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Alfgar the Dane or the Second Chronicle of Aescendune by A. D. Crake

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Just then he felt his naked feet come into contact with some wet
substance, slightly glutinous, on the floor, and shuddered at the
contact. All trembling, he put his hand to the pillow, and drew it
back; it was wet with the same fluid, which his reason and experience
told him was blood. He could hardly refrain from crying for help, but
first sought a light. The process of procuring light then from flint,
steel, and tinder was very slow, and it was some minutes before he had
a taper lighted, when its beams disclosed to his horror-stricken sight
Edmund, weltering in his blood; a dagger had been driven suddenly and
swiftly to his heart, and he had died apparently without a struggle.
The weapon yet remained {xviii}.

Here his affliction and grief overpowered him; he threw himself upon
the body from which he had withdrawn the weapon; he kissed the now
cold lips; he cried, half distracted, "O Edmund, my lord, speak!"

Alas! those lips were never to speak again while time lasted. At
length the first deep emotion passed away, and left the unhappy Alfgar
comparatively master of himself, whereupon he left the chamber, and
cried aloud for help.

It was his cry which the ladies heard in their distant bower.

The piercing cry, "Help! Edmund, the king, is slain!" roused the
household--Elfwyn, Herstan, Hermann, the ladies, agitated beyond
measure; the household guard; and, last of all, Edric.

They beheld Alfgar in his night dress, all bloody, holding a dagger in
his hand, and with his face blanched to a death-like paleness,
uttering cry upon cry.

"Help! Edmund, the king, is slain!"

They (the men) rushed to the chamber, and, passing through Alfgar's
little room, beheld, by the light of many torches, Edmund bathed in
his own blood, which still dripped with monotonous but terrible sound
on the floor.

Edric entered, and with woe, real or affected (no one could tell),
painted in his face, approached the body; and Elfwyn and Herstan
beheld, or thought they beheld, a prodigy: they thought they saw the
eyes open, and regard Edric, and that they saw the blood well up in
the wound. But doubtless this was fancy.

"One thing we all must do," said Edric; "we must all help to find the
murderer. The first step to that effect will be to note all present
appearances. First, where is the weapon?"

"Here," said Alfgar, extending it.

"Why, Alfgar, it is your own dagger," said Elfwyn; "one which he gave
you himself."

Alfgar uttered a plaintive and pitiful cry.

Edric possessed himself of the blood-stained weapon.

"Alfgar," said he, "you must have slept soundly. Tell us what you
heard and saw."

He briefly related the particulars with which the reader is

"But how could they enter? Was your door unfastened?"

"No; it was bolted on the inside, even as I left it last night."

"Bolted on the inside! then they must have entered through the
window," said Edric, noting the words.

"Impossible," said both the thanes; "they are barred, both of
them--heavily barred."

"We can no longer assist our departed lord save by our prayers," said
Edric. "God be thanked, he died friends with me. I shall value the
remembrance of that kiss cf peace in St. Frideswide's so long as I
live. And now I, once his foe, but his friend and avenger now, devote
myself to hunt the murderer. So help me God!"

"So help me God!"

"So help me God!" said all present, one after the other.

"We are then of one heart and soul, and no tie of kindred, no
friendship, shall bar our common action. And now we must rouse the
reeve and burgesses; the gates of the city must be closed, that none
escape. I will send members of the guard to do this, and when they
have assembled we will all take counsel together."

"O Alfgar," whispered Elfwyn, "how came your dagger there?"

"I know not. I feel as one distracted," said the faithful and loving
Alfgar, who had lost by this fell stroke a most faithful friend, with
the warmest heart which had ever beaten beneath a monarch's breast.

Oh, how the thought of the conversation last night came back to him
now--the warning of Canute, the loving words of affection which had
been spoken to him by those lips now cold in death!

All the imperfections of his character now faded away; he seemed so
brave, yet so loving, so invincible in combat, yet so gentle and
forgiving, as he had shown in forgiving even--even--even--said Alfgar
to his own wounded bleeding heart--even in forgiving his murderer. For
in his eyes it was Edric, and none but Edric, who had done this deed.

But a terrible suspicion of a very opposite nature was rapidly
assuming sway in other men's minds.

A council met before daybreak--the reeve or mayor, the chief
burgesses, two or three thanes then in the town, the officers of the
royal guard, Elfwyn, Herstan, and Edric. After a few preliminaries
Edric rose and spake as follows:

"We have met together under the most awful responsibility which could
fall upon subjects. Edmund, our king, has been murdered, and by whom
we know not."

All were silent.

"I grieve to say," he continued, "that there is but one upon whom our
suspicions can now fall with any shadow of probability--one who is
now absent, for I thought it well not to summon him to this council;
and before naming him, I must recall to you, Elfwyn, and to you,
Herstan, the solemn oath we have all three taken to disregard all
appeals of natural affection, and to ascertain the truth, God being
our helper."

"We have."

"We have," said they with bursting hearts, for they foresaw what
accusation Edric was about to bring.

"I grieve, then, to say," he continued, "that this natural affection
must be bitterly tried, for there is but one to whom my words can
apply. Meanwhile, I will put a few questions. With whose dagger was
the deed committed?"

"Alfgar's," replied those who had been there the previous night.

"Whose chamber commanded the only entrance to the royal chamber?"


"Who incautiously, as if forgetting himself, stated that he found the
door bolted on the inside?"


"But the motive--the motive? The poor fellow loved him as he loved his
own father."

"I cannot explain that difficulty, but I can suggest one motive which
may already have suggested itself to several. But let me ask of what
nation is Alfgar?"

"A Dane; but an Englishman by long habit."

"I can answer for that," said Elfwyn.

"Once a Dane always a Dane. Now a secret messenger arrived from Canute
yesterday, and had a long private interview with Alfgar. In short, I
dare not say all I know or suspect, for there can be little doubt who
will reign in England now."

All were silent.

At length Edric continued, "none can deny that we have grounds for our

"Yes, I do deny it," said Elfwyn, "the more so when I remember who
makes the accusation."

"You do well to reproach me; I deserve it, I confess, and more than
deserve it. Yes, I was Edmund's enemy once; but perhaps you remember
yesterday and the early mass at St. Frideswide's."

"We do, we do," cried all but Elfwyn and Herstan; but they were
utterly outvoted, and the order was given to the captain of the
hus-carles to arrest Alfgar.

Alfgar, desolate and almost distracted, not heeding that he was not
summoned to the council, as he might so naturally have expected to be,
wandered mechanically about the palace until the bell summoned him to
the early mass. The bishop was the celebrant, for Father Cuthbert was
to have officiated at the celebration of the marriage of his son in
the faith. The solemn pealing of the bell for the mass at the hour of
daybreak fell upon Alfgar's ears, and he turned almost mechanically to
the cathedral, yet with vague desire to communicate all his griefs and
troubles to a higher power than that of man, and to seek aid from a
diviner source.

He entered, knelt in a mental attitude easier to imagine than
describe, but felt some heavenly dew fall upon his bleeding wounds; he
left without waiting to speak to any one at the conclusion of the
service, and was crossing the quadrangle to the palace which occupied
a portion of the site of modern Christ Church, when a heavy hand was
laid upon his shoulder.

He turned and saw the captain of the guard; two or three of his
officers were beside him.

"It is my painful duty to arrest you and make you my prisoner."

"On what charge?" said the astonished Alfgar.

"The murder of the king."


The news of the murder of Edmund spread far and wide, and awakened
deep sorrow and indignation, not only amongst his friends and
subjects, but even amongst his former enemies, the Danes, now rapidly
yielding to the civilising and softening influences of Christianity,
following therein the notable example of their king, Canute, who was
everywhere restoring the churches and monasteries he and his had
destroyed, and saying, with no faltering voice, albeit, perhaps, with
a very inadequate realisation of all the words implied, "As for me and
my house, we will serve the Lord."

Ealdorman and thane came flocking into Oxenford from all the
neighbouring districts of Wessex and Mercia. The body of the lamented
monarch was laid in state in St. Frideswide's; there wax tapers shed a
hallowed light on the sternly composed features of him who had been
the bulwark of England; and there choking sobs and bitter sighs every
hour rent the air, and bore witness to a nation's grief. And there,
two heartbroken ladies, a mother and a daughter, came often to pray,
not only for the soul of the departed king, but also for the discovery
of his murderers and the clearing of the innocent, for neither Hilda
nor Ethelgiva for one moment doubted the spotless innocence of Alfgar.

They were refused admittance to the cell wherein he was confined by
Edric, who had assumed the direction of all things, and whose claim,
such is the force of impudence, seemed to be tacitly allowed by the
thanes and ealdormen of Wessex.

But Elfwyn and Herstan could hardly be denied permission to visit him,
owing to their positions, and they both did so. They found him in a
chamber occupying the whole of the higher floor of a tower of the
castle, which served as a prison for the city and neighbourhood,
rudely but massively built. One solitary and deep window admitted a
little air and light, but the height rendered all escape hopeless,
even had the victim wished to escape, which he did not.

"Alfgar, my son!" said Elfwyn, finding the poor prisoner did not
speak, "do you not know us?"

"Indeed I do; but do you believe me guilty, nay, even capable of--"

He could add no more, but they saw that if they doubted they would
hear no more from him--that he scorned self-defence.

"Guilty!--no, God forbid! we alone in the council asserted your
complete innocence."

"I thank you; you have taken away the bitterness of death--and

"Would die for her conviction of your truth."

"Thank God!" he said fervently, his face brightening at once; tears,
indeed, rolled down his cheeks, but they seemed rather of gratitude
than grief.

"We wanted to see, my son, whether you could aid us in discovering the
real assassin--whether you can in any way account for his possession
of your dagger, for your door being still, as you asserted, fast

"I knew it made against me, but I couldn't lie, it was fast inside."

"Then how could the foe have gained admittance?"

"I could not discover that, but I think there must have been some
secret door. Edric had perhaps lived in the Place before; he once
resided in Oxenford."

"He did, and in that very house," said Herstan. "I was here at the
time when he assassinated Sigeferth and Morcar in the banqueting

"That may supply a clue, I know no other possible one."

"But how, then, did he get your dagger?"

"I think our wine was drugged the night before, or I should not have
slept so soundly. I remember with what difficulty I seemed to throw
off a kind of nightmare which oppressed me, and to come to myself."

"Then I will get a carpenter and search the wainscoting; and I will
see whether I can learn anything about the wine," said Elfwyn.

"Do so cautiously, my father, very cautiously, for if Edric suspects
you are on his track, he will plot against your life too, and
Ethelgiva will have no protector.

"Oh, this was to have been my wedding day, my wedding day!" and he
clasped his hands in agony; then the thought of his master--his slain
lord--returned, and he cried, "O Edmund! my master, my dear master, so
good, so gentle, yet so brave; who else could slay him? what fiend
else than Edric, the murderer Edric? That they should think I, or any
one else than Edric, could have done such a deed, such an evil deed!"

Elfwyn and Herstan both left the scene, the more convinced of Alfgar's
innocence, but yet the more puzzled to convey their impression to

Meanwhile the arrangements for Edmund's burial were made. It was
decided, according to the wish he had more than once expressed, that
he should rest beneath the shadow of a shrine he had loved well; and
on the second day after his death the mournful procession left
Oxenford for Glastonbury, followed by the tears and prayers of the
citizens. There, after a long and toilsome winter journey, the funeral
cortege arrived, and was joined by his wife Elgitha, his sons Edmund
and Edward. They laid him to rest by the side of his grandfather,
Edgar "the Magnanimous," whose days of peace and prosperity all
England loved to remember. There, amidst the people of Wessex who had
rallied so often to his war cry, all that was mortal of the Ironside

Meanwhile the crafty Edric, who excused himself from attendance on the
solemnities, tarried at Oxenford, and with him tarried also Elfwyn,
Herstan, and the other friends of the unfortunate prisoner, to secure,
as they were able, that justice should be rendered him.

A special court of justice was speedily organised, wherein Edric
presided as ealdorman of Mercia, for Oxenford properly was a Mercian
city, although, lying on the debateable land, it was frequently
claimed by Wessex as the border land changed its boundaries.

The court was composed of wise and aged men, ealdormen, thanes, and
burgesses had places, and the bishop of Dorchester sat by Edric as

The court was opened, and the vacant places in the room were occupied
at once by the crowd who were fortunate enough to gain entrance. The
general feeling was strong against the prisoner, the more so because
he had been loved and trusted by Edmund, so that ingratitude added to
the magnitude of his crime in their eyes.

But amongst those who stood nearest to the place he must occupy were
his betrothed, her mother, Bertha, and young Hermann, who had already
got into several quarrels through his fierce espousing of the cause of
the accused.

He entered at last under a guard, calm and dignified, in spite of his
suffering. He met the gaze of the multitude without flinching, and his
general demeanour impressed many in his favour. Compurgators, or men
to swear that they believed him innocent, a kind of evidence fully
recognised by the Saxon law, were not wanting; but they consisted
chiefly of his old companions in arms and his friends from Aescendune.
In a lighter accusation, his innocence might have been established by
this primitive mode of evidence, but the case was too serious; the
accusation being one of the murder of a king.

The charge was duly read; and to the accusation he replied, "Not
guilty!" with a fervour and firmness which caused men to look up.

The chamberlain was first examined.

"Were you present when the late king retired to rest?"

"I was."

"Who shared his chamber?"

"The prisoner slept in an antechamber."

"Was there a fastening to the outer door of the antechamber?"

"Yes; a strong bolt."

"Could it be opened from the exterior?"

"It could not."

"Was there any other entrance to the royal apartments?"


The dagger was produced, and Elfwyn was examined.

"Do you recognise the weapon?"

"I do; it was Alfgar's."

"How do you recognise it?"

"It was richly carved about the handle. The letter E is stamped upon
it, with a crown."

"Whence did the prisoner obtain it?"

"The king gave it him." (Sensation.)

"Did you see it on the night of the murder?"

"I did."

"Under what circumstances?"

"The accused held it dripping with blood in his hands, and said he
found it sticking in the corpse."

Other witnesses were also called to prove these facts.

The accused was then heard in his own defence, and he repeated with
great simplicity and candour the circumstances so well known to our
readers; and concluded:

"I can say no more. None who knew the love he bore me, and that I bore
him, could suspect me."

The bishop here spoke.

"It is my office," said he, "by the canons of King Athelstane, to
assist secular judges in purging away accusations, therefore I will
ask the accused a few questions."

"Had you any cause of suspicion against any other person--anything to
point out the doer of this evil deed?"

"All men loved him save one."

"And who was that one?"

"He sits to judge me."

"Nay," cried the bishop, "we all beheld the reconciliation in St.
Frideswide's church."

"The king himself was warned not to trust to the reconciliation."

"By whom?"

"His brother sovereign."


And here Edric perceptibly changed colour.

"Even so."

"Your proofs," said the bishop--"nay, my lord Edric, trust your
reputation to the justice of God and the court."

"The messenger from Canute, who came here on the vigil of St. Andrew."

"Where is he?"

"He has returned to Canute," said Elfwyn.

"Aught else?"

"Only I would bid you remember that the ealdorman Edric sought in like
manner reconciliation with Elfhelm of Shrewsbury, and all men know
what followed."

Here Edric interrupted--"I do not sit here to be judged, but to judge.
These accusations cannot be heard."

"There is a judgment seat above where you will not be able to make
that plea," said the prisoner solemnly.

"Alfgar," said the bishop, "this counter-accusation cannot be
received; have you aught else to urge?"

"None. I commit my cause to God."

The court retired.

The pause was long and painful. It afterwards transpired that the
bishop pleaded in Alfgar's favour, while Herstan ably seconded him;
but all was in vain. Edric's eloquence, and the strong circumstantial
evidence against the prisoner, carried the day, and the ealdorman even
proposed that execution should be speedy, "lest," he whispered,
"Canute should interfere to screen his instrument."

It was a dangerous game, but he thought the services he had rendered
the Danish cause enabled him to play it safely.

They returned. All men saw the verdict in their faces. Edric spoke
with great solemnity.

"We find the prisoner guilty."

There was a dead pause.

"I appeal to the judgment of God. I demand the ordeal cf fire," said
Alfgar {xix}.

"It cannot be denied," said the bishop, who had anticipated the
appeal. "I myself will see to the preliminaries; and it may take place
tomorrow morning in St. Frideswide's church."

Edric and his sympathisers would fain have denied the claim, but they
could not resist the bishop, backed as he was by the popular voice,
for the cry, "The ordeal! yes, the ordeal!" was taken up at once by
the populace.

While he was hesitating, his brother Goda appeared amongst the crowd.

"Canute," he whispered, "draws nigh Oxenford. He has heard what is
going on."

Edric trembled, but soon recovered himself. However, it was not a time
to deny justice.

The following morning the church of St. Frideswide was crowded at the
early mass. All the friends of the accused were there, and Edric with
all his party. The holy service was about to commence, when the crowd
at the church door moved aside; a passage was speedily made though the
crowd, and three or four ecclesiastics, one habited as a royal
chaplain, escorted a stranger, to whom all paid instinctive reverence,
yet hardly knowing why, for he was only clad in the ordinary robes
worn by noblemen amongst the English.

He was led to the choir, and placed where Edmund had knelt by Edric's
side some days previously. Edric saw him, and exchanged glances, after
which the ealdorman looked uneasy.

On the other side knelt the prisoner, with Elfwyn and Herstan on
either side, and his colour heightened. Well it might. He had last
seen that figure when he fought by Edmund's side at Penn. But it was
not that meeting. Words spoken ten years before came back to him with
marvellous force:

"Tell me what is the secret of this Christianity?"

And Alfgar knew that Canute had found that secret at last.

"Why was he here? Did he come as his friend or foe?"

The mass was over. Alfgar had followed the whole ceremony with rapt
attention, for it was in God alone that he could now put his

Then a furnace was placed in the church, containing nine bars of iron
of red heat, and the fire was blown till the bars, quivering with
heat, glittered in the sight. The bishop approached, and said the
appointed prayers, that God would detect the innocence or guilt of the
prisoner by their means, and reveal the truth known only to Him.

Then a lane was formed up the church, and the friends of Alfgar kept
one side, while those of Edric kept the other, after which the bars of
iron were laid down about two feet apart.

The bishop approached.

"Are ye all fasting with prayer?" he inquired.

The friends of accused and accuser from either side replied:

"We are."

"Humble yourselves, and pray to God to reveal the truth," said he, and
sprinkled them with holy water, after which the book of the Gospels
was passed all round to be kissed.

"Pray that God may reveal the truth," said he again.

"We do so pray."

Then Alfgar, who felt full of divine confidence, took his place at the
end nearest the porch. He was given the book of the Gospels.

"Swear thy innocence upon the holy Gospels," said the bishop.

"I do swear that I am innocent of the crime they lay to my charge;"
and he kissed the book; then holy water was sprinkled upon his feet,
and given him to drink.

The decisive moment approached. He looked round, he saw Ethelgiva, her
eyes full of tears, her lips moving in prayer.

All fear departed from him.

The bishop blindfolded him.

"My son, trust in God, and in His strength go forward," he whispered.

Alfgar could see nought now. A line of red string was stretched from
the bishop's hand to that of a priest at the other extremity, to guide
him. Canute advanced, took the end from the priest's hand and held it.

Alfgar started one step. The first iron is passed safely--two, the
second cleared. The excitement is intense. Three cleared--four, five.
Ah, he nears the sixth! No, he misses it!--seven, eight--one
more--nine! SAVED BY GOD!

Ethelgiva fainted. A deep sound of applause, not even suppressed by
the character of the place. Elfwyn received his adopted son in his

"Saved, saved!" he cried.

"Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory!" replied Alfgar.

When the first congratulations were over, and Alfgar had somewhat
recovered from the excitement of the shock, and from the
congratulations which were heaped upon him upon all sides, he was told
that Canute awaited him in the audience chamber, and at once repaired
to the presence of his future king with less emotion than may be
imagined; for he was worn out by sensation, and becoming callous to

He was formally introduced by the officer in waiting, and the king at
once dismissed that functionary.

"Alfgar, son of Anlaf, we have met before," observed the monarch.

"We have, my lord."

"I did not refer to later occasions, when we have met on the
battlefield, but to a far earlier one. Need I recall it? Surely there
are some moments in one's life never to be forgotten."

"There are indeed, my lord. Pardon my confusion. You refer to a scene
in Carisbrooke."

"Yes. When I asked you, 'What is this Christianity?' you had not much
time given you to answer me then, but your deliberate choice of a
bitter death, in preference to abandoning it, showed me there was
somewhat deeper in it than I had imagined. Alfgar, there are seeds
lightly sown which bear fruit hereafter, and your words were of such a
character--so that I, your future monarch, owe you already a debt of
gratitude, and I had come hither to fulfil it when you saved me the
task by appealing to the ordeal. I for one had full faith in the
justice of God. But had you not so appealed, I should have stepped in
between Edric and his victim."

"You did not then, my lord, believe in my guilt?"

"Not for one moment. The lad who defied my unhappy father in the
frantic fury of his power--the warrior I had seen fighting by the side
of his king--the faithful attendant of many years?--Nay, it was
monstrous; who could believe it?"

"Many, alas! found it possible to believe it, my lord. But who has
been the murderer? You will not permit your brother's blood to fall on
the earth unavenged."

"Wait. Be patient. God, in whom you trust, will direct the bolt in His
own time. Edmund's blood will not be unavenged. And now, farewell!
Remember, if you have lost one royal friend, you have found another."

And Alfgar left the presence.

The next day the whole party from Aescendune returned home. Oxenford
was too full of bitter memories now. One grief of Alfgar was this--he
had not been able to stand by Edmund's grave.



Ten years ago, this very day, God in His mercy delivered us from the
raging Danes at Cliffton, on Tamesis, and now He hath delivered us
again out of the hands of the raging lion, even of Edric Streorn, and
we are all spared to keep our Christmas in peace in the woods of

It is probably the last I shall keep in this place, for the hall and
priory are fast rising from their ruins, and we shall soon return to
our old home, from which we have been banished ten years and more. It
will be sweet to be there once more, serving the Lord in peace, with
none daring to make us afraid.

Here we are, all of us who are near and dear by the ties of blood, in
this woodland Zoar, which hath indeed been a Zoar in the late
troublous years, utterly untouched, which again we regard as a proof
that Anlaf does not live, for he could have found us out had his
revenge led him to do so when Sweyn was in Mercia. Neither has he
appeared to claim his own estate, which he might easily regain now a
Dane is king.

Alfgar and Ethelgiva are now speedily to be united. Theirs is to be
the first marriage solemnised in the new minster church by my unworthy
hands. To see them now, one would think they had forgotten all the
past peril. The old people do not mean to abandon their woodland
abode; they love it all too well, and call it the Happy Valley. But
they say that a good road, now the times are safer, shall be made to
the old site, where we are again rearing hall and priory.

There is now quite a colony here, nearly 300 people. The church is
very commodious, and every day, for the whole period of these late
dreadful wars, mass has been said therein for our suffering brethren
"contra Paganos." Thank God that he hath at length heard our prayers;
our late foes are no longer Pagans but Christians, and are as eager to
build up as they were to cast down; in fact, several of them have
offered their zealous aid in the rebuilding of our priory.

We had such a happy Christmas evening. We sat by the fire, and Alfgar
was made to relate the whole story again of his escape with Edmund
from Carisbrooke, of his imprisonment by Edric in the Synodune woods,
of the attack and defence of Clifton. We had all heard it before, but
still we wanted to hear it again, just to contrast present peace and
joy with the danger and trials of those days, and to make them sweeter
by the contrast. Truly our Christmas worship had need to be praise and
thanksgiving, not only for the great mystery the church commemorates,
but also for present mercies so freely bestowed upon us all.

Second Sunday after Easter, 1017.--

We have just received intelligence that Canute has been solemnly
crowned at St. Paul's Church, in London, by Archbishop Lyfing. He
called a council of the whole kingdom previously, to which both my
brother and I were summoned, but I cared not to attend. Elfwyn,
however, went, and wanted Alfgar to go, but he begged hard to be
excused, I imagine for two reasons. First of all, he laments Edmund
too deeply to welcome his former enemy as his successor; and secondly,
he does not care to leave Ethelgiva again.

Well, Elfwyn tells us that when all were present--bishops, ealdormen,
thanes, and the noblest of the people--Canute solemnly proposed that
they should accept him as their king, giving them to understand that,
by a tacit understanding with Edmund, it had been agreed that the
kingdom should not be permanently divided, but that the survivor
should inherit and govern the whole realm.

The wise men replied that, since Edmund's children were too young to
govern, they could not desire a better monarch than Canute; they
committed the little ones to his care, and acknowledged him as king of
all England.

And on the morrow Archbishop Lyfing, who had so shortly before crowned
Edmund, placed the emblem of regal dignity on the head of Canute in
St. Paul's Cathedral.

I hear Edric Streorn is confirmed in the earldom of Mercia. I still
fear that man.

Sunday after Ascension, 1017.--

On this happy Sunday it has pleased God to restore us to our home once
more. The priory is rebuilt in more than its former beauty, and the
hall beside it stands conspicuous in its splendour. They have not
changed the appearance much, for it was the especial wish of every one
concerned that it should remind one of old associations as much as

The good bishop of Dorchester, the abbot of Abingdon, and many others
of my friends amongst the brethren there, the neighbouring clergy and
thanes, all met together to dedicate the new house to God. High mass
was solemnly sung in the minster church, and the whole building was
hallowed with psalm and prayer to God; after which followed a
temperate banquet.

The bishop was very kind and loving, and spoke most affectionately to
our poor people on the subject of their past trials; especially he
commended their new lord, Alfgar, to their allegiance, saying that in
all his deep trials he had shown himself a most perfect Christian,
doing his duty both to God and man.


The abbot and brethren from Abingdon are gone back, and we poor happy
brethren have entered again upon our regular duties. Ah me! what a gap
time has made in our ranks. Of the twenty brethren who were driven out
by the Danes eleven years ago, only twelve yet live, and eight
brethren from Abingdon supply the place of the others. God be praised
that Father Adhelm yet lives! He has been my right hand in so many
perils and trials.

It is so delightful to be at home once more. Surely never were monks
happier. My heart swells when each morning we sing the three last
joyful psalms at lauds.

It is settled that Alfgar and Ethelgiva are to be married on the
Monday after the Whitsun octave. O happy pair! O ter felices et nimium
beati! I only hope they will not love earth too well.

Octave of the Ascension.--

Today we have had a special messenger from Canute, who is in the
neighbourhood, to express his royal intention to grace the approaching
marriage with his presence. It will indeed be an honour. Ah! but if
Edmund could be there.


I hardly know how to express my intense surprise and joy. Alfgar's
father has returned--a Christian.

While all the people were assembling for mass this morning, an aged
man, clad in palmer's weeds, evidently worn by toil and travel, came
from the bridge over the river, which has been rebuilt, towards the
minster church, and entering, knelt down wrapt in devotion. Many
remarked his quaint attire; his face, once stern, now softened by
grace; his hair, once black as the raven's wing, now white as snow;
his dark eyes gleaming beneath thick white eyebrows. I fear he caused
many wandering thoughts, and he would have caused yet more, could they
have known that they beheld the penitent destroyer of the old hall and

Now I preached, not knowing at the time who was amongst my hearers,
from the words of Isaiah, "For thy waste and desolate places, and the
land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow, by reason of
the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other,
shall say again in thine ears. The place is too strait for me; give
place to me, that I may dwell."

Oh, how touching the words seemed; for our waste and desolate places
are indeed peopled with joy and gladness, and many must have thought
of dear Bertric, our martyr boy, when they heard those words, "the
children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other." They
seemed a divine prophecy of joy and gladness unto us.

And so I preached after this manner, and as I did so I saw the
stranger was deeply moved, and marvelled who he could be, that he
entered so deeply into so personal a sermon, which treated of a
peculiar joy which a stranger intermeddleth not with.

Now after the mass was ended, we came forth from the church, and
Alfgar, with Ethelgiva, walked down the path to the Lychgate, when
Alfgar's eyes fell upon the stranger, whereupon, to our astonishment,
he started, then stepped forward, fell on his knees, and cried, with a
choked voice, "Father, your blessing!"

At first we thought it was reverence, somewhat exaggerated, to a
pilgrim, but when the aged man cried aloud, "The God of Abraham bless
thee, even thee, O my son!" and the tears streamed down the furrows of
his aged cheeks, we knew it must be something more than this, and so
it proved.

It was none other than Anlaf--Anlaf who had disappeared from all the
knowledge of friend or foe for ten years!

We all received him, especially my brother Elfwyn, with great joy--for
we shared Alfgar's happiness--and we led him into the house, where we
tendered him all the offices of hospitality.

It was by degrees that we learned his story. He was really converted
to Christianity by the example of his son, whose words produced a far
deeper effect upon him than either he or Alfgar suspected at the time.

And when he saw that son prefer a cruel death to apostasy, his heart
was moved--deeply moved, so that he pondered over all he had heard
from him and from a once loved wife, whose words had seemed lost, but
whose prayers perhaps watered them into growth after she was dead and
gone. So he left the army without telling any one whither he went, and
sought instruction from a Christian.

And he found a Christian priest hidden in the woods, where he
administered the word and sacraments to a starving few, but secretly,
for fear of the Danes; and from him he learned the truth and was

Then, feeling himself unhappy in this distracted land--separated from
the English by blood, from the Danes by religion--he determined to go
on pilgrimage.

Once in the Holy Land, he had to undergo much contumely from the pagan
Saracens, who, to the disgrace of Christendom, defile the Holy City by
their presence, and maltreat the blessed pilgrims; but he had learned
to glory in humiliation. At last he retired to the woods on the
sources of the Jordan, weary of earth, and there he joined an aged
hermit, with whom he lived for two years, and when the hermit died he
took his place, and dwelt as an ascetic, ministering, however, to the
necessities of pilgrims who journeyed that way to the Holy Land.

From some of these pilgrims he learned, at length, that English and
Danes were united in peace, and a great desire of revisiting England
and searching out his son seized upon him. On the road he heard that
Edmund was dead and Canute reigned alone, and so he came hither at
once, and has arrived, God so willing it, in time to see his son
married to the heiress of Aescendune.

We have provided him lodgings in the priory. The new hall is not to be
dwelt in till the night when the happy pair enter it and make it their

Alfgar's cup of joy is full.

Monday after the Whitsun Octave.--

At last it is over. The weary waiting of ten years is ended. Alfgar
and Ethelgiva are man and wife.

Canute gave away the bride in person. Elfwyn, Hilda, Herstan, Bertha,
and Hermann, with his sisters--indeed all the kindred of the bride
were there. Of the kindred of the bridegroom but one, so far as we
know, is living--his father Anlaf. It has been a warlike race, and
nearly all the members of the family have found a warrior's grave.

I performed the ceremony, assisted by all the brethren in the choral
portions of the mass and the order of the marriage service. Ethelgiva
was pale and composed although she shed a few natural tears, but wiped
them soon. Alfgar was simple and unaffected, as he always is. All he
does is so naturally done. Like Nathaniel, he is a man without guile.

The church was crowded. All the retainers and all the neighbours were
present, and when the bride and bridegroom left the sacred building,
they saluted them with cheers which made the welkin ring.

Then the whole party adjourned to the hall, which was crowded to the
fullest extent. And for the poorer guests, who could not find
admittance, tables were spread in the open air, beneath the shade of
spreading trees, for the day was lovely even for June.

Canute remained throughout the entertainment, and, by his unaffected
condescension and his cheerful sympathy, won the hearts of all. His
general demeanour tends to efface his foreign descent from the mind.
Yet we sighed for Edmund, for which even Canute would pardon us. He
should have presided at the board.

When the night was far advanced the whole party broke up and retired
to rest, after a day calculated to efface the recollection of many a
hardship past.

For my part, when I returned to the priory, I mused for a long time on
the dark paths through which our Lord has conducted us to this happy
day. I thought of the period of Alfgar's conversion and baptism, of
St. Brice's night, for which England has paid so heavy a penance, now,
we trust, happily over. And while I thus thought, my musings led me to
the tomb of Bertric, whose sacred relics, as those of a martyr, now
lie interred beneath our high altar, and I wondered whether his
blessed spirit could sympathise in our earthly joy. Yes; I doubt it
not; and that he witnesses it from above. Through suffering to joy has
been our lot; through suffering to glory his.


The king left this morning. His engagements are too numerous to permit
him to give much space to recreation. Before he left he summoned
Alfgar, Anlaf, and Elfwyn, to a conference in the library--for they
have a library as of old in the hall--and then he told Alfgar that he
had talked with Anlaf who wished to convey the manorial rights of his
former patrimony, and all its revenues, to his son, and to join our
brotherhood, and that he desired him to witness the deed. Now, all the
former charters of Aescendune were destroyed in the old hall, and the
king had caused a new one to be drawn up, supplying all the defects
caused by the loss of the earlier documents; conferring and securing,
by royal charter, all the lands of Aescendune, and those formerly
appertaining to Anlaf, upon Alfgar, and his successors for ever, not,
as he said, as a deed of gift, but as a charter securing and defining
their rights and liberties, for him and his successors, to all future
generations; and adding all the waste land of the adjacent forest,
formerly holden of the crown, to their domains, with right of all
temporal jurisdiction, and with the title of Earl, which title is
common in the northern and more Danish districts, more so than
ealdorman, which obtains in the south.

"Thus much," said he, "I know my brother Edmund would have done for
you, and in his place it has fallen to my lot.

"Would," he added, "I could be all to you which Edmund would have been
had he lived; that, perhaps, is not possible; but I know, Alfgar," he
added, "how to esteem faithfulness, even when it has been sometimes
exercised at my expense, for one once a rival, now only thought of as
a brother."

Then he turned to Anlaf.

"Old companion in arms," he said, "this makes up for Carisbrooke;
well, Alfgar, hadst thou yielded then, thou hadst not been here now.
Thy father and I owe thee something for the example thou didst set

And then he turned to Elfwyn and wished him joy of his son.

After that he came to the priory and prayed awhile in front of the
altar; his devotions ended, he came to my cell and made me a startling
offer of a bishopric in Denmark, saying he thought there was much work
to be done for God there, and he thought Englishmen would do it best;
and thus, he added, after their Master's example, return good for
evil {xx}.

But an old oak such as I am cannot be uprooted, and perhaps it is a
carnal feeling, but I fear my earthly affections bind me here while
life lasts, so, thanking him warmly for the distinction implied in the
offer, I respectfully but firmly declined it.

And so the king and his retinue left Aescendune. Elfwyn and Hilda
return in a few days to their happy valley; men have been at work for
weeks making a good road there from the hall, and the journey will
only occupy two or three hours to a good walker.

Herstan and his family leave for their home on the Thames (which has
been rebuilt, together with the little church of St. Michael)
tomorrow. Anlaf takes his vows as a novice next Sunday, his novitiate
will be as short as the rules of our order allow; we shall all then
welcome him as a brother.

Soon our days will flow tranquilly on. May God mercifully continue
peace in our days.

"Stablish the thing, O God, that thou hast wrought in us."

Christmas, 1017.--

Strange news greet our festival. Edric Streorn has gone suddenly,
unhouselled, unanointed, unabsolved, to his great account. Hermann,
who is now an officer in the royal hus-carles, has arrived from court,
and from him we have learnt all particulars.

Edric was alone with the king in a chamber overlooking the Thames.
Hermann was on duty without, with some of the guard, when he heard
voices within in hot contention.

"You will grant me no favour, not even the life of this traitor, who,
I tell you, is conspiring against you, and desires to place Edwy, the
Etheling, Edmund's brother, on the throne in your place."

"Your proof lies, I suppose, in the hatred you have always borne him,"
was the king's reply.

Hermann could not help hearing, they spoke so loudly, but the next
words enchained his attention.

"I tell thee the name 'Alfgar' is first and foremost amongst the
signatures of the men who have conspired to cast thee from the

"Then I conclude you placed it there; tush, man, I know thee of old!"

"Why should you suspect this? was not he Edmund's faithful friend,
worshipping him as a god, and would he not do all he could for his

"I thought you held him guilty of Edmund's murder."

"That was only because I wished to remove two enemies from your path
instead of one you will not remove one from mine; lo! I forsook Edmund
my king for thy sake, and for thy sake I slew him, and thus thou
rewardest me."

Then Canute waxed furious, and he shouted, "Guard! guard!"

Hermann rushed in; and amongst others Eric, the Earl of Northumbria.

"What, wretch! murderer! apostate blasphemer of the saints! didst thou
murder Edmund, my brother Edmund, who was dear to me as Jonathan to
David, seeing we were bound to each other by an oath! Thou didst
stretch thy hand against the Lord's anointed, and thou shalt die the

"Cut him down! cut him down, Eric! cut him down, Hermann."

Eric stepped forward in an instant, and with his huge battle-axe cleft
the unhappy traitor, who had fallen to his knees to obtain mercy, from
the head to the shoulders.

"Throw the carcase out of window," cried the furious king; "let the
fishes have the carrion. Never shall he find a grave, the vile
regicide; and that he should think I would reward his guilt! Nay, I
have served him as David did the Amalekite."

Eric and Hermann, between them, raised the corpse, and flung it, all
bleeding and disfigured, into the Thames, the tide just running out
beneath the walls.

I ought to write, "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord!" But the
awful doom of his unrepentant soul saddens me, much as he has hated me
and mine.

Lent, 1018.--

A strange discovery has been made which interests us all greatly. At
the time of Alfgar's trial at Oxford, Herstan fancied there must be a
secret staircase communicating with Edmund's room, but sought it in
vain. Now that Edric has avowed the deed, Hermann has obtained the
king's permission to make a thorough search all through the house, and
in the thickness of the huge stone chimney a secret staircase has been
found, with a door opening through the thickness of the wall and
panelling into the room in which Edmund slept, as well as another door
opening into the banqueting hall, where Sigeferth and Morcar were
murdered. It is all clear as day now. Edric must have entered the
royal chamber from the banqueting hall in the dead of the night, and
thus, when no human eye beheld, have accomplished his evil deed. Ah,
well! he could not escape the eye of Him who has said "Vengeance is
mine, I will repay."

Eastertide, 1018--

A son is born to Alfgar and Ethelgiva; and today, Low Sunday, they
presented their babe to Him who said, "Suffer little children to come
unto me." They have named him Edmund. The grandparents, both well and
happy, were present; and the proud and happy father's eyes sparkled
with joy over his little Edmund, glistening from the baptismal font.
It fell to my happy lot thus to enrol the dear child amongst the lambs
of Christ's fold. God grant him length of days here, and endless
length of days beyond the skies when time shall be no more!

. . . . . .

Here we close our extracts from Father Cuthbert's Diary; but; before
taking leave of him, we are sure our readers would like to hear a few
more words about his future fortunes, and those of the house of

Better king than Canute, saving only the great Alfred, and perhaps
Edgar, had never sat on the English throne. Under his auspices a
change became visible throughout the whole country: villages again
gladdened the blackened wastes; minsters and churches were rebuilt,
whose broad, square Saxon towers yet hand down the memory of our
ancestors. Agriculture revived; golden corn covered the bloodstained
scenes of warfare; men lived once more in peace under the shadow of
their homes, none daring to make them afraid. Peace, with its hallowed
associations, gladdened England for fifty long years {xxi}.

Anlaf was the first of the group we have introduced to our readers to
leave this transitory world for a better one. He died a few years
after the accession of Canute. Father Cuthbert survived him many
years, and died honoured and lamented in the last year of the great

His brother Elfwyn, and the lady Hilda, full of years, having outlived
the natural span of man's appointed years, followed him shortly--not
till they had seen their grandchildren, a numerous and hopeful
progeny, grow up around them, and so perpetuate their race upon earth.

And for Alfgar and Ethelgiva, they lived to see a their children's
children, and peace upon Israel, surviving until the close of the
reign of Edward the Confessor, the son of Ethelred and Emma. Their
days were days of peace, in strange contrast to their youthful years.

"Peace! and no more from out her brazen portals
The blast of war's great organ shakes the skies;
But, beautiful as songs of the immortals,
The holy harmonies of peace arise."


i Genealogy of Aescendune.

The reader may be glad to have the genealogy of the family in whom it
has been the author's aim to interest him placed clearly before him.
The following genealogical table, including the principal names in
"The First Chronicle of Aescendune," as well as those in the present
book, may suffice, the date of decease being given in each case.

Offa, 940
* Oswald, 937.
* Redwald, 959.
* Ella, 959, m. Edith.
+ Elfric, 960.
+ Alfred, 998, m. Alftrude.
o Elfric, 975.
o Elfwyn, 1086, m. Hilda.
# Bertric, 1006.
# Ethelgiva, 1064 m. Alfgar.
o Cuthbert, 1034.
o Bertha, 1050 m. Herstan.
+ Edgitha, 990.

ii Curse of Dunstan.

"In the year of our Lord's incarnation 979, Ethelred, son of Edgar and
Elfrida, obtaining the kingdom, occupied, rather than governed it, for
thirty-seven years. The career of his life is said to have been cruel
in the beginning, wretched in the middle, and disgraceful in the end.
Thus, in the murder to which he gave his concurrence he was cruel,
base in his flight and effeminacy, miserable in his death.

"The nobility being assembled by the contrivance of his mother, and
the day being appointed for Dunstan, in right of his see, to crown
him, he, though he might be ill-affected to them, forebore to resist,
being a prelate of mature age well versed in secular matters. But,
when placing the crown on his head, he could not refrain from giving
vent, with a loud voice, to that prophetic spirit which he so deeply
imbibed. 'Since,' said he, 'thou hast aspired to the kingdom by the
death of thy brother, hear the word of God. Thus saith the Lord God:
The sin of thy abandoned mother, and of the accomplices of her base
design, shall not be washed out but by much blood of the wretched
inhabitants; and such evils shall come upon the English nation as they
have never suffered from the time they came to England until then.'
Nor was it long after, that is in his third year, that seven piratical
vessels came to Southampton, a port near Winchester, and having
ravaged the coast fled back to the sea. This I think right to mention,
because many reports are circulated among the English concerning these
vessels."--William of Malmesbury, English Chronicle, Bohn's Edition,


iii See "First Chronicle of Aescendune."

iv Chronology of Father Cuthbert.

The Christian era did not come in use until about the year 532, when
it was first introduced in the code of canon law compiled by Dionysius
Exiguus, and, even then, the year of the world was still frequently
used, as in some cases in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. When at length
the Christian computation became universal, some began the year with
the Incarnation (Christmas), others with the Annunciation; a custom
not wholly abolished in England till 1752, when the "New Style," or
Gregorian Calendar, was introduced.

But in the latter part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the portion
upon which our tale is based, the year invariably opens with the
Nativity--hence this reckoning has been used in the text, and the
Christmas day in chapter 3 begins a new year.

v Now Banbury.

vi Death of St. Edmund.

There are two stories (or more) concerning the Danish invasion in
which the saintly Edmund met his death; the first, alluded to in the
song of the Etheling (chapter 11), tells how Ragnar Lodbrog, a great
sea king, invaded England, but his fleet being shattered by a storm,
fell into the hands of Ella, King of Northumbria, who threw him into a
pit full of toads and serpents, where he perished, singing his death
song to the last, and calling upon his sons to avenge his fate. Those
sons were Hinguar and Hubba. They invaded East Anglia after they had
avenged their father upon Ella, and King Edmund fought against them,
but was taken prisoner. They offered him his life and throne if he
would forsake Christianity, and reign under them. But he steadfastly
refused, whereupon they put him to death after the manner described in
the tale in the case of Bertric, while he called steadfastly upon
Christ until his latest breath.

The other tale, given at length by Roger Wendover, tells that Ragnar
Lodbrog, with only his hawk in his hand, was driven by a storm to the
coast of East Anglia, that King Edmund made him his huntsman, but the
former huntsman, Beorn, slew him through jealousy; that King Edmund
put Beorn bound in the boat which had brought Lodbrog over, and sent
him adrift to perish at sea. But the storm in turn blew him to
Denmark, where he told the sons of the man he had slain that Edmund
had murdered their father. Hence they came to avenge him. The
remainder of the tale agrees with the former narrative, and is the
only portion which certainly possesses historical truth.

St. Edmund has been much venerated in the eastern counties, and his
shrine at Edmundsbury was greatly reverenced. The tale of the death of
Sweyn, given in chapter 18, is a proof of this feeling, in which
perhaps the legend partly originated.

vii The Rista Oern.

This punishment was usual among the Northmen, and was called "at rista
oern," from the supposed resemblance of the victim to the figure of an
eagle. The operation was generally performed by the chief himself. It
is thus described by Snorre:

"Ad speciem aquilae dorsum ita ei laniabat, ut adacto ad spinam
gladio, costisque omnibus ad lumbos usque a tergo divisis, pulmones
extraheret."--Snorre, p. 108.

viii First appearance of Edmund.

The first mention of Edmund in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the
commander of the English forces is A.D. 1015, where he was joined with
Edric in the command, as related in the text, chapter 18. The date of
his birth is uncertain, but the comparison of authorities appeared to
the author to justify the ascription of the character and actions,
with which he is credited in the tale, to the English hero who first
taught his generation to assert their equality with the fierce Danish

ix The appellations Wiltshire and Berkshire are of course of later

x The early name of Abingdon.

Johnson, the compiler of the famous collection of English canons, is
of opinion that Cloveshoo, where the famous provincial council was
held A.D. 803, is identical with Abingdon, and that the town lost its
ancient name simply owing to the growing notoriety of the famous
abbey; for "no one," says he, "can doubt that the name Abingdon was
taken from the abbey." The first memorial, he adds, in which he finds
the name Abingdon, is in the Chronicle wherein the burial of Bishop
Sidesman, A.D. 977, in St. Mary's Minster, "which is at Abingdon," is
mentioned, who was honourably buried on the north side of that fane in
St. Paul's Chapel.

On the other hand, some learned antiquarians have maintained the
opposite opinion, that the name Abingdon existed even prior to the
foundation of the monastery; thus the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, in his
edition of the "Chronicle of the Abbey of Abingdon," says--"Abingdon
derives its name, not, as might at first sight be supposed, from the
abbey there founded--Abbey dune or Abbots dune: philology forbids it.
The place was so called from Abba, one of the early colonists of

xi Bishops of Dorchester.

There appears to have been much uncertainty concerning the succession
of the bishops of this important see, owing, perhaps, to the confusion
caused by its having been the seat of two totally distinct
jurisdictions--the one over Wessex, the other over great part of

The names of the bishops in the narrative are taken from a list kindly
furnished by the Rev. W. Macfarlane, the present vicar of the Abbey
Church, whose indefatigable efforts have restored to the ancient fane
much of the glory of its ancient days.

According to this list, Ednoth was bishop from 1006 to 1016, when he
was slain by the Danes as recorded in the text; and Ethelm succeeding,
ruled the see till A.D. 1034, through the comparatively happy days of

xii End of the Campaign of 1006.

The following extract from the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" gives the
further history of the campaign very concisely:

"Then went the Danes to Wallingford, and that all burned, and were
then one day in Cholsey: and they went then along Ashdown to
Cuckamsley hill, and there abode, as a daring boast; for it had been
often said, if they should reach Cuckamsley hill, that they would
never again get to the sea: then they went homewards another way. Then
were forces assembled at Kennet, and they there joined battle: and
they soon put that band to flight, and afterwards brought their booty
to the sea. But there might the Winchester men see an army daring and
fearless, as they went by their gates towards the sea, and fetched
themselves food and treasures over fifty miles from thence. Then had
the king gone over Thames into Shropshire, and there took up his abode
during the midwinter's tide. Then became the dread of the army so
great, that no man could think or discover how they could be driven
out of the land, or this land maintained against them; for they had
every shire in Wessex sadly marked by burning and by plundering. Then
the king began earnestly with the witan to consider what might seem
most advisable to them all, so that this land might be saved, before
it was utterly destroyed. Then the king and his witan decreed, for the
behoof of the whole nation, though it was hateful to them all, that
they needs must pay tribute to the Danish army. Then the king sent to
the army, and directed it to be made known to them that he would that
there should be a truce between them, and that tribute should be paid,
and food given them. And then all that they accepted, and then were
they victualled from throughout the English nation."--Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, Bohn's Edition.

xiii This is copied almost verbatim from the Anglo-Saxon

xiv The account is taken almost verbatim from Florence of

xv Children of Ethelred.

By his two wives--(1) Aelfleda--(2) Emma, Ethelred had fourteen
children, of whom only four or five have been mentioned in this
narrative, or are of importance to the student--Edmund Ironside and
his brother Edwy (chapter 25), by Aelfleda, and Alfred and Edward by
Emma--the last well known in history as Edward the Confessor, and
introduced in Chapter XIX. of this tale. The following genealogical
table from Edgar to the children of Edmund may be of use. It will be
remembered that the lineage of the present royal house passes through
the last-named son of Edmund Ironside to Egbert:

* Edward the Martyr, d. 979.
* Ethelred the Unready, d. 1016.
+ Edmund Ironside, 1016.
o Edmund.
o Edward, who became the great-grandfather of Henry the
+ Edwy.
+ Elgitha.
+ Alfred, 1036.
+ Edward the Confessor, 1066.

xvi Sceorstan.

Antiquarians differ much about the site of this famous battle. Sharp
thinks it was near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, and Thorpe, in his
notes to "Florence of Worcester," says--"May not Chimney be the spot,
a hamlet in Oxfordshire, in the parish of Bampton-in-the-Bush, near
the edge of Gloucestershire, the name of Chimney being merely a
translation, introduced after the Norman Conquest, of Sceorstan, which
may probably have owed its origin to a Saxon house or hall,
conspicuous for having a chimney when that luxury was of rare
occurrence?" Others say that Sceorstan was not in Anglo-Saxon "a
chimney," but "a graven stone," and make the site that of a boundary
stone, still separating the four counties of Oxford, Gloucester,
Worcester, and Warwick, near Chipping Norton. Bosworth says it is
Sherston in Wilts.

xvii Single Combat between Edmund and Canute.

The following account is from Roger of Wendover:

"A few days after this lamentable battle (Assingdun), in which so many
nobles fell, King Edmund pursued Canute, who was now committing
ravages in Gloucestershire. The said kings therefore came together to
fight at a place called Deerhurst, Edmund with his men being on the
west side of the river Severn, and Canute with his men on the east,
both preparing themselves manfully for battle. When both armies were
now on the point of engaging, the wicked Earl Edric called together
the chiefs and addressed them as follows: 'Nobles and warriors, why do
we foolishly so often hazard our lives in battle for our kings, when
not even our deaths secure to them the kingdom, or put an end to their
covetousness? My counsel then is, that they alone should fight who
alone are contending for the kingdom; for what must be the lust of
dominion, when England, which formerly sufficed for eight kings, is
not now enough for two? Let them, therefore, either come to terms, or
fight alone for the kingdom.' This speech pleased them all; and the
determination of the chiefs being communicated to the kings, received
their approbation. There is a small island called Olney, in the mouth
of that river. Thither the kings, clad in splendid armour, crossed
over, and commenced a single combat in the presence of the people.
Parrying the thrust of the spear as well by their own skill as by the
interposition of their strong shields, they fought long and fiercely
hand to hand, his valour protecting Edmund, and his good fortune
Canute. The swords rung on their helmets, and sparks of fire flew from
their collision. The stout heart of Edmund was kindled by the act of
fighting, and as his blood grew warm his strength augmented; he raised
his right hand, brandished his sword, and redoubled his blows on the
head of his antagonist with such vehemence, that he seemed rather to
fulminate than to strike. Feeling his strength failing him, and unable
long to endure such an onset, Canute meditated peace; but as he was
crafty, and afraid lest if the youth perceived his weakness he would
not listen to his words of peace, drawing in all his breath he rushed
on Edmund with wonderful valour, and immediately drawing back a
little, he asked him to pause awhile and give him audience. The latter
was of a courteous soul, and, resting his shield on the ground, he
listened to the words of Canute, who thus proceeded: 'Hitherto I have
coveted thy kingdom, bravest of men; but now I prefer thyself not only
to the kingdom of England, but to all the world. Denmark serves me,
Norway yields me subjection, the King of Sweden has shaken hands with
me; so that, although Fortune promises me victory everywhere, yet thy
wonderful manliness hath so won my favour, that I long beyond measure
to have thee as friend and partner of my kingdom. I would that thou in
like manner wert desirous of me; that I might reign with thee in
England, and thou walk me in Denmark.' Why should I add more? King
Edmund most graciously assented and yielded to his words, though he
could not be forced by arms. The kingdom was therefore, by Edmund's
direction, divided between the two, the crown of the whole kingdom
reverting to King Edmund. The whole of England, therefore, to the
south of the river Thames, was ceded to him, with Essex and East
Anglia, and the city of London, the capital of the kingdom, Canute
retaining the northern parts of the kingdom. Laying aside, therefore,
their splendid armour, the kings embraced each other amidst the
rejoicings of both the armies. They then exchanged their garments and
arms in token of peace, and Edmund became Canute, and Canute
Edmund."--Roger of Wendover, Bohn's Edition.

xviii The Death of Edmund.

This lamentable occurrence is involved in much mystery. Edric Streorn
was generally credited with the deed, although some writers, e.g.
William of Malmesbury, think he used the aid of attendants on the
king, whom he bribed. The Chronicle is silent as to details. Henry of
Huntingdon ascribes the deed to a son of Edric. Roger of Wendover
agrees with him, adding the facts that the place was Oxford, and the
time St. Andrew's night, as in the text. Amidst these conflicting
statements fiction perhaps most legitimately takes its place.

xix The Ordeal.

This ancient custom was observed by Simplicius, Bishop of Autun, so
early as the fourth century, and was very generally in use during the
period of our tale. Although never formally recognised by the Church
of Rome, and forbidden by many edicts on the Continent, it was
administered in England under the direction of the clergy, and its
details prescribed by the canons during a period extending from the
laws of Alfred to the directions given in the ecclesiastical laws of
Edward the Confessor, the year before the Norman Conquest, A.D. 1065.
The first prohibition of its use in England is in the third year of
Henry the Third.

There were three principal modes of its administration. In the first,
the ordeal by water, the accused had to take a heavy piece of iron
from a boiling cauldron placed in the church--in the second, to carry
a bar of heated iron nine feet. The hand or arm was bound in linen,
the bandage sealed by the priest, and on the third day the limb was
uncovered. If the burn or scald had healed the prisoner was pronounced
innocent, otherwise he had to suffer the punishment due to his

The details given in the text are chiefly taken from the Canons of
Athelstane; but the mode of purgation therein described is similar to
that by which it is said Queen Emma repelled an accusation made by
Robert, Bishop of London, in the year 1046. This mode of
administration was perhaps more frequently used when a prompt appeal
was needed to the judgment of God, or in the case of persons of rank,
were they ever, as was seldom the case, compelled to appeal to its

xx It was a subject of complaint against Canute in Denmark that he
gave away most of the bishoprics to Englishmen.

xxi Character of Canute.

The great change in Canute's character after his accession to the
throne has been noticed by all writers. Each year he seemed to grow in
self-command and in the practice of virtue, while all men were edified
by his strict attention to his religions duties. Later in life he made
a pilgrimage to Rome, and a letter written thence gives a good idea of
his general affection for his people. It is addressed to the
archbishops and bishops and great men, and to all the English people,
and is written in the familiar style a father might use to his
children, especially telling them all he had seen at Rome, and about
the way in which he spent Easter with Pope John and the Emperor, whom
he persuaded to abolish certain dues exacted from English pilgrims. In
the last portion of the letter he tells them how he has made up his
mind to amend his life in every way, and to atone for all the wrongs
committed in the violence of youth. He forbids any person to use
violence or to make the royal needs an excuse for wrongdoing, saying,
"I have no need of money gathered by unrighteousness." He concludes by
saying that he is sure they will all be glad to hear how he has fared,
and that they know he has not spared himself any trouble, and never
will, to do all that lies in his power for the good of his people.

There is something in the whole tone of the letter which warms one's
heart towards the writer, and one cannot help contrasting the reigns
of the two conquerors, Canute and William: the first, beginning with
violence and bloodshed, grew daily in justice, mercy, and the love of
God, and so passed lamented to his grave; the latter, promising at
first to govern justly, grew worse and worse in oppressive cruelty and
all sorts of wrongdoing, until the sad and hopeless death scene in the
abbey of St. Gervase. But the delineation of the latter period must be
reserved, all being well, for the "Third Chronicle of Aescendune."

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