separated into two divisions and began to retreat. Edward divided
his army, pursued and defeated them. Such as escaped the slaughter,
fled into Wales, where they for a short time found shelter, and at
last sailed over into Ireland. But it is wearisome to run over such
a catalogue of combats--of fortresses attacked and defended--of the
victors of to-day who were vanquished on the morrow--of battles fought
under commanders whose names have many ages ago perished--of castles
besieged, the very sites of which are now unknown, and over whose ruins
a thousand harvests have probably been reaped. Suffice it, that Edward
so far secured his dominions, that the East Anglian Danes chose him
for their "lord and patron"--that the Welsh princes acknowledged and
submitted to his power, while the king of the Scots addressed him by
the title of "father and lord," and the Danes of Northumbria looked
up to him as their supreme sovereign. Such acknowledgments as these
are proofs that he left the Saxon monarchy established on a solid
foundation, and that he had not neglected the wise plans which his
father had drawn out for the better security of his kingdom.

Edward died in Berkshire, about 924, after having reigned for nearly
a quarter of a century, and though he had several sons and daughters
both by his first and second wife, he appointed by his will his
illegitimate son, Athelstan, as his successor to the throne. The Saxon
nobles confirmed his choice. Edward had never to contend with such
difficulties as beset his father, yet, had he not possessed a great
share of the same military talent, the fabric which Alfred had erected
might, if less skilfully defended, have again been overthrown. His
character would have stood out more boldly on the page of history, had
it not been placed by the side of Alfred the Great.



               "Clamour was on the earth.
  They darted from their hands many a stout spear;
  The sharpened arrows flew--the bows were busy--
  The buckler's received the weapon's point.
  Bitter was the fight--warriors fell on either side.
  The youths lay slain."

        DEATH OF BRYHTNOTH, 991.

Although Athelstan was the illegitimate son of Edward the Elder, and
his mother, a woman of surpassing beauty, only the daughter of a humble
shepherd, yet he was in his thirtieth year elected to the crown, by the
consent of the whole witena-gemot, or Saxon parliament, in accordance
with the will left by his father. While but a child, his beauty and
gentle manners had interested his grandfather Alfred, and the great
king, as if foreseeing the splendid station to which the future monarch
would one day rise, had with his own hand invested the boy with the
honours of knighthood; had doubtless many a time placed him upon his
own knee, and as he sat in childish pomp, in his purple garment,
jewelled belt, and with his Saxon sword, buried in its golden sheath,
dangling by his side, had instilled into his youthful mind those
precepts which had guided his own career, and shown him how he should
think and act when he became king. When Alfred died, his daughter
Ethelfleda took Athelstan with her into Mercia, and joined with her
husband Ethelred in watching narrowly over his education; so that when
he was called upon to ascend the throne of Wessex, there could be
but few found in that day whose scholastic and military attainments
excelled those of Athelstan.

At the time of Athelstan's accession, Sigtryg, a grandson of Ragnar
Lodbrog's, reigned over a portion of Northumbria, and although, like
all the rest of the sea-kings, he was a bold and fearless pirate,
and still worse, was guilty of the murder of his own brother, yet
Athelstan gave to him his own sister in marriage, and the nuptials of
the Danish king and the Saxon princess were celebrated with all the
barbaric pomp of the period at Tamworth. What motive Athelstan had
for establishing this union, we are at a loss to divine. It has been
attributed to fear--a wish to conciliate a powerful enemy. This could
not be the case: for we find the Saxon king preparing to invade his
dominions a few months after he had married his sister. The conditions
of the marriage were that Sigtryg should renounce his idolatry, and
become a Christian--propositions which he swore to accede to by his
own heathen oath on the bracelets; and, with his heart still clinging
to the altars of Odin, he was baptized and married. He soon grew
weary of his new wife and his new religion, put on his golden armlets
again, and, solemnly swearing by his heathen gods, renounced them
both: for, reigning over a land inhabited solely by unbelieving Danes,
we can scarcely marvel at such an act when performed by a pagan, who
understood not the attributes of the true God. Athelstan lost no time
in preparing to resent the insult offered to his religion and to his
sister, but began at once to march his forces towards Northumbria.
Eager, however, as he had been to arm, when he reached the Danish
dominions he found that death had stepped in before him; for Sigtryg,
after renouncing both his Christian and his heathen creed, had died,
and the sons whom he had had by a former wife fled at the approach of
Athelstan. Anlaf, in his ship, escaped to Ireland; and Godifrid sought
shelter and protection under Constantine, the king of the Scots. To
the latter, Athelstan sent messengers, demanding of him to deliver
up the Danish prince. Constantine prepared to obey the peremptory
summons, but during the journey Godifrid escaped. After enduring
many perils both by sea and land, he at last fell into the hands of
Athelstan, whose anger had by that time subsided, for he received
the poor fugitive courteously, and treated him kindly, and gave him
a warm welcome to his own court. But four days of princely ease in a
Saxon palace were quite enough for the great grandson of the stormy
old sea-king, Ragnar Lodbrog, and on the fifth he fled, seized a ship,
and set up pirate, as his forefathers had formerly done; for "he was,"
says one of the old chroniclers, "as incapable as a fish of living out
of water." Although Athelstan added Northumbria to his dominions, the
Danes were resolved not to give up a country of which they had so long
retained possession without a struggle. Many a Vikingr still existed,
who claimed kindred with the grandsons of Ragnar Lodbrog; and tidings
soon reached the rocky coast of Norway, that the Saxon king had laid
claim to the Anglo-Danish territories, over which their brethren
had ruled as kings; and though the ivory horn of Hastings no longer
summoned their sea-horses from the creeks and harbours in which they
were stabled, they soon again began to ride over the road of the swans,
and to climb the stormy waves of the Baltic in their armed ships. Such
formidable preparations were made for the invasion as threatened at
last to overwhelm for ever the Saxon monarchy. The rumour of such a
victory rang through England, and arrested the gaze of the neighbouring
nations. We will briefly glance at the cause of this great commotion.

It appears that Constantine had violated the treaty which he had made
with Athelstan, and that the latter ravaged the Scottish dominions both
by sea and land, carrying his army among the Picts and Scots, and the
ancient Cymry, who inhabited the valley of the Clyde, and his ships
as far north as Caithness. Unable to compete with the Saxon forces,
Constantine began to look abroad for assistance, and formed a league
with Anlaf, who, as we have before stated, had escaped to Ireland,
where he was made king over some little state. He, it will be borne
in mind, had fled from Northumbria at the approach of Athelstan, and
doubtless considered that he had as just a claim to the throne of
Northumbria as Athelstan had to that of Wessex. The Welsh princes, who,
still settled down as petty sovereigns, had felt the weight of the
strong arm of Athelstan, and readily confederated with Constantine and
Anlaf--the Danes of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Cumbria, had so long
been settlers in the country, that self-defence alone compelled them to
league themselves against a king who threatened ere long to reduce the
whole of Dane-land to his sway. Added to these, were the ships already
fitting out in Norway, or breasting the billows of the Baltic. Thus
were arrayed against Athelstan and his handful of Saxons, the whole
forces of Scotland--the Irish fleet commanded by Anlaf--the remnant of
the ancient Britons--the Danes of East Anglia and Northumbria--together
with the legions who were hourly pouring in from Norway and the
Baltic--a force formidable enough to have blanched the cheek of the
great Alfred himself, had he lived to have looked upon it.

Athelstan saw the storm as it gathered about him, and knowing that it
would before long break over him, he prepared himself like a man who is
resolved to buffet it--who is determined to do his best to weather the
tempest, whatever may betide. He resolved not to sit listlessly down
with folded arms to be drenched by the overwhelming torrent, if safety
could be won by hard struggling. He offered high rewards to every
warrior who chose to fight in his cause; and Thorolf and Egil, two of
those restless sea-pirates who cared not whether they plundered or slew
for themselves or others, so long as it brought in wealth, arrived
with three hundred followers, and entered the service of Athelstan.
Another celebrated chief, named Rollo, also sent him assistance from
Normandy. The war was commenced by Anlaf, who sailed into the Humber
with a large fleet which consisted of about six hundred ships, while
the forces under his command numbered at least forty thousand men.
They overpowered the Saxon army which Athelstan had placed on the edge
of the Deira and the Northern frontier of Mercia; and the remnant
fled to the head-quarters occupied by the Saxon king. Anlaf is said
to have visited Athelstan's camp, disguised in the character of a
minstrel, as Alfred himself had before time done, when he reconnoitred
the stronghold of Godrun. Although he escaped, he was discovered, and
Athelstan was warned to remove his tent, by which means his life was
saved, as a night attack was made upon the camp, and the bishop of
Sherbourne, who had exchanged his mitre for a helmet, and who soon
after arrived with his soldiers, was stationed in the quarter which the
king had so recently quitted, and fell a victim, instead of Athelstan,
for whose destruction the attack was planned. After this night combat,
in which the enemy proved victorious, Athelstan knew that there was
no time to be lost, and therefore began to arrange the forces for the
battle, which was to decide his fate. Anlaf also drew up his large
army in readiness for the approaching affray. The Saxon king placed
his boldest troops at the front of the battle; leaving them to the
command of Egil, who, though only a hired chieftain, was a brave and
honourable soldier. To Thorolf he entrusted the followers whom he had
been accustomed to lead, mingling with them a few of his own Saxon
soldiers, who appear to have been steadier, and better able to repel
the attacks of the Irish who had come over with Anlaf, and were in
the habit of moving quickly from place to place, and by their changes
disarranging the order of battle. Over the Mercian warriors, and the
brave English hearts which London had poured forth, he placed Turketul,
the chancellor, and bade him, when the war-cry was sounded, to charge
headlong upon Constantine, and the Scots whom he commanded. Athelstan
himself headed the West Saxons, placing them opposite to the point
occupied by Anlaf, as if fearful of trusting any other than himself
in the most dangerous post. Anlaf altered not his position, but stood
front to front with his forces, drawn up opposite the Saxon monarch.

Behind the right wing of the army of Anlaf there stretched a vast
wood; facing, and nearly out-flanking it, were drawn up the soldiers
Thorolf commanded; who, eager as a hawk to rush upon the quarry, was
the first to plunge headlong upon the enemy, and in a moment he was
in the very thickest of the ranks, having far outstripped all, but a
few of the foremost of his companions. Adils, a British prince, who
fought under the banner of Anlaf, wheeled his Welsh forces round, and
severed Thorolf and his friends from the rest of their followers, and
slew them. Egil saw the standard of Thorolf surrounded by the enemy,
beheld it rocking and reeling above the heads of the combatants as it
was borne towards the wood, and conscious that his brave companion in
arms had not betrayed his trust; that the banner of Thorolf was never
seen to retreat whilst its leader was alive; he, with his shield slung
behind his back, and wielding his huge claymore, rushed on like a
dreaded thunderbolt to revenge his death. The forces which Athelstan
trusted to his command deserted him not; they hewed their way through
the enemy's ranks, they pursued them into the wood, and Adils fell in
the fight, for the Welsh wing, which occupied the front of the forest,
was defeated with terrible slaughter.

Meantime, in the centre of the plain, the combat raged with unabated
fury; arrows, darts, and javelins, were abandoned; for it was now the
close hand to hand contest, when blows were dealt at arm's length with
the sword, and the battle-axe, and the club, bristling with sharp steel
spikes, which bit through, or crushed the heaviest helmet;--when the
huge two-handed claymore was swung with giant arms, and men fell before
it like grass before the scythe of the mower in a summer field;--when
blood flowed and none heeded it, but the combatant placed his foot upon
the dead that the blow might fall with heavier force;--when vassal and
chief rolled over together;--when horse and rider fell, yet scarcely
broke for a moment the enraged ranks who passed over them--while over
all the war-cry, and the shouts of the combatants rang, drowning the
moans of the wounded and the dying. Cool and collected amid this
breathless struggle, the chancellor Turketul selected a chosen band
from amongst the Londoners and the brave men of Worcestershire, who
were renowned for their valour, and who feared nothing while Singin was
at their head. These the warlike chancellor placed in close order, and
himself leading the way, they plunged headlong upon Constantine and his
Scots, Turketul paying no more regard to the arrows that stuck in his
armour than a rhinoceros would if pierced with a dozen pins, nor did he
halt until he had dealt a heavy blow on the helmet of the Caledonian
monarch. Had not the Scots rushed up in a body to the rescue, Turketul
would have dragged their king, horse and all, into the Saxon ranks;
they, however, came just in time to save him.

Never had a warrior a narrower escape with his life than Turketul.
He was surrounded by the Scots, foremost amongst whom was the son of
Constantine--who also narrowly escaped from being captured--when,
just as the weapons were uplifted to despatch the chancellor, Singin
rushed in at the head of his Worcestershire warriors, slew the Scottish
prince with a single blow of his battle-axe, and rescued Turketul. The
well-timed attack led on by Singin completed the defeat of the Scottish
army, and they made no other attempt to rally; Constantine escaped.
Leaving Turketul, Egil, and Singin to pursue the routed forces of the
Welsh and Scots, we must now glance at that part of the field where the
opposing forces, commanded by Athelstan and Anlaf, were engaged. Here
the combat continued to rage unabated. The figure of the Saxon king
was seen in the very thickest of the fight, and while he was hemmed in
by his enemies, and showering down blows upon all who came within the
reach of his weapon, his sword suddenly broke short at the handle. To
receive the blows which were aimed at him upon his shield and snatch
up another weapon were scarcely the work of a moment; but during that
brief interval, Anlaf's troops obtained a slight advantage, and began
to press more heavily upon the Saxon ranks. It were then that Anlaf,
suddenly turning his head, beheld confusion in his rear; for Turketul
and Egil, having returned from the pursuit, had thus suddenly hemmed
in the only portion of the enemy's forces that remained upon the field.
With the powerful forces of Athelstan before, and an enemy, already
flushed with victory, attacking him in the rear, Anlaf saw his hitherto
brave soldiers wavering on all sides; the centre of his strong line was
broken, and to the left and right all was hurry, retreat, confusion,
and slaughter, while in the centre the Saxon banner waved triumphant,
and the loud cry of victory rang out in front, and was echoed back
from the rear of the defeated army:--the conflict was at an end--the
combined forces fled on every hand, and the conquerors pursued the
flying enemy until their arms became weary with slaughter. Far as the
eye could reach, it rested upon a long line of the dying and the dead.
Never during the wars of Alfred had so many fallen upon one field as
perished in the battle of Brunanburg.

But few of the poems which have been written to commemorate these
ancient victories have descended to us perfect. That which was composed
to celebrate the Saxon triumph at the battle of Brunanburg, has,
however, been more fortunate, having found a place even in the Saxon
chronicle itself. Although it has been frequently translated, and
quoted by many historians, there is something so forbidding to the eye
in the short, heavy lines, something so difficult to comprehend, in
the lengthy extension, and abrupt transition of the sentences, that we
shall venture upon a somewhat free adaptation of the literal version,
yet endeavour to preserve unaltered the original thought and spirit of
the poem:


    Athelstan, king of earls, the lord, the giver of golden
    bracelets to the heroes, and his brother, the noble Edmund the
    Elder, won a lasting glory in battle by slaughter with the
    edges of their swords at Brunanburg. They, with the rest of
    the family of the children of Edward, clove asunder the wall
    of shields, and hewed down the waving banners, for it was but
    natural to them from their warlike ancestry to defend their
    treasures, their home, and their land, against all enemies in
    the battle-field.

    From the time the sun rose up in the morning hour, to when
    the great star of the eternal Lord, that noble creature,
    God's candle bright, hastened to his setting, they pursued
    and destroyed the Scottish bands, and the men of the fleet in
    numbers dying, fell, and the wide field was everywhere covered
    with the blood of warriors; many a soldier lay there dead with
    darts struck down; many heroes over whose shields the showery
    arrows were shot, whom the battle would never again weary, and
    who would never more boast that they were of the race of Mars
    the Red.

    Throughout the day the West Saxons fiercely pressed on the
    loathed bands, they scattered the rear of the army, and hewed
    down the fugitives with their strong mill-sharpened swords. The
    Mercians shrunk not from the hard-hand-play, from the men, who
    with Anlaf over the ever beating deep, in the ships sheltered,
    sought this land for the deadly fight. In that blood dyed
    battle-field, five kings in the bloom of youth did the sword
    send to slumber, also seven of Anlaf's earls, and numbers of
    the ship-borne army slept with the slain.

    The Scots with the lord of the Northmen were chased away--fate
    compelled him to seek the noisy deep, and with a small host in
    his floating ship on the felon flood he escaped with his life,
    so also Constantine with his routed remnant in hasty flight,
    hurried to the north. Silent sat the hoary hero of Hilda
    amongst his kindred, for small cause had he to boast who had
    left his friends slain in combat; and his son, the fair-haired
    youth, unused to the conflict, mangled with wounds in the

    Inwood the aged, nor Anlaf, no more with the wreck of their
    armies could now exult or boast that they, on the stern
    battle-field, were better at lowering the banners, 'mid the
    clashing of spears, and the crashing of weapons, and the
    meeting of heroes on the field of slaughter, than the sons of
    Edward, whom they opposed. On the roaring sea; over the deep
    waters, a dreary and silent remnant, the northman sailed in
    their nailed ships, and sought in Dublin and Ireland to bury
    their disgrace.

    Athelstan and his brother again sought their country, the west
    Saxon land from fight triumphant. They left behind them, to
    devour the prey, the ominous kite and the black raven, with
    horned beak, the horse-toad, and the eagle, swift to feast on
    the white flesh; the greedy battle-hawk, and the grey beast,
    the wolf of the weald.

The poem then concludes by stating "as the books of the old historians
inform us, never had there before been so great a slaughter in this
island since the Saxons first came over the sea to conquer the Welsh,
and gain the land." The victory of Brunanburg made Athelstan the
monarch of England, for not only had he subjugated the Danes in East
Anglia and Northumbria, but had compelled the Welsh also to acknowledge
his power. As the eyes of Europe had been turned upon him, before he
entered the field against the combined forces his valour defeated, so
did the different nations now rival each other in their congratulations
on his victory. England was no longer the unknown island, which in
former times the Romans had such difficulty to discover; but began to
raise her head proudly amongst the neighbouring nations. The exiles who
were compelled to flee from the ravages of the Northmen, he received
and succoured in his own court. He sheltered his sister Elgiva, and
her son Louis, when her husband, the king of France, was dethroned
and imprisoned. He was appealed to for advice and assistance, when
a dispute arose about the succession to the throne of France; and as
he adjudged, so was the matter decided. His sisters were sought in
marriage by powerful princes; his consent was courted by embassies,
backed with costly presents; and he even fitted out a fleet, and sent
it to the aid of France--thus being the first to cement a union with
that kingdom, whose history in latter days has become so closely
interwoven with our own. Even Otho, who was afterwards surnamed the
great, obtained the hand of Athelstan's sister in marriage; and there
is still in existence, in the Cotton library, a beautiful manuscript
copy of the Gospels, in Latin, which was presented by Otho and his
sister to Athelstan, on which the Anglo-Saxon kings are said to have
sworn when they took the coronation oath. He was also honoured with
the friendship of Henry the First, the emperor of Germany, and by the
alliance of his son in marriage with his sister Editha. Athelstan
also formed a league with Harold, king of Norway, and through the
instrumentality of the two kings, the system of piracy, which had long
rendered the ocean as perilous as the tempests that sweep over it, was,
by the interference of Harold, and the intercession of Athelstan, put
down: for Harold not only chased the pirates from his own dominions,
but pursued them over the sea until he overtook, and destroyed them,
and when he had cleared the ocean of these ancient robbers, he drew up
a code of severe laws for the punishment of all who dared to attack
either the British or the Norwegian fleets. In such high estimation was
Athelstan held by Harold, that he sent his son Haco over to England to
be educated in the Saxon court, and so delighted was the Norway king
with the progress the young prince made in his studies and warlike
exercises, that he presented to Athelstan a beautiful ship, with purple
sails, surrounded with shields that were richly gilt, while the prow,
or figure at the head, was wrought out of pure gold. To the prince,
the Saxon king presented a costly sword, which Haco the Good, (as he
was afterwards called, when he became king) treasured until the day
of his death. When Harold died, and some difficulty arose as to the
succession of Haco to the throne of Norway, Athelstan provided him with
soldiers and a strong fleet, and thus enabled him to take possession
of his kingdom. On the thrones of France, Bretagne, and Norway, sat
three kings who were all indebted to Athelstan for their crowns; a
strong proof of the power and dignity to which England had risen. He
is said to have restored Howel to the kingdom of Wales, and Constantine
to the throne of Scotland, after having conquered their dominions.
Having assisted to dethrone Eric, and to place the crown of Norway on
the head of Haco, he made the former king of Northumbria, as a proof
of the respect he bore to the memory of his father Harold. Nor was he
less liberal to the monks, but contributed freely to enriching the
monasteries, both with money, books, and costly vessels, while several
are said to have been built at his own expense. Like his grandfather
Alfred, he was also generous to the poor; from the royal farms he
ordered to be given to the needy every month a measure of meal, a
gammon of bacon, or a ram worth fourpence, besides clothing once a
year. These were to be distributed by the gerefa, who appears to have
stood in the same position as an overseer, or relieving officer, having
also to perform the duty of chief constable, and to warn the hundred
when the folk-mote or folcgemot was to assemble. If he neglected to
distribute the royal charity, he was fined thirty shillings, which was
divided amongst the poor of the neighbouring tything. High, however,
as the character of Athelstan stands, it is not free from the stains
which too often blotted the brightest names that adorned this barbarous
age, though we cannot tell, at this remote period, how reluctantly he
may have yielded to the stern sentence of his witenagemot, when he
consigned his brother to death. Edwin had been leagued with others to
oppose the accession of Athelstan to the throne, and the king ordered
him to be placed within the

 "Rotten carcass of a boat, nor rigged,
  Nor tackle, sail, nor mast,"

and without even an oar, to be launched upon the ocean, and left to
chance, and the mercy of the waves. For some time the unfortunate
prince continued to keep afloat within sight of land, until at last the
wind rose, and perceiving that every billow but rolled him further into
the hopeless ocean, he preferred an instant to a lingering death, and
leaped boldly into the deep. His body was afterwards washed ashore, and
for seven years Athelstan is said to have mourned over his brother's
death, with deep and bitter sorrow. Athelstan died about the year 940
or 941; and, as he left no children, he was succeeded by his brother



 "The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
  To hear a night shriek; and my fell of hair
  Would at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir
  As life were in't: I have supped full with horrors;
  Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
  Cannot once start me.--Wherefore was that cry?
    The king, my lord, is dead."--SHAKSPERE.

Edmund, surnamed the Elder, had scarcely attained his eighteenth year,
when he ascended the Saxon throne. Many of Athelstan's former enemies
were still alive, and Anlaf, who had played so prominent a part at
the battle of Brunanburg, again came over from Ireland, and placed
himself at the head of the Northumbrian Danes, with whom he marched
into Mercia, attacked Tamworth, and, in his first battle, defeated the
Saxons. England was not yet destined to be subject to the sway of one
king, for, after several defeats, Edmund employed the Archbishops of
York and Canterbury to negotiate with Anlaf, and peace was concluded
on the conditions that the Northumbrian prince was to reign over that
part of England which extended to the north of Watling Street--the
boundaries of which it is difficult to define. Another clause was also
annexed, which placed the Saxon throne in greater jeopardy than it had
ever before been; for Edmund entered into an agreement with Anlaf,
that whoever survived the other should become the sole and undisputed
sovereign of England. Death saved the Saxons from the degrading and
dangerous position into which they had fallen, for Anlaf died in the
following year, and after his death Edmund lost no time in taking
possession of that portion of the kingdom which had been wrested from
him by the valour of the Danish king.

It may be that the youth or inexperience of Edmund made him fearful of
measuring his strength against a veteran like Anlaf, for when he had
once resolved to reduce the Danes to authority, he acted as became a
descendant of Alfred, and not only subjected Northumbria to his sway,
but drove the Danes from the towns they had so long occupied on the
frontiers of Mercia, clearing the whole line of country from Stamford
to Lincoln; and, crossing the Trent, he drove them from the cities
of Leicester, Nottingham, and Derby, thus sweeping the whole of the
midland counties of the Danes, and peopling the strongholds from which
he had driven them with Saxons, and amply making up for the vacillating
weakness which marked the first year of his reign. Neither did his
conquests end here; he next invaded Cumbria, unnecessarily tortured the
sons of Dunmail, and then gave the small state to Malcolm of Scotland,
on condition that he should defend the northern dominions, both by
sea and land, against all invaders. Strange as it may appear, he was
assisted in the subjugation of this petty kingdom by one of the Welsh
kings, although Cumberland and Westmoreland, which formed the kingdom
of Cumbria, were at this time inhabited by a remnant of the ancient
Britons, over whom reigned Dunmail, its last Celtic king. Although
the reign of Edmund is among the briefest of our early Saxon kings,
containing but the mere entry of his name, a battle or two, and then
his untimely death, embracing, from his first assuming the crown to
his being borne to the grave, not more than five years, it offers to
the contemplative mind much matter for meditation. He commenced his
reign by a dishonourable concession, such as Athelstan would never have
thought of, though it had cost him both his kingdom and his life in
resisting it. He ended it by an act of cruelty, causing the eyes of the
sons of Dunmail to be put out. Shortly after this, he fell in his own
banqueting-hall, by the hand of a robber, in the midst of his nobles;
while the wine-cup was circulating in celebration of the great Saxon
feast held in memory of St. Augustine, he was struck dead by the dagger
of Leof. At what place the deed was done, how the robber obtained
admittance into the hall, whether angry words were exchanged between
the assassin and the king, nothing certain is known--so much do the
accounts vary in the old chronicles, although all admit the fact.

Leof had been banished for six years; he suddenly appeared in the
presence of the king; his object, beyond doubt, was to slay him.
Could we but prove that the murderer belonged to the ancient Cymry,
we should probably not be far in error in concluding that he came to
revenge the tortures which had been inflicted on the British princes,
who were blinded by the command of Edmund. Vengeance only could have
induced an armed and banished robber to rush into the presence of the
king, when he was feasting in the midst of his nobles, and there, on
his own hearth, to deprive him of life. Strange that the scene of an
event so well known, should be buried in obscurity. There must have
been motives that impelled the murderer to perpetrate such a deed,
which were unfavourable to the character of Edmund, or we should have
met with something more than the mere entry of his violent death in the
early chronicles. He was slain in his twenty-third year--in the dawn
of manhood; but where he fell, or in what place he was buried, history
has not left a single record that we can rely upon. Malmesbury says,
"His death opened the door for fable all over England." How ominous
his rising! how dark and sudden his setting! what splendour surrounded
his noonday career; yet, withal, his life might be written in four
brief sentences--"He perilled his kingdom in his youth--nobly redeemed
the false step he had taken--committed an act of inhuman cruelty--was
afterwards murdered, in the year 946."

Edred succeeded Edmund, for the son of the latter was but a child
when his father was slain. They were both sons of Edward the Elder by
his second marriage, and, from the date of his death, must have been
mere infants when he died. Both could claim the great Alfred as their

During the short reign of Anlaf, and the subjection of Northumbria by
Edmund, we lose sight of Eric, the son of Harold of Norway, to whom
Athelstan had generously given the crown of this northern kingdom, out
of the respect he bore to his father. But Eric cared not to occupy a
peaceful throne: if he was to be a king at all, he was resolved it
should be a sea-king, so he took to his ships, and left his subjects
to shift for themselves as they best could; for he had often, during
his sovereignty, whiled away the pleasant summer months with a little
pirating--had often treated his followers to an agreeable excursion on
the sea, where they plundered all the ships they could, and conquered
and slew their crews, no doubt capturing our own merchants, whenever a
chance offered. After amusing himself and his companions for some time,
by preying upon all who came in his way, around the coast of Scotland,
he ventured over into Ireland, gathered what he could there, crossed
the sea again, and ravaged Wales, picking up along the northern coast,
whenever he came near home, all the choice spirits he could find about
the Orkneys and the Hebrides. With these he roamed at his pleasure,
plundering wherever he could, and performing such feats on the ocean
as Robin Hood and his merry men are, in a later day, supposed to have
done in our old English forests. He was also joined by many of the most
renowned sea-robbers from Norway, for the bold Vikingr found but little
encouragement to plunder under the government of "Haco the Good." When
Eric was weary of these rough Mid-summer holidays, he came back again
to his kingdom, moored his ships, and placed his battle-axe upon the
"smoky beam" until the following spring, never troubling himself about
law or justice, but leaving his subjects either to do as they pleased,
or follow the lawless example he set them:--he quaffed his cup, and
sang his stormy sea-songs, and little recked Eric the Norwegian how the
world went, so long as he could get out upon the windy ocean, and meet
with prey and plunder upon the billows of the deep. All seems to have
gone merrily with him, until, in an evil hour, he was either tempted
or persuaded to ravage England. Where he landed is not known, but his
success is said to have been great, and when he returned to Northumbria
laden with plunder, his Danish subjects received him with warm welcome;
although they had but just before sworn fidelity to Edred, still their
hearts were with the daring sea-king, and they hailed him the more
eagerly since Edred, after having received their oaths of allegiance,
had turned his back upon the north. The Saxon king, although young,
soon turned round, and punished the wavering Danes for their
disloyalty. They again promised submission; but scarcely had he reached
York before Eric was upon his heels, and so unexpectedly did he fall
upon the army of the Saxon king, that he cut off the rear-guard before
he retreated. Edred once more wheeled round, over-ran Northumbria,
compelled them to renounce Eric, inflicted a heavy fine, again received
hostages and promises of allegiance, and took his departure. Eric but
lingered on the sea until he was fairly out of sight, and then prepared
to take vengeance upon the subjects who had disowned him.

There is but little doubt that the Danes who renounced Eric were
backed by a strong Saxon force which Edred had taken the precaution of
leaving in the neighbourhood. A battle was fought, which is said to
have lasted the whole day, and in it Eric, with five other sea-kings,
was slain. Edred speedily availed himself of the advantages obtained
by this victory. He carried away captive many of the Danish chiefs who
had been engaged in the rebellion, imprisoned Wulfstan, an archbishop,
who had been foremost in heading the revolt, divided the kingdom
into baronies and hundreds, over which he placed his own officers,
and overawing the country by strong garrisons, he at last reduced it
into a greater state of order and subjection than it had ever before
been since the Danes were first allowed to occupy it. Although still
inhabited by Danes, they were no longer allowed even a sub-king to
reign over them, but, like the rest of the Saxon states, were under the
sole government of Edred, and thus rendered less independent than they
had ever been during the reign of the victorious Athelstan.

So distinguished a sea-king as Eric was not likely to perish in battle
without awakening the genius of the Scandinavian muse. "I have dreamt
a dream," begins the northern poet; "at the golden dawn of morning I
was carried into the hall of Valhalla, and bade to prepare the banquet
for the reception of the brave who had fallen in the battle. I blew the
brazen trumpet of Heimdal, and awoke the heroes from their sleep. I
bade them to arise and arrange the seats and drinking-cups of skulls,
as for the coming of a king."

"'What meaneth all this noise?' exclaimed Braghi; 'why are so many
warriors in motion, and for whom are all these seats prepared?'

"'It is because Eric is on his way to Valhalla,' replied Odin, 'whose
coming I await with joy. Let the bravest go forth to meet him.'

"'How is it that his coming pleaseth thee more than that of any other

"'Because,' answered Odin, 'in more battle-fields hath his sword been
red with blood; because in more places hath his deep-dyed spear spread
terror, for he hath sent more than any other king to the palace of the

"I heard a rushing sound as of mighty waters: the hall was filled
with shadows. Then Odin exclaimed: 'I salute thee, Eric! Enter, brave
warrior; thrice welcome art thou to Valhalla. Say what kings accompany
thee?--how many have come with thee from the combat?'

"'Five kings accompany me,' replied Eric; 'and I am the sixth.'"

Although Eric was baptized, before he was placed on the throne of
Northumbria by Athelstan, yet the northern scald was resolved to rescue
him from his Christian paradise, and place him in those halls, which
he thought were more befitting the spirit of a sea-king to dwell in.
After the death of Eric, many of the Anglo-Danes became Christians, and
several enrolled themselves amongst the religious orders, thus becoming
servants in the churches, which it had hitherto been their chief
delight to burn and destroy.

It was during the reign of Edred that the celebrated or notorious
Dunstan rose into such notice, for there is scarcely another character
throughout the whole range of history, upon which the opinions of
writers vary so much as in their summary of this singular man. Madness,
excessive sanctity, enthusiasm, hypocrisy, cruelty, cunning, ambition,
tyranny, have all been called in, to account for the motives by which
he was actuated. With some the saint, and with others the sinner, has
predominated, according to the medium by which his actions have been
surveyed by different historians. It is difficult to sit down and
contemplate his character in that grave mood which is so essential to
depict the truths of history, for with Satan on the one hand, and the
saint on the other, the bellowing of the fiend, and the clattering of
the anvil, we get so confused between the monk and the "brazen head,"
that we seem in a land of "wild romance," instead of standing on the
sober shore of history. We will, however, deal as fairly with the dead,
as the few facts we are in possession of enable us to do, without
sacrificing our honest judgment. But first we must consign the remains
of Edred to the grave of his forefathers. He died in 955, after having
reigned nine years. He was afflicted with a slow, wasting disease,
which gave to him the appearance of old age, although at his death he
had numbered but little more than thirty winters. He was succeeded by
Edwin, the son of Edmund the Elder.



                       "He was a man
  Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking
  Himself with princes;----
  His own opinion was his law,
  He would say untruths; and be ever double,
  Both in his words and meaning. He was never
  But where he meant to ruin, pitiful.

  He was a scholar, and a ripe, and good one;
  Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading;
  Lofty and sour, to them that loved him not,
  But to those men that sought him sweet as summer."


Edwin was not more than sixteen years of age when he ascended the
throne. Although so young, he had married a beautiful and noble lady of
his own age, who appears to have been somewhat too closely related to
him to please the stern dignitaries who were then placed at the head of
the church, for it was at this period when the rigid discipline of the
Benedictine monks was first introduced into England. Odo, a Dane, and
a descendant from those savage sea-kings who destroyed the abbeys of
Croyland and Peterborough, was, at this time, archbishop of Canterbury,
for it was not then uncommon to place the pastoral crook in warlike
hands, as there are many instances on record which show that those who
could best wield the battle-axe were entrusted with the crosier; and
Odo had served both under Edward and Athelstan, and had fought and
prayed at the battle of Brunanburg. But before describing the most
important events of the reign of Edwin, we must give a brief sketch of
the life of Dunstan, and endeavour to throw a little light upon the
dark shadows which have so long settled down upon his character.

Dunstan, who plays so prominent a part at this period, appears to
have lived near Glastonbury, and while yet a boy, seems to have been
fond of visiting an ancient British church which had probably been
erected by the Christians soon after the departure of the Romans. At
a very early period of his life, he was a believer in dreams and
visions, and while yet unknown, imagined that a venerable figure
appeared to him and pointed out the spot on which he was one day to
erect a monastery. His studies were encouraged, and his abilities are
said to have been so great that he was soon enabled to outstrip all
his companions in learning. We next find him suffering from a severe
fever, probably the result of excessive application, and which at last
produced a state of dreadful delirium. In the height of his madness,
he seized a stick and rushed out of his chamber, running with the
speed of a maniac over hills and plains; and fancying in his frantic
flight that a pack of wild hounds were pursuing him. Night found him
in the neighbourhood of a church, on which workmen had been employed
during the day; the invalid ascended the scaffold, and without injuring
himself, got safely into the church, where he sank into a heavy
slumber, from which he awoke not until morning, when he found his
intellects restored, though, to draw a charitable conclusion from any
of his future actions, we should be justified in believing that there
were intervals when the disease returned. He had sufficient patronage
to obtain an introduction to the church or monastery at Glastonbury,
where he again renewed his studies, and besides obtaining a thorough
knowledge of the literature of that age, he appears to have excelled in
mathematics, music, writing, engraving, and painting, and also to have
been a skilful worker in metals. Such talents as these, when so few
excelled in any branch of the polite or finer mechanical arts, could
not fail of bringing him speedily into notice, and he seems to have
had an introduction to the royal palace early in the reign of Edmund.
No greater proof of his intellectual attainments can be adduced, than
his being accused while at court of dealing in the arts of magic; for
so far had he shot beyond the ignorance and error of the age, that
what could now be readily comprehended by an ordinary understanding,
was in that benighted period attributed to supernatural agency; and so
strongly did the current of prejudice set in against him, that Dunstan
was driven from the court.

We can imagine with what shouts of derision he was pursued, and with
what loathing and heartburning he must have quitted the palace as he
fled before his insulting enemies, who, not content with having hurled
him from his high estate, pursued him, and threw him into a miry ditch,
beside a marsh, where they left him to escape or perish. We can picture
him reaching his friend's house, at about a mile distant, the sorrow
that wrapped his heart as he looked upon his blighted prospects, the
anger that lighted his eye, and the burning scorn which he poured in
withering words upon the unlettered herd, as he breathed his sorrow,
and suffering, and disgrace, into the bosom of his friend, and, with
a sigh, looked upon all his hopes thus undeservedly overthrown. For a
short period, we here lose sight of Dunstan; when we next meet with
him, he is on the point of marriage with a maiden to whom he appears
to have been greatly attached. He is dissuaded from marriage by his
relation, the bishop of Ælfheag, who tells him that such inclinations
only emanate from the Evil one, and persuades him to become a monk.
Love for a time made Dunstan eloquent, and our only marvel is, that a
man who was so susceptible of the tender passion should, on a future
day, become the unfeeling opponent of marriage, and wield the power he
possessed with an unrelenting and iron arm over every priest who had
entered into this honourable bond of union. For a long time the bishop
argued in vain. Dunstan had then many reasons to urge in favour of
love and marriage; and probably, at that period, never dreamed that he
should have to use both force and argument against them; but he seems
to have been doomed to suffer disappointment: and, although he endured
it, it soured his better nature, for, like Jonah's gourd, all that
promised him hope and delight seemed as if it only grew up to perish a
withering mockery. Sickness again attacked him, a disease that brought
him well nigh to death's door; he gave up all hopes of recovery, he
renounced all earthly happiness, and when he began to turn his inward
eye to that spiritual existence beyond the grave, earth heaved up
slowly, and to him sadly, and shut out the coveted land of which he had
obtained a dim glimpse, but that earth was no longer to him the garden
of hope and love. He rose from his sick bed a melancholy and altered
man; became a monk, and in his cold, grey, stony cell, which shut him
up as in a grave, from the warm womanly heart he had once so fondly
doted upon, he vowed to lead a life of celibacy.

Up to this period of his life, Dunstan wins our sympathy: we have
seen him driven out, amid hooting and derision, from the court; we
have seen the golden link of love, which still bound him to mankind,
snapped heartlessly asunder; and now we behold him buried, with all
his genius and learning, in the lonely cell of a silent monastery. No
marvel that, like the weary lion who has been hard pressed by the cruel
hunters, he at last got up and shook himself--looked round with disgust
upon the narrow cave he had been driven into, and glared with scorn and
rage as he thought upon the puny power he had fled from; then shook his
majestic mane and rushed out, and filled the whole neighbourhood with
his roar.

How from his soul he must have spurned the ignorant mass who came to
look at him in the cell which he had dug in the earth, and which seems
to have been but little larger than a common grave! What contempt he
must have felt for the illiterate crowd, as he toiled in his smithy, to
hear them attribute the roaring of his bellows, and the clattering of
his hammer, to the howling and bellowing of the devil; and, even sick
and weary as he was of the world, a suppressed smile must have played
about the corner of his mouth, as he saw the credulous crowd gather
around, who believed that he had seized the foul fiend by the nose.
Still it is hard to suppose that a man of his learning and talent would
for a moment lend himself to so improbable a tale: he might, however,
have seen the power he was likely to gain from such a rumour, so let
it take its course, leaving those to credit it who were simple enough
to do so. The making for himself a narrow cell, and living in it for
a given time, was no uncommon penance at that period, when hermits
were found in lonely places, and priests, who had been driven from
their monasteries by the Danes, were compelled to shelter in caves and
forests, which they frequently never quitted until death. Guthlac, on
the lonely island at Croyland, differed but little from Dunstan in his
self-inflicted probation.

It is, after all, difficult to suppose that his fame spread amongst the
highest ranks, through an idle and vulgar rumour being circulated of
his having pulled Satan's nose. Such a report would never have drawn
the Lady Ethelfleda, who had descended from Alfred the Great, to visit
him--to extol his conversation, and to praise his piety; to introduce
him to the king, and, at her death, to leave him all her wealth. Still
less likely is it that such a fabrication would have raised him high
in the estimation of the venerable Chancellor Turketul, the man who
had so distinguished himself, in the reign of Athelstan, at the battle
of Brunanburg. Nor can we believe that a grandson of the great Alfred
would be so credulous as to appoint him abbot of Glastonbury, unless
he had had some solid proofs of his learning and piety; for Edred made
him his confidential friend and councillor, and entrusted to his care
all his treasure.[7] We will not acquit him of ambition, nor deny
that he might have deviated a little from a fair and honest course to
obtain power; that he became cautious and reserved; for the man who in
his younger days had been driven from the court for his candour, and
rolled in a ditch by those who were either envious of his talents or
too ignorant to appreciate his high intellectual attainments, would
naturally become more wary for the future. He who but received hardship
and insult as a reward for his wisdom, would best display it afterwards
by remaining silent. Martyrs to a good cause act otherwise; but all
men covet not such immortality. We are painting the character of a man
disappointed in ambition and love; yet eager as of old for power--such
elements, though imperfect, are human. The man who inflicted stripes
upon himself for refusing the see of Winchester, in the hopes of one
day being made Archbishop of Canterbury, had before been whipped
for his honesty; and although such deception would ill become one
who aspired to be a saint, it would be pardoned in a disappointed
statesman. A man kicked out of court, under the imputation of having
"dealings with the devil," but played trick for trick when he put the
lash into the hand of St. Peter. Dunstan had his eye upon an eminence,
and was resolved to attain it. Usurers and misers sometimes fix their
thoughts upon a given sum, which they resolve to obtain, and then
become honest. Human nature a little warped was the same nine hundred
years ago as now. We are drawing the character of one who was then a
living and moving man, subject to human infirmities, for in his alleged
saint-ship we have no belief whatever, though Dunstan himself might
aspire to the title, and with a brain at times diseased, try at last to
find that sanctity within himself which others attributed to him, even
as a healthy man with a yellowish look discovers, through the allusions
of his friends, that he has got the jaundice, although his countenance
has only been exposed to the sun.

In miracles, the hand of God is manifested; when the dead are raised,
and the blind suddenly restored to sight, we question not the Almighty
power; but we doubt St. Peter lacerating the back of Dunstan, and even
acquit the latter of so merry a joke, as that which was invented about
his taking the devil by the nose with his red hot tongs, and alarming
all the neighbourhood by his bellowings. If "possibility" is dragged
into the argument, we must remain silent, for no one is impious enough
to limit the power of the Deity. Where it would evince a want of faith
to doubt the holiness of the apostles, it would be no sin to hesitate
before we pronounced Dunstan, or Thomas-à-Becket, or Peter the Hermit,
saints. What a simple-minded peasant would devoutly believe to be the
truth in the present day, an intelligent person would be scarcely
tolerated in enlightened society for asserting,--and by such homely
facts as these are the truths of history only to be tested.

[Illustration: _Dunstan dragging King Edwy from Elgiva._]

The first act which brings Dunstan so prominently forward in the reign
of Edwin is his rude attack upon the king on the day of his coronation.
Edwin had retired early from the banquet-hall, to seek the society
of his beautiful wife Elgiva, in her own apartment, when his absence
was remarked by the assembled guests. Odo, the Danish archbishop, was
present at the coronation feast, and perceiving that the retirement
of the king displeased the company, commanded those persons who were
attendant upon him to fetch Edwin back. After some demur by the party
whom Odo addressed, Dunstan and another bishop, his relation, undertook
to bring back the king. Elgiva's mother was in the chamber with Edwin
and her daughter when the two bishops entered, rudely, and unannounced.
Edwin, it appears, at the moment of their entrance, was in one of his
merry moods, and doubtless glad that he had escaped from the drunken
revels of a Saxon feast, had taken off his crown and placed it on the
ground, and was engaged in a playful struggle with his queen, when the
bishops broke so rudely upon his retirement; or it is very probable
that the crown had fallen off his head while toying with her, and that
seeing the emblem of sovereignty thus cast aside like a bauble, may for
a moment have chafed the temper of the irritable and decorous Dunstan.
We could see nothing to condemn on the part of the bishop, if he had
respectfully solicited the return of the king to the banquet; but when
Edwin refused to go, and Dunstan dragged him rudely from his seat,
and forced the crown again upon his head, the latter far out-stepped
his commission, and acted more like a traitor than a loyal subject in
thus attempting to coerce the king. It would, in those days, have been
held a justifiable act on the part of Edwin to have laid the haughty
prelate dead at his feet. Elgiva, with the spirit of a true woman,
upbraided the bishop for his insolence, and Dunstan, we fear, made use
of such epithets as belonged more to the smithy than the sanctum; and
in which he alluded to the painted lady who is described in the Old
Testament as having been thrown out of her window, and devoured by
dogs. Nor should we think that the man who had the boldness to attempt
to drag out the king by force, would hesitate to throw out a gentle
hint, that, if opposed, he would adopt the same method of silencing her
as that which was used in stilling the tongue of a "king's daughter."
To account for this palace brawl, we must conclude that the Danish
prelate and the Saxon bishop had pledged each other to such a depth
in their cups as perilled their reason, or, in other words, there is
but little doubt, the reputed saint was the worse for the wine-cup.
Edwin's first act was, however, sufficient to restore him again to his
senses, and although he was the friend of Turketul, the chancellor, and
stood high in the estimation of Odo, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the
young king deprived Dunstan of all the offices he held, confiscated his
wealth, and sentenced him to banishment.

Here we behold Dunstan once more driven from court, and he no longer
carries our sympathies with him, as before-time. A private gentleman,
much less a king, could not calmly have brooked the insult Dunstan
offered to his sovereign. Ten thousand men might be found in the
present day, who would have rebuked the proudest bishop that ever wore
a mitre, had he but dared to intrude thus upon their privacy. We have
before stated that Elgiva was somewhat closely related to her husband,
though it is pretty clear that this kinship extended not nearer than to
that of cousin. Such as it was, however, the savage Odo made it a plea
for divorce, and separated the king from his wife. Not contented with
this, the bloody-minded and cruel archbishop sent a party of savage
soldiers to seize her--to drag her like a criminal from her own palace,
and, oh! horrible to relate, to brand that beautiful face, which only
to look on was to love, with red hot iron--the lips and cheeks which
the young king had so proudly hung over and doted upon, were, by the
command of the cursed Odo, burnt by the hands of ruffianly soldiers--by
the order of this miscalled man of God--yet the lightning of Heaven
descended not to drive his mitre molten into his brain. Oh, what
heart-rending shrieks must that beautiful woman have sent forth!--what
inhuman monsters must they have been who held her white wrists, as
she writhed in convulsive agony. Death, indeed, would have been mercy
compared to such bloody barbarism; after this, she was banished, in all
her agony, to Ireland.

Time, that, like sleep, is the great soother of so many sorrows, healed
the wounds which the hard-hearted Odo had caused to be inflicted on
the youthful queen, and her surpassing beauty once more broke forth,
and erased the burning scars with which it had been disfigured,--like
a rose, that, in its full-blown loveliness, leaves no trace of the
blight that had settled down upon the bud. With a heart, yearning all
the more fondly for her youthful husband, through the sufferings,
which had been embittered by his absence, she rushed, on the eager
wings of love, to pour her sorrows into his bosom, and to pillow her
beautiful head on that heart which had known no rest since their cruel
separation; but the demons of destruction were again let loose upon
her. She was pursued and overtaken before she had reached those arms
which were open to receive her, and so dreadfully was the body of that
lovely lady mangled, that the blood rolls back chilly into the heart,
while we sit and sigh over her sufferings. We will not pain our readers
by describing this unparalleled butchery. But Odo reaped his reward.
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord; and before His unerring tribunal
the spirit of the mitred murderer, centuries ago, trembled.

From the hour of Elgiva's murder, the spirit of Edwin drooped. He seems
to have sat like a shadow with the sceptre in his hand, "nerveless,
listless, dead." His subjects rebelled against him. Dunstan was
recalled from banishment, and new honours were heaped upon his head.
Edwin's kingdom was divided, and though his brother Edgar was not more
than thirteen years of age, the dominions of Northumbria and Mercia
were placed under his sway. The infamous Odo, and his emissaries,
were at last triumphant; and there is scarcely a doubt but that, a
few years after the death of his wife, Edwin himself was murdered in
Gloucestershire. In several old chronicles it is darkly hinted that he
met with a violent death: in one, which is still extant in the Cotton
Library, it is clearly asserted that he was slain.

A youthful king, on whose head the crown, with all its cares and
heart-aches, was placed at the age of sixteen, was but ill-armed
to battle with the hoary-headed, cunning, and grey iniquity which
surrounded his throne. He, who would cast his crown upon the ground
to toy with his beautiful wife, was no match for that hypocrisy which
was hidden beneath the folds of a saintly garb. When, with a spirit
far beyond his years, he boldly resented the insult that Dunstan had
offered to him, the whole power of the court was at once arrayed
against him, for Dunstan was already venerated by the ignorant people
as a saint: he had the chancellor and the primate on his side; and
few would be found to make head against a cause on the part of which
such powerful authorities were arranged as leaders. The respect which
was due to a king must have been greatly lessened by the insult which
Dunstan had offered to his sovereign. It resembled more the conduct of
a schoolmaster towards an unruly pupil than that of a subject to his
superior. Edwin closed his troublous career about the year 959; and
by his death Edgar, who had for three years ruled over the northern
dominions, became king of England.



 "The royal letters are a thing of course;
  A king, that would, might recommend his horse,
  And deans, no doubt, and chapters with one voice,
  As bound in duty, would confirm the choice.
  Behold your bishop! well he plays his part,
  Christian in name, and infidel in heart."--COWPER.

Over the reign of Edgar, who ascended the throne in his sixteenth
year, the shadow of Dunstan again falls, and those who had rent the
kingdom asunder, and placed him, when a mere boy, upon the throne of
Mercia, kept a more tenacious hold of the crown as its circle widened,
and gathered closer round Edgar as they saw his power increased.
Dunstan had by this time risen to the dignity of bishop of London.
The infamous Odo had died about the close of the reign of Edwin, and,
weakened as the power of that unfortunate king was, he had spirit
enough to appoint another to the primacy of England. The bishop that
Edwin had nominated perished in the snow while crossing the Alps; for
the pontiffs had issued a decree that no one should be established in
the dignity of archbishop till he had first visited Rome, and received
the pallium; which, as we have before described, was a tippet made of
the whitest and purest of lamb's wool, chequered with purple crosses,
and worn over the shoulders. Another bishop was appointed in his
place, but he was soon compelled to resign the primacy, the objections
raised against him being, that he was modest, humble, and of a gentle
temper--virtues which, although they form the very basis of the
Christian character, but ill accorded with the views of the ambitious
churchmen who now surrounded the throne of the young king. In 960, only
a year after the accession of Edgar, Dunstan, although he held the
sees of Winchester, Worcester, Rochester, and London, was appointed
archbishop of Canterbury, and received the pallium from the hand of
Pope John the Twelfth, at Rome. Dunstan lost no time in promoting the
interests of those who had assisted in raising him to his new dignity.
He appointed Oswald, a relation of Odo, to the bishopric of Worcester;
and Ethelwold, with whom he had been educated in his early years, he
made bishop of Winchester. They also, by the intercession of Dunstan,
became the king's councillors. By this means, he had ever those who
were his sworn friends and servants at the elbow of the sovereign. That
he contributed to the spreading of education and to the encouragement
of the fine arts will ever redound to the credit of Dunstan; while the
supernatural gifts to which he laid claim--the vision of his mother's
marriage with the Saviour--the song which, he said, the angel taught
him, and with which he roused every monk in the monastery, at morning
light, to learn--we must, in charity, attribute to that temporary
insanity to which he was at times subject, and which did not even pass
unnoticed by his contemporaries.

Nearly the first act of the primate appears to have been the
establishment of the Benedictine rules in the monasteries; for the
severe and rigid tenets which were adhered to by this new order
of monks appear to have suited the cold, stony nature of the new
archbishop, the warm emotions of whose heart had now died out, and
faded into that cold, ashy grey, which, having lost all sympathy with
the living and breathing world, lies as if dead and in a grave, while
the heartless body still lives and acts.

Sorry we are that Edgar so implicated himself with the views of the
ambitious primate, that whatever Dunstan planned, the king executed,
and in every way favoured the new order of monks. The following may be
taken as a sample of Edgar's eloquence in favour of the Benedictine
order; it was delivered at a public synod, over which the king
presided. After condemning the secular clergy for the smallness of
their tonsure, in which the least possible patch of baldness was
displayed, and finding fault with them for mixing with the laity, and
living with concubines, for that was the new name by which Dunstan
now designated the wives of the clergy, he addressed the primate as
follows: "It is you, Dunstan, by whose advice I founded monasteries,
built churches, and expended my treasure in the support of religion
and religious houses. You were my councillor and assistant in all my
schemes; you were the director of my conscience; to you I was obedient
in all things. When did you call for supplies which I refused you?
Was my assistance ever wanting to the poor? Did I deny support and
establishments to the clergy or the convents? Did I not hearken to your
instructions, who told me that these charities were of all others the
most grateful to my Maker, and fixed a perpetual fund for the support
of religion? And are all our pious endeavours now frustrated by the
dissolute lives of the priests? Not that I throw any blame on you; you
have reasoned, besought, inculcated, inveighed: but it now behoves
you to use sharper and more vigorous remedies, and, conjoining your
spiritual authority with the civil power, to purge effectually the
temple of God from thieves and intruders."

Although Edgar was such an unflinching advocate of celibacy, and is
said to have made married priests so scarce, that it was a rarity
to see the face of one about his court, he appears to have fixed no
limits to his own vicious propensities. While his first queen was yet
surviving, he carried off a beautiful young lady, of noble birth,
named Wulfreda, from the nunnery of Wilton, where she was receiving
her education, under the sanctity of the veil. This, however, was no
protection for her person; but Dunstan had the courage to step in,
and inflict a penance upon the royal ravisher; which was, to fast
occasionally; to lay aside his crown for seven years; to pay a fine to
the nunnery; and, as if to make all in keeping with the action, for
which he was thus mulct, he was to expel all the married clergy, and
fill up their places with monks. Such was the penalty imposed upon him
by Dunstan, who, himself disappointed in love in his earlier years, was
now the sworn enemy of all married priests. Whether such edicts as he
promulgated, and rigidly enforced, were calculated to check or increase
such infamous acts as the above, there can scarcely remain matter of
doubt; but how many Wulfredas the enforcing of his unnatural laws of
celibacy were the means of violating can never now be known.

Edgar having heard rumours of the beauty of Elfrida, who was the
daughter of Ordgar, earl of Devonshire, despatched one of his noblemen,
named Athelwold, on some feigned business, to the castle of her father,
to see if her features bore out the report he had heard of her beauty.
Athelwold saw her, was suddenly smitten with her charms, and keeping
the mission he was sent upon a secret, offered her his hand, was
accepted, and married her. Though Athelwold had reported unfavourably
of her beauty, and, through this misrepresentation, obtained Edgar's
consent to marry her, influenced, as he said, by her immense wealth,
the truth was not long before it reached the ears of Edgar, who
resolved upon paying her a visit himself. The king's will was law;
and all Athelwold could now do was to entreat of Edgar to allow him
to precede him, pleading, as an excuse for his request, that he might
put his house in order for the reception of his royal guest. His real
object, however, was to gain time, and to persuade his wife to disguise
her beauty by wearing homely attire, or to suffer another to personate
her until the king's departure. But Elfrida, who, like Drida of old,
concealed, under the form of an angel, the evil passions of a fiend,
rebuked her husband sternly for having stepped in, and prevented her
from ascending the throne, and for having himself snatched up that
beauty which might have raised her to the rank of queen. All, however,
was not yet lost; and never before had Elfrida bestowed such pains in
decorating her person as she did on the day of the king's arrival. She
was resolved upon captivating him; and as nature had done so much, she
called in the charms of art to give a finish to her unequalled beauty.
We can almost fancy poor Athelwold fidgeting about the turret-stair,
and thinking every minute which she spent over her toilet an hour;
and what a hopeless look the poor Saxon nobleman must have given, as,
startled by the trumpets which announced the coming of the king, she
rose from her seat with a proud step, and a kindling eye, glancing
contemptuously upon her husband as she passed, and hurrying eagerly
to the gate, to be foremost in welcoming the sovereign. The king was
charmed; Athelwold was found murdered in a neighbouring wood; Edgar
married Elfrida, and her name is another of those foul stains which
disfigure the page of history. There is no proof that Edgar stabbed
Athelwold with his own hand; on the contrary, there was a natural
bravery about the king, more in keeping with the chivalric age than
the barbarous times in which he lived. To cite a proof of his valour:
it had been reported to him that Kenneth of Scotland, who was then on
a visit at the English court, had one day said that it was a wonder to
him so many provinces should obey a man so little; for Edgar was not
only small in stature, but very thin. The Saxon king never named the
matter to his guest, until one day when they were riding out together,
in a lonely wood, when Edgar produced two swords, and handing one
to the Scottish sovereign, said, "Our arms shall decide which ought
to obey the other; for it will be base to have asserted that at a
feast which you cannot maintain with your sword." Kenneth recalled
his ill-timed remark, apologized, and was forgiven. Such a man would
scarcely stoop to so base an act as assassination.

None of the Saxon kings had ever evinced such a love of pomp and
display as Edgar. He summoned all the sovereigns to do homage for
the kingdoms they held under him, at Chester; and, not content with
this acknowledged vassalage, he commanded his barge to be placed in
readiness on the river, and, seating himself at the helm, was rowed
down the Dee by the eight tributary kings who were his guests. But
with all his pride he was generous; and to Kenneth of Scotland, who
had thus condescended to become one of his royal bargemen, he gave
the whole wide county of Louth, together with a hundred ounces of the
purest gold, and many costly rings, ornaments, and precious stones,
beside several valuable dresses of the richest silk; only exacting in
return that Kenneth should, once a year, attend his principal feast.
Every spring he rode in rich array through his kingdom, accompanied by
Dunstan and the nobles of his court, when he examined into the conduct
of the rulers he had appointed over the provinces, and rigorously
enforced obedience to the laws. He gave great encouragement to foreign
artificers, regardless from what country they came; if they but evinced
superior skill in workmanship, it was a sure passport to the patronage
of Edgar. The tax which Athelstan imposed upon the Welsh, after he had
won the battle of Brunanburg, Edgar commuted into an annual tribute
of three hundred wolves' heads; and, by such a wise measure, the
kingdom was so thinned of this formidable animal, that on the fourth
year a sufficient number could not be found to make up the tribute.
Three centuries after, and in the reign of Edward the First, we find
England again so infested with wolves, that a royal mandate was issued
to effect their extinction in the counties of Gloucester, Worcester,
Hereford, and Stafford, and that in other places great rewards were
also given for their destruction. Our Saxon ancestors called January
Wolf-month, "because," says an old chronicle, "people are wont always
in that moneth to be more in danger to be devoured of wolves than in
any season els of the yere, for that through the extremity of cold
and snow, those ravenous creatures could not find of other beasts
sufficient to feed upon." The terror with which the wolf was regarded
by our forefathers, doubtless caused many of the Saxon kings and
leaders to assume the name of an animal which was so formidable for its
courage and ferocity. Thus we find such names as Æthelwulf, the noble
wolf; Berhtwulf, the illustrious wolf; Wulfric, powerful as a wolf;
Eardwulf, the wolf of the province; Wulfheah, the tall wolf; Sigwulf,
the victorious wolf; and Ealdwolf, the old wolf. So infested were the
"cars" of Lincolnshire, and the wolds of Yorkshire, with wolves, which
were wont to breed, in what are now the marshlands beside the Trent,
amongst the sedge and rushes, that the shepherds were compelled to
drive their flocks at night for safety into the towns and villages. And
in the time of Athelstan, a retreat was built in the forest of Flixton,
in Yorkshire, for passengers to shelter in, and defend themselves from
the attacks of wolves.

[Illustration: _The Welch tribute of Wolves Heads._]

Edgar died in the year 975, at the age of thirty-two. By his first
wife he had a son named Edward, who succeeded him; also a daughter who
ended her life in a nunnery. By Elfrida, the widow of the murdered
Athelwold, he had two sons, Edmund, who died young, and Ethelred, who
in his turn obtained the crown by the murder which Elfrida caused to be

Elfric, who lived a few years after the death of Edgar, has left the
following highly-coloured testimonial in praise of his character: "Of
all the kings of the English nation, he was the most powerful. And it
was the Divine will that his enemies, both kings and earls, who came to
him desiring peace, should, without any battle, be subjected to him to
do what he willed. Hence he was honoured over a wide extent of land."
This panegyric, we think, is somewhat overdrawn: it is true that he
kept up a large fleet, consisting of twelve hundred ships, which he
stationed on different points of the coast--that he punished those who
plundered the vessels of his merchants--executed the law rigorously on
the coiners of false money, and left England as free from robbers as
it had been at the close of the reign of Alfred. Still, with all his
high-sounding titles, which in some of his charters run to the length
of eighteen lines; he rivets not the eye, nor interests the heart, like
many of his predecessors who grace the great gallery of our early Saxon



 "For saints may do the same things by
  The Spirit, in sincerity,
  Which other men are tempted to,
  And at the devil's instance do."--BUTLER'S _Hudibras_.

 "The tyrannous and bloody act is done;
  The most arch deed of piteous massacre
  That ever yet this land was guilty of."--SHAKSPERE.

Edward, called the Martyr, was a mere boy of fifteen when he ascended
the throne, which was vacated by the death of his father, Edgar. As
he had been schooled under Dunstan, and his mind moulded to suit the
purposes of the ambitious primate, he was chosen, in opposition to the
wishes of Elfrida, who boldly came forward and claimed the crown for
her son Ethelred, then a child only six years old. This aspiring queen
was not without her adherents; and as the rigorous measures to which
Dunstan had resorted, to coerce the married clergy and exclude them
from officiating in the churches, had rendered him unpopular in many
quarters, numbers were found ready to rally round Elfrida and her son
Ethelred. But Edward had been appointed king by the will of his father,
and the charge against his legitimacy appears to have been altogether
unfounded; for he was the undoubted son of Edgar, and the fruit of his
first marriage with Elfleda, who was called "the Fair;" and Dunstan
adopted the readiest method of settling the dispute by assembling the
bishops, and such of the nobles as were favourable to his cause, then
placing the crown at once upon his head.

Meantime, the contest continued to be waged more keenly between the
monks and the secular clergy. Dunstan had opposed the coronation of
Ethelred; and Elfrida, who was as bold as she was cruel, rose up, and
took the part of the married priests. Elfere, the governor of Mercia,
also set the primate at defiance, emptied all the monasteries in his
province of the Benedictine monks, and levelled many of their buildings
to the ground--a strong proof that the power of the archbishop was on
the wane. Alwin, the governor of East Anglia, took the side of Dunstan;
gave shelter to the monks who had been driven out of Mercia; and chased
the married priests from the province over which he ruled. Beside
Mercia, the secular clergy had obtained possession of many monasteries;
and to end these disputes, Dunstan convened a synod at Winchester. Here
a voice is said to have issued from the crucifix which was fixed in
the wall, which forbade all change; and instead of arguing the matter
fairly, Dunstan at once exclaimed--"A divine voice has determined the
affair; what wish ye more?" This artifice, however, did not succeed;
for there were then, as now, men who had great misgivings about
Dunstan's miracles, and who believed that he would not hesitate to
avail himself of any means he could impress, to carry out his object.
Dunstan, seeing the mistrust and doubt with which his pretended miracle
was received, resolved that, if they did not accede to his wishes, his
next attempt at the marvellous should be accompanied with proof of his

It was in the year 978 that this second or third council was held
at Calne. It was, as before, a Saxon parliament, or witena-gemot,
consisting of the nobles and principal clergy of the nation. The
opponents of Dunstan appear to have grown hot in argument, and,
according to one of our ancient historians, William of Malmesbury, "the
matter was agitated with great warmth of controversy, and the darts of
many reproaches were thrown on Dunstan, but could not shake him." The
following reply of the primate to the attack made upon him is given
from Osberne, who was the friend and councillor of the archbishop
Langfranc, a man who held Dunstan in the highest estimation. Osberne
was alive about a century after the event took place which he records.
After having defended himself for some time, Dunstan concluded with
these remarkable words: 'Since you did not, in such a lapse of time,
bring forward your accusation, but, now that I am old and cultivating
taciturnity, seek to disturb me by these antiquated complaints, _I
confess that I am unwilling that you should conquer me_. I commit
the cause of his church to Christ as the Judge.' He spoke, and the
wrath of the angry Deity corroborated what he said; for the house was
immediately shaken; the chamber was loosened under their feet; his
enemies were precipitated to the ground, and oppressed by the weight

Eadmar, who was contemporary with Osberne, expresses himself still
more clearly, though he appears not for a moment to have suspected
that the villanous affair was arranged by Dunstan and his confidential
friends. "He spoke, and, lo! the floor under the feet of _those who
had come together against him fell from beneath them_, and all were
alike precipitated; but where _Dunstan stood with his friends_, no
ruin of the house, no accident happened." The Saxon chronicle, an
authentic record of that period, also notices the falling in of the
floor, and the escape of Dunstan. As this is the greatest blot on
his character, we have been careful in producing such undisputed
authorities. To attribute the catastrophe to an accident, would be
reasonable, had only Dunstan himself escaped; but when we look at
the conclusion of the speech which is attributed to him by those who
admired his character--"I confess that I am unwilling you should
conquer"--and see it recorded that all his friends were uninjured, we
are surely justified in concluding that the floor had been previously
undermined, and that all was so arranged that, at a given signal, the
only remaining prop was removed, and Dunstan and his friends were left
secure to glut their gaze on their slain and wounded enemies; for many
of the nobles on whom the beams and rafters fell were killed upon the
spot. That the crime rested with Dunstan alone, we cannot believe--many
must have been cognisant of it; the strength of the council was against
the primate, and but for this accident, miracle, or, as we believe,
carefully-planned scheme of villany, Dunstan's power would at once
have ended; as it was, to quote the words of the old chronicler, "this
miracle gave peace to the archbishop." When his friend Athelwold died,
and the see of Winchester was vacant, Dunstan wished to appoint his
friend Elphegus to the bishopric; but meeting with some opposition
amongst the nobles, he boldly asserted that St. Andrew had appeared to
him, and commanded him to appoint his friend to the vacant see. Here
we have another proof of the use which Dunstan made of the sanctity
that was attributed to his character. The miracles which are ascribed
to him--his combats with the devil, who was constantly appearing to
him in every imaginable shape, such as that of a bear, a dog, a viper,
and a wolf, may be found fully recorded in the ancient life, written
by Bridfirth, who was personally acquainted with Dunstan.[8] We have
dwelt thus lengthily on the life of this singular and ambitious man,
as in it we see fully illustrated the evil consequence of persecuting
and retarding the progress of superior talent. It is probable that
no one ever set out in the world with a firmer determination of
acting honestly and uprightly than Dunstan; it is also clear, that in
intellectual attainments he ranked amongst the highest which that age
produced; nor do we think that we should be much in error in assuming
that when, in his old age, he looked back, through the dim vista of
years, to the bright and promising morning of his life, he often
sighed for that retirement which he might have enjoyed in the society
of her whom his heart first clung to; nor can we marvel if the crimes
which are attributed to him are true, which is strongly supported by
the evidence we have produced, that in his old age his slumber was
often broken by such fearful apparitions--the creation of a guilty
conscience, as his friend and biographer Bridfirth has stated were ever
present before his diseased imagination.

Dunstan still stood high in the favour of his youthful sovereign, and
the primate shielded him, for a time, from the vengeance of Elfrida,
who aimed at placing the crown upon the head of her son Ethelred; to
accomplish this, a conspiracy had been formed to assassinate Edward, in
which the governor of Mercia, who had driven out the clergy, is said to
have leagued himself with the queen-dowager; for party-feeling still
raged as strongly on the sides of the monks and the secular clergy as
ever; and aged as Dunstan was, there yet remained many enemies, who
anxiously sought his overthrow; but the nobles continued to remain true
to their king, and, while they surrounded him, he was safe from the
meditated blow.

The long looked for hour came at last. Edward was out, one day,
hunting near Wareham, in Dorsetshire, when, either having outridden
his attendants, or purposely resolved to visit his mother-in-law, he
rode up to Corfe Castle, where she resided with her son Ethelred, and
without alighting from his horse, had a brief interview with Elfrida,
at the gate. She received him with an assumed kindness, and urgently
pressed him to dismount. This he declined doing, and having requested
to see his brother Ethelred, he called for a cup of wine, which was
brought, when, just as he had raised it to his lips, one of Elfrida's
attendants stepped behind him, and stabbed him in the back. Dropping
the cup from his hand, he struck the spurs into his horse, and fled;
for we can readily imagine that one glance at the countenance of
Elfrida satisfied the wounded monarch that she was the instigator of
the murderous deed. With no one near to follow or support him, he soon
fainted through loss of blood, and fell from his saddle; the affrighted
steed still plunged onward, with headlong speed, dragging the body of
the king along, over the rugged road, as he still hung with his foot
suspended in the stirrup. When discovered by his attendants, he was
dead--his course was traced by the beaten ground over which his mangled
body had passed, and the blood that had stained the bladed grass, and
left its crimson trail upon the knotted stems against which it had
struck. His remains were burnt, and there is some doubt whether even
his ashes were preserved for interment. "No worse deed," says the Saxon
chronicle, "had been committed among the people of the Anglo-Saxons
since they first came to the land of Britain." Edward was not more than
eighteen years of age when he was murdered.

His death, however, was not the first that Elfrida had caused. In
the records of Ely, mention is made of an abbot named Brythonod, who
attracted her attention as he came to the palace on matters connected
with his abbey. As he was about to take his departure, Elfrida
requested to speak with him apart, under the plea of unburthening her
conscience. What passed at this private interview would probably never
have been known, but through her own confession, when she became a
penitent, and acknowledged her guilt. She made such proposals to the
abbot as he was unwilling to concede to. Her fondness soon changed to
revenge, and shortly after the virtuous abbot was assassinated. Such
was the woman who comes heaving up, like a blood-stained shadow, into
the next reign, and whose evil influence brought such woe upon England.
It is said that Ethelred wept bitterly at the death of his brother
Edward, whom he dearly loved, and that his mother seized either a torch
or a thick wax candle, and beat the young prince with it until he was
senseless. So unpopular were Elfrida and her son, that an attempt was
made to raise an illegitimate daughter of Edgar to the throne. The
young lady was the daughter of Wulfreda, whom he had violently carried
from the nunnery of Wilton. The plot failed, and Ethelred succeeded to
the crown, in 978, and in the tenth year of his age.



 "And when they talk of him, they shake their heads,
  And whisper one another in the ear;
  And he that speaks, doth gripe the hearer's wrist;
  While he that hears, makes fearful action,
  With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes."


The ambitious hopes of Elfrida were justly doomed to meet with
disappointment: the power she sought to obtain by the assassination of
Edward eluded her grasp, and Dunstan, though aged and infirm, still
stood at the head of his party, triumphant. The Saxons looked with
disgust upon a woman who had caused her son-in-law to be stabbed at her
own castle-gate; and there is but little doubt that the primate, for
a time, so successfully raised the popular indignation against her,
that she was compelled to seek shelter in a nunnery until the storm
subsided. On the head of the son of the murderess, the primate placed
the crown, in 978; and it is recorded that, instead of pronouncing
a blessing upon it, the stern churchman gave utterance to a bitter
malediction, foreboding that a reign which was begun with bloodshed
and murder, could only end in sorrow, suffering, and dishonourable
humiliation. Ethelred possessed not those qualities which, by their
sterling worth, weigh down all unpopular opinion; where the darkness
had once settled, it remained; for he illuminated it not by the
brilliant achievement of glorious deeds. In the eyes of the Saxon
nation the blood of Alfred was at last contaminated; the wisdom which
had so long governed England peaceably, had waned away; and the arm
which had struck terror into the hearts of five nations on the field of
Brunanburg, was now weak and powerless; for the throne of England was
at last occupied by the child of a murderess, whom Dunstan, from his
apparent apathy, had already nick-named "The Unready."

England had long been rent asunder by civil dissensions, which the
accession of Ethelred only tended to increase instead of assuaging:
the sceptre had before-time fallen into young and helpless hands
without diminishing the kingdom's strength, but there were then none
of those private heart-burnings to contend against; none of that
party bitterness which divided family against family, for the state
was supported by the united strength of its nobles, and its councils
swayed by a feeling of union and harmony. It was not the monks and the
secular clergy that this long contention alone affected; almost every
town and village was divided against itself, for the quarrel extended
to the domestic hearth. Dunstan could not drive a married priest from
the church without making enemies of the whole family: there was the
insulted wife as well as the husband to appease; then came a wide
circle of relations and friends, while, on the part of the monks, no
such extensive ramifications were arrayed. Thousands were therefore
found ready to overthrow a government which was headed by the primate.

Such internal dissensions as these could not pass unnoticed by the
Danes, who were ever on the alert to shake off the Saxon yoke when
an opportunity presented itself; and rumours of the discords which
reigned in England were soon blown over the Baltic; and many an anxious
eye began to look out over the sea for succour; for the northmen had
long pined for a king of their own nation to reign over the territory
which they occupied in England. Dunstan, who had lent his powerful
aid in supporting the sceptre throughout three reigns, had, by this
time, grown old, and feeble, and helpless; Elfrida had weakened the
power she once possessed, by the very means she took to strengthen
it; and two years after the accession of Ethelred, Danish ships again
began to appear, and pour out their pirates to ravage as of old, and
spread terror along the English coasts, for the tidings soon reached
the rocky shores of Norway, that there was no longer the wisdom of an
Alfred to guide the government, nor the arm of an Athelstan to protect
the English throne. While, to add to this state of disunion and broken
government, it is believed many of the influential Saxons were in
league with the Danes, and covertly encouraged the new invaders.

Passing over the minor invasions, which first consisted of seven ships,
and then of three, and of the trifling engagements which succeeded,
and in which the Saxons were at one time defeated, and at another
victorious, we shall commence with the first formidable force, which
was commanded by Justin and Gurthmund, and which was opposed by a
strong Saxon force, headed by Byrhtnoth, the governor of Essex. The
sea-kings first sent a herald to the Saxon court, demanding tribute;
the Saxon nobleman raised his buckler, and, looking sternly at the
messenger while he shook his javelin in his face, exclaimed--"Herald of
the men of the ocean, hear from my lips the answer of this people to
thy message. Instead of tribute, they will bestow on you their weapons,
the edge of their spears, their ancient swords, and the weight of their
arms. Hear me, mariner, and carry back my message of high indignation
in return. Say, that a Saxon earl, with his retainers, here stands
undaunted; that he will defend unto death this land, the domain of my
sovereign, Ethelred, his people, and his territory. Tell the Vikingrs
that I shall think it but dastardly if they retire to their ships with
the booty, without joining in battle, since they have advanced thus
far into our land." A river divided the hostile forces, and the Saxon
earl allowed the invaders a free passage across it unmolested, before
the battle commenced. One of the sea-kings fell early in the conflict;
Bryhtnoth selected the other for his opponent, and the bold Vikingr
accepted the challenge. The first javelin which the sea-king hurled,
slightly wounded the Saxon leader; Bryhtnoth then struck the sea-king
with his spear, but the Dane "so manoeuvred with his shield, that the
shaft broke, and the spear sprang back and recoiled." The next blow
struck by the Saxon earl pierced the ringed chains of the sea-king's
armour, and the pointed weapon stuck in his heart. The Dane had no
sooner fallen, than the Saxon was struck by a dart: a youth, named
Wulfmor, "a boy in the field," who appears to have been the earl's
page, or armour-bearer, with his own hand drew out the javelin which
had transfixed the body of Bryhtnoth, and hurled it back at the Dane
who had just launched it, with such force, and so sure an aim, that it
struck him, and he fell dead. The Saxon earl was already staggering
through loss of blood, when one of the pirates approached him, with
the intent of plundering him of "his gems, his vestment, his ring, and
his ornamental sword." But Bryhtnoth had still strength enough left to
uplift his heavy battle-axe, "broad and brown of edge," and to strike
such a blow on the corslet of the Dane, that it compelled him to loose
his hold. After this he fell, covered with wounds, but uttering his
commands to the last moment. Although the battle was continued for some
time after his death, the Saxons were defeated.

Turn we now to Ethelred. While here and there a Saxon chief was found
bold enough to make head, like Bryhtnoth, against the invaders, the
dastardly sovereign assembled his witena-gemot, to consult as to what
amount of tribute should be paid to the invaders, to induce them to
abandon the island. Siric, the successor of Dunstan, is said to have
been the first who proposed this cowardly measure. Had the old primate
been alive, with all his faults, he would have seen England drenched
with Saxon blood, and been foremost in the ranks to have spilt his
own, ere he would have seen his country degraded by such an unmanly
concession. Ten thousand pounds was the disgraceful grant paid to
purchase a temporary peace with the Danes. The invaders received their
money, departed, and speedily returned with a greater force to demand
a larger sum. The northmen found no lack of allies in a land where
their countrymen had so long been located, who, shaking off their
allegiance to England, flew eagerly to arms, and joined the new-comers.

But the old Saxon spirit was not yet wholly extinct. There was still
remaining amongst the nobles a few who were resolved not to be
plundered with impunity. With great effort they at last succeeded in
arousing the lethargic king; and by his command, a few strong ships
were built at London, and filled with chosen soldiers; and to Alfric,
the governor of Mercia, was entrusted the guidance of the Saxon fleet.
His first orders were to sail round the southern coast, and to attack
the Danes at some particular port, in which they could easily be
surrounded. A duke and two bishops were also joined with him in the
command. Alfric turned traitor, communicated to the Danes the meditated
mode of attack, then carried with him what force he could in the night,
and secretly joined the invaders. The rest of the fleet remained true
to their unworthy king, and honestly executed their duty; although,
through the frustration of their able plans, they found the Danish
ships in full flight, and at first were only able to capture one of
the enemy's vessels. But that courage and perseverance which have so
long distinguished the English navy, were, even in this early age,
frequently evinced; and before the Danish ships were able to regain a
safe harbour, many of them were captured by the Saxons, and, amongst
the rest, were those which the traitor Alfric had carried over to the
enemy; he, however, contrived to escape; and Ethelred,--who had been
trained in the barbarous school of Elfrida,--to avenge the crimes
committed by Alfric, ordered the eyes of his son, Algar, to be put out.
The next attack was made upon Lincolnshire, but the command of the
Saxons was again entrusted to three chiefs of Danish origin, who appear
to have crossed over, and joined their countrymen at the commencement
of the battle.

It was in the spring of 994 that a formidable fleet entered the Thames,
consisting of nearly a hundred ships, and commanded by Olaf, king of
Norway, and Swein, king of Denmark. On first landing, they took formal
possession of England, according to an ancient custom of their country,
by first planting one lance upon the shore, and throwing another into
the river they had crossed. Although some resistance was offered,
and they were compelled to abandon their original plan of plundering
London, they were enabled to over-run Essex and Kent; and satisfied
with the plunder they obtained in these counties, they next turned
their arms successfully against Sussex and Hampshire, and in none of
these places did they meet with opposition of sufficient importance to
draw forth a word of comment from the ancient chroniclers--a strong
proof of the disaffection that must have reigned amongst the Saxons,
and of the unpopularity of Ethelred's government.

Instead of arming in the defence of his kingdom, Ethelred again had
recourse to his exchequer, and despatched messengers to know the terms
the Danes demanded for a cessation of hostilities. Sixteen thousand
pounds (though some of our early historians have named a much larger
sum) was the price the northern kings now claimed for the purchase
of peace. It was paid; and the king of Norway, after having received
hostages for his safety, paid a visit to the Saxon court. While he was
Ethelred's guest he was baptized, and, as it appears, not for the first
time, for the sea-kings cared but little for changing their creed, when
rich presents accompanied the persuasions of the Christian bishops.
But whether Olaf departed a pagan or a Christian, he solemnly promised
never more to invade England, and religiously kept his word.

After the lapse of about three years, Swein, king of Denmark, again
resumed his hostilities. Wessex, Wales, Cornwall, and Devonshire,
were this time ravaged. The monastery of Tavistock was destroyed, and
although laden with plunder, so little dread had the Danes of the
Saxons that they boldly took up their quarters for the winter in the
island. It is true they were not allowed to carry on their work of
destruction without molestation; but no sooner was an attack planned
and a battle arranged, than either treason or accident overthrew or
checked the operation. A spirit of disaffection reigned amongst the
people. That earnestness of purpose, and determined valour, which had
hitherto so strongly marked the Saxon character seemed all but to
have died out. As for Ethelred, though like his mother, handsome in
features, and tall of stature, he had neither the abilities to figure
in the field nor the cabinet. William of Malmesbury pictured his
character in three words, when he called him a "fine sleeping figure."
While Swein was engaged in a war with Olaf of Norway, another army of
Danes landed in England, though under what leader has not transpired.
At every new invasion the Danes rose in their demands, and this time
their forbearance was purchased by the enormous sum of twenty-four
thousand pounds.

We now arrive at one of the darkest pages of English history--a
massacre which throws into shade the sanguinary slaughter committed
by the command of Hengist, at Stonehenge. By what means this vast
conspiracy was formed is not clearly stated, although it is on record
that letters were sent secretly from the king to every city and town
in England, commanding all the Saxon people throughout the British
dominions to rise on the same day, and at the same hour, to slaughter
the Danes. On the day that ushered in the feast of St. Brice, in the
year 1002, this cruel command was executed, though we trust that there
is some exaggeration in the accounts given by the ancient chroniclers,
which state, that all the Danish families scattered throughout England;
husbands, wives, children, down to the smiling infant that pressed the
nipple with "its boneless gums," were, within the space of one brief
hour, mercilessly butchered. Even Gunhilda, the sister of Swein, the
Danish king, who had married a Saxon earl, and become a Christian, was
not saved from the inhuman massacre; and her boy, though the son of a
Saxon nobleman, was first slain before her face, ere she herself was
beheaded. For nearly five generations had the Danes been settled down
in England; yet we fear this dreadful order spared not those whose
forefathers had been born on the soil. Through the eye of imagination
we look with horror upon such a scene. We picture near neighbours
who had lived together for years--who had, when children, played
together--who had grown up and intermarried;--we picture the wife
rising up against the husband, the father slaying his son-in-law; for
neither guest, friend, nor relation appear to have been spared. The
insolence, and excess, and brutality of the Danish soldiers formed no
excuse for the slaughter of the more peaceable inhabitants who had so
long been allowed to occupy the land, and had become naturalized to
the soil. Pomp and grandeur, and military array, to a certain extent,
disguise the horrors of war, though they lessen not the effect such
scenes produce upon a sensitive mind: but here there was nothing to
conceal cold-blooded and naked murder from the open eye of day. But
Swein is already at the head of his fleet, riding over the billows,
and to him we will now turn, as he stands upon the deck of his vessel,
breathing vengeance against the Saxons.

The army which Swein led on is said to have consisted of only the
bravest and noblest soldiers. There was not a slave, nor a freed
man, nor an old man amongst the number. The ships in which they were
embarked rose long and high above the waters, and on the stem of each
was engraven the same figure as that which was wrought upon the banner
of its commander. The vessel which bore the king of Denmark was called
the Great Sea Dragon: it was built in the shape of a serpent, the prow
curving, and forming the arched neck and fanged head of the reptile,
while over the stern of the ship hung the twisted folds which resembled
its tail. On the heads of others were semblances of maned bulls and
twined dolphins, and grim figures of armed men, formed of gilt and
burnished copper, which flashed back the rays of sunlight, and left
trails, like glittering gold, upon the waves. When they landed, they
unfurled a mysterious flag of white silk, in the centre of which was
embroidered a black raven, with open beak, and outstretched wings, as
if in the act of seizing upon its prey. This banner, to secure victory,
according to the Scandinavian superstition, had been worked by the
hands of Swein's three sisters in one night, while they accompanied
the labour with magic songs and wild gestures. Such was the formidable
array which, in the spring of 1003, approached the shores of England.

When the Danes landed, they seized upon all the horses they could meet
with, and thus formed a strong body of cavalry; they then attacked
Exeter, slew many of the inhabitants, and plundered the city. The
county of Wilts was next ravaged, and savagely did Swein avenge the
murder of his countrymen. Castles and towns were taken in rapid
succession, and wherever they passed, they left behind them desolating
traces of fire and sword. When they were met by the Saxon army, the
leader Alfric feigned illness, and declined the contest; thus, without
scarcely a blow having been struck by the English, the Danes ravaged
and plundered the country, and slew thousands of the inhabitants; then
escaped in safety with the spoil, and regained their ships, leaving
behind them a land of mourning, which a grievous famine was now also

In the following year, Swein returned to England with his fleet, and
destroyed Norwich. Some slight opposition was offered to him by the
East Anglians, but it was not sufficient to prevent him from reaching
his ships, and escaping, as usual, with the plunder. Turketul, who
had an interview with Swein, drew the following vivid picture of the
miseries of England at this period. "We possess," said he, "a country
illustrious and powerful; a king asleep, solicitous only about women
and wine, and trembling at war; hated by his people, and derided by
strangers. Generals, envious of each other; and weak governors, ready
to fly at the first shout of battle."

In 1006, the Danes again appeared, and this time they received
thirty-six thousand pounds to forbear their hostilities. They, however,
attacked Canterbury, and made Elfeg, the archbishop, prisoner. He
was secured with chains, and removed from one encampment to another;
for they believed him to be rich, and were resolved not to part with
him, unless he first paid a heavy ransom. The price they fixed upon
was three thousand gold pieces. "I have no money of my own," said the
archbishop, "and am resolved not to deprive my ecclesiastical territory
of a single penny on my account." It was in vain that the Danes urged
him, day after day, to raise a ransom. The archbishop was firm, and
said, "I will not rob my poor people of that which they have need of
for their sustenance." One day, when they had been drinking freely, the
primate was brought before the Danish chiefs for pastime, bound, and
seated upon a lean, meagre-looking horse. In this pitiable plight, he
was led into the centre of the enemy's encampment, in which was placed
a huge circle of stones, and on these the sea-kings and their followers
were seated. Around them were scattered heaps of bones of oxen, the
remains of their rude repast. Some of the chiefs sat with their
drinking-horns in their hands, others resting idly with their hands
on the hilts of their swords and battle-axes. As soon as the primate
appeared in the circle, they raised a loud shout, and exclaimed: "Give
us gold, bishop--give us gold! or we will compel thee to play such a
game as shall be talked of throughout the whole world." Elfeg calmly
answered: "I have but the gold of wisdom to offer you; receive that,
and abandon your superstitions, and become converts to the true God."
The drunken chiefs, considering this as an insult to their religion,
hastily rose up from their mock tribunal, and, seizing upon the
legs and thigh bones of the oxen which they had been devouring, they
beat him until he fell prostrate upon the ground. He endeavoured in
vain to kneel, and offer up a last prayer, but sank forward, through
weakness; when a Danish soldier, whom he had formerly baptized, stepped
forward, and dealt him a heavy blow on the skull with his battle-axe,
and terminated his sufferings. The body of the murdered bishop was
purchased by the Saxons, and carried to London, where it was buried.[9]

The next method which Ethelred had recourse to, was to lay an
oppressive tax upon the land; every 310 hides of land was assessed
to build one vessel, and every eight hides to furnish a helmet and
breastplate. Thus a naval force was raised which consisted of seven
hundred and eighty-five ships, together with armour for 30,450 men.
This fleet assembled at Sandwich. But treason and misfortune seem now
to have dogged every step which the Saxons took. Wulfnoth, who was
appointed one of the commanders, carried off twenty ships, and set up
pirate. Brihtric, another leader, pursued him with eighty vessels, part
of which the tempest wrecked, while the remainder fell into the hands
of the traitor and pirate, Wulfnoth, and he burnt them. Such events as
these extinguished the last ray of hope that dimly gleamed upon the
disheartened Saxons. The Danes had now only to command and receive.
Sixteen counties were at once given up to them, together with the sum
of £48,000. Ethelred was now king of only a portion of England; every
day the people began to secede from him, and to shelter themselves
under the sovereignty of the king of Denmark. It would only be a dry
and wearisome catalogue of names, to run over the roll of cities,
as they one after another, opened their gates to the Danish king.
London remained faithful to the last, and it was not until Ethelred
fled to the isle of Wight, and afterwards to Normandy, where he was
kindly received by the duke, whose daughter he had married, that the
metropolis of England acknowledged Swein as its sovereign, for the
Saxons had at last become weary of being plundered by the Danes, and
of the oppressive taxes which they had been constantly called upon
to pay to their own king; so that they sat down sternly with folded
arms, under a new sovereignty, conscious that it could not be worse
than the old. Swein, however, did not survive long to wear his regal
honours, but died the year after his elevation to the English throne.
Where the ancient town of Gainsborough looks down upon the silver
Trent, that goes murmuring for miles through the still wild marshes of
Lincolnshire, did Swein, the king of Denmark and of England, breathe
his last; and a majestic pile of ruins, yet in parts inhabited, stands
upon the site of the Mercian castle in which he died. After the death
of Swein, the Danish population of England chose his son Canute, or
Knut, as their sovereign; while the Saxon nobles sent messengers over
to Normandy, offering to restore the crown to Ethelred, if he would
"govern them more righteously than he had done before." The king
dispatched his son Edmund with the necessary pledges, demanding in
return that they should hold every Danish king an outlaw, who should
declare himself monarch of England; to this they consented, and having
pledged himself "to amend all that had been complained of," Ethelred,
the Unready, returned to England.

Canute was, however, resolved to maintain the crown which his father
had won, and in order to intimidate the Saxons, he landed at Sandwich
the hostages which Swein had received from the English as pledges
of their good faith and submission, after having cruelly cut their
hands and faces; these chiefly consisted of the sons of the Saxon
nobility--a savage retaliation for the Danish massacre which Ethelred
had authorized.

Following the policy adopted by Athelstan, Ethelred now made an offer
of high rewards to every warrior, of whatever country, who chose to
come and fight under the Saxon standard--many came, and amongst the
number, Olave, a celebrated Vikingr, who afterwards obtained the crown
of Norway. Canute also secured the aid of one of the Norwegian earls,
named Eric.

Edmund, surnamed Ironside, who was the illegitimate son of Ethelred,
now began to distinguish himself by his opposition to the Danish king,
and to him the Saxons already looked up as a deliverer, even before
his father died, which event took place at the close of the year 1016.
As the struggles between the English and the Danes were carried on
with great vigour by Edmund Ironside and Canute, they become matter of
history which are connected with the next brief reign.

We find a gloomy picture of the miserable state of England, during
the sovereignty of Ethelred, in the following complaint made by a
Saxon bishop who was living at the period: "We perpetually pay the
Danes tribute," says this old divine, "and they ravage us daily. They
burn, spoil, and plunder, and carry off our property to their ships.
Such is their successful valour, that one of them will in battle, put
ten of our men to flight. Two or three will drive a troop of captive
Christians through the country, from sea to sea. Very often they seize
the wives and daughters of our thanes, and cruelly violate them before
the great chieftain's face. The slave of yesterday becomes the master
of his lord to-day, or he abandons his master, flies to the sea-kings,
and seeks his owner's life in the first battle that is waged against
us. Soldiers, famine, flames, and effusion of blood, are found on every
side. Theft and murder, pestilences, diseases, calumny, hatred, and
rapine, dreadfully afflict us. Widows are frequently compelled into
unjust marriages; many are reduced to penury and are pillaged. The poor
men are sorely seduced, and cruelly betrayed, and though innocent, are
sold far out of this land to foreign slavery. Cradle-children are made
slaves out of this nation, through an atrocious violation of the law
for little stealings. The right of freedom is taken away; the rights
of the servile are narrowed, and the right of charity is diminished.
Freemen may not govern themselves, nor go where they wish, nor possess
their own as they like. Slaves are not suffered to enjoy what they
have obtained from their allowed leisure, nor what good men have
benevolently given for them. The clergy are robbed of their franchises,
and stripped of all their comforts."[10] Such was England at the period
when the sceptre was all but wrested from the descendants of Alfred,
and about to be wielded by the hand of a Danish king. At the last
struggle which was made to retain it, before the Saxon glory was for a
time eclipsed, we have now arrived.



 "His death, whose spirit lent a fire
  Even to the dullest peasant in his camp,
  Being bruited once, took fire and heat away
  From the best tempered courage in his troops:
  For from his metal was his party steeled;
  Which, once in him abated, all the rest
  Turned on themselves, like dull and heavy lead."


Edmund, who, for his valour and hardy constitution, was surnamed
Ironside, had already distinguished himself against the Danes, and
shown signs of promise, which foretold that, whenever the sceptre
fell into his hand, it would be ably wielded. Like those meteoric
brilliancies which startle us by their sudden splendour, then instantly
depart, so was his career--bright, beautiful, and brief. We perceive
a trailing glory along the sky over which he passed, but no steady
burning of the star that left it behind. Had he ascended the throne at
a peaceful and prosperous period, he might probably have dozed away his
days in apathy; for he was one of those spirits born to blaze upon the
fiery front of danger, and either speedily to consume, or be consumed.
He began by measuring his stature against a giant, and raised himself
so high by his valiant deportment, that had a little longer time been
allowed him to develope his growth, he would have overtopped the great
Canute, by whose side he stood.

He had scarcely leisure to put off the mourning which he had worn at
his father's funeral, before he was compelled to arm in defence of the
capital of the kingdom; for the Danish forces, headed by Canute, had
already laid siege to London, and nearly the half of England was at
that period in the possession of his enemies. The struggle to carry
the capital was maintained with great spirit by the besiegers, and as
bravely repelled by the besieged; and the wall which then ran along the
whole front of the city, beside the Thames, was the scene of many a
valorous exploit. A bridge, even at this early period, stretched over
into Southwark, and on the Surrey side it was stoutly defended by
the enemy, who for a long time held the Saxons at bay; for they were
strengthened by the ships which Canute had brought up from Greenwich,
and placed on the west side of the bridge; thus cutting off all aid
from the river; while he left a part of his fleet below, to guard
against surprise from the mouth of the Thames. London was so strongly
protected by its fortresses and citizens, that Edmund was enabled to
remove a great portion of his army, and to fight two battles in the
provinces during the time it was besieged.

The most important of these was his engagement at Scearstan, where he
addressed his soldiers before commencing the battle, and so kindled
their valour by his eloquence, that at the first onset, which was
sounded by the braying of the trumpets, the Danish soldiers staggered
as if the weight of a mighty avalanche had come thundering down amongst
them. Edmund himself fought amid the foremost ranks--there was no sword
that went deeper into the advanced line of the enemy than his own--no
arm that made such bleeding gaps as the sovereign's. He seemed as if
present in almost every part of the field at once--wherever his eager
eye caught a wavering motion in the ranks, there he was seen to rally,
and cheer them on. Edric, who had long been in the service of Ethelred,
fought on the side of Canute, and by his influence arrayed the men of
Wiltshire and Somerset against Edmund. So obstinately was the battle
maintained on both sides, that neither party could claim the victory
when night settled down upon the hard-fought field.

The dawn of a summer morning saw the combat renewed. While yet the
silver dew hung pure and rounded upon the blood-stained grass, the
Saxon trumpets sounded the charge. Foremost as ever in the conflict,
Edmund fought his way into the very thickest of the strife, until he
found himself face to face with Canute. The first blow which the Saxon
king aimed at his enemy, Canute received upon his shield: it was cloven
asunder; and with such force had the sword of Edmund descended, that
after severing the buckler, the edge of the weapon went deep into the
neck of the horse which the Danish king bestrode. The English monarch
still stood alone amid a crowd of Danes, making such destructive
circles with his two-handed sword, that no one dared approach him.
After having slightly wounded Canute, and slain several of his choicest
warriors, Edmund was compelled to fall back amongst his own soldiers,
whom he now found in retreat and confusion.

While Edmund was thus busily engaged in the very heart of the battle,
the traitor Edric had struck off the head of a soldier, named Osmear,
whose countenance closely resembled that of the king, and holding it
by the hair, he had ridden rapidly along the Saxon lines, exclaiming:
"Fly! fly! and save yourselves--behold the head of your king." Edmund
had just succeeded in fighting his way through the Danish ranks, when
he beheld the panic which Edric had spread amongst the soldiers--his
first act was to seize a spear and hurl it at the traitor--he stooped,
missed the blow, and the weapon pierced two soldiers who stood near
him. Edmund then threw down his helmet, and taking the advantage of a
rising ground, stood up bareheaded, and called upon his warriors to
renew the combat; but many were already beyond hearing. It was now
near sunset, for the conflict had lasted all day long, and those who
rallied around him were just sufficient to keep up the struggle without
retreating, until darkness again dropped down upon the scene. So ended
the second day, and neither side could claim the victory. Edmund again
encamped upon the battle-field, for he had still sufficient faith in
the force that remained with him to renew the contest in the morning.
Day-dawn, however, revealed the departure of the Danes, and the Saxons
found themselves alone, surrounded by the wounded and the dead; for
Canute had taken advantage of the midnight darkness, and retreated
from the field. The Danish king hurried off with his army to renew the
siege of London; Edmund followed him, and drove the enemy as far as
Brentford. Here another battle took place; and as we find Canute, soon
after, once more beleaguering the capital, the advantages the Saxon
king gained could only have been slight. Seeing that he could make no
impression upon London, Canute next led his army into Mercia, where
he appears to have met with but little opposition; he is said to have
burnt every town he approached. At Otford, in Kent, Edmund once more
attacked the Danish king, and drove him to Sheppey. Unfortunately,
the Saxon sovereign had admitted Edric the traitor again into his
friendship, and he betrayed him; but for this, it is questionable if
Canute could have maintained another attack.

It was on the eve of one of these battles, in which the northmen were
defeated, that a Danish chief, named Ulfr, who was hotly pursued by
the Saxons, rushed into a wood, in the hurry of defeat, and lost his
way. It was no uncommon hardship for a sea-king to throw himself at
the foot of the nearest oak, pillow his head upon the root, and sleep
soundly until the morning; he would only miss the murmur of the ocean,
and, to make up for its lulling sound, would be saved the trouble of
raising his hand every now and then to sweep off the salt spray that
dashed over him. But the dawn of day found him no better off than
the midnight; he would have known what course to have steered had he
been out alone upon the open ocean, but in a forest, where one tree
looked, in his eyes, just like another, he knew not on what tack to
sail. After wandering about for some time, he met a Saxon peasant, who
was driving home his oxen, at that early hour, for it was probably
dangerous to allow them to be found in the forest after daylight, as
the forest-laws were already severe. The Danish chief first accosted
the churl, by inquiring his name. "It is Godwin," answered the peasant;
"and you are one of the Danes who were compelled yesterday to fly
for your life." The sea-king acknowledged it was true, and asked the
herdsman if he could guide him either to the Danish ships, or to where
the army was encamped. "The Dane must be mad," answered Godwin, "who
trusts to a Saxon for safety." Ulfr entreated this rude Gurth of the
forest to point him out the way, at the same time urging his argument
by presenting the herdsman with a massive gold ring, to win his favour.
Godwin looked at the ring--it was probably the first time in his life
he had ever seen so costly a treasure--and after having carefully
examined it, he again placed it in the hand of the sea-king, and said,
"I will not take this, but will show you the way." Ulfr spent the day
at the herdsman's cottage; night came, and found Godwin in readiness to
be his guide. The herdsman had an aged father, who, before he permitted
his son to depart, thus addressed the Danish chief--"It is my only son
whom I allow to accompany you; to your good faith I entrust him; for,
remember, that there will no longer be any safety for him amongst his
countrymen, if it is once known that he has been your guide. Present
him to your king, and entreat him to take my son into his service."
Ulfr promised, and he kept his word, since there is no doubt that the
young herdsman had gained upon his favour during the journey, for when
the sea-king reached the Danish encampment, he took the peasant into
his own tent, placed him upon a seat, (a great honour in those days,)
which was as high as the one he himself occupied, and treated him as
if he had been his own son. This humble cowherd, who afterwards married
the sea-king's sister, will, ere long, have to figure amongst the most
prominent characters in our history, but we must leave him for a time,
and follow the fortunes of the Saxon king, Edmund.

After sustaining the alternations of victory and defeat--having been
again betrayed by Edric, and making an offer to Canute to decide the
fate of the kingdom by single combat, a challenge which the Danish
king is generally believed to have declined--a treaty was entered
into by the rival sovereigns, in which it was agreed that England
should be divided between them. They then, to all appearance, became
friends, exchanged gifts and garments, and the opposing armies for a
time separated: Edmund to reign in the south, and Canute to be king
of the north--the exact division of the kingdom is not recorded. It
was, however, a hollow treaty on the part of the Dane, who is said
afterwards to have rewarded every one who brought him the head of a

Edmund did not long survive this treaty; that he was assassinated,
there remains not a doubt, but where, or by whose hand, is unknown.
Two of his own chamberlains are said to have been bribed, by either
Edric or Canute, to destroy him. His death took place in the year
1016. Unlike Ethelred, "he was long and deeply lamented by his
people," though his reign was so short. With his death, all hopes of
regaining the kingdom from the power of the Danes seems, for a time,
to have departed, and Canute was allowed to sit down upon the Saxon
throne without opposition. More than five hundred years, with but few
intervals of peace between, had elapsed since Hengist and Horsa first
landed in the Isle of Thanet; yet all the blood which during that long
period had been spilt, had been insufficient to cement firmly together
the foundation on which the tottering throne was erected. Neither the
blood of Britons, Romans, Saxons, nor Danes, could extinguish the
volcano which was ever bursting from beneath it; the cry that issued
forth was still, "Give, give!"



          "He doth bestride the world
  Like a Colossus: and we petty men
  Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
  To find ourselves dishonourable graves."--SHAKSPERE.

By the death of Edmund, Canute became king of all England in the
twentieth year of his age. Before his coronation took place, he
assembled the Saxon nobles and bishops, and Danish chiefs in London,
who had been witnesses to the treaty entered into between himself and
Edmund, when the kingdom was divided; and either by intimidation,
persuasion, or presents, succeeded in obtaining their unanimous assent
to his succession to the crown. In return for this acknowledgment, he
promised to act justly and righteously, and placed his bare hand upon
the hands of his chiefs and nobles as a token of his sincerity. But in
spite of these promises, the commencement of his reign was marked by
acts of unnecessary severity and cruelty. Those who had been in any
way related to either Ethelred or Edmund, he banished; and many who
had taken a prominent part in the late struggles to support the Saxon
monarchy, he put to death. He also decreed that Edwig, the half-brother
of Edward, should be slain. The late king had left two children, one
of whom was named Edmund after himself, and the other Edward; Canute,
with the approbation of the Saxon nobles, became their guardian;
and no sooner were they placed within his power, than he meditated
their destruction; but a fear that his throne was not sufficiently
established to prevent the Saxons from rising to revenge their death,
caused him to postpone it; and under the plea of securing their safety,
the children were committed to the charge of the king of Sweden; the
messenger who accompanied them at the same time giving instructions
that they were to be secretly killed. But the Swedish sovereign was not
willing to become a murderer at the bidding of Canute, and therefore
committed the children to the care of the king of Hungary, by whom they
were preserved and educated. Edmund died, but Edward lived to marry
the daughter of the emperor of Germany, and from their union sprang
Edgar Atheling, a name that afterwards figures in the pages of History.

Edward and Alfred, the remaining sons of Ethelred, were still safe
at the court of their uncle, Richard, duke of Normandy, with their
mother, Emma, the dowager queen; and scarcely was Canute seated upon
the throne before the Norman duke despatched an embassy to the English
court, demanding that the crown of England should be restored to his
eldest nephew. Emma, it will be remembered, was herself a Norman,
and although she became the wife of Ethelred, her sympathies never
seem to have leaned much on the side of the Saxons. As early as the
time of the invasion of Swein, she had fled to her brother's court
with her children, nor does it appear that she returned with her
husband, Ethelred, when he was reinstated upon the throne. Whether the
proposition first emanated from Canute, or her brother, the Norman
duke, is somewhat uncertain; but whichever way it might be, it was
soon followed up by the marriage of Emma, the widow of Ethelred, the
dowager-queen of the Saxons, with Canute, the Danish king, and now the
sole sovereign of England. The murdering, the banishing, the usurping
Dane, became the husband of "The Flower of Normandy." After her union,
it is said that she paid no regard to the Saxon princes whom she left
at her brother's court, but, like an unnatural mother, abandoned them
to chance; and that, as they grew up, they forgot even the language
of their native country, and followed the habits and customs of the
Normans, for Emma soon became the mother of a son by Canute, and
disowned for ever her Saxon offspring.

After his marriage with Emma, Canute disbanded the greater portion
of his Danish troops, and reserving only forty of his native ships,
sent back the remainder of his fleet to Denmark. Canute then chiefly
confined his government to that part of the island which Alfred
the Great had reigned over; for it is on record that he ever held
in the highest veneration the memory of this celebrated king. He
made Turketul, to whom he was greatly indebted for the subjection
of England, governor of East Anglia. To Eric, the Norwegian prince,
he gave the government of Northumbria, and to the traitor, Edric,
Mercia. Although he had in turn deserted Ethelred, Edmund, and even
Canute himself, he entrusted to him the government of this kingdom.
The traitor, however, was not allowed to retain the dignities of his
new dukedom long: a quarrel is said to have taken place between him
and Canute, in the palace which overlooked the Thames at London. Edric
is said to have urged his claim to greater rewards, by exclaiming, in
the heat of his passion, "I first deserted Edmund to benefit you, and
for you I killed him." Canute paced the apartment, angrily, coloured
deeply, bit his lips, and while his eyes, which were always unnaturally
fierce and bright, seemed to flash fire, he replied, "'Tis fit, then,
you should die, for your treason to God and me. You killed your own
lord! him who by treaty and friendship was my brother! Your blood be
upon your own head for murdering the Lord's anointed; your own lips
bear witness against you." Such a sentence came but with an ill grace
from one who had encouraged, countenanced, and rewarded villany;
but Canute, though young, was a deep adept in the blackest arts of
kingcraft. He either called in, or gave a secret signal to Eric, the
Norwegian, who most likely was present at the interview; for, having
killed one king, we should hardly think Canute considered himself
safe, alone with a murderer; but be this as it may, Eric laid him
lifeless with one blow from his battle-axe; and, without creating any
disturbance in the palace, the body of Edric was thrown out of the
window into the Thames. The old historians considerably differ in their
descriptions of the manner of his death, though the majority agree that
the deed was done in the palace at London.

In 1019, so firmly had Canute established himself upon the throne
of England, that he paid a visit to his native country of Denmark,
where he passed the winter. But the government of England appears not
to have been conducted to his satisfaction during his absence, for
on his return he banished the duke Ethelwerd, whom he had left in a
situation of great trust, and, shortly after, Turketul, the governor
of East Anglia. A Swedish fleet, soon after this period, is said to
have attacked the forces of Canute, and the victory, on the side of the
English, is rumoured to have been owing to the valour of Godwin, who,
at the close of the reign of Edmund, was a humble cowherd, but had, in
the space of a few brief years, risen to the dignity of an earl. In his
conflict with the Swedes, Ulfr, the patron of Godwin, was instrumental
in saving Canute's life. After this they quarrelled at a feast. It
appears that they were amusing themselves with some game at the time,
and that Ulfr, well acquainted with the natural irritability of the
Dane's temper, had either retired, or was about to retreat, when Canute
accused him of cowardice. Ulfr, ill-brooking an accusation which he
seems never to have merited, angrily exclaimed, "Was I a coward when
I rescued you from the fangs of the Swedish dogs?" As in the case of
Edric, the Dane liked not to have those about him to whom he had been
obliged; it was indifferent to him whether they did his work by valour
or treachery; thus, shortly after, Ulfr was stabbed by the command of
Canute, while performing his religious duties in a neighbouring church.

He next turned his attention towards Norway, over which Eglaf, or St.
Olave, as he has been called by some, now reigned. The Dane is said to
have commenced his attack by corrupting the Norwegian subjects with
presents of money. This done, he went boldly over, with a fleet of
fifty ships, carrying with him many of the bravest of the Saxon nobles.
From the preparations which he had made, and the formidable force
with which he appeared, he was received with that apparent welcome
which necessity is sometimes compelled to accord, and, wherever he
approached, was hailed as "Lord." After having carried away with him as
hostages the sons and relations of the principal Norwegian chiefs, he
appointed Haco, the son of that Eric whose battle-axe was ever ready to
do his bidding, governor of the kingdom. Haco returned to England for
his wife, who was residing at the castle of his father, the governor
of Northumbria, but a heavy storm coming on, he was unable to land.
His ship was last seen looming in the evening sunset, off Caithness,
in Scotland, while the wind was blowing heavily in the direction of
Pentland Frith, but neither Haco, his crew, nor his ship, were ever
beheld again, after the sun had sunk behind the billows.

After this, Eglaf returned to the throne of Norway, and was put to
death by the hands of his subjects for making laws and founding
institutions which were calculated to accelerate the progress of
learning and civilization. Norway, which had for centuries sent from
its stormy shores such swarms of sea-kings and pirates, could not be
brought to understand that they should ever reap such benefits, if
they changed their habits of rapine and robbery for those of honesty
and industry, and the more rational pleasures of civilized life. They
understood the laws of "strandhug," and they acknowledged no other.
If they landed upon a hospitable shore, amongst a nation with whom
they were at peace, and found their provisions growing short, they
recruited their stock from the flocks and herds they saw grazing in the
neighbouring pastures, paid whatever amount they pleased as the value
of the animals they had slaughtered, carried off corn and drink under
the same free-trade tariff; and sometimes, when remonstrated with on
the smallness of the amount paid, settled the balance by the blow of a

Although Canute was the son of a pagan, he became a zealous Christian,
rebuilt many of the monasteries which his father had burnt, endowed
others, and, either from a feeling of piety, or to ingratiate himself
with the Saxons, he erected a monument to Elfeg, the archbishop, at
Canterbury, whose violent death had doubtless been accelerated by those
very veterans who had assisted him in conquering the Saxons.

Not content with honouring the murdered archbishop with a monument,
he resolved that the body should be placed in the abbey which had
witnessed the services of so pious a primate; so he demanded the body
of the bishop from the inhabitants of London, who had purchased it from
the Danes, and buried it in their own city. The Londoners, however,
refused to deliver it up; when the Dane, mingling the old habits of the
sea-king with his devotions, put on his helmet and breastpiece, placed
himself at the head of his troops, carried off the coffin by force,
and, between two long lines of his armed soldiers, that were drawn up
on each side of the street which led from the church to the Thames,
had the dead body of the archbishop borne to the war-ship, which stood
ready to receive it. There is something of magnificence in such an
act of barbarous veneration as this, which was accomplished without
either injury or bloodshed; and we can imagine that in every corner of
the London of that day, nothing was talked of but the daring piety of
Canute, which had led him to carry off the body of their reputed saint;
that public opinion would be divided in the motives it attributed to
such an act; that little groups would assemble at the corners of the
streets, and that long after twilight had settled down upon the old
city, their conversation would still be about Canute and his soldiers,
and the enormous war-ship, with its gilt figure-head, that resembled a
dragon, and the dead bishop it would carry away; then the city-gates
would be closed, and over all would reign the ancient midnight silence
and darkness, while the dragon-headed ship and the Danes went slowly
down the silver Thames, freighted with the king, and the coffin, and
the murdered man.

There appears, at a first glance, something incongruous in such an act
as that of Canute's carrying off the dead body of the bishop by force,
when it was done with the intent of making a favourable impression upon
the Saxons; yet we must not forget the stout resistance made by the
capital in the defence of Edmund, which the Danish king seems also to
have borne in mind, when he exacted from the city the sum of eleven
thousand pounds.

Canute seems to have been a man in whom the elements of refinement and
barbarism, which our ancient writers love to dwell upon in their moral
masks, were oddly blended; he was one who believed that cruelty was
necessary in the administration of justice, but looked with horror upon
a deed that was committed without the pale of this shadowy boundary.

In a moment of unguarded passion, he with his own hand slew one of his
soldiers; thereby committing a deed which, according to his own laws,
the penalty was, in its mildest form, a heavy mulct. After reflecting
upon the crime he was guilty of, and the evil example he was setting
to others, he assembled his army, and, arrayed in his royal robes,
descended from his gorgeous throne in the midst of the armed ranks;
expressed his sorrow for the deed he had done, and demanded that he
should be tried and punished like the humblest subject over whom he
reigned. He further offered a free pardon to his judges, however severe
might be the judgment they passed upon him; then throwing himself
prostrate upon the ground, in silence awaited their verdict. Many a
hardy soldier, whose weather-beaten cheeks were seamed with the scars
of battle, is said to have shed tears as he beheld the royal penitent
thus prostrate at his feet. Those who were appointed judges retired
for a few moments to deliberate; but either believing that Canute was
not sincere, or having the example of those before their eyes who
had formerly done his bidding, they timidly resolved to allow him to
appoint his own punishment. This he did, and as the fine for killing a
man was then forty talents of silver, he sentenced himself to pay three
hundred and sixty, beside nine talents of gold. It would, perhaps, be
uncharitable to say that the whole affair was a mere mockery; but when
we remember that a word from his lips could wring a thousand times that
amount from the oppressed Saxons, and that he himself had compelled
them to pay heavier taxes than had ever been demanded by their own
native kings, we are surely justified in concluding, that after all, he
acquitted himself on very moderate terms.

During the ravages of the Danes, the tribute which the Saxons paid
to Rome had been suspended. This Canute resolved to revive; and, as
if to make up for the ravages of his countrymen, the sea-kings, for
the monks they had murdered, and the churches they had destroyed,
he inflicted a tax of a penny on every inhabited house, which was
called Peter's-pence; thus further punishing the poor Saxons, by
levying a fine upon them "to the praise and glory of God," for so was
the royal ordinance worded, that they might show their gratitude to
mother church, through the hands of those who had been instrumental in
slaughtering their priests, overthrowing their altars, and desolating
their land. In brief, it was the descendant of the murderer levying a
tax upon the relatives of the murdered to purchase forgiveness for the
slayer--one of those crooked paths by which, in that barbarous age, men
hoped to reach Heaven.

The plan he adopted to reprove his flattering courtiers displayed, at
best, much unnecessary show. A man who, by his valour and abilities,
had ascended a throne which had been occupied by a long line of
kings, and although an open enemy, had compelled a powerful nation to
acknowledge him as their sovereign--one who had himself ridden over
the stormy sea, and been tossed like a weed from billow to billow,
can never be supposed to have entertained the thought for a moment
that the angry ocean with its rising tide would obey him, or roll back
its restless waves when he commanded. It was the same love of display
which caused him to erect the throne in the midst of his army, and
step forth in his royal robes, the haughty king, while he assumed the
part of the humble penitent for having slain one of his soldiers. The
same theatrical display which caused him to order his lumbering throne
to be placed beside the sea-shore, and to sit down in all his kingly
dignity, robed, crowned, and sceptered--the gilt and tinsel that are
so effective beyond the footlights--induced him to adopt this stage
effect; for Canute, in the dress of a common man, with his foot in the
spray, would not have produced half that impression upon his audience,
many of whom, we can readily imagine, must have felt disgusted at such
useless parade. In a pompous manner, he is said to have thus addressed
his courtiers:--"Confess ye now how frivolous and vain is the might of
an earthly king compared to that Great Power who rules the elements,
and can say unto the ocean, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.'"
We should not probably err much if, instead of the words uttered by the
Danish king, something like the following was the real language of his
inward thought, and that, as he looked sternly upon them, he said to
himself, "Think not that I believe you such idiots as to suppose that
the sea will obey my bidding--a breath of mine would sever the proudest
head that now rises above the beach. I alone am king, more powerful
than any present, and I only want to prove that there is but One
mightier than I am, and that while the waves wash my feet, they would
surely drown such common rascals as you all are." In a word, the whole
scene is too rich a piece of mockery to be treated seriously. It is as
if a man mounted a lofty steeple, and threw down his hat, merely to
convince the spectators below that if his head had been in it, it would
assuredly have been broken. It is but the old cry of the Mahometan
fruit-seller, which ends with, "In the name of the prophet--figs."
Another proof of his overbearing vanity is given in his conduct to
Thorarin, the Danish bard. The poet had written some verses in praise
of Canute. It appears that the king was either engaged or seated at the
banquet when the scald intreated of him to listen to the verses which
he had written, urging as a reason, what a patron in modern times would
most likely have listened to--namely, that they were but short. The
Dane, however, true to his character, in a love of display and praise,
turned round indignantly upon Thorarin, and in an angry tone exclaimed,
"Are you not ashamed to do what none but yourself would dare--to write
a _short_ poem upon me? Unless by to-morrow at noon you produce above
thirty verses on the same subject, your head shall be forfeited."
The poor bard retired, and having whipped his muse into the finest
order for lying and flattering, he by the next day produced such a
splendid piece of adulation, that the praise-loving monarch rewarded
him with fifty marks of silver.

[Illustration: _Canute rebuking his Courtiers._]

Following the example of the Saxon kings, Canute made a pilgrimage
to Rome, to visit the tombs of the saints: although accompanied by a
large train of attendants, he himself bore a wallet upon his shoulder,
and carried a long pilgrim's staff in his hand. On every altar he,
with his own hand, placed rich gifts--doubtless, wrung from many a
poor Saxon--pressed the pavement with his lips, and knelt down before
the shrines; he purchased the arm of St. Augustine, for which he paid
a hundred talents of gold and the same number of talents in silver,
and this he afterwards presented to the church of Coventry. He then
despatched a letter to England, which has been frequently quoted by
ancient historians. It is curious as a specimen of early epistolary
art, and places the character of Canute in a much more favourable light
than the incidents which we have above described; and as we obtain
through it glimpses of the manners and customs of this remote period,
we shall present it entire:--

"Knut, king of England and Denmark, to all the bishops and primates
and all the English people, greeting. I hereby announce to you that I
have been to Rome for the remission of my sins, and the welfare of my
kingdoms. I humbly thank the Almighty God for having granted me, once
in my life, the grace of visiting in person his very holy apostles
Peter and Paul, and all the saints who have their habitation, either
within the walls, or without the Roman city. I determined upon this
journey because I had learned from the mouths of wise men, that the
apostle Peter possesses great power to bind or to loose, and that he
keeps the keys of the celestial kingdom; wherefore, I thought it useful
to solicit specially his favour and patronage with God.

"During the Easter solemnity was held here a great assembly of
illustrious persons,--namely, pope John, the emperor Kunrad, and all
the chief men of the nations from Mount Gargano to the sea which
surrounds us. All received me with great distinction, and honoured
me with rich presents. I have received vases of gold and silver,
and stuffs and vestments of great price; I have conversed with the
emperor, the lord pope, and the other princes, upon the wants of all
the people of my kingdoms, English and Danes. I have endeavoured to
obtain for my people justice and security in their pilgrimages to
Rome, and especially that they may not for the future be delayed on
their road by the closing of the mountain passes, or vexed by enormous
tolls. I also complained to the lord pope of the immensity of the sums
extorted, to this day, from my archbishops, when, according to custom,
they repair to the apostolical court to obtain the pallium. It has been
decided that this shall not occur for the future.

"I would also have you know that I have made a vow to Almighty God to
regulate my life by the dictates of virtue, and to govern my people
with justice. If during the impetuosity of my youth I have done
anything contrary to equity, I will for the future, with the help of
God, amend this to the best of my power; wherefore, I require and
command all my councillors, and those to whom I have confided the
affairs of my kingdom, to lend themselves to no injustice, either in
fear of me, or to favour the powerful. I recommend them, if they prize
my friendship and their own lives, to do no harm or violence to any
man, rich or poor: let every one, in his place, enjoy that which he
possesses, and not be disturbed in that enjoyment, either in the king's
name, or in the name of any other person; nor under pretext of levying
money for my treasury, for I need no money obtained by unjust means.

"I propose to return to England this summer, and as soon as the
preparations for my embarkation shall be completed. I intreat and order
you all, bishops and officers of my kingdom of England, by the faith
you owe to God and to me, to see that before my return all our debts
to God be paid--namely, the plough dues, the tithe of animals born
within the year, and the pence due to Saint Peter from every house in
town and country; and further, at mid-August, the tithe of the harvest,
and at Martinmas, the first fruit of the seed; and if, on my landing,
these dues are not fully paid, the royal power will be exercised upon
defaulters, according to the rigour of the law and without any mercy."

Canute died in the year 1035, and was buried at Winchester.



                           "What need I fear of thee?
                But yet I'll make assurance doubly sure,
                And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live,
                That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
                And sleep in spite of thunder."

  BARNARDINE.  "I have been drinking hard all night;
                I will not consent to die this day, that's certain.

  DUKE.         O, sir, you must: and therefore I beseech you,
                Look forward on the journey you shall go."


While even the succession to the Saxon throne was sometimes disputed
when not a doubt remained about the right of a claimant to the crown,
it will not be wondered at, as at his death Canute left three sons,
two of whom were beyond doubt illegitimate, that there should be
some difference of opinion among the chiefs and earls respecting the
election of a new sovereign. Hardicanute was the undoubted offspring
of Emma and Canute; she, it will be remembered, being the widow of
Ethelred at the time of her marriage with the Danish king. There
is a doubt whether Harold, who ascended the throne after the death
of Canute, was in any way related to the Danish king; or that his
pretended mother, whose name was Alfgiva, and who was never married
to Canute, finding that she was likely to have no children, passed
off the son of a poor cobbler--whom she named Harold--as her own. It
is said that Swein, the other reputed son of Canute, was introduced
by her in the same way. The latter, Canute placed upon the throne of
Norway during his lifetime, also expressing a wish before his death
that Harold should rule over England, and that Hardicanute, his
undisputed son, should succeed him as king of Denmark. Beside these
claimants, it must be borne in mind that the children of Ethelred were
still alive, although, as we have before shown, wholly neglected by
the twice-widowed queen, Emma. The witena-gemot assembled at Oxford
to elect a new sovereign; and as there were by this time several
Danish chiefs among the council, a division at once took place, the
Danish party making choice of Harold, while the Saxons, headed by the
powerful earl Godwin, once the humble cowherd, preferred Hardicanute,
because his mother had been the wife of a Saxon king. A third party
advocated the claims of the sons of Ethelred, who were still in
Normandy. Leofric, earl of Mercia, ranged his forces on the side of
Harold; and even London shook off its allegiance to the old Saxon line,
and proclaimed in his favour.

Although Hardicanute was in Denmark, earl Godwin resolved to maintain
his right to the throne; and it was not until the country was on the
very eve of a civil war, and when many of the inhabitants had fled into
the wild parts to avoid its ravages, that the Saxon earl compelled the
partisans of Harold to give up all the provinces south of the Thames
to Hardicanute. Thus Godwin and Emma ruled in the south, in behalf of
Hardicanute, and held their court at Winchester; while Harold, with
London for his capital, and the whole country north of the Thames for
his dominions, was acknowledged king of England; although it is on
record, that the archbishop refused to crown him, because the children
of Ethelred were still alive; that he even forbade any of the bishops
to administer the benediction, but placing the crown and sceptre upon
the altar, left him to crown, anoint, and bless himself as he best

But whoever's son Harold might be, he resented this slight with all
the spirit of a true sea-king. He crowned himself without the aid of
the Saxon bishops; despised their blessings, and, instead of attending
church, sallied out with his hounds to hunt during the hours of divine
service; and so fleet was he of foot in following the chase, that he
obtained the surname of Harefoot. He set no store by the Christian
religion, but defied all the bishops in Christendom, sounded his
hunting horn while the holy anthem was chaunted, and conducted himself
in every way like a hard-drinking, misbelieving Dane.

We again arrive at one of those mysterious incidents which occasionally
darken the pages of history, and render it difficult to get at the
real actors of the tragedy. A letter is written--the sons of Ethelred
are invited over to England. One arrives--he is to all appearance
hospitably received; in the night his followers are murdered, and he
himself shortly after put to a most cruel death. That the events we
are about to record took place, has never been doubted; the obscurity
that will, probably, for ever reign around them, conceals the real
instigator of the deed.

Emma, it appears, was at this time living at the court of Harold in
London, when a letter arrived at Normandy (as if from her), earnestly
urging her sons, Edward and Alfred, to return to England--stating, that
the Saxons were already weary of the Danish king, and were anxious to
place the crown upon either of their heads. The letter was answered by
Alfred, the youngest, appearing in person, accompanied by a troop of
Norman soldiers; which was contrary to the advice of the letter, as the
instructions it contained especially requested them to come secretly.
He first attempted to land at Sandwich, but why he altered his mind,
and went round the North Foreland, has never been satisfactorily
accounted for; for we cannot see what difference it made whether earl
Godwin received him at one point or the other. It is, however, just
probable that a party of Danes, or those who were favourable to Harold,
may by chance, or by command, have been stationed at the spot Alfred
first selected for debarkation, the secret having got bruited abroad.

But be this as it may, the Saxon prince at last landed somewhere
between Herne-bay and the Isle of Sheppy, and when he had advanced a
short distance into the country he was met by earl Godwin, who swore
fealty to him, and promised to bring him safely to his mother Emma,
wishing him, however, to avoid London, where Harold then resided, and
with whom there is some slight reason to believe Godwin was now in
league, though this suspicion hangs by a very slender thread. It is
probable that the powerful earl took a dislike to the strong body of
Normans who accompanied Alfred; and, jealous that the power he sought
to obtain by raising the Saxon prince to the throne of England might be
weakened by these retainers, he resolved to cut them off at once, then
make the best terms he could.

The Saxon prince and his followers, who amounted to about seven
hundred, were quartered for the night in the town of Guildford, just as
accommodation could be found for them, in parties of ten and twelve--in
every lodging abundance of meat and drink was provided. Earl Godwin was
in attendance upon Alfred until late at night, and when he departed,
he promised to wait upon him early in the morning. Morning came, but
the earl made not his appearance, and it would not be unreasonable
to suppose that the partisans of Harold had heard of the arrival of
Godwin, that they entered Guildford in the night, and that Godwin
and his followers, who were unequal to cope with the Danish force,
escaped. Further, that these were the Danes whom Alfred had seen while
off Sandwich, and, since the course of his steering round the North
Foreland, and landing near the Isle of Sheppy, they had crossed the
country. If so, the Saxon prince and his Norman followers must have
marched through Kent and into Surrey, within a few miles of the Danish
army, who were probably watching the motions of both Godwin and Alfred.
Harold may have caused the letter to have been written, and confided
his plans to Godwin, and the latter have resolved to rescue the son
of Ethelred from the snare that was set to entrap him, for Godwin was
fully competent to execute such an act if a favourable opportunity
offered itself. Emma may have been in earnest, yet her purpose before
accomplished might have been betrayed, for although she is accused
of having been an unkind mother, there is no proof of that cruelty
of disposition evinced, which would justify us in concluding that
she countenanced the murder of her son. She might cling more fondly
to Hardicanute, who was her youngest child, than to the rest--such
a feeling is not uncommon. But these doubts and reasons might be
multiplied into pages, and then we should probably be as wide apart
from the truth.

In the old town of Guildford, above 900 years ago, nearly seven hundred
foreigners, most of them strangers to England, retired to rest, some
fondly dreaming of the possessions they should obtain when the prince
whose fortunes they followed ascended the throne. Weary with their
long journey, others would fall at once to sleep, without bestowing a
thought upon the morrow, for that night there appears to have been no
lack of either food or wine. When hark, hark! it is the dead midnight,
and the chambers in which they sleep are filled with armed men--figures
in armour, some holding lights, others with their swords pointed, bend
over them--men who grasp strong spears are stationed at the doors--some
bind their arms with cords--they attempt to reach their weapons, but
find they have been removed--some struggle for a few moments, but are
speedily overpowered. Chains and ropes are at hand, stern-looking men
set their teeth together, and kneel upon them until their limbs are
bound--and in every house at the self same hour they are all secured
and made prisoners. A few defended themselves and were slain. What
a night must that have been in the old town of Guildford--what Saxon
hearts must have ached at day-dawn, when the maidens beheld the young
and handsome foreigners led to execution! for some, doubtless, over
their cups, had boasted, that when the Saxon prince had "regained his
own," they would return again--and fond, foolish old mothers, whose
hearts beat in favour of the royal Saxon, may have wetted their lips,
and drank destruction to the Danes, and talked about what they had
heard their great-grandmothers say of Alfred the Great, and hoped that
he who then aspired to the throne would be found worthy of the name he
bore:--for a hundred years would only have added to the fame of the
great king, and in that old Saxon town there were doubtless many living
whose ancestors had fought under Alfred the Great.

The morning that dawned upon the grey country witnessed the execution
of the Normans; they were led to death in tens, and one out of every
ten was left alive--the rest perished; but whether beheaded by the
battle-axe, or pierced through with the sword or spear, or hung upon
the nearest oak, history has not recorded. But whether Godwin or Harold
was the cause of their death will never now be known. Vengeance, who
is never silent, bore their dying groans to the shores of Normandy,
and from that hour Revenge rose up, and, with his red right arm bared,
pointed with his bloody sword to the shores of England. For thirty
years that grim landmark stood pointing over the sea, until at last it
leaped from the stormy headland, and led the way to the blood-stained
shores of Britain.

Meantime, the Saxon prince was carried captive to London, when, after
having endured the insults and reproaches of Harold, he was hurried off
to Ely, to be tried by a mock court of Danish judges, who, after having
offered him every insult they could invent, cruelly sentenced him to
lose his eyes. The barbarous sentence was fulfilled, and a day or two
after its execution death put an end to the sufferings of Alfred.

After the death of Alfred, Emma was banished from England by the
command of Harold; an act which goes far to prove that she had been
instrumental in tempting her ill-starred son to visit England, though
it seems somewhat strange that she should take up her residence at
Bruges, while her son Edward, who was the true heir to the English
throne, yet resided in Normandy. She, however, despatched messengers
to Denmark, intreating her son Hardicanute to revenge the death of
his maternal brother Alfred, who, she said, had been betrayed by earl
Godwin, and assassinated by the command of Harold. During the remainder
of the reign of Harold Harefoot, we lose sight of earl Godwin, so that
if even he had any share in the plot which terminated in the murder of
the young prince, it appears not to have advanced his interests at the
court of Harold; who, before the close of his reign, attained the full
title of king of England. Nor does it appear that Hardicanute ever set
foot on the territory allotted to him by the council of Oxford, on the
south of the Thames; and which, as we have shown, was held for a time
on his behalf by Godwin, and his mother, Emma of Normandy. The son of
Canute was at Bruges with his mother, having retired thither to consult
her previous to his meditated invasion of England, when a deputation
arrived there, from England, announcing the death of Harold. He had
already left a strong fleet at the mouth of the Baltic, ready at his
command, when the first favourable wind blew, to commence hostilities
against Britain; nine ships, well armed, had also accompanied him on
his visit to his mother, in Flanders, when, just as his plan of attack
was decided upon, and all was in readiness for the invasion, Harold's
brief and blood-stained reign terminated, in the year 1040, and he was
buried at Westminster.

Nearly the first act that disgraced the reign of Hardicanute, was his
disinterment of the body of Harold; which, after having exhumed and
decapitated, he commanded to be thrown into the Thames, from which it
was taken out by a Danish fisherman, and again interred in a cemetery
in London, where the Danes only buried their dead. His next act was
to summon earl Godwin before a court of justice, in which he was
accused of being instrumental in procuring the death of Alfred. At
the appointed day Godwin appeared; and, according to a law which was
at that period extant, procured a sufficient number of witnesses to
swear that they believed he was innocent of the crime of which he was
accused. Godwin stepped forward, and swore, by the holy sacrament,
"In the Lord: I am innocent, both in word and deed, of the charge of
which I am accused." The witnesses then came forward, and taking the
oath, exclaimed, "In the Lord: the oath is clean and upright that Earl
Godwin has sworn." Simple and inefficient as such a mode of trial may
appear, it must be borne in mind that perjury was in those days visited
with the severest punishment; not confined merely to bodily pain, the
infliction of a heavy penalty, or the loss of worldly goods--but a
perjured man was classed with witches, murderers, sorcerers, the wolf
heads, and outcasts of society; and if slain, no one took cognizance of
his death; he was debarred even from the trial of ordeal, and whether
he was murdered or died, was refused the rites of Christian burial.
Although Alfred had established the trial by jury, such a judicial
custom as Godwin availed himself of continued to exist after the Norman

Such a legal proof, however, was not sufficient to satisfy the cupidity
of Hardicanute; and the earl was compelled to purchase his favour
by presenting him with a splendid ship, richly gilt, and manned by
eighty warriors, armed with helmet and hauberk, each bearing a sword,
a battle-axe, and a javelin, and their arms ornamented with golden
bracelets, each of which weighed sixteen ounces. A Saxon bishop was
also accused of having been leagued with Godwin, and he followed
the example of the earl, by purchasing the king's favour with rich
presents, which at this period appear to have been the readiest mode of
procuring an acquittal. The two brief years that Hardicanute reigned,
he seems to have passed in feasting and drinking; his banqueting table
was spread out four times a-day, and his carousals carried far into
the night. Such excesses could only be kept up by constant supplies
of money; his "Huscarles," or household troops, were ever out levying
taxes; and as these armed collectors were all Danes, many of them
descendants of the old sea-kings, it will be readily imagined that the
Saxons were the greatest sufferers, and compelled to contribute more
than their share to this infamous Dane-geld, as the tax was called. But
these marauders, although armed by kingly authority, did not always
escape scathless. The inhabitants of Worcester rose up and killed
two of the chiefs, who were somewhat too arbitrarily exceeding their
duty. Hardicanute ordered a Danish army to march at once against the
rebels, but when the authorized forces came up, they found the city
abandoned; the inhabitants had forsaken their houses, and strongly
entrenched themselves in a neighbouring island, and though a great
part of the city was destroyed, the people remained unconquered. Such
a brave example was not lost upon the Saxons. Opposition was now
offered in many quarters, and the Danish yoke at last became lighter;
for Hardicanute seemed to care but little how his kingdom was ruled, so
that his table was every day laden with good cheer, and his wine-cup
filled whenever he called for it; for he had been nursed in the cradle
of the sea-kings, and his chief delight was to sit surrounded by these
stormy sons of the ocean, and to drink healths three fathom deep.
Altogether, Hardicanute seems to have been a merry thoughtless king. He
invited his half-brother, Edward, the son of Ethelred, over to England,
and gave him and his Norman followers a warm welcome at his court;
left his mother Emma, and earl Godwin, to manage the kingdom as they
pleased, and died as he had lived, a hard-drinker, with the wine-cup in
his hand.

It was at a marriage-feast, somewhere in Lambeth, in the year 1042,
when Hardicanute drank his last draught. At a late hour in the night he
rose, staggering, with the wine-cup in his hand, and pledged the merry
company that were assembled--then drinking such a draught as only the
son of a sea-king could swallow, he fell down senseless upon the floor,
"and never word again spake he." He was buried near his father Canute,
in the church of Winchester. With his death ended the Danish race of
kings; and Edward, the son of Ethelred, the descendant of a long line
of Saxon monarchs, ascended the throne of England.



      "It is the curse of kings to be attended by slaves."

 "Favourites, made proud by princes, that advance their pride
  Against the power that bred it."

 "Thou wouldst be great. What thou wouldst highly,
  That wouldst thou holily: wouldst not play false,
  And yet wouldst wrongly win."--SHAKSPERE.

Edward, surnamed the Confessor, had resided in England for some time,
when the throne became vacant by the death of Hardicanute; and the
Danes, left without a leader by the sudden and unexpected demise of
their king, had no means of resisting the Saxon force, which all
at once wheeled up on the side of Edward, and, led on by Godwin,
placed the crown of England upon the head of the son of Ethelred.
To strengthen the power which he already possessed, the earl Godwin
proposed that the king should marry his daughter, Editha, who appears
to have been a lady of high intellectual attainments: it was said of
her, in contrast to the stern and ambitious character of her father,
that, as the thorn produces the rose, so Godwin produced Editha.
Ingulphus, one of the most celebrated historians living at this
period, after describing her as being very beautiful, meek, modest,
faithful, virtuous, a lady of learning, and the enemy of no one, says,
"I have very often seen her, when, only a boy, I visited my father in
the royal court. Often, as I came from school, she questioned me on
letters and my verse; and willingly passing from grammar to logic,
she caught me in the subtle nets of argument. I had always three or
four pieces of money counted by her maiden, and was sent to the royal
larder for refreshment." But all these amiable qualities were not
sufficient to bring happiness to the royal hearth; the earl was ever
stepping in between Edward and Editha, for Godwin became jealous of the
Normans, who were constantly coming over, and obtaining dignities and
honours from the court. Norman soldiers were placed over the English
fortresses; Norman priests officiated in the Saxon churches, and, as
the Danish power waned, and the offices which Hardicanute had given
to his own countrymen became vacant, Edward filled up the places with
his Norman favourites. Those who had befriended him in his exile came
over--such as had grown up side by side with him till they reached
manhood--had shared his sports and pastimes--dined at the same table
with him when, without friend or companion, except his brother Alfred,
he landed a stranger upon the shores of Normandy;--all such as had
clung to him, and assisted him while he was in exile, now came over to
congratulate their old acquaintance who had so suddenly emerged from
his obscurity, and become, by the voice of the whole Saxon nation, and
the tacit consent of the overawed and powerless Danes, the undisputed
monarch of England. Edward, on the other hand, landed in his native
country almost a stranger; he brought with him foreign habits, foreign
manners, and even spake the Norman-French more fluently than the
plain Saxon tongue of his ancestors. He was but a child when he left
England, and nearly thirty years residence in a foreign court must
have caused his native language to have sounded harshly on his ears
when he again landed on the shores of Britain. With the exception of
those who accompanied him, England would seem like a strange country;
he found none there whose habits and tastes were congenial to his own,
none with whom he had interchanged the warm friendship which is natural
to youth; and he must instinctively have shunned the advances made to
him by earl Godwin, standing suspected, as he did, of having indirectly
contributed to the death of his brother Alfred, or, at the least, of
having deserted him in the night, and left him in the hands of the
Danes. Either Edward must have stood far aloof from such suspicion,
or, when he consented to marry the daughter of Godwin, have purchased
the crown of England by making a sacrifice of his feelings and of his
honour. Edward's mother, it will also be remembered, was a Norman, and
while the friends of her son poured into the English court, she herself
was followed by those who claimed kindred with her race, until even the
very language of the Norman usurped that of the Saxon.

The Norman costume now became fashionable; those who were ambitious
of rising in the king's favour, or who wished to stand high in the
estimation of his favourites, began to speak in broken Norman, until,
in the neighbourhood of the court, the Saxon seemed to have grown into
an unfashionable language. One man alone, and he, the most powerful in
the kingdom, still stuck sturdily to the old Saxon habits, and openly
expressed his dislike of the Norman favourites. This was the cowherd,
the son of Ulfnoth, whose daughter the king of England had married; and
he, with his sons, who had proved themselves second to none in valour
in the hard-fought field, rose up, and made head against the Norman
encroachments. The Saxon earl, and his tall sons, boldly shouldered
their way through the crowded court, where their sister and daughter
reigned as queen; they lowered their helmets to no one, but rudely
jostled as they passed the groups of knaves and place-seekers who
infested the palace. Thus, without, at the folk-moots, and the guilds,
the Saxon earl and his sons were the favourites of the people; while
within, and about the palace, they were bitterly hated by the Norman
favourites. Such was the state of parties at the English court nearly
a thousand years ago, and it will be necessary for the reader to bear
them in mind, for the better understanding of the changes which they
lead to--the invasion of England by the Normans--a period at which we
are now rapidly arriving.

Whether Edward believed that his mother Emma had a share in the death
of her son Alfred, or was stung with the remembrance that she had
left them to the mercy of a strange court, and that his position in
England was rendered uneasy by those who had followed him with their
clamorous claims across the ocean, or he disliked her for the favour
which she had shown to her Danish son, Hardicanute, or envious of the
immense wealth and possessions she is said to have accumulated during
the reckless reign of the hard-drinking sea-king--whether led by one
or another of these motives of dislike and suspicion, or actuated by a
wish to resent the neglect with which she had treated him, he seized
upon her possessions, lessened her power, and either confined her in
the abbey of Wearwell, or limited her residence within the compass of
the lands he granted her near Winchester. This act was countenanced
by Godwin, who, though he studied his own aggrandisement, seems never
wholly to have neglected the interests of the Saxons. Her alleged
intercourse with the bishop of Winchester--her passing through the
ordeal of fire unscathed, with naked feet over burning plough-shares,
are dim traditions entirely unauthenticated by any respectable
historian, although such trials were not uncommon, as we shall show,
when we come to treat of the manners and customs of the Anglo-Saxons.
After this period, Emma of Normandy is scarcely mentioned again by our
early historians.

During the second year of his reign, Edward was menaced with an
invasion by Magnus, king of Norway and Denmark, who sent letters to
England demanding the crown of Edward; to which the English king
replied by mustering a large fleet at Sandwich, and declaring himself
ready to oppose his landing. But the attention of Magnus was soon
diverted from England to secure his new territory of Denmark, as
Sweyn, the son of Ulfr, (the latter being the same sea-king whom the
cowherd Godwin guided to the Danish camp when he had lost his way in
the forest,) now aspired to the sceptre of Denmark. The son of Ulfr
requested aid from Edward to support his claim to the Danish sceptre;
and this request was strongly backed by earl Godwin, who, whatever
other stain he may have had upon his character, cannot in this instance
be accused of ingratitude, for he earnestly pleaded that fifty ships
should be fitted out, and sent to the aid of the son of his early
patron. Godwin's proposition was, however, overruled by Leofric and
Siward, earls of Mercia and Northumbria, who will frequently be seen
to stand between earl Godwin and his claims upon the throne. What aid
Godwin afforded the son of Ulfr of his own accord we know not, though
it is on record that Sweyn obtained the crown of Denmark on the demise
of Magnus, which happened shortly after the application he made for aid
to Edward of England. With the death of Magnus ended all attempts upon
the English crown on the part of the Danes, and we hear no more of the
ravages of these stormy sea-kings, nor of the civil wars in England
between these two nations, who had, through the alternations of war and
peace, been settled in various parts of England long before the star of
Alfred the Great rose up and illumined the dark night of our history.
A new enemy was now, with slow and silent step, coming stealthily into
England; he had already obtained a footing in the palace and in the
church; he had left his slimy trail in the camp, and on the decks of
the Saxon vessels; he had come with a strange voice, and muttered words
which they could not understand.

Those who had often quarrelled were now neighbours; the difference
in language and manners was beginning to disappear; for as they, to
a certain extent, understood each other's dialect, the Saxon and the
Danish idioms began to assimilate; they, with few exceptions, lived
under the same common law; their children mingled and played together
in the same streets, in the same fields and forests, became men and
women, married, and forgot the quarrels of their forefathers, and at
last began to settle down like one nation upon the soil. Thus, each
party looked upon the Norman favourites with the same jealous eye.

With the exception of the bickerings both on the part of the Saxon and
Danish chiefs against the Normans whom Edward countenanced, all went
on in tolerable order at the Saxon court for seven or eight years;
for Leofric and Siward were ever throwing their formidable weight
into the opposite scale, and thus keeping an even balance between the
power of Godwin and the throne. Edward had rendered himself popular
with both the Danes and the Saxons; he had revived the old laws of his
ancestors, abolished the odious tax of Dane-geld, without retaliating
upon such of his subjects as belonged to that nation, as Canute and
Harold had beforetime done while lording it over the Saxons. An event
at last occurred which scarcely any one would have foreseen or have
guarded against, and which reads more like a drunken frolic, or a
common street brawl, than the grave record of history, although it
ended by embittering the feelings of the Saxons against the Normans,
and was another of those almost invisible steps which eventually led
to the conquest of England. Amongst the foreigners who came to pay
their court at this time to the king of England, was Eustace, count
of Boulogne, who had married a sister of Edward, but whether maid or
widow at the time of her union with the French count, is not very
clearly made out; nor is it recorded whether she was the daughter of
Emma of Normandy, though she laid claim to Ethelred as her father.
Eustace, proud to claim such a relationship, whatever it might be,
mounted the two slips of feathered whalebone in his helmet, and with a
showy train of followers visited the English court, where he and his
retinue were hospitably entertained by Edward. Here he met with Normans
and French who spoke nearly the same language as himself, and there
is but little doubt that such an assembly did not fail to show their
contempt for everything that was Saxon, voting vulgar a court in which
a cowherd had risen to the rank of earl; and probably extolling their
own ancestry, who, time out of mind, had been brought up to the more
"polite" profession of murder and robbery both by sea and land. While
returning on his visit from Edward, he commanded his train to halt
before they entered Dover, and putting on his coat of mail, ordered
his followers to do the same; and thus armed, they entered the town.
They then commenced riding up and down the streets, insulting the
inhabitants, and selecting the best houses in which to take up their
quarters for the night; for such had been the custom of the Danes, who
made the houses of the Saxons their inns, sometimes permitting, as a
great favour, the owner and his family to share the meal which they
had compelled them to provide. It is pretty clear that the deeds of
these "good old times" had furnished the topic of conversation amongst
the visitors at the Saxon court, made up as it would be of Normans and
Northmen, and descendants of the Vikingrs, who now found it dangerous
to follow the "honourable" employment of their ancestors--men who
mourned over the changes which no longer allowed them with impunity to
insult the wife and daughter of the Saxon, whom they compelled to be
their host--to eat the meal which they forced him to provide, and for
which they considered they made him an ample return if they did not
stab him upon his own hearth, and then set fire to his house. These
cruel and bloody deeds, which had been counted valorous, had often,
doubtless, furnished the midnight conversation of the cruel sea-kings,
as they congregated around their fire, seated upon--

                  "A dismal circle
  Of Druid stones upon the forlorn moor,
  Where the chill rain begun at shut of eve
  In dull November; and their chancel-vault
  The heaven itself was blinded through the night."--KEATS.

Alas! such horrors were again to be renewed; though there were but few
at this time who foresaw the storm which was now slowly heaving up, and
was ere long doomed to burst with renewed fury upon England.

While the French count and his followers were prancing through the
streets of Dover, full, perhaps, of the thoughts of such scenes as
we have faintly pictured, one of them alighted upon the threshold of
a sturdy Saxon, who, considering his house was his castle, refused
to allow the insulting foreigner to enter. The Frenchman or Norman
instantly drew his sword and wounded the Saxon, who in his turn slew
the aggressor. The count and his followers attacked the Englishman, and
put him to death upon his own hearth. All Dover was instantly in arms,
for the foreigners now rode through the town sword in hand, striking at
all they came near, and trampling every one they could ride over under
the hoofs of their horses. They were at last met by an armed body of
the townsmen. A severe combat took place, and it was not until nineteen
of his followers were slain, that the count of Boulogne took flight
with all the speed he could; and not venturing to embark, he hastened
back, with such of his train as remained, to the court of the English

Edward at once forgave his brother-in-law, and, on his bare assertion,
believed that the inhabitants of Dover were wholly to blame; he then
sent for earl Godwin, within whose governorship Dover was included, and
ordered him without delay to attack the town, and punish all who had
risen up in arms against the count of Boulogne and his followers. But
the Saxon earl was loath to appear in arms against his countrymen on
the mere report of a stranger, and reasonably enough suggested that
the whole affair should be investigated by competent judges; "for it
ill becomes you," replied Godwin, "to condemn without a hearing the
men whom it is your duty to protect." Urged on by the clamours of his
favourites, Edward insisted upon immediate vengeance being executed
upon the inhabitants of Dover; and when the Saxon earl refused to
fulfil his commands, he then cited him to appear before the council at
Gloucester, where the court was then held. Godwin was well acquainted
with the characters who would preside at the court before which he was
summoned, and well knew that, right or wrong, sentence of banishment
would be proclaimed against him, as it consisted chiefly of Normans,
who were his sworn enemies, and who would not hesitate, by any means,
to lessen the power he possessed: so, seeing the foreign enemies that
were arrayed against him, and the unfair trial that awaited him,
he resolved to overthrow this corrupt court by an appeal to arms,
and, without offering any violence to the king, rescue both himself
and England from the "cunning of the Normans." For as an old writer
observes, while describing the events which preceded and were followed
by those which took place about this period, "The all-powerful God
must have proposed to himself at once two plans of destruction for the
English race, and must have framed a sort of military ambuscade against
it: for, on one hand, he let loose the Danish invasion; on the other,
he created and cemented the Norman alliance; so that, if we escaped the
blows aimed at our faces by the Danes, the cunning of the Normans might
be at hand to surprise us."

When Godwin refused to be tried by the corrupt and packed court of
Gloucester, he commenced assembling his forces together; for he was
governor over the whole of the extensive country south of the Thames,
and the popularity of his quarrel caused numbers to flock to his
standard, as he was now looked up to by the Saxons as the defender of
their rights. Harold, his oldest son, also collected a large army from
the eastern coast between the Thames and Boston Wash; while Sweyn, his
second son, mustered many followers along the banks of the Severn and
the frontiers of Wales. The three armies commanded by Godwin and his
sons united, and drew up near Gloucester, when the earl sent messengers
to the king, demanding that the Count of Boulogne, with his followers,
together with such of the Normans and Frenchmen as had rendered
themselves objectionable, should be given up to the justice of the
English nation.

Meantime, Edward had not been idle, but had despatched messengers to
Siward and Leofric, with orders to muster all the forces they could
without loss of time, and during the interval that preceded their
arrival, he kept up a seeming negotiation with Godwin; but no sooner
did he find himself surrounded by a powerful army, headed by his own
chosen leaders, than he refused boldly to give up his Norman and French
favourites. But a great and unexpected change had taken place in the
spirit of the people; for although Edward had followed that cruel
policy which kings have too often had recourse to, that of setting
one nation against another, the Danes of Mercia and Northumberland
which had marched up under the banners of their earls, when confronted
together, refused to make war upon the Saxons. They now considered
them as their countrymen--so would not shed their blood for Edward and
his foreign favourites; a strong proof how popular the cause was which
Godwin had taken up; whilst neither the Saxon nor Danish chiefs would
draw their swords in such a quarrel.

When on neither side parties could be found who were willing to shed
each other's blood, peace was at once agreed upon, and it was decided
that the dispute should be investigated by an assembly in London.
Hostages and oaths were exchanged, both swearing to maintain the peace
of God, and perfect friendship. On the side of Edward this solemn
promise does not appear to have been sincere, as he availed himself of
the interval between taking the oath and the appointed time on which
the assembly was to take place, in levying a powerful army from every
available source, and in nearly every instance giving the command of
the various troops to his Norman and French favourites. This immense
army was quartered in and around London, so that the appointed council
was held in the very heart of a strongly fortified camp, the leaders of
which were the enemies of Godwin. Before this council Godwin and his
sons were summoned to appear without an escort, and unarmed. The earl,
in return, demanded that hostages should be given for their safety;
for he well knew that they had but few friends in the council. Edward
refused to furnish hostages, or to guarantee their safety either in
coming or going; and after having been twice or thrice summoned, and
refused the unconditional terms of surrender, sentence of banishment
was pronounced against earl Godwin and his sons, and only five days
allowed them to quit England, with all their family. Even before the
expiration of that period, king Edward, instigated doubtless by his
favourites, who thirsted both for the blood and the estates of the
Saxon earl, ordered a troop of horse to pursue the banished nobleman
and his family, but the command of the party was fortunately entrusted
to a Saxon, who was in no hurry to overtake them. Godwin, with his
wife, and three of his sons, Sweyn, Tostig, and Gurth, with such
treasure as they could amass, sailed for Flanders, and were kindly
received by earl Baldwin; while Harold and Leofwin, his other sons,
embarked from Bristol, and escaped into Ireland. All their broad lands
were confiscated; the high situations they had held were given to
the Norman favourites; the castles they had inhabited, with all they
contained, fell into the hands of their enemies; and Godwin found
himself, in his old age, and after a busy life spent in the service of
courts and camps, but little richer than, when a humble cowherd, he led
Ulfr through wild forest paths to the Danish camp.

Editha the queen was now left alone in the midst of her father's
enemies; nor was she long before she felt the weight of their hatred
and vengeance. "It was not right," the Norman favourites said, "that
while her family was in exile, she herself should sleep upon down." She
was also deprived of all the possessions which on her marriage had been
bequeathed to her by her father, and then shut up in a nunnery. Calm
and passionless as an historian ought ever to be, he would scarcely
feel any regret if the Norman invasion had taken place in the life-time
of such a weak-minded monarch as this Edward the Confessor, were it
only for his conduct to the beautiful and highly-gifted Editha, whose
character Ingulphus has so delicately drawn. Still less do we admire
the forbearance by which he obtained his much-lauded sanctity, which
was but a species of "refined cruelty" towards a lady whose very soul
must have been a shrine fit for the purest affection to dwell in. But,
after all, we feel a pity for Edward. His life was uncheered either by
the affection of father or mother, excepting in the very early years
of childhood. As he grew up, he became a prey to false friends and
unprincipled priests, who, while they pretended to draw his attention
to the treasures "which neither rust nor moth doth corrupt," were
themselves revelling in the very heart of vile and selfish corruption.
Ambitious as Godwin might be, there was much more of the nobleness of
human nature in his character than existed in the soul of Edward; and,
although we feel sorry for the king's weakness, we can never pardon
him for leaving that lovely lady alone in the cold grey cloisters of a
nunnery, where, to use the words of one of our old chroniclers, she "in
tears and prayers expected the day of her release," doubtless looking
beyond the grave for that happiness which it was never her lot to know
on earth. But we have now arrived at the fall and banishment of earl
Godwin, and must leave him for awhile in exile, to glance at the merry
doings in the English court during his absence.



 "As I was banished, I was banished,
  But as I come, I come.--
  Will you permit that I shall stand condemned
  A wandering vagabond; my rights and royalties
  Plucked from my arms perforce, and given away
  To upstart spendthrifts?
  What would you have me do? I am a subject,
  And challenge law; attornies are denied me;
  And therefore, personally, I lay my claim
  To my inheritance."--SHAKSPERE.

After the banishment of earl Godwin, the English court must have
resembled the joyous uproar which often breaks out in a school during
the absence of the master, for the days which followed are described
as "days of rejoicing and big in fortune for the foreigners." The
dreaded earl in exile--his warlike sons far away from England--and the
beautiful queen Editha weeping among the cold cloisters--left nothing
more to do but revel in the triumph of the victory thus attained.
There was now a Norman archbishop of Canterbury, a Norman bishop of
London, and in nearly every fortress a Norman or French governor; and,
to crown all, William, duke of Normandy, called alike the Bastard and
the Conqueror, came over with a numerous train to visit king Edward,
and to see how matters stood in England. It is difficult to prove
now, whether the duke of Normandy was invited by Edward, or came over
at the suggestion of his countrymen, "to see how the land lay;" the
latter is the more probable; and we can imagine the picture which
must have been drawn of England, either in the letter sent, or by the
messenger who went over; and how the son of Robert the Devil (for such
was the surname his father bore in Normandy) must have smiled at the
ascendancy his countrymen had obtained over the weak-minded king of
England. We can fancy some such gentleman as the count of Boulogne,
full of "smart sayings," recounting how he and his followers "amused"
themselves at Dover; and how the few trifling murders they committed
were instrumental in driving out the family of Godwin; in a word, that
do whatever they might, Edward would stand up to support them, and that
they could now ride rough-shod over the Saxons.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary that we should give some
account of this new guest; who, either by good fortune, cunning, or
valour, changed the whole face of England, and shook into dust the
power from which, through a succession of many centuries, had sprung a
race of powerful kings.

This William, who will ever bear the proud title of the Conqueror,
was the natural son of Robert duke of Normandy, who was nearly allied
to Emma, the queen of both Ethelred and Canute, and the mother of
Edward. William's mother was the daughter of a tanner, or some one
humbly situated in the town of Falaise, and was one day busily engaged
in washing clothes at a brook, when the eye of duke Robert chanced to
alight upon her as he was returning from hunting. Pleased with her
beauty, he sent one of his knights to make proposals to her father,
offering no doubt, on pretty liberal terms, to make her his mistress.
The father received the proposition coldly, but probably dreading that
his daughter might be carried off by force--and our only wonder is that
she was not--he went to consult his brother, who is said to have lived
in a neighbouring forest, and to have stood high in the estimation of
all around for his sanctity. The "pious" brother gave his opinion, and
said that in all things it was fitting to obey the will of the prince.
So Arlette, or Harlot, as her name is sometimes spelt, was consigned to
duke Robert, who, we must conclude, was already married. Illegitimacy,
as we have shown in several reigns, was thought but little of at this
period, many of our own Saxon kings having had no better claim to the
crown than William had to the dukedom of Normandy. However, Robert the
Devil, as he was called from his violent temper, was greatly attached
to both the tanner's daughter and the child she bore him, whom he
brought up with as much affection as if he had been the son of a lawful

When William was only seven years old, his father was seized with a fit
of devotion, and resolved to make a pilgrimage, on foot, to Jerusalem,
to obtain forgiveness for his sins. His chiefs and barons rightly
argued that such a journey was not free from danger, and that if he
chanced to die, they should be left without a ruler. "By my faith,"
answered the duke, "I will not leave you without a lord. I have a
little bastard, who will grow up and be a gallant man, if it please
God. I know he is my son. Receive him, then, as your lord, for I make
him my heir, and give him from this time forth the whole duchy of

The Norman barons did as duke Robert desired; and placing their hands
between the child's, acknowledged him as their ruler. The duke did
not live to return from his pilgrimage; and although some opposition
was offered to the election of William, and a civil war ensued, the
adherents of the bastard were victorious.[12] Nor was William long
before he gave proofs of that daring and valour which form so prominent
a feature in his character; he was soon able to buckle on his armour,
and mount his war-horse without the aid of the stirrup; and on the day
when he first sprang into his saddle without assistance, the veterans
who had drawn their swords in defence of his claim to the dukedom made
it a day of great rejoicing. Bold, fearless, and determined, and as if
resolved to triumph over those who had objected to his election on the
ground of his birth, he occasionally issued his commands, and put forth
his charter with the bold beginning that proclaimed his origin, and
wrote, "We, William the Bastard, hereby decree, &c." He soon evinced a
love for horses and military array, and while yet young made war upon
his neighbours of Anjou and Brittany. Nor did he fail to punish those
who made any allusion to his birth; although he himself at times made
a boast of his illegitimacy, yet to none others would he allow that
privilege in his hearing without resenting it as an insult; and his
vengeance was at times accomplished with the most merciless cruelty.
While attacking the town of Alençon, the besieged appeared upon the
walls, and beating their shields, which were covered with leather,
exclaimed, "Hides! hides!" in allusion to the calling of his mother's
father. The cruel Norman immediately ordered the hands and feet of
the prisoners he had captured in an attempted sally to be cut off,
and thrown over the walls into the town by his slingers. Such was the
inhuman act committed by the savage who now came as a spy and a guest
to the court of England.

Great must have been the delight of duke William to see, wherever he
moved, his own countrymen at the head of the navy and army. If he
visited a fortress, a Norman was ready as governor to receive him; if
he entered a church, a Norman bishop stood forth to meet him; if he
remained in the palace, Norman friends surrounded him; and he heard
only the language of his own country spoken, and was acknowledged by
all who in England approached him (excepting the king, and a few Saxon
chiefs) as their lord and governor. Wherever he moved, he was met by
Normans, and bowed down to, as if he had already been England's king;
for nearly all the high offices in the kingdom were either in the
hands of the Norman or French favourites. What secret consultations
he had with his friends, what notes were made on the strength of the
fortresses, the safest roads, the best landing places, is not recorded,
although it is evident that the Norman duke had already fixed his eye
upon the crown of England, and but waited for a favourable pretext to
seize upon it.

Edward, beyond doubt, received his cousin William kindly, perhaps
more so than he had done any other Norman; for all his affections
seemed planted in the land where he had spent the years of his youth;
beside, William's father had been kind to him and his brother Alfred,
when they had no friends in England whom they knew of. Nor could
William well allude to the English throne becoming vacant on the
death of Edward, nor deplore that he left no son behind to reign in
his stead, for Edward, the son of his half-brother, Edmund Ironside,
was still alive; so William wisely held his peace, and left all to
time and chance--taking care to watch both. Previous to his return,
Edward presented him with arms, horses, dogs, and falcons, loaded his
attendants with presents, and gave the duke every proof of his sincere
affection. After his departure, the Norman favourites became more
arrogant than ever; for there is but little doubt that they now began
to look upon England as their own, and but waited for the death of the
weak-minded king, and the return of duke William, to take possession.
All this seems secretly and silently to have been arranged. These
plans, however, were for a time doomed to be frustrated. Earl Godwin
and his powerful sons were still alive, and making such preparations
as the court parasites had never dreamed of for returning to England,
and avenging themselves upon their enemies. Still, the cunning of duke
William failed him not. Chances favoured him; and we seem as we were
now about to weave and unweave the web of a wild romance, instead of
recounting the truthful events of history.

Yet, in the great drama which we are about to open, popes, and crowned
kings, and mitred bishops, princes, and priests, are the actors; and
the prize contended for is that England which now claims the proud
title of "Queen of the World"--that little island which has dwarfed
ancient Rome and classic Greece by its gigantic grandeur.

Earl Godwin during his exile had not remained idle; he had still a
few friends in England who would take care to acquaint him with all
that was going on at court. Here and there a Saxon had also managed
to retain the command of a fortress, and but few of his countrymen
now remained that were not heartily disgusted with the arrogance and
tyranny of the Norman favourites. Such wealth as Godwin had carried out
with him, or been able to muster, he had made good use of; and having
got together a powerful fleet, he, in the summer of 1052, ventured once
more upon the English court. He had taken the precaution to despatch
faithful emissaries before him, and thousands of the Saxons and Danes
had sworn an oath, that they would take up arms, and "fight until
death for earl Godwin." His first attack was not very successful; for
although he managed to elude the fleet, which was commanded by his
enemies the Normans, he was at last discovered, pursued, and compelled
to shelter in the Pevensey Roads. A tempest arose while Godwin lay at
anchor, and dispersed the royal fleet.

Near the Isle of Wight he was joined by his sons, Harold and Leofwin,
who had returned from Ireland, and brought with them both men and
ships--a clear proof that Godwin had carefully arranged his plans.
Wherever the Saxon fleet now moved along the coast they met with a
warm welcome; wherever they chose to land, armed bands appeared, and
joined with them; the peasants brought in stores of provisions; and
the name of earl Godwin was again proclaimed with as much heartiness
and sincerity as when he alone dared to beard the Norman favourites in
the palace--the current of popularity had every way set in his favour.
Part of his forces he landed at Sandwich, then daringly doubled the
North Foreland, and sailed like a conqueror up the Thames, to the very
foot of the grey wave-washed wall where Edmund and Canute had carried
on the struggle, when London was besieged and defended. What a buzzing
there would again be in the old city throughout all that summer night!
what whispering in the secret corners of the old-fashioned streets! for
Godwin had managed to land many of his followers, and they had friends
on shore, and appointed places of meeting and passwords, by which
they could recognise each other in the dark; and arms would be seen
glancing, half concealed by short Saxon and Danish cloaks, and treason
be as rife in every hole-and-corner as it ever was in any of the
centuries which have since elapsed. From the royal army, troops were
deserting every hour, and all around the coast, and up the Thames, the
ships that were sent out to oppose him turned round their heads, and
either willingly, or through fear, followed in his wake, and, instead
of becoming enemies, strengthened his formidable fleet.

Before a blow was struck by his impatient followers, Godwin sent a
respectful message to the king, requesting the revision of the sentence
which had been passed against him, and demanding a restitution of
his property and honours; in return for which he promised to become
a true and faithful subject in all duty to the king. Edward refused
the proffered submission, though every hour saw his forces thinned,
and, with the exception of his foreigners, those who remained appeared
unwilling to fight. Other messengers were despatched to Edward, for
Godwin was reluctant to employ the large force under his command
against the weak and wavering followers of the king, whose numerical
strength bore no comparison to his own; for he clearly saw that, if his
army would but have the patience to wait, he should obtain a bloodless
victory; it was, however, with great difficulty that he could restrain
them, so eager were they to be revenged on the Normans. Nor were the
latter at all backward in urging Edward to commence the attack, for
they well knew that concession on the king's part would be their ruin,
while, in the chances of a fight, Godwin might probably be killed, or
if even victorious there would be something for all who ventured into
such a scramble. But the few ships which Edward had drawn up above
London-bridge could not be depended on; the king knew that a battle
on his part was a hopeless affair, yet still he remained unbending
and obstinate. There were still a few Saxon nobles true to Edward;
they were of those whose ancestors had followed Alfred, and Athelstan,
and Ethelred through good and through evil report; and who, like the
nobles that have for centuries succeeded them, resolved to remain true
subjects while ever one sat upon the throne in whose veins the blood of
Hengist or Horsa flowed. To such as these in the hour of real danger
Edward was still wise enough to listen. He for once disregarded the
advice of his Norman favourites, and leaving Stigand, his bishop, to
act as president, permitted the Saxon chiefs who belonged to his own
party to meet those who came over in the favour of earl Godwin, with
the mutual intention of effecting a reconciliation. Where both parties
were anxious for peace, there was but little probability of a war;
this the Normans saw, and well knew that there was not a moment to be
lost. And now our old English chroniclers fairly lose themselves in the
feelings of delight with which they describe the hasty departure of the
Norman favourites. Never before was there amongst them such packing
and saddling! at every little portal-gate they were seen sallying out
of London; in his hurry to escape, the Norman archbishop of Canterbury
left behind his pallium. Stigand found it, threw it over his own
shoulders, and on the strength of the sanctity which it was supposed to
contain, set up archbishop on his own account. Some galloped off and
left all their effects behind, glad to get to the seaside at any price,
and to creep into little dirty fishing-boats, filled with "ancient
smells," and there concealing themselves, crept over to the opposite
coast as speedily as possible. Others, following the example set them
on a former occasion by Eustace of Boulogne, trampled underfoot the
children that were playing in the summer twilight in the streets of
London, and thus slew by proxy earl Godwin's Saxons, for of such metal
were these foreign favourites made of. We can picture the Saxon wives
of that day picking up their dead and wounded children, and cursing
the cowards as the thunder of their horses' hoofs died away in the dim

The witena-gemot again assembled in London for the trial of earl
Godwin; the balance of power was this time in his own hands--there were
no Norman enemies to fear--and the Saxon boldly defended himself; his
sons also showed that they were justified in acting as they had done,
and "all the great men and chiefs of the country," before whom they
appeared, were satisfied. The sentence of banishment was recalled;
their honours and estates restored; and it was then decreed that all
the Normans should be banished from England, as "promoters of discord,
enemies of peace, and calumniators of the English to their king." A
son and grandson of Godwin's were then given up to Edward as hostages;
and, for better security, the king sent them over to duke William of
Normandy--these we shall have to return to again as our plot deepens,
and we draw nearer to the end of the bloody tragedy which ended in the
destruction of the Saxons. Editha left her convent, and the family
of earl Godwin were once more triumphant at the English court. An
exception was made to one of the old earl's sons, named Sweyn, not
for the part he had taken in ousting the Norman favourites, but for
offences of a graver nature. He, however, became penitent, donned a
pilgrim's garb, walked barefooted to Jerusalem, and died, as Robert the
Devil had done before him, on his way home.

A few exceptions of but little note were made to this decree of
banishment against the Normans; the archbishop, who had run away
without his pallium, was restored; and a few others, who appear to have
stood aloof from the quarrels fomented by their countrymen, or who,
at least, had the tact to steer clear of open danger, were, at the
intercession of Edward, permitted to remain in England.

We have attempted a sketch of the English court after the exile of
Godwin's family--of the joy and triumph that reigned in Edward's
palace: the picture reversed must have presented a faithful
representation of the rage and hatred of the Normans, when, after their
hasty flight, they again assembled at duke William's court. What raving
and storming must there have been amongst the disappointed courtiers,
what a stamping of armed feet and dropping of sabres, as they swore
what they would do if ever they met the Saxon earl in arms! Above all,
what curses loud and deep must have been vented against Godwin and all
his family! We can picture duke William biting his lip, and walking
moodily apart, until the two hostages arrived; and then his cunning eye
would brighten for a moment, as he felt he had still a hold, though but
a slender one, upon the weak-minded monarch of England.

Godwin, who was now an old man, did not long survive his triumph. The
account of his death is given in various ways by the old chroniclers.
It appears to have taken place at the Easter festival, in the year
1053; and although not so sudden as some of the monkish writers have
described it to be, the earl never rallied again from the hour when he
first fainted at the banquet table in the presence of the king. One of
the servants, while in the act of pouring out a cup of wine, stumbled
with one foot, and would have fallen but for the dexterity with which
he advanced the other. Godwin raised his eyes, and, smiling, said to
the king, "The brother has come to assist the brother." "Ay," answered
Edward, looking with a deep meaning on the Saxon chief, "brother needs
brother, and would to God mine still lived!" "Oh, king," exclaimed
Godwin, "why is it that, on the slightest recollection of your brother,
you always look so angrily on me? If I contributed even indirectly
to his death, may the God of heaven grant that this piece of bread
may choke me!" Godwin put the bread in his mouth, say the authors
who relate this anecdote, and was immediately strangled. His death,
however, was not so sudden; for, falling from his seat, he was carried
out by his two sons, Tostig and Gurth, and expired five days after.
But the account of this event varies, according as the writer is of
Norman or English race. "I ever see before me two roads, two opposite
versions," says an historian of less than a century later; "I warn my
readers of the peril in which I find myself."[13]

Siward, the chief of Northumberland, who had at first followed the
royal party against the Saxon earl, but eventually assisted in
expelling the foreign favourites, expired soon after Godwin. He was by
birth a Dane, and the population of the same origin over whom he ruled
gave him the title of Siward-Digr, Siward the Strong; a rock of granite
was long shown, which he is said to have split with one blow of his
axe. Feeling his end approach, he said to those who surrounded him,
"Raise me up, and let me die like a soldier, and not huddled together
like a cow; put me on my coat of mail, place my helmet on my head, my
shield on my left arm, and my gilt axe in my right hand, that I may
expire in arms." Siward left one son, named Waltheof, who being too
young to succeed to his government, it was given to Tostig, Godwin's
third son. Harold, who was the eldest son, succeeded Godwin to the
government south of the Thames; and Edward showed more kindness to
the son than he had ever done to the father, for on him there rested
no suspicion connected with the death of Alfred, a subject which was
ever settling down like a dark cloud upon the sunniest moments that
Godwin and Edward enjoyed. Harold was the most gifted of all Godwin's
sons, and soon became as popular with the people as his father; having,
moreover, no enemies in the court,--for to such favourites as the king
wished to retain Harold offered no opposition; nor was it necessary,
for Edward was now fast verging into dotage; his intellect, which,
at best, was never very brilliant, now became clouded, and he passed
a greater portion of his time amongst his priests. No one ever sat
upon the Saxon throne worse adapted to play the part of a king than
Edward the Confessor; he was not cut out for the rough business of this
work-a-day world. To a peasant who once offended him, he said, "I would
hurt you if I were able;" an exclamation, as Sharon Turner observes,
"which almost implies imbecility."

For some time there was a dispute between Harold and Algar, the son
of Leofric, the governor of Mercia. Godwin, on succeeding to the
earldom, had either voluntarily, or at the request of Edward, given
up the command of East Anglia to Algar; but no sooner did Harold find
himself in full power, than he compelled the son of Leofric to give
up the governorship, and, accusing him of treason, made war upon
him. Nothing daunted by his first defeat, Algar went into Wales, and
obtaining assistance of Griffith, one of the Welsh kings, and mustering
many powerful allies amongst his own connexions, he returned, ravaged
Hereford, burnt the abbey, and slew several priests; and Raulf, who
commanded the garrison, being a Norman, rather encouraged than opposed
the ravages of Algar. It is said that he caused the Saxons to fight
on horseback, a mode of warfare to which they were unaccustomed. But
Harold was not long before arriving at the scene of action, when he
soon defeated Algar and his Welsh allies, driving them back into their
mountain fastnesses, and, it is said, compelling the Welsh chiefs to
swear that they would never again pass the frontier of Wales. Harold
granted the prisoners he had taken their lives, on the condition
that the oath was kept, while on his part he solemnly vowed, that if
a Welshman was taken in arms on the English side of Offa's-dyke, he
should have his right hand cut off. To Algar these terms extended not,
and Harold was at last compelled to negotiate with him, and restore him
to his former dignities. Meantime Tostig but succeeded indifferently
in the governorship of Northumbria. Siward, who had so long had the
command over them, was himself a Dane; and as the inhabitants of the
North, with but few exceptions, were of Danish origin, they took
a dislike to the son of Godwin. He imposed heavy taxes upon them,
violated their ancient privileges, and seems, in fact, to have rendered
himself as unpopular as the Norman governors had ever been with the
Saxons. Worn down by oppression, the Anglo-Danes at last rebelled,
attacked the city of York, in which the chief residence of Tostig
stood, and put many of his principal followers to death, amongst whom
were several of their own countrymen. Although Tostig escaped, and the
Danes seized upon his treasures, they rested not satisfied with such
a victory, but assembling a great council they pronounced sentence of
banishment against him, and elected Morkar, one of the sons of Algar,
governor in his stead. Morkar took the command of the rebel army, and
drove Tostig into Mercia; he was also strengthened by the Welsh force,
who, led on by his brother Edward, had, in despite of their oath, once
more ventured across Offa's-dyke in arms. The old feeling was not yet
dead amongst the ancient Cymry, who seem to have been as eager as ever
they were before time to fight against the Saxons.

There is considerable confusion in the time and dates of these attacks
upon the Welsh, by Harold and his brother Tostig, and it is difficult
to separate one invasion from the other, although it seems evident
that the Welsh king, Griffith, fell in the latter, and that his head
was sent to Harold. But though the Welsh were defeated, terms of
negotiation were entered into with the Anglo-Danes. Harold required
of them to state their grievances. They did; and boldly told him that
his brother's tyranny was the cause of their appearing in arms. Harold
tried to exculpate his brother, and promised that he should rule better
for the future, if they would again accept him as their governor. They
refused. "We were born free," said one of the Danish leaders, "and
brought up free, a haughty chief is insupportable to us; we will, like
our ancestors, live or die free. We have no other answer to give to
the king." Harold not only delivered the message, but dissuaded Edward
from protracting the war, and on his return ratified their rights with
his own signature, as representative of the king; sanctioning the
election of the son of Algar, and the rejection of his brother. Tostig,
in a rage, departed to Flanders to his father-in-law, vowing vengeance
against Harold and his countrymen.

As the tax called Peter-pence began to fail, so did the friendship of
the church of Rome towards England abate; there was no longer any law
in existence to enforce the payment, all that was sent over being a
voluntary contribution. It was then that the mother church began to
complain of simony being practised in England, of Saxon bishops who had
purchased their sees; not that the church of Rome was herself guiltless
of such transactions, but that she objected to a system in which
she partook not of the profits. The storm first broke over the head
of Eldred, archbishop of York, who, when he went to Rome to solicit
the pallium, was refused, and it was only through the interference
of a Saxon nobleman that he at last obtained it. Robert, the Norman
archbishop of Canterbury, had again been driven from his see by the
Saxons; and Stigand, who had before snatched up the pallium, which the
archbishop had left behind in his eagerness to escape, again officiated
in the place of the banished primate. But Robert this time flew to
Rome, and there branded the Saxon bishop as an usurper. The result was,
that the archbishop returned with a letter from the pontiff, commanding
Stigand to resign. But before Robert reached England another pope had
been chosen by the principal Roman families, and to Benedict the Saxon
bishop appealed, who granted him permission to wear the pallium. The
election of Benedict was the signal for an army to advance upon Italy,
and enforce another election which the king of Germany approved of. Two
popes could not reign; the last was victorious. Benedict was defeated,
and excommunicated, and the pallium he had given to Stigand was now
useless. Had Benedict been victorious, it would have been as good a
pallium as ever pontiff blessed; packed up, and despatched from the
eternal city, as it was, "it was a thing of naught."

Trifling, as matters of history, as such petty squabbles must appear,
they, nevertheless, had their weight and influence--widening the
breach which had already been made between the church of Rome and
England; and when the time arrived, and the vindictive mother saw the
opportunity of striking a blow effectually, she did so, and brought
all the power she possessed to aid William the Norman when he attacked
England. Norman Robert and Saxon Stigand, though but feathers floating
in the air, showed unerringly that the wind which blew from Rome was
unfavourable to the interests of England. While Britain also seemed
drifting away daily wider and further from Rome, William of Normandy
was still drawing nearer to the eternal city, and constantly seeking
its favour and protection. Alexander the Second, who had driven out and
excommunicated the anti-pope, Benedict, had refused to sanction duke
William's marriage with Matilda, a refusal which was countenanced by
the learned monk, Lanfranc, then resident at the Norman court. Although
the fiery duke dared not do more than murmur at the opposition of the
pontiff, which was grounded on the near relationship of William to
Matilda, still he was resolved not to brook the reproaches of Lanfranc,
much as he valued the monk as a councillor; so he banished him from
his court. Lanfranc went to Rome, grew in favour with the new pope,
and, instead of resenting William's harsh treatment, the monk obtained
from the pontiff a dispensation. Alexander the Second acknowledged
the marriage of William of Normandy and Matilda, and Lanfranc was the
bearer of the good tidings to the Norman court. Who so grateful as duke
William--who so highly honoured as the monk, Lanfranc, the man who had
more power over the pontiff than the duke himself? Who so blind, that
he cannot see the chain which now reached from Normandy to Rome--the
links, William, Lanfranc, and all the friends of the pope? We must bear
in mind that on every mount in Normandy were perched those ill-omened
birds of prey, who were wetting their beaks, and looking with hungry
eyes towards England, from which they had been driven by Godwin and
his sons, just as they were about to gorge themselves. On the coast
of France, also, many a disappointed cormorant might be seen, looking
eagerly in the same direction.

About this period, Edward sent over to Hungary for his nephew, the son
of Edmund Ironside, who must by this time have been a man far advanced
in years, as Edmund himself died about 1016, and it seems to have been
some time between the year 1057 and 1060, when Edward the son of Edmund
arrived in England, at the invitation of his uncle. It appears to have
been the intention of Edward the Confessor to have appointed his nephew
Edward successor to the throne of England; but this was prevented by
the death of the son of Edmund Ironside. Dark hints are thrown out
respecting the death of this prince, and Harold is hinted at as having
hastened his end; but there seems to be no solid ground for such
suspicion, and the rumour was probably circulated by the Normans, whom
Edward still retained, and who were envious of the power the son of
Godwin had acquired. There still remained Edgar, the grandson of Edmund
Ironside, and the son of Edward, who died soon after his arrival in
England; but the king does not appear to have turned his eyes towards
him as his successor.

As the end of Edward the Confessor draws nigh, our attention is divided
between William of Normandy and earl Harold, the son of Godwin; and as
we may consider the king as already dead, for his name scarcely appears
again, unless as connected with the events which succeeded his death,
we will leave him to his devotions, and take up the clue which leads us
through the dark labyrinths to the gloomy end of this portion of our
history. The clearest light which has been thrown upon the mysteries
of this period, and the best reason given for Harold's visit to
Norway, will be found in the following extract from Thierry's "Norman

"For two years internal peace had reigned in England without
interruption. The animosity of king Edward to the sons of Godwin
disappeared from want of aliment, and from the habit of constantly
being with them. Harold, the new chief of this popular family, fully
rendered to the king that respect and deferential submission of which
he was so tenacious. Some ancient histories tell us that Edward loved
and treated him as his own son; but, at all events, he did not feel
towards him that aversion mingled with fear with which Godwin had ever
inspired him; and he had now no longer any pretext for retaining, as
guarantees against the son, the two hostages whom he had received from
the father. It will be remembered that these hostages had been confided
by the suspicious Edward to the care of the duke of Normandy. They
had, for more than ten years, been far from their country, in a sort
of captivity. Towards the end of the year 1065, Harold, their brother,
and their uncle, deeming the moment favourable for obtaining their
deliverance, asked permission of the king to go and demand them in his
name, and bring them out of exile. Without showing any repugnance to
release the hostages, Edward appeared greatly alarmed at the project
which Harold had formed of going in person to Normandy. 'I will not
compel you to stay,' said he; 'but if you go, it will be without my
consent; for your journey will certainly bring some evil upon yourself
and upon your country. I know duke William and his crafty mind; he
hates you, and will grant you nothing unless he gain greatly by it; the
only way safely to obtain the hostages from him were to send some one

Harold, however, went, in spite of this friendly warning, with his hawk
on his wrist, and his hounds baying at his heels, hunting and hawking
on his way, until he arrived at Bosham in Sussex, where he quietly
embarked with his followers to visit William, duke of Normandy, and
fetch back his brother and nephew. We must now follow the perilous
footsteps of earl Harold, and for a short period draw the attention of
our readers to duke William and the court of Normandy.



 "RICHARD.     -------- Now do I play the touch,
               To try if thou be current gold, indeed:--
               Edward lives:--Think now what I would speak.

  BUCKINGHAM.  Say on, my loving lord.

  RICHARD.     I say I would be king--"

We have already given what we believe to be the real motive of Harold's
visit to Normandy. That he went at the request of Edward to announce
the king's intention of appointing William as his successor, the
incidents which we shall record, on Harold's arrival, clearly disprove;
for if such were the case, what occasion would there have been for the
duke to entrap the son of Godwin into taking the oath on the relics as
he did?

The Saxon earl had not been long out at sea before a contrary wind
arose; and after buffeting about for some time, he was at last driven
upon the opposite coast of France, near the mouth of the river Somme,
and upon the territory which was then held by Guy, count of Ponthieu.
Adhering to the maxims of the old sea-kings, the count considered all
his own that he either found upon the ocean or picked up along the
coast; so he seized Harold and his followers, and held them prisoners
until they could pay the ransom he demanded. The captives were taken
to the fortress of Beaurain, near Montreuil. Harold communicated with
William of Normandy, and the latter speedily sent messengers demanding
the release of the prisoners, under the plea that they were sent on
matters of business to his own court, and, for that reason, he was
bound to protect them. The duke is said to have accompanied his message
with a menace. This the count paid no regard to, and William, who had
many reasons for keeping on good terms with his French neighbours,
was too wary to execute the threat he had thrown out; so he paid the
ransom, and liberated Harold, whom he was anxious to have in his own

When the Saxon earl reached Rouen, William received him with an
apparent warmth, and a cordiality, that looked as if he had some
end to obtain. He overwhelmed him with kindness, declared that the
hostages were his, and might accompany him back at once; but, as a
courteous guest, he trusted Harold would remain a few days with him,
visit the country, and join in the festivals which he had prepared
for his welcome. It would have required a clearer-sighted and more
suspicious man than earl Harold appears to have been, to have seen
into duke William's motives through all this professed friendship; but
the Saxon's eyes were opened at last; William did not lead him from
castle to castle for nothing; he well knew the price he had fixed upon
the knighthood he conferred upon Harold, and never was a glittering
sword, a silver baldric, and a bannered lance, purchased more dearly
than those the son of Godwin received from the son of Robert the Devil.
Harold went gaily with his brother and nephew to war against the
Bretons, at William's request; the Saxons distinguished themselves by
their valour, and no one was praised more in the camp than Harold the
Saxon, who, with his own hand, had saved several Norman soldiers when
they were nigh perishing amongst the quicksands of Coësnon. While the
war lasted, it is recorded that William and Harold slept in the same
tent, and ate at the same table. This was the first act of the drama in
which William played so masterly a part.

The curtain again draws up, and we behold the duke and the earl riding
lovingly side by side on their way to the castle of Bayeux. William
begins to talk about his youthful days, of the happy hours he had spent
with Edward of England, when he was in Normandy; no doubt he mentioned
some of their boyish pranks, told anecdotes that drew a peal of
laughter from the unsuspicious Saxon, when all at once he said, "When
Edward and I lived under the same roof, like two brothers, he promised
me, that if ever he became king of England, he would make me heir to
his kingdom." No doubt the son of Robert the Devil looked down upon
his saddle-bow, or out of the corner of his keen cunning eye, or threw
off the sentence as if he had no meaning in it; then made some passing
remarks upon his horse, or any object near at hand. After he had done
speaking, Harold, it appears, was taken by surprise, and either made
no reply, or merely uttered some such unmeaning word as "indeed!"
when William, having ventured one foot upon the ice, tried the other,
and thus proceeded: "Harold, if thou wouldst aid me in realising this
promise, be sure that if I obtain the kingdom, whatever thou askest of
me that shalt thou have."

Harold, be it remembered, was in the enemy's country, surrounded by
those who had ever been foes to his family; his brother and nephew were
also, like himself, in duke William's power; and there cannot be a
doubt but that, if he had openly declared himself opposed to the duke's
views, neither he nor they would again have set foot upon the shores of
England. The Saxon had no alternative but to appear to acquiesce to his
wishes, though we can fancy with what an ill grace he seemed to comply.
It was the armed ruffian alone with the victim in his power, who,
thinking that he can borrow more than he shall get by murdering his
companion, boldly asks for the loan, and, having through fear extorted
the promise, presents a bond, gets it signed, then appoints the time
and place where it is to be paid; and should the victim seek to evade
the responsibility which self-preservation alone compelled him to
incur, the other upbraids him as a perjurer and a villain, proclaims to
the world what he has done, and gets the consent of all his creditors,
who hoped to be enriched by the loan, to assist in murdering the
helpless and unfortunate wretch he has entrapped.

Having extracted something like a vague promise, William then presented
the bond, and said, "Since thou consentest to serve me, thou must
engage to fortify Dover castle, to dig there a well of fresh water, and
deliver it up, when the time comes, to my people. Thou must also give
thy sister in marriage to one of my barons" (Did he mean queen Editha?)
"and thyself marry my daughter, Adeliza; moreover, on thy departure,
thou must leave me, as guarantee for thy promise, one of the two
hostages thou claimest, and I will restore him to thee in England when
I come there as king."[14]

So far the wily Norman duke had succeeded, and he was now resolved to
make assurance doubly sure. In both instances he had won. And now we
see the third act of this "eventful history" revealing duke William
seated upon his throne in the castle of Bayeux; he is surrounded by
his nobles. Harold, who is ushered into his presence, has not a friend
amongst the number. William does not yet want "his pound of flesh;"
but he is resolved to test the validity of the bond he has possessed
himself of. He objects not to the signature, but wishes others to be
witness that it is the handwriting of Harold--this admitted, he is
willing to await the time of payment, and lock it up in that great
iron-safe--his heart. Not content with living witnesses, this ancient
Shylock summoned the dead to add solemnity to the oath he was about
to administer. Had the bones of Godwin been in Normandy, there is but
little doubt William would have dug them up as dumb witnesses. They
were not; so he collected all the bones of the reputed saints that
could be found in the neighbouring churches. He summoned the priests to
strip their shrines; a bone or a body was all one to William; a tooth
or a toe-nail came not amiss to the Norman--all were emptied into the
great vessel he had prepared for their reception; and how each church
would pick out its own again concerned not the son of Robert the Devil.

 "Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips;
  Finger of birth-strangled babe,
  Ditch-delivered by a drab."

So that "the charm was firm and good," was all the duke cared for;
and when the relics were ready, the unsuspecting Saxon earl was called
in. How the Norman thieves, who had been kicked out of England, and
been witness to what was prepared and covered carefully up against
Harold's coming, must have grinned when they saw the son of Godwin
enter. William sat upon a throne, holding a drawn sword in his hand.
A crucifix was placed upon the cloth of gold that covered the relics,
and concealed them entirely from the eyes of Harold; the whole formed,
no doubt, to resemble a table, when the duke, bowing to the Saxon,
began thus: "Harold, I require of thee, before this noble assembly,
to confirm by oath the promises thou hast made to me, to aid me to
obtain the kingdom of England after the death of Edward, to marry my
daughter Adeliza, and to send thy sister, that I may wed her to one
of my barons." Harold swore to do all--he had no alternative--so he
"grinned and bided his time," no more meaning to keep his promise
than a man would to send a fifty pound note by return of post to the
address of the ruffian who had met him on a lonely moor at midnight,
and presented a pistol to his ear. When Harold had sworn, the assembled
nobles exclaimed, "God aid him!" The third act was then over, and again
the curtain fell; the figure of William was seen near the foot-lights,
the cloth of gold lying at his feet, and Harold looking on the relics
on which he had unconsciously sworn. Well might the Saxon shudder.
William had shown himself worthy of the name his father had borne.
We want but the thunder and the lightning, the red fire and the grey
spirits, to outdo all that the presiding genius of scenic horrors ever
invented. Were not the motives so deep, devilish, and villanous, we
might sit as spectators, and enjoy the horrors; but when we know that
the whole was real--that the motive was serious--that the death's head
and cross bones were real representatives of the red warm human blood
that was doomed to flow, ere the terrible tragedy ended; we turn away,
like Harold, pale and trembling; and as we retreat, we look round in
affright, and are still followed by the skeletons of the dead.

From a land filled with such plots and pitfalls, Harold was glad to
escape under any promise or at any price, and though he brought away
his nephew with him, he was compelled to leave his younger brother in
the hands of the Norman.

[Illustration: _Harold swearing on the Relics of the Saints._]

The duke of Normandy was a man who boggled at nothing, so long
as it aided him in accomplishing his ends. Whether he attempted to
win a kingdom or a wife, he considered all means fair that he could
avail himself of. Thus, after having for some time courted Matilda,
daughter of Baldwin, earl of Flanders, and found himself objected to
by the father on account of his birth, and by the maiden because she
was already in love with another, he hit upon the strangest stratagem
that a lover ever had recourse to, to make his way into a fair lady's
affections. Weary of sighing and suing, of continued entreaty which
was only met by successive rejections, he resolved boldly to win the
inner fortress by battering down the outward walls, and carrying by
force that citadel, the lady's heart, which he had so long besieged.
Any other lover would have been content with carrying off his fair
captive. Duke William acted very differently. He began by beating his
prisoner into compliance, leaving it to herself to decide between
another thrashing and surrendering at once; neither did he take her
in her dishabille, but waited until the lady was very neatly attired;
and lest he should kill her in the strange way he took of displaying
his affection, he first permitted her to attend mass. This over, he
began his suit in downright earnest. He waylaid her in the street of
Bruges, and after rolling her very lovingly in the dirt, and making
her, as a lady might say, a perfect fright, he then by way of finish,
and as a proof of the strength of his affection, administered to her a
few good solid hearty cuffs, and without either stopping to pick her
up or wishing her good-bye, he mounted his horse and galloped off.
This new mode of wooing had its desired effect. Matilda had often been
threatened by Love, but never before had he visited her in such a
substantial shape. She little dreamed that the fluttering of his purple
pinions after such soft hoverings, and gentle breathings, would end in
downright hard blows from his clenched fists, but finding such was the
case, she went home, rubbed her bruises, changed her attire, and got
married as quickly as possible.

Matilda herself, taking a lesson out of the same book, resolved
that the lover who had so long stood between herself and William's
affections, should not escape scathless, after what she had suffered
for his sake; and, although it was long after her marriage, she
obtained possession of the estates of the Saxon nobleman, Brihtric,
who had had the misfortune to be sent ambassador to her father's court
when she first fell in love with him; and the pretty tigress, now
finding that her claws were full-grown, in revenge for the slight she
had endured, and the thrashing she had borne, after having robbed him
of all he possessed, threw him into prison, and was the cause of his
death. A frail fair maiden, the niece of a Kentish nobleman, whom
Matilda suspected of conquering the heart of her husband while he was
conquering England, it is believed fared little better in her hands,
but that she caused her to be mutilated like Elgiva of old, and either
ham-strung her, or slit open the beautiful mouth which had won the
Conqueror from his allegiance to his savage lady. For this cruel deed,
Matilda is said to have received another beating from her husband,
and this time from a bridle which he brought in his hand for the

When Harold returned to England, he presented himself before king
Edward, and made him acquainted with all that had occurred between duke
William and himself in Normandy. The king became pale and pensive,
and said, "Did I not forewarn thee that I knew this William, and that
thy journey would bring great evils both upon thyself and upon thy
nation? Heaven grant that they happen not in my time." These words,
which are given both by Eadmar and Roger of Hovedon, although they
prove that it was far from the wish of Edward that duke William should
be his successor, still leave the matter doubtful, whether or not in
his younger years he had rashly promised to leave him the crown at
his death. William, however, had already obtained a great advantage.
An oath, sworn upon relics, no matter under what circumstances, was
sure, if violated, to be visited with the fullest vengeance of the
ecclesiastical power; and we have already shown that England at this
time was looked upon with an unfavourable eye by the church of Rome.
The rumour of the oath which Harold had taken was soon made known in
England. "Gloomy reports flew from mouth to mouth; fears and alarms
spread abroad, without any positive cause for alarm; predictions were
dug up from the graves of the saints of the old time. One of these
prophesied calamities such as the Saxons had never experienced since
their departure from the banks of the Elbe; another announced the
invasion of a people from France, who would subject the English people,
and abase their glory in the dust for ever. All these rumours, hitherto
unheeded or unknown, perhaps indeed purposely forged at the time, were
now thoroughly credited."[16]

In addition to all these imaginary terrors, and before the monarch
was borne to his tomb, a large comet became visible in England. The
greatest Danish army that ever landed upon our island never spread
such consternation as was produced by this fiery messenger. Such a
phenomenon as this was but wanted to crown their superstitious horrors.
The people assembled to gaze on it with pale and terror-stricken
countenances in the streets of the towns and villages. In their eyes
it denoted death, desolation, famine, invasion, slaughter, and "all
the ills which flesh is heir to." A monk of Malmesbury, who professed
the study of astronomy, gave utterance to the following ominous
declaration:--"Thou hast, then, returned at length; thou that wilt
cause so many mothers to weep! many years have I seen thee shine; but
thou seemest to me more terrible now, that thou announcest the ruin of
my country."

Edward never held up his head again, nor uttered another cheerful
word after the return of Harold. From that time, until he expired, he
scarcely ever ceased to reproach himself for having caused the war
which hung so threateningly over England, by entrusting foreigners,
instead of his own countrymen, with the affairs of his government. Day
and night these thoughts beset him, and he endeavoured in vain to drive
them away by religious exercises, and by adding donation upon donation
to the churches and monasteries. In vain did the priests pray--in vain
did he seek respite by listening to the Bible, which was read to him,
for those passages of sublime and fearful grandeur which figuratively
announce the coming of the Most High, to punish the nations who had
rebelled against His commandments, fell upon his ear like an ominous
knell. Writhing upon his death-bed, he would exclaim, "The Lord hath
bent His bow--He hath prepared His sword, and hath manifested his
anger." Such words struck horror into the souls of all who surrounded
his bed, with the exception of Stigand, the archbishop of Canterbury,
who, it is said, smiled with contempt upon those who trembled at the
ravings of a sick old man. According to the authority of the Saxon
Chronicle, Eadmar, Roger of Hoveden, Florence of Worcester, Simeon of
Durham, and partially by William of Malmesbury, and Thierry, a careful
ransacker of ancient chronicles, it is said, "However weak the mind of
the aged Edward, he had the courage, before he expired, to declare to
the chiefs who consulted him as to the choice of his successor, that,
in his opinion, the man worthy to reign was Harold, the son of Godwin."
Edward just lived to see the opening of the most eventful year in our
annals--that in which England was invaded by the Normans. He expired
on the eve of Epiphany, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and was
buried in Westminster Abbey, where his shrine, though mutilated by
time and rude hands, still remains standing in that edifice which his
own piety caused him to rebuild, and which illness alone prevented him
from being present to witness its consecration. He was long remembered
by the Saxons for the body of laws he compiled, which his oppressed
countrymen made their rallying cry, whenever they gained an ascendancy
over their stern task-masters, the Normans. His conduct to Editha,
doubtless, arose from his dislike to earl Godwin, and the persuasions
of his Norman favourites, for he seems to have ever been a man of a
wavering mind, and who seldom acted from an opinion of his own. With
him perished the last king who was legitimately descended from the
great Alfred; for although Harold was a Saxon, and displayed as much
military and political genius as any (excepting Alfred) in whose veins
flowed the blood of kings, he was still the son of the cowherd Godwin,
a humble, but more honourable line of descent than that of William the
Bastard, against whom he was so soon to measure his strength, for he
was at this period busily though silently preparing for the invasion of

The Danes were heathens; they professed not Christianity--this Norman
did; yet when England was ruled over by a king who had been elected by
the voice of the whole witena-gemot, an election that had scarcely ever
been disputed, this Norman bastard, this son of Robert the Devil, came
over with his hired cut-throats, and armed robbers, and having drenched
a once happy country with blood, he covered its smiling shores and
cheerful fields with desolation and blackened ashes.



 "You have conspired against our royal person,
  Joined with an enemy proclaimed, and from his coffers
  Received the golden earnest of our death;
  Wherein you would have sold your king to slaughter,
  His princes and his peers to servitude,
  His subjects to oppression and contempt,
  And his whole kingdom unto desolation."--SHAKSPERE.

Harold, the last Saxon who sat upon the throne of England, was elected
king by a large assembly of chiefs and nobles in London, on the evening
of the very day which saw the body of Edward the Confessor consigned
to the tomb. He was crowned by the archbishop Stigand, who, although
labouring under the ban of the court of Rome, boldly officiated at
this important ceremony. The archbishop is represented in the Bayeux
tapestry as standing on the left hand of Harold, who is seated upon
the throne, on the day of his coronation. Edgar Atheling, the grandson
of Edmund Ironside, was still alive, and was the undoubted heir to the
crown, though none of the nobles appear to have advocated his claim.
Harold was honourably and legally elected by the witenagemot, which,
as we have shown on several occasions, had by its unanimous consent
frequently set the rightful heir aside, and placed upon the throne
such a successor as was considered most competent to govern. One of
our old chroniclers, Holinshed, says, "He studied by all means which
way to win the people's favour, and omitted no occasion whereby he
might show any token of bounteous liberality, gentleness, and courteous
behaviour towards them. The grievous customs, also, and taxes which
his predecessor had raised, he either abolished or diminished; the
ordinary wages of his servants and men of war he increased; and,
further, showed himself very well bent to all virtue and goodness."
Sharon Turner wisely and cautiously observes, that "the true character
of Harold cannot be judged from his actions in the emergency of
competition; as he perished before the virtues of his disposition could
be distinguished from those of his convenience." Harold commenced
his reign by restoring things to their old Saxon forms; he affixed
Saxon signatures to his deeds, instead of the Norman seal. Although
he did not go so far as to banish all the Normans from his court, it
is not improbable that such as were permitted to remain did so at the
intercession of Edward on his death-bed. It was a Norman who bore the
tidings of the death of Edward to duke William.

The duke was engaged in his park near Rouen when he received the news
of Harold's accession; he was busy trying some new arrows when the
messenger arrived. In a moment he became thoughtful, crossed the Seine,
and hastened to his palace; when he entered the great hall, he began
to pace hurriedly to and fro, occasionally fastening and untying the
cord that secured his cloak, then again sitting down for a moment,
and the next instant hastily arising. He was evidently staggered by
Harold's boldness; not probably that he expected his aid, but at the
suddenness with which he had assumed the crown. For some time no one
dared speak to the "fiery duke;" all stood apart, either in silence
or conversing in subdued whispers. An officer at last entered, who
either being admitted to more familiarity, or possessing more courage
than the rest, thus accosted the angry Norman: "My lord," said he,
"why not communicate your intelligence to us? It is rumoured that
the king of England is dead, and that Harold has broken his faith to
you, by seizing the kingdom." "They report truly," answered the duke,
sternly and briefly; "my anger is touching his death, and the injury
Harold has done to me." This courtier must have been well acquainted
with William's designs, and we can readily fancy the grim smile that
faded over the duke's countenance when the officer had completed his
harangue, which was as follows: "Chafe not at a thing that may be
amended. There is no remedy for Edward's death; but for the wrong which
Harold has done, there is. Yours is the right. You have good knights;
strike boldly--well begun is half done."[17] No one knew this better
than the duke himself; he now found that he could not obtain the
kingdom by trickery--that all the trouble he had taken to muster the
relics together had been labour in vain,--that fighting in a distant
country was an expensive business,--so he went in to consult with his
councillors--to consider the ways and means, to reckon up the cost
of this great expected gain, and to see which would be the best and
cheapest way of executing the few thousands of murders which it was
necessary to perpetrate before he could gain possession. The evil
genius of the son of Robert the Devil was equal to the emergency.

We must now return to Tostig, who, it will be remembered, when Harold
advocated the cause of the oppressed Danes, fled to Flanders, and found
shelter at the court of earl Baldwin, whose daughter, Judith, he had
married. Earl Baldwin, it will be borne in mind, was the father of
Matilda; thus, William the Norman, and Tostig, the son of Godwin, and
brother to king Harold, had married two sisters. Tostig seems never to
have forgiven his brother for deciding in favour of Morkar, the son of
Algar,--who had supplanted him in the government of Northumbria; and no
sooner did he hear that Harold was seated upon the throne of England,
than he hastily left Flanders, and hurried to Normandy to urge his
brother-in-law, duke William, to commence hostilities against England.
Although the plans of the Norman duke were not yet matured, William
had no objection to set brother against brother; thinking, no doubt,
that any attack would serve to divert the attention of Harold from
the main invasion, and give him a better opportunity of striking the
meditated blow. William supplied Tostig with several vessels, promising
him also, as soon as he was prepared, to come to his assistance. With
these ships, which were insufficient for the attack, Tostig sailed
into the Baltic in search of allies, promising the kingdom to any one
who would assist him to conquer it. For this purpose, he sought out
the king of Denmark, who was related to him on his mother's side;
but the Danish sovereign, well aware that thousands of his subjects
were then living peacefully and happily in England, reprimanded him
sternly for attempting to invade his brother's dominions, and refused
to assist him. Nothing daunted by his ill success, Tostig next steered
to the coast of Norway, where Harald Hardrada, the last of the bold
Scandinavian sea-kings, reigned.

Few men of that day had seen more service than the Norwegian king,
Harald; he had fought endless battles, both by sea and land,--had,
in turn, set out to pillage as a pirate, and to conquer and subdue
with all the right and might of a sea-king. He had fought in the
east, visited Constantinople, enrolled himself in a troop of his own
countrymen who, by their valour and daring, had already distinguished
themselves both in Asia and Africa; and, though brother to a king, he
had, with his battle-axe on his shoulders, timed his footsteps to a
march as he mounted guard, like a humble sentinel, at the sculptured
gates of the Asiatic palaces. Having enriched himself by serving as
a "soldier of fortune," he became weary of the outward grandeur and
internal languor of these effeminate courts, pined for the fresh air
which blew about his own bluff headlands, and longed again to feel
the cold sea spray beating upon his sun-tanned cheeks, and to guide
his sea-horse over the ever-moving billows. So one day he entered the
palace with his battle-axe over his shoulder, and said that it was
his intention to return to Norway. His resignation was received with
reluctance: the Asiatic king would rather have parted with a hundred
of his followers than with Harald Hardrada. The Norwegian soon found
it was his intention to detain him by force; so, seizing a ship, he
carried with him a beautiful princess whose affections he had won,
and left the imperial palace to guard itself. Once upon the sea,
Harald was in no hurry to reach home. He had still room in his ship
for more treasures,--he had his beautiful and willing captive for a
companion,--his ship filled with grim warriors, who, at his bidding,
were ready to grapple with the most formidable dangers; so, after a
long piratical cruise along the coast of Sicily, during which he had
laden his vessel with treasures, he returned home, raised an army, and
laid claim to the throne of Norway. He soon succeeded in obtaining
a share of the dominions. To this valorous vikingr, so renowned for
his perilous adventures and daring deeds, Tostig came for assistance,
promising him England if he could but win it. Hardrada was easily
persuaded; he loved to be where blows rained heavily, where dangers
hemmed him in--he seemed to breathe more freely where the current of
air was stirred by the struggle of arms,--so promised that, as soon
as the ice melted and liberated his fleet, he would set sail for

Impatient to commence the attack, Tostig landed upon the northern
coast of England, at the head of such adventurers as he could muster,
and began to pillage the towns and villages north of the Humber. He
was opposed by Morkar, the governor of Northumbria, and compelled to
retreat into Scotland, where he awaited the arrival of Harald Hardrada.

While these events were in progress, the duke of Normandy was not
inactive, but despatched a messenger to England, who, arriving at
the court of Harold, thus addressed the Saxon king: "William, duke
of Normandy, reminds thee of the oath which thou didst swear to him,
by mouth and by hand, on good and holy relics." The son of Godwin
answered,--"It is true that I swore such an oath to duke William, but I
swore it under compulsion; I promised that which did not belong to me,
and which I could not perform; for my royalty is not mine, and I cannot
divest myself of it without the consent of my country, nor, without the
consent of the country, can I marry a foreign wife. As to my sister,
whom the duke claims, to marry her to one of his chiefs, she died this
year:--would he have me send him her body?"

William, who was not yet ready to commence operations against England,
after having received Harold's answer, sent the Saxon king another
message, requesting him to fulfil at least a portion of the promise
he had made, and if he would not enter into all the conditions he had
sworn to, to marry his daughter, according to promise. But Harold was
resolved not to fulfil a single promise which had been forced from him
under such circumstances, therefore sent back a flat refusal, and a
few days after married a Saxon lady, the sister of Morkar, governor of

From the very moment that the news of this marriage reached the Norman
court, all concession was at an end. William swore a solemn oath, and
vowed, by the splendour of God, that within a year he would appear in
person, and demand the whole of the debt, and "pursue the perjurer to
the very places where he thought he had the surest and firmest footing."

Leaving duke William busily preparing for his invasion, we must again
glance at England, which Harald Hardrada was already on his way to
attack, with a large fleet. A feeling of fear and discontent seems to
have reigned amid the Norwegian soldiers. Many of them were disturbed
by signs and omens--others believed that they had prophetic revelations
during their sleep. "One of them," says Thierry, "dreamed that he saw
his companions land on the coast of England, and in the presence of
the English army; that in the front of this army, riding upon a wolf,
was a woman of gigantic stature; the wolf held in his jaws a human
body, dripping with gore, and when he had devoured it, the woman gave
him another. A second soldier dreamed that the fleet sailed, and that
a flock of crows, vultures, and other birds of prey, were perched
upon the masts and sails of the vessels. On an adjacent rock a woman
was seated, holding a drawn sword in her hand, and looking at and
counting the vessels. She said to the birds, 'Go without fear, you
shall have enough to eat, and you shall have plenty to choose from,
for I go with them.'" After the relation of such dreams as these had
cast a gloom over the whole fleet, every petty disaster which would
have passed unnoticed at another time, was construed into an evil omen.
Thus, when Harald Hardrada, who was a tall, heavy man, placed his foot
on board the royal vessel, they fancied that the weight of his body
either tilted it aside, or pressed it down more than usual; and such a
trifling incident as this could not be viewed without disheartening the

But the bold sea-king was not to be affrighted by such airy shadows as
these. He sailed along the eastern coast of Scotland, until he came
to where Tostig's vessels were anchored; when uniting their forces,
they made their way to Scarborough, and attacked the town. Here
Hardrada was again in his element. The Saxon and Danish inhabitants
made a bold defence. In vain did the sea-king thunder at the gates
with his battle-axe--he could not gain admission. A portion of the
town of Scarborough at this time lay stretched out at the foot of a
high and commanding rock. The bold Norwegian had stormed too many
towns to be daunted by trifles; so summoning his followers to cut
down all the trees which grew at hand, he raised an enormous pile of
trunks and branches upon the summit of the rock, and firing it, with
the stubble and dried grass which he had placed below, he raised such
a conflagration as the inhabitants had never before witnessed. While
the high pile was crackling, and blazing, and lighting up the country
for miles around, he ordered his soldiers to roll down the burning
mass upon the houses at the foot of the rock. The gates were speedily
opened; and as the inhabitants rushed out, the sea-king and his
followers entered to pillage the town.

Leaving Scarborough behind, they quitted the German ocean and entered
the Humber, and sailed round the wolds of Yorkshire into the Ouse,
for Tostig was eager to reach York, and instal himself once more in
the seat of his former government. Morkar, who had succeeded him, and
whose sister king Harold had married, mustered his forces together, and
gave battle to the invaders; he was, however, compelled to retreat, and
escaping into York, which was strongly fortified, he shut himself up,
and left the besiegers encamped around the walls.

Meantime king Harold was in the south, waiting the arrival of duke
William, for with a powerful army he had kept a watch upon the coast
nearest Norway night and day. But the summer was now over, and autumn
having set in, Harold, it is said, misled by a message which he is
reported to have received from Baldwin, earl of Flanders, was led to
believe that the duke of Normandy would not commence his threatened
invasion until the following spring. But whether this report was true
or not, the son of Godwin well knew that his kingdom would be exposed
to greater danger if he allowed two armies to march upon him at once;
that with the Norwegians advancing from the north, and the Normans from
the south, he should be hemmed in between two enemies; so turning his
face towards York, he resolved to attack those who had already landed,
to clear the ground, and make more space for the new comers. Having
once decided, Harold lost not a moment, but riding himself at the head
of his chosen troops, he by rapid marches reached York, on the evening
of the fourth day after his departure. The next day was appointed for
the surrender of the city; for many of the inhabitants, fearful that
the enemy would assail their city as they had before done Scarborough,
had resolved to throw open the gates on the following morning, and
accept again their ancient governor Tostig. Harold, apprised of this,
ordered such of the citizens as were faithful to resume their arms,
keep a close guard over the gates, and on no account to allow any one
to pass over to the Norwegian camp during the night. Encouraged by the
tidings of the arrival of the Saxon army, the citizens remained true to
their trust; nor were Hardrada nor Tostig aware, until the next day,
that Harold was encamped in the neighbourhood.

The morning ushered in one of those bright and beautiful days, which
look as if summer had come back again to peep at the earth before her
final departure; for although it was now near the close of September,
and the harvest-fields were silent the sunlight broke as brilliantly
upon the grey old walls of the city of York as ever it had done while
the green old waysides of England were garlanded with the wild roses
of June. The day being hot and bright, the Norwegians, unconscious
that they were so near an enemy, had left their coats of mail on board
of the ships, which were at some distance from the city. As they were
marching up to enter the gates, as they supposed, peaceably, and in
accordance with the terms which were agreed upon the previous day, the
king of Norway beheld a cloud of dust rising in the distance, amid
which his experienced eye instantly detected the glittering of arms in
the sunshine. "Who are these men advancing towards us?" said Hardrada
to Tostig. "It can only be Englishmen coming to demand pardon and
implore our friendship," answered Tostig; but scarcely had he uttered
the words, before a large and well ordered body of men in armour stood
out clear and distinct in the distance, headed by Harold, the last king
of the Saxons. "The enemy--the enemy!" resounded from line to line;
and three horsemen were instantly despatched with all speed to bring
up the remainder of the army, who were behind in the camp; and the
king of Norway, unfurling his banner, which he called the "Ravager of
the world!" drew up his army around it in the form of a half moon, the
outer verge of which extended towards Harold, while the rounded wings,
which bent back, were filled up with the same strength and depth as
the centre. The first line stood with the ends of their lances planted
in the ground and held in an upward and slanting direction, with the
points turned towards the Saxons. The second line held their spears
above the shoulders of the first, ready to plunge them into the riders
when their horses had rushed upon the points of the foremost spears.
They stood shoulder to shoulder, and shield to shield, while the king
of Norway, on his black charger, rode along the ranks, encouraging his
men to stand firm, and, although without their cuirasses, to fear not
the edges of blue steel. "The sun glitters upon our helmets," said he;
"that is enough for brave men." While Hardrada was riding round, and
encouraging his men, his heavy black war-horse stumbled, and he fell
to the ground; but he sprang up again in an instant, and leaped into
his saddle. Harold, who stood near enough to see his fall, inquired
who that large and majestic person was. When answered that it was the
king of Norway, Harold replied, "His fortune will be disastrous." The
sea-king wore on that day a blue tunic, while his head was surmounted
by a splendid helmet, both of which had attracted the attention of the
Saxon king.

Before the battle commenced, Harold ordered a score of his warriors,
who were well mounted, and armed from head to heel, to advance towards
the front of the Norwegian lines, and summon his brother Tostig to
appear. The Saxon rode out of the Norwegian ranks, when one of the
horsemen exclaimed, "Thy brother greets thee by me, and offers thee
peace, his friendship, and thy ancient honours." Tostig replied, "These
words are very different from the insults and hostilities they made me
submit to a year ago; but if I accept them, what shall be given to my
faithful ally, Harald Hardrada, king of Norway?" "He," answered the
Saxon messenger, "shall have seven feet of ground, or, as he is a very
tall man, perhaps a little more." Tostig bade the messengers depart,
and tell his brother Harold to prepare for fight; for, true to his
word, the Saxon was resolved to stand or fall with the brave Norwegian

Near the commencement of the battle, the Norwegian king was slain by
a random arrow, which pierced his throat. The first charge of the
Saxon cavalry was received firmly on the points of the implanted
spears, and it was not until the English horsemen began to retreat
in some confusion, when the Norwegians were tempted to break through
their hitherto impenetrable ranks, that the Saxons obtained any
advantage. While the combat still raged fiercely under the command of
Tostig, Harold once more singled out his brother in the battle-field,
dispatched to him a messenger, and again offered him both peace and
life, with permission to the Norwegians to return to their own country
unmolested; but Tostig had resolved to win either death or victory.
He was determined to accept no favour from his brother's hands, and
the arrival of fresh troops from the ships, who were completely armed,
seemed to revive fresh hopes in his bosom. But these new troops were
not in a fit state to enter the field. Heated with the rapidity with
which they had marched, under a weight of heavy armour, that the sun
seemed to burn through, they offered but a feeble resistance to the
charge of the Saxon cavalry; and when a rumour ran through the field
that their standard was captured, Tostig and most of the Norwegian
leaders slain, they gladly accepted the peace which king Harold for the
third time offered them. Olaf, the son of the king of Norway, having
sworn friendship to Harold, returned to his own country with the sad
remnant of his father's fleet. "The same wind," says Thierry, "which
swelled the Saxon banners, as they fluttered over a victorious field,
filled the Norman sails, and wafted a more formidable enemy towards the
coast of Sussex." The ominous curtain was drawn up for the last time,
which in a few days was doomed to fall down, and shut out for ever the
last of the Saxons that ever wore the crown of England.

=The Norman Invasion=



 "Down royal state! all you sage counsellors, hence!
  And to the English court assemble now,
  From every region, apes of idleness!
  Now, neighbour confines, purge you of your scum:
  Have you a ruffian, that will swear, drink, dance,
  Revel the night; rob, murder, and commit
  The oldest sins the newest kind of ways?
  Be happy, he will trouble you no more:
  England shall double gild his treble guilt;
  England shall give him office, honour, might."--SHAKSPERE.

We must now carry our readers to Normandy, to the life and stir, and
busy preparation which nearly eight hundred years ago took place in
that country. We must waft their imagination across the ocean to those
masses of living and moving men who then existed, and endeavour to
look at them, as if they still lived, and were actuated then as now.
At the busy workmen who were employed in building ships, labouring all
the more eagerly in hopes that amid the scramble of the war they might
become the commanders of the vessels they were helping to construct--at
the smiths and armourers, who were then forging lances and swords, and
coats of mail, trusting that when their work was done, and the victory
won, they should in England become great lords, and have a score or
two of followers to carry before them the very lances which their own
hard hands had hammered out. At the tailor, who sat hemming gonfannons,
and the embroiderer who worked the figures of lions' and bulls' heads,
dragons, and all imaginable monsters, upon pennon or banner, fondly
dreaming they should one day sit in the lordly halls of England with
the banner, the cunning workmanship of their hands fluttering above
their heads, while they, no longer "knights of the shears and thimble,"
should throw aside the goose and needle, and become great rulers in
conquered England. At the cooper, who thundered away cheerfully as
he drove his hoops down the casks, believing that when his work was
finished, he should on the other side of the ocean become a count; the
shoemaker, who hammered and stitched for every shoeless vagabond who
came toiling up the dusty roads from Maine and Anjou, under promise
that he should have the fairest Saxon wife he could capture. The
tinker, who had clouted pots and pans, but now turned his hand to the
riveting of helmets, under the hope of becoming a rich thane when he
landed in Britain. For hedgers and ditchers, weavers, and drovers--all
the scum and outcast of Poitou, and Brittany, France, and Flanders,
now came in rags and tatters--the "shoeless-stocracy" from Aquitaine
and Burgundy, hurried up under the hope of one day becoming the
aristocracy of England--some offered to murder and burn for their food
and lodging only--others brought their bread and cheese and garlic,
ready bundled up, and were willing to slay and desolate, and do any
damnable deed for their passage alone, so that they might be allowed to
pick up a stray Saxon princess or two, or take possession of any old
comfortable castle, when the burning and murdering were over. Such a
collection of thieves and vagabonds, and un-hung rascals, were never
covered in under the hatches of all the ships that have carried out
convicts since the day that England first discharged its cargoes of
vice and wretchedness upon the shores of Australia. All these ragged
and unprincipled rascals--no matter from what quarter they came--were
instantly set at work; some, who were fit for nothing else, rubbed and
scrubbed and polished corslets and helmets, shields and spurs; others
sharpened spears and pikes and javelins, grinding and rubbing the
points upon any stone they could find; many were beasts of burthen,
and toiled from morning till night, in carrying stores to the ships;
and all these ragamuffins were destined to sail under a banner, which
the pope himself had consecrated, and under a bull to which a ring was
appended, containing one of the hairs of St. Peter set in a diamond of
great value. All these dogs in doublets, hounds in armour, murderers
in mail, cut-throats in corslets, and robbers at heart, were, about
eight hundred years ago, congregated on that great mustering-ground of
villany, Normandy; and there they matured their plans for breaking into
the peaceful homes, and slaying the unoffending inhabitants of England.

The Evil One, doubtless, cast his triumphant eye over that vast
assembly, then hurried off to enlarge his fiery dominion against their

Before setting out on his invasion, the crafty Norman had, by laying
an accusation of sacrilege against Harold, at the court of Rome,
obtained permission to bring back England to the obedience of the
holy church, and to enforce the payment of the tax of Peter's-pence.
Added to this, he got a bull of excommunication against the Saxon
king and his adherents; and armed with such credentials, he set
out to murder, burn, and desolate, under the sanction of the holy
church. Thus, William was armed with a power more dreaded, in that
superstitious age, by the blinded and ignorant multitude, than the
edge of the sword. Nor is it probable, considering the breach which
existed between England and Rome, that the pontiff for a moment took
into consideration the circumstances under which William extorted
the oath from Harold. Besides obtaining the vindictive sanction of
that church which professed only peace and good-will towards all
mankind--whose harshest emblem was a pastoral crook, with which to
draw back tenderly the sheep that had wandered from the fold--but who,
instead of this, consecrated (solemn mockery!) the banner which was
so soon to wave over a field steeped with the blood of Christians.
Besides obtaining this unholy power, the Norman duke made use of all
the duplicity he was master of, to persuade and compel his subjects to
furnish the funds which were so necessary to fit out his expedition.
He summoned his brothers, by the mother's side, Eudes and Robert, sons
of the old tanner of Falaise, who had now turned down the sleeves of
their doublets, cast aside their leathern aprons, and having got rid
of the aroma of the tan-pit, one had become bishop of Bayeux, and the
other count of Mortain. These, together with his barons, summoned to
the conference, pledged themselves, not only to serve him with their
body and their goods, but even to the selling or mortgaging of their
estates, although they were pretty sure, in case of success, of having
whatever they might advance returned to them an hundred-fold. They were
of opinion, that those who were not so likely to become partakers of
the spoil, should be compelled to contribute to the cost. On this hint,
which was probably his own, duke William convoked a large assembly of
men from all professions and stations of life in Normandy, amongst whom
were many of the richest merchants in his dominions. When they met,
he explained his wants, and solicited their assistance. They listened,
then withdrew, in order to consult each other as to what measures
should be taken.

Seldom had there been such a hubbub in Normandy as this assembly
presented. Some, whom there is but little doubt had previously made
their arrangements with either the duke or his officials, were ready to
give ships, money, or anything they possessed; others, who had come to
no understanding as to what return was to be made, would give nothing,
but said that they were already burthened with more debts than they
could pay. In the midst of this confusion, when fifty were talking
like one, and they could scarcely hear each other speak for their own
clamour, William Fitz-Osbern, the seneschal, or ducal lieutenant of
Normandy, entered the hall, and raising his voice high above the rest,
he exclaimed, "Why dispute ye thus? He is your lord--he has need of
you; it were better your duty to make your offers, and not to await his
request. If you fail him now, and he gain his end, he will remember
it; prove, then, that you love him, and act accordingly." "Doubtless,"
cried the opponents, "he is our lord; but is it not enough for us to
pay him his dues? We owe him no aid beyond the seas; he has already
enough oppressed us with his wars; let him fail in his new enterprise,
and our country is undone."[20]

It was at last resolved that Fitz-Osbern should lead the way, and
make the best terms he could with the duke. He did; and they followed
him probably not further than the next apartment, where William was
awaiting their decision; and great must have been their astonishment
when the seneschal commenced his oration. In vain did they shrug up
their shoulders, lift up their eyes, and exclaim, "No, no! we did not
say this; we will not do that." Onward plunged Fitz-Osbern deeper and
deeper, declaring that they were the most loyal and zealous people
in the world--that they were ready to serve him here, there, and
everywhere,--that they would give him all they possessed; and, more
than that, that those who had supplied him with two mounted soldiers
would now furnish four. In vain they roared out, "No, no! we will serve
him in his own country, but nowhere beside." Fitz-Osbern had in his
imagination jerked them across the ocean, and furnished William with an
army in no time; and when he had finished, he left them to settle as
they best could with the duke,--for there is no doubt the matter had
been previously concocted between the seneschal and William.

The duke of Normandy either was, or pretended to be surprised and
enraged beyond measure. Could his seneschal have deceived him, or
could they be so disloyal as to refuse to furnish him with the aid
he required? Such a matter must be looked into--and it was. He sent
separately for the most influential of the leaders; had a private
conference with each; and, when they came out, they were ready to grant
him everything. He gave them sealed letters for security; and what they
contained we may readily guess--for the man who consented to portion
out England to his followers before they had conquered it, was not
likely to stick at giving away all Europe [on parchment] to secure his
ends. By such tricks as these, sorry are we to write it, he obtained
the aid of many brave and honourable men. But for this, we might have
ranked his invasion with an army of unprincipled adventurers, amongst
the ravages of those Goths and Vandals who in the darker ages overran
Greece and Rome. "He published his proclamation," says Thierry, "in the
neighbouring countries, and offered good pay and the pillage of England
to every man who would serve him with lance, sword, or cross-bow; and
multitudes accepted the invitation, coming by every road, far and
near, from north and south. All the professional adventurers, all
the military vagabonds of western Europe, hastened to Normandy by
long marches; some were knights and chiefs of war, the others simple
foot-soldiers and serjeants-of-arms, as they were then called. Some
demanded money-pay, others only their passage, and all the booty they
might make. Some asked for land in England, a domain, a castle, a town;
others simply required some rich Saxon in marriage. Every thought,
every desire of human avarice presented itself; "William rejected no
one," says the Norman chronicle, "and satisfied every one as well as he

From spring to autumn, Normandy was the great rallying point for every
one who had strength enough to wield arms, and were willing to dash
out the brain of his fellow-men. The three-lion banner threw its folds
over more crime and cruelty than was, perhaps, ever found amongst the
same number of men; and the doors of this huge inhuman stye were about
to be opened, and the grim, savage, and tusked herd turned loose, to
slay, root-up, overrun, and desecrate a country to which Alfred the
Great had given laws--a kingdom that already stood second to none in
the wide world for civilization. These man-slayers ran together to
hunt in couples--they became sworn brothers in arms--they vowed to
share all they gained--they made these promises in churches--they
knelt hand in hand before the holy altars, and blasphemously called
God to witness that they would equally divide what they obtained by
bloodshed and robbery. Prayers were said, and psalms chaunted, and
tapers burnt in churches for the success of these armed marauders; yet
neither the thunder nor the lightning nor an avenging arm descended to
strike dead the impious priests who thus dared to invoke His sacred
name in so unholy a cause; and for ages after, many a golden cross
and sacred vessel of gold or silver, which had once decorated the
altars of the English monasteries, were seen in the mis-called sacred
buildings of Normandy--rewards which were given by the Norman Bastard
to these mitred blasphemers. Some were honourable enough to refuse to
co-operate with the Norman on any terms, like the high-minded Gilbert
Fitz-Richard, who came over with the duke because he was his liege
lord; and when the period of his servitude had expired, returned
again to his own country, no richer than when he came. But there were
few, we fear, like him. Thierry says, "He was the only one among the
knights who accompanied the Norman that claimed neither lands nor
gold." Many, we know, while the army was encamped near the river Dive,
did homage for the lands which were then in the peaceable possession
of the Saxons, who little dreamed, while they were superintending the
gathering in of their harvest, that the Norman Bastard was already
portioning out their fair domains amongst men who had sworn to do his
"bloody business."

When William applied to Philip of France for his assistance--and in
the most humiliating terms offered to do homage for England, and to
hold it as the vassal of France--Philip refused to assist him. With the
count of Flanders, his brother-in-law, he fared no better; and when
Conan, king of Brittany, heard that duke William, whom he looked upon
as an usurper, and the murderer of his father, was preparing for the
invasion of England, he sent him the following message by one of his
chamberlains:--"I hear that thou art about to cross the sea, to conquer
the kingdom of England. Now, duke Robert, whose son thou pretendest
to be, on departing for Jerusalem, remitted all his heritage to count
Allan, my father, who was his cousin; but thou and thy accomplices
poisoned my father. Thou hast appropriated to thyself his seigneury,
and hast detained it to this day, contrary to all justice, seeing that
thou art a bastard. Restore me, then, the duchy of Normandy, which
belongs to me, or I will make war upon thee to the last extremity with
all the forces at my disposal."

The Norman historians state that William was somewhat alarmed at this
message, as such an attack must have prevented his meditated invasion;
but the king of Brittany did not survive his threat many days. The
Norman succeeded in bribing the chamberlain to murder his royal master,
and this he accomplished by rubbing the mouth-piece of his hunting
horn with deadly poison, so that when Conan next rode to the chase,
he blew his last blast. Many of William's enemies were at this time,
beyond doubt, removed by similar means. Nor do such deeds startle the
historian as he draws nearer to that land of horrors; to the threshold
of that country which, by his command, was stained with the blood of a
hundred thousand murders. The successor of Conan, warned by the fate of
father and son, patched up a peace with the Norman, and allowed many of
his subjects to accompany the expedition.

When all was in readiness for this long threatened invasion, a contrary
wind set in, and kept the large fleet, which amounted to many hundred
sail, for nearly a whole month at the mouth of the Dive, a river
which falls into the sea between the Seine and the Orne. After this
a southerly breeze sprang up, and wafted the mighty armament as far
as the roadsteads of St. Valery, near Dieppe; then the wind suddenly
changed, and there they were compelled to lie at anchor for several
days. Many of the vessels were wrecked; and lest an alarm should
spread amongst his troops, William caused the bodies of the drowned
men to be buried with speed, and in privacy. Nor did such disasters
fail in producing their effects upon his superstitious followers. Some
deserted his standard, for they thought that an expedition, which the
very elements seemed to oppose, could only be attended with evil.
Murmurs broke out in the fleet--the soldiers began to converse with
each other, and to exaggerate the number of dead bodies which had been
buried in the sand--to conjure up perils and difficulties which they
had never before seen. "The man is mad," said they, "who seeks to seize
the land of another. God is offended with such designs, and proves it
by refusing us a favourable wind." In vain did William increase the
rations of provisions, and supply them with larger portions of strong
liquor--the same low feeling of despondency reigned along the shore and
in the ships. The soldiers were weary of watching the monotonous waves
that ever rolled from the same quarter--they were tired of feeling
the wind blow upon their faces from the same direction--but there was
no help--no change; the breeze shifted not; and they paced wearily!
wearily! along the shore; reckoning up again the number of dead bodies
which had already been buried in the sand, then shaking their heads,
and muttering to each other, "So many have perished, and yet we are no
nearer the battle than when we set out." Others deserted on the morrow.

In vain did duke William attend the church of St. Valery daily, and
pray before the shrine of the saint--the little weathercock on the
bell-tower still pointed in the same direction day after day--his
prayers were of no avail; and sometimes he came out of the church
with such an expression on his countenance, as led the beholder to
conclude that, from the bottom of his heart, he wished the wind, the
weathercock, and the saint, with that dusky gentleman after whom the
Normans had nicknamed his father. Weary and disheartened, like his
followers, at this long delay, William at last hit upon a device, that
at least served to arouse the spirits of his soldiers from the state
of despondency into which they had sunk, and to chase from their minds
the gloomy doubts and forebodings with which they had been so long
overcast. To accomplish this, he took from the church of St. Valery
the coffer that contained the relics of the patron saint, and this he
had carried with great ceremony through the camp in the centre--it was
at last set down; and prayers having been offered up for a favourable
wind, the soldiers in procession passed by the relics of the reputed
saint, each throwing upon it what he could best afford, until the
"shrine was half buried in the heaps of gold, silver, and precious
things, which were showered upon it. Thus artfully did he, instead of
interposing the authority of a sovereign and a military leader, to
punish the language of sedition and mutiny among his troops, oppose
superstition to superstition, to amuse the short-sighted instruments of
his ambition."[21]

On the following night the wind chanced to change, to the great delight
of the priests who attended the camp, and who, while they packed up
the rich offerings which had been thrown over the dry and marrowless
bones of a good and pious old man, failed not to attribute the natural
change in the current of the atmosphere to the intercession of St.
Valery. At daybreak, on the twenty-seventh of September, the sky was
bright and beautiful--the wind blowing in a favourable direction
from the south, and the sun, which had for many days been enveloped
in mists and clouds, now rose with a summer-like splendour, throwing
long trails of golden light over the green and ridgy sea. The camp was
immediately broken up, the sails were hoisted, and in a few hours the
large fleet, which contained upwards of sixty thousand men, launched
forth into the open sea amid the deep braying of the Norman trumpets.
Foremost in the van rode the beautiful vessel which contained William,
duke of Normandy. At its mast-head fluttered the consecrated banner
which had been sent by the pope, and below this streamed out another
flag, marked with the cross of Calvary, for so was the emblem of our
salvation profaned. The sails were of various colours, and on them were
emblazoned in gold the three lions, the haughty arms of Normandy. The
prow of the vessel was decorated with the figure of a child, bearing
a bent bow in its hand, as if in the act of discharging an arrow.
When night closed in over the sea, a large lantern was hoisted to the
mast-head of this magnificent vessel, and through the hours of darkness
that vast fleet marched from wave to wave, every billow rolling it
nearer to the shores of England. When the grey morning again dawned
upon the sea, the Norman chief, finding that he had far outsailed his
fleet, sent one of his sailors up the mast to see if he could descry
the lagging ships in the distance. At first, the man who was despatched
to look out saw nothing but sea and sky; but on his third ascent, he
exclaimed, "I see a forest of masts and sails!" William then either
dropped his anchor, or took in his canvas, until the foremost vessels
approached, and in a few hours after, the vast armament was riding
safely in Pevensey Bay; only one or two vessels having been lost,
while crossing the English channel, and in one of these was a famous
astrologer who had predicted that the voyage would terminate without a
disaster; but when William heard of his death, he shrewdly remarked,
"that he who could not foresee his own fate, was ill adapted to foretel
the fate of others."

It appears that the Saxon vessels which had so long been cruising upon
the coast of Sussex, awaiting the arrival of the Normans, had returned
to port from want of provisions. Thus William was enabled to land his
troops without opposition; and on the 28th of September, his forces
disembarked at Pevensey, on the coast of Sussex. The archers, who wore
short coats, and had their hair cut close, were the first to land. They
were followed by the knights, who wore corslets of burnished mail, and
conical shaped helmets of glittering steel; each bore in his hand a
strong lance, while at his side hung a long, straight, double-edged
sword. Then came the pioneers, the carpenters, and the smiths, each
wheeling up and forming themselves into separate divisions, until the
whole shore was covered with armed men and horses, above whose heads
fluttered the gonfannons and the larger banners, which were so soon to
serve as beacons in the rallying points of battle. William was the last
to land, and his foot had scarcely touched the sandy shore before he
stumbled and fell. A murmur arose amid the assembled host, and voices
were heard to exclaim, "This is an evil sign." But the duke, with that
ready talent which enabled him to give a favourable appearance to
serious as well as trifling disasters, suddenly sprang up, and showing
the sand which he had grasped in his fall, exclaimed, "Lords, what is
it you say? What, are you amazed? I have taken seizin of this land with
my hands, and, by the splendour of God, all that it contains is ours."
One of the soldiers then ran hastily forward, and tearing a handful
of thatch from the roof of a neighbouring cottage, an ancient mode of
conveyance, which still exists, he presented it to the duke, saying,
"Sire, I give you _seizin_, in token that the realm is yours." William
answered, "I accept it, and may God be with us." Refreshments were then
distributed to the soldiers as they rested upon the beach.

The army moved a little onward in the direction of Hastings, a spot
favourable to encamp upon having been selected, two strong wooden
fortresses, which had been prepared in Normandy, were erected; and
thus strongly fortified, William awaited the coming of the Saxons. On
the following day, the work of pillage commenced. Troops of Normans
over-ran the country--the whole coast was in a state of alarm; the
inhabitants fled from their houses, concealing their cattle and goods,
and congregating in the churches and churchyards, as if they trusted
that the dust of the dead would be a protection to them against their
foreign invaders. The peasants assembled on the distant hills, and
looked with terror upon the strong fortresses, and the immense body of
men which they could see moving about the coast. A Saxon knight mounted
his horse, and hurried off, without slackening his rein, to carry the
tidings to Harold. Day and night did he ride, scarcely allowing himself
time for either food or refreshment, until, reaching the ancient hall
at York, where Harold was seated at his dinner, he rushed into the
presence of the Saxon king, and delivering his message in four brief
ominous words, exclaimed, "The Normans are come!"[22]



 "'Tis better to die at the head of the herd,
  Than to perish alone, unmourned, uninterred;
  To be bound with the brave amid summer's last sheaves,
  Than be left, the last ear that the reaper's hand leaves;
  'Tis better to fall grasping arrow and bow,
  Amid those whom we love, than be slave to a foe;
  For life is the target at which Death's shafts fly,
  If they miss us we live--if they hit us we die."


Elated by the victory which a hasty march and a sudden surprise had
enabled him to obtain more easily over the Norwegians, the brave Harold
again, without a day's delay, proceeded to advance rapidly in the
direction of the Norman encampment, wearied and thinned as his forces
were by the late encounter; hoping by the same unexpected manoeuvre
and headlong attack, to overthrow at once this new enemy. So sanguine
was the Saxon king of obtaining the victory, that he commanded a fleet
of seven hundred vessels to hasten towards the English Channel, and
intercept the enemy's ships if they should, on his approach, attempt
to return to Normandy. The force thus despatched, to remain idle and
useless upon the ocean, greatly diminished the strength of the army
which Harold was about to lead into the field. Added to this, many
had abandoned his standard in disgust, because he prohibited them
from plundering the Northmen, whom they had so recently conquered--an
act of forbearance which, when placed beside his generous dismissal
of the vanquished, shows that Harold, like Alfred, blended mercy
instead of revenge with conquest. Too confident in the justice of his
cause--brave, eager, impetuous, and burning with the remembrance of the
wrongs which he had endured, while he lay helpless at the foot of the
Norman duke in his own country, the Saxon king hastened with forced
marches to London; where he only waited a few days to collect such
forces as were scattered about the neighbourhood, instead of gathering
around him the whole strength of Mercia, and the thousands which he
might have marshalled together from the northern and western provinces.
Those who flocked to his standard came singly, or in small bands;
they consisted of men who had armed hastily, of citizens who lived in
the metropolis, of countrymen who were within a day or two's march
of the capital, and even of monks who abandoned their monasteries to
defend their country against the invaders. Morkar, the great northern
chieftain, who had married Harold's sister, mustered his forces at the
first summons, but long before he reached London, Harold was on his
way to Hastings. The western militia, and such straggling bands as we
have already described, were all that made up for the losses he had
sustained at York--for the many who had deserted him because he forbade
them to plunder the Norwegians--and the numbers whom he had so unwisely
sent away to strengthen the fleet--so that the Saxon king, by his
precipitate and ill-timed march, reached the battle-field with a tired
and jaded force, which scarcely numbered twenty thousand; and with
these he was compelled to combat a practised and subtle leader, who had
sixty thousand men at his command, and who, excepting their plunder and
forages in the surrounding neighbourhood, had already rested fifteen
days in their encampment. The haste that Harold made was increased by
the rumours he heard of the ravages committed by the Normans. It was
to put a check to the sufferings which his countrymen were enduring
in the vicinity of the Norman encampment, that caused the Saxon king
to ride at the head of his brave little army, and to leave London in
the twilight of an October evening; and, though so ill prepared, to
endeavour to check the insolence of the rapacious invaders. Harold
possessed not the cool cunning and calculating foresight of his crafty
adversary, but trusted to the goodness of his cause; no marvel then
that he evinced the impatience which is so characteristic of a wronged
and brave Englishman. It is on record, that the Norman duke forbade
his soldiers to plunder the people, but his future conduct is marked
by no such forbearance, and we have proof that the inhabitants in the
neighbourhood of the encampment abandoned their houses and fled; nor is
it probable, for a moment, that such a rabble as he had brought over
would rest, for fifteen days, without molesting the English, whose
country had already been divided, in promise, amongst them.

Harold found the Norman outposts stationed at some distance from
Hastings, and therefore drew up his forces on the range of hills which
stand near the site of Battle-abbey. It is said the altar of the abbey
was afterwards built on the very spot where the Saxon king planted his
standard. Duke William drew up his army more inland, and occupied the
opposite eminence. The features of the country have undergone so many
changes, that it would almost be impossible to point out the identical
hills on which the opposing armies took up their stations, although it
seems pretty clear that the place which still bears the name of Battle
was that on which the struggle took place. The hills on which the Saxon
forces stood arrayed were flanked by a wood. A great portion of this
they felled, to strengthen their position by palisades and breastworks,
and redoubts, formed by stakes, hurdles, and earth-works, which they
hastily threw up, although the soldiery were wearied with their rapid
march from London. Messengers had already passed between Harold and
William. The latter had offered the Saxon king all the lands beyond
the Humber, if he would abandon the throne; or, if he preferred it,
to leave the matter to the pope, or to decide the quarrel by single
combat. Harold answered, that the God of battles should decide between
them. It is said that the Saxon king offered the Norman a large sum
to quit the kingdom: but it is difficult to reconcile such a statement
with that of his having despatched seven hundred vessels to prevent
the invaders from escaping. A whole day is said to have been wasted in
useless messages; and, at length, the Norman went so far as to offer
Gurth, Harold's brother, the whole of the lands which had been held by
earl Godwin. These, with such as extended beyond the Humber, and which
he was willing that the Saxon king should retain, would have left the
wily Norman in possession of a much greater portion of England than he
was able to obtain until long after that sanguinary struggle had been
decided. Harold was firm to his country. He rejected all offers of
concession, and was resolved either to rid England of so dangerous an
enemy, or perish in the field, and by his example to show those into
whose hands the freedom of England might be entrusted, that if he could
not conquer he would die as became a brave Saxon, in the defence of his
country. Harold seems to have been well aware that the battle would be
boldly contested; for when the spies he had sent out to reconnoitre
returned with the tidings, that there were more priests in the Norman
encampment than soldiers--they having mistaken for monks all such as
shaved the beards, and wore the hair short--he smiled, and said, "They
whom you saw in such numbers are not priests, but warriors, who will
soon show us their worth:" a clear proof that he well knew the valour
of the Norman chivalry.

When duke William found that Harold was resolved to fight, he, as a
last resource, sent over a monk to renew his offer, and to proclaim
that all who aided him were excommunicated by the pope, and that he
already possessed the papal bull which pronounced them accursed. Many
of the English chiefs began to look with alarm on each other when
they heard themselves threatened with excommunication. But one of
them, according to the Norman chronicle, boldly answered, "We ought
to fight, however great the danger may be; for the question is not
about receiving a new lord, if our king were dead--the matter is far
different. This duke has given our lands to his barons, knights, and
people, many of whom have already done homage for them. They will
demand the fulfilment of his promises: and were he to become our king,
he would be compelled to give to them our lands, our goods, our wives
and our daughters; for he has beforehand promised them all. They have
come to wrong both us and our descendants--to take from us the country
of our ancestors;--and what shall we do, or where shall we go, when we
have no longer any country?" After such an answer as this, the Norman
must have been satisfied that all further attempts at concession were
useless--that his real motives were unveiled, that they knew he had
abandoned England to the mercy of the armed marauders, who were already
drawn up to "kill and take possession,"--and that the army opposed to
him consisted of men who were resolved to conquer or die. Nor was he
mistaken; for, by the time that the messengers had regained the Norman
encampment, the Saxons had vowed before God, that they would neither
make peace, nor enter into treaty with such an enemy, but either
drive the Normans out of England, or leave their dead bodies in the

We wonder not that men who had formed such a resolution should spend
the night in chaunting their ancient national songs, and in pledging
each other's health, as they passed the cup from hand to hand for the
last time--that the bravest of this sworn brotherhood in arms should
boast how they would hew their way into the enemy's ranks on the
morrow--that many had made up their minds that they should fall--that
they had recounted the number of battles they had fought in, the
omens they had witnessed, and which foretold their deaths, (for such
superstitions were firmly believed by our Saxon ancestors)--that with
such feelings as these the ale cup circulated until that clear, cold
October midnight had rolled into the heavens all its host of stars.
Their talk would be of victory or death--of the hard blows that would
be dealt before the moon again climbed so high up the blue steep of
midnight--of the friends who were far behind--of the many who, in the
face of such an enemy, would be certain to fall;--and, ever and anon,
a few stragglers would come dropping in, and welcome recognitions
be given. The Normans, who had no new arrivals to pledge, betook
themselves to confessing their sins, and preparing for the death they
so richly merited. They who were about to bleed for the defence of
their country, had already offered up their hearts on freedom's holy
altar--the blow only had to be struck, and the blood to flow, and the
sacrifice was ended. They had sworn in solemn league, that liberty was
to them dearer than life, and such a vow had divested death of all
its terrors. In the defence of their homes, their wives, and their
children, they had come forth resolved to leave them free or perish.
The valley beneath yawned like a newly made grave, and many a brave
Saxon, as he looked into it, knew that there "the wicked would cease
from troubling, and the weary be at rest." They who had made up their
minds to die in such a cause needed no confession to men--they had
registered their vows in heaven; and if the Recording Angel might be
pictured as looking down upon the Saxon encampment, it would be with
a face pale with pity, and a tear-dimmed eye. What true English heart
would not sooner have pledged the healths of the brave Saxons on that
eventful night, as they were assembled around their watch-fires, than
have bowed amongst the guilty Normans?--have shared death in the
glorious halo which the former threw above the grave, rather than have
groped their way thither amid the groans and sighs of that great band
of meditative murderers, who must have trembled as the hour of danger
and death drew nearer.

Gurth had endeavoured in vain to dissuade his brother Harold from
taking part in the combat. The Saxon king was deaf to all intreaties;
he was too brave to abandon a field, and give up a kingdom with which
he had been entrusted, because an oath had been extorted from him
on the relics. Such an act would have consigned his name to endless
infamy. The morning sun found Harold beside his standard, in the centre
of his brave Saxons, which the enemy outnumbered by nearly four to one,
besides possessing a formidable army of cavalry; the Saxons appear to
have been wholly without such a force, for no mention is made of their

It was on Saturday morning, the 14th of October, nearly eight hundred
years ago, when the grey dawn, which many a sleepless eye had so
anxiously watched, broke dimly over the rival armies, as they stood
ranged along the opposite heights; and as the faint autumnal mist
passed away, the sun rose slowly upon the scene, and gilded the arms of
the combatants, falling upon the large white horse on which the bishop
of Bayeux was mounted, as, with a hauberk over his rochet, he rode
along the Norman ranks, and arranged the cavalry. The Norman duke, not
less conspicuous, was seen mounted on a Spanish charger, accompanied
by Toustain the Fair, who bore in his hand the banner which the Roman
pontiff had consecrated; the duke wore around his neck a portion of the
relics on which Harold had sworn; for he well knew that the remains
of dead men strangle not. His face was flushed; in his haste he had
at first put on his hauberk the wrong way; some had remarked that it
was an evil omen, and, as yet, he had scarcely regained his composure,
though there was a restlessness about his eyes which bespoke great
excitement--he sat gallantly in his saddle--the haughty charger neighed
and curvetted as it sniffed the morning air. He divided his army into
three columns, and these solid bodies he flanked with light infantry,
who were armed with bows, and steel cross-bows. The adventurers he left
to the command of their own leaders, placing himself at the head of his
own Norman soldiers. When all was ready for action, he addressed them
nearly as follows--for the meaning has been better preserved than the
precise words he uttered.

"Fight your best, and put every one to death; for if we conquer, we
shall all be rich. What I gain, you gain; if I conquer, you conquer;
if I take the land, you will share it: know, however, that I am not
come here merely to take that which is my due, but to revenge our whole
nation for the felon acts, perjuries, and treason of these English.
They put to death the Danes, men and women, on the night of Saint
Brice. They decimated the companions of my relation Alfred, and put
him to death. On, then, in God's name, and chastise them for all their

There is scarcely throughout the whole range of English history a more
cruel and merciless command to be found than this which issued from the
lips of the vindictive Norman. Slay, spare not, and take possession,
is the sum and substance of his speech. As for his pretended sympathy
for the Danes, we have proof that after the battle they were doomed to
share the same misery and death which alighted upon the Saxons. But
unerring justice at last avenged these wrongs, and there were but few
death-beds more melancholy than that of William the Norman. On the
opposite hill the Saxons were also ranged ready for the combat. They
were drawn up in a compact, wedge-like body behind their palisades
and trenches; the foremost rank, which consisted of the warlike men
of Kent, standing shoulder to shoulder, and shield to shield. Beside
the Saxon standard stood Harold and his two brothers, Gurth and
Leofwin, supported by the most renowned of the Saxon chiefs. They were
surrounded by the brave citizens of London, a select portion of whom
formed the king's body-guard. As the Normans advanced, they uttered
their war-cry of "God help us! God help us!" To which the Saxons
answered, "The Holy Cross! The Cross of God!" The staff which supported
the Saxon banner was planted in the ground, for on that day there
remained not an idle hand to bear it. On its folds were emblazoned
the figure of a man in combat, woven in threads of gold and jewels,
which glittered in the morning sun. A Norman, named Taillefer, who on
that day played the part of both warrior and minstrel, advanced first,
chaunting the ballad of Charlemagne and Roland; and as he continued to
sing, and urge his charger onward, he threw up his sword in the air,
and caught it in his right hand, while the Norman chivalry joined in
the burthen of the song. The minstrel obtained permission to strike
the first blow, and, having slain one Saxon, and felled another to
the ground, he was, while in the act of attacking a third, himself
mortally wounded. Before the ranks closed, William glanced his eye up
the neighbouring slope, which was filled with armed men, and inquired
of a warrior who rode near him, if he knew which was the spot that
Harold occupied. The soldier pointed to where the Saxon standard was
stationed near the summit of the hill, as being the spot most likely to
be occupied by the English king. William appeared surprised that Harold
was present at the conflict, muttered something about the oath which
he had extracted from him, and said that his perjury would be that day

The Saxons had no cavalry; all who had joined Harold on horseback,
dismounted, to fight on foot, following the example which the king
himself had set them. The general action was commenced by the archers
first discharging their arrows, and the cross-bowmen their heavy headed
bolts; but these the Saxons either received upon their shields, or
they fell nearly harmless upon the defences they had hastily thrown
up; no effect was produced: scarcely a wavering motion was seen along
the front of that impenetrable phalanx. The Norman infantry armed with
lances, and the well-mounted cavalry next advanced, to the very foot
of the Saxon trenches; but the Saxons hewed off the heads of their
javelins, and cut through the Norman coats of mail with a single blow
of their heavy battle-axes. They had also prepared themselves with
heavy stones, which they hurled at the invaders. Many of the Normans
fell in the first charge; but all their attempts to carry the redoubts
were useless: they might as well have wheeled up their horses against
the great cliffs which overlook our sea-girt coast, and tried to bear
them down, as to make any impression upon that brave band, who stood
shoulder to shoulder, as if they were consolidated into one mass.
Breathless and wearied, the Normans fell back again upon the main body,
which was commanded by the duke, who had beheld with astonishment the
impenetrable front which the Saxons presented.

Having recovered from the disorder, the duke commanded a large body
of archers to advance, and instead of shooting forward to discharge
their arrows higher in the air, so that in their descent they might
gall the Saxons by wounding them in the face, neck, or shoulders. This
discharge was seconded by the advance of the infantry and cavalry,
without producing any serious effect. A few of the Saxons were wounded
by this manoeuvre, but the cavalry were still unable to break through
the English line, and when they again retreated, they were driven into
a deep ravine, the edge of which appears to have been covered with
the natural growth of brushwood, and here many of the Norman chivalry
perished; for the Saxons pursued them, and with their heavy battle-axes,
which they wielded with both hands, speedily put to death such as they
had unhorsed, who were unable to escape. Up to this time the Saxons had
succeeded in beating off the enemy. The left wing of the Norman army
gave way, and were pursued by the English. Terror and dismay reigned
in the ranks of the invaders--all was confusion and flight; and to add
to the consternation, a rumour ran along the line, that duke William
was slain. But the duke himself appeared at this critical moment,
and turned the tide of battle. It is very probable that, during this
confusion and retreat, the horse which the duke rode was killed under
him, and that some of the soldiers who witnessed his fall, spread the
tidings that he was slain.

Behold him again mounted--his helmet off--his teeth clenched--his brows
knit together--and his countenance burning with high indignation, as
with his weapon he strikes at his own soldiers, who are hurrying past
him in the retreat and confusion, exclaiming, in a voice of thunder,
which rings out above the clang of arms, and the groans of the wounded
and the dying--"I am here--look at me--I still live--by the help of God
I will yet conquer--what madness induces you to fly?--what way is there
for you to escape?--they whom you are driving and destroying, if you
choose, you may kill like cattle--you fly from victory--you run upon
ruin--and if you retreat will all perish." Between each sentence he
struck at those who continued to rush past him with his lance, until,
having checked many of the fugitives, he placed himself helmetless
at their head, and compelled the Saxons to hasten back again to the
main body of their army. Although many of the English fell in this
charge, they gained an advantage over their enemies, and there is but
little doubt, had they continued to act upon the defensive, confining
themselves to their entrenchments, or only sallying out when they saw
the Norman line giving way, that weak as they were in numbers, they
would at last have obtained the victory; for in spite of this desperate
charge, headed by the duke himself, and all the force that he could
bring to bear upon the front of the Saxon army, they remained firm
as a rock, and not a breach could be made in that wall of iron-armed
and lion-hearted Englishmen. The archers continued to discharge their
arrows in the air, but where they alighted no gap was visible--there
was the same firm front--the same wedge-like mass--the unaltered array
of shields--the deep range of firm figures rising above one another,
which displayed neither fear nor defeat, but stood grim, unmoved, and
resolved; strong pillars, that can neither be made to bend nor bow,
until the building which they support is destroyed, and they themselves
lay broken and shapeless amid the ruins. Such was the power duke
William had still to contend with.

The battle had already lasted above six hours; it was now three
o'clock, and all the success the Normans had hitherto obtained was
when they so suddenly rallied, and drove back the Saxons within
their entrenchments. Wearied with the stubborn resistance which they
displayed, the duke had at last recourse to a stratagem, and ordered
a thousand horse, under the command of Eustace, count of Boulogne, to
advance to the edge of the Saxon lines, assail them, and then suddenly
retreat as if in disorder. This manoeuvre was successful; numbers of
the Saxons rushed out eagerly in the pursuit. Another body of Norman
horse stood ready to dash in between the Saxons and separate them from
the main body, who still stood firm behind the entrenchments. They were
also hemmed in by the enemy's infantry, and thus jammed between horse
and foot, they had no longer room to wield their heavy battle-axes,
which required both hands; and few of that brave band, who had so
rashly sallied out upon the Normans, lived to boast of the deeds which
they had achieved. Not one surrendered--no quarter was given--none
asked--there was no eye, excepting the enemy's, to look upon their
valorous deeds--no one to record the brave defence they made: Death
alone was able to vanquish them, and there they lay, grim and silent
trophies of his victory. Many a Saxon thane distinguished himself by
his individual prowess, and one among the rest achieved such deeds with
his battle-axe, that the dead lay piled around him like a wall--but
the long lances of the Normans at last reached him; he fell, and not
even his name has been preserved. Twice or thrice was this manoeuvre
repeated towards the close of the day, and each time accompanied with
the same success; for the Saxons now burned to revenge the death of
their countrymen--they rushed out of their entrenchments--they attacked
the Normans hand to hand--they plunged into the very thickest of the
danger. Those who were wounded still fought with one hand resting upon
their shields, while those who were dying strove with their last breath
to animate their countrymen. It is not certain whether Harold was slain
before or after the attack was made upon the Saxon standard. It was,
however, late in the day when he fell; his brain pierced by a random
arrow which one of the Norman archers had shot, which goes far to prove
that his death took place before the enemy had broken through the
Saxon fortifications. He had distinguished himself by his bravery and
firmness throughout the day; had placed himself in the most dangerous
positions, and by his personal exertions set an example of valour and
vigilance to his soldiers.

After the Normans had broken through the entrenchments, the English
still closed firmly around their standard, which was defended to the
last by the brothers of Harold, Gurth and Leofwin, and many of the
English thanes; who, though hemmed round by the enemy, resolved not to
resign their banner, while an arm remained capable of striking a blow
in its defence. Once Robert Fitz-Ernest, a Norman knight, approached
so near that he was within a few inches of grasping it, when he was
laid dead by a single blow from a battle-axe. A score of the Normans
then pledged themselves solemnly to carry off the standard, or perish.
It was in this struggle that both the brothers of Harold fell. Nor was
the Saxon ensign torn down, and the banner which had been consecrated
by the pope raised in its place, until many of the Norman knights were
slain, who had sworn to achieve so perilous a triumph. The sun was
setting as the Saxon standard was lowered. It was the last hard-fought
field over which the banner of Alfred floated; though many a contest
afterwards took place between the invaders and the English--yet this
was the great struggle.

"The wreck of the English army," says Thierry, "without chief and
without standard, prolonged the struggle till the end of the day, until
it was so dark and late, that the combatants only recognised each
other by their language. Then, and not till then, did this desperate
resistance end. Harold's followers dispersed, many dying upon the
roads of their wounds, and the fatigue of the combat. The Norman horse
pursued them, granting quarter to none." During the day, the duke of
Normandy had three horses killed under him, and though he himself
escaped without a wound, his helmet bore the dint of a heavy blow he
had received from a battle-axe, that, but for the finely tempered steel
of which the casque was made, would have left him to sleep his last
sleep on the same battle-field where Harold the Saxon reposed. Many of
the Saxons dispersed, and escaped through the woods which lay in the
rear of their broken encampment. They were pursued by the Normans, but
wherever a little body of the defeated had congregated they made a
stand, and many a Norman fell that night in the moonlight combat, or
returned wounded and bleeding to the camp, who had escaped the edges
of the Saxon battle-axes during the day. "Thus," says an old writer,
"was tried by the great assize of God's judgment in battle, the right
of power between the English and Norman nations; a battle the most
memorable of all others; and howsoever miserably lost, yet most nobly
fought on the part of England."

"If," says Sharon Turner, "William's wishes had been fulfilled, and
he had appeared in England a month earlier than he did, he would have
invaded Harold before the king of Norway attacked him, and perhaps
have shared his fate. For if the English king, with the disadvantages
of a loss and desertion of his veteran troops, of new levies of an
inferior force was yet able to balance the conflict with William's
most concentrated, select, and skilfully exerted strength, until night
was closing; if the victory was only decided by his casual death, how
different would have been the issue if Harold had met him with the
troops which he marched against the Norwegians! But Providence had
ordained that a new dynasty should give new manners, new connexions,
and new fortunes to the English nation."

Alas! for them--not us. Better would it have been had the whole Saxon
race perished in the battle-field, than that a remnant should have
survived to groan beneath the weight of the Norman yoke. They were
alone happy who perished in the combat. We feel more pity for those
who were left behind, and had to endure the miseries that followed,
than we do for the dead, though all have, ages ago, been at rest. They
have ceased "moaningly to crave household shelter;" the "wintry winds"
will sweep over their graves no more, for even the last hillocks that
covered their remains are swept away, and they have, centuries ago,
mingled dust with dust; on the wide field not a human bone can now be
found, of "those who fought and those who fell."

The solemn Sabbath day that dawned upon that battle-ground saw the
Norman Conqueror encamped amidst the living and the dead. And when he
called over the muster-roll which had been prepared before he left
the opposite coast, many a knight, who on the day when he sailed, had
proudly answered to his name, was then numbered with the dead. The
land which he had done homage for was useless to him then. He had
perilled his life, and a few feet of common earth was all the reward
that death allotted to him. The conqueror had lost nearly a fourth
of his army--a number, from all we can gather, equal to the whole of
the Saxon force engaged in the field. Those who survived received for
their share of the victory the spoils of the slaughtered Saxons. The
dead body of Harold is said to have laid long upon the field before
any one ventured to claim it, but at length his mother, the widow of
Earl Godwin, ventured forth, and craved permission to bury it. It is
said that she offered to give the Norman duke the weight of his body
in gold, but that he sternly refused to grant her request; and, in
his savage triumph, exclaimed, "He shall have no other sepulchre than
the sand upon the sea-shore." He, however, relented at last, says
Thierry, "if we are to believe an old tradition, in favour of the monks
of Waltham abbey, which Harold had founded and enriched. Two Saxon
monks, Osgod and Ailrik, deputed by the abbot of Waltham, demanded and
obtained permission to transport the remains of their benefactor to
their church. They sought among the mass of slain, despoiled of arms
and clothes, examining them carefully one after the other, but could
not recognise the body of him they sought, so much had his wounds
disfigured him. Despairing ever to succeed in their research unaided,
they addressed themselves to a woman whom Harold, before he became
king, had kept as a mistress, and intreated her to assist them. She
was called Edith, and surnamed the Beauty with the Swan's Neck. She
consented to accompany the two monks, and was more successful than they
in discovering the corpse of him whom she loved."

[Illustration: _Discovery of the body of Harold._]

Although the Saxon throne was for ever overthrown, many a struggle took
place, and many a concession was made, before England was wholly in the
hands of the Normans. Here, however, the gates of history close upon
our Saxon forefathers for a long period. Their language has outlived
that of the Conqueror's; and we shall find that our island again became
Saxon, and that the laws of Edward the Confessor had to be restored
before the country could be tranquillized:--

 "For freedom's battle once begun,
  Bequeathed by bleeding sire to son,
  Though baffled oft, is ever won."

=The Anglo-Saxons.=


We have already described the paganism of the Saxons, both as it
existed on the Continent, and after their arrival in England; and we
must now glance briefly at their change to Christianity, and the early
modes of worship which they adopted. When they landed in England,
they found the Britons generally worshippers of the True Divinity.
Christianity had become grafted and grown, and overpowered and bore
down the remains of druidism, on which it was first planted. The
idolatry that existed had assumed a more classic form; and instead of
the grim wicker idols of the druids, the sightly forms of the heathen
gods, which the Romans worshipped, had usurped their places. Among
the ancient Cymry who had not come into such close contact with the
Roman conquerors, the old druidical forms of idolatry still lingered;
though through them we are enabled to catch faint glimpses of the
Deity, and to discover a slow, but sure approach towards the Creator.
We have already shown how the Saxon invasion checked the progress
of Christianity--how the churches were overthrown, and the priests
massacred, until pope Gregory sent over Augustin, who succeeded in
converting the Saxon king, Ethelbert, to the religion of Christ. How
Paulinus accompanied Edilburga into Northumbria, and Edwin, the king
of the Deira and Bernicia, became a convert to the holy faith. We
have shown how the abbey of Croyland rose up amid the wild marshes
of Lincolnshire, and the gospel sound was carried through the vast
territory of Mercia, until at last the whole of the Saxon Octarchy
bowed before the image of the dying Redeemer. To the forms of worship
which were adopted in these ancient Christian churches, we must now

A rude wooden cross, planted by the roadside, a humble cell scooped
out of the rock, or a wattled shed, thatched with the tufted rushes or
the broad-leaved water-flags, first marked the places of worship of
the primitive Christians. Some came over, and settled down upon waste
and lonely places; their piety and peaceful habits soon attracted the
attention of the neighbouring peasantry, and of the chief, who granted
them permission to reside and build upon the soil; allowed them to fell
timber in the adjacent forest, or to hew stone from the distant quarry.
Nor were they long in procuring assistance; many came and laboured for
the love of God; they dug foundations; they mixed cement; the trees
were sawn, and squared into beams; a forge was erected, and, as the
blue smoke curled above the landscape, the clattering of the brawny
smith was heard upon the anvil, as, with his "buck-horn fist," he
shaped the iron which bound together beam and rafter. At length a tower
rose up above the wild waste of marshes, and morning, and evening, and
often at intervals during the day, the little bell was heard to toll;
and as the sound fell upon the wayfarer's ears who journeyed past, he
thought of life, and death, and heaven. Vast estates were at length
given to them; they received rich donations, houses, and lands, and
forests, which were secured by grants and charters, and attested by the
signatures of kings. These bequests were made from love--and fear--a
hope to escape future punishments, and by the intercession of the
priests to enter heaven.

Thus was a door thrown open, into which good and evil were
promiscuously admitted. The truly pious, and the hardened sinner,
received alike encouragement--bells were rung, and masses said, no
matter for whom, as long as the altar was piled high with treasure--and
mankind were at last wrongfully taught, that forgiveness could be
purchased by wealth. Still the knee had to be bended, and prayers
offered up, penances performed, and fastings endured, before the
conscientious priest promised to intercede for the sinner. Then instead
of the wooden cross, the naked walls, and the floor strewn with rushes,
woven tapestry, and glaring pictures, graven images, and relics of
saints, costly vessels of gold and silver, rich vestments and dazzling
gems, and all the glitter and pomp which had hitherto been confined to
courts, or borne in triumphal processions, were called up to decorate
the buildings dedicated to God. In place of the lowly dwelling,
scarcely distinguishable from the thatched hut of the peasant that rose
above the waste, mighty fabrics were erected by skilful architects,
whose roofs seemed to rest on the rim of the horizon, and the traveller
looked in vain for those beautiful openings in the landscape which had
so long been familiar to his eye. Mighty barons, who had distinguished
themselves in many a hard-fought field, became abbots; kings laid aside
their costly robes, their crowns, and sceptres, put on the grey homely
serge of the pilgrim, and, with staff in hand, journeyed weary miles
to kneel before the shrines of saints, and either left their bones to
moulder in a foreign land, or returned home again to die in the quiet
solitude of the cloister--leaving miles of hill and vale, and wood and
river, to enrich the revenues of the grey abbey in which they expired,
amid the shady sadness of long-embowered aisles.

These religious houses were happy havens for the poor and needy, the
hungry, the wretched, and the oppressed. They became landmarks to the
sick, storm-tossed, and rain-drenched wayfarer. All who came thither
were sheltered and relieved; none were sent away empty-handed, for
spiritual and bodily comfort were alike administered to all. They
were the only resting places where the traveller could halt, and
find refreshment and welcome, where his steed was stabled, his wants
attended to, and where, without charge, he was dismissed on the morrow
with a prayer and a blessing. Nor did their works of charity end here:
they sent out missionaries to other countries, to the benighted land
from which their ancestors first came, over the sounding billows, to
many a shore whose echoes had never yet rung back the holy hallelujah.
Although there were many things in their ancient forms of worship which
in us awaken a sigh or a smile, we must remember that religion was
then in its infancy--that they had but few guides, but few books to
instruct them. There were but few able to translate the gospels from
the Latin into the Saxon tongue; such versions as they were enabled to
make were crude and incorrect, and many of the priests were incompetent
to instruct them in points of faith. They ventured but little further
in their instruction than to teach that the soul was immortal, and
lived in a future state, where the good were rewarded, and the evil
punished; that Christ died for our salvation--that the dead arose, and
the faithful and just would at last be admitted into eternal glory.
Into the more intricate mysteries of our religion they ventured not.
Every priest was commanded to read the gospels, and to study well the
Holy Book, that "he might teach his people rightly, who looked up to
him." Several valuable MSS. of the translation of the gospel into the
Saxon language, which were written between the reigns of Alfred and
Harold, are still in existence. Although they used the cross as the
sign of their salvation, they were taught not to reverence the wood,
but to bear in mind His form who had suffered upon it. They held relics
in high veneration; and though the remains of good and holy men cannot
be contemplated without awakening a religious feeling, they carried
their reverence to a superstitious excess; for by them they believed
that the greatest miracles could be worked, and that they were the only
safeguards against disease, magic, and witchcraft. The priests were
only allowed to celebrate mass when fasting; nor, unless in cases of
sickness, was this ceremony to be held anywhere but upon the altar in
the church; and to this altar no woman was permitted to approach during
its celebration; neither dogs nor swine were allowed to come within the
enclosure that surrounded the holy edifice. The purest of bread, wine,
and water, were only to be used in celebrating the Eucharist, and the
sacramental cup was to be formed of gold, or silver, glass, or tin;
and none made of earth or wood were permitted to be used. The altar
was always to be kept clean, and covered; and the mass-priest was to
have his missal, his psalter, his reading-book, penitential, numeral,
hand-book, and singing-book. He was also to learn some handicraft, and
to abolish all witchcraft. Each priest performed his allotted duty; the
ostiary guarded the church doors, and tolled the bell; the exorcist
drove out devils, and sprinkled houses which were infested with witches
and foul fiends, with abyssum; the lector read the gospels to the
congregation; the acolyth held the tapers while the lector read; the
deacon attended on the mass-priest, placed the oblations on the altar,
baptized children, and administered the Eucharist to the people; the
sub-deacon had charge of the holy vessels, and waited at the altar
while the mass-priest preached and consecrated the Eucharist. The
bishop was looked up to as a comforter to the wretched, and a father
to the poor; the priests were forbidden to carry their controversies
before a lay tribunal, and when they could not settle it amongst
themselves, it was left to the decision of the bishop. The high-born
were taught not to despise those that were lowly; they were ordered
to teach youth with care--to give alms, and chaunt holy hymns during
the distribution; to humble themselves, and to become examples of
mildheartedness. Many of the penances they inflicted were severe; he
who was guilty of any heinous offence, was to lay aside his weapons,
travel barefooted many weary miles, nor seek household shelter during
the night. He was to pay no regard to his dress, nor to enter a bath,
neither might he eat flesh, nor taste strong drink, but fast, watch,
and pray, both by day and night. The wealthy, however, might evade the
heaviest penances, by giving alms; and the following extract will show
to what useful purposes the church applied these penalties:--

"He that hath ability may raise a church to the praise of God, and
if he has wherewithal, let him give land to it, and allow ten young
men, so that they may serve in it, and minister the daily service. He
may repair churches where he can, and make folk-ways, with bridges
over deep waters, and over miry places; assist poor men's widows,
step-children, and foreigners. He may free his own slaves, and redeem
the liberty of those who belong to other masters, and especially the
poor captives of war. He may feed the needy, house them, clothe and
warm them, and give them baths and beds."

Thus did our pious ancestors make crime administer to the wants of
the poor; they filtered the pure waters of charity from these corrupt
sources, and displayed a wisdom which our modern legislators have yet
to be taught.


When the Saxons first landed in England they could have had no previous
knowledge of the Roman laws, which were then in existence in our
island; for the government of the conquerors had long overthrown the
primitive customs which were in use among the ancient Britons before
the landing of Julius Cæsar. We have already shown that the earliest
of our Saxon invaders were led on by some military chief, who claimed
his descent from Odin, and was acknowledged as leader by the consent
of his followers, also allowed the largest share of the plunder or
captives which were taken in war. Thus it would naturally follow, that
when they came to settle down upon the soil which they had conquered,
the power of the military chief would soon be acknowledged, and that
to him would be given the greatest portion of the land; while amongst
his followers such shares would be distributed as were considered
proportionate to their rank. After having conquered and divided the
land, they would naturally unite together to defend the possessions
they had won, and the chief, or his descendant,--if found worthy of
being still retained at their head, by his wisdom or valour--would,
either in peace or war, continue to hold the title and power of ruler;
and thus would governments be formed, thrones established, and laws
made by the wealthy and powerful, to keep their followers and captives
in subjection. Nor would it be probable in all instances that the
conquered were made captives. Many by their valour and opposition would
still present a formidable front to the invaders; and as both parties
would in time grow weary of a continued system of attack or defence,
concessions would be made, peace agreed upon, the land divided, vows
sworn, and penalties fixed, to be paid by those who first broke the
treaty. In such cases, war would not be entered into by either party
without their first stating the grievances. This, again, would lead to
discussions, assemblies, accusations, defences; times and places would
be allotted for meeting; and so courts and tribunals were formed; and
thus in all countries did law and civilization commence. We have shown
how England was at first divided into separate kingdoms; how chief
after chief came over, fought, conquered, and established a separate
state, until the Octarchy was formed; and that when the whole island
was occupied, the Saxon kings began to make war upon each other,
until state after state was subdued, and one king at last reigned
over all. That governors had to be placed over different divisions
of this vast extent of territory; that these, again, placed officers
over the sub-divisions: thus there were earls or aldermen, sheriffs,
or shrieves, officers to each hundred or tithing; headboroughs,
frankpledges, who attended the court-leet which was held at given
periods, and accounted for all grievances or violations of the law.
The first laws made would naturally be those which protected persons
and property,--to punish acts of violence and theft, and to prevent
personal vengeance being inflicted. Thus, murder might be compounded
for, under certain circumstances, at a fixed penalty, and every portion
of the body injured had its price, from the leg to the little finger,
even down to the hair, tooth, or nail. The loss of an eye and a leg
appears to have been considered the most important, and was punished by
a fine of fifty shillings. To lame a person only, the sum exacted was
thirty shillings. To wound, or strike such a blow as caused deafness,
twenty-five shillings; for fracturing the skull, twenty shillings;
for cutting off the little finger, eleven shillings; tearing off the
hair, ten shillings. For tearing off a nail, or driving out a tooth,
the penalty was one shilling; but if a front tooth, the charge was six
shillings. Robbery was punished according to the rank of the party
plundered. If a freeman committed robbery, he forfeited all his goods
and his freedom; if he was taken in the fact, and the stolen property
found in his hand, the king had the option of killing him, of selling
him, or receiving the value of his Were, which was the sum at which his
life would have been rated had he been murdered. Even the life of the
king had its Were or value. One hundred and twenty pounds was the price
fixed to be paid as the penalty for the murder of a king. A noble's,
a bishop's, an alderman's, a thane's, a servant's, had each its fixed
penalty, according to the rank of the deceased,--from that of the king,
as above named, to the humblest hind, whose life was rated at thirty
shillings. Besides the Were, there was another protection, called the
Mund. This seems to have been a penalty paid for disturbing the peace
of a man's household; or, as Sharon Turner has observed, "it was a
privilege which made every man's house his castle." The Saxons had also
their bail or sureties. Thus, when a man had committed homicide, he
had to find borh, or sureties for the payment of the penalty. The time
allowed for payment is not mentioned, excepting in one case, where it
appears to have been limited to forty days. The head of every tithing,
or ten families, also appears to have been responsible for those under
his jurisdiction or keeping, as we have previously shown in the reign
of Alfred. He who had no surety, or borh, or could not pay the penalty
for the crime committed, or had no kinsman to redeem him, either became
a slave, or might be slain, according to the nature of the offence.

Their mode of trial was very simple, and their general method of
arriving at the innocence or guilt of the party accused appears to have
been influenced by the number and respectability of the witnesses who
swore for or against the prisoner. Thus, if a man stood charged with
any offence, and he could bring the given number of persons to swear
that he was innocent, the prisoner was acquitted, unless the accusing
party could produce a greater number of witnesses to swear against
him, and show clearer proofs of his guilt. When this was the case, the
offender either submitted to the punishment or underwent the trial of
ordeal, or, as it was considered, submitted to the "judgment of God."
The ordeal consisted either of hot water or hot iron; in some cases
the iron weighed three pounds, and was to be carried nine paces. The
ordeal appears to have taken place in the church; if the trial was
to be by hot iron, a number of men were allowed to enter the church,
and, being ranged on each side, the priest sprinkled them with holy
water; they were then to kiss the Gospel, and were signed with the
cross. The priest afterwards read a prayer, and during this period
the fire was not to be mended, and if burnt out the iron still rested
upon the staples to cool, so that in no instance could it be red-hot;
the paces were measured by the feet of the accused, and it has been
computed that the hot iron would hardly remain in his hand beyond
two seconds. Whether the culprit moved rapidly or walked slowly, or
threw the iron upon the floor, or placed it on some allotted spot, we
cannot tell; though there is but little doubt that means were taken to
render the trial as short as possible. When the ordeal was by water,
it was sufficient if four witnesses stepped forward to state that
they had seen it boiling; whether the vessel was of iron, copper, or
clay, a stone was placed in it, which the accused with his bare hand
and arm had to take out; the vessel was shallow or deep, according to
the nature of the offence he stood charged with; in some cases he had
only to plunge in his hand to take out the stone, in others his arm to
the elbow. As in the ordeal by heated iron, the same ceremonies were
observed, and during the time that elapsed in praying and sprinkling
the witnesses the fire was not allowed to be mended; while the act took
place, a prayer was offered up to God to discover the truth. When the
trial was over, the hand or arm was bound up, and the bandages were not
removed until the expiration of three days. It does not appear that the
marks of burning or scalding were the tests of guilt; it was only when
the wounds were found foul and unhealed that the accused was pronounced
guilty; if they looked healthy and well, and were nearly healed, it was
considered a proof of innocence. It will be readily imagined that few
who were guilty would willingly undergo such a trial, for it must be
borne in mind that punishment still followed; and when the signs were
unfavourable, there can be but little doubt after so solemn a ceremony
that the penalty the accused was doomed to suffer must have been
severe. It could, however, like homicide, be compounded for; and
capital punishment seems seldom to have taken place amongst the Saxons,
unless the crime was committed in open day, and the culprit was caught
in the fact, or under such circumstances as were considered too clear
to need any trial; in such cases, vengeance was generally taken on the
spot, and the robber or murderer was either hanged upon the nearest
tree, or slain where he was captured--no evidence was required,--no
defence was allowed.

[Illustration: _Trial by Ordeal._]

There were two other forms of ordeal, called the cross and the corsned;
the former consisted of two pieces of wood, which were covered over,
one bearing the mark of the cross; if the accused drew this, he was
considered innocent; if the piece that was unmarked, guilty. The
other consisted in swallowing a piece of bread which the priest had
blessed; if it stuck in the throat, or the culprit turned pale, or
trembled, or had a difficulty in swallowing it, he stood condemned.
Besides fines, many of the punishments they inflicted were severe; they
used the whip and the heated brand, mutilated the face, imprisoned,
banished, sentenced the guilty to slavery, or doomed them to suffer
imprisonment, while their capital punishments appear to have been
hanging and stoning to death. The land was divided into what was
called "folkland" and "bocland." The folkland was such as belonged to
the king and the people; that which was held by agreement or charter
was called "bocland," or land made over by agreement of the book, or
some written instrument, though conveyances of land were sometimes
made by the delivery of an arrow, a spear, or any other object. The
king had, however, his bocland or private property, as is proved by
the will of king Alfred; and the word folkland in time was changed to
crownland, which, no doubt, means that the wastes and commons which
the people were allowed to make use of, and were not private property,
were considered to belong to the king or the state. Boclands appear
originally only to have been granted during the life of the holder.
It was the work of time and the change of events which caused them to
become hereditary. The Saxons were divided into many classes or ranks;
first stood the king, then the earls, nobles, or chiefs; then came
the other class of small landed proprietors; and below these another
grade, whom we may term freemen; the theows, ceorls, or villains, came
last, and were slaves of the soil; if the estate changed hands, the
theow went to the next owner; on no account could he remove from the
land; he was, however, protected, and, so long as he did his duty,
could not be removed by the owner; neither could more than a regular
portion of labour be exacted from him; but we have before alluded
to his privileges in the laws of Ina. The ceremonies used at their
witenagemotes, guilds, moots, and other courts, are matters of law
rather than subjects suited to a narrative and picturesque history of


We have no proof that the early pagan Saxons possessed an alphabet, or
had any acquaintance with a written language, until the introduction
of Christianity; for, unlike the Britons, they had not the enlightened
Romans to instruct them. Even as late as Alfred's time, we have shown
that but few of the English chiefs could either read or write; and
we find Wihtred, king of Kent, as long after the Saxon invasion as
the year 700, unable to affix his signature to a charter, but causing
some scribe, who had probably drawn up the document, to add as an
explanation to the royal mark, that "I, Wihtred, king of Kent, have put
this sign of the holy cross to the charter, on account of my ignorance
of writing." As the Saxons were the avowed enemies of the ancient
Cymry, and came amongst them only to slay, destroy, and take possession
of the land, it is easy to account for the length of time that must
have elapsed before the Britons would impart the knowledge they had
gathered from the Romans to their Saxon conquerors.

One of the earliest histories we possess is that to which the name
of Gildas is affixed, who appears, however, to have belonged to the
Cymry, and to have had a brother at that period who was celebrated
as one of the Welsh bards. To him we have already alluded; also to
Nennius, who is said to have been one of the monks of Bangor, and to
have had a narrow escape from the massacre, in which so many of his
brethren perished. To his early history of Britain we have before
alluded. Columbanus, a celebrated Irishman, who died in Italy about
the year 615, appears to have been well acquainted with both the Greek
and Hebrew languages. Literature at this period seems to have been
confined principally to the monasteries; and towards the close of the
sixth century, we find Aldhelm, an abbot of Malmsbury, celebrated for
his Latin writings. "But his meaning," says Sharon Turner, "is clouded
by gorgeous rhetoric: his style an endless tissue of figures, which he
never leaves till he has converted every metaphor into a simile, and
every simile into a wearisome episode." But the venerable Bede's is the
most distinguished name amongst the early Anglo-Saxon writers. He also
wrote in Latin, and his ecclesiastical history of England still stands
as the chief authority, whence we derive the clearest knowledge of the
manners and customs of the early Anglo-Saxons. He was born about 670,
or 680, at a village named Yarrow, which stands near the mouth of the
Tyne, and was educated at the neighbouring monastery of Wearmouth. He
was acquainted with Egbert, the learned archbishop of York, to whom he
addressed a letter, which is still extant. Egbert left behind him a
famous library, mention of which is made by the celebrated Alcuin, who
proposed to Charlemagne that the boys he was educating should be sent
out of France, to "copy and carry back the flowers of Britain, that
the garden might not be shut up in York, but the fruits of it placed
in the paradise of Tours." Though both writing in the same language,
and about the same period, no two authors out of the thousands who have
since lived and written, have ever exhibited a greater contrast in
the style of composition than that which exists between the writings
of Aldhelm and Bede. "The style of Bede," says Turner, "in all his
works, is plain and unaffected. Attentive only to his matter, he had
little solicitude for the phrase in which he dressed it; but, though
seldom eloquent, and often homely, it is clear, precise, and useful."
Alfred was the first who translated the works of Bede into Saxon, and
made them familiar to his subjects. Alcuin, who speaks so highly of
the library collected at York by the archbishop Egbert, was sent on an
embassy by Offa, surnamed the Terrible, to Charlemagne. Alcuin was a
pupil of Bede's, and a native of Northumbria; and while he resided in
France, he was instrumental in persuading the emperor to collect many
valuable manuscripts. His works seem to have been written for the use
and instruction of his friend and patron, the emperor Charlemagne; and,
though highly valuable in their day, they lack that living spirit which
was infused into the writings of Bede.

But few of the civilized nations of Europe possess works which will
bear comparison with those produced by our early Saxon writers; nor has
any other of the Gothic tribes, from which our old Germanic language
sprung, a literature of so old a date, that in any way approaches to
the perfection attained by the early Anglo-Saxons. What we possess
is wonderful, considering the short time that elapsed from the first
introduction of letters amongst the Saxons, to the troubles which
followed the Danish invasion, when so many monasteries and libraries
were destroyed by those illiterate but brave barbarians. The first
business of the Saxons, after they had ceased fighting, and settled
down in England, would be to build and plant; and much time and
labour would be required in erecting their habitations, preparing a
supply of food, and defending their possessions in a new and hostile
country, before they would be enabled to find leisure to direct their
thoughts to literature, or do anything more than establish those civil
institutions which were necessary for the protection of the colony.
They had that work to do which we find ready done to our own hands;
fields to inclose, and roads to make; and even the monks to whom we are
indebted for our earliest writings were at first compelled to assist
in building the monasteries they wrote in, and to cultivate the waste
lands which lay around them: yet, in spite of these drawbacks, what
wonderful progress was made in literature by the close of the reign of
Alfred! Though illiterate, the early Saxons were a highly intelligent
race: look at the speech of the chieftain we have already quoted in the
reign of Edwin, the king of Deiri--the beautiful and applicable imagery
of the bird, the warm hall it enters in winter, and the cold and
darkness, which is compared to death, that reigns without; all evince a
fine appreciation of the true elements which constitute poetry; yet we
have no doubt in our own minds that this heathen orator could neither
read nor write. When the Saxons once turned their attention to letters,
none of the barbarous nations excelled them--the progress made during
the reign of Alfred, we again repeat, is marvellous.

Nothing can be more primitive than our Anglo-Saxon poetry. Every line
bears the stamp of originality. The praise of brave warriors is ever
the subject. It has always been the same. They but extolled what then
stood highest in their estimation--the brave--the giver of rewards--the
terror of enemies--the leader of battles are but the plaudits of men
put into metre--the natural outbreak of admiration. Watch a fond mother
when alone, talking to her infant--nature is still the same--she
addresses it as her darling, her dearest, her life, her delight; and
when she has exhausted every endearing epithet--uttered every fond
word that her heart dictated, she evinces her affection by caresses.
To what lengths could we extend the comparison! But neither mother
nor child in those days called forth the lavish praises which were
expended on a brave chieftain. We need only refer to the extracts we
have already given in the body of our history, from the Welsh bards,
to prove this. The literature in no country was ever built upon so
original a foundation as that of the Anglo-Saxons. Their language at an
early period was enriched by the Danish: their habits resembled those
of the sea-kings. Long before the Norman conquest, they had melted into
one; the sea-horses, and the road of the swans, were to them familiar
images; there was a sublimity about the ocean, and the storm, and the
giant headlands, which they felt and understood; and had we the space,
we could fill pages with proofs of this grand poetical appreciation--of
this natural inspiration. The Saxon ode which celebrates Athelstan's
victory at Brunanburg bears evidence of the fiery spirit which the
Scandinavians diffused. Neither drew from the classic stores of Rome or

Their homilies and graver works scarcely come within the compass of our
history; they require more serious treatment than we are able to bestow
upon them. Those attributed to Alfric are now on the eve of becoming
widely known; and we doubt not but that, in the course of time, the
study of the Anglo-Saxon language will be pursued by every man who
aspires to literature. A few days' attention to it, renders the reading
of Chaucer easy; and although it may be long before the student is
enabled to decypher an old Saxon manuscript, yet he will be rewarded
by the facility with which he will get through our early stores of
black-letter lore.

Ballads were sung in the English streets before the time of Alfred. Our
music and singing-parties are nothing new. More than a thousand years
ago, the harp sounded in the festal hall, accompanied by the voice of
the singer. Look at the beauty of the following extract. It is an old
Saxon ditty, and was known long before the Normans invaded England.
Read it; then turn to some of our specimens of modern versification.
The exile is banished from his friends, and encounters many hardships.
He is doomed to dwell in a cave within the forest; and thus he

  This earthly dwelling is cold, and I am weary;
  The mountains are high up, the dells are gloomy,
  Their streets full of branches, roofed with pointed thorns;
  I am weary of so cheerless an abode.
  My friends are now all in the earth--
  The grave guards all that I loved;
  I alone remain above, and thitherward am I going.
  All the long summer day I sit weeping
  Under the oak tree, near my earthly cave,
  And there may I long weep.
  The exile's path still lies through a land of troubles;
  My mind knows no rest--it is the cave of care.
  Throughout life has weariness ever pursued me.

This passage wants but the polish of Shakspere, and to be uttered by
his own mournful monarch, king Richard the Second, to be worthy of a
place in his immortal writings.[24]


That the Saxons possessed considerable skill in architecture before
they took possession of England, we have already shown in our
description of the Pagan temple, which was erected in their own
country.[25] It is also on record, that the Christian missionaries
sent over by Pope Gregory, converted the heathen temples, which they
found already erected in our island, into churches, destroying only
the idols they found therein; but whether these edifices were erected
by the Britons or Romans, or by the Saxons themselves, it is difficult
to decide. All we know for a certainty is, that the church in which
Augustin and his monks were located on their arrival at Canterbury was
called an ancient British temple, and was probably built by the first
Christians who were converted by the Romans. The earliest churches
which the Saxons erected after their conversion to Christianity were
formed of wood, and covered with thatch; and even as late as the time
of Chaucer, we find mention of the sacred edifices being roofed with
the same substance. The celebrated cathedral of Lindisfarne could
boast of no costlier material than sawn oak and a straw roof, until
Eadbert, the seventh bishop, removed the thatch, and threw over the
rafters a covering of lead. The minster of York, founded by Edwin,
after his marriage with Edilburga, the daughter of Ethelbert, was built
of stone; and as early as 669, we find mention of the windows being
glazed. Prior to this period, the windows consisted of mere openings
in the walls, through which the light was admitted; they were called
eye-holes, and were protected by lattice-work, through which the birds
flew in and out, and built inside the fabric; nor was there any other
means of keeping out the rain and snow, excepting by lowering down the
simple linen blinds. The few remains we possess of Saxon architecture
display great strength and solidity without grace. The columns are low
and massy, the arches round and heavy, seeming as if they formed a
portion of the bulky pillars, instead of springing from them with that
light and airy grace which is the great beauty of Gothic architecture.
Their chief ornament in building appears to have been the zig-zag
moulding which resembles sharks' teeth. The very word they used in
describing this form of ornament also signified to gnaw or eat; and
from the Saxon word fret, or teeth work, the common term of fret-work
arose. Towards the close of the seventh century, the celebrated
bishop Wilfrid, who had visited Rome, made great improvements in
ecclesiastical architecture. He brought with him several eminent
artists from Italy; and as he stood high in the favour of Oswy, king
of the Deiri and Bernicia, he was enabled to reward his architects
liberally. He restored the church which Paulinus founded at York. But
the most celebrated edifice he raised, appears to have been the church
at Hexham, of which the following description is given by Richard,
who was the prior of Hexham, and who wrote while the building still
existed about the close of the twelfth century:--"The foundations of
this church," says prior Richard, "were laid deep in the earth for the
crypts and oratories, and the passages leading to them, which were then
with great exactness contrived and built under ground. The walls, which
were of great length, and raised to an immense height, and divided into
three several stories, or tiers, he supported by square and various
other kinds of well-polished columns. Also, the walls, the capitals of
the columns which supported them, and the arch of the sanctuary, he
decorated with historical representations, imagery, and various figures
in relief, carved in stone, and painted with a most agreeable variety
of colours. The body of the church he compassed about with pentices
and porticoes, which, both above and below, he divided, with great and
inexpressible art, by partition walls and winding stairs. Within the
staircases, and above them, he caused flights of steps and galleries
of stone, and several passages leading from them, both ascending and
descending, to be artfully disposed, that multitudes of people might
be there, and go quite round the church, without being seen by any
one below in the nave." Prior Richard goes on further to state, that
he also caused several altars to be erected to the blessed saints.
In 767, the church of St. Peter's at York having been either damaged
or destroyed by fire, was rebuilt by archbishop Albert, assisted by
the celebrated Alcuin. Here, also, we find mention of lofty arches,
supported on columns, of vaultings, windows, porticoes, galleries, and
altars, richly ornamented. What additions the genius of Alfred made to
the architecture of the period we know not. We have, however, already
shown that he set apart a great portion of his revenue to the building
and repairing of churches. But he lived amid stormy times, when the
strengthening of military fortresses was of more consequence to the
welfare of his kingdom than the erection of costly edifices; and during
the ravages of the Danes the fine arts appear not to have made any

We have scarcely any records of the domestic architecture of the
Saxons, but may safely infer, from the simple style of their early
churches, that their houses were built of wood, and thatched with
reeds, and we have proof that timber houses continued until a
comparatively modern period.

Of their painting and sculpture we know but little: the horn of Ulphus,
which is still preserved, is beautifully carved; and we find mention of
the tomb of the bishop of Hexham having been richly decorated. Their
paintings seem to have been imported from Rome, and were principally
pictures of saints and martyrs, which appear to have formed the most
attractive ornaments in their churches. Their illuminated missals we
have already alluded to. The Saxon ladies were skilful embroiderers,
weavers, and spinners, arts in which the daughters of Edward the Elder
excelled. Even the celebrated St. Dunstan, with all his surliness,
deigned to draw patterns for his fair countrywomen to copy in their
embroidery. Among other costly gifts, mentioned in a Charter relating
to Croyland Abbey, granted by a king of Mercia, we find a golden veil,
on which was enwrought the famous siege of Troy. Many of the initial
letters, already mentioned, are of the most intricate patterns, scroll
is interlaced within scroll, chain-like links, and heads of birds and
serpents, running into the most beautiful flourishes, and compelling us
to admit that the Saxons were either excellent copyists, or gifted with
considerable invention.

Their musical instruments consisted of horns, trumpets, flutes, drums,
cymbals, a stringed instrument not unlike the violin, which was played
upon with a bow, and the harp; and in their churches organs which must
have shaken the sacred buildings with their powerful tones. Dunstan
was celebrated for his skill upon the harp; he also made an organ with
brass pipes, and made several presents of bells to the Saxon churches.
From the description given of a harp in an old poem, it was made of
birch-wood, with oaken keys, and strung with the long hairs pulled from
the tails of horses. The cymbals were formed of mixed metals, and when
played, struck on the concave side, as they are now; and Bede dwells
upon their beautiful modulation in the hands of a skilful player. He
describes the drum as having been made of stretched leather, fastened
on rounded hoops, and which emitted a loud sound when struck--he
mentions tones, and semi-tones, and thus concludes his remarks on the
power of music: "Among all the sciences this is the more commendable,
pleasing, courtly, mirthful, and lovely. It makes men liberal,
cheerful, courteous, glad, and amiable--it rouses them to battle--it
exhorts them to bear fatigue, and comforts them under labour: it
refreshes the mind that is disturbed, chases away headache and sorrow,
and dispels the depraved humours, and cheers the desponding spirits."
We find the Saxon organs described as rising high, some having gilded
pipes, and many pairs of bellows; one especially is pointed out by the
monk Wolfstan, as having stood in Winchester cathedral. "Such a one,"
says the monk, "had never before been seen." "It seems to have been a
prodigious instrument," says Sharon Turner, in a note to his History
of the Anglo-Saxons. "It had twelve bellows above, and fourteen below,
which were alternately worked by seventy strong men, covered with
perspiration, and emulously animating each other to impel the blast
with all their strength. There were four hundred pipes, which the hand
of the skilful organist shut or opened as the tune required. Two friars
sat at it, whom a rector governed. It had concealed holes adopted to
forty keys; they struck the seven notes of the octave, the carmine of
the lyric semi-tone being mixed. It must," adds the learned historian,
"have reached the full sublime of musical sound, so far as its quantity
produces sublimity."

In arithmetic, they simply studied the division of even numbers,
separating them into those "metaphysical distinctions of equally equal,
and equally unequal," though they seem to have attained something
approaching to perfection in calculation. In natural philosophy, Bede
was far in advance of many of the Roman writers. In astronomy, they
drew their information from such Greek and Latin treatises as chanced
to fall into their hands. They believed that comets portended war,
pestilence, and famine, and all those evils which the ignorant still
attribute to their appearance in the present day. Of geography they
knew but little, until the work of Orosius was translated by our own
Alfred. They trusted to cure diseases by charms, though they were
not without physicians, herbs being what they principally used for
medicine; and, no doubt, many of our village herb-doctors, who trust to
the full or wane of the moon, for finding the healing virtues in their
favourite plants, are fair samples of the early Saxon practitioner
in the same art; and that many such old books, as "The Gentlewoman's
Closet," &c., contain the genuine recipes used by the Saxons. From a
rare original work, in our possession, we quote the following, whose
counterpart may be found in many a valuable Saxon MS.: "The sixth and
tenth days of March shalt thou draw out blood of the right arm, the
eleventh day of April, and in the end of May, of which arm thou wilt,
and that against a fever; and if thou dost, neither shalt thou lose thy
sight, nor thou shalt have no fever so long as thou livest!" He who
fell sick on the first day of the month, was supposed to be in danger
for three days after; on the second day, would get well; on the third,
was to be ill for twenty-eight days; on the fourth, to escape; on the
fifth, to suffer grievously; on the eighth, "if he be not whole on the
twelfth day, he shall be dead." And so on for every day throughout the
month and year.[26]


Of the every-day life and domestic manners of our Anglo-Saxon
forefathers, we possess considerable information, partly from written
records, such as charters, wills, grants, and leases, but more
especially from the drawings which we find in the ancient manuscripts
which are still preserved. Amongst the higher classes we discover
that the walls were hung with tapestry, ornamented with gold and rich
colours, for the needles of the Saxon ladies seem ever to have been
employed in forming birds, animals, trees, and flowers, upon the
hangings which were so necessary to keep out the wind that must have
blown in at every chink of their wooden apartments. Their garments were
loose and flowing, that of the men consisting of a shirt, over which
they wore a coat or tunic, open at the neck and partly up the sides,
having wide sleeves which reached to the wrists; and as this was ample
enough to be put on by slipping it over the head, (not unlike the
common frock worn by our carters or peasantry,) it was occasionally,
and no doubt always in cold weather, to make it sit closer, confined
to the waist by a girdle or belt. Over this they occasionally wore a
short cloak, which was fastened to the breast by a brooch or loop;
they also wore drawers or long hose, which were bandaged crosswise,
from the ankle to the knee, with strips of coloured cloth or leather.
Their shoes, which were open at the front, were secured by thongs; and
though the poorer classes are sometimes represented as bare-legged,
yet they are seldom drawn without shoes, which are generally painted
black, while many of them wear the short stocking or sock. That their
shoes were made of leather is expressly stated by Bede, who describes
St. Cuthbert, as often keeping on his shoes for months together, and
that it was with difficulty he could be persuaded to take them off, to
permit his feet to be made clean. Hats or caps they seem rarely to have
worn, although there are one or two instances in which they appear.
They seem generally to have gone bareheaded, excepting when in battle;
then they wore a pointed helmet. In nearly all the early illustrations,
we find the hair worn long, parted in the middle, and falling down
upon the neck and shoulders. The beard is also long and forked. Silk
garments were not uncommon amongst the nobles: as early as the time of
Ethelbert, king of Kent, mention is made of a silk dress. We also read
of a coronation garment, which was made of silk, and woven of gold
and flowers. In the churches the altars were generally covered with
silk, and at his death, the body of the venerable Bede was enclosed
in a silken shroud. The Saxon noblemen seem to have been lavish in
their ornaments, and to have worn costly bracelets on their arms, and
rings upon their fingers--the ring appears to have been worn upon the
third finger of the right hand--it was called the gold finger, and the
penalty for cutting this off was greater than for amputating any of
the other fingers. Furs of the sable, beaver, fox, martin, and other
animals, were also worn, and amongst the poorer classes the skins of
lambs and sheep.

The costume of the Saxon ladies seems to have varied but little,
excepting in length, from that worn by the men. The gunna, or gown,
which was worn over the skirt or kirtle, was of the same form as the
tunic already described; it was a little shorter than the kirtle, which
reached to the feet--the latter being covered by shoes similar to those
already mentioned. The women, however, wore a head-dress, formed of
linen or silk, which looks not unlike the hood of comparatively modern
times. It was called the head-rail, and besides forming a covering for
the head, was made to enfold the neck and shoulders, not unlike the
gorget which we see in ancient armour, in appearance; but formed by
throwing fold over fold--making the face appear as if it looked out
from a close-fitting helmet or gorget. Nor were the Saxon ladies at all
deficient in ornaments. They had their cuffs and ribbons, necklaces and
bracelets, ear-rings and brooches, set with gems--were quite adepts
at twisting and curling the hair; and, as it is the historian's duty
to tell the whole truth, we are compelled to confess, that at this
early period they were also guilty of painting their cheeks, so that
England has long had its rouged, as well as its rosy daughters. We read
also of pale tunics, of dun-coloured garments, of white kirtles--and,
in the Anglo-Saxon illustrations, we see robes of purple bordered
with yellow, of green striped with red, of lilac interlaced with
green, crimson striped with purple, all showing that a love of rich
and pleasing colours was, above a thousand years ago, common to the
ladies of England. Gloves appear to have been rarely worn. The sleeve
of the tunic was made long enough to be drawn over the hand in cold
weather; where the glove is represented, the thumb only is separate,
the remainder of the fingers are covered, without any division, like
the mits, or mittens, worn by children at the present day. The military
costume we have already described: nor does it appear to have undergone
any alteration until after the Norman Conquest. They wore helmets, had
wooden shields covered with leather, rimmed, and bossed with iron, had
a kind of ringed armour to defend the breast, and such weapons as we
have frequently made mention of in our descriptions of the battles.

Turning to their furniture, we find, that besides benches and stools,
they had also seats with backs to them, not unlike the chairs or
sofas of the present day. Many of these are richly ornamented with
the forms of lions, eagles, and dragons; and no better proof need be
advanced than this profusion of carved work, to show, that in their
domestic comforts they had stepped far beyond the mere wants and common
necessaries of life, and made considerable progress in its refinements
and luxuries. Their chairs and tables were not only formed of wood
richly carved, but sometimes inlaid with gold, silver, and ivory. Nor
were the eating and drinking vessels of the nobles less costly. Mention
is made of gold and silver cups, on which figures of men and animals
were engraven; and the weight of some of these was from two to four
pounds. They covered their tables with cloths; had knives, spoons,
drinking-horns, bowls, dishes, but in no instance do we meet with a
fork. The roast meat or fowl appears to have been served on long spits;
each guest cut off what he approved of, and then the attendant passed
on to the next, who also helped himself--the bread and salt standing
ready for all upon the table. The Saxons were hard drinkers--mead,
wine, and ale flowed freely at their feasts; and it seems to have
been a common custom for the guests to have slept in the apartment
where the feast was held; for we read of the tables being removed,
of bolsters being brought into the hall, and the company throwing
themselves upon the floor, their only covering being their cloaks or
skins, while their weapons were suspended from the boarded walls over
their heads. Bedsteads were, however, in use, though they appear to
have been low; the part where the head rested was raised like the end
of a modern couch; beds, pillows, bed-clothes, curtains, sheets, and
coverlets of linen and skins, are occasionally mentioned in the old
Saxon wills, where we also find both the words sacking and bolster. The
bed-pillows appear occasionally to have been made of plaited straw;
and in one place we find mention of bed-curtains formed of gilded
fly-net, but what this may have been we are ignorant of. We read also
of candlesticks, hand-bells, and mirrors, being made of silver. Glass
appears to have been used more sparingly, though it is mentioned by
Bede as being "used for lamps and vessels of many uses." The use of the
bath is also frequently named; and we find them using frankincense,
pepper, and cinnamon, and other spices.

England, at this period, abounded in woods, and the chief meat of the
Saxons appears to have been the flesh of swine. Swine are frequently
mentioned in wills. They were given in dowries, bequeathed to abbeys
and monasteries, together with the land on which the swine fed. Oxen
and sheep they used more sparingly; and it is very probable that they
were not at this period so plentiful as swine. Deer, goats, and hares,
and several varieties of fowl, were also used for food. Of fish, the
eel appears to have been the most abundant. Eels were often received
in payment of rent; estates were held by no other form than that of
presenting so many eels annually; and eel-dykes are mentioned as
forming the boundary lines of different possessions. Herrings, salmon,
sturgeons, flounders, plaice, crabs, lobsters, oysters, muscles,
cockles, winkles, and even the porpoise, is named amongst the fish
which they consumed. Cheese, milk, butter, and eggs, were among the
common articles of the food of the Saxons. They used also both wheat
and barley bread, and had wind and water mills to grind their corn.
They appear to have been great consumers of honey; and amongst their
vegetables, beans and colewort are frequently mentioned. In their
soups they used herbs; and amongst their fruits we find pears, apples,
grapes, nuts, and even almonds and figs were grown in the orchards
which belonged to the monasteries. Salt was extensively used; and they
seem to have slaughtered numbers of their cattle in autumn, which
they cured and salted for winter consumption; and from this we might
infer that there was a scarcity of fodder during the winter months.
They boiled, baked, and roasted their victuals as we do now. Mention
is made of their ovens and boiling vessels, and of their fish having
been broiled. To eat or drink what a cat or dog had spoiled, they were
compelled afterwards to undergo a penance; also, if any one gave to
another any liquor in which a mouse or a weazel had been found dead,
four days' penance was inflicted; or if a monk, he was doomed to sing
three hundred psalms. There seem to have been ale-houses or taverns at
a very early period; and we find a priest forbidden to either eat or
drink in those places where ale was sold. So plentiful does animal food
appear to have been, that a master was prohibited from giving it to his
servants on fast-days; if he did, he was sentenced to the pillory.

Beginning with their in-door sports and pastimes, we find games similar
to chess and backgammon amongst their social amusements, while gleemen,
dancers, tumblers, and harpers, contributed to their merriment. In the
early illuminations we see jugglers throwing up three knives and balls,
and catching each alternately, just as the same feat is performed
in the present day. The Saxons were also great lovers of the chase.
Alfred, as we have shown, was a famous hunter; and Harold received his
surname of Harefoot through his swiftness in following the chase. Boars
and wild deer appear to have been their favourite game, and sometimes
they hunted down "the grey wolf of the weald." Wolf-traps and wolf-pits
are often mentioned in the Saxon records. England was not in those
days cursed with game-laws. Every man might pursue the game upon his
own land, and over hundreds of miles of wood and moor-hill, dale and
common, without any one interfering with him. There was no exception
made, only to the spot in which the king hunted, and this restriction
appears only to have been limited to the time and place where he
followed the chase. When the royal hunt was over, the forest was again
free. The Saxons hunted with hawks and hounds; and Alfred the Great
wrote instructions on the management of hawks. Nets, pits, bows and
arrows, and slings, were also used for capturing and destroying game.

The women were protected by many excellent laws; and violence offered
to them was visited by such severe pains and penalties as make us
ashamed of the justice which the insulted female obtains in modern
times when she seeks redress. The first step towards marriage consisted
in obtaining the lady's consent, the second that of her parents or
friends; the intended husband then pledged himself to maintain his
wife in becoming dignity; his friends were bound for the fulfilment of
his engagement. Next, provision was made for the children; and here,
again, the husband had to find sureties. Then came the morgen-gift, or
jointure, which was either money or land, paid or made over the day
after the marriage. Provision was also made in case of the husband's
death, but if a widow married within twelve months of her widowhood
she forfeited all claim to the property of her former husband. The
marriage ceremony was solemnized by the presence of the priest, who
having consecrated their union, prayed for the Divine blessing to
settle upon them, and that they might live in holiness, happiness, and
prosperity. Women had property in their own right, which they could
dispose of without the husband's consent; they were also witnesses at
the signing of deeds and charters. In the Saxon manuscripts we never
meet with the figures of women engaged in out-of-door labour; this was
always done by the men, although the wealthy classes had their slaves
of both sexes. To women the household occupation seems solely to have
belonged. Alfred the Great wrote the following beautiful description of
the love of a wife for her husband:--"She lives now for thee, and thee
only; hence she loves nothing else but thee. She has enough of every
good in this present life, but she has despised it all for thee alone.
She has shunned it all because she has not thee also. This one thing
is now wanting to her; thine absence makes her think that all which
she possesses is nothing. Hence, for thy love she is wasting; and full
nigh dead with tears and sorrow." Who can doubt but that this passage
describes his own feelings, when he wandered hungry and homeless
about the wilds of Athelney, and thought of her he had left weeping
in solitude behind? It is one of the many beautiful original passages
which are found in his Boethius, for Alfred was no mere translator, but
enriched his author from the storehouse of his own thoughts.

While pagans, the Saxons frequently burnt the bodies of their dead,
but this custom they for ever abandoned after they became converts to
Christianity. Their first mode of interment appears to have been a
grave, in which they placed the body without any covering excepting
the earth which was thrown over it. Sometimes the body was rolled in
a sheet of lead; and at Swinehead's Abbey, in Lincolnshire, several
skeletons have been dug up lately, wrapped round with the same
material, but without any vestige of a coffin appearing; though this
is no proof of wooden coffins not having been used at the period
of interment, which through the lapse of long centuries may have
decayed and mingled with the soil. Stone coffins were commonly used
by the wealthy, and but few were at first allowed to be buried within
walled towns. By degrees the churches began to be used as places of
sepulture, though only men distinguished for their piety and good
works appear at first to have been buried in these ancient edifices.
After a time, the churches and church-yards became crowded with
graves, and then the bodies were removed to some distance for burial.
The passing-bell was rung at a very early period; it is mentioned by
Bede, and there is but little doubt that the custom dates from nearly
the first introduction of Christianity. The clergy, on the death of
a person, received a payment, called the "soul-scot," which at times
amounted to an immense sum; even land was left by the dead, that
prayers might be offered up for the welfare of the soul; and thus
in early times the churches were enriched. The burial of Archbishop
Wilfred, in the eighth century, is thus described by Eddius:--"Upon a
certain day, many abbots and clergy met those who conducted the corpse
of the holy bishop in a hearse, and begged that they might be permitted
to wash the body, and dress it honourably, as befitted its dignity.
This was granted; and an abbot named Baculus then spread his surplice
on the ground, and the brethren depositing the body upon it, washed it
with their own hands, then, dressing it in the ecclesiastical habit,
they carried it along, singing psalms and hymns as they proceeded.
When they approached the monastery, the monks came out to meet it, and
scarcely one refrained from shedding tears and weeping aloud. And thus
it was borne, amid hymns and tears, to its final resting-place, the
church which the good bishop had built and dedicated to St. Peter." The
Saxons had also gilds or clubs, in which the artizans, or such as seem
to have consisted of the middle classes, subscribed for the burial of a
member, and a fine was inflicted upon every brother who did not attend
the funeral. Thus, above a thousand years ago, were burial societies
established in England--a clear proof of the respect which the Saxons
paid to their dead.

Savill & Edwards, Printers, 4, Chandos-street, Covent-garden.



   1. CONVERSION OF ETHELBERT                _Frontispiece._

   2. COMBAT BETWEEN ROMANS AND BRITONS                   22

   3. CARACTACUS CARRIED CAPTIVE TO ROME                  33

   4. VORTIGERN AND ROWENA                                67

   5. ALFRED DESCRIBING THE DANISH CAMP                  180



   8. THE WELSH TRIBUTE OF WOLVES' HEADS                 232

   9. CANUTE REBUKING HIS COURTIERS                      262


  11. DISCOVERY OF THE BODY OF HAROLD                    338

  12. TRIAL BY ORDEAL                                    346


[1] History of Scotland, vol. i. p. 9.

[2] Turner's "Anglo-Saxons," to which I am indebted for many of the
facts recorded in this chapter.

[3] Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p 293.

[4] A Catholic History of England. By William Bernard Mac Cabe.
Carefully compiled from our earliest records, and purporting to be a
literal translation of the writings of the old chroniclers, miracles,
visions, &c. from the time of Gildas; richly illustrated with notes,
which throw a clear, and in many instances a new light on what would
otherwise be difficult and obscure passages.

[5] Thierry's Norman Conquest; Turner's Anglo-Saxons, and the early
English Chronicles.

[6] Thierry's Norman Conquest.

[7] Turner's "Anglo-Saxons," vol. 2, p. 248. Although we differ from
this honest and able historian in many of the inferences he has drawn
from undisputed facts, we believe no writer ever sat down with a firmer
determination to do justice to the memory of the dead than Sharon

[8] At page 277 of Turner's "Anglo-Saxons," vol. ii., is the
commencement of a long and valuable note on the ancient lives of St.
Dunstan, which are still extant.

[9] Thierry's Norman Conquest. European Library edition. Vol. I. pages
82 and 83.

[10] Turner's Anglo-Saxons, page 325, vol. ii. Edition, 1836.

[11] William of Malmsbury.

[12] Thierry's "Norman Conquest," p. 134, European Library edition.

[13] Thierry's "Norman Conquest."

[14] Thierry's "Norman Conquest," vol. i. p. 148.

[15] Miss Strickland's Lives of the Queens of England, vol. i. pp.
6, 49, 70. For the love and affection which is said to have existed
between William and Matilda, we must refer our readers to the above
work, to which we are indebted for these revolting facts.

[16] Thierry's Norman Conquest, vol. i. p. 151.

[17] Thierry, vol. ii. p. 154.

[18] Thierry's "Norman Conquest."

[19] Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. ii. p. 396.

[20] Thierry's Norman Conquest, vol. i. p. 160.

[21] "Lives of the Queens of England," by Agnes Strickland, vol. i. p.
31, 37.

[22] "Lives of the Queens of England," by Agnes Strickland vol. i. p.
31, 37.

[23] Thierry's Norman Conquest, vol. i. p. 175.

[24] I had marked several passages in the translated poems of Beowulf,
Judith, Cedmon, &c., which would require but little alteration to
insure them a place amongst our choicest extracts; but am compelled
to omit them, as they would occupy too much space, and scarcely be in
keeping with the character of the present work.

[25] See p. 61.

[26] "A Groat's worth of Wit." No date.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcribers' note:

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unpaired
quotation marks were retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

Two occurrences of "strown" retained; text mostly uses "strewn".

Two occurrences of "Welch" retained; text mostly uses "Welsh".

Text uses both "before-time" and "beforetime"; both retained.

Text uses various forms of "villan" and "villain"; all retained.

Text mostly uses various forms of "Vikingr", rather than "Viking".

Text uses both "Scearston" and "Scearstan"; both retained.

Text uses both "witenagemot" and "witena-gemot"; both retained.

Text uses both "William of Malmsbury" and "William of Malmesbury";
both retained.

Text mostly uses "Shakspere", so two occurrences of "Shakspeare" were
changed by Transcriber for consistency.

Page 43: "Constantine, Chlorus" should not contain the comma.

Page 51: "martrydom" was printed that way.

Page 56: "tatooing" was printed that way.

Page 142: "recal" was printed that way.

Page 160: "marish" may be a misprint for "marsh".

Page 176: "secresy" was printed that way.

Page 235: Unmatched quotation mark in paragraph ending "no ruin

Page 250: "develope" was printed that way.

Page 311: "instal" was printed that way.

Page 319: Unmatched quotation mark in paragraph ending "as well as he

Page 360: "muscles" and "weazel" were printed that way.

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