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The History of England, Volume I by David Hume

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pretending to deliver a message from Cuichelme, drew his dagger and
rushed upon the king. Lilla, an officer of his army, seeing his
master's danger, and having no other means of defence, interposed with
his own body between the king and Eumer's dagger, which was pushed
with such violence, that after piercing Lilla, it even wounded Edwin;
but before the assassin could renew his blow, he was despatched by
the king's attendants.
[FN [q] Chron. Sax. p. 27.]

The East Angles conspired against Redwald, their king, and having put
him to death, they offered their crown to Edwin, of whose valour and
capacity they had had experience, while he resided among them. But
Edwin, from a sense of gratitude towards his benefactor, obliged them
to submit to Earpwold, the son of Redwald; and that prince preserved
his authority, though on a precarious footing, under the protection of
the Northumbrian monarch [r].
[FN [r] Gul. Malmes. lib. 1. cap. 3.]

Edwin, after his accession to the crown, married Ethelburga, the
daughter of Ethelbert, King of Kent. This princess, emulating the
glory of her mother, Bertha, who had been the instrument for
converting her husband and his people to Christianity, carried
Paullinus, a learned bishop, along with her [s]; and besides
stipulating a toleration for the exercise of her own religion, which
was readily granted her, she used every reason to persuade the king to
embrace it. Edwin, like a prudent prince, hesitated on the proposal,
but promised to examine the foundations of that doctrine, and declared
that, if he found them satisfactory, he was willing to be converted
[t]. Accordingly, he held several conferences with Paullinus;
canvassed the arguments propounded with the wisest of his counsellors;
retired frequently from company, in order to revolve alone that
important question; and after a serious and long inquiry, declared in
favour of the Christian religion [u]: the people soon after imitated
his example. Besides the authority and influence of the king, they
were moved by another striking example. Coifi, the high priest, being
converted after a public conference with Paullinus, led the way in
destroying the images which he had so long worshipped, and was forward
in making this atonement for his past idolatry [w].
[FN [s] H. Hunting. lib. 3. [t] Bede, lib. 2. cap. 9. [u] Ibid. W.
Malmes. lib 1. cap. 3. [w] Bede, lib. 2. cap. 13. Brompton, Higden,
lib. 5.]

This able prince perished with his son, Osfrid, in a great battle
which he fought against Penda, King of Mercia, and Caedwalla, King of
the Britons [x]. That event, which happened in the forty-eighth year
of Edwin's age, and seventeenth of his reign [y], divided the monarchy
of Northumberland, which that prince had united in his person.
Eanfrid, the son of Adelfrid, returned with his brothers, Oswald and
Oswy, from Scotland, and took possession of Bernicia, his paternal
kingdom: Osric, Edwin's cousin-german, established himself at Deiri,
the inheritance of his family, but to which the sons of Edwin had a
preferable title. Eanfrid, the elder surviving son, fled to Penda, by
whom he was treacherously slain. The younger son, Vuscfraea, with
Yffi, the grandson of Edwin, by Osfrid, sought protection in Kent, and
not finding themselves in safety there, retired into France to King
Dagobert, where they died [z].
[FN [x] Matth. West. p. 114 Chron. Sax. p. 29. [y] W. Malmes. lib 1.
cap. 3. [z] Bede, lib. 2. cap. 20.]

Osric, King of Deiri, and Eanfrid, of Bernicia, returned to paganism,
and the whole people seem to have returned with them; since Paullinus,
who was the first Archbishop of York, and who had converted them,
thought proper to retire with Ethelburga, the queen dowager, into
Kent. Both these Northumbrian kings perished soon after, the first in
battle against Caedwalla, the Briton; the second by the treachery of
that prince. Oswald, the brother of Eanfrid, of the race of Bernicia,
united again the kingdom of Northumberland in the year 634, and
restored the Christian religion in his dominions. He gained a bloody
and well-disputed battle against Caedwalla; the last vigorous effort
which the Britons made against the Saxons. Oswald is much celebrated
for his sanctity and charity by the monkish historians, and they
pretend that his relics wrought miracles, particularly the curing of a
sick horse, which had approached the place of his interment [a].
[FN [a] Ibid. lib. 3. cap. 9.]

He died in battle against Penda, King of Mercia, and was succeeded by
his brother Oswy, who established himself in the government of the
whole Northumbrian kingdom, by putting to death Oswin, the son of
Osric, the last king of the race of Deiri. His son Egfrid succeeded
him; who perishing in battle against the Picts, without leaving any
children, because Adelthrid, his wife, refused to violate her vow of
chastity, Alfred, his natural brother, acquired possession of the
kingdom, which he governed for nineteen years, and he left it to
Osred, his son, a boy of eight years of age. This prince, after a
reign of eleven years, was murdered by Kenred, his kinsman, who, after
enjoying the crown only a year, perished by a like fate. Osric, and
after him Celwulph, the son of Kenred, next mounted the throne, which
the latter relinquished in the year 735, in favour of Eadbert, his
cousin-german, who, imitating his predecessor, abdicated the crown,
and retired into a monastery. Oswolf, son of Eadbert, was slain in a
sedition, a year after his accession to the crown; and Mollo, who was
not of the royal family, seized the crown. He perished by the
treachery of Ailred, a prince of the blood; and Ailred, having
succeeded in his design upon the throne, was soon after expelled by
his subjects. Ethelred, his successor, the son of Mollo, underwent a
like fate. Celwold, the next king, the brother of Ailred, was deposed
and slain by the people, and his place was filled by Osred, his
nephew, who, after a short reign of a year, made way for Ethelbert,
another son of Mollo, whose death was equally tragical with that of
almost all his predecessors. After Ethelbert's death an universal
anarchy prevailed in Northumberland, and the people having, by so many
fatal revolutions, lost all attachment to their government and
princes, were well prepared for subjection to a foreign yoke, which
Egbert, King of Wessex, finally imposed upon them.

[MN The kingdom of East Anglia.]
The history of this kingdom contains nothing memorable except the
conversion of Earpwold, the fourth king, and great-grandson of Uffa,
the founder of the monarchy. The authority of Edwin, King of
Northumberland, on whom that prince entirely depended, engaged him to
take this step; but soon after, his wife, who was an idolatress,
brought him back to her religion, and he was found unable to resist
those allurements which had seduced the wisest of mankind. After his
death, which was violent, like that of most of the Saxon princes that
did not early retire into monasteries, Sigebert, his successor and
half brother, who had been educated in France, restored Christianity,
and introduced learning among the East Angles. Some pretend that he
founded the university of Cambridge, or rather some schools in that
place. It is almost impossible, and quite needless, to be more
particular in relating the transactions of the East Angles. What
instruction or entertainment can it give the reader, to hear a long
bead-roll of barbarous names, Egric, Annas, Ethelbert, Ethelwald,
Aldulf; Elfwald, Beorne, Ethelred, Ethelbert, who successively
murdered, expelled, or inherited from each other, and obscurely filled
the throne of that kingdom? Ethelbert, the last of these princes, was
treacherously murdered by Offa, King of Mercia, in the year 792, and
his state was thenceforth united with that of Offa, as we shall relate

[MN The kingdom of Mercia.]
Mercia, the largest if not the most powerful kingdom of the Heptarchy,
comprehended all the middle counties of England, and as its frontiers
extended to those of all the other six kingdoms, as well as to Wales,
it received its name from that circumstance. Wibba, the son of Crida,
founder of the monarchy, being placed on the throne, by Ethelbert,
King of Kent, governed his paternal dominions by a precarious
authority, and after his death, Ceorl, his kinsman, was, by the
influence of the Kentish monarch, preferred to his son Penda, whose
turbulent character appeared dangerous to that prince. Penda was thus
fifty years of age before he mounted the throne, and his temerity and
restless disposition were found nowise abated by time, experience, or
reflection. He engaged in continual hostilities against all the
neighbouring states, and by his injustice and violence rendered
himself equally odious to his own subjects and to strangers.
Sigebert, Egric, and Annas, three kings of East Anglia, perished
successively in battle against him, as did also Edwin and Oswald, the
two greatest princes that had reigned over Northumberland. At last
Oswy, brother to Oswald, having defeated and slain him in a decisive
battle, freed the world from this sanguinary tyrant. Peada, his son,
mounted the throne of Mercia in 655, and lived under the protection of
Oswy, whose daughter he had espoused. This princess was educated in
the Christian faith, and she employed her influence with success, in
converting her husband and his subjects to that religion. Thus the
fair sex have had the merit of introducing the Christian doctrine into
all the most considerable kingdoms of the Saxon Heptarchy. Peada
died a violent death [b]. His son, Wolfhere, succeeded to the
government, and, after having reduced to dependence the kingdoms of
Essex and East Anglia, he, left the crown to his brother Ethelred,
who, though a lover of peace, showed himself not unfit for military
enterprises. Besides making a successful expedition into Kent, he
repulsed Egfrid, King of Northumberland, who had invaded his
dominions; and he slew in battle Elfwin, the brother of that prince.
Desirous, however, of composing all animosities with Egfrid, he paid
him a sum of money as a compensation for the loss of his brother.
After a prosperous reign of thirty years, he resigned the crown to
Kendred, son of Wolfhere, and retired into the monastery of Bardney
[c]. Kendred returned the present of the crown to Ceolred, the son of
Ethelred, and making a pilgrimage to Rome, passed his life there in
penance and devotion. The place of Ceolred was supplied by Ethelbald,
great-grand-nephew to Penda, by Alwy, his brother; and this prince,
being slain in a mutiny, was succeeded by Offa, who was a degree more
remote from Penda, by Eawa, another brother.
[FN [b] Hugo Candidus, p. 4, says, that he was treacherously murdered
by his queen, by whose persuasion he had embraced Christianity; but
this account of the matter is found in that historian alone. [c]
Bede, lib. 5.]

This prince, who mounted the throne in 775 [d], had some great
qualities, and was successful in his warlike enterprises against
Lothaire, King of Kent, and Kenwulph, King of Wessex. He defeated the
former in a bloody battle at Otford upon the Darent, and reduced his
kingdom to a state of dependence: he gained a victory over the latter
at Bensington in Oxfordshire; and conquering that county, together
with that of Gloucester, annexed both to his dominions. But all these
successes were stained by his treacherous murder of Ethelbert, King of
the East Angles, and his violent seizing of that kingdom. This young
prince, who is said to have possessed great merit, had paid his
addresses to Elfrida, the daughter of Offa, and was invited with all
his retinue to Hereford, in order to solemnize the nuptials. Amidst
the joy and festivity of these entertainments, he was seized by Offa,
and secretly beheaded; and though Elfrida, who abhorred her father's
treachery, had time to give warning to the East Anglian nobility, who
escaped into their own country, Offa, having extinguished the royal
family, succeeded in his design of subduing that kingdom [e]. The
perfidious prince, desirous of re-establishing his character in the
world, and perhaps of appeasing the remorses of his own conscience,
paid great court to the clergy, and practised all the monkish devotion
so much esteemed in that ignorant and superstitious age. He gave the
tenth of his goods to the church [f]; bestowed rich donations on the
cathedral of Hereford, and even made a pilgrimage to Rome, where his
great power and riches could not fail of procuring him the papal
absolution. The better to ingratiate himself with the sovereign
pontiff, he engaged to pay him a yearly donation for the support of an
English college at Rome [g]; and, in order to raise the sum, he
imposed the tax of a penny on each house possessed of thirty pence a
year. This imposition being afterwards levied on all England, was
commonly denominated Peter's Pence [h]: and though conferred at first
as a gift, was afterwards claimed as a tribute by the Roman pontiff.
Carrying his hypocrisy still farther, Offa, feigning to be directed by
a vision from heaven, discovered at Verulam the relics of St. Alban,
the martyr, and endowed a magnificent monastery in that place [i].
Moved by all these acts of piety, Malmesbury, one of the best of the
old English historians, declares himself at a loss to determine [k]
whether the merits or crimes of this prince preponderated. Offa died
after a reign of thirty-nine years, in 794 [l].
[FN [d] Chron. Sax. p. 59. [e] Brompton, p. 750, 751, 752. [f] Spell.
Conc. p. 308. Brompton, p. 776. [g] Spell. Conc. p. 230, 310, 312.
[h] Higden, lib. 5. [i] Ingulph. p. 5. W. Malmes. lib. 1. cap. 4.
[k] Lib. 1. cap. 4.]

This prince was become so considerable in the Heptarchy, that the
Emperor Charlemagne entered into an alliance and friendship with him;
a circumstance which did honour to Offa, as distant princes at that
time had usually little communication with each other. That emperor
being a great lover of learning and learned men, in an age very barren
of that ornament, Offa, at his desire, sent him over Alcuin, a
clergyman, much celebrated for his knowledge, who received great
honours from Charlemagne, and even became his preceptor in the
sciences. The chief reason why he had at first desired the company of
Alcuin, was, that he might oppose his learning to the heresy of Felix,
Bishop of Urgel, in Catalonia, who maintained that Jesus Christ,
considered in his human nature, could more properly be denominated the
adoptive, than the natural son of God [m]. This heresy was condemned
in the council of Francfort, held in 794, and consisting of 300
bishops. Such were the questions which were agitated in that age, and
which employed the attention not only of cloistered scholars, but of
the wisest and greatest princes [n].
[FN [l] Chron. Sax. p. 65 [m] Dupin, cent. 8. chap. 4. [n] Offa, in
order to protect his country from Wales; drew a rampart or ditch of a
hundred miles in length, from Basinwerke in Flintshire, to the south-
sea near Bristol. See SPEED'S DESCRIPTION OF WALES.]

Egfrith succeeded to his father Offa, but survived him only five
months [o], when he made way for Kenulph, a descendant of the royal
family. This prince waged war against Kent, and taking Egbert the
king prisoner, he cut off his hands, and put out his eyes, leaving
Cuthred, his own brother, in possession of the crown of that kingdom.
Kenulph was killed in an insurrection of the East Anglians, whose
crown his predecessor, Offa, had usurped. He left his son, Kenelm, a
minor, who was murdered the same year by his sister, Quendrade, who
had entertained the ambitious views of assuming the government [p].
But she was supplanted by her uncle Ceolulf; who, two years after, was
dethroned by Beornulf. The reign of this usurper, who was not of the
royal family, was short and unfortunate: he was defeated by the West
Saxons, and killed by his own subjects, the East Angles [q]. Ludican,
his successor, underwent the same fate [r]; and Wiglaff, who mounted
this unstable throne, and found every thing in the utmost confusion,
could not withstand the fortune of Egbert, who united all the Saxon
kingdoms into one great monarchy.
[FN [o] Ingulph. p. 6. [p] Ibid. p. 7. Brompton, p. 776 [q]
Ingulph. p. 7. [r] Ann. Beverl. p. 87.]

[MN The kingdom of Essex.]
This kingdom made no great figure in the Heptarchy, and the history of
it is very imperfect. Sleda succeeded to his father, Erkinwin, the
founder of' the monarchy, and made way for his son, Sebert, who, being
nephew to Ethelbert, King of Kent, was persuaded by that prince to
embrace the Christian faith [s]. His sons and conjunct successors,
Sexted and Seward, relapsed into idolatry, and were soon after slain
in a battle against the West Saxons. To show the rude manner of
living in that age, Bede tells us [t], that these two kings expressed
great desire to eat the white bread, distributed by Mellitus, the
bishop, at the [u] communion. But on his refusing them, unless they
would submit to be baptized, they expelled him their dominions. The
names of the other princes who reigned successively in Essex, are
Sigebert the Little, Sigebert the Good who restored Christianity,
Swithelm, Sigheri, Offa. This last prince, having made a vow of
chastity, notwithstanding his marriage with Keneswitha, a Mercian
princess, daughter to Penda, went in pilgrimage to Rome, and shut
himself up during the rest of his life in a cloister. Selred, his
successor, reigned thirty-eight years, and was the last of the royal
line; the failure of which threw the kingdom into great confusion, and
reduced it to dependence under Mercia [w]. Switherd first acquired
the crown, by the concession of the Mercian princes, and his death
made way for Sigeric, who ended his life in a pilgrimage to Rome. His
successor, Sigered, unable to defend his kingdom, submitted to the
victorious arms of Egbert.
[FN [s] Chron. Sax. p. 24. [t] Lib. 2. cap. 5. [u] H. Hunting. lib.
3. Brompton, p. 738, 743. Bede. [w] Malmes lib. 1. cap. 6.]

[MN The kingdom of Sussex.]
The history of this kingdom, the smallest in the Heptarchy, is still
more imperfect than that of Essex. Aella, the founder of the
monarchy, left the crown to his son Cissa, who is chiefly remarkable
for his long reign of seventy-six years. During his time, the South
Saxons fell almost into a total dependence on the kingdom of Wessex,
and we scarcely know the names of the princes who were possessed of
this titular sovereignty. Adelwalch, the last of them, was subdued in
battle by Ceodwalla, King of Wessex, and was slain in the action,
leaving two infant sons, who, falling into the hand of the conqueror,
were murdered by him. The Abbot of Retford opposed the order for this
execution, but could only prevail on Ceodwalla to suspend it till they
should be baptized. Bercthun and Audhun, two noblemen of character,
resisted some time the violence of the West Saxons, but their
opposition served only to prolong the miseries of their country, and
the subduing of this kingdom was the first step which the West Saxons
made towards acquiring the sole monarchy of England [x].
[FN [x] Brompton, p. 800.]

[MN The Kingdom of Wessex.]
The kingdom of Wessex, which finally swallowed up all the other Saxon
states, met with great resistance on its first establishment: and the
Britons, who were now inured to arms, yielded not tamely their
possessions to those invaders. Cerdic, the founder of the monarchy,
and his son, Kenric, fought many successful, and some unsuccessful,
battles against the natives; and the martial spirit, common to all the
Saxons, was, by means of these hostilities, carried to the greatest
height, among this tribe. Ceaulin, who was the son and successor of
Kenric, and who began his reign in 560, was still more ambitious and
enterprising than his predecessors, and by waging continual war
against the Britons, he added a great part of the counties of Devon
and Somerset to his other dominions. Carried along by the tide of
success, he invaded the other Saxon states in his neighbourhood, and
becoming terrible to all, he provoked a general confederacy against
him. This alliance proved successful under the conduct of Ethelbert,
King of Kent; and Ceaulin, who had lost the affections of his own
subjects by his violent disposition, and had now fallen into contempt
from his misfortunes, was expelled the throne [y], and died in exile
and misery. Cuichelme and Cuthwin, his sons, governed jointly the
kingdom, till the expulsion of the latter in 591, and the death of the
former in 593, made way for Cealric, to whom succeeded Ceobald in 593,
by whose death, which happened in 611, Kynegils inherited the crown.
This prince embraced Christianity [z], through the persuasion of
Oswald, King of Northumberland, who had married his daughter, and who
had attained a great ascendant in the Heptarchy. Kenwalch next
succeeded to the monarchy, and dying in 672, left the succession so
much disputed, that Sexburga, his widow, a woman of spirit [a], kept
possession of the government till her death, which happened two years
after. Escwin then peaceably acquired the crown, and after a short
reign of two years made way for Kentwin, who governed nine years.
Ceodwalla, his successor, mounted not the throne without opposition,
but proved a great prince according to the ideas of those times; that
is, he was enterprising, warlike, and successful. He entirely subdued
the kingdom of Sussex, and annexed it to his own dominions. He made
inroads into Kent, but met with resistance from Widred, the king, who
proved successful against Mollo, brother to Ceodwalla, and slew him in
a skirmish. Ceodwalla, at last, tired with wars and bloodshed, was
seized with a fit of devotion; bestowed several endowments on the
church; and made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he received baptism, and
died in 689. Ina, his successor, inherited the military virtues of
Ceodwalla, and added to them the more valuable ones of justice,
policy, and prudence. He made war upon the Britons in Somerset, and
having finally subdued that province, he treated the vanquished with a
humanity hitherto unknown to the Saxon conquerors. He allowed the
proprietors to retain possession of their lands, encouraged marriages
and alliances between them and his ancient subjects, and gave them the
privilege of being governed by the same laws. These laws he augmented
and ascertained, and though he was disturbed by some insurrections at
home, his long reign of thirty-seven years may be regarded as one of
the most glorious and most prosperous of the Heptarchy. In the
decline of his age he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and after his return,
shut himself up in a cloister, where he died.
[FN [y] Chron. Sax. p. 22. [z] Higden, lib. 5. Chron. Sax. p. 15.
Ann. Beverl. p. 93. [a] Bede, lib 4 cap 12. Chron. Sax. p. 41.]

Though the kings of Wessex had always been princes of the blood,
descended from Cerdic, the founder of the monarchy, the order of
succession had been far from exact, and a more remote prince had often
found means to mount the throne in preference to one descended from a
nearer branch of the royal family. Ina, therefore, having no children
of his own, and lying much under the influence of Ethelburga, his
queen, left by will the succession to Adelard, her brother, who was
his remote kinsman; but this destination did not take place without
some difficulty. Oswald, a prince more nearly allied to the crown,
took arms against Adelard; but he being suppressed, and dying soon
after, the title of Adelard was not any farther disputed, and, in the
year 741, he was succeeded by his cousin, Cudred. The reign of this
prince was distinguished by a great victory, which he obtained by
means of Edelhun, his general, over Ethelbald, King of Mercia. His
death made way for Sigebert, his kinsman, who governed so ill, that
his people rose in an insurrection and dethroned him, crowning Cenulph
in his stead. The exiled prince found a refuge with Duke Cumbran,
governor of Hampshire, who, that he might add new obligations to
Sigebert, gave him many salutary counsels for his future conduct,
accompanied with some reprehensions for the past. But these were so
much resented by the ungrateful prince, that he conspired against the
life of his protector, and treacherously murdered him. After this
infamous action, he was forsaken by all the world, and skulking about
in the wilds and forests, was at last discovered by a servant of
Cumbran's, who instantly took revenge upon him for the murder of his
master [b].
[FN [b] Higden, lib. 5. W. Malmes. lib. 1. cap. 2.]

Cenulph, who had obtained the crown on the expulsion of Sigebert, was
fortunate in many expeditions against the Britons of Cornwall, but
afterwards lost some reputation by his ill success against Offa, King
of Mercia [c]. Kynehard also, brother to the deposed Sigebert, gave
him disturbance, and though expelled the kingdom, he hovered on the
frontiers, and watched an opportunity for attacking his rival. The
king had an intrigue with a young woman who lived at Merton in Surrey,
whither having secretly retired, he was on a sudden environed, in the
night time, by Kynehard and his followers, and, after making a
vigorous resistance, was murdered with all his attendants. The
nobility and people of the neighbourhood, rising next day in arms,
took revenge on Kynehard for the slaughter of their king, and put
every one to the sword who had been engaged in that criminal
enterprise. This event happened in 784.
[FN [c] W. Malmes. lib. 1. cap 3.]

Brithric next obtained possession of the government, though remotely
descended from the royal family, but he enjoyed not that dignity
without inquietude. Eoppa, nephew to King Ina, by his brother Ingild,
who died before that prince, had begot Eta, father to Alchmond, from
whom sprung Egbert [d], a young man of the most promising hopes, who
gave great jealousy to Brithric, the reigning prince, both because he
seemed by his birth better entitled to the crown, and because he had
acquired, to an eminent degree, the affections of the people. Egbert,
sensible of his danger from the suspicions of Brithric, secretly
withdrew into France [e], where he was well received by Charlemagne.
By living in the court, and serving in the armies of that prince, the
most able and most generous that had appeared in Europe during several
ages, he acquired those accomplishments which afterwards enabled him
to make such a shining figure on the throne; and familiarizing himself
to the manners of the French, who, as Malmesbury observes [f], were
eminent both for valour and civility above all the western nations, he
learned to polish the rudeness and barbarity of the Saxon character:
his early misfortunes thus proved of singular advantage to him.
[FN [d] Chron. Sax. p. 16. [e] H. Hunting. lib. 4. [f] Lib. 2 cap.

It was not long ere Egbert had opportunities of displaying his natural
and acquired talents. Brithric, King of Wessex, had married Eadburga,
natural daughter of Offa, King of Mercia, a profligate woman, equally
infamous for cruelty and for incontinence. Having great influence
over her husband, she often instigated him to destroy such of the
nobility as were obnoxious to her; and where this expedient failed,
she scrupled not being herself active in traitorous attempts against
them. She had mixed a cup of poison for a young nobleman who had
acquired her husband's friendship, and had on that account become the
object of her jealousy; but, unfortunately, the king drank of the
fatal cup along with his favourite, and soon after expired [g]. This
tragical incident, joined to her other crimes, rendered Eadburga so
odious, that she was obliged to fly into France, whence Egbert was at
the same time recalled by the nobility, in order to ascent the throne
of his ancestors [h]. He attained that dignity in the last year of
the eighth century.
[FN [g] Higden, lib. 5. M. West. p. 152. Asser. in vita Alfredi, p.
3. ex edit. Camdeni. [h] Chron. Sax. A. D. 800. Brompton, p. 801.]

In the kingdoms of the Heptarchy, an exact rule of succession was
either unknown or not strictly observed, and thence the reigning
prince was continually agitated with jealousy against all the princes
of the blood, whom he still considered as rivals, and whose death
alone could give him entire security in his possession of the throne.
From this fatal cause, together with the admiration of the monastic
life, and the opinion of merit attending the preservation of chastity
even in a married state, the royal families had been entirely
extinguished in all the kingdoms except that of Wessex, and the
emulations, suspicions, and conspiracies, which had formerly been
confined to the princes of the blood alone, were now diffused among
all the nobility in the several Saxon states. Egbert was the sole
descendant of those first conquerors who subdued Britain, and who
enhanced their authority by claiming a pedigree from Woden, the
supreme divinity of their ancestors. But that prince, though invited
by this favourable circumstance to make attempts on the neighbouring
Saxons, gave them for some time no disturbance, and rather chose to
turn his arms against the Britons in Cornwall, whom he defeated in
several [i] battles. He was recalled from the conquest of that
country by an invasion made upon his dominions by Bernulf, King of
[FN [i] Chron. Sax. p. 69.]

The Mercians, before the accession of Egbert, had very nearly attained
the absolute sovereignty in the Heptarchy; they had reduced the East
Angles under subjection, and established tributary princes in the
kingdoms of Kent and Essex. Northumberland was involved in anarchy;
and no state of any consequence remained but that of Wessex, which,
much inferior in extent to Mercia, was supported solely by the great
qualities of its sovereign. Egbert led his army against the invaders,
and encountering them at Ellandun, in Wiltshire, obtained a complete
victory, and by the great slaughter which he made of them in their
flight, gave a mortal blow to the power of the Mercians. Whilst he
himself, in prosecution of his victory, entered their country on the
side of Oxfordshire, and threatened the heart of their dominions, he
sent an army into Kent, commanded by Ethelwolf, his eldest son [k],
and expelling Baldred, the tributary king, soon made himself master of
that country. The kingdom of Essex was conquered with equal facility,
and the East Angles, from their hatred to the Mercian government,
which had been established over them by treachery and violence, and
probably exercised with tyranny, immediately rose in arms, and craved
the protection of Egbert [l]. Bernulf, the Mercian king, who marched
against them, was defeated and slain; and two years after, Ludican,
his successor, met with the same fate. These insurrections and
calamities facilitated the enterprises of Egbert, who advanced into
the centre of the Mercian territories, and made easy conquests over a
dispirited and divided people. In order to engage them more easily to
submission, he allowed Wiglef, their countryman, to retain the title
of king, while he himself exercised the real powers of sovereignty
[m]. The anarchy which prevailed in Northumberland, tempted him to
carry still farther his victorious arms; and the inhabitants, unable
to resist his power, and desirous of possessing some established form
of government, were forward, on his first appearance, to send
deputies, who submitted to his authority, and swore allegiance to him
as their sovereign. Egbert, however, still allowed to Northumberland,
as he had done to Mercia and East Anglia, the power of electing a
king, who paid him tribute, and was dependent on him.
[FN [k] Ethelward, lib. 3. cap. 2. [1] Ethelward, lib. 3. cap. 3.
[m] Ingulph. p. 7, 8, 10]

Thus were united all the kingdoms of the Heptarchy in one great state,
near four hundred years after the first arrival of the Saxons in
Britain, and the fortunate arms and prudent policy of Egbert at last
effected what had been so often attempted in vain by so many princes
[n]. Kent, Northumberland, and Mercia, which had successively aspired
to general dominion, were now incorporated in his empire, and the
other subordinate kingdoms seemed willingly to share the same fate.
His territories were nearly of the same extent with what is now
properly called England; and a favourable prospect was afforded to the
Anglo-Saxons, of establishing a civilized monarchy, possessed of
tranquillity within itself, and secure against foreign invasion. This
great event happened in the year 827 [o].
[FN [n] Chron. Sax. p. 71. [o] Ibid.]

The Saxons, though they had been so long settled in the island, seem
not as yet to have been much improved beyond their German ancestors,
either in arts, civility, knowledge, humanity, justice, or obedience
to the laws. Even Christianity, though it opened the way to
connexions between them and the more polished states of Europe, had
not hitherto been very effectual in banishing their ignorance, or
softening their barbarous manners. As they received that doctrine
through the corrupted channels of Rome, it carried along with it a
great mixture of credulity and superstition, equally destructive to
the understanding and to morals. The reverence towards saints and
relics seems to have almost supplanted the adoration of the Supreme
Being. Monastic observances were esteemed more meritorious than the
active virtues; the knowledge of natural causes were neglected from
the universal belief of miraculous interpositions and judgments;
bounty to the church atoned for every violence against society; and
the remorses for cruelty, murder, treachery, assassination, and the
more robust vices, were appeased, not by amendment of life, but by
penances, servility to the monks, and an abject and illiberal devotion
[p]. The reverence for the clergy had been carried to such a height,
that, wherever a person appeared in a sacerdotal habit, though on the
high way, the people flocked around him, and, showing him all marks of
profound respect, received every word he uttered as the most sacred
oracle [q]. Even the military virtues, so inherent in all the Saxon
tribes, began to be neglected; and the nobility, preferring the
security and sloth of the cloister to the tumults and glory of war,
valued themselves chiefly on endowing monasteries, of which they
assumed the government [r]. The several kings, too, being extremely
impoverished by continual benefactions to the church to which the
states of their kingdoms had weakly assented, could bestow no rewards
on valour or military services, and retained not even sufficient
influence to support their government [s].
[FN [p] These abuses were common to all the European churches, but the
priests in Italy, Spain, and Gaul made some atonement for them, by
other advantages which they rendered society. For several ages, they
were almost all Romans, or, in other words, the ancient natives, and
they preserved the Roman language and laws, with some remains of the
former civility. But the priests in the Heptarchy, after the first
missionaries, were wholly Saxons, and almost as ignorant and barbarous
as the laity. They contributed, therefore, little to the improvement
of society in knowledge or the arts. [q] Bede, lib 3. cap. 26. [r]
Ibid. lib. 5. cap. 23. Epistola Bedae ad Egbert. [s] Bedae Epist. ad

Another inconvenience which attended this corrupt species of
Christianity, was the superstitious attachment to Rome, and the
gradual subjection of the kingdom to a foreign jurisdiction. The
Britons, having never acknowledged any subordination to the Roman
pontiff, had conducted all ecclesiastical government by their domestic
synods and councils [t]; but the Saxons, receiving their religion from
Roman monks, were taught at the same time a profound reverence for
that see, and were naturally led to regard it as the capital of their
religion. Pilgrimages to Rome were represented as the most
meritorious acts of devotion. Not only noblemen and ladies of rank
undertook this tedious journey [u], but kings themselves, abdicating
their crowns, sought for a secure passport to heaven at the feet of
the Roman pontiff; new relics, perpetually sent from that endless mint
of superstition, and magnified by lying miracles, invented in
convents, operated on the astonished minds of the multitude; and every
prince has attained the eulogies of the monks, the only historians of
those ages, not in proportion to his civil and military virtues, but
to his devoted attachment towards their order, and his superstitious
reverence for Rome.
[FN [t] Append. to Bede, numb. 10. ex edit, 1722. Spellm. Conc. p.
108, 109. [u] Bede, lib. 5. c. 7.]

The sovereign pontiff, encouraged by this blindness and submissive
disposition of the people, advanced every day in his encroachments on
the independence of the English churches. Wilfrid, Bishop of
Lindisferne, the sole prelate of the Northumbrian kingdom, increased
this subjection in the eighth century, by his making an appeal to Rome
against the decisions of an English synod, which had abridged his
diocese by the erection of some new bishoprics [w]. Agatho, the pope,
readily embraced this precedent of an appeal to his court; and
Wilfrid, though the haughtiest and most luxurious prelate of his age
[x], having obtained with the people the character of sanctity, was
thus able to lay the foundation of this papal pretension.
[FN [w] See Appendix to Bede, numb. 19. Higden, lib. 5. [x] Eddius,
vita Vilfr. sec. 24, 60]

The great topic by which Wilfrid confounded the imaginations of men
was, that St. Peter, to whose custody the keys of heaven were
intrusted, would certainly refuse admittance to every one who should
be wanting in respect to his successor. This conceit, well suited to
vulgar conceptions, made great impression on the people during several
ages, and has not even at present lost all influence in the catholic

Had this abject superstition produced general peace and tranquillity,
it had made some atonement for the ill attending it; but besides the
usual avidity of men for power and riches, frivolous controversies in
theology were engendered by it, which were so much the more fatal, as
they admitted not, like the others, of any final determination from
established possession. The disputes excited in Britain were of the
most ridiculous kind, and entirely worthy of those ignorant and
barbarous ages. There were some intricacies, observed by all the
Christian churches, in adjusting the day of keeping Easter, which
depended on a complicated consideration of the course of the sun and
moon: and it happened that the missionaries, who had converted the
Scots and Britons, had followed a different calendar from that which
was observed at Rome in the age when Augustine converted the Saxons.
The priests also of all the Christian churches were accustomed to
shave part of their head; but the form given to this tonsure was
different in the former from what was practised in the latter. The
Scots and Britons pleaded the antiquity of THEIR usages; the Romans,
and their disciples, the Saxons, insisted on the universality of
THEIRS. That Easter must necessarily be kept by a rule, which
comprehended both the day of the year and age of the moon, was agreed
by all; that the tonsure of a priest could not be omitted without the
utmost impiety, was a point undisputed; but the Romans and Saxons
called their antagonists schismatics, because they celebrated Easter
on the very day of the full moon in March, if that day fell on a
Sunday, instead of waiting till the Sunday following; and because they
shaved the forepart of their head from ear to ear, instead of making
that tonsure on the crown of the head, and in a circular form. In
order to render their antagonists odious, they affirmed, that once in
seven years, they concurred with the Jews in the time of celebrating
that festival [y]; and that they might recommend their own form of
tonsure, they maintained that it imitated symbolically the crown of
thorns worn by Christ in his passion, whereas the other form was
invented by Simon Magus, without any regard to that representation
[z]. These controversies had, from the beginning, excited such
animosity between the British and Romish priests, that, instead of
concurring in their endeavours to convert the idolatrous Saxons, they
refused all communion together, and each regarded his opponent as no
better than a pagan [a]. The dispute lasted more than a century, and
was at last finished, not by men's discovering the folly of it, which
would have been too great an effort for human reason to accomplish,
but by the entire prevalence of the Romish ritual over the Scotch and
British [b]. Wilfrid, Bishop of Lindisferne, acquired great merit,
both with the court of Rome and with all the Southern Saxons, by
expelling the quartodeciman schism, as it was called, from the
Northumbrian kingdom, into which the neighbourhood of the Scots had
formerly introduced it [c].
[FN [y] Bede, lib. 2. cap. 19. [z] Ibid. lib. 5. cap. 21. Eddius,
Sec. 24. [a] Bede, lib. 2. cap. 2. 4. 20. Eddius, Sec. 12. [b]
Bede, lib. 5. cap. 16, 22. [c] Bede, lib. 3. cap. 25. Eddius, Sec.

Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, called, in the year 680, a synod
at Hatfield, consisting of all the bishops in Britain [d], where was
accepted and ratified the decree of the Lateran council, summoned by
Martin, against the heresy of the Monothelites. The council and synod
maintained, in opposition to these heretics, that though the divine
and human nature in Christ made but one person, yet they had different
inclinations, wills, acts, and sentiments, and that the unity of the
person implied not unity in the consciousness [e]. This opinion it
seems somewhat difficult to comprehend; and no one, unacquainted with
the ecclesiastical history of those ages, could imagine the height of
zeal and violence with which it was then inculcated. The decree of
the Lateran council calls the Monothelites impious, execrable, wicked,
abominable, and even diabolical; and curses and anathematizes them to
all eternity [f].
[FN [d] Spell. Conc. vol. 1. p. 168. [e] Spell. Conc. vol. 1. p. 171.
[f] Ibid. p. 172, 173, 174.]

The Saxons, from the first introduction of Christianity among them,
had admitted the use of images; and perhaps, that religion, without
some of those exterior ornaments, had not made so quick a progress
with these idolaters: but they had not paid any species of worship or
address to images; and this abuse never prevailed among Christians,
till it received the sanction of the second council of Nice.



[MN Egbert 827.]
The kingdoms of the Heptarchy, though united by so recent a conquest,
seemed to be firmly cemented into one state under Egbert; and the
inhabitants of the several provinces had lost all desire of revolting
from that monarch, or of restoring their former independent
governments. Their language was every where nearly the same, their
customs, laws, institutions, civil and religious; and as the race of
the ancient kings was totally extinct in all the subjected states, the
people readily transferred their allegiance to a prince who seemed to
merit it by the splendour of his victories, the vigour of his
administration, and the superior nobility of his birth. A union also
in government opened to them the agreeable prospect of future
tranquillity; and it appeared more probable that they would henceforth
become formidable to their neighbours, than be exposed to their
inroads and devastations. But these flattering views were soon
overcast by the appearance of the Danes, who, during some centuries,
kept the Anglo-Saxons in perpetual inquietude, committed the most
barbarous ravages upon them, and at last reduced them to grievous

The Emperor Charlemagne, though naturally generous and humane, had
been induced by bigotry to exercise great severities upon the pagan
Saxons in Germany, whom he subdued; and besides often ravaging their
country with fire and sword, he had in cool blood decimated all the
inhabitants for their revolts, and had obliged them, by the most
rigorous edicts, to make a seeming compliance with the Christian
doctrine. That religion, which had easily made its way among the
British Saxons by insinuation and address, appeared shocking to their
German brethren, when imposed on them by the violence of Charlemagne,
and the more generous and warlike of these pagans had fled northward
into Jutland, in order to escape the fury of his persecutions.
Meeting there with a people of similar manners, they were readily
received among them; and they soon stimulated the natives to concur in
enterprises, which both promised revenge on the haughty conqueror, and
afforded subsistence to those numerous inhabitants with which the
northern countries were now overburdened [g]. They invaded the
provinces of France, which were exposed by the degeneracy and
dissensions of Charlemagne's posterity; and being there known under
the general name of Normans, which they received from their northern
situation, they became the terror of all the maritime and even of the
inland countries. They were also tempted to visit England in their
frequent excursions; and being able, by sudden inroads, to make great
progress over a people who were not defended by any naval force, who
had relaxed their military institutions, and who were sunk into a
superstition which had become odious to the Danes and ancient Saxons,
they made no distinction in their hostilities between the French and
English kingdoms. Their first appearance in this island was in the
year 787 [h], when Brithric reigned in Wessex. A small body of them
landed in that kingdom, with a view of learning the state of the
country; and when the magistrate of the place questioned them
concerning their enterprise, and summoned them to appear before the
king, and account for their intentions, they killed him, and, flying
to their ships, escaped into their own country. The next alarm was
given to Northumberland in the year 794 [i], when a body of these
pirates pillaged a monastery: but their ships being much damaged by a
storm, and their leader slain in a skirmish, they were at last
defeated by the inhabitants, and the remainder of them put to the
sword. Five years after Egbert had established his monarchy over
England, the Danes landed in the Isle of Shepey, and having pillaged
it, escaped with impunity [k]. They were not so fortunate in their
next year's enterprise, when they disembarked from thirty-five ships,
and were encountered by Egbert, at Charmouth, in Dorsetshire. The
battle was bloody; but though the Danes lost great numbers, they
maintained the post they had taken, and thence made good their retreat
to their ships [l]. Having learned by experience, that they must
expect a vigorous resistance from this warlike prince, they entered
into an alliance with the Britons of Cornwall, and landing two years
after in that country, made an inroad with their confederates into the
county of Devon, but were met at Hengesdown by Egbert, and totally
defeated [m]. While England remained in this state of anxiety, and
defended itself more by temporary expedients than by any regular plan
of administration, Egbert, who alone was able to provide effectually
against this new evil, unfortunately died [MN 838.], and left the
government to his son Ethelwolf.
[FN [g] Ypod. Neustria, p. 414. [h] Chron. Sax. p. 64. [i] Chron.
Sax. p 64. Alur. Beverl. p. 108. [k] Chron. Sax. p. 72. [l] Chron.
Sax. p. 72. Ethelward, lib. 3. cap. 2. [m] Chron. Sax. p. 72.]

[MN Ethelwolf.]
This prince had neither the abilities nor the vigour of his father;
and was better qualified for governing a convent than a kingdom [n].
He began his reign with making a partition of his dominions, and
delivering over to his eldest son, Athelstan, the new-conquered
provinces of Essex, Kent, and Sussex. But no inconveniences seem to
have risen from this partition, as the continual terror of the Danish
invasions prevented all domestic dissension. A fleet of these
ravagers, consisting of thirty-three sail, appeared at Southampton,
but were repulsed with loss by Wolfhere, governor of the neighbouring
county [o]. The same year, Aethelhelm, governor of Dorsetshire,
routed another band which had disembarked at Portsmouth, but he
obtained the victory after a furious engagement, and he bought it with
the loss of his life [p]. Next year the Danes made several inroads
into England, and fought battles, or rather skirmishes, in East Anglia
and Lindesey and Kent, where, though they were sometimes repulsed and
defeated, they always obtained their end of committing spoil upon the
country, and carrying off their booty. They avoided coming to a
general engagement, which was not suited to their plan of operations.
Their vessels were small, and ran easily up the creeks and rivers,
where they drew them ashore, and having formed an entrenchment round
them, which they guarded with part of their number, the remainder
scattered themselves every where, and carrying off the inhabitants and
cattle and goods, they hastened to their ships and quickly
disappeared. If the military force of the county were assembled, (for
there was no time for troops to march from a distance,) the Danes
either were able to repulse them, and to continue their ravages with
impunity, or they betook themselves to their vessels, and setting
sail, suddenly invaded some distant quarter, which was not prepared
for their reception. Every part of England was held in continual
alarm, and the inhabitants of one county durst not give assistance to
those of another, lest their own families and property should in the
mean time be exposed by their absence to the fury of these barbarous
ravagers [q]. All orders of men were involved in this calamity, and
the priests and monks, who had been commonly spared in the domestic
quarrels of the Heptarchy, were the chief objects on which the Danish
idolators exercised their rage and animosity. Every season of the
year was dangerous, and the absence of the enemy was no reason why any
man could esteem himself a moment in safety.
[FN [n] Wm. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 2. [o] Chron. Sax. p. 73.
Ethelward, lib. 3. [p] Chron. Sax. p. 73. H. Hunting. lib. 5. [q]
Alured. Beverl. p. 108.]

[MN 851.]
These incursions had now become almost annual, when the Danes,
encouraged by their successes against France as well as England, (for
both kingdoms were alike exposed to this dreadful calamity,) invaded
the last in so numerous a body, as seemed to threaten it with
universal subjection. But the English, more military than the
Britons, whom a few centuries before they had treated with like
violence, roused themselves with a vigour proportioned to the
exigency. Ceorle, governor of Devonshire, fought a battle with one
body of the Danes at Wiganburgh [r], and put them to rout with great
slaughter. King Athelstan attacked another at sea near Sandwich, sunk
nine of their ships, and put the rest to flight [s]. A body of them,
however, ventured, for the first time, to take up winter quarters in
England; and receiving in the spring a strong reinforcement of their
countrymen in 350 vessels, they advanced from the Isle of Thanet,
where they had stationed themselves, burnt the cities of London and
Canterbury, and having put to flight Brichtric, who now governed
Mercia under the title of king, they marched into the heart of Surrey,
and laid every place waste around them. Ethelwolf, impelled by the
urgency of the danger, marched against them at the head of the West
Saxons, and carrying with him his second son, Ethelbald, gave them
battle at Okely, and gained a bloody victory over them. This
advantage procured but a short respite to the English. The Danes
still maintained their settlement in the Isle of Thanet, and being
attacked by Ealher and Huda, governors of Kent and Surrey, though
defeated in the beginning of the action, they finally repulsed the
assailants [MN 853.], and killed both the governors. They removed
thence to the Isle of Shepey; where they took up their winter
quarters, that they might farther extend their devastation and
[FN [r] H. Hunt. lib. 5 Ethelward, lib. 3. cap. 3. Simeon Dunelm. p.
120. [s] Chron. Sax. p. 74. Asserius, p. 2.]

This unsettled state of England hindered not Ethelwolf from making a
pilgrimage to Rome, whither he carried his fourth and favourite son,
Alfred, then only six years of age [t]. He passed there a twelvemonth
in exercises of devotion, and failed not in that most essential part
of devotion, liberality to the church of Rome. Besides giving
presents to the more distinguished ecclesiastics, he made a perpetual
grant of three hundred mancuses [u] a year to that see; one-third to
support the lamps of St. Peter's, another those of St. Paul's, a third
to the pope himself [w]. In his return home he married Judith,
daughter of the emperor, Charles the Bald, but on his landing in
England, he met with an opposition which he little looked for.
[FN [t] Asserius, p. 2. Chron. Sax. 76. Hunt. lib. 5. [u] A mancus
was about the weight of our present half-crown: see Spellman's
Glossary, IN VERBO Mancus. [w] W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap 2.]

His eldest son, Athelstan, being dead, Ethelbald, his second, who had
assumed the government, formed, in concert with many of the nobles,
the project of excluding his father from a throne, which his weakness
and superstition seemed to have rendered him so ill-qualified to fill.
The people were divided between the two princes, and a bloody civil
war, joined to all the other calamities under which the English
laboured, appeared inevitable, when Ethelwolf had the facility to
yield to the greater part of his son's pretensions. He made with him
a partition of the kingdom, and taking to himself the eastern part,
which was always at that time esteemed the least considerable, as well
as the most exposed [x], he delivered over to Ethelbald the
sovereignty of the western. Immediately after, he summoned the states
of the whole kingdom, and with the same facility conferred a perpetual
and important donation on the church.
[FN [x] Asserius, p. 3. W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 2. Matth. West. p.
1, 8.]

The ecclesiastics, in those days of ignorance, made rapid advances in
the acquisition of power and grandeur; and inculcating the most absurd
and most interested doctrines, though they sometimes met, from the
contrary interests of the laity, with an opposition which it required
time and address to overcome, they found no obstacle in their reason
or understanding. Not content with the donations of land made them by
the Saxon princes and nobles, and with temporary oblations, from the
devotion of the people, they had cast a wishful eye on a vast revenue,
which they claimed as belonging to them by a sacred and indefeasible
title. However little versed in the Scriptures, they had been able to
discover that, under the Jewish law, a tenth of all the produce of
land was conferred on the priesthood; and forgetting, what they
themselves taught, that the moral part only of that law was obligatory
on Christians, they insisted that this donation conveyed a perpetual
property, inherent by divine right in those who officiated at the
altar. During some centuries, the whole scope of sermons and homilies
was directed to this purpose, and one would have imagined, from the
general tenor of these discourses, that all the practical parts of
Christianity were comprised in the exact and faithful payment of
tithes to the clergy [y]. Encouraged by their success in inculcating
these doctrines, they ventured farther than they were warranted even
by the Levitical law, and pretended to draw the tenth of all industry,
merchandise, wages of labourers, and pay of soldiers [z]; nay, some
canonists went so far as to affirm, that the clergy were entitled to
the tithe of the profits made by courtesans in the exercise of their
profession [a]. Though parishes had been instituted in England by
Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury, near two centuries before [b], the
ecclesiastics had never yet been able to get possession of the tithes;
they therefore seized the present favourable opportunity of making
that acquisition, when a weak, superstitious prince filled the throne,
and when the people, discouraged by their losses from the Danes, and
terrified with the fear of future invasions, were susceptible of any
impression which bore the appearance of religion [c]. So meritorious
was this concession deemed by the English, that trusting entirely to
supernatural assistance, they neglected the ordinary means of safety,
and agreed, even in the present desperate extremity, that the revenues
of the church should be exempted from all burthens, though imposed for
national defence and security [d].
[FN [y] Padre Paolo, sopra beneficii ecclesiastici, p. 51, 52. edit.
Colon. 1675 [z] Spell. Conc. vol. i. p. 268. [a] Padre Paolo, p.
132. [b] Parker, p. 77. [c] lngulph. p. 862. Selden's Hist. of
Tithes, c. 8. [d] Asserius, p. 2. Chron. Sax. p. 76. W. Malmes.
lib. 2. cap. 2. Ethelward, lib. 3. cap. 3. M. West. p. 158.
Ingulph. p. 17. Alur. Beverl. p. 95]

[MN Ethelbald and Ethelbert. 857.]
Ethelwolf lived only two years after making this grant, and by his
will he shared England between his two eldest sons, Ethelbald and
Ethelbert; the west being assigned to the former, the east to the
latter. Ethelbald was a profligate prince, and marrying Judith, his
mother-in-law, gave great offence to the people; but, moved by the
remonstrances of Swithin, Bishop of Winchester, he was at last
prevailed on to divorce her. His reign was short; and Ethelbert, his
brother, succeeding to the government [MN 860.], behaved himself,
during a reign of five years, in a manner more worthy of his birth and
station. The kingdom, however, was still infested by the Danes, who
made an inroad and sacked Winchester, but were there defeated. A body
also of these pirates, who were quartered in the Isle of Thanet,
having deceived the English by a treaty, unexpectedly broke into Kent,
and committed great outrages.

[MN Ethered 866.]
Ethelbert was succeeded by his brother Ethered, who, though he
defended himself with bravery, enjoyed, during his whole reign, no
tranquillity from those Danish irruptions. His younger brother,
Alfred, seconded him in all his enterprises, and generously sacrificed
to the public good all resentment which he might entertain on account
of his being excluded by Ethered from a large patrimony which had been
left him by his father.

The first landing of the Danes in the reign of Ethered was among the
East Angles, who, more anxious for their present safety than for the
common interest, entered into a separate treaty with the enemy, and
furnished them with horses, which enabled them to make an irruption by
land into the kingdom of Northumberland. They there seized the city
of York, and defended it against Osbricht and Aella, two Northumbrian
princes, who perished in the assault [f]. Encouraged by these
successes, and by the superiority which they had acquired in arms,
they now ventured, under the command of Hinguar and Hubba, to leave
the sea-coast, and penetrating into Mercia, they took up their winter
quarters at Nottingham, where they threatened the kingdom with a final
subjection. The Mercians, in this extremity, applied to Ethered for
succour, and that prince, with his brother Alfred, conducting a great
army to Nottingham, obliged the enemy to dislodge [MN 870.], and to
retreat into Northumberland. Their restless disposition, and their
avidity for plunder, allowed them not to remain long in those
quarters; they broke into East Anglia, defeated and took prisoner
Edmund, the king of that country, whom they afterwards murdered in
cool blood, and committing the most barbarous ravages on the people,
particularly on the monasteries, they gave the East Angles cause to
regret the temporary relief which they had obtained by assisting the
common enemy.
[FN [f] Asser. p. 6. Chron Sax. p. 79.]

[MN 871.] The next station of the Danes was at Reading, whence they
infested the neighbouring country by their incursions. The Mercians,
desirous of shaking off their dependence on Ethered, refused to join
him with their forces; and that prince, attended by Alfred, was
obliged to march against the enemy with the West Saxons alone, his
hereditary subjects. The Danes, being defeated in an action, shut
themselves up in their garrison; but quickly making thence an
irruption, they routed the West Saxons, and obliged them to raise the
siege. An action soon after ensued at Aston, in Berkshire, where the
English, in the beginning of the day, were in danger of a total
defeat. Alfred, advancing with one division of the army, was
surrounded by the enemy in disadvantageous ground; and Ethered, who
was at that time hearing mass, refused to march to his assistance till
prayers should be finished [g]: but as he afterwards obtained the
victory, this success, not the danger of Alfred, was ascribed by the
monks to the piety of that monarch. This battle of Aston did not
terminate the war: another battle was a little after fought at Basing,
where the Danes were more successful; and being reinforced by a new
army from their own country, they became every day more terrible to
the English. Amidst these confusions, Ethered died of a wound which
he had received in an action with the Danes; and left the inheritance
of his cares and misfortunes, rather than of his grandeur, to his
brother, Alfred, who was now twenty-two years of age.
[FN [g] Asser. p. 7. W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 3. Simeon Dunelm. p. 125.
Anglia Sacra, vol. i. p. 205.]

[MN Alfred 871.]
This prince gave very early marks of those great virtues and shining
talents, by which, during the most difficult times, he saved his
country from utter ruin and subversion. Ethelwolf, his father, the
year after his return with Alfred from Rome, had again sent the young
prince thither with a numerous retinue; and a report being spread of
the king's death, the pope, Leo III., gave Alfred the royal unction
[h]; whether prognosticating his future greatness from the appearances
of his pregnant genius, or willing to pretend, even in that age, to
the right of conferring kingdoms. Alfred, on his return home, became
every day more the object of his father's affections; but being
indulged in all youthful pleasures, he was much neglected in his
education; and he had already reached his twelfth year, when he was
yet totally ignorant of the lowest elements of literature. His genius
was first roused by the recital of Saxon poems, in which the queen
took delight; and this species of erudition, which is sometimes able
to make a considerable progress even among barbarians, expanded those
noble and elevated sentiments which he had received from nature [i].
Encouraged by the queen, and stimulated by his own ardent inclination,
he soon learned to read those compositions; and proceeded thence to
acquire the knowledge of the Latin tongue, in which he met with
authors that better prompted his heroic spirit, and directed his
generous views. Absorbed in these elegant pursuits, he regarded his
accession to royalty rather as an object of regret than of triumph
[k]; but being called to the throne, in preference to his brother's
children, as well by the will of his father, a circumstance which had
great authority with the Anglo-Saxons [l], as by the vows of the whole
nation, and the urgency of public affairs, he shook off his literary
indolence, and exerted himself in the defence of his people. He had
scarcely buried his brother, when he was obliged to take the field in
order to oppose the Danes, who had seized Wilton, and were exercising
their usual ravages on the countries around. He marched against them
with the few troops which he could assemble on a sudden; and giving
them battle, gained at first an advantage, but by his pursuing the
victory too far, the superiority of the enemy's numbers prevailed, and
recovered them the day. Their loss, however, in the action, was so
considerable, that, fearing Alfred would receive daily reinforcement
from his subjects, they were content to stipulate for a safe retreat,
and promised to depart the kingdom. For that purpose they were
conducted to London, and allowed to take up winter quarters there;
but, careless of their engagements, they immediately set themselves to
the committing of spoil on the neighbouring country. Burrhed, King of
Mercia, in whose territories London was situated, made a new
stipulation with them, and engaged them, by presents of money, to
remove to Lindesey, in Lincolnshire, a country which they had already
reduced to ruin and desolation. Finding therefore no object in that
place, either for their rapine or violence, they suddenly turned back
upon Mercia, in a quarter where they expected to find it without
defence; and fixing their station at Repton in Derbyshire, they laid
the whole country desolate with fire and sword. Burrhed, despairing
of success against an enemy whom no force could resist, and no
treaties bind, abandoned his kingdom, and flying to Rome, took shelter
in a cloister [m]. He was brother-in-law to Alfred, and the last who
bore the title of king in Mercia.
[FN [h] Asser. p. 2. W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 2. Ingulph. p. 869.
Simeon Dunelm. p. 120, 139. [i] Asser. p. 5. M. West. p. 167. [k]
Asser. p. 7. [1] Ibid. p. 22. Simeon Dunelm. p. 121. [m] Asser. p.
8. Chron. Sax. p. 82. Ethelward, lib. 4. cap. 4.]

The West Saxons were now the only remaining power in England; and
though supported by the vigour and abilities of Alfred, they were
unable to sustain the efforts of those ravagers, who from all quarters
invaded them. A new swarm of Danes came over this year under three
princes, Guthrum, Oscitel, and Amund; and having first joined their
countrymen at Repton, they soon found the necessity of separating, in
order to provide for their subsistence. Part of them, under the
command of Haldene, their chieftain [n], marched into Northumberland,
where they fixed their quarters; part of them took quarters at
Cambridge, whence they dislodged in the ensuing summer, and seized
Wereham, in the county of Dorset, the very centre of Alfred's
dominions. That prince so straitened them in these quarters, that
they were content to come to a treaty with him, and stipulated to
depart his country. Alfred, well acquainted with their usual perfidy,
obliged them to swear upon the holy relics to the observance of the
treaty [o]; not that he expected they would pay any veneration to the
relics; but he hoped, that, if they now violated this oath, their
impiety would infallibly draw down upon them the vengeance of Heaven.
But the Danes, little apprehensive of the danger, suddenly, without
seeking any pretence, fell upon Alfred's army; and having put it to
rout, marched westward, and took possession of Exeter. The prince
collected new forces, and exerted such vigour, that he fought in one
year eight battles with the enemy [p], and reduced them to the utmost
extremity. He hearkened however to new proposals of peace; and was
satisfied to stipulate with them, that they would settle somewhere in
England [q], and would not permit the entrance of more ravagers into
the kingdom. But while he was expecting the execution of this treaty,
which it seemed the interest of the Danes themselves to fulfil, he
heard that another body had landed, and having collected all the
scattered troops of their countrymen, had surprised Chippenham, then a
considerable town, and were exercising their usual ravages all around
[FN [n] Chron. Sax. p. 83. [o] Asser. p. 8. [p] Ibid. The Saxon
Chronicle. p. 82, says nine battles. [q] Asser. p. 9. Alur. Beverl.
p. 104.]

This last incident quite broke the spirit of the Saxons, and reduced
them to despair. Finding that, after all the miserable havoc which
they had undergone in their persons and in their property; after all
the vigorous actions which they had exerted in their own defence; a
new band, equally greedy of spoil and slaughter, had disembarked among
them; they believed themselves abandoned by Heaven to destruction, and
delivered over to those swarms of robbers, which the fertile north
thus incessantly poured forth against them. Some left their country
and retired into Wales, or fled beyond sea: others submitted to the
conquerors, in hopes of appeasing their fury by a servile obedience
[r]. And every man's attention being now engrossed in concern for his
own preservation, no one would hearken to the exhortations of the
king, who summoned them to make, under his conduct, one effort more in
defence of their prince, their country, and their liberties. Alfred
himself was obliged to relinquish the ensigns of his dignity, to
dismiss his servants, and to seek shelter, in the meanest disguises,
from the pursuit and fury of his enemies. He concealed himself under
a peasant's habit, and lived some time in the house of a neat-herd,
who had been intrusted with the care of some of his cows [s]. There
passed here an incident, which has been recorded by all the
historians, and was long preserved by popular tradition; though it
contains nothing memorable in itself, except so far as every
circumstance is interesting which attends so much virtue and dignity
reduced to such distress. The wife of the neat-herd was ignorant of
the condition of her royal guest; and observing him one day busy by
the fire-side in trimming his bows and arrows, she desired him to take
care of some cakes which were toasting, while she was employed
elsewhere in other domestic affairs. But Alfred, whose thoughts were
otherwise engaged, neglected this injunction; and the good woman, on
her return, finding her cakes all burnt, rated the king very severely,
and upbraided him, that he always seemed very well pleased to eat her
warm cakes, though he was thus negligent in toasting them [t].
[FN [r] Chron. Sax. p. 84. Alured Bever. p. 105. [s] Asser. p. 9.
[t] Ibid M. West, p. 170.]

By degrees, Alfred, as he found the search of the enemy become more
remiss, collected some of his retainers, and retired into the centre
of a bog, formed by the stagnating waters of the Thone and Parret, in
Somersetshire. He here found two acres of firm ground; and building a
habitation on them, rendered himself secure by its fortifications, and
still more by the unknown and inaccessible roads which led to it, and
by the forests and morasses with which it was every way environed.
This place he called Aethelingay, or the Isle of Nobles [u]; and it
now bears the name of Athelney. He thence made frequent and
unexpected sallies upon the Danes, who often felt the vigour of his
arm, but knew not from what quarter the blow came. He subsisted
himself and his followers by the plunder which he acquired; he
procured them consolation by revenge; and from small successes he
opened their minds to hope, that, notwithstanding his present low
condition, more important victories might at length attend his valour.
[FN [u] Chron. Sax. p. 65. W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 4 Ethelward, lib.
4. cap. 4. Ingulph. p. 26.]

Alfred lay here concealed, but not inactive, during a twelvemonth,
when the news of a prosperous event reached his ears, and called him
to the field. Hubba, the Dane, having spread devastation, fire, and
slaughter over Wales, had landed in Devonshire from twenty-three
vessels, and laid siege to the castle of Kenwith, a place situated
near the mouth of the small river Tau. Oddune, Earl of Devonshire,
with his followers, had taken shelter there; and being ill supplied
with provisions, and even with water, he determined, by some vigorous
blow, to prevent the necessity of submitting to the barbarous enemy.
He made a sudden sally on the Danes before sun-rising; and taking them
unprepared, he put them to rout, pursued them with great slaughter,
killed Hubba himself; and got possession of the famous REAFEN, or
enchanted standard, in which the Danes put great confidence [w]. It
contained the figure of a raven, which had been inwoven by the three
sisters of Hinguar and Hubba, with many magical incantations, and
which, by its different movements, prognosticated, as the Danes
believed, the good or bad success of any enterprise [x].
[FN [w] Asser. p. 10. Chron. Sax. p. 84. Abbas Rieval, p. 395
Alured Beverl. p. 105. [x] Asser. p. 10.]

When Alfred observed this symptom of successful resistance in his
subjects, he left his retreat; but before he would assemble them in
arms, or urge them to any attempt, which, if unfortunate, might, in
their present despondency, prove fatal, he resolved to inspect himself
the situation of the enemy, and to judge of the probability of
success. For this purpose he entered their camp under the disguise of
a harper, and passed unsuspected through every quarter. He so
entertained them with his music and facetious humours, that he met
with a welcome reception; and was even introduced to the tent of
Guthrum, their prince, where he remained some days [y]. He remarked
the supine security of the Danes, their contempt of the English, their
negligence in foraging and plundering, and their dissolute wasting of
what they gained by rapine and violence. Encouraged by these
favourable appearances, he secretly sent emissaries to the most
considerable of his subjects, and summoned them to a rendezvous,
attended by their warlike followers, at Brixton, on the borders of
Selwood forest [z]. The English, who had hoped to put an end to their
calamities by servile submission, now found the insolence and rapine
of the conqueror more intolerable than all past fatigues and dangers;
and, at the appointed day, they joyfully resorted to their prince. On
his appearance, they received him with shouts of applause [a]; and
could not satiate their eyes with the sight of this beloved monarch,
whom they had long regarded as dead, and who now, with voice and looks
expressing his confidence of success, called them to liberty and to
vengeance. He instantly conducted them to Eddington, where the Danes
were encamped; and taking advantage of his previous knowledge of the
place, he directed his attack against the most unguarded quarter of
the enemy. The Danes, surprised to see an army of English, whom they
considered as totally subdued, and still more astonished to hear that
Alfred was at their head, made but a faint resistance, notwithstanding
their superiority of number, and were soon put to flight with great
slaughter. The remainder of the routed army, with their prince, was
besieged by Alfred in a fortified camp to which they fled; but being
reduced to extremity by want and hunger, they had recourse to the
clemency of the victor, and offered to submit on any conditions. The
king, no less generous than brave, gave them their lives; and even
formed a scheme for converting them from mortal enemies into faithful
subjects and confederates. He knew that the kingdoms of East Anglia
and Northumberland were totally desolated by the frequent inroads of
the Danes, and he now proposed to repeople them, by settling there
Guthrum and his followers. He hoped that the new planters would at
last betake themselves to industry, when, by reason of his resistance,
and the exhausted condition of the country, they could no longer
subsist by plunder; and that they might serve him as a rampart against
any future incursions of their countrymen. But before he ratified
these mild conditions with the Danes, he required that they should
give him one pledge of their submission, and of their inclination to
incorporate with the English, by declaring their conversion to
Christianity [b]. Guthrum and his army had no aversion to the
proposal; and without much instruction, or argument, or conference,
they were all admitted to baptism. The king answered for Guthrum at
the font, gave him the name of Athelstan, and received him as his
adopted son [c].
[FN [y] W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 4. [z] Chron. Sax. p. 85. [a] Asser.
p. 10. Chron. Sax. p. 85. Simeon Dunelm. p. 128. Alured Beverl. p.
105. Abbas Rieval, p. 354. [b] Chron. Sax. p. 85. [c] Asser. p. 10.
Chron. Sax. p. 90.]

[MN 880.] The success of the expedient seemed to correspond to
Alfred's hopes: the greater part of the Danes settled peaceably in
their new quarters: some smaller bodies of the same nation, which were
dispersed in Mercia, were distributed into the five cities of Derby,
Leicester, Stamford, Lincoln, and Nottingham, and were thence called
the Fif or Five-burghers. The more turbulent and unquiet made an
expedition into France, under the command of Hastings [d]; and, except
by a short incursion of Danes, who sailed up the Thames, and landed at
Fulham, but suddenly retreated to their ships on finding the country
in a posture of defence, Alfred was not for some years infested by the
inroads of those barbarians [e].
[FN [d] W. Malm. lib. 2. c. 4. Ingulph. p. 26. [e] Asser. p. 11.]

The king employed this interval of tranquillity in restoring order to
the state, which had been shaken by so many violent convulsions; in
establishing civil and military institutions; in composing the minds
of men to industry and justice; and in providing against the return of
like calamities. He was, more properly than his grandfather, Egbert,
the sole monarch of the English, (for so the Saxons were now
universally called,) because the kingdom of Mercia was at last
incorporated in his state, and was governed by Ethelbert, his brother-
in-law, who bore the title of Earl: and though the Danes, who peopled
East Anglia and Northumberland, were for some time ruled immediately
by their own princes, they all acknowledged a subordination to Alfred,
and submitted to his superior authority. As equality among subjects
is the great source of concord, Alfred gave the same laws to the Danes
and English, and put them entirely on a like footing in the
administration both of civil and criminal justice. The fine for the
murder of a Dane was the same with that for the murder of an
Englishman; the great symbol of equality in those ages.

The king, after rebuilding the ruined cities, particularly London [f],
which had been destroyed by the Danes in the reign of Ethelwolf,
established a regular militia for the defence of the kingdom. He
ordained that all his people should be armed and registered; he
assigned them a regular rotation of duty; he distributed part into the
castles and fortresses which he built at proper places [g]; he
required another part to take the field on any alarm, and to assemble
at stated places of rendezvous; and he left a sufficient number at
home, who were employed in the cultivation of the land, and who
afterwards took their turn in military service [h]. The whole kingdom
was like one great garrison; and the Danes could no sooner appear in
one place, than a sufficient number was assembled to oppose them,
without leaving the other quarters defenceless or disarmed [i].
[FN [f] Asser. p. 15. Chron. Sax. p. 88. M. West. p. 171. Simeon
Dunelm. p. 131. Brompton, p. 812. Alured Beverl. ex edit. Hearne, p.
106. [g] Asser. p. 18. Ingulph. p. 27. [h] Chron. Sax. p. 92, 93.
[i] Spellman's Life of Alfred, p. 147. edit. 1709.]

But Alfred, sensible that the proper method of opposing an enemy who
made incursions by sea, was to meet them on their own element, took
care to provide himself with a naval force [k], which though the most
natural defence of an island, had hitherto been totally neglected by
the English. He increased the shipping of his kingdom both in number
and strength, and trained his subjects in the practice, as well of
sailing as of naval action. He distributed his armed vessels in
proper stations around the island, and was sure to meet the Danish
ships either before or after they had landed their troops, and to
pursue them in all their incursions. Though the Danes might suddenly,
by surprise, disembark on the coast, which was generally become
desolate by their frequent ravages, they were encountered by the
English fleet in their retreat; and escaped not, as formerly, by
abandoning their booty, but paid, by their total destruction, the
penalty of the disorders which they had committed.
[FN [k] Asser. p. 9. M. West. p. 179.]

In this manner Alfred repelled several inroads of these piratical
Danes, and maintained his kingdom, during some years, in safety and
tranquillity. A fleet of a hundred and twenty ships of war was
stationed upon the coast; and being provided with warlike engines, as
well as with expert seamen, both Frisians and English, (for Alfred
supplied the defects of his own subjects by engaging able foreigners
in his service,) maintained a superiority over these smaller bands
with which England had so often been infested [l]. [MN 893.] But at
last Hastings, the famous Danish chief, having ravaged all the
provinces of France, both along the seacoast and the Loire and Seine,
and being obliged to quit that country, more by the desolation which
he himself had occasioned, than by the resistance of the inhabitants,
appeared off the coast of Kent with a fleet of 330 sail. The greater
part of the enemy disembarked in the Rother, and seized the fort of
Apuldore. Hastings himself, commanding a fleet of eighty sail,
entered the Thames, and fortifying Milton in Kent, began to spread his
forces over the country, and to commit the most destructive ravages.
But Alfred, on the first alarm of this descent, flew to the defence of
his people, at the head of a select band of soldiers, whom he always
kept about his person [m]; and gathering to him the armed militia from
all quarters, appeared in the field with a force superior to the
enemy. All straggling parties whom necessity, or love of plunder, had
drawn to a distance from their chief encampment, were cut off by the
English [n]; and these pirates, instead of increasing their spoil,
found themselves cooped up in their fortifications, and obliged to
subsist by the plunder which they had brought from France. Tired of
this situation, which must in the end prove ruinous to them, the Danes
at Apuldore rose suddenly from their encampment, with an intention of
marching towards the Thames, and passing over into Essex: but they
escaped not the vigilance of Alfred, who encountered then at Farnham,
put them to rout [o], seized all their horses and baggage, and chased
the runaways on board their ships, which carried them up the Colne to
Mersey, in Essex, where they intrenched themselves. Hastings, at the
same time, and probably by concert, made a like movement; and
deserting Milton, took possession of Bamflete, near the Isle of
Canvey, in the same county [p], where he hastily threw up
fortifications for his defence against the power of Alfred.
[FN [1] Asser. p. 11. Chron. Sax. p. 86, 87. M. West. p. 176. [m]
Asser. p.19. [n] Chron. Sax. p. 92. [o] Ibid. p. 93. Flor. Wigorn,
p. 595. [p] Chron. Sax. p. 93.]

Unfortunately for the English, Guthrum, prince of the East Anglian
Danes, was now dead; as was also Guthred, whom the king had appointed
governor of the Northumbrians; and those restless tribes, being no
longer restrained by the authority of their princes, and being
encouraged by the appearance of so great a body of their countrymen,
broke into rebellion, shook off the authority of Alfred, and yielding
to their inveterate habits of war and depredation [q], embarked on
board two hundred and forty vessels, and appeared before Exeter in the
west of England. Alfred lost not a moment in opposing this new enemy.
Having left some forces at London to make head against Hastings and
the other Danes, he marched suddenly to the west [r]; and falling on
the rebels before they were aware, pursued them to their ships with
great slaughter. These ravagers, sailing next to Sussex, began to
plunder the country near Chichester; but the order which Alfred had
every where established, sufficed here, without his presence, for the
defence of the place; and the rebels, meeting with a new repulse, in
which many of them were killed, and some of their ships taken [s],
were obliged to put again to sea, and were discouraged from attempting
any other enterprise.
[FN [q] Ibid. p. 92. [r] Ibid. p. 93. [s] Chron. Sax. p. 96. Flor.
Wigorn. p. 596.]

Meanwhile, the Danish invaders in Essex, having united their force
under the command of Hastings, advanced into the inland country, and
made spoil of all around them; but soon had reason to repent of their
temerity. The English army left in London, assisted by a body of the
citizens, attacked the enemy's intrenchments at Bamflete, overpowered
the garrison, and having done great execution upon them, carried off
the wife and two sons of Hastings [t]. Alfred generously spared these
captives; and even restored them to Hastings [u], on condition that be
should depart the kingdom.
[FN [t] Chron. Sax. p. 94. M. West. p. 178. [u] M. West. p. 179.]

But though the king had thus honourably rid himself of this dangerous
enemy, he had not entirely subdued or expelled the invaders. The
piratical Danes willingly followed in an excursion any prosperous
leader who gave them hopes of booty; but were not so easily induced to
relinquish their enterprise, or submit to return, baffled and without
plunder, into their native country. Great numbers of them, after the
departure of Hastings, seized and fortified Shobury, at the mouth of
the Thames; and having left a garrison there, they marched along the
River, till they came to Boddington, in the county of Gloucester;
where, being reinforced by some Welsh, they threw up intrenchments,
and prepared for their defence. The king here surrounded them with
the whole force of his dominions [w]; and as he had now a certain
prospect of victory, he resolved to trust nothing to chance, but
rather to master his enemies by famine than assault. They were
reduced to such extremities, that, having eaten their own horses, and
having many of them perished with hunger [x], they made a desperate
sally upon the English; and though the greater number fell in the
action, a considerable body made their escape [y]. These roved about
for some time in England, still pursued by the vigilance of Alfred;
they attacked Leicester with success, defended themselves in Hartford,
and then fled to Quatford, where they were finally broken and subdued.
The small remains of them either dispersed themselves among their
countrymen in Northumberland and East Anglia [z], or had recourse
again to the sea, where they exercised piracy, under the command of
Sigefert, a Northumbrian. This freebooter, well acquainted with
Alfred's naval preparations, had framed vessels of a new construction,
higher, and longer, and swifter than those of the English; but the
king soon discovered his superior skill, by building vessels still
higher, and longer, and swifter than those of the Northumbrians; and
falling upon them while they were exercising their ravages in the
west, he took twenty of their ships, and having tried all the
prisoners at Winchester, he hanged them as pirates, the common enemies
of mankind.
[FN [w] Chron. Sax. p. 94. [x] Ibid. M. West. p. 179. Flor. Wigorn.
p. 596. [y] Chron. Sax. p. 95. [z] Chron. Sax. p. 97.]

The well-timed severity of this execution, together with the excellent
posture of defence established every where, restored full tranquillity
to England, and provided for the future security of the government.
The East Anglian and Northumbrian Danes, on the first appearance of
Alfred upon their frontiers, made anew the most humble submissions to
him; and he thought it prudent to take them under his immediate
government, without establishing over them a viceroy of their own
nation [a]. The Welsh also acknowledged his authority; and this great
prince had now, by prudence, and justice, and valour, established his
sovereignty over all the southern parts of the island, from the
English channel to the frontiers of Scotland; when he died [MN 901.],
in the vigour of his age and the full strength of his faculties,
after a glorious reign of twenty-nine years and a half [b]; in which
he deservedly attained the appellation of Alfred the Great, and the
title of Founder of the English Monarchy.
[FN [a] Flor. Wigorn. p. 598. [b] Asser. p. 21. Chron. Sax. p. 99.]

The merit of this prince, both in private and public life, may with
advantage be set in opposition to that of any monarch or citizen which
the annals of any age or any nation can present to us. He seems
indeed to be the model of that perfect character, which, under the
denomination of a sage or wise man, philosophers have been fond of
delineating, rather as a fiction of their imagination, than in hopes
of ever seeing it really existing: so happily were all his virtues
tempered together; so justly were they blended; and so powerfully did
each prevent the other from exceeding its proper boundaries. He knew
how to reconcile the most enterprising spirit with the coolest
moderation; the most obstinate perseverance with the easiest
flexibility; the most severe justice with the gentlest lenity; the
greatest vigour in commanding with the most perfect affability of
deportment [c]; the highest capacity and inclination for science, with
the most shining talents for action. His civil and his military
virtues are almost equally the objects of our admiration; excepting
only, that the former, being more rare among princes, as well as more
useful, seem chiefly to challenge our applause. Nature also, as if
desirous that so bright a production of her skill should be set in the
fairest light, had bestowed on him every bodily accomplishment, vigour
of limbs, dignity of shape and air, with a pleasing, engaging, and
open countenance [d]. Fortune alone, by throwing him into that
barbarous age, deprived him of historians worthy to transmit his fame
to posterity; and we wish to see him delineated in more lively
colours, and with more particular strokes, that we may at least
perceive some of those small specks and blemishes, from which, as a
man, it is impossible he could be entirely exempted.
[FN [c] Asser. p. 13. [d] Ibid. p. 5.]

But we should give but an imperfect idea of Alfred's merit, were we to
confine our narration to his military exploits, and were not more
particular in our account of his institutions for the execution of
justice, and of his zeal for the encouragement of arts and sciences.

After Alfred had subdued, and had settled or expelled the Danes, he
found the kingdom in the most wretched condition; desolated by the
ravages of those barbarians, and thrown into disorders, which were
calculated to perpetuate its misery. Though the great armies of the
Danes were broken, the country was full of straggling troops of that
nation, who, being accustomed to live by plunder, were become
incapable of industry, and who, from the natural ferocity of their
manners, indulged themselves in committing violence, even beyond what
was requisite to supply their necessities. The English themselves,
reduced to the most extreme indigence by these continued depredations,
had shaken off all bands of government; and those who had been
plundered today, betook themselves next day to a like disorderly life,
and, from despair, joined the robbers in pillaging and ruining their
fellow-citizens. These were the evils for which it was necessary that
the vigilance and activity of Alfred should provide a remedy.

That he might render the execution of justice strict and regular; he
divided all England into counties; these counties he subdivided into
hundreds; and, the hundreds into tithings. Every householder was
answerable for the behaviour of his family and slaves, and even of his
guests, if they lived above three days in his house. Ten neighbouring
householders were formed into one corporation, who, under the name of
a tithing, decennary, or fribourg, were answerable for each other's
conduct, and over whom one person, called a tithingman, headbourg, or
borsholder, was appointed to preside. Every man was punished as an
outlaw who did not register himself in some tithing. And no man could
change his habitation, without a warrant or certificate from the
borsholder of the tithing to which he formerly belonged.

When any person in any tithing or decennary was guilty of a crime, the
borsholder was summoned to answer for him; and if he were not willing
to be surety for his appearance, and his clearing himself, the
criminal was committed to prison, and there detained till his trial.
If he fled, either before or after finding sureties, the borsholder
and decennary became liable to inquiry, and were exposed to the
penalties of law. Thirty-one days were allowed them for producing the
criminal; and if that time elapsed without their being able to find
him, the borsholder, with two other members of the decennary, was
obliged to appear, and, together with three chief members of the three
neighbouring decennaries, (making twelve in all,) to swear that his
decennary was free from all privity both of the crime committed, and
of the escape of the criminal. If the borsholder could not find such
a number to answer for their innocence, the decennary was compelled by
fine to make satisfaction to the king, according to the degree of the
offence [f]. By this institution, every man was obliged from his own
interest to keep a watchful eye over the conduct of his neighbours;
and was in a manner surety for the behaviour of those who were placed
under the division to which he belonged: whence these decennaries
received the name of frank-pledges.
[FN [f] Leges St. Edw. cap. 20. apud Wilkins, p. 202.]

Such a regular distribution of the people, with such a strict
confinement in their habitation, may not be necessary in times when
men are more inured to obedience and justice; and it might perhaps be
regarded as destructive of liberty and commerce in a polished state;
but it was well calculated to reduce that fierce and licentious people
under the salutary restraint of law and government. But Alfred took
care to temper these rigours by other institutions favourable to the
freedom of the citizens; and nothing could be more popular and liberal
than his plan for the administration of justice. The borsholder
summoned together his whole decennary to assist him in deciding any
lesser difference which occurred among the members of this small
community. In affairs of greater moment, in appeals from the
decennary, or in controversies arising between members of different
decennaries, the cause was brought before the hundred, which consisted
of ten decennaries, or a hundred families of freemen, and which was
regularly assembled once in four weeks for the deciding of causes [g].
Their method of decision deserves to be noted, as being the origin of
juries; an institution admirable in itself, and the best calculated
for the preservation of liberty and the administration of justice that
ever was devised by the wit of man. Twelve freeholders were chosen,
who, having sworn, together with the hundreder, or presiding
magistrate of that division, to administer impartial justice [h],
proceeded to the examination of that cause which was submitted to
their jurisdiction. And beside these monthly meetings of the hundred,
there was an annual meeting, appointed for a more general inspection
of the police of the district; for the inquiry into crimes, the
correction of abuses in magistrates, and the obliging of every person
to show the decennary in which he was registered. The people, in
imitation of their ancestors, the ancient Germans, assembled there in
arms; whence a hundred was sometimes called a wapentake, and its court
served both for the support of military discipline, and for the
administration of civil justice [i].
[FN [g] Leg. Edw. cap. 2. [h] Foedus Alfred. and Gothurn. apud
Wilkins, cap. 3. p. 47. Leg. Ethelstani, cap. 2. apud Wilkins, p. 58.
LL. Ethelr. sec. 4. Wilkins, p. 117. [i] Spellman, IN VOCE Wapentake.]

The next superior court to that of the hundred was the county-court,
which met twice a year, after Michaelmas and Easter, and consisted of
the freeholders of the county, who possessed an equal vote in the
decision of causes. The bishop presided in this court, together with
the alderman; and the proper object of the court was the receiving of
appeals from the hundreds and decennaries, and the deciding of such
controversies as arose between men of different hundreds. Formerly,
the alderman possessed both the civil and military authority; but
Alfred, sensible that this conjunction of powers rendered the nobility
dangerous and independent, appointed also a sheriff in each county,
who enjoyed a co-ordinate authority with the former in the judicial
function [k]. His office also empowered him to guard the rights of
the crown in the county, and to levy the fines imposed; which in that
age formed no contemptible part of the public revenue.
[FN [k] Ingulph. p. 870.]

There lay an appeal, in default of justice, from all these courts to
the king himself in council; and as the people, sensible of the equity
and great talents of Alfred, placed their chief confidence in him, he
was soon overwhelmed with appeals from all parts of England. He was
indefatigable in the despatch of these causes [l]; but finding that
his time must be entirely engrossed by this branch of duty, he
resolved to obviate the inconvenience, by correcting the ignorance or
corruption of the inferior magistrates, from which it arose [m]. He
took care to have his nobility instructed in letters and the laws [n].
He chose the earls and sheriffs from among the men most celebrated for
probity and knowledge: he punished severely all malversation in office
[o]: and he removed all the earls, whom he found unequal to the trust
[p]; allowing only some of the more elderly to serve by a deputy, till
their death should make room for more worthy successors.
[FN [1] Asser. p. 20. [m] Ibid. p. 18, 21. Flor. Wigorn p. 594.
Abbas Rieval, p. 355. [n] Flor. Wigorn. p. 594. Brompton. p. 811.
[o] Le Miroir de Justice, chap. 2. [p] Asser. p. 20.]

The better to guide the magistrates in the administration of justice,
Alfred framed a body of laws; which, though now lost, served long as
the basis of English jurisprudence, and is generally deemed the origin
of what is denominated the COMMON LAW. He appointed regular meetings
of the states of England twice a year in London [q]; a city which he
himself had repaired and beautified, and which he thus rendered the
capital of the kingdom. The similarity of these institutions to the
customs of the ancient Germans, to the practice of the other northern
conquerors, and to the Saxon laws during the Heptarchy, prevents us
from regarding Alfred as the sole author of this plan of government;
and leads us rather to think, that, like a wise man, he contented
himself with reforming, extending, and executing the institutions
which he found previously established. But, on the whole, such
success attended his legislation, that every thing bore suddenly a new
face in England: robberies and iniquities of all kinds were repressed
by the punishment or reformation of the criminals [r]: and so exact
was the general police, that Alfred, it is said, hung up, by way of
bravado, golden bracelets near the highways; and no man dared to touch
them [s]. Yet, amidst these rigours of justice, this great prince
preserved the most sacred regard to the liberty of his people; and it
is a memorable sentiment preserved in his will, That it was just the
English should for ever remain as free as their own thoughts [t].
[FN [q] Le Miroir de Justice. [r] Ingulph. p. 27. [s] W Malmes. lib.
2. cap. 4. [t] Asser. p. 24.]

As good morals and knowledge are almost inseparable in every age,
though not in every individual; the care of Alfred for the
encouragement of learning among his subjects was another useful branch
of his legislation, and tended to reclaim the English from their
former dissolute and ferocious manners: but the king was guided in
this pursuit, less by political views, than by his natural bent and
propensity towards letters. When he came to the throne, he found the
nation sunk into the grossest ignorance and barbarism, proceeding from
the continued disorders in the government, and from the ravages of the
Danes: the monasteries were destroyed, the monks butchered or
dispersed, their libraries burnt; and thus the only seats of erudition
in those ages were totally subverted. Alfred himself complains, that
on his accession he knew not one person, south of the Thames, who
could so much as interpret the Latin service; and very few in the
northern parts, who had reached even that pitch of erudition. But
this prince invited over the most celebrated scholars from all parts
of Europe; he established schools every where for the instruction of
his people; he founded, at least repaired, the university of Oxford,
and endowed it with many privileges, revenues, and immunities; he
enjoined by law all freeholders possessed of two hides [u] of land or
more, to send their children to school for their instruction; he gave
preferment both in church and state to such only as had made some
proficiency in knowledge: and by all these expedients he had the
satisfaction, before his death, to see a great change in the face of
affairs; and in a work of his, which is still extant, he congratulates
himself on the progress which learning, under his patronage, had
already made in England.
[FN [u] A hide contained land sufficient to employ one plough. See H.
Hunt. lib. 6. in A. D. 1008. Annal. Waverl. in A.D. 1083. Gervase of
Tilbury says, it commonly contained about 100 acres.]

But the most effectual expedient, employed by Alfred, for the
encouragement of learning, was his own example, and the constant
assiduity with which, notwithstanding the multiplicity and urgency of
his affairs, he employed himself in the pursuits of knowledge. He
usually divided his time into three equal portions: one was employed
in sleep, and the refection of his body by diet and exercise; another
in the despatch of business; a third in study and devotion; and that
he might more exactly measure the hours, he made use of burning tapers
of equal length, which he fixed in lanterns [w]; an expedient suited
to that rude age, when the geometry of dialling, and the mechanism of
clocks and watches, were totally unknown. And by such a regular
distribution of his time, though he often laboured under great bodily
infirmities [x], this martial hero, who fought in person fifty-six
battles by sea and land [y], was able, during a life of no
extraordinary length, to acquire more knowledge, and even to compose
more books, than most studious men, though blessed with the greatest
leisure and application, have, in more fortunate ages, made the object
of their uninterrupted industry.
[FN [w] Asser. p. 20. W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 4. Ingulph. p. 870. [x]
Asser. p. 4, 12, 13, 17. [y] W. Malm. lib. 4. cap. 4.]

Sensible that the people, at all times, especially when their
understandings are obstructed by ignorance and bad education, are not
much susceptible of speculative instruction, Alfred endeavoured to
convey his morality by apologues, parables, stories, apophthegms,
couched in poetry; and besides propagating among his subjects former
compositions of that kind, which he found in the Saxon tongue [z], he
exercised his genius in inventing works of a like nature [a], as well
as in translating from the Greek the elegant fables of Aesop. He also
gave Saxon translations of Orosius's and Bede's histories; and of
Boethius concerning the consolation of philosophy [b]. And he deemed
it nowise derogatory from his other great characters of sovereign,
legislator, warrior, and politician, thus to lead the way to his
people in the pursuits of literature.
[FN [z] Asser. p. 13. [a] Spellman, p. 124. Abbas Rieval, p. 355.
[b] W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 4. Brompton, p. 814.]

Meanwhile, this prince was not negligent in encouraging the vulgar and
mechanical arts, which have a more sensible, though not a closer,
connexion with the interests of society. He invited, from all
quarters, industrious foreigners to repeople his country, which had
been desolated by the ravages of the Danes [c]. He introduced and
encouraged manufactures of all kinds; and no inventor or improver of
any ingenious art did he suffer to go unrewarded [d]. He prompted men
of activity to betake themselves to navigation, to push commerce into
the most remote countries, and to acquire riches by propagating
industry among their fellow-citizens. He set apart a seventh portion
of his own revenue for maintaining a number of workmen, whom he
constantly employed in rebuilding the ruined cities, castles, palaces,
and monasteries [e]. Even the elegancies of life were brought to him
from the Mediterranean and the Indies [f]; and his subjects, by seeing
those productions of the peaceful arts, were taught to respect the
virtues of justice and industry, from which alone they could arise.
Both living and dead, Alfred was regarded by foreigners, no less than
by his own subjects, as the greatest prince after Charlemagne that had
appeared in Europe during several ages, and as one of the wisest and
best that had ever adorned the annals of any nation.
[FN [c] Asser. p. 13. Flor. Wigorn. p. 588. [d] Asser. p. 20. [e]
Asser. p. 20. W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 4. [f] W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap.

Alfred had, by his wife, Ethelswitha, daughter of a Mercian earl,
three sons and three daughters. The eldest son, Edmund, died without
issue, in his father's lifetime. The third, Ethelward, inherited his
father's passion for letters, and lived a private life. The second,
Edward, succeeded to his power; and passes by the appellation of
Edward the Elder, being the first of that name who sat on the English

[MN Edward the Elder. 901.]
This prince, who equalled his father in military talents, though
inferior to him in knowledge and erudition [g], found, immediately on
his accession, a specimen of that turbulent life to which all princes
and even all individuals were exposed, in an age when men, less
restrained by law or justice, and less occupied by industry, had no
aliment for their inquietude, but wars, insurrections, convulsions,
rapine, and depredation. Ethelwald, his cousin-german, son of King
Ethelbert, the elder brother of Alfred, insisted on his preferable
title [h]; and arming his partisans, took possession of Winburne,
where he seemed determined to defend himself to the last extremity,
and to await the issue of his pretensions [i]. But when the king
approached the town with a great army, Ethelwald, having the prospect
of certain destruction, made his escape, and fled first into Normandy,
thence into Northumberland; where he hoped that the people, who had
been recently subdued by Alfred, and who were impatient of peace,
would, on the intelligence of that great prince's death, seize the
first pretence or opportunity of rebellion. The event did not
disappoint his expectations: the Northumbrians declared for him [k];
and Ethelwald having thus connected his interests with the Danish
tribes, went beyond sea, and collecting a body of these freebooters,
he excited the hopes of all those who had been accustomed to subsist
by rapine and violence [l]. The East Anglian Danes joined his party:
the Five-burgers, who were seated in the heart of Mercia, began to put
themselves in motion; and the English found that they were again
menaced with those convulsions, from which the valour and policy of
Alfred had so lately rescued them. The rebels, headed by Ethelwald,
made an incursion into the Counties of Gloucester, Oxford, and Wilts;
and having exercised their ravages in these places, they retired with
their booty, before the king, who had assembled an army, was able to
approach them. Edward, however, who was determined that his
preparations should not be fruitless, conducted his forces into East
Anglia, and retaliated the injuries which the inhabitants had
committed, by spreading the like devastation among them. Satiated
with revenge, and loaded with booty, he gave orders to retire: but the
authority of those ancient kings, which was feeble in peace, was not
much better established in the field; and the Kentish men, greedy of
more spoil, ventured, contrary to repeated orders, to stay behind him,
and to take up their quarters in Bury. This disobedience proved in the
issue fortunate to Edward. The Danes assaulted the Kentish men; but
met with so vigorous a resistance, that, though they gained the field
of battle, they bought that advantage by the loss of their bravest
leaders, and among the rest, by that of Ethelwald, who perished in the
action [m]. The king, freed from the fear of so dangerous a
competitor, made peace on advantageous terms with the East Angles [n].
[FN [g] W. Malmes lib. 2. cap. 5 Hoveden, p. 421. [h] Chron. Sax. p.
99, 100. [i] Ibid. p. 100. H. Hunting. lib. 5. p. 352. [k] Chron.
Sax. p. 100. H. Hunting. lib. 5. p. 352. [l] Chron. Sax. p. 100.
Chron. Abb. St. Petri de Burgo, p. 24. [m] Chron. Sax. p. 101.
Brompton, p. 832. [n] Chron. Sax. p. 102. Brompton, p. 832. Matth.
West. p. 181.]

In order to restore England to such a state of tranquillity as it was
then capable of attaining, nought was wanting but the subjection of
the Northumbrians, who, assisted by the scattered Danes in Mercia,
continually infested the bowels of the kingdom. Edward, in order to
divert the force of these enemies, prepared a fleet to attack them by
sea; hoping that, when his ships appeared on their coast, they must at
least remain at home, and provide for their defence. But the
Northumbrians were less anxious to secure their own property, than
greedy to commit spoil on their enemy; and concluding, that the chief
strength of the English was embarked on board the fleet, they thought
the opportunity favourable, and entered Edward's territories with all
their forces. The king, who was prepared against this event, attacked
them on their return at Tetenhall, in the county of Stafford, put them
to rout, recovered all the booty, and pursued them with great
slaughter into their own country.

All the rest of Edward's reign was a scene of continued and successful
action against the Northumbrians, the East Angles, the Five-burgers,
and the foreign Danes who invaded him from Normandy and Britany. Nor
was he less provident in putting his kingdom in a posture of defence,
than vigorous in assaulting the enemy. He fortified the towns of
Chester, Eddesbury, Warwick, Cherbury, Buckingham, Towcester, Maldon,
Huntingdon, and Colchester. He fought two signal battles at Temsford
and Maldon [o]. He vanquished Thurketill, a great Danish chief, and
obliged him to retire with his followers into France, in quest of
spoil and adventures. He subdued the East Angles, and forced them to
swear allegiance to him; he expelled the two rival princes of
Northumberland, Reginald and Sidroc, and acquired, for the present,
the dominion of that province: several tribes of the Britons were
subjected by him; and even the Scots, who, during the reign of Egbert,
had, under the conduct of Kenneth their king, increased their power by
the final subjection of the Picts, were nevertheless obliged to give
him marks of submission [p]. In all these fortunate achievements he
was assisted by the activity and prudence of his sister, Ethelfleda,
who was widow of Ethelbert, Earl of Mercia, and who, after her
husband's death, retained the government of that province. This
princess, who had been reduced to extremity in childbed, refused
afterwards all commerce with her husband; not from any weak
superstition, as was common in that age, but because she deemed all
domestic occupations unworthy of her masculine and ambitious spirit
[q]. She died before her brother; and Edward, during the remainder of
his reign, took upon himself the immediate government of Mercia, which
before had been entrusted to the authority of a governor [r]. The
Saxon Chronicle fixes the death of this prince in 925 [s]: his kingdom
devolved to Athelstan, his natural son.
[FN [o] Chron. Sax. p. 108. Flor. Wigorn. p. 601. [p] Chron. Sax. p.
110. Hoveden, p. 421. [q] W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 5. M. West. p.
182. Ingulph. p. 28. Higden, p. 261. [r] Chron. Sax. p. 110.
Brompton, p. 831. [s] Page 110.]

[MN Athelstan 925.]
The stain in this prince's birth was not, in those times, deemed so
considerable as to exclude him from the throne; and Athelstan, being
of an age, as well as of a capacity fitted for government, obtained
the preference to Edward's younger children, who, though legitimate,
were of too tender years to rule a nation so much exposed both to
foreign invasion and to domestic convulsions. Some discontents,
however, prevailed on his accession; and Alfred, a nobleman of
considerable power, was thence encouraged to enter into a conspiracy
against him. This incident is related by historians with
circumstances, which the reader, according to the degree of credit he
is disposed to give them, may impute either to the invention of monks,
who forged them, or to their artifice, who found means of making them
real. Alfred, it is said, being seized upon strong suspicions, but
without any certain proof, firmly denied the .conspiracy imputed to
him; and in order to justify himself, he offered to swear to his
innocence before the pope, whose person, it was supposed, contained
such superior sanctity, that no one could presume to give a false oath
in his presence, and yet hope to escape the immediate vengeance of
heaven. The king accepted of the condition, and Alfred was conducted
to Rome; where, either conscious of his innocence, or neglecting the
superstition to which he appealed, he ventured to make the oath
required of him before John, who then filled the papal chair. But no
sooner had he pronounced the fatal words, than he fell into
convulsions, of which three days after he expired. The king, as if
the guilt of the conspirator were now fully ascertained, confiscated
his estate, and made a present of it to the monastery of Malmesbury
[t]; secure that no doubts would ever thenceforth be entertained
concerning the justice of his proceedings.
[FN [t] W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 6. Spell. Conc. p. 407.]

The dominion of Athelstan was no sooner established over his English
subjects, than he endeavoured to give security to the government, by
providing against the insurrections of the Danes, which had created so
much disturbance to his predecessors. He marched into Northumberland;
and finding that the inhabitants bore with impatience the English
yoke, he thought it prudent to confer on Sithric, a Danish nobleman,
the title of king, and to attach him to his interests, by giving him
his sister, Editha, in marriage. But this policy proved by accident
the source of dangerous consequences. Sithric died in a twelvemonth
after; and his two sons by a former marriage, Anlaf and Godfrid,
founding pretensions on their father's elevation, assumed the
sovereignty without waiting for Athelstan's consent. They were soon
expelled by the power of that monarch; and the former took shelter in
Ireland, as the latter did in Scotland; where he received, during some
time, protection from Constantine, who then enjoyed the crown of that.
kingdom. The Scottish prince, however, continually solicited, and
even menaced by Athelstan, at last promised to deliver up his guest;
but secretly detesting this treachery, he gave Godfrid warning to make
his escape [u]; and that fugitive, after subsisting by piracy for some
years, freed the king by his death from any farther anxiety.
Athelstan, resenting Constantine's behaviour, entered Scotland with an
army; and ravaging the country with impunity [w], he reduced the Scots
to such distress, that their king was content to preserve his crown,
by making submissions to the enemy. The English historians assert
[x], that Constantine did homage to Athelstan for his kingdom; and
they add, that the latter prince, being urged by his courtiers to push
the present favourable opportunity, and entirely subdue Scotland,
replied, that it was more glorious to confer than conquer kingdoms
[y]. But those annals, so uncertain and imperfect in themselves, lose
all credit when national prepossessions and animosities have place:
and on that account, the Scotch historians, who, without having any
more knowledge of the matter, strenuously deny the fact, seem more
worthy of belief.
[FN [u] W. Malm. lib. 2. cap. 6. [w] Chron. Sax. p. 111. Hoveden, p.
422. H. Hunting. lib. 5. p. 354. [x] Hoveden, p. 422. [y] Wm.
Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 6. Anglia Sacra, vol. i. p. 212.]

Constantine, whether he owed the retaining of his crown to the
moderation of Athelstan, who was unwilling to employ all his
advantages against him, or to the policy of that prince, who esteemed
the humiliation of an enemy a greater acquisition than the subjection
of a discontented and mutinous people, thought the behaviour of the
English monarch more an object of resentment than of gratitude. He
entered into a confederacy with Anlaf, who had collected a great body
of Danish pirates, whom he found hovering in the Irish seas; and with
some Welsh princes, who were terrified at the growing power of
Athelstan: and all these allies made by concert an irruption with a
great army into England. Athelstan, collecting his forces, met the
enemy near Brunsbury, in Northumberland, and defeated them in a
general engagement. This victory was chiefly ascribed to the valour
of Turketul, the English chancellor: for in those turbulent ages no
one was so much occupied in civil employments, as wholly to lay aside
the military character [z].
[FN [z] The office of chancellor among the Anglo-Saxons resembled more
that of a secretary of state, than that of our present chancellor.
See Spellman, in voce CHANCELLARIUS.]

There is a circumstance not unworthy of notice, which historians
relate, with regard to the transactions of this war. Anlaf, on the
approach of the English army, thought that he could not venture too
much to ensure a fortunate event; and, employing the artifice formerly
practised by Alfred against the Danes, he entered the enemy's camp in
the habit of a minstrel. The stratagem was for the present attended
with like success. He gave such satisfaction to the soldiers who
flocked about him, that they introduced him to the king's tent; and
Anlaf, having played before that prince and his nobles during their
repast, was dismissed with a handsome reward. His prudence kept him
from refusing the present; but his pride determined him, on his
departure, to bury it, while he fancied that he was unespied by all
the world. But a soldier in Athelstan's camp, who had formerly served
under Anlaf, had been struck with some suspicion on the first
appearance of the minstrel; and was engaged by curiosity to observe
all his motions. He regarded this last action as a full proof of
Anlaf's disguise; and he immediately carried the intelligence to
Athelstan, who blamed him for not sooner giving him information, that
he might have seized his enemy. But the soldier told him, that, as he
had formerly sworn fealty to Anlaf, he could never have pardoned
himself the treachery of betraying and ruining his ancient master; and
that Athelstan himself, after such an instance of his criminal
conduct, would have had equal reason to distrust his allegiance.
Athelstan, having praised the generosity of the soldier's principles,
reflected on the incident, which he foresaw might be attended with
important consequences. He removed his station in the camp; and as a
bishop arrived that evening with a reinforcement of troops, (for the
ecclesiastics were then no less warlike than the civil magistrates,)
he occupied with his train that very place which had been left vacant
by the king's removal. The precaution of Athelstan was found prudent:
for no sooner had darkness fallen, than Anlaf broke into the camp, and
hastening directly to the place where he had left the king's tent, put
the bishop to death before he had time to prepare for his defence [a].
[FN [a] W. Malmes. lib. 2 cap. 6. Higden, p. 263]

There fell several Danish and Welsh princes in the action of Brunsbury
[b]; and Constantine and Anlaf made their escape with difficulty,
leaving the greater part of their army on the field of battle. After
this success, Athelstan enjoyed his crown in tranquillity; and he is
regarded as one of the ablest and most active of those ancient
princes. He passed a remarkable law, which was calculated for the
encouragement of commerce, and which it required some liberality of
mind in that age to have devised: that a merchant, who had made three
long sea-voyages on his own account, should be admitted to the rank of
a Thane or Gentleman. This prince died at Gloucester in the year 941
[c], after a reign of sixteen years, and was succeeded by Edmund, his
legitimate brother.
[FN [b] Brompton, p. 839 Ingulph. p. 29 [c] Chron. Sax. p. 114.]

[MN Edmund 941.]
Edmund, on his accession, met with disturbance from the restless
Northumbrians, who lay in wait for every opportunity of breaking into
rebellion. But marching suddenly with his forces into their country,
he so overawed the rebels, that they endeavoured to appease him by the
most humble submissions [d]. In order to give him a surer pledge of
their obedience, they offered to embrace Christianity; a religion
which the English Danes had frequently professed, when reduced to
difficulties, but which, for that very reason, they regarded as a
badge of servitude, and shook off as soon as a favourable opportunity
offered. Edmund, trusting little to their sincerity in this forced
submission, used the precaution of removing the Five-burgers from the
towns of Mercia, in which they had been allowed to settle; because it
was always found, that they took advantage of every commotion, and
introduced the rebellious, or foreign Danes, into the heart of the
kingdom. He also conquered Cumberland from the Britons; and conferred
that territory on Malcolm, King of Scotland, on condition that he
should do him homage for it, and protect the north from all future
incursions of the Danes.
[FN [d] W. Malmes. lib. 2. cap. 7. Brompton, p. 857]

Edmund was young when he came to the crown; yet was his reign short,
as his death was violent. One day as he was solemnizing a festival in
the county of Gloucester, he remarked, that Leolf, a notorious robber,
whom he had sentenced to banishment, had yet the boldness to enter the
hall where he himself dined, and to sit at table with his attendants.
Enraged at this insolence, he ordered him to leave the room; but on
his refusing to obey, the king, whose temper, naturally choleric, was
inflamed by this additional insult, leaped on him himself, and seized
him by the hair: but the ruffian, pushed to extremity, drew his
dagger, and gave Edmund a wound, of which he immediately expired.
This event happened in the year 946, and in the sixth year of the
king's reign. Edmund left male issue, but so young, that they were
incapable of governing the kingdom; and his brother, Edred, was
promoted to the throne.

[MN Edred 946.]
The reign of this prince, as those of his predecessors, was disturbed
by the rebellions and incursions of the Northumbrian Danes, who,
though frequently quelled, were never entirely subdued, nor had ever
paid a sincere allegiance to the crown of England. The accession of a
new king seemed to them a favourable opportunity for shaking off the
yoke; but on Edred's appearance with an army, they made him their
wonted submissions; and the king having wasted the country with fire
and sword, as a punishment for their rebellion, obliged them to renew
their oaths of allegiance; and he straight retired with his forces.
The obedience of the Danes lasted no longer than the present terror.
Provoked at the devastations of Edred, and even reduced by necessity
to subsist on plunder, they broke into a new rebellion, and were again
subdued; but the king, now instructed by experience, took greater
precautions against their future revolt. He fixed English garrisons
in their most considerable towns; and placed over them an English
governor, who might watch all their motions, and suppress any
insurrection on its first appearance. He obliged also Malcolm, King
of Scotland, to renew his homage for the lands which he held in

Edred, though not unwarlike, nor unfit for active life, lay under the
influence of the lowest superstition, and had blindly delivered over
his conscience to the guidance of Dunstan, commonly called St.

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