Part 5 out of 5
"Pardon me, my liege, I did not make the word my own."
"You should not have dared to repeat it."
"If I dare, my lord, it is for your sake, and for our country, which is
dear to us all. Not an Englishman will acknowledge that your connection
is lawful; from Exeter to Canterbury the cry is the same--'Let him
renounce Elgiva, and we will obey him; but we will not serve a king who
does not obey the voice of the Church or the laws of the land.'"
"Laws of the land! The king is above the laws."
"Nay, my lord, he is bound to set the first example of obedience, chief
in that as in all things; an example to his people. Remember, my lord,
your coronation oath taken at Kingston three years ago."
Edwy flushed. "Is this a subject's language?"
"It is the language of one who loves his king too well to flatter him."
At this moment an usher of the court knocked at the door, and obtaining
permission to enter, stated that Archbishop Odo had arrived, and
demanded admission to the council.
"I will not see him," said the king.
"My liege," exclaimed Athelwold, the old grey-headed counsellor we have
mentioned, "permit one who loves you, as he loved your revered father,
to entreat you to cease from this hopeless resistance. If you refuse to
see him you are no longer a king."
"Then I will gladly abdicate."
"And become the scorn of Dunstan, and receive a retiring pension from
Edgar, and put your hand between his, kneeling humbly and saying 'I am
"No, no. Anything rather than that. Death first."
"All this may be averted with timely submission. Elgiva herself would
not counsel you to sacrifice all for her."
"O Athelwold. my father, the only one of my father's counsellors who has
been faithful to his firstborn, what can I do? She is dearer to me than
"But not than honour. You have both erred, both disobeyed the law of the
Church, both forgotten the example due from those in high places."
"Tell Odo to enter," exclaimed Edwy.
The archbishop was close at hand, patiently awaiting the answer to his
demand, yet determined, in case of a refusal, to take his pastoral staff
in his hand and enter the council room, announced or not. A more
determined priest had never occupied the primacy, yet he was benevolent
as determined, and, as we have mentioned, was known as Odo the Good
amongst the poor. Stern and unyielding to the vices of the rich, he was
gentle as a parent to the repentant sinner.
He had pronounced, as we have seen, the lesser excommunication,[xxxi]
in consequence of Edwy's refusal to put away Elgiva, immediately after
the coronation; since which the guilty pair had never communicated at
the altar, or even attended mass. Their lives had been practically
irreligious, nay idolatrous, for they had been gods to each other.
And now, in the full pomp of the archiepiscopal attire, with the mitre
of St. Augustine on his head and the crozier in his hand, Odo advanced,
like one who felt his divine mission, to the centre of the room. His
cross bearer and other attendants remained in the antechamber.
"What dost thou seek, rude priest?" said Edwy.
"I am come in the Name of Him Whose laws thou hast broken, and speak to
thee as the Baptist to Herod. Put away this woman, for it is not lawful
for thee to have her."
"And would I could reply to thee as the holy fox Dunstan once informed
me Herod replied to the insolent Baptist, and send thine head on a
charger to Elgiva."
"My lord! my liege! my king! Remember his sacred office," remonstrated
"Peace, my lords. His threats or his blandishments would alike fail to
move me. The blood of Englishmen slain in civil war--if indeed any are
found to fight for an excommunicate king--is that which I seek to avert.
"In the Name of my Master, Whom thou hast defied, O king, I offer thee
thy choice. Thou must put away thy concubine, or thou shalt sustain the
greater excommunication, when it will become unlawful for Christian
people even to speak with thee, or wish thee God speed, lest they be
partakers of thy evil deeds."
"My lord, you must yield," whispered Cynewulf.
"Son of the noble Edmund, thou must save thy father's name from disgrace."
"I cannot, will not, do Elgiva this foul wrong. I tell thee, priest,
that if thy benediction has never been pronounced upon our union, we are
man and wife before heaven."
"I await your answer," said Odo. "Am I to understand you choose the
fearful penalty of excommunication?"
"Nay! nay! he does not; he cannot," cried the counsellors. "Your
holiness!--father!--in the king's name we yield!"
"You are all cowards and traitors! Let him do what he will, I cannot yield."
"Then, my lord king, I must proceed," said Odo. "You have not only acted
wickedly in this matter, but you have misgoverned the people committed
to your charge, and broken every clause of your coronation oath. First,
you have not given the Church of God peace, or preserved her from
molestation, but have yourself ravaged her lands, and even slain her
servants with the sword; one, specially honoured of God, you sought to
slay, sending that wicked man, who has been called by fire to his
judgment, to execute your impious will."
"That holy fox Dunstan! Would Redwald had slain him!" muttered Edwy.
"Secondly," continued Odo, not heeding the interruption, "so far from
preventing thefts and fraud in all manner of men, you have maintained
notorious oppressors amongst your officers, and in your own person you
have broken the oath; for did you not even rob your aged grandmother,
and consume her substance in riotous living?"
"What could the old woman do with it all?"
"Thirdly, you have not maintained justice in your judicial proceedings,
but have spent all your time, like Rehoboam of old, with the young and
giddy, and in chastising your people with scorpions."
"Would I had a scorpion to chastise you! This is unbearable.
"My lords and counsellors, have you not a word to say for me?"
"Alas!" said Athelwold, "it is all too true; but give up Elgiva now, and
all will be well!"
"It will be at least the beginning of reformation," said Odo.
"And the end, I suppose," said Edwy, "will be that I shall shave my head
like a monk, banquet sumptuously upon herbs and water, spend
three-fourths of the day singing psalms through my nose, wear a hair
shirt, look as starved as a weasel, and at last, after sundry combats
with the devil, pinch his nose, and go off to heaven in all the odour of
sanctity. Go and preach all this to Edgar; I am not fool enough to
listen to it. You have got him to be your obedient slave and vassal; you
have bought him, body and soul, and the price has been Mercia, and now
you want to add Wessex. Well, I wish you joy of him, and him of you all;
for my part, if I could do it, I would restore the worship of Odin and
Thor, and offer you priests as bloody sacrifices to him: I would!"
"Peace, my lord and king! peace! this is horrible." said Athelwold.
"Horrible!" said another. "He is possessed. My lord Odo, you had better
But Edwy had given way--he was young--and burst into a passionate
fit of weeping, his royal dignity all forgotten.
"Give him time! give him time, father!" said they all.
"One day; he must then submit, or I must do my duty; I have no choice--
none," replied the archbishop.
And the council sadly broke up; but Athelwold sought a private interview
It was the evening of the same day, and the fair Elgiva sat alone in her
apartment, into which the westering sun was casting his last beams of
liquid light; tears had stained her cheeks and reddened her eyes, but
she looked beautiful as ever, like the poet's or painter's conception of
the goddess of love. Around her were numerous evidences of a woman's
delicate tastes, of tastes too in advance of her day. The harp, which
Edwy had given her the day of their inauspicious union, stood in one
corner of the apartment; richly ornamented manuscripts lay scattered
about--not, as usual, legends of the saints, and breviaries, but the
writings of the heathen poets, especially those who sang most of love:
for she was learned in such lore.
At last the well-known step was heard approaching, and her heart beat
violently. Edwy entered, his face bearing the traces of his mental
struggle; he threw himself down upon a couch, and did not speak for some
few moments. She arose and stood beside him.
"Edwy, my lord, you are ill at ease."
"I am indeed, Elgiva; oh! if you knew what I have had to endure this day!"
"I know it all, my Edwy; you cannot sacrifice your Elgiva, but she can
"Elgiva! what do you mean?"
"You have to choose between your country and your wife; she has made the
choice for you."
Here she strove violently to repress her emotion.
"Elgiva! you shall never go--never, never--it will break my heart."
"It will break mine; but better hearts should break than that civil war
should desolate our country, or that you should be dethroned."
"No more of this, Elgiva; you shall not go, I swear it! come weal or
woe. Are we not man and wife? Have we not ever been faithful to each other?"
"But this dreadful Church, my Edwy, which crushes men's affections and
rules their intellects with a giant's strength more fearful than the
fabled hammer of Thor. It crushed the sweet mythology of old, with all
that ministered to love, and substituted the shaveling, the nun, the
monk; it has no sympathy with poor hearts like ours; it is remorseless,
as though it never knew pity or fear. You must yield, my Edwy! we must
"I cannot," he said; "we will fly the throne together."
"But where would you go? this Church is everywhere; who would receive an
"I cannot help it, Elgiva; say no more, it maddens me. Talk of our early
days, before this dark shadow fell upon us."
She took up her harp, as if, like David, she could thereby soothe the
perturbed spirit; but its sweet sounds woke no answer in his breast, and
so the night came upon them--night upon the earth, night upon their souls.
Early in the morning she rose, strong in a woman's affection, while Edwy
yet slept, and hastily arrayed herself; she looked around at her poor
household gods, at the harp, at the many tokens of his love.
"It is for him!" she said. She imprinted her last kiss on his sleeping
forehead, she gazed upon him with fond, fond love; love had been her
all, her heaven: and then she opened the door noiselessly.
Athelwold waited without.
"Well done, noble girl!" he said; "thou keepest thy word right faithfully."
She strove to speak, but could not; her pale bloodless lips would not
frame the words. Silently they descended the stairs; the dawn reddened
the sky; a horse with a lady's equipments waited without, and a guide.
The old thane slipped a purse of gold into her hands.
"You will need it," he said. "Where are you going? you have not told us."
"It is better none should know," she said; "I will decide my route when
without the city."
They never heard of her again.[xxxii]
When Edwy awoke and found her gone he was at first frantic, and sent
messengers in all directions to bring her back; but when one after
another came back unsuccessful, he accepted the heroic sacrifice and
Wessex, therefore, remained faithful to him, at least for a time, but
Mercia was utterly lost; and Edgar was recognised as the lawful king
north of the Thames, by all parties; friends and foes, even by Edwy himself.
CHAPTER XXV. "FOR EVER WITH THE LORD."
Many months had passed away since the destruction of the hall of
Aescendune and the death of the unhappy Ragnar, and the spring of 958
had well-nigh ended. During the interval, a long and hard winter had
grievously tried the shattered constitution of Elfric. He had recovered
from the fever and the effects of his wound in a few weeks, yet only
partially recovered, for the severe shock had permanently injured his
once strong health, and ominous symptoms showed themselves early in the
winter. His breathing became oppressed, he complained of pains in the
chest, and seemed to suffer after any exertion.
These symptoms continued to increase in gravity, until his friends were
reluctantly compelled to recognise the symptoms of that insidious
disease, so often fatal in our English climate, which we now call
It was long before they would admit as much; but when they saw how
acutely he suffered in the cold frosts; how he, who had once been
foremost in every manly exercise, was compelled to forego the hunt, and
to allow his brother to traverse the woods and enjoy the pleasures of
the chase without him; how he sought the fireside and shivered at the
least draught; how a dry painful cough continually shook his frame, they
could no longer disguise the fact that his days on earth might be very
There was one fact which astonished them. Although he had returned with
avidity to all the devotional habits in which he had been trained, yet
he always expressed himself unfit to receive the Holy Communion, and
delayed to make that formal confession of his sins, which the religious
habits of the age imposed on every penitent.
Once or twice his fond mother, anxious for his spiritual welfare,
pressed this duty upon him; and Alfred, whom he loved, as well he might,
most dearly, urged the same thing, yet he always evaded the subject, or,
when pressed, replied that he fully meant to do so; in short, it was a
matter of daily preparation, but he could not come to be shriven yet.
When the winter at last yielded, and the bright spring sun spoke of the
resurrection, when Lent was over, they hoped at least to see him make
his Easter communion, and their evident anxiety upon the subject at last
brought from him the avowal of the motives which actuated his conduct.
It was Easter Eve, and Alfred had enticed him out to enjoy the balmy air
of a bright April afternoon. Close by the path they took, the hall was
rapidly rising to more than its former beauty, for not only had the
theows and ceorls all shown great alacrity in the work, but all the
neighbouring thanes had lent their aid.
"It will be more beautiful than ever," said Alfred, "but not quite so
homelike. Still, when you come of age, Elfric, it will be a happy home
"It will never be my home, Alfred."
"You must not speak so despondently. The bright springtide will soon
restore all your former health and vigour."
"No, Alfred, no; the only home I look for is one where my poor shattered
frame will indeed recover its vigour, but it will not be the vigour or
beauty of this world. Do you remember the lines Father Cuthbert taught
us the other night?
"'Oh, how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty,
Full of health, and strong and free,
Full of vigour, full of pleasure.
That shall last eternally.'
"It will not be of earth, though, my brother."
Alfred was silent; his emotions threatened to overcome him. He could not
bear to think that he should lose Elfric, although the conviction was
gradually forcing itself upon them all.
"Alfred," continued the patient, "it is of no use deceiving ourselves. I
have often thought it hard to leave this beautiful world, for it is
beautiful after all, and to leave you who have almost given your life
for me, and dear mother, little Edgitha, and Father Cuthbert; but God's
Will must be done, and what He wills must be best for us. No; this
bright Easter tide is the last I shall see on earth; but did not Father
Cuthbert say that heaven is an eternal Easter?"
So the repentant prodigal spoke, according to the lessons the Church had
taught him. Superstitious in many points that Church of our forefathers
may have been, yet how much living faith had its home therein will never
be fully known till the judgment.
"And when I look at that castle," Elfric continued, "our own hall of
Aescendune, rising from its ashes, I picture to myself how you will
marry some day and be happy there; how our dear mother will see your
children growing up around her knee, and teach them as she taught you
and me; how, perhaps, you will name one after me, and there shall be
another Elfric, gay and happy as the old one, but, I hope, ten times as
good; and you will not let him go to court, I am sure, Alfred."
Alfred did not answer; he could not command his composure.
"And when you all come to the priory church on Sundays, and Father
Cuthbert, or whoever shall come after him, sings the mass, you will
remember me and breathe my name in your prayers when they say the
memento for the faithful dead; and again, there shall be little children
learning their paters and their sweet little prayers, as you and I
learned them at our mother's knee: and you will show them my tomb, where
I shall rest with dear father, and perhaps my story may be a warning to
them. But you must never forget to show them how brotherly love was
stronger than death when the old hall was burnt.
"After all," he continued, "our separation won't be long, the longest
day comes to an end, and a thousand years are with Him as one day. We
shall all be united at last--father, mother, Alfred, Edgitha, Elfric.
Do you not hear the Easter bells?"
They retraced their steps to the priory church for the services of
"And one thing more, dear Alfred; you think me a strange penitent, that
I am long, very long, before I make my confession. You do not know how I
sigh for Communion; it is three years since I communicated, nearly four.
But, Alfred, there is one who tried to stop me when I began going
downward, downward, and I feel as if I must have his forgiveness before
I can communicate, and it is to him I want to make my last confession.
You know whom I mean; he is in England now and near."
"I do indeed."
"Now you know my secret, let us go into church."
Oh, how sweetly those Easter psalms and lessons spoke to Alfred and
Elfric that night; how sweetly the tidings of a risen Saviour sounded in
their ears. Easter joy was joy indeed. The very heavens seemed brighter
that night, the moon--the Paschal moon--seemed to gladden the earth
and render it a Paradise, like that happy Eden of old times, before sin
entered its holy seclusion.
Easter tide was over, and Ascension drew near, but the sweet month of
May had done little to restore health to poor Elfric. He had scarcely
ever had a day free from pain. His eye was brighter than ever, but his
attenuated face told a sad tale of the decay of the vital power.
From the time that Alfred knew how his brother yearned for Dunstan's
forgiveness, and that he would be shriven by none but him, he had sought
to accomplish his wish. He heard that Dunstan had returned from abroad,
and was about to be consecrated Bishop of Worcester, and to be their own
diocesan, and he sought an early opportunity of seeing him.
At last, but not until after Dunstan's consecration, he gained the
opportunity, not without much delay; for Dunstan was sometimes in
Worcester, sometimes in London, which had thrown off Edwy's authority,
and submitted, with all Essex, to Edgar; sometimes ordaining, sometimes
confirming, sometimes assisting Edgar in the government; and he was,
like all other great men, very inaccessible.
At last Alfred learned that he would be in Worcester by a certain day,
and he started at once for that city. He arrived there after a tedious
journey; the roads were very difficult, and when he reached the city he
heard the cathedral bells, and went at once to the high mass, for it was
a festival. There he saw Dunstan as he had seen him before at
Glastonbury, at the altar, amidst all the solemn pomp in which our
ancestors robed the sacred office.
Immediately after the service he repaired to the palace, and put in his
name. Numbers, like himself, were awaiting an audience, but only a few
minutes had passed ere an usher came into the antechamber and informed
him that Dunstan requested his immediate presence.
He followed the usher amidst the envy of many who had the prospect of a
long detention ere they could obtain the same favour, and soon he had
clasped Dunstan's hand and knelt for his blessing.
"Nay! rise up, my son, it is thine: _Deus benedicat et custodiat te, in
omnibus viis tuis_. Thinkest thou, my son, thy name has been forgotten
in my poor prayers? God made thee His instrument, but thou wast a very
very willing one; and now, my son, wherein can I serve thee? Thou hast
but to speak."
Thus encouraged, Alfred told all his tale, and Dunstan listened with
"Yet two days and I will be with you at Aescendune. Go back and comfort
thy brother; he shall indeed have my forgiveness, and happy shall I be
as an ambassador of Christ to fulfil the blessed office of restoring the
lost sheep to the fold, the prodigal to his Heavenly Father."
When Alfred returned to Aescendune he found Elfric eagerly awaiting him;
he had not been so well in the absence of his brother, and every one saw
symptoms of the coming end.
Still he seemed so happy when Alfred delivered his message that every
one remarked it, and that evening he sat up later than usual, listening
as Father Cuthbert read for the hundredth time his favourite story from
King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of the Gospels, the parable of the
prodigal son, which had filled his mind on the night after the battle;
then he spoke to his mother about past days, before a cloud came between
him and his home; and talked of his father, and of the little incidents
of early youth. Always loving, he was more so than usual that night, as
if he felt time was short in which to show a son's love.
That night his mother came, as she always came, when he was asleep, to
his chamber to gaze upon him, when she was struck by the difficulty of
his breathing; she felt alarmed when she saw the struggles he seemed to
make for breath, and saw the damp sweat upon his brow, so she called Alfred.
Alfred saw at once that his brother was seriously worse, and summoned
Father Cuthbert, who no sooner gazed upon him than he exclaimed that the
end was near.
During all that night he breathed heavily and with difficulty, as if
each breath would be the last. Towards morning, however, he rallied, and
immediate danger seemed gone, although only for a short time.
He sat up for the last time that day. It was a lovely day in May, and in
the heat of the day he seemed to drink in the sweet atmosphere, as it
came gently through the open window, laden with the scents of a hundred
flowers. Often his lips moved as if in prayer, and sometimes he spoke to
his brother, and asked when Dunstan would come; but he was not equal to
At length one of the ceorls came riding in to say that the Bishop, with
his retinue, was approaching the village, and Father Cuthbert went out
to meet him. The impatient anxiety of poor Elfric became painful to witness.
"He is coming, Elfric! he is coming!" said Alfred from the window. "I
see him near; see! he stops to salute Father Cuthbert, whom he knew
years ago; I must go down to receive him.
"Mother! You stay with Elfric."
A sound as of many feet; another moment, a firm step was heard upon the
stairs, and Dunstan entered the room.
He advanced to the bed, while all present stood in reverent silence, and
gazed upon the patient with a look of such affection as a father might
bestow upon a dying son as he took the weak nerveless hand.
Elfric looked round with a mute appeal which they all comprehended, and
left him alone with Dunstan.
"Father, pardon me!" he said.
"Thou askest pardon of me, my son--of me, a sinner like thyself; I
cannot tell thee how freely I give it thee; and now, my son, unburden
thyself before thy God, for never was it known that one pleaded to Him
and was cast out."
When, after an interval, Dunstan summoned the lady Edith and Alfred back
into the room, a look cf such calm, placid composure, such satisfied
happiness, sat upon his worn face, that they never forgot it.
"Surely," thought they, "such is the expression the blessed will wear in
And then, in their presence, Dunstan administered the Blessed Sacrament
of the Body and Blood of Christ to the happy penitent; it was the first
Communion which he had willingly made since he first left home, a bright
happy boy of fifteen; and words would fail to describe the deep faith
and loving penitence with which he gathered his dying strength to
receive the Holy Mysteries.
And then Dunstan administered the last of all earthly rites--the holy
anointing;[xxxiii] while amidst their tears the mourners
yet thought of Him Who vouchsafed to be anointed before He sanctified
the grave to be a bed of hope to His people.
"Art thou happy now, my son?" said Dunstan, when all was over.
"Happy indeed! happy! yes, so happy!"
They were almost the last words he said, until an hour had passed and
the sun had set, leaving the bright clouds suffused in rich purple, when
he sat up in the bed.
"Mother! Alfred!" he said, "do you hear that music? Many are singing;
surely that was father's voice. Oh! how bright!"
He fell back, and Dunstan began the solemn commendatory prayer, for he
saw the last moment was come.
"Go forth, O Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the
Father Who hath created thee, of God the Son Who hath redeemed thee, of
God the Holy Ghost Who hath been poured out upon thee; and may thy abode
be this day in peace, in the heavenly Sion, through Jesus Christ thy Lord."
It was over! Over that brief but eventful life! Over all the bright
hopes which had centred on him in this world; but the battle was won,
and the eternal victory gained.
We have little more to add to our tale; the remainder is matter of
history. The real fate of the unhappy Elgiva is not known, for the
legend which represents her as suffering a violent death at the hands of
the partisans of Edgar or Odo rests upon no solid foundation, but is
repugnant to actual facts of history. Let us hope that she found the
only real consolation in that religion she had hitherto, unhappily,
despised, but which may perhaps have come to her aid in adversity.
The unhappy Edwy sank from bad to worse. When Elgiva was gone he seemed
to have nothing to live for; he yielded himself up to riotous living to
drown care, while his government became worse and worse. Alas, he never
repented, so far as we can learn, and the following year he died at
Gloucester--some said of a broken heart, others of a broken
constitution--in the twentieth year only of his age.
Poor unhappy Edwy the Fair! Yet he had been his own worst enemy. Well
has it been written:
"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine
heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou that for all these
things God will bring thee into judgment."
Edgar succeeded to the throne, and all England acknowledged him as lord;
while under Dunstan's wise administration the land enjoyed peace and
plenty unexampled in Anglo-Saxon annals. Such was Edgar's power, that
more than three thousand vessels kept the coast in safety, and eight
tributary kings did him homage.
Alfred became in due course Thane of Aescendune, and his widowed mother
lived to rejoice in his filial care many a long year, while the
dependants and serfs blessed his name as they had once blessed that of
"The boy is the father of the man" it has been well said, and it was not
less true than usual in this case. A bright pure boyhood ushered in a
manhood of healthful vigour and bright intellect.
Children grew up around him after his happy marriage with Alftrude, the
daughter of the thane of Rollrich. The eldest boy was named Elfric, and
was bright and brave as the Elfric of old. Need we say he never went to
court, although Edgar would willingly have numbered him in the royal
household. Truly, indeed, were fulfilled the words which the Elfric of
old had spoken on that Easter eve. To his namesake, and to all that
younger generation, the memory of the uncle they had never seen was
surrounded by a mysterious halo of light and love; and when they said
their prayers around his tomb, it seemed as if he were still one of
themselves--sharing their earthly joys and sorrows.
And here we must leave them--time passing sweetly on, the current of
their lives flowing softly and gently to the mighty ocean of eternity:
"Where the faded flower shall freshen,
Freshen never more to fade;
Where the shaded sky shall brighten,
Brighten never more to shade."
i For authorities for his various statements the Author
must beg to refer his readers to the notes at the end of the volume.
ii Homilies in the Anglo-Saxon Church
"The mass priest, on Sundays and mass days, shall speak the sense of the
Gospel to the people in English, and of the Paternoster, and of the
Creed, as often as he can, for the inciting of the people to know their
belief, and to retain their Christianity. Let the teacher take heed of
what the prophet says, 'They are dumb dogs, and cannot bark.' We ought
to bark and preach to laymen, lest they should be lost through
ignorance. Christ in His gospel says of unlearned teachers, 'If the
blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.' The teacher is
blind that hath no book learning, and he misleads the laity through his
ignorance. Thus are you to be aware of this, as your duty requires."--
23d Canon of Elfric, about A.D. 957.
Elfric was then only a private monk in the abbey of Ahingdon, and
perhaps composed these canons for the use of Wulfstan, Bishop of
Dorchester, with the assistance of the abbot, Ethelwold. They commence
"Aelfricus, humilis frater, venerabili Episcopo Wulfsino, salutem in
Domino." Others think this "Wulfsinus" was the Bishop of Sherborne of
that name. Elfric became eventually Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D.
995-1005, dying at an advanced age. No other English name before the
Conquest is so famous in literature.
iii Services of the Church.
"It concerns mass priests, and all God's servants, to keep their
churches employed with God's service. Let them sing therein the
seven-tide songs that are appointed them, as the Synod earnestly
requires--that is, the uht song (matins); the prime song (seven A.M.);
the undern song (terce, nine A.M.); the midday song (sext); the noon
song (nones, three P.M.); the even song (six P.M.); the seventh or night
song (compline, nine P.M.)"--19th Canon of Elfric.
It is not to be supposed that the laity either were expected to attend,
or could attend, all these services, which were strictly kept in
monastic bodies; but it would appear that mass, and sometimes matins and
evensong, or else compline, were generally frequented. And these latter
would be, as represented in the text, the ordinary services in private
iv Battle of Brunanburgh.
In this famous battle, the English, under their warlike king, defeated a
most threatening combination of foes; Anlaf, the Danish prince, having
united his forces to those of Constantine, King of the Scots, and the
Britons, or Welsh of Strathclyde and Cambria. So proud were the English
of the victory, that their writers break into poetry when they come to
that portion of their annals. Such is the case with the writer of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, from whom the following verses are abridged. They
have been already partially quoted in the text.
Here Athelstane king,
Of earls the lord,
To warriors the ring-giver,
Had won in the strife,
By edge of the sword,
The offspring of Edward,
The departed king,
Cleaving the shields.
Struck down the brave.
Such was their valour,
Worthy of their sires,
That oft in the strife
They shielded the land
'Gainst every foe.
The Scottish chieftains,
The warriors of the Danes,
Pierced through their mail,
Lay dead on the field.
The field was red
With warriors' blood,
What time the sun,
Uprising at morn,
The candle of God,
Ran her course through the heavens;
Till red in the west
She sank to her rest.
Through the live-long day
Fought the people of Wessex,
Unshrinking from toil,
While Mercian men,
Hurled darts by their side.
Fated to die
Their ships brought the Danes,
Five kings and seven earls,
All men of renown,
And Scots without number
Lay dead on the field.
Constantine, hoary warrior,
Had small cause to boast.
Young in the fight,
Mangled and torn,
Lay his son on the plain.
Nor Anlaf the Dane
With wreck of his troops,
Could vaunt of the war
Of the clashing of spears.
Or the crossing of swords,
with the offspring of Edward.
The Northmen departed
In their mailed barks,
while the two brothers,
The King and the Etheling,
To Wessex returned,
The corpses of foes
To the beak of the raven,
The eagle and kite,
And the wolf of the wood.
The Chronicle simply adds, "A.D. 937.--This year King Athelstan, and
the Etheling Edmund, his brother, led a force to Brimanburgh, end there
fought against Anlaf, and, Christ helping them, they slew five kings and
v Murder of Edmund.
A certain robber named Leofa, whom Edmund had banished for his crimes,
returning after six years' absence, totally unexpected, was sitting, on
the feast of St. Augustine, the apostle of the English, and first
Archbishop of Canterbury, among the royal guests at Pucklechurch, for on
this day the English were wont to regale, in commemoration of their
first preacher; by chance, too, he was placed near a nobleman, whom the
king had condescended to make his guest. This, while the others were
eagerly carousing, was perceived by the king alone; when, hurried with
indignation, and impelled by fate, he leaped from the table, caught the
robber by the hair, and dragged him to the floor; but he, secretly
drawing a dagger from its sheath, plunged it with all his force into the
breast of the king as he lay upon him. Dying of the wound, he gave rise
over the whole kingdom to many fictions concerning his decease. The
robber was shortly torn limb from limb by the attendants who rushed in,
though he wounded some of them ere they could accomplish their purpose.
St. Dunstan, at that time Abbot of Glastonbury, had foreseen his ignoble
end, being fully persuaded of it from the gesticulations and insolent
mockery of a devil dancing before him. Wherefore, hastening to court at
full speed, he received intelligence of the transaction on the road. By
common consent, then, it was determined that his body should be brought
to Glastonbury, and there magnificently buried in the northern part of
the tower. That such had been his intention, through his singular regard
for the abbot, was evident from particular circumstances. The village,
also, where he was murdered, was made a offering for the dead, that the
spot, which had witnessed his fall, might ever after minister aid to his
soul,--William of Malmesbury, B, ii. e. 7, Bohn's Edition.
vi A. D. 556--Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
vii Wulfstan, and the See of Dorchester.
When Athelstane was dead, the Danes, both in Northumberland and Mercia,
revolted against the English rule, and made Anlaf their king. Archbishop
Wulfstan, then of York, sided with them, perhaps being himself of Danish
blood. The kingdom was eventually divided between Edmund and Aulaf,
until the death of the latter. When Edred ascended the throne--after
the murder of Edmund, who had, before his death, repossessed himself of
the whole sovereignty--the wise men of Northumberland, with Wulfstan
at their head, swore submission to him, but in 948 rebelled and chose
for their king Eric of Denmark. Edred marched at once against them, and
subdued the rebellion with great vigour, not to say riqour. He threw the
archbishop into prison at Jedburgh in Bernicia. After a time he was
released, but only upon the condition of banishment from Northumbria,
and he was made Bishop of Dorchester, a place familiar to the tourist on
the Thames, famed for the noble abbey church which still exists, and has
been grandly restored.
Although Dorchester is now only a village, it derives its origin from a
period so remote that it is lost in the mist of ages. It was probably a
British village under the name Cair Dauri, the camp on the waters; and
coins of Cunobelin, or Cassivellaunus, have been found in good
preservation. Bede mentions it as a Roman station, and Richard of
Cirencester marks it as such in the xviii. Iter, under the name Durocina.
Its bishopric was founded by Birinus, the apostle of the West Saxons;
and the present bishoprics of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Bath and
Wells, Worcester and Hereford, were successively taken from it, after
which it still extended from the Thames to the Humber.
Suffering grievously from the ravages of the Danes, it became a small
town, and it suffered again grievously at the Conquest, when the
inhabited houses were reduced by the Norman ravages from 172 to 100, and
perhaps the inhabitants were reduced in proportion. In consequence,
Remigius, the first Norman bishop, removed the see to Lincoln, because
Dorchester, on account of its size and small population, did not suit
his ideas, as John of Brompton observes. From this period its decline
was rapid, in spite of its famous abbey, which Remigius partially
erected with the stones from the bishop's palace.
viii Anglo-Saxon Literature.
In the age of Bede, the eighth century, Britain was distinguished for
its learning; but the Danish invasions caused the rapid decline of its
The churches and monasteries, where alone learning flourished, and which
were the only libraries and schools, were the first objects of the
hatred of the ferocious pagans; and, in consequence, when Alfred came to
the throne, as he tells us in his own words--"South of the Humber
there were few priests who could understand the meaning of their common
prayers, or translate a line of Latin into English; so few, that in
Wessex there was not one." Alfred set himself diligently to work to
correct this evil. Nearly all the books in existence in England were in
Latin, and it was a "great" library which contained fifty copies of
these. There was a great objection to the use of the vernacular in the
Holy Scriptures, as tending to degrade them by its uncouth jargon; but
the Venerable Bede had rendered the Gospel of St. John into the
Anglo-Saxon, together with other extracts from holy Scripture; and there
were versions of the Psalter in the vulgar tongue, very rude and
uncouth; for ancient translators generally imagined a translation could
only be faithful which placed all the words of the vulgar tongue in the
same relative positions as the corresponding words in the original. An
Anglo-Saxon translation upon this plan is extant.
Alfred had taught himself Latin by translating: there were few
vocabularies, and only the crabbed grammar of old Priscian. Shaking
himself free from the trammels we have enumerated, he invited learned
men from abroad, such as his biographer, Asser, and together they
attempted a complete version of the Bible. Some writers suppose the
project was nearly completed, others, that it was interrupted by his
early death. Still, translations were multiplied of the sacred writings,
and the rubrics show that they were read, as described in the text, upon
the Sundays and festivals. From that time down to the days of Wickliffe,
England can boast of such versions of the sacred Word as can hardly be
paralleled in Europe.
The other works we have mentioned were also translated by or for Alfred.
"The Chronicle of Orosius," a history of the world by a Spaniard of
Seville; "The History of the Venerable Bede;" "The Consolations of
Philosophy," by Boethius; "Narratives from Ancient Mythology;" "The
Confessions of St. Augustine;" "The Pastoral Instructions of St.
Gregory;" and his "Dialogue," form portions of the works of this
greatest of kings, and true father of his people. His "Apologues,"
imitated from Aesop, are unfortunately lost.
ix The Court of Edred.
All the early chroniclers appear to take a similar view of the character
and court of Edred. William of Malmesbury says--"The king devoted his
life to God, and to St. Dunstan, by whose admonition he bore with
patience his frequent bodily pains, prolonged his prayers, and made his
palace altogether the school of virtue." But although pious, he was by
no means wanting in manly energy, as was shown by his vigorous and
successful campaign in Northumbria, on the occasion of the attempt to
set Eric, son of Harold, on the throne of Northumbria. The angelic
apparition to St. Dunstan, mentioned in chapter VII, is told by nearly
all the early historians, but with varying details. According to many,
it occurred while Dunstan was hastening to the aid of Edred. The
exigencies of the tale required a slightly different treatment of the
x Confession in the Anglo-Saxon Church.
"On the week next before holy night shall every one go to his shrift
(i.e. confessor), and his shrift shall shrive him in such a manner as
his deeds which he hath done require and he shall charge all that belong
to his district that if any of them have discord with any, he make peace
with him; if any one will not be brought to this, then he shall not
shrive him; [but] then he shall inform the bishop, that he may convert
him to what is right, if he he willing to belong to God: then all
contentions and disputes shall cease, and if there be any one of them
that hath taken offence at another, then shall they be reconciled, that
they may the more freely say in the Lord's Prayer, 'Forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,' etc. And
having thus purified their minds, let them enter upon the holy
fast-tide, and cleanse themselves by satisfaction against holy Easter,
for this satisfaction is as it were a second baptism. As in Baptism the
sins before committed are forgiven, so, by satisfaction, are the sins
committed after Baptism." Theodulf's Canons, A.D. 994 (Canon 36).
It is evident, says Johnson, that "holy night" means "lenten night," as
the context shows.
xi Incense in the Anglo-Saxon Church.
Dr. Rock, in his "Hierurgia Anglicans," states that incense was used at
the Gospel. In vol. i., quoting from Ven. Bede, he writes--"Conveniunt
omnes in ecclesium B. Petri ipse (Ceolfridas Abbas) thure incenso, et
dicto oratione, ad altare pacem dat omnibus, stans in gradibus,
thuribulum habens in menu." In Leofric's Missal is a form for the
blessing of incense. Theodore's Penitential also affixes a penance to
its wilful or careless destruction. Ven. Bede on his deathbed gave away
incense amongst his little parting presents, as his disciple, Cuthbert,
relates. Amongst the furniture of the larger Anglo-Saxon churches was a
huge censer hanging from the roof, which emitted fumes throughout the mass.
"Hic quoque thuribulum, capitellis undique cinctum,
Pendet de summo, fumosa foramina pandens:
De quibus ambrosia spirabunt thura Sabaea,
Quando sacerdotes missas offerre jubentur."
Alcuini _Opera_, B. ii,, p. 550.
xii Psalm xxi. 3.
xiii "All were indignant at the shameless deed, and
murmured amongst themselves,"--William of Malmesbury.
xiv The Welsh were driven from Exeter by King
Athelstane; before that time, Englishmen and Welsh had inhabited it with
xv The earliest inhabitants of Ireland were called Scots.
xvi Legends about St. Dunstan.
"It is a great pity," says Mr. Freeman, in his valuable "Old English
History," "that so many strange stories are told about him [Dunstan],
because people are apt to think of those stories and not of his real
actions." This has indeed been the case to such an extent that his
talents, as a statesman and as an ecclesiastical legislator, are almost
unknown to many who are very familiar with the story of his seizing the
devil by the nose with a pair of tongs. Sir Francis Palgrave supposes
that St. Dunstan's seclusion at the time had led him to believe, like so
many solitaries, that he was attacked in person by the fiend, and that
he related his visions, which were accepted as absolute facts by his
credulous hearers. Hence the author has assumed the currency of some of
these marvellous legends in his tale, and has introduced a later one
into the text of the present chapter. But the whole life of the saint,
as related by his monkish biographers, is literally full of such
legends, some terrible, some ludicrous. One of the most remarkable
deserves mention, bearing, as it does, upon our tale. It is said that he
learned that Edwy was dead, and that the devils were about to carry off
his soul in triumph, when, falling to fervent prayer, he obtained his
release. A most curious colloquy between the abbot and the devils on
this subject may be found in Osberne's "Life of Dunstan."
xvii The Benedictine Rule.
St. Benedict, the founder of the great Benedictine Order, was born in
the neighbourhood of Nursia, a city of Italy, about A.D. 480. Sent to
study at Rome, he was shocked at the vices of his fellow students, ran
away from the city, and shut himself up in a hermitage, where he
resigned himself to a life of the strictest austerity. Three years he
spent in a cave near Subiaco, about forty miles from Rome, where he was
so removed from society that he lost all account of time. He did not,
however, lead an idle life of self contemplation; he instructed the
shepherds of he neighbourhood, and such were the results of his
instruction that his fame spread widely, until, the abbot of a
neighbouring monastery dying, the brethren almost compelled him to
become their superior, but, not liking the reforms he introduced,
subsequently endeavoured to poison him, whereupon he returned to his
cave, where, as St. Gregory says, "he dwelt with himself" and became
more celebrated than ever. After this the number of his disciples
increased so greatly, that, emerging from his solitude, he built twelve
monasteries, in each of which he placed twelve monks under a superior,
finally laying the foundation of the great monastery of Monte Cassino,
which has ever since been regarded as the central institution of the order.
Here was drawn up the famous Benedictine rule, which was far more
adapted than any other code to prevent the cloister from becoming the
abode of idleness or lascivious ease. To the three vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience, was added the obligation of manual labour, the
brethren being required to work with their hands at least seven hours
daily. The profession for life was preceded by a novitiate of one year,
during which the rule was deeply studied by the novice, that the life
vow might not be taken without due consideration. The colour of the
habit was usually dark, hence the brethren were called the Black Monks.
St. Benedict died of a fever, which he caught in ministering to the
poor, on the eve of Passion Sunday, A.D. 543. Before his death, the
houses of the order were to be found in all parts of Europe, and by the
ninth century it had become general throughout the Church, almost
superseding all other orders.
xviii The Roman Roads.
Roman roads were thus constructed: Two shallow trenches were dug
parallel to each other, marking the breadth of the proposed road; the
loose earth was removed till a solid foundation was reached, and above
this were laid four distinct strata--the first of small broken stones,
the second of rubble, the third of fragments of bricks or pottery, and
the fourth the pavement, composed of large blocks of solid stone, so
joined as to present a perfectly even surface. Regular footpaths were
raised on each side, and covered with gravel. Milestones divided them
accurately. Mountains were pierced by cuttings or tunnels, and arches
thrown over valleys or streams. Upon these roads, posting houses existed
at intervals of six miles, each provided with forty horses, so that
journeys of more than 150 miles were sometimes accomplished in one day.
From the arrival of our uncivilised anceators, these magnificent roads
were left to ruin and decay, and sometimes became the quarry whence the
thane or baron drew stones for his castle; but they still formed the
channels of communication for centuries. Henry of Huntingdon (circa
1154) mentions the Icknield Street, from east to west; the Eringe, or
Ermine Street, from south to north; the Watling Street, from southeast
to northwest; and the Foss Way, from northeast to southwest, as the four
principal highways of Britain in his day. Once ruined, no communications
so perfect existed until these days of railroads.
xix The Rollright Stones.
These stones are still to be seen in the parish of Great Rollright near
Chipping Norton, Oxon, anciently Rollrich or Rholdrwygg. They lie on the
edge of an old Roman trackway, well defined, which extends along the
watershed between Thames and Avon. The writer has himself heard from the
rustics of the neighbourhood the explanation given by Oswy, while that
put in the mouth of Father Cuthbert is the opinion of the learned.
xx For this new translation of Urbs beata the author is
indebted to his friend the Rev. Gerald Moultrie.
xxi The reader will remember the strong feeling of
animosity then existing between seculars and regulars.
xxii This demoniacal laughter is one of the many
legends about St. Dunstan.
xxiii See Preface.
xxiv Ruined British Cities.
The resistance of the Britons (or Welsh) to their Saxon (or English)
foes was so determined, that, as in all similar cases, it increased the
miseries of the conquered. In Gaul the conquered Celts united with the
Franks to make one people; in Spain they united with the Goths; but the
conquerors of Britain came from that portion of Germany which had been
untouched by Roman valour or civilisation, and consequently there was no
disposition to unite with their unhappy victims, but the war became one
of extermination. Long and bravely did the unhappy Welsh struggle. After
a hundred years of warfare they still possessed the whole extent of the
western coast, from the wall of Autoninus to the extreme promontory of
Cornwall; and the principal cities of the inland territory still
maintained the resistance. The fields of battle, says Gibbon, might be
traced in almost every district by the monuments of bones; the fragments
of falling towers were stained by blood, the Britons were massacred
ruthlessly to the last man in the conquered towns, without distinction
of age or sex, as in Anderida. Whole territories returned to desolation;
the district between the Tyne and Tees, for example, to the state of a
savage and solitary forest. The wolves, which Roman authorities describe
as nonexistent in England, again peopled those dreary wastes; and from
the soft civilisation of Rome the inhabitants of the land fell back to
the barbarous manners and customs of the shepherds and hunters of the
German forests. Nor did the independent Britons, who had taken refuge
finally in Wales, or Devon and Cornwall, fare much better. Separated by
their foes from the rest of mankind, they returned to that state of
barbarism from which they had emerged, and became a scandal at last to
the growing civilisation of their English foes.
Under these circumstances the Saxons or English (the Saxons founded the
kingdoms of Wessex and Essex; the Jutes, Kent; the Angles all the
others. The predominance of the latter caused the term English to become
the general appellation.) cared little to inhabit the cities they
conquered; they left them to utter desolation, as in the case described
in the text, until a period came when, as in the case of the first
English assaults upon Exeter and the west country, they no longer
destroyed, but appropriated, while they spared the conquered.
xxv Seaton in Devonshire.
xxvi Elgiva or Aelgifu, signifies fairy gift.
The gate of hell stands open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the upper skies--
In this the toil, in this the labour lies.--Dryden.
Valhalla or Waihalla was the mythical Scandinavian Olympus, the
celestial locality where Odin and Edris dwelt with the happy dead who
had fallen in battle, and who had been conducted thither by the fair
Valkyries. Here they passed the days in fighting and hunting
alternately, being restored sound in body for the banquet each night,
where they drank mead from the skulls of the foes they had vanquished in
battle. Such was the heaven which commended itself to those fierce warriors.
xxix The parish priests were commonly called "Mass-Thanes"
xxx "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.
He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and
whosoever liveth, and believeth in Me, shall never die."
It was not the usual English custom, in those days, to bury the dead in
coffins, still it was often done, in the case of the great, from the
earliest days of Christianity. For instance, a stone coffin, supposed to
contain the dust of the fierce Offa, who died A. D. 796, was dug up,
when more than a thousand years had passed away, in the year 1836, at
Hemel-Hempstead, with the name Offa rudely carved upon it. The earliest
mention of churchyards in English antiquities is in the canons called
the "Excerptions of Ecgbriht," A.D. 740, when Cuthbert was Archbishop of
Canterbury; and here the word "atria" is used, which may refer to the
outbuildings or porticoes of a church.
xxxi The Greater and Lesser Excommunications.
The lesser excommunication excluded men from the participation of the
Eucharist and the prayers of the faithful, but did not necessarily expel
them from the Church. The greater excommunication was far more dreadful
in its operation. It was not lawful to pray, speak, or eat, with the
excommunicate (Canons of Ecgbright). No meat might be given into their
hands even in charity, although it might be laid before them on the
ground. Those who sheltered them incurred a heavy "were gild," and
endangered the loss of their estates; and finally, in case of obstinacy,
outlawry and banishment followed.
--King Canute's Laws Ecclesiastical.
xxxii Disappearance of Elgiva.
The writer has already in the preface stated his reasons for rejecting
the usual sad story about the fate of the hapless Elgiva. The other
story, that she was seized by Archbishop Odo, branded on the face, and
sent to Ireland, as Mr. Freeman observes, rests on no good authority;
all that is certainly known is that she disappeared.
At the time commonly assigued to these events, Dunstan was still in
Flanders; yet he is generally credited with the atrocities by modern
writers, even as if he had been proved guilty after a formal trial. His
return probably took place about the time occupied by the action of the
last chapter, when the partition of the kingdom had already occurred.
xxxiii The last Anointing.
The priest shall also have oil hallowed, separately, for children, and
for sick men; and solemnly anoint the sick in their beds. Some sick men
are full of vain fears, so as not to consent to the being anointed. Now
we will tell you how God's Apostle Jacob hath instructed us in this
point; he thus speaks to the faithful: "If any of you be afflicted, let
him pray for himself with an even mind, and praise his Lord. If any be
sick among you, let him fetch the mass priests of the congregation, and
let them sing over him, and pray for him, and anoint him with oil in the
Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall heal the sick; and the
Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven
him. Confess your sins among yourselves, pray for yourselves among
yourselves, that ye be healed." Thus spake Jacob the Apostle concerning
the unction of the sick. But the sick man, before his anointing, shall
with inward heart confess his sins to the priest, if he hath any for
which he hath not made satisfaction, according to what the Apostle
before taught: and he must not be anointed, unless he request it, and
make his confession. If he were before sinful and careless, let him then
confess, and repent, and do alms before his death, that he may not be
adjudged to hell, but obtain the Divine mercy.
Such is Johnson's version of the 32d canon of Elfric, in which he has
preserved closely Elfric's translation, or rather paraphrase, of the
passage in St. James. The name James was not then in use, the Latin
Jacobus was rendered Jacob.--Johnson's English Canons, A.D. 957, 32.