Page images
[blocks in formation]


(1) Egbert, King of England

d. 836

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

(14) Ethelred II. d. 1016

(17) Harold I. d. 1040

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

(20) Harold II. Son of Godwin

d. 1066 (See p. 10, s. 33)


The kingdom of Northumbria was formed from the two kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Hence the title Octarchy is used by some historians in lieu of Heptarchy. Cumbria, Wales, Devon, and Cornwall were not included in the Heptarchy, but remained independent.

The most prominent and powerful of the rulers of the several kingdoms was styled the Bretwalda (wide ruling chief). The kings who successively obtained this title, before the dissolution of the Heptarchy, were (1) Ella, of Sussex, (2) Ceawlin, of Wessex, (3) Ethelbert, of Kent, (4) Redwald, of East Anglia, and (5) Edwin, (6) Oswald, and (7) Oswy, of Northumbria.

12. Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, 597.-Christianity, as has been said, existed among the Britons during the Roman occupation. In the persecutions under Diocletian (285), St. Alban, a Briton, had suffered martyrdom. The new occupants of the soil, however, were idolaters; and it was not until the reign of Ethelbert, the third Bretwalda (560-616), that Pope Gregory the Great, whose attention had been directed to the conversion of the Angles, despatched Augustine to Britain for that purpose. By the influence of his wife Bertha, the Christian daughter of Charibert, King of the Franks, Ethelbert became a convert. An archbishopric was founded at Canterbury, numbers of Saxons embraced the new faith, and from this date it was finally established in the country.

13. EGBERT, 827-836.-The dissolution of the Heptarchy took place in 827, when Egbert, King of Wessex, uniting all the kingdoms under one rule, made the title of Bretwalda hereditary in his family, and became the King of England. In his reign a new enemy, the Danes, or Norsemen, first began to seriously harass the coasts with piratical incursions. They descended from Scandinavia and the region round the Baltic, seized Normandy, called after them, and founded a dynasty in Russia that reigned more than seven hundred years. Traces of their sojourn in this island are still to be found in the north of England in the names of towns ending in 'by,' i.e. Derby, Whitby, and in many household words.

Son of Egbert.

Second, third, and fourth sons of Ethelwulf.

14. ETHELWULF, 836-857. 15. ETHELBALD, 857-860. 16. ETHELBERT, 860-866. 17. ETHELRED I., 866-871. 18. ALFRED THE GREAT, 871-901.-Fifth son of Ethelwulf and grandson of Egbert. The Danes had grown formidable at his accession, and he fought numerous battles with them. After the Battle of Ethandun (conjectured to be Edington in Wiltshire),

878, a treaty was concluded, by which East Anglia and parts of Essex and Mercia* were ceded to them upon the condition that they embraced Christianity. They were already in possession of Northumbria, so that, practically, the district comprised within the Danelagh (Dane-law) may be said to be that lying to the north and east of the old Roman Road called Watling Street. (See p. 3, s. 9). The major part of the rest of Alfred's reign was passed in undisturbed peace.

Alfred revised the laws, rebuilt castles and towns, equipped a navy, and created a militia. He also established schools at Oxford, translated several Latin works into Anglo-Saxon, and otherwise encouraged learning and literature. When he died he was engaged upon a version of the Psalms. His life has been written by Asser, Bishop of Sherborne.

19. EDWARD (The Elder), 901-925.-Second son of Alfred. First assumed the title of King of the English.'

[ocr errors]

20. ATHELSTAN, 925-940.-Eldest son of Edward the Elder. First caused the Bible to be translated into Anglo-Saxon.

21. EDMUND I., 940-946. 22. EDRED, 946-955.

Second and third sons of Edward the Elder.

23. EDWY (The Fair), 955-958.-Eldest son of Edmund I. The reign of Edwy is chiefly occupied by his quarrel with Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury in Edmund's time, and chief minister of Edred. Edwy's opposition to Dunstan's schemes for the reformation of the Church, and Dunstan's disapproval of Edwy's marriage to his near relative, Elgiva, appear to have been the main causes of the disagreement, which ended in Dunstan's banishment. He was, however, restored to power under Edgar, by whom he was made Archbishop of Canterbury.

24. EDGAR, 958-975.-Second son of Edmund I.

25. EDWARD (The Martyr), 975-979.-Eldest son of Edgar, and said to have been murdered by order of his stepmother, Elfrida, to secure the succession for her son,

26. ETHELRED II. (The Unready), 979-1016.-This monarch adopted the unworthy expedient of buying off the Danes, whose piratical attacks kept the country in constant alarm. For this purpose he levied an impost, styled Danegelt,† on his subjects.

* The boundaries named in the peace of Wedmore, as it is called, are 'up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then right to Bedford, then up on the Ouse unto Watling Street.'

+ This tax of Danegelt (Dane-gold) was frequently re-imposed during succeeding reigns. Indeed it continued long after the necessity for its levy had ceased, the last recorded payment being made in the reign of Henry II.

In 1002 he ordered a massacre of all the Danes in England. Sweyn, King of Denmark, ravaged the country to avenge this horrible act, and ultimately Ethelred fled into Normandy. He returned at the death of Sweyn, but died in 1016.

27. EDMUND II. (Ironside), 1016.-Son of Ethelred II. After several battles he shared the country with Sweyn's son, Canute, but reigned only seven months, and the whole country passed under the Danish rule.

28. CANUTE, 1016-1035.-Canute subdued Scandinavia, and thus became king of the four countries, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. He also compelled the kings of Cumbria and Scotland to do him homage.

29. HAROLD I. (or Harefoot), 1035–1040. 30. HARDICANUTE, 1040-1042.

Sons of Canute.

31. EDWARD (The Confessor), 1042–1066.-The crown now returned to the Saxon line in the person of this pious but weak and superstitious prince, who was the second son of Ethelred II. by his second wife, Emma. He came to the throne when he was past thirty; he had been educated in France, and his sympathies and modes of thought were French. Numbers of Normans were consequently invited by him to this country, and advanced to positions of trust and dignity. Hence the way may be said to have been paved for the invasion of England by the Normans, which followed his death in 1066. At that date there were three candidates for the crown: (1) Edward's nephew, Edgar Atheling, grandson of Edmund Ironside; (2) his cousin, William, Duke of Normandy, to whom he was said to have promised the succession; and (3) his brother-in-law, Harold, son of Godwin, Earl of Kent, whose daughter, Editha, the Confessor had married, and who had been mainly instrumental in securing his peaceable accession, although the Earl was afterwards alienated from him by his impolitic patronage of Norman dependents.

In this reign a compilation of the laws of Ethelbert, Alfred, and others was made, from which our present Common Law is said to be derived.

32. The Witanagemot.-The Saxon Witanagemot, or Witan ('Assembly of Wise Men'), consisted of the Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Aldermen, and the Thanes of superior rank. It was convened at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. It elected the king, and had the power of making laws, concluding treaties, levying taxes, raising land and sea forces, &c. It was an essentially aristocratic body, in which the people had no representatives.



A.D. 1066-1154.

33. The Norman Conquest, 1066.-On the death of Edward the Confessor, the Witan elected Harold, eldest son of Godwin, Earl of Kent, to the crown, Edgar Atheling, the grandson of Edmund Ironside, being in reality the direct male heir. Immediately after his accession, Harold, whilst engaged in repelling Harold Hardrada, the King of Norway, and his own brother Tosti, who had invaded the country in the north, was summoned southwards to engage William, Duke of Normandy, who had landed his army at Pevensey, in Sussex, and claimed the crown. Harold had defeated the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge, where both Hardrada and Tosti were slain; but he was in his turn defeated by the Normans at Hastings, or Senlac, and killed by an arrow in the eye. The crown was subsequently offered to William.

34. WILLIAM (The Conqueror), 1066–1087.-William was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy; married Matilda of Flanders (1054). He was brave and politie, but cruel and oppressive to his English subjects. He introduced the unpopular curfew (couvrefeu), a bell at sound of which all fires were to be extinguished. He evicted numbers of poor people to make forests to hunt in (e.g. New Forest, Hampshire); and he laid waste all the country between the Humber and the Tees, a deed which he regretted on his death-bed. He based his pretensions to the crown chiefly upon his relationship to Edward the Confessor, whose cousin he was, and upon that monarch's alleged desire that William should succeed him.

35. Hereward the Saxon, 1069.-Shutting himself up in the Isle of Ely, this popular leader long defied William, but was finally betrayed by the monks of Ely.

36. Domesday Book, 1085.-The title of this record is variously explained. It was compiled by the king's order, and contained particulars respecting the different counties-their extent, division, products, &c. The original forms two volumes, a quarto

« PreviousContinue »