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world under one empire; at crushing local freedom in every state. Had he succeeded more entirely: if his captains, sated with conquest, had been capable of loyal allegiance; if his sons had been more united, or one of them truly imperial, the path of the world would have been arrested; the monotonous unity of the Roman empire would have been reproduced at a lower level of civilization; and thought and faith, imprisoned within a system whose confines were the limits of the earth, would have beaten out their lives against the bars of their cage. God and the Danes saved us from that calamity. The plunderers became conquerors, and carved half-a-dozen kingdoms out of the Europe that was to have been one. Even as regards England, we may see that the country was not yet ripe for consolidation: its tendencies were always to form a world apart, and to separate itself from the struggles and progress of its neighbours. At the very moment when it was lapsing into centralization and weakness, its provinces were roused into new life by the necessity of self-defence. The success of the Danes against a brave people sometimes appears wonderful. It must be remembered that by these expeditions the whole commercial marine of the north was turned into ships of war.1 The long vessels, with their gaudy painted sails, bounding over the foam, disembarked troops suddenly where they were least expected, or sailed up the rivers into the heart of the country. It was never a war between the Danes and a national army, but between the Danes and a local militia. Defeat to the Saxons was ruin; but the Norsemen easily repaired their losses, for their fleets were recruited from every nation of the North.2 For some two hundred years every district of England was traversed by troops, and every man forced to fight. The commonwealth was shattered in the contest, but the people regenerated.
Towards 867 A.D., an organized expedition of Norsemen,
1 Dasent's Norsemen in Iceland; Oxford Essays, 1858.
2 Immisit Dominus Dacos cum Gothis, Norwagenses cum Suathedis, Wandalos cum Fresis.-Huntingdon, lib. v., M. B., p. 736.
DAGAS OF RAGNAR AND BEORN.
under Ingvar and Ubba, two of their kings, landed in Northumbria with a settled intention of conquering the country. The father of the two leaders, Ragnar Lodbroc, had shortly before been taken prisoner in a piratical descent on the English coast, and cruelly put to death by the Northumbrian king Ella. Local tradition has preserved the remembrance of a Northumbrian noble, Beorn or Bruern, who avenged the dishonour of his wife, by reporting the circumstances of Ragnar's death to the Danes, and promising them the support of his own kin.1 The Danish gesith of Ragnar burst passionately into tears at the news of their lord's death, and swore to take a terrible revenge. They wintered in Anglia, where the people of the country, mixing freely with them as men of a commen origin, supplied them with provisions and horses.2 Next year the invaders advanced northwards, and were admitted into York. Osbert, Beorn's enemy, and Ella, a rival king, besieged them there, but incautiously broke down the walls of the town, and entangled their forces in the narrow streets, where they were routed, with the loss of all their leaders, by a desperate rally of the Danes. Ella fell into the hands of the foe, and experienced the worst fate of the conquered a blood-eagle was carved on his back. The Northumbrians had been demoralized by constant civil war; of their
1 Brompton gives the story of the Northumbrian noble, Bruern Brocard, who calls over the Danes to avenge his wrongs.-Twysden, pp. 802, 803. In Roger of Wendover, Bern is a huntsman in Norfolk, who murders Lodbroc from jealousy, is exposed by the Anglian king in a boat, drifts over to Denmark, and denounces his own sovereign as the murderer.-Vol. i., pp. 303-307. This agrees with the Danish accounts in representing Lodbroc's death as the cause of the invasion. As the two English stories agree in representing Bern or Bruern as a traitor, I have ventured to harmonize the different narratives into what seemed the most probable account. But its details will not bear critical examination. The word "Beorn" means "nobleman," and is chiefly used in poetry. The date of Ragnar Lodbroc's reign is unknown, but Geijer places him towards the end of the eighth century; and a whole cycle of legends has been woven into his history.-Geijer's History of the Swedes, p. 14.
A. S. Chron., A., 866.
3 A. S. Chron., A. 867. William of Malmesbury, however, makes the Northumbrians garrison the town against the Danes.-Lib. ii., p. 178.
DEFEAT OF ST. EADMUND.
kings one had provoked rebellion, the other was an usurper; it is scarcely wonderful, if the people passed easily to the sway of a new lord. Having thus obtained the dominion of the north, the Danes advanced against Mercia, but were forced, when the army of Wessex came up, to make terms. The invaders next turned their arms against East Anglia; they first attacked Lincolnshire, where, supported by new adventurers under Guthrum, they at last overwhelmed the local forces which the valiant ealdorman Algar led, and sacked the monastery of Peterborough. They then demanded submission from the king; Eadmund had sufficient sense of honour to decline to hold his crown as a vassal of the pagans; but his subjects did not muster in sufficient force to give any hope of success; Eadmund fell into the hands of the Danes, and suffered the fate of St. Sebastian, A.D. 871.1 The pagans were now masters of the Anglian parts of England; it was only a question of time, how soon Mercia should become tributary to them. But the south and part of the west of England were inhabited by a different race, with no Scandinavian sympathies, with a civilization too deeply rooted to be easily effaced, with an utter horror of paganism; above all, with a man among them who could lead in battle, guide in council, and inspire confidence in defeat. The people was the Saxons of Wessex; the man was Alfred.
1 The accounts of Eadmund's defeat are difficult to understand. He is represented as successful in an obstinate battle at Thetford; but refusing, from scruples of conscience, to shed any more blood, he is surrounded and taken by the Danes. Objecting to fight was a common and praiseworthy form of conscientiousness, but fighting first and objecting afterwards would be conduct too foolish to be credible. A second victory would have cleared the country of the pirates. We probably owe this gloss on the meagre account in the Saxon Chronicle, to the monks of later and more warlike times, who wished their patron to be brave as well as pious.-Wendover, p. 308-311.
ALFRED'S YOUTH.-WARS WITH THE DANES UNDER ÆTHELRED.—CHARACTER OF ALFRED'S GOVERNMENT. THE DANES OCCUPY MERCIA, AND ENTER WESSEX FROM THE SOUTH.-ALFRED'S EXILE.-DEFEAT OF THE DANES AT EDINGTON, AND TREATY OF WEDMOR.-LATER INVASIONS AND REPULSES OF THE DANES. -ALFRED'S PUBLIC WORKS.-ALFRED AS LAWGIVER.-OLD AND NEW INSTITUTIONS.-FORMATION OF A FLEET.-REVIVAL OF LEARNING. THE KING'S PRIVATE LIFE.-RELIGIOUS AND ARISTOCRATIC TENDENCIES OF ALFRED'S MIND.
ALFRED was the youngest son of Ethelwulf, by Osburh, daughter of a Jutish noble, the king's cupbearer; and was born at Wantage about the beginning of the year 849 A.D. So long as his mother lived, he appears to have been well cared for and when at most only six years old, was induced to learn by heart some of the Saxon ballads, by a promise of the illuminated book which contained them.1 In 855 A.D. Alfred accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he remained a year. The early influences of his life had no doubt some share in impressing him with a vivid sense of religion. After his father's death, Alfred was probably left to grow up pretty much as he chose. He became a keen sportsman; and a strong animal nature, tempered but not subdued by his piety, seems to have led him into irregularities, which affected his health through life. In his twentieth year he married Ealhswitha, the daughter of Æthelred the Big, earl of
'Pauli's Life of Alfred, pp. 85-90. Dr. Pauli's view, that Alfred only learned the poems by heart, appears to me certain from the context, in which Asser says distinctly that the prince did not learn to read in his youth. The only difficulty is in the word "legit," which probably means, went over," perhaps "spelt over."-Asser, M. B., 474.
BATTLES WITH THE DANES.
the Gainishmen. On the death of his two eldest brothers, and the accession of Ethelred in 866 A.D., Alfred ought, by his father's will, to have been invested with the kingdoms of Kent and Sussex. The urgent need of united action forced king and witan to disregard the foolish bequest; and Alfred, to his high honour, acquiesced in the arrangement, perhaps with an understanding that he should succeed his brother on the throne.
Although the Danish kings of Northumbria were by this time sated with conquest, or chiefly desired to extend their limits toward the north, the allies, under Guthrum, who had just assisted them to conquer East Anglia, and to whom it had been assigned as recompense, were resolved to push their successes south of the Thames. Accordingly, in the winter of 871 A.D., they suddenly sailed up the Thames, not pausing before the strong walls of London or in the Surrey fields, but announcing their arrival by the storm of Reading. They were still so weak that their first sally into the country was repelled by the ealdorman of the district near Englefield. But when Ethelred and Alfred arrived, and attempted to storm the town, the Danes regained their superiority; and the royal brothers were forced to fly across the Thames. The next battle took place on the unknown common of Ashdown, probably in Hampshire. Alfred commenced the fight by a vigorous charge up the slope which the Danes crowned; for a time the issue was doubtful, as Æthelred was hearing mass in his tent, and left his brother unsupported; but at last reinforcements came up; the Danes were routed, and most of their captains slain. The pursuit lasted through the night and the next day to the very walls of Reading, where the fugitives found shelter. But before another fortnight the Danes were sufficiently reinforced to fight again at Basing, where they kept the battle-field. It was their great advantage throughout these wars that they were able to concentrate their whole strength on any given point, while the Saxons trusted too
' Of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.-Pauli's Life of Alfred, p. 121.