ALFRED A TYPICAL ENGLISHMAN.
Athelney and Shaftesbury, and to the other more secular school, perhaps at Oxford, which he had founded for the sons of nobles.
It is not without reason that we look back upon Alfred as the typical English king. Whether or not the name of England as a commonwealth, and not merely a province, was first introduced under him is a little uncertain1 and quite unimportant; our national history dates from the peace of Wedmor. Its struggles and its victories had transferred the prestige of the national name to Wessex; it remained for the great statesman to reconstruct society, preserving its old institutions, and informing them with new ideas. Both in his greatnesses and in his imperfections Alfred represents his people: patient, resolute, inexorably attached to duty and truth, with a certain practical sagacity, but over-careless of logical consistency, and sacrificing thought to fact, the future to the moment. The state church, which we owe to Alfred, confounding, as it did by its old theory, of which some vestiges still remain, the duties of Christian and citizen, is a strange legacy for a statesman to have bequeathed us; the English king, blinded by his moral abhorrence of sin, laid down resolutely the first principles of religion by the side of the secular and inconsistent laws of his people; he had given them the ideal of life, let them work it out as they could. A thousand years of clashing jurisdictions, civil law contending with criminal, divine theories of kingship contending with peoples' charters, laws of marriage as a sacrament with laws of marriage as a contract, attest how that unextinguished torch has been handed down through successive generations. Yet, with all its inconsistencies, that Saxon and mediæval theory of a people framing their life in accordance with God's law, and regarding eternal truth, not cheap government or success, as the final cause of their exist
1 The first mention I know of the term "English" to express the AngloSaxon people, is in Alfred and Guthrum's Peace.-A. S. Laws, p. 153. But the date of the MS. is unknown. Probably many Angles had fled into Wessex before the Danes, and it might be an object to conciliate Mercia.
2 Thus, for instance, the Jewish institution of the Jubilee occurs in the preface to laws which sanction slavery.
ARISTOCRATIC AND CATHOLIC TRAITS.
ence, is among the grandest conceptions of history. It is Plato's republic, administered, not by philosophers, but by the vulgar; failing because its ideal was higher than men could bear, not, like some modern governments, because it was baser than even common men could endure.
In one or two minor points, we may trace a curious resemblance between the views of Alfred and those of later English society. His character was of that sterling conservative type, which bases itself upon old facts, but accepts new facts as a reason for change. Recognizing slavery, he was yet careful in his will to provide for the liberty of his old servants. It is in his laws that we first find the principle of entail maintained,1 and in his will he declares his intention of following his grandfather's example, and leaving his lands on the spear-side. His laws confirmed the authority of the nobles as well as that of the king. That he opened the ranks to the ceorl who enriched himself, or to the merchant who had made three vayages, proves indeed that his love of order was not the narrow and senseless love of caste, but does not weaken the presumption that he was aristocratic in his sympathies. The watchwords of modern democracy would have sounded strangely in his ears. Some regard him as a Protestant before Luther. It is the fondest of speculations to discover such abstract tendencies in Alfred; his devotion, his admiration of Gregory, and the wish to revive monasticism, indicate a more Catholic tone of mind than was common in Saxon England at that time. It is possible that a more original thinker, such as Scotus Erigena was, might, if called upon to legislate, have anticipated the modes of thought that are common in our own days. But it is at least doubtful whether such high speculative talent could have been combined with the tact, the statesmanship, and the success of Alfred.3
1 Alfred's Laws, 41; A. S. Laws, vol. i., p. 89.
2 Ranks: A. S. Laws, vol. i., p. 191.
'Pauli's Life of Alfred, p. 384. M. Pauli adopts the idea from Bicknell's Life of Alfred the Great, pp. 290-294.
THE SAXON SOVEREIGNTY.
ACCESSION AND Reign of EDWARD.—ATHELSTANE'S PARENTAGE.-SUBJUGATION OF NORTHUMBRIA.-RELATIONS OF ENGLAND WITH THE CONTINENT.-ATHELSTANE'S LAWS.-EDMUND.-EDRED.-REVIVAL OF THE MILITARY SPIRIT.
THE Sons of Ethelred had submitted without opposition to their uncle's sovereignty; but on Alfred's death, 901 A.D., Æthelwald put in his claim as heir to the eldest son of Athelwulf. The witan, however, confirmed the succession in Alfred's line, partly, no doubt, influenced by the glory of their late king; partly by respect for Edward's ability, of which he had given signal proof in the defeat of Hastings at Farnham.1 The decision is a memorable instance of the power claimed by the witan to appoint their king. Æthelwald, a licentious, violent man, retired into East Anglia, and allied himself with the Danes. The restless warriors acknowledged his title as lordparamount, crossed the marches again, and penetrated into Berkshire, laying waste as they went, till recalled by the news that Edward was ravaging Anglia. The Saxon king resolved to withdraw without a battle; but the men of Kent, who formed a separate corps, refused to obey orders, and were overtaken by the enemy. The victory remained with the superior numbers of the Danes, but they bought it with the loss of their king and his chief nobles. Fortunately, the Pretender Ethelwald was among the slain.
Edward followed up and consolidated his father's conquests. On the death of his brother-in-law, the king of Mercia, 910 A.D., Edward annexed the province, allowing it, indeed, to
1 Ethelweard, lib. iv., M.B., p. 518.
remain under the government of his sister, the dowager-queen, Æthelflæd; but incorporating London and Oxford at once, and the whole of the province finally, when Æthelflæd died in 919 A.D. Between 910 A.D. and 921 A.D., there was almost incessant war with the Danes of the north and east, with Danish searovers, and with the Welsh. Æthelflæd seems to have been as good a general as her brother; after bearing one child, a daughter, she had of her own accord renounced motherhood; and now that her husband's death and her brother's appointment made her lady of her own land, she did justice to the appointment in several hard-fought battles: defeating the Welsh at Brecknock, and storming Derby, which its Danish citizens defended with obstinate courage. It was part of Edward's policy to consolidate all his conquests with walled towns. The advantage of this was soon seen in the repeated failures sustained by the enemy; in one last effort, 921 A.D., the Danes attempted to destroy four of the fortresses built against them; they were foiled, and made submission from Northamptonshire southward. In the three next years, Edward penetrated to Manchester and Stamford. At his death in 925 A.D., Northumbria and Wales were tributary, and most of the country south of the Humber might be regarded as a single state.
Edward's successor, Athelstane, was his son by a first marriage with a woman not of high birth; Anglo-Saxon legend says a shepherd woman. It was doubtful whether the son of such an union had any right to succeed. But Athelstane had been the favourite of his grandfather Alfred, who delighted to see the young prince dressed up in the royal purple, with studded belt, and sword in a gold sheath. After Alfred's death, the boy had been brought up by his aunt Æthelflæd, whose memory was still dear to all Englishmen, and especially to all Mercians. Lastly, Edward, anticipating dispute, had expressly declared Athelstane his successor; and Athelstane's age and reputation of themselves pointed him out as fitter for royalty than his young half-brothers. Accordingly, first the Mercian and then the West Saxon witan acknowledged him as their
king. Unhappily, the Ætheling Alfred, in spite of the judgement of the nobles, attempted to seize his brother in Winchester, and unfit him for the crown by putting out his eyes. The plot was discovered, but as Alfred protested his innocence, he was sent to Rome to stand trial before the Pope. As he took the holy wafer in his mouth, in pledge that he was unjustly accused, the judgement of God overtook him: he fell to the ground, and died two days afterwards. The death of a younger brother, Edwin, at sea, 933 A.D., has been ascribed in legend to Athelstane's jealousy; history knows nothing of the crime, and it would have been useless while other sons of Edward survived.
Athelstane carried the nation forward in its career of conquest. His sister Edith, in the first year of his reign, was married to Sigtric, king of the western and northern portions of Northumbria. Sigtric had been baptized as a condition of the alliance, but he very soon deserted his wife, and relapsed into paganism. His death, and Athelstane's occupation of his kingdom, are events that probably have a close connection with the apostasy and insult to the Saxon princess. Of the sons of Sigtric, Anlaf fled into Ireland; Godfrid, after a vain attempt to recover York from its Danish prince, Ragnald, appeared at Athelstane's court, and was hospitably entertained. But in four days, from suspicion or mere restlessness, he fled and took up the trade of a sea-king. Athelstane now completed the subjugation of the north and west. Constantine, king of Scotland, and Hoel-Dda, the great Welsh lawgiver, were forced to do homage to the English king; the Britons of the west were made to retire from Exeter, and to take the Tamar instead of the Exe as a boundary; while an attempt on the part of the Scotch to shake off the English yoke, was punished
'Northumbria was now split up into three principal dominions: East Yorkshire, including York, had been conquered by Ragnald, a Danish adventurer, 912 A.D.; Cumberland was governed by a British prince, Owen; while the remaining provinces were those which Sigtric's sons laid claim to.-Palgrave's Eng. Com., cccxvi.; Lappenberg, band i., p. 382.
2 Wendover, vol i., p. 385.