« PreviousContinue »
Alfred defeats a fleet of seven ships, capturing one, and putting the rest to flight.
A.D. 876. The Northmen besiege Wareham.
Alfred makes peace with them, when they swear oaths to him on the holy ring, which they never before would do to any nation," to leave the kingdom. Their horsemen, however, take possession of Exeter.
Halfdane apportions the lands of Northumbria among his followers.
Anglesey ravaged by the Ostmen, and Roderic the Great slain.
Rollo and the Northmen overrun Neustria (Normandy). A.D. 877. The Northern fleet is wrecked at Swanawic (Swanage).
Alfred captures Exeter.
The Northmen apportion Mercia.
A.D. 878. The Northmen suddenly invade Wessex, in January, and take possession of the country; "and many of the people they drove beyond sea, and of the remainder the greater part they subdued and forced to obey them, except King Alfred; and he, with a small band, with difficulty retreated to the woods and to the fastnesses of the moors."
Hubba, the brother of Halfdane, lands in Devonshire, but is defeated and killed, "and there was taken the war flag which they called Ravend."
• Antiquaries differ as to the meaning of this passage. It seems probable that the Northmen, in their oath, referred to a great ring of silver, or orichalc, which Arngrim Jonas says was preserved in a temple in Iceland, and which was smeared with blood of victims when they swore to the observance of matters of religion or public law.
It is remarkable that the Northern sagas do not mention this celebrated flag, to which magical powers were ascribed. Professor Worsaae, from a laborious investigation of all the available authori
"And after this, at Easter, King Alfred, with a small band, constructed a fortress at Athelney®, and from this fortress, with that part of the men of Somerset which was nearest to it, from time to time they fought against the army."
ties, is of opinion that it was a small triangular banner, fringed, bearing a black raven on a blood-red field.
e Athelney, once an island, is now a marshy tract between the rivers Tone and Parret, near Langport, in the southern part of Somersetshire.
A very beautiful specimen of gold enamelled work is preserved
in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, which is commonly known by the name of Alfred's jewel, as it bears his name, and was found in 1693 in the immediate neighbourhood of his retreat. It is of filagree work, inclosing a piece of rock-crystal, under which appears a figure in enamel, which has not been satisfactorily explained. The ground is of a rich blue, the face and arms of the figure white, the dress principally green, the lower portion partly of a reddish brown. The inscription is "Aelfred mec heht gevvrcan" (Alfred ordered me to be made).
The Saxon Chronicle gives no particulars of Alfred's residence in Athelney, but Asser relates the well-known tale of the cakes suffered to burn whilst he prepared his weapons, and also tells us that it was in consequence of tyrannical conduct on his part, and neglect of the reproof of his kinsman St. Neot, that the king was so utterly forsaken by his subjects.
Alfred leaves his retreat in May. He defeats the Northmen at Ethandun (Edington, near Westbury), and besieges them in their fortress.
The Northmen surrender after a fourteen days' siege, and give hostages. Guthrum "and some thirty men, who were of the most distinguished in the army," are baptized; Guthrum has Alfred for his godfather, and receives the name of Athelstan.
Alfred makes a peace with the Northmen, ceding to them a large portion of territory, thus limited:"first, concerning our land boundaries: up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then right to Bedford, and then up the Ouse into Watling Street","
By this formal cession of so large a tract, as well as the loss of what Halfdane already possessed, and held apparently only by the sword, the sole monarchy established by Egbert scarcely fifty years before may be re
The other provisions of this treaty declare: "if a man be slain, we estimate all equally dear, English and Danish, at eight half marks of pure gold," and at 200 shillings each for the Saxon ceorl and the Danish liesing or freeman; settle modes of trial, and the warranty "for men, for horses, and for cattle," and regulate the intercourse between the two armies and their followers.
garded as broken up. The Anglo-Danes, as they are now to be called, it is true, professed allegiance to Alfred and his successors, but seem never to have yielded it unless to princes who were able to enforce the claim, and they were ruled by chiefs whose coins prove them to have assumed the style of independent kings". They received constant accessions to their numbers in consequence of the attempts made by the kings of Norway early in the tenth century to render themselves absolute monarchs, many of the chiefs preferring voluntary exile to submission, and they thus speedily became in some districts, what the Normans afterwards were in the whole country, a fierce military aristocracy governing without mercy or discretion a herd of serfs, it being recorded as a glorious achievement of Edmund I. that he freed the English inhabitants of certain districts "who had dwelt long in captive chains to heathen men1.” They also extended themselves over Mercia, and as that state as well as their own district had its peculiar laws, the country was rather three separate kingdoms, of which Wessex was occasionally able to assume a supremacy over the others, than one united monarchy, as it is usually represented. It appears, too, from the names
h In 1840 a hoard of about 7,000 silver coins (beside many silver ornaments) was discovered at Cuerdale, near Preston, in Lancashire, 3,000 of which bore such inscriptions as "Cnut Rex," "Alfden Rex," "Sitric Comes," and they are by the best informed numismatists considered indisputably to belong to the chiefs of the Danish invaders in the ninth century, and their immediate successors. i See p. 109.
England is recognised as divided into the three states of Wessex, Mercia, and the province of the Danes, in the laws of Henry I.; the latter province, sometimes styled the Danelagh, appears to have comprised the whole tract north and east of the Watling Street.
of the witnesses to contemporary documents, that the Anglo-Danes soon became possessed of important posts. both in the Church and at the court of the AngloSaxon kings, and the divisions thus introduced into its councils, and the help they constantly gave to their invading countrymen, reduced the country to a state of weakness which left it a comparatively easy prey, first to Canute, and next to William the Norman.
A.D. 879. Guthrum and his forces withdraw to Cirencester, and remain there during the year.
A fresh body of Northmen take up their quarters on the Thames at Fulham.
A.D. 880. Guthrum and his forces settle in East Anglia. The Northmen leave the Thames, and besiege Ghent.
A.D. 881. The Northmen penetrate into France. The Northmen land in Scotland, and defeat and kill Constantine II. at Crail, in Fifeshire.
A.D. 882. Alfred goes to sea, and captures four vessels of the enemy.
A.D. 883. The Northmen ascend the Scheldt, and besiege Condé.
Alfred sends alms to Rome, and also to India, "which he had vowed to send, when they sat down against the army at London."
A.D. 884. The Northmen besiege Amiens.
A.D. 885. The Northmen again land in England, and besiege Rochester. Alfred relieves the city, and drives the besiegers beyond sea.
"This year the army in East Anglia broke the peace with King Alfred."