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THE FIFTH BOOK. - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2 
The Prose Works of John Milton, With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 2.
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THE FIFTH BOOK.
The sum of things in this island, or the best part thereof, reduced now under the power of one man, and him one of the worthiest, which, as far as can be found in good authors, was by none attained at any time here before, unless in fables; men might with some reason have expected from such union peace and plenty, greatness, and the flourishing of all estates and degrees: but far the contrary fell out soon after; invasion, spoil, desolation, slaughter of many, slavery of the rest, by the forcible landing of a fierce nation; Danes commonly called, and sometimes Dacians by others, the same with Normans; as barbarous as the Saxons themselves were at first reputed, and much more: for the Saxons first invited came hither to dwell; these unsent for, unprovoked, came only to destroy.* But if the Saxons, as is above related, came most of them from Jutland and Anglen, a part of Denmark, as Danish writers affirm, and that Danes and Normans are the same; then in this invasion, Danes drove out Danes, their own posterity. And Normans afterwards none but ancienter Normans.† Which invasion perhaps, had the heptarchy stood, divided as it was, had either not been attempted, or not uneasily resisted; while each prince and people, excited by their nearest concernments, had more industriously defended their own bounds, than depending on the neglect of a deputed governor, sent ofttimes from the remote residence of a secure monarch. Though as it fell out in those troubles, the lesser kingdoms revolting from the West-Saxon yoke, and not aiding each other, too much concerned for their own safety, it came to no better pass; while severally they sought to repel the danger nigh at hand, rather than jointly to prevent it far off. But when God hath decreed servitude on a sinful nation, fitted by their own vices for no condition but servile, all estates of government are alike unable to avoid it. God hath purposed to punish our instrumental punishers, though now Christians, by other heathen, according to his divine retaliation; invasion for invasion, spoil for spoil, destruction for destruction. The Saxons were now full as wicked as the Britons were at their arrival, broken with luxury and sloth, either secular or superstitious; for laying aside the exercise of arms, and the study of all virtuous knowledge, some betook them to overworldly or vicious practice, others to religious idleness and solitude, which brought forth nothing but vain and delusive visions; easily perceived such by their commanding of things, either not belonging to the gospel, or utterly forbidden, ceremonies, relics, monasteries, masses, idols; add to these ostentation of alms, got ofttimes by rapine and oppression, or intermixed with violent and lustful deeds, sometimes prodigally bestowed as the expiation of cruelty and bloodshed. What longer suffering could there be, when religion itself grew so void of sincerity, and the greatest shows of purity were impured?
Ecbert in full height of glory, having now enjoyed his conquest seven peaceful years, his victorious army long since disbanded, and the exercise of arms perhaps laid aside; the more was found unprovided against a sudden storm of Danes from the sea, who landing in the thirty-second‡ of his reign, wasted Shepey in Kent. Ecbert the next year,§ gathering an army, for he had heard of their arrival in thirty-five ships, gave them battle by the river Carr in Dorsetshire; the event whereof was, that the Danes kept their ground, and encamped where the field was fought; two Saxon leaders, Dudda and Osmund, and two bishops, as some say, were there slain. This was the only check of fortune we read of, that Ecbert in all his time received. For the Danes returning two years after∥ with a great navy, and joining forces with the Cornish, who had entered league with them, were overthrown and put to flight. Of these invasions against Ecbert the Danish history is not silent; whether out of their own records or ours may be justly doubted: for of these times at home I find them in much uncertainty, and beholden rather to outlandish chronicles, than any records of their own. The victor Ecbert, as one who had done enough, seasonably now, after prosperous success, the next year* with glory ended his days, and was buried at Winchester.
Ethelwolf the son of Ecbert succeeded, by Malmsbury described a man of mild nature, not inclined to war, or delighted with much dominion; that therefore contented with the ancient West-Saxon bounds, he gave to Ethelstan his brother, or son, as some write, the kingdom of Kent and Essex. But the Saxon annalist,† whose authority is elder, saith plainly, that both these countries and Sussex were bequeathed to Ethelstan by Ecbert his father. The unwarlike disposition of Ethelwolf gave encouragement no doubt, and easier entrance to the Danes, who came again the next year with thirty-three ships;‡ but Wulfherd, one of the king’s chief captains, drove them back at Southampton with great slaughter; himself dying the same year, of age, as I suppose, for he seems to have been one of Ecbert’s old commanders, who was sent with Ethelwolf to subdue Kent. Ethelhelm, another of the king’s captains, with the Dorsetshire men, had at first like success against the Danes at Portsmouth; but they reinforcing stood their ground, and put the English to rout. Worse was the success of earl Herebert at a place called Mereswar, slain with the most part of his army.
The year following§ in Lindsey also, East-Angles, and Kent, much mischief was done by their landing; where the next year,∥ emboldened by success, they came on as far as Canterbury, Rochester, and London itself, with no less cruel hostility: and giving no respite to the peaceable mind of Ethelwolf, they yet returned with the next year¶ in thirty-five ships, fought with him, as before with his father at the river Carr, and made good their ground. In Northumberland, Eandred the tributary king deceasing, left the same tenure to his son Ethelred, driven out in his fourth year,** and succeeded by Readwulf, who soon after his coronation hasting forth to battle against the Danes at Alvetheli, fell with the most part of his army; and Ethelred, like in fortune to the former Ethelred, was re-exalted to his seat. And, to be yet further like him in fate, was slain the fourth year after. Osbert succeeded in his room. But more southerly, the Danes next year†† after met with some stop in the full course of their outrageous insolencies. For Earnulf with the men of Somerset, Alstan the bishop, and Osric with those of Dorsetshire, setting upon them at the river’s mouth of Pedridan, slaughtered them in great numbers, and obtained a just victory. This repulse quelled them, for aught we hear, the space of six years;‡‡ then also renewing their invasion with little better success. For Keorle an earl, aided with the forces of Devonshire, assaulted and overthrew them at Wigganbeorch with great destruction: as prosperously were they fought the same year at Sandwich, by king Ethelstan, and Ealker his general, their great army defeated, and nine of their ships taken, the rest driven off; however to ride out the winter on that shore, Asser saith, they then first wintered in Shepey isle. Hard it is, through the bad expression of these writers, to define this fight, whether by sea or land; Hoveden terms it a seafight. Nevertheles with fifty ships (Asser and others add three hundred) they entered the mouth of the Thames,§§ and made excursions as far as Canterbury and London, and as Ethelwerd writes, destroyed both; of London, Asser signifies only that they pillaged it. Bertulf also, the Mercian, successor of Withlaf, with all his army they forced to fly, and him beyond the sea. Then passing over Thames with their powers into Surrey, and the West-Saxons, and meeting there with king Ethelwolf and Ethelbald his son, at a place called Ak-Lea, or Oke-Lea, they received a total defeat with memorable slaughter. This was counted a lucky year* to England, and brought to Ethelwolf great reputation. Burhed therefore, who after Bertulf held of him the Mercian kingdom, two years after this, imploring his aid against the North-Welsh, as then troublesome to his confines, obtained it of him in person, and thereby reduced them to obedience. This done, Ethelwolf sent his son Alfred, a child of five years, well accompanied to Rome, whom Leo the pope both consecrated to be king afterwards, and adopted to be his son; at home Ealker with the forces of Kent, and Huda with those of Surrey, fell on the Danes at their landing in Tanet, and at first put them back; but the slain and drowned were at length so many on either side, as left the loss equal on both: which yet hindered not the solemnity of a marriage at the feast of Easter, between Burhed the Mercian, and Ethelswida king Ethelwolf’s daughter. Howbeit the Danes next year† wintered again in Shepey. Whom Ethelwolf, not finding human health sufficient to resist, growing daily upon him, in hope of Divine aid, registered in a book, and dedicated to God the tenth part of his own lands, and of his whole kingdom, eased of all impositions, but converted to the maintenance of masses and psalms weekly to be sung for the prospering of Ethelwolf and his captains, as it appears at large by the patent itself, in William of Malmsbury. Asser saith, he did it for the redemption of his soul, and the souls of his ancestors. After which, as having done some great matter to show himself at Rome, and be applauded of the pope; he takes a long and cumbersome journey thither with young Alfred again,‡ and there stays a year, when his place required him rather here in the field against pagan enemies left wintering in his land. Yet so much manhood he had, as to return thence no monk; and in his way home took to wife Judith daughter to Charles the Bald, king of France.§
But ere his return, Ethelbald his eldest son, Alstan his trusty bishop, and Enulf earl of Somerset conspired against him: their complaints were, that he had taken with him Alfred his youngest son to be there inaugurated king, and brought home with him an outlandish wife; for which they endeavoured to deprive him of his kingdom. The disturbance was expected to bring forth nothing less than war: but the king abhorring civil discord, after many conferences tending to peace, condescended to divide the kingdom with his son: division was made, but the matter so carried, that the eastern and worst part was malignly afforded to the father; the western and best given to the son: at which many of the nobles had great indignation, offering to the king their utmost assistance for the recovery of all; whom he peacefully dissuading, sat down contented with his portion assigned. In the East-Angles, Edmund lineal from the ancient stock of those kings, a youth of fourteen years only, but of great hopes, was with consent of all but his own crowned at Bury. About this time, as Buchanan relates,∥ the Picts, who not long before had by the Scots been driven out of their country, part of them coming to Osbert and Ella, then kings of Northumberland, obtained aid against Donaldus the Scottish king, to recover their ancient possession. Osbert, who in person undertook the expedition, marching into Scotland, was at first put to a retreat; but returning soon after on the Scots, oversecure of their supposed victory, put them to flight with great slaughter, took prisoner their king, and pursued his victory beyond Stirling bridge. The Scots unable to resist longer, and by embassadors entreating peace, had it granted them on these conditions: the Scots were to quit all they had possessed within the wall of Severus: the limits of Scotland were beneath Stirling bridge to be the river Forth, and on the other side, Dunbritton Frith; from that time so called of the British then seated in Cumberland, who had joined with Osbert in this action, and so far extended on that side the British limits. If this be true, as the Scots writers themselves witness, (and who would think them fabulous to the disparagement of their own country?) how much wanting have been our historians to their country’s honour, in letting pass unmentioned an exploit so memorable, by them remembered and attested, who are want oftener to extenuate than to amplify aught done in Scotland by the English; Donaldus, on these conditions released, soon after dies, according to Buchanan, in 858. Ethelwolf, chief king in England, had the year before ended his life, and was buried as his father at Winchester.* He was from his youth much addicted to devotion; so that in his father’s time he was ordained bishop of Winchester; and unwillingly, for want of other legitimate issue, succeeded him in the throne; managing therefore his greatest affairs by the activity of two bishops, Alstan of Sherburne, and Swithine of Winchester. But Alstan is noted of covetousness and oppression, by William of Malmsbury;† the more vehemently no doubt for doing some notable damage to that monastery. The same author writes,‡ that Ethelwolf at Rome paid a tribute to the pope, continued to his days. However he were facile to his son, and seditious nobles, in yielding up part of his kingdom, yet his queen he treated not the less honourably, for whomsoever it displeased. The West-Saxons had decreed§ ever since the time of Eadburga, the infamous wife of Birthric, that no queen should sit in state with the king, or be dignified with the title of queen. But Ethelwolf permitted not that Judith his queen should lose any point of regal state by that law. At his death he divided the kingdom between his two sons, Ethelbald and Ethelbert; to the younger Kent, Essex, Surrey, Sussex, to the elder all the rest; to Peter and Paul certain revenues yearly, for what uses let others relate, who write also his pedigree, from son to father, up to Adam.
ETHELBALD AND ETHELBERT.
Ethelbald, unnatural and disloyal to his father,∥ fell justly into another, though contrary sin, of too much love for his father’s wife; and whom at first he opposed coming into the land, her now unlawfully marrying, he takes into his bed; but not long enjoying died at three years end,¶ without doing aught more worthy to be remembered; having reigned two years with his father, impiously usurping, and three after him, as unworthily inheriting. And his hap was all that while to be unmolested with the Danes; not of divine favour doubtless, but to his greater condemnation, living the more securely his incestuous life. Huntingdon on the other side much praises Ethalbald, and writes him buried at Sherburn, with great sorrow of the people, who missed him long after. Mat. Westm. saith, that he repented of his incest with Judith, and dismissed her: but Asser, an eyewitness of those times, mentions no such thing.
Ethelwald by death removed, the whole kingdom came rightly to Ethelbert his next brother. Who, though a prince of great virtue and no blame, had as short a reign allotted him as his faulty brother, nor that so peaceful; once or twice invaded by the Danes. But they having landed in the west with a great army, and sacked Winchester, were met by Osric earl of Southampton, and Ethelwolf of Berkshire, beaten to their ships, and forced to leave their booty. Five years after,* about the time of his death, they set foot again in Tanet; the Kentishmen, wearied out with so frequent alarms, came to agreement with them for a certain sum of money; but ere the peace could be ratified, and the money gathered, the Danes, impatient of delay, by a sudden eruption in the night soon wasted all the East of Kent. Meanwhile, or something before, Ethelbert deceasing was buried as his brother at Sherburn.
Ethelred, the third son of Ethelwolf, at his first coming to the crown was entertained with a fresh invasion of the Danes,† led by Hinguar and Hubba, two brothers, who now had got footing among the East-Angles; there they wintered, and coming to terms of peace with the inhabitants, furnished themselves of horses, forming by that means many troops with riders of their own: these pagans, Asser saith, came from the river Danubius. Fitted thus for a long expedition, they ventured the next year‡ to make their way over land and over Humber as far as York: them they found to their hands embroiled in civil dissensions; their king Osbert they had thrown out, and Ella leader of another faction chosen in his room; who both, though late, admonished by their common danger, towards the year’s end with united powers made head against the Danes and prevailed; but pursuing them overeagerly into York, then but slenderly walled,§ the Northumbrians were every where slaughtered, both within and without; their kings also both slain, their city burnt, saith Malmsbury, the rest as they could made their peace, overrun and vanquished as far as the river Tine, and Egbert of English race appointed king over them. Brompton, no ancient author, (for he wrote since Mat. West.) nor of much credit, writes a particular cause of the Danes coming to York; that Bruern a nobleman, whose wife king Osbert had ravished, called in Hinguar and Hubba to revenge him. The example is remarkable, if the truth were as evident. Thence victorious, the Danes next year∥ entered into Mercia towards Nottingham, where they spent the winter. Burhed then king of that country, unable to resist, implores the aid of Ethelred and young Alfred his brother; they assembling their forces and joining with the Mercians about Nottingham, offer battle:¶ the Danes, not daring to come forth, kept themselves within that town and castle, so that no great fight was hazarded there; at length the Mercians, weary of long suspense, entered into conditions of peace with their enemies. After which the Danes, returning back to York, made their abode there the space of one year,** committing, some say, many cruelties. Thence embarking to Lindsey, and all the summer destroying that country, about September* they came with like fury into Kesteven, another part of Lincolnshire; where Algar, the earl of Howland, now Holland, with his forces, and two hundred stout soldiers belonging to the abbey of Croiland, three hundred from about Boston, Morcard lord of Brunne, with his numerous family, well trained and armed, Osgot governor of Lincoln with five hundred of that city, all joining together, gave battle to the Danes, slew of them a great multitude, with three of their kings, and pursued the rest to their tents; but the night following, Gothrun, Baseg, Osketil, Halfden, and Hamond, five kings, and as many earls, Frena, Hinguar, Hubba, Sidroc the elder and younger, coming in from several parts with great forces and spoils, great part of the English began to slink home. Nevertheless Algar with such as forsook him not, all next day in order of battle facing the Danes, and sustaining unmoved the brunt of their assaults, could not withhold his men at last from pursuing their counterfeited flight: whereby opened and disordered, they fell into the snare of their enemies, rushing back upon them. Algar and those captains forenamed with him, all resolute men, retreating to a hill side, and slaying of such as followed them, manifold their own number, died at length upon heaps of dead which they had made round about them. The Danes, thence passing on into the country of East-Angles, rifled and burnt the monastery of Ely, overthrew earl Wulketul with his whole army, and lodged out the winter at Thetford; where king Edmond assailing them was with his whole army put to flight, himself taken, bound to a stake, and shot to death with arrows, his whole country subdued. The next year† with great supplies, saith Huntingdon, bending their march toward the West-Saxons, the only people now left in whom might seem yet to remain strength or courage likely to oppose them, they came to Reading, fortified there between the two rivers of Thames and Kenet, and about three days after sent out wings of horse under two earls to forage the country;‡ but Ethelwolf earl of Berkshire, at Englefield a village nigh, encountered them, slew one of their earls, and obtained a great victory. Four days after came the king himself and his brother Alfred with a main battle; and the Danes issuing forth, a bloody fight began, on either side great slaughter, in which earl Ethelwolf lost his life; but the Danes, losing no ground, kept their place of standing to the end. Neither did the English for this make less haste to another conflict at Escesdune or Ashdown, four days after, where both armies with their whole force on either side met. The Danes were embattled in two great bodies, the one led by Bascai and Halfden, their two kings, the other by such earls as were appointed; in like manner the English divided their powers, Ethelred the king stood against their kings; and though on the lower ground, and coming later into the battle from his orisons, gave a fierce onset, wherein Bascai (the Danish history names him Ivarus the son of Regnerus) was slain. Alfred was placed against the earls, and beginning the battle ere his brother came into the field, with such resolution charged them, that in the shock most of them were slain; they are named Sidroc elder and younger, Osbern, Frean, Harald: at length in both divisions the Danes turn their backs; many thousands of them cut off, the rest pursued till night. So much the more it may be wondered to hear next in the annals, that the Danes, fourteen days after such an overthrow fighting again with Ethelred and his brother Alfred at Basing, (under conduct, saith the Danish history, of Agnerus and Hubbo, brothers of the slain Ivarus,) should obtain the victory; especially since the new supply of Danes mentioned by Asser* arrived after this action. But after two months, the king and his brother fought with them again at Mertun, in two squadrons as before, in which fight hard it is to understand who had the better; so darkly do the Saxon annals deliver their meaning with more than wonted infancy. Yet these I take (for Asser is here silent) to be the chief fountain of our story, the ground and basis upon which the monks later in time gloss and comment at their pleasure. Nevertheless it appears, that on the Saxon part, not Heamund the bishop only, but many valiant men lost their lives. This fight† was followed by a heavy summer plague; whereof, as is thought, king Ethelred died in the fifth year of his reign, and was buried at Winburn, where his epitaph inscribes that he had his death’s wound by the Danes, according to the Danish history 872. Of all these terrible landings and devestations by the Danes, from the days of Ethelwolf till their two last battles with Ethelred, or of their leaders, whether kings, dukes, or earls, the Danish history of best credit saith nothing; so little wit or conscience it seems they had to leave any memory of their brutish rather than manly actions; unless we shall suppose them to have come, as above was cited out of Asser, from Danubius, rather than from Denmark, more probably some barbarous nation of Prussia, or Livonia, not long before seated more northward on the Baltic sea.
Alfred, the fourth son of Ethelwolf, had scarce performed his brother’s obsequies, and the solemnity of his own crowning, when at the month’s end in haste with a small power he encountered the whole army of Danes at Wilton, and most part of the day foiled them; but unwarily following the chase, gave others of them the advantage to rally; who returning upon him now weary, remained masters of the field. This year, as is affirmed in the annals, nine battles had been fought against the Danes on the south side of Thames, besides innumerable excursions made by Alfred and other leaders; one king, nine earls were fallen in fight, so that weary on both sides at the year’s end, league or truce was concluded. Yet next year‡ the Danes took their march to London, now exposed to their prey; there they wintered, and thither came the Mercians to renew peace with them. The year following, they roved back to the parts beyond Humber, but wintered at Torksey in Lincolnshire, where the Mercians now the third time made peace with them. Notwithstanding which, removing their camp to Rependune in Mercia,§ now Repton upon Trent in Derbyshire, and there wintering, they constrained Burhed the king to fly into foreign parts, making seizure of his kingdom; he running the direct way to Rome,∥ (with better reason than his ancestors,) died there, and was buried in a church by the English school. His kingdom the Danes farmed out to Kelwulf, one of his household servants or officers, with condition to be resigned them when they commanded. From Rependune they dislodged,¶ Hafden their king leading part of his army northward, wintered by the river Tine, and subjecting all those quarters, wasted also the Picts and British beyond: but Guthrun, Oskitell, and Anwynd, other three of their kings, moving from Rependune, came with a great army to Grantbrig, and remained there a whole year. But Alfred that summer proposing to try his fortune with a fleet at sea, (for he had found that the want of shipping and neglect of navigation had exposed the land to these piracies, met with seven Danish rovers, took one, the rest escaping; an acceptable success from so small a beginning, for the English at that time were but little experienced in sea-affairs. The next* year’s first motion of the Danes was towards Warham castle, where Alfred meeting them, either by policy, or their doubt of his power, Ethelwerd saith, by money brought them to such terms of peace, as that they swore to him upon a hallowed bracelet, others say upon certain† relics, (a solemn oath it seems, which they never vouchsafed before to any other nation,) forthwith to depart the land: but falsifying that oath, by night with all the horse they had (Asser saith,‡ slaying all the horsemen he had) stole to Exeter, and there wintered. In Northumberland, Hafden their king began to settle, to divide the land, to till, and to inhabit. Meanwhile they in the west, who were marched to Exeter, entered the city, coursing now and then to Warham; but their fleet the next year,§ sailing or rowing about the west, met with such a tempest near to Swanswich or Gnavewic, as wrecked one hundred and twenty of their ships, and left the rest easy to be mastered by those galleys, which Alfred had set there to guard the seas, and straiten Exeter of provision. He the while beleaguering them in the city,∥ now humbled with the loss of their navy, (two navies, saith Asser, the one at Gnavewic, the other at Swanwine,) distressed them so, as that they give him as many hostages as he required, and as many oaths, to keep their covenanted peace, and kept it. For the summer coming on, they departed into Mercia, whereof part they divided among themselves, part left to Kelwulf their substituted king. The twelfthtide following,¶ all oaths forgotten, they came to Chippenham in Wiltshire, dispeopling the countries round, dispossessing some, driving others beyond the sea; Alfred himself with a small company was forced to keep within woods and fenny places, and for some time all alone, as Florent saith, sojourned with Dunwulf a swineherd, made afterwards for his devotion and aptness to learning, bishop of Winchester. Hafden and the brother of Hinguar,** coming with twenty-three ships from North Wales, where they had made great spoil, landed in Devonshire, nigh to a strong castle named Kinwith; where, by the garrison issuing forth unexpectedly, they were slain with twelve hundred of their men.††
Meanwhile the king about Easter, not despairing of his affairs, built a fortress at a place called Athelney in Somersetshire, therein valiantly defending himself and his followers, frequently sallying forth. The seventh week after he rode out to a place called Ecbryt-stone in the east part of Selwood: thither resorted to him with much gratulation the Somerset and Wiltshire men, with many out of Hampshire, some of whom a little before had fled their country; with these marching to Ethandune, now Edindon in Wiltshire, he gave battle to the whole Danish power, and put them to flight.‡‡ Then besieging their castle, within fourteen days took it. Malmsbury writes, that in this time of his recess, to go a spy into the Danish camp, he took upon him with one servant the habit of a fiddler; by this means gaining access to the king’s table, and sometimes to his bed chamber, got knowledge of their secrets, their careless encamping, and thereby this opportunity of assailing them on a sudden. The Danes, by this misfortune broken, gave him more hostages, and renewed their oaths to depart out of his kingdom. Their king Gytro or Gothrun offered willingly to receive baptism,§§ and accordingly came with thirty of his friends to a place called Aldra or Aulre, near to Athelney, and were baptized at Wedmore; where Alfred received him out of the font, and named him Athelstan. After which they abode with him twelve days, and were dismissed with rich presents. Whereupon the Danes removed next year* to Cirencester, thence peaceably to the East-Angles; which Alfred, as some write, had bestowed on Gothrun to hold of him; the bounds whereof may be read among the laws of Alfred. Others of them went to Fulham on the Thames, and joining there with a great fleet newly come into the river, thence passed over into France and Flanders, both which they entered so far conquering or wasting, as witnessed sufficiently, that the French and Flemish were no more able than the English, by policy or prowess, to keep off that Danish inundation from their land.† Alfred thus rid of them, and intending for the future to prevent their landing; three years after (quiet the mean while) with more ships and better provided puts to sea, and at first met with four of theirs, whereof two he took, throwing the men overboard, then with two others, wherein two were of their princes, and took them also, but not without loss of his own.‡ After three years, another fleet of them appeared on these seas, so huge that one part of them thought themselves sufficient to enter upon East-France, the other came to Rochester, and beleaguered it; they within stoutly defending themselves, till Alfred with great forces, coming down upon the Danes, drove them to their ships, leaving for haste all their horses behind them.§ The same year Alfred sent a fleet toward the East-Angles, then inhabited by the Danes, which, at the mouth of Stour, meeting with sixteen Danish ships, after some fight took them all, and slew all the soldiers on board; but in their way home lying careless, were overtaken by another part of that fleet, and came off with loss: whereupon perhaps those Danes, who were settled among the East-Angles, erected with new hopes, violated the peace which they had sworn to Alfred,∥ who spent the next year in repairing London (besieging, saith Huntingdon) much ruined and unpeopled by the Danes; the Londoners, all but those who had been led away captive,¶ soon returned to their dwellings, and Ethred, duke of Mercia, was by the king appointed their governor. But after thirteen years respite of peace,** another Danish fleet of two hundred and fifty sail, from the east part of France, arrived at the mouth of a river in East-Kent, called Limen, nigh to the great wood Andred, famous for length and breath; into that wood they drew up their ships four miles from the river’s mouth, and built a fortress. After whom Haesten, with another Danish fleet of eighty ships, entering the mouth of Thames, built a fort at Middleton, the former army remaining at a place called Apeltre. Alfred, perceiving this, took of those Danes who dwelt in Northumberland a new oath of fidelity, and of those in Essex hostages, lest they should join, as they were wont, with their countrymen newly arrived.†† And by the next year having got together his forces, between either army of the Danes, encamped so as to be ready for either of them, who first should happen to stir forth; troops of horse also he sent continually abroad, assisted by such as could be spared from strong places, wherever the countries wanted them, to encounter foraging parties of the enemy. The king also divided sometimes his whole army, marching out with one part by turns, the other keeping intrenched. In conclusion rolling up and down, both sides met at Farnham in Surrey; where the Danes by Alfred’s horse troops were put to flight, and crossing the Thames to a certain island near Coln in Essex, or as Camden thinks by Colebrook, were besieged there by Alfred till provision failed the besiegers, another part staid behind with their king wounded.
Meanwhile Alfred preparing to reinforce the siege of Colney, the Danes of Northumberland, breaking faith, came by sea to the East-Angles, and with a hundred ships coasting southward, landed in Devonshire, and besieged Exeter; thither Alfred hastened with his powers, except a squadron of Welsh that came to London; with whom the citizens marching forth to Beamflet, where Haesten the Dane had built a strong fort, and left a garrison, while he himself with the main of his army was entered far into the country, luckily surprise the fort, master the garrison, make prey of all they find there; their ships also they burnt or brought away with good booty, and many prisoners, among whom the wife and two sons of Haeston were sent to the king, who forthwith set them at liberty. Whereupon Haeston gave oath of amity and hostages to the king; he in requital, whether freely or by agreement, a sum of money. Nevertheless, without regard of faith given, while Alfred was busied about Exeter, joining with the other Danish army, he built another castle in Essex at Shoberie, thence marching westward by the Thames, aided with the Northumbrian and East-Anglish Danes, they came at length to Severn, pillaging all in their way. But Ethred, Ethelm, and Ethelnoth, the king’s captains, with united forces, pitched nigh to them at Buttington, on the Severn bank in Montgomeryshire,* the river running between, and there many weeks attended; the king meanwhile blocking up the Danes who besieged Exeter, having eaten part of their horses, the rest urged with hunger, broke forth to their fellows, who lay encamped on the east side of the river, and were all there discomfited with some loss of valiant men on the king’s party; the rest fled back to Essex, and their fortress there. Then Laf, one of their leaders, gathered before winter a great army of Northumbrian and East-Anglish Danes, who leaving their money, ships, and wives with the East-Angles, and marching day and night, sat down before a city in the west called Wirheal, near to Chester, and took it ere they could be overtaken. The English after two days’ siege, hopeless to dislodge them, wasted the country round to cut off from them all provision, and departed.
Soon after which,† next year, the Danes no longer able to hold Wirheal, destitute of victuals, entered North Wales; thence laden with spoils, part returned into Northumberland, others to the East-Angles as far as Essex, where they seized on a small island called Meresig. And here again the annals record them to besiege Exeter, but without coherence of sense or story. Others relate to this purpose,‡ that returning by sea from the siege of Exeter, and in their way landing on the coast of Sussex, they of Chichester, sallied out and slew of them many hundreds, taking also some of their ships. The same year, they who possessed Meresig, intending to winter thereabout, drew up their ships, some into the Thames, others into the river Lee, and on the bank thereof built a castle twenty miles from London; to assault which, the Londoners aided with other forces marched out the summer following, but were soon put to flight, losing four of the king’s captains. Huntingdon writes§ quite the contrary, that these four were Danish captains, and the overthrow theirs: but little credit is to be placed in Huntingdon single. For the king thereupon with his forces lay encamped nearer the city, that the Danes might not infest them in time of harvest; in the mean time, subtilely devising to turn Lee stream several ways, whereby the Danish bottoms were left on dry ground: which they soon perceiving, marched over land to Quatbrig on the Severn, built a fortress, and wintered there; while their ships left in Lee were either broken or brought away by the Londoners; but their wives and children they had left in safety with the East-Angles. The next year was pestilent,* and besides the common sort, took away many great earls, Kelmond in Kent, Brithulf in Essex, Wulfred in Hampshire, with many others; and to this evil the Danes in Northumberland and East-Angles ceased not to endamage the West Saxons, especially by stealth, robbing on the south shore in certain long galleys. But the king causing to be built others twice as long as usually were built, and some of sixty or seventy oars higher, swifter and steadier than such as were in use before either with Danes or Frisons, his own invention, some of these he sent out against six Danish pirates, who had done much harm in the Isle of Wight, and parts adjoining. The bickering was doubtful and intricate, part on the water, part on the sands; not without loss of some eminent men on the English side. The pirates at length were either slain or taken, two of them stranded; the men brought to Winchester, where the king then was, were executed by his command; one of them escaped to the East-Angles, her men much wounded: the same year not fewer than twenty of their ships perished on the south coast with all their men. And Rollo the Dane or Norman landing here, as Mat. West. writes, though not in what part of the island, after an unsuccessful fight against those forces which first opposed him, sailed into France and conquered the country, since that time called Normandy. This is the sum of what passed in three years against the Danes, returning out of France, set down so perplexly by the Saxon annalist, ill-gifted with utterance, as with much ado can be understood sometimes what is spoken, whether meant of the Danes, or of the Saxons.
After which troublesome time, Alfred enjoying three years of peace, by him spent, as his manner was, not idly or voluptuously, but in all virtuous employments, both of mind and body, becoming a prince of his renown, ended his days in the year nine hundred,† the fifty-first of his age, the thirtieth of his reign, and was buried regally at Winchester: he was born at a place called Wanading in Berkshire, his mother Osburga, the daughter of Oslac the king’s cupbearer, a Goth by nation, and of noble descent. He was of person comelier than all his brethren, of pleasing tongue and graceful behaviour, ready wit and memory; yet through the fondness of his parents towards him, had not been taught to read till the twelfth year of his age; but the great desire of learning, which was in him, soon appeared by his conning of Saxon poems day and night, which with great attention he heard by others repeated. He was besides excellent at hunting, and the new art then of hawking, but more exemplary in devotion, having collected into a book certain prayers and psalms, which he carried ever with him in his bosom to use on all occasions. He thirsted after all liberal knowledge, and oft complained, that in his youth he had no teachers, in his middle age so little vacancy from wars and the cares of his kingdom; yet leisure he found sometimes, not only to learn much himself, but to communicate thereof what he could to his people, by translating books out of Latin into English, Orosius, Boethius, Beda’s history and others; permitted none unlearned to bear office, either in court or commonwealth. At twenty years of age, not yet reigning, he took to wife Egelswitha the daughter of Ethelred a Mercian earl. The extremities which befell him in the sixth of his reign, Neothan abbot told him, were justly come upon him for neglecting in his younger days the complaint of such as injured and oppressed, repaired to him, as then second person in the kingdom, for redress; which neglect, were it such indeed, were yet excusable in a youth, through jollity of mind unwilling perhaps to be detailed long with sad and sorrowful narrations; but from the time of his undertaking regal charge, no man more patient in hearing causes, more inquisitive in examining, more exact in doing justice, and providing good laws, which are yet extant; more severe in punishing unjust judges or obstinate offenders. Thieves especially and robbers, to the terror of whom in cross-ways were hung upon a high post, certain chains of gold, as it were daring any one to take them thence; so that justice seemed in his days not to flourish only, but to triumph: no man than he more frugal of two precious things in man’s life, his time and his revenue; no man wiser in the disposal of both. His time, the day and night, he distributed by the burning of certain tapers into three equal portions; the one was for devotion, the other for public or private affairs, the third for bodily refreshment; how each hour passed, he was put in mind by one who had that office. His whole annual revenue, which his first care was should be justly his own, he divided into two equal parts; the first he employed to secular uses, and subdivided those into three, the first to pay his soldiers, household servants and guard, of which divided into three bands, one attended monthly by turns; the second was to pay his architects and workmen, whom he had got together of several nations; for he was also an elegant builder, above the custom and conceit of Englishmen in those days: the third he had in readiness to relieve or honour strangers according to their worth, who came from all parts to see him, and to live under him. The other equal part of his yearly wealth he dedicated to religious uses, those of four sorts; the first to relieve the poor, the second to the building and maintenance of two monasteries, the third of a school, where he had persuaded the sons of many noblemen to study sacred knowledge and liberal arts, some say at Oxford;* the fourth was for the relief of foreign churches, as far as India to the shrine of St. Thomas, sending thither Sigelm bishop of Sherburn, who both returned safe, and brought with him many rich gems and spices; gifts also and a letter he received from the patriarch at Jerusalem; sent many to Rome, and from them received relics. Thus far, and much more might be said of his noble mind, which rendered him the mirror of princes; his body was diseased in his youth with a great soreness in the siege, and that ceasing of itself, with another inward pain of unknown cause, which held him by frequent fits to his dying day: yet not disenabled to sustain those many glorious labours of his life both in peace and war.
EDWARD THE ELDER.
Edward the son of Alfred succeeded,† in learning not equal, in power and extent of dominion surpassing his father. The beginning of his reign had much disturbance by Ethelwald an ambitious young man,‡ son of the king’s uncle, or cousin german, or brother, for his genealogy is variously delivered. He vainly avouching to have equal right with Edward of succession to the crown, possessed himself of Winburn in Dorset,§ and another town diversely named, giving out that there he would live or die; but encompassed with the king’s forces at Badbury a place nigh, his heart failing him, he stole out by night, and fled to the Danish army beyond Humber. The king sent after him, but not overtaking, found his wife in the town, whom he had married out of a nunnery, and commanded her to be sent back thither. About this time,* the Kentish men against a multitude of Danish pirates fought prosperously at a place called Holme, as Hoveden records. Ethelwald, aided by the Northumbrians with shipping, three years after,† sailing to the East-Angles, persuaded the Danes there to fall into the king’s territory, who marching with him as far as Crecklad, and passing the Thames there, wasted as far beyond as they durst venture, and laden with spoils returned home. The king with his powers making speed after them, between the Dike and Ouse, supposed to be Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, as far as the fens northward, laid waste all before him. Thence intending to return, he commanded that all his army should follow him close without delay; but the Kentish men, though often called upon, lagging behind, the Danish army prevented them, and joined battle with the king. where duke Sigulf and earl Sigelm, with many other of the nobles were slain; on the Danes’ part, Eoric their king, and Ethelwald the author of this war, with others of high note, and of them greater number, but with great ruin on both sides; yet the Danes kept in their power the burying of their slain. Whatever followed upon this conflict, which we read not, the king two years after with the Danes,‡ both of East-Angles and Northumberland, concluded peace, which continued three years, by whomsoever broken: for at the end thereof§ king Edward, raising great forces out of West-Sex and Mercia, sent them against the Danes beyond Humber; where staying five weeks, they made great spoil and slaughter. The king offered them terms of peace, but they rejecting all entered with the next year into Mercia,∥ rendering no less hostility than they had suffered; but at Tetnal in Staffordshire, saith Florent, were by the English in a set battle overthrown. King Edward, then in Kent, had got together of ships about a hundred sail, others gone southward came back and met him. The Danes, now supposing that his main forces were upon the sea, took liberty to rove and plunder up and down, as hope of prey led them, beyond Severn. The king¶ guessing what might embolden them, sent before him the lightest of his army to entertain them; then following with the rest, set upon them in their return over Cantbrig in Gloucestershire, and slew many thousands, among whom Ecwils, Hafden, and Hinguar their kings, and many other harsh names in Huntingdon; the place also of this fight is variously written, by Ethelwerd and Florent called Wodensfield.
The year following,** Ethred the duke of Mercia, to whom Alfred had given London, with his daughter in marriage, now dying, King Edward resumed that city, and Oxford, with the counties adjoining, into his own hands; and the year after†† built, or much repaired by his soldiers, the town of Hertford on either side Lee; and having a sufficient number at the work, marched about middle summer with the other part of his forces into Essex, and encamped at Maldon, while his soldiers built Witham; where a good part of the country, subject formerly to the Danes, yielded themselves to his protection. Four years after‡‡ (Florent allows but one year) the Danes from Leicester and Northampton, falling into Oxfordshire, committed much rapine, and in some towns thereof great slaughter; while another party wasting Hertfordshire, met with other fortune; for the country people, inured now to such kind of incursions, joining stoutly together, fell upon the spoilers, and recovered their own goods, with some booty from their enemies. About the same time Elfled the king’s sister sent her army of Mercians into Wales, who routed the Welsh,* took the castle of Bricnan-mere by Brecknock, and brought away the king’s wife of that country, with other prisoners. Not long after she took Derby from the Danes, and the castle by a sharp assault. But the year ensuing† brought a new fleet of Danes to Lidwic in Devonshire, under two leaders, Otter and Roald; who sailing thence westward about the land’s end, came up to the mouth of Severn; there landing wasted the Welsh coast, and Irchenfield part of Herefordshire; where they took Kuneleac a British bishop, for whose ransom King Edward gave forty pound: but the men of Hereford and Gloucestershire assembling put them to flight; slaying Rayold and the brother of Otter, with many more, pursued them to a wood, and there beset compelled them to give hostages of present departure. The king with his army sat not far off, securing from the south of Severn to Avon; so that openly they durst not, by night they twice ventured to land; but found such welcome that few of them came back; the rest anchored by a small island, where many of them famished; then sailing to a place called Deomed, they crossed into Ireland. The king with his army went to Buckingham, staid there a month, and built two castles or forts on either bank of Ouse ere his departing; and Turkitel a Danish leader, with those of Bedford and Northampton, yielded him subjection. Whereupon the next year,‡ he came with his army to the town of Bedford, took possession thereof, staid there a month, and gave order to build another part of the town, on the south side of Ouse. Thence the year following§ went again to Maldon, repaired and fortified the town. Turkitel the Dane having small hope to thrive here, where things with such prudence were managed against his interest, got leave of the king, with as many voluntaries as would follow him, to pass into France. Early the next year∥ king Edward re-edified Tovechester now Torchester; and another city in the annals called Wigingmere. Meanwhile the Danes in Leicester and Northamptonshire, not liking perhaps to be neighboured with strong towns, laid siege to Torchester; but they within repelling the assault one whole day till supplies came, quitted the siege by night; and pursued close by the besieged, between Birnwud and Ailsbury were surprised, many of them made prisoners, and much of their baggage lost. Other of the Danes at Huntingdon, aided from the East-Angles, finding that castle not commodious, left it, and built another at Temsford, judging that place more opportune from whence to make their excursions; and soon after went forth with design to assail Bedford: but the garrison issuing out slew a great part of them, the rest fled. After this a greater army of them, gathered out of Mercia and the East-Angles, came and besieged the city called Wigingmere a whole day; but finding it defended stoutly by them within, thence also departed, driving away much of their cattle: whereupon the English, from towns and cities round about joining forces, laid siege to the town and castle of Temsford, and by assault took both; slew their king with Toglea a duke, and Mannan his son an earl, with all the rest there found; who chose to die rather than yield. Encouraged by this, the men of Kent, Surrey, and part of Essex, enterprise the siege of Colchester, nor gave over till they won it, sacking the town and putting to sword all the Danes therein, except some who escaped over the wall. To the succour of these a great number of Danes inhabiting ports and other towns in the East-Angles united their force; but coming too late, as in revenge beleaguered Maldon: but that town also timely relieved, they departed, not only frustrate of their design, but so hotly pursused, that many thousands of them lost their lives in the flight. Forthwith King Edward with his West-Saxons went to Passham upon Ouse, there to guard the passage, while others were building a stone wall about Torchester; to him their earl Thurfert, and other lord Danes, with their army thereabout, as far as Weolud, came and submitted. Whereat the king’s soldiers joyfully cried out to be dismissed home: therefore with another part of them he entered Huntingdon, and repaired it, where breaches had been made; all the people thereabout returning to obedience. The like was done at Colchester by the next remove of his army; after which both East and West-Angles, and the Danish forces among them, yielded to the king, swearing allegiance to him both by sea and land: the army also of Danes at Grantbrig, surrendering themselves, took the same oath. The summer following* he came with his army to Stamford, built a castle there on the south side of the river, where all the people of these quarters acknowledged him supreme. During his abode there, Elfled his sister, a martial woman, who after her husband’s death would no more marry, but gave herself to public affairs, repairing and fortifying many towns, warring sometimes, died at Tamworth the chief seat of Mercia, whereof by gift of Alfred her father she was lady or queen; whereby that whole nation became obedient to King Edward, as did also North Wales, with Howel, Cledaucus, and Jeothwell, their kings. Thence passing to Nottingham, he entered and repaired the town, placed there part English, part Danes, and received fealty from all in Mercia of either nation. The next autumn,† coming with his army into Cheshire, he built and fortified Thelwell; and while he staid there, called another army out of Mercia, which he sent to repair and fortify Manchester. About midsummer following‡ he marched again to Nottingham, built a town over against it on the south side of that river, and with a bridge joined them both; thence journeyed to a place called Bedecanwillin in Pictland; there also built and fenced a city on the borders, where the king of Scots did him honour as to his sovereign, together with the whole Scottish nation; the like did Reginald and the son of Eadulf, Danish princes, with all the Northumbrians, both English and Danes. The King also of a people thereabout called Streatgledwalli (the North-Welsh, as Camden thinks, of Strat-Cluid in Denbighshire, perhaps rather the British of Cumberland) did him homage, and not undeserved. For, Buchanan himself confesses,§ that this king Edward, with a small number of men compared to his enemies, overthrew in a great battle the whole united power both of Scots and Danes, slew most of the Scottish nobility, and forced Malcolm, whom Constantine the Scotch king had made general, and designed heir of his crown, to save himself by flight sore wounded. Of the English he makes Athelstan the son of Edward chief leader; and so far seems to confound times and actions, as to make this battle the same with that fought by Athelstan about twenty-four years after at Bruneford, against Anlaf and Constantine, whereof hereafter. But here Buchanan∥ takes occasion to inveigh against the English writers, upbraiding them with ignorance, who affirm Athelstan to have been supreme king of Britain, Constantine the Scottish king with others to have held of him: and denies that in the annals of Marianus Scotus any mention is to be found thereof; which I shall not stand much to contradict, for in Marianus, whether by surname or by nation Scotus, will be found as little mention of any other Scottish affairs, till the time of king Dunchad slain by Machetad, or Macbeth, in the year 1040: which gives cause of suspicion, that the affairs of Scotland before that time were so obscure, as to be unknown to their own countrymen, who lived and wrote his chronicle not long after. But King Edward thus nobly doing, and thus honoured, the year* following died at Farendon; a builder and restorer even in war, not a destroyer of his land. He had by several wives many children; his eldest daughter Edgith he gave in marriage to Charles king of France, grandchild of Charles the Bald above mentioned: of the rest in place convenient. His laws are yet to be seen. He was buried at Winchester, in the monastery, by Alfred his father. And a few days after him died Ethelward his eldest son, the heir of his crown. He had the whole island in subjection, yet so as petty kings reigned under him.† In Northumberland, after Ecbert whom the Danes had set up and the Nortbumbrians, yet unruly under their yoke, at the end of six years had expelled, one Ricsig was set up king, and bore the name three years; then another Ecbert, and Guthred; the latter, if we believe legends, of a servant made king by command of St. Cudbert, in a vision; and enjoined by another vision of the same saint, to pay well for his royalty many lands and privileges to his church and monastery. But now to the story.
Athelstan, next in age to Ethelward his brother, who deceased untimely few days before, though born of a concubine, yet for the great appearance of many virtues in him, and his brethren being yet under age, was exalted to the throne at Kingston upon Thames,‡ and by his father’s last will, saith Malmsbury, yet not without some opposition of one Alfred and his accomplices; who not liking he should reign, had conspired to seize on him after his father’s death, and to put out his eyes. But the conspirators discovered, and Alfred denying the plot,§ was sent to Rome, to assert his innocence before the pope; where taking his oath on the altar, he fell down immediately, and carried out by his servants, three days after died. Meanwhile beyond Humber the Danes, though much awed, were not idle. Inguald, one of their kings, took possession of York; Sitric, who some years∥ before had slain Niel his brother, by force took Davenport in Cheshire; and however he defended these doings, grew so inconsiderable,¶ that Athelstan with great solemnity gave him his sister Edgith to wife: but he enjoyed her not long, dying ere the year’s end; nor his sons Anlaf and Guthfert the kingdom, driven out the next year** by Athelstan: not unjustly saith Huntingdon, as being first raisers of the war. Simeon calls him Gudfrid a British king, whom Athelstan this year drove out of his kingdom; and perhaps they were both one, the name and time not much differing, the place only mistaken. Malmsbury differs in the name also, calling him Adulf a certain rebel. Them also I wish as much mistaken, who write that Athelstan, jealous of his younger brother Edwin’s towardly virtues, lest added to the right of birth they might some time or other call in question his illegitimate precedence, caused him to be drowned in the sea;†† exposed, some say, with one servant in a rotten bark, without sail or oar; where the youth far off land, and in rough weather despairing, threw himself overboard; the servant, more patient, got to land, and reported the success.
But this Malmsbury confesses to be sung in old songs, not read in warrantable authors; and Huntingdon speaks as of a sad accident to Athelstan, that he lost his brother Edwin by sea; far the more credible, in that Athelstan, as it is written by all, tenderly loved and bred up the rest of his brethren, of whom he had no less cause to be jealous. And the year* following he prospered better than from so foul a fact, passing into Scotland with great puissance, both by sea and land, and chasing his enemies before him, by land as far as Dunfeoder and Wertermore, by sea as far as Cathness. The cause of this expedition, saith Malmsbury, was to demand Guthfert the son of Sitric, thither fled, though not denied at length by Constantine, who with Eugenius king of Cumberland, at a place called Dacor or Dacre in that shire, surrendered himself and each his kingdom to Athelstan, who brought back with him for hostage the son of Constantine.† But Guthfert escaping in the mean while out of Scotland, and Constantine, exasperated by this invasion, persuaded Anlaf, the other son of Sitric, then fled into Ireland,‡ others write Anlaf king of Ireland and the Isles, his son-in-law, with six hundred and fifteen ships, and the king of Cumberland with other forces, to his aid. This within four years§ effected, they entered England by Humber, and fought with Athelstan at a place called Wendune, others term it Brunanburg, others Bruneford, which Ingulf places beyond Humber, Camden in Glendale of Northumberland on the Scotch borders; the bloodiest fight, say authors, that ever this island saw: to describe which the Saxon annalist, wont to be sober and succinct, whether the same or another writer, now labouring under the weight of his argument, and overcharged, runs on a sudden into such extravagant fancies and metaphors, as bear him quite beside the scope of being understood. Huntingdon, though himself peccant enough in this kind, transcribes him word for word as a pastime to his readers. I shall only sum up what of him I can attain, in useful language. The battle was fought eagerly from morning to night; some fell of King Edward’s old army, tried in many a battle before; but on the other side great multitudes, the rest fled to their ships. Five kings, and seven of Anlaf’s chief captains were slain on the place, with Froda a Norman leader; Constantine escaped home, but lost his son in the fight, if I understand my author; Anlaf by sea to Dublin, with a small remainder of his great host, Malmsbury relates this war, adding many circumstances after this manner: that Anlaf, joining with Constantine and the whole power of Scotland, besides those which he brought with him out of Ireland, came on far southwards, till Athelstan, who had retired on set purpose to be the surer of his enemies, enclosed from all succour and retreat, met him at Bruneford. Anlaf perceiving the valour and resolution of Athelstan, and mistrusting his own forces, though numerous, resolved first to spy in what posture his enemies lay: and imitating perhaps what he heard attempted by King Alfred the age before, in the habit of a musician, got access by his lute and voice to the king’s tent, there playing both the minstrel and the spy: then towards evening dismissed, he was observed by one who had been his soldier, and well knew him, viewing earnestly the king’s tent, and what approaches lay about it, then in the twilight to depart. The soldier forthwith acquaints the king, and by him blamed for letting go his enemy, answered, that he had given first his military oath to Anlaf, whom if he had betrayed, the king might suspect him of like treasonous mind towards himself; which to disprove, he advised him to remove his tent a good distance off: and so done, it happened that a bishop, with his retinue coming that night to the army, pitched his tent in the same place from whence the king had removed. Anlaf, coming by night as he had designed, to assault the camp, and especially the king’s tent, finding there the bishop instead, slew him and all his followers. Athelstan took the alarm, and as it seems, was not found so unprovided, but that the day now appearing, he put his men in order, and maintained the fight till evening; wherein Constantine himself was slain with five other kings, and twelve earls; the annals were eontent with seven, in the rest not disagreeing. Ingulf abbot of Croyland, from the authority of Turketul a principal leader in this battle, relates it more at large to this effect: That Athelstan above a mile distant from the place where execution was done upon the bishop and his supplies, alarmed at the noise, came down by break of day upon Anlaf and his army, overwatched and wearied now with the slaughter they had made, and something out of order, yet in two main battles. The king, therefore in like manner dividing, led the one part, consisting most of West Saxons, against Anlaf with his Danes and Irish, committing the other to his chancellor Turketul, with the Mercians and Londoners, against Constantine and his Scots. The shower of arrows and darts overpassed, both battles attacked each other with a close and terrible engagement, for a long space neither side giving ground. Till the chancellor Turketul, a man of great stature and strength, taking with him a few Londoners of select valour, and Singin who led the Worcestershire men, a captain of undaunted courage, broke into the thickest, making his way first through the Picts and Orkeners, then through the Cumbrians and Scots, and came at length where Constantine himself fought, unhorsed him, and used all means to take him alive; but the Scots valiantly defending their king, and laying load upon Turketul, which the goodness of his armour well endured, he had yet been beaten down, had not Singin his faithful second at the same time slain Constantine; which once known, Anlaf and the whole army betook them to flight, whereof a huge multitude fell by the sword. This Turketul, not long after leaving worldly affairs, became abbot of Croyland, which at his own cost he had repaired from Danish ruins, and left there this memorial of his former actions. Athelstan with his brother Edmund victorious thence turning into Wales, with much more ease vanquished Ludwal the king, and possessed his land. But Malmsbury writes, that commiserating human chance, as he displaced, so he restored both him and Constantine to their regal state: for the surrender of King Constantine hath been above spoken of. However the Welsh did him homage at the city of Hereford, and covenanted yearly payment of gold twenty pound, of silver three hundred, of oxen twenty-five thousand, besides hunting dogs and hawks. He also took Exeter from the Cornish Britons, who till that time had equal right there with the English, and bounded them with the river Tamar, as the other British with Wey. Thus dreaded of his enemies, and renowned far and near, three years* after he died at Gloucester, and was buried with many trophies at Malmsbury, where he had caused to be laid his two cousin germans, Elwin and Ethelstan, both slain in the battle against Anlaf. He was thirty years old at his coming to the crown, mature in wisdom from his childhood, comely of person and behaviour; so that Alfred his grandfather in blessing him was wont to pray he might live to have the kingdom, and put him yet a child into soldier’s habit. He had his breeding in the court of Elfled his aunt, of whose virtues more than female we have related, sufficient to evince that his mother, though said to be no wedded wife, was yet such of parentage and worth, as the royal line disdained not, though the song went in Malmsbury’s days (for it seems he refused not the authority of ballads for want of better) that his mother was a farmer’s daughter, but of excellent feature; who dreamed one night she brought forth a moon that should enlighten the whole land: which the king’s nurse hearing of took her home and bred up courtly; that the king, coming one day to visit his nurse, saw there this damsel, liked her, and by earnest suit prevailing, had by her this famous Athelstan, a bounteous, just, and affable king, as Malmsbury sets him forth, nor less honoured abroad by foreign kings, who sought his friendship by great gifts or affinity; that Harold king of Noricum sent him a ship whose prow was of gold, sails purple, and other golden things, the more to be wondered at, sent from Noricum, whether meant Norway or Bavaria, the one place so far from such superfluity of wealth, the other from all sea: the embassadors were Helgrim and Offrid, who found the king at York. His sisters he gave in marriage to greatest princes; Elgif to Otho son of Henry the emperor; Egdith to a certain duke about the Alps; Edgiv to Ludwic king of Aquitain, sprung of Charles the Great; Ethilda to Hugo king of France, who sent Aldulf son of Baldwin earl of Flanders to obtain her. From all these great suitors, especially from the emperor and king of France, came rich presents, horses of excellent breed, gorgeous trappings and armour, relics, jewels, odours, vessels of onyx, and other precious things, which I leave poetically described in Malmsbury, taken, as he confesses, out of an old versifier, some of whose verses he recites. The only blemish left upon him was the exposing his brother Edwin, who disavowed by oath the treason whereof he was accused, and implored an equal hearing. But these were songs, as before hath been said, which add also that Athelstan, his anger over, soon repented of the fact, and put to death his cupbearer, who had induced him to suspect and expose his brother; put in mind by a word falling from the cupbearer’s own mouth, who slipping one day as he bore the king’s cup, and recovering himself on the other leg, said aloud fatally, as to him it proved, one brother helps the other. Which words the king laying to heart, and pondering how ill he had done to make away his brother, avenged himself first on the adviser of that fact, took on him seven years’ penance, and as Mat. West. saith, built two monasteries for the soul of his brother. His laws are extant among the laws of other Saxon kings to this day.
Edmund not above eighteen years old* succeeded his brother Athelstan, in courage not inferior. For in the second of his reign he freed Mercia of the Danes that remained there, and took from them the cities of Lincoln, Nottingham, Stamford, Derby, and Leicester, where they were placed by King Edward, but it seems gave not good proof of their fidelity. Simeon writes, that Anlaf setting forth from York, and having wasted southward as far as Northampton, was met by Edmund at Leicester; but that ere the battles joined, peace was made between them by Odo and Wulstan the two archbishops, with conversion of Anlaf; for the same year Edmund received at the fontstone this or another Anlaf, as saith Huntingdon, not him spoken of before, who died this year, (so uncertain they are in the story of these times also,) and held Reginald another king of the Northumbrians, while the bishop confirmed him: their limits were divided north and south by Watlingstreet. But spiritual kindred little availed to keep peace between them, whoever gave the cause; for we read him two years* after driving Anlaf (whom the annals now first call the son of Sitric) and Suthfrid son of Reginald out of Northumberland, taking the whole country into subjection. Edmund the next year† harassed Cumberland, then gave it to Malcolm king of Scots, thereby bound to assist him in his wars, both by sea and land. Mat. West. adds, that in this action Edmund had the aid of Leolin prince of North Wales, against Dummail the Cumbrian king, him depriving of his kingdom, and his two sons of their sight. But the year‡ after, he himself by strange accident came to an untimely death: feasting with his nobles on St. Austin’s day at Puclekerke in Gloucester, to celebrate the memory of his first converting the Saxons; he spied Leof a noted thief, whom he had banished, sitting among his guests: whereat transported with two much vehemence of spirit, though in a just cause, rising from the table he run upon the thief, and catching his hair, pulled him to the ground. The thief, who doubted from such handling no less than his death intended, thought to die not unrevenged; and with a short dagger struck the king, who still laid at him, and little expected such assassination, mortally into the breast. The matter was done in a moment, ere men set at table could turn them, or imagine at first what the stir meant, till perceiving the king deadly wounded, they flew upon the murderer and hewed him to pieces; who like a wild beast at bay, seeing himself surrounded, desperately laid about him, wounding some in his fall. The king was buried at Glaston, whereof Dunstan was then abbot; his laws yet remain to be seen among the laws of other Saxon kings.
Edred, the third brother of Athelstan, the sons of Edmund being yet but children, next reigned, not degenerating from his worthy predecessors, and crowned at Kingston. Northumberland he thoroughly subdued, the Scots without refusal swore him allegiance; yet the Northumbrians, ever of doubtful faith, soon after chose to themselves one Eric a Dane. Huntingdon still haunts us with this Anlaf, (of whom we gladly would have been rid,) and will have him before Eric recalled once more and reign four years,§ then again put to his shifts. But Edred entering into Northumberland, and with spoils returning, Eric the king fell upon his rear. Edred turning about, both shook off the enemy, and prepared to make a second inroad: which the Northumbrians dreading rejected Eric, slew Amancus the son of Anlaf, and with many presents appeasing Edred submitted again to his government;∥ nor from that time had kings, but were governed by earls, of whom Osulf was the first. About this time¶ Wulstan archbishop of York, accused to have slain certain men of Thetford in revenge of their abbot, whom the townsmen had slain, was committed by the king to close custody; but soon after enlarged, was restored to his place. Malmsbury writes, that his crime was to have connived at the revolt of his countrymen: but king Edred two years after,* sickening in the flower of his youth, died much lamented, and was buried at Winchester.
Edwi, the son of Edmund, now come to age,† after his uncle Edred’s death took on him the government, and was crowned at Kingston. His lovely person surnamed him the fair, his actions are diversely reported, by Huntingdon not thought illaudable. But Malmsbury and such as follow him write far otherwise, that he married, or kept as concubine, his near kinswoman,‡ some say both her and her daughter; so inordinately given to his pleasure, that on the very day of his coronation he abruptly withdrew himself from the company of his peers, whether in banquet or consultation, to sit wantoning in the chamber with his Algiva, so was her name, who had such power over him. Whereat his barons offended sent bishop Dunstan, the boldest among them, to request his return: he, going to the chamber, not only interrupted his dalliance, and rebuked the lady, but taking him by the hand, between force and persuasion brought him back to his nobles. The king highly displeased,§ and instigated perhaps by her who was so prevalent with him, not long after sent Dunstan into banishment, caused his monastery to be rifled, and became an enemy to all monks and friars. Whereupon Odo archbishop of Canterbury pronounced a separation or divorce of the king from Algiva. But that which most incited William of Malmsbury against him, he gave that monastery to be dwelt in by secular priests, or to use his own phrase, made it a stable of clerks: at length these affronts done to the church were so resented by the people, that the Mercians and Northumbrians revolted from him, and set up Edgar his brother,∥ leaving to Edwi the West-Saxons only, bounded by the river Thames; with grief whereof, as is thought, he soon after ended his days,¶ and was buried at Winchester. Meanwhile** Elfin, bishop of that place, after the death of Odo ascending by simony to the chair of Canterbury, and going to Rome the same year for his pall, was frozen to death in the Alps.
Edgar by his brother’s death now†† king of all England at sixteen years of age, called home Dunstan out of Flanders, where he lived in exile. This king had no war all his reign; yet always well prepared for war, governed the kingdom in great peace, honour, and prosperity, gaining thence the surname of peaceable, much extolled for justice, clemency, and all kingly virtues,‡‡ the more, ye may be sure by monks, for his building so many monasteries; as some write, every year one: for he much favoured the monks against secular priests, who in the time of Edwi had got possession in most of their convents. His care and wisdom was great in guarding the coast round with stout ships to the number of three thousand six hundred. Mat. West. reckons them four thousand eight hundred, divided into four squadrons, to sail to and fro, about the four quarters of the land, meeting each other; the first of twelve hundred sail from east to west, the second of as many from west to east, the third and fourth between north and south; himself in the summer time with his fleet. Thus he kept out wisely the force of strangers, and prevented foreign war, but by their too frequent resort hither in time of peace, and his too much favouring them, he let in their vices unaware. Thence the people, saith Malmsbury, learned of the outlandish Saxons rudeness, of the Flemish daintiness and softness, of the Danes drunkenness; though I doubt these vices are as naturally homebred here as in any of those countries. Yet in the winter and spring time he usually rode the circuit as a judge itinerant through all his provinces, to see justice well administered, and the poor not oppressed. Thieves and robbers he rooted almost out of the land, and wild beasts of prey altogether; enjoining Ludwal, king of Wales, to pay the yearly tribute of three hundred wolves, which he did for two years together, till the third year no more were to be found, nor ever after; but his laws may be read yet extant.—Whatever was the cause, he was not crowned till the thirtieth of his age, but then with great splendour and magnificence at the city of Bath, in the feast of Pentecost. This year* died Swarling a monk of Croyland, in the hundred and forty-second year of his age, and another soon after him in the hundred and fifteenth; in that fenny and waterish air the more remarkable. King Edgar the next year† went to Chester, and summoning to his court there all the kings that held of him, took homage of them; their names are Kened king of Scots, Malcolm of Cumberland, Maccuse of the Isles, five of Wales, Dufwal, Huwal, Grifith, Jacob, Judethil; these he had in such awe, that going one day into a galley, he caused them to take each man his oar, and row him down the river Dee, while he himself sat at the stern; which might be done in merriment and easily obeyed; if with a serious brow, discovered rather vain-glory, and insulting haughtiness, than moderation of mind. And that he did it seriously triumphing, appears by his words then uttered, that his successors might then glory to be kings of England, when they had such honour done them. And perhaps the divine power was displeased with him for taking too much honour to himself; since we read, that the year following‡ he was taken out of this life by sickness in the height of his glory and the prime of his age, buried at Glaston abbey. The same year, as Mat. West. relates, he gave to Kened, the Scottish king, many rich presents, and the whole country of Laudian, or Lothien, to hold of him on condition, that he and his successors should repair to the English court at high festivals when the king sat crowned; gave him also many lodging places by the way, which till the days of Henry the second were still held by the kings of Scotland. He was of stature not tall, of body slender, yet so well made, that in strength he chose to contend with such as were thought strongest, and disliked nothing more, than that they should spare him for respect, or fear to hurt him. Kened king of Scots, then in the court of Edgar, sitting one day at table, was heard to say jestingly among his servants, he wondered how so many provinces could be held in subjection by such a little dapper man: his words were brought to the king’s ear: he sends for Kened as about some private business, and in talk drawing him forth to a secret place, takes from under his garment two swords, which he had brought with him, gave one of them to Kened; and now, saith he, it shall be tried which ought to be the subject; for it is shameful for a king to boast at table, and shrink in fight. Kened much abashed fell presently at his feet, and besought him to pardon what he had simply spoken, no way intended to his dishonour or disparagement; wherewith the king was satisfied.
Camden, in his description of Ireland, cites a charter of King Edgar, wherein it appears he had in subjection all the kingdoms of the isles as far as Norway, and had subdued the greatest part of Ireland with the city of Dublin: but of this other writers make no mention. In his youth having heard of Elfrida, daughter to Ordgar duke of Devonshire much commended for her beauty, he sent Earl Athelwold, whose loyalty he trusted most, to see her; intending, if she were found such as answered report, to demand her in marriage. He at the first view taken with her presence, disloyally, as it oft happens in such employments, began to sue for himself; and with consent of her parents obtained her. Returning therefore with scarce an ordinary commendation of her feature, he easily took off the king’s mind, soon diverted another way. But the matter coming to light how Athelwold had forestalled the king, and Elfrida’s beauty more and more spoken of, the king now heated not only with a relapse of love, but with a deep sense of the abuse, yet dissembling his disturbance, pleasantly told the earl, what day he meant to come and visit him and his fair wife. The earl seemingly assured his welcome, but in the meanwhile acquainting his wife, earnestly advised her to deform herself what she might, either in dress or otherwise, lest the king, whose amorous inclination was not unknown, should chance to be attracted. She, who by this time was not ignorant, how Athelwold had stepped between her and the king, against his coming arrays herself richly, using whatever art she could devise might render her the more amiable; and it took effect. For the king, inflamed with her love the more for that he had been so long defrauded and robbed of her, resolved not only to recover his intercepted right, but to punish the interloper of his destined spouse; and appointing with him as was usual a day of hunting, drawn aside in a forest now called Harewood, smote him through with a dart. Some censure this act as cruel and tyrannical, but considered well, it may be judged more favourably, and that no man of sensible spirit but in his place, without extraordinary perfection, would have done the like: for next to life what worse treason could have been committed against him? It chanced that the earl’s base son coming by upon the fact, the king sternly asked him how he liked his game; he submissly answering, that whatsoever pleased the king, must not displease him; the king returned to his wonted temper, took an affection to the youth, and ever after highly favoured him, making amends in the son for what he had done to the father. Elfrida forthwith he took to wife, who to expiate her former husband’s death, though therein she had no hand, covered the place of his bloodshed with a monastery of nuns to sing over him. Another fault is laid to his charge, no way excusable, that he took a virgin Wilfrida by force out of the nunnery, where she was placed by her friends to avoid his pursuit, and kept her as his concubine: but lived not obstinately in the offence; for sharply reproved by Dunstan, he submitted to seven years penance, and for that time to want his coronation: but why he had it not before, is left unwritten.
Another story there goes of Edgar fitter for a novel than a history; but as I find it in Malmsbury, so I relate it. While he was yet unmarried, in his youth he abstained not from women, and coming on a day to Andoyer, caused a duke’s daughter there dwelling, reported rare of beauty, to be brought to him. The mother not daring flatly to deny, yet abhorring that her daughter should be so deflowered, at fit time of night sent in her attire one of her waiting maids; a maid it seems not unhandsome nor unwitty; who supplied the place of her young lady. Night passed, the maid going to rise but daylight scarce yet appearing, was by the king asked why she made such haste: she answered, to do the work which her lady had set her. At which the king wondering, and with much ado staying her to unfold the riddle, for he took her to be the duke’s daughter, she falling at his feet besought him, that since at the command of her lady she came to his bed, and was enjoyed by him, he would be pleased in recompense to set her free from the hard service of her mistress. The king a while standing in a study whether he had best be angry or not, at length turning all to a jest, took the maid away with him, advanced her above the lady, loved her, and accompanied with her only, till he married Elfrida. These only are his faults upon record, rather to be wondered how they were so few, and so soon left, he coming at sixteen to the license of a sceptre; and that his virtues were so many and mature, he dying before the age wherein wisdom can in others attain to any ripeness: however, with him died all the Saxon glory. From henceforth nothing is to be heard of but their decline and ruin under a double conquest, and the causes foregoing; which, not to blur or taint the praises of their former actions and liberty well defended, shall stand severally related, and will be more than long enough for another book.
[† ]Pontan. Hist. Dan.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 832. Sax. ann.
[§ ]Post Christ. 833. Sax. ann.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 835. Sax. ann. Pontan. Hist. Dan. l. 4.
[* ]Post Christ. 836. Sax. ann.
[† ]Mat. West.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 837. Sax. ann.
[§ ]Post Christ. 838. Sax. ann.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 839. Sax. ann.
[¶ ]Post Christ. 840. Sax. ann. Sim. Dun. Mat. West.
[** ]Post Christ. 844.
[†† ]Post Christ. 845. Sax. ann.
[‡‡ ]Post Christ. 851. Sax. ann. Asser.
[§§ ]Huntingd. Mat. West.
[* ]Post Christ. 853. Sax. an. Asser.
[† ]Malms. Post Christ. 854. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 855. Asser.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 857.
[* ]Mat. West.
[† ]Malms. Suithine.
[‡ ]Sigon. de regn. Ital. l. 5.
[∥ ]Asser. Malms. Sim. Dun.
[¶ ]Post Christ. 860. Sax an.
[* ]Post Christ. 865. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 866. Sax. an. Huntingd.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 867. Sax. an.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 868.
[** ]Post Christ. 869. Sim. Dun.
[* ]Post Christ. 870. Ingulf.
[† ]Post Christ. 871. Sax. an.
[* ]Pontan. Hist. Dan. l. 4.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 872. Sax an.
[§ ]Post Christ. 873. Sax an. Camd.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 874. Sax. an.
[¶ ]Post Christ. 875. Sax. an.
[* ]Post Christ. 876. Sax. an.
[§ ]Post Christ. 877. Sax. an.
[¶ ]Post Christ. 878. Sax. an.
[** ]Sim. Dun.
[* ]Post Christ. 879. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 882. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 885 Sax. an.
[§ ]Sim. Dun.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 886. Sax. an.
[¶ ]Sim. Dun.
[** ]Post Christ. 893. Sax. an.
[†† ]Post Christ. 894. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 895. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Sim. Dun. Florent.
[§ ]Post Christ. 896. Sax. an.
[* ]Post Christ. 897. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 900. Asser.
[§ ]Post Christ. 901. Sax. an.
[* ]Post Christ. 902.
[† ]Post Christ. 905. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 907. Sax. an.
[§ ]Post Christ. 910. Sax. an.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 911. Sax. an.
[¶ ]Ethelwerd 2 an.
[** ]Post Christ. 917. Sax.
[†† ]Post Christ. 913. Sax. an.
[‡‡ ]Post Christ. 917. Sax. an.
[* ]Huntingd. Camd.
[† ]Post Christ. 919. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 919. Sax. an.
[§ ]Post Christ. 920. Sax. an.
[∥ ]Post Christ. 921. Sax. an.
[* ]Post Christ. 922. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 923. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 924.
[§ ]Buch. l. 6.
[∥ ]Buch. l. 6.
[* ]Post. Christ. 925. Sax. an. Huntingd. Mat. West.
[† ]Sim. Dun.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 926.
[∥ ]Sim. Dun.
[¶ ]Malms. Mat. West.
[** ]Post Christ. 927 Sax. an.
[†† ]Post Christ. 933. Sim. Dun.
[* ]Post Christ. 934. Sax an. Sim. Dun.
[‡ ]Florent. Sim. Dun.
[§ ]Post Christ. 938. Sax an. Malms.
[* ]Post Christ. 941. Sax. an. Malme. Ingulf.
[* ]Post Christ. 942. Sax. an.
[* ]Post Christ. 944. Sax. an.
[† ]Post Christ. 945. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 946. Sax. an.
[§ ]Post Christ. 950. Sim. Dun.
[¶ ]Post Christ. 953. Sim. Dun.
[* ]Post Christ. 955. Sim. Dun.
[‡ ]Mat. West.
[§ ]Post Christ. 956
[¶ ]Post Christ. 955. Sax. an.
[** ]Post Christ. 958. Mat. West.
[†† ]Post Christ. 959. Malms.
[‡‡ ]Mat. West.
[* ]Post Christ. 973. Sax. an. Ingulf.
[† ]Post Christ. 974. Sax. an.
[‡ ]Post Christ. 975.