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A Child's History of England: Ch. 3-6

A Child's History of England: Chapters 1 - 2
A Child's History of England: Chapters 3 - 6
A Child's History of England: Chapters 7 - 10
A Child's History of England: Chapters 11 - 12
A Child's History of England: Chapters 13 - 16
A Child's History of England: Chapters 17 - 21
A Child's History of England: Chapters 22 - 25
A Child's History of England: Chapters 26 - 30
A Child's History of England: Chapters 31 - 35
A Child's History of England: Chapters 36 - 37


ALFRED THE GREAT was a young man, three-and-twenty years of age,
when he became king. Twice in his childhood, he had been taken to
Rome, where the Saxon nobles were in the habit of going on journeys
which they supposed to be religious; and, once, he had stayed for
some time in Paris. Learning, however, was so little cared for,
then, that at twelve years old he had not been taught to read;
although, of the sons of KING ETHELWULF, he, the youngest, was the
favourite. But he had - as most men who grow up to be great and
good are generally found to have had - an excellent mother; and,
one day, this lady, whose name was OSBURGA, happened, as she was
sitting among her sons, to read a book of Saxon poetry. The art of
printing was not known until long and long after that period, and
the book, which was written, was what is called 'illuminated,' with
beautiful bright letters, richly painted. The brothers admiring it
very much, their mother said, 'I will give it to that one of you
four princes who first learns to read.' ALFRED sought out a tutor
that very day, applied himself to learn with great diligence, and
soon won the book. He was proud of it, all his life.

This great king, in the first year of his reign, fought nine
battles with the Danes. He made some treaties with them too, by
which the false Danes swore they would quit the country. They
pretended to consider that they had taken a very solemn oath, in
swearing this upon the holy bracelets that they wore, and which
were always buried with them when they died; but they cared little
for it, for they thought nothing of breaking oaths and treaties
too, as soon as it suited their purpose, and coming back again to
fight, plunder, and burn, as usual. One fatal winter, in the
fourth year of KING ALFRED'S reign, they spread themselves in great
numbers over the whole of England; and so dispersed and routed the
King's soldiers that the King was left alone, and was obliged to
disguise himself as a common peasant, and to take refuge in the
cottage of one of his cowherds who did not know his face.

Here, KING ALFRED, while the Danes sought him far and near, was
left alone one day, by the cowherd's wife, to watch some cakes
which she put to bake upon the hearth. But, being at work upon his
bow and arrows, with which he hoped to punish the false Danes when
a brighter time should come, and thinking deeply of his poor
unhappy subjects whom the Danes chased through the land, his noble
mind forgot the cakes, and they were burnt. 'What!' said the
cowherd's wife, who scolded him well when she came back, and little
thought she was scolding the King, 'you will be ready enough to eat
them by-and-by, and yet you cannot watch them, idle dog?'

At length, the Devonshire men made head against a new host of Danes
who landed on their coast; killed their chief, and captured their
flag; on which was represented the likeness of a Raven - a very fit
bird for a thievish army like that, I think. The loss of their
standard troubled the Danes greatly, for they believed it to be
enchanted - woven by the three daughters of one father in a single
afternoon - and they had a story among themselves that when they
were victorious in battle, the Raven stretched his wings and seemed
to fly; and that when they were defeated, he would droop. He had
good reason to droop, now, if he could have done anything half so
sensible; for, KING ALFRED joined the Devonshire men; made a camp
with them on a piece of firm ground in the midst of a bog in
Somersetshire; and prepared for a great attempt for vengeance on
the Danes, and the deliverance of his oppressed people.

But, first, as it was important to know how numerous those
pestilent Danes were, and how they were fortified, KING ALFRED,
being a good musician, disguised himself as a glee-man or minstrel,
and went, with his harp, to the Danish camp. He played and sang in
the very tent of GUTHRUM the Danish leader, and entertained the
Danes as they caroused. While he seemed to think of nothing but
his music, he was watchful of their tents, their arms, their
discipline, everything that he desired to know. And right soon did
this great king entertain them to a different tune; for, summoning
all his true followers to meet him at an appointed place, where
they received him with joyful shouts and tears, as the monarch whom
many of them had given up for lost or dead, he put himself at their
head, marched on the Danish camp, defeated the Danes with great
slaughter, and besieged them for fourteen days to prevent their
escape. But, being as merciful as he was good and brave, he then,
instead of killing them, proposed peace: on condition that they
should altogether depart from that Western part of England, and
settle in the East; and that GUTHRUM should become a Christian, in
remembrance of the Divine religion which now taught his conqueror,
the noble ALFRED, to forgive the enemy who had so often injured
him. This, GUTHRUM did. At his baptism, KING ALFRED was his
godfather. And GUTHRUM was an honourable chief who well deserved
that clemency; for, ever afterwards he was loyal and faithful to
the king. The Danes under him were faithful too. They plundered
and burned no more, but worked like honest men. They ploughed, and
sowed, and reaped, and led good honest English lives. And I hope
the children of those Danes played, many a time, with Saxon
children in the sunny fields; and that Danish young men fell in
love with Saxon girls, and married them; and that English
travellers, benighted at the doors of Danish cottages, often went
in for shelter until morning; and that Danes and Saxons sat by the
red fire, friends, talking of KING ALFRED THE GREAT.

All the Danes were not like these under GUTHRUM; for, after some
years, more of them came over, in the old plundering and burning
way - among them a fierce pirate of the name of HASTINGS, who had
the boldness to sail up the Thames to Gravesend, with eighty ships.
For three years, there was a war with these Danes; and there was a
famine in the country, too, and a plague, both upon human creatures
and beasts. But KING ALFRED, whose mighty heart never failed him,
built large ships nevertheless, with which to pursue the pirates on
the sea; and he encouraged his soldiers, by his brave example, to
fight valiantly against them on the shore. At last, he drove them
all away; and then there was repose in England.

As great and good in peace, as he was great and good in war, KING
ALFRED never rested from his labours to improve his people. He
loved to talk with clever men, and with travellers from foreign
countries, and to write down what they told him, for his people to
read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now
another of his labours was, to translate Latin books into the
English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested, and
improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might
live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges,
that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their
property, and punished robbers so severely, that it was a common
thing to say that under the great KING ALFRED, garlands of golden
chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man
would have touched one. He founded schools; he patiently heard
causes himself in his Court of Justice; the great desires of his
heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England
better, wiser, happier in all ways, than he found it. His industry
in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into
certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain
pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches
or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched
across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus,
as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost
as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But
when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind
and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and
windows, and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter
and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into
cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first
lanthorns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease,
which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could
relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life,
like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and
then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year
nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the
love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are
freshly remembered to the present hour.

In the next reign, which was the reign of EDWARD, surnamed THE
ELDER, who was chosen in council to succeed, a nephew of KING
ALFRED troubled the country by trying to obtain the throne. The
Danes in the East of England took part with this usurper (perhaps
because they had honoured his uncle so much, and honoured him for
his uncle's sake), and there was hard fighting; but, the King, with
the assistance of his sister, gained the day, and reigned in peace
for four and twenty years. He gradually extended his power over
the whole of England, and so the Seven Kingdoms were united into

When England thus became one kingdom, ruled over by one Saxon king,
the Saxons had been settled in the country more than four hundred
and fifty years. Great changes had taken place in its customs
during that time. The Saxons were still greedy eaters and great
drinkers, and their feasts were often of a noisy and drunken kind;
but many new comforts and even elegances had become known, and were
fast increasing. Hangings for the walls of rooms, where, in these
modern days, we paste up paper, are known to have been sometimes
made of silk, ornamented with birds and flowers in needlework.
Tables and chairs were curiously carved in different woods; were
sometimes decorated with gold or silver; sometimes even made of
those precious metals. Knives and spoons were used at table;
golden ornaments were worn - with silk and cloth, and golden
tissues and embroideries; dishes were made of gold and silver,
brass and bone. There were varieties of drinking-horns, bedsteads,
musical instruments. A harp was passed round, at a feast, like the
drinking-bowl, from guest to guest; and each one usually sang or
played when his turn came. The weapons of the Saxons were stoutly
made, and among them was a terrible iron hammer that gave deadly
blows, and was long remembered. The Saxons themselves were a
handsome people. The men were proud of their long fair hair,
parted on the forehead; their ample beards, their fresh
complexions, and clear eyes. The beauty of the Saxon women filled
all England with a new delight and grace.

I have more to tell of the Saxons yet, but I stop to say this now,
because under the GREAT ALFRED, all the best points of the English-
Saxon character were first encouraged, and in him first shown. It
has been the greatest character among the nations of the earth.
Wherever the descendants of the Saxon race have gone, have sailed,
or otherwise made their way, even to the remotest regions of the
world, they have been patient, persevering, never to be broken in
spirit, never to be turned aside from enterprises on which they
have resolved. In Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the whole world
over; in the desert, in the forest, on the sea; scorched by a
burning sun, or frozen by ice that never melts; the Saxon blood
remains unchanged. Wheresoever that race goes, there, law, and
industry, and safety for life and property, and all the great
results of steady perseverance, are certain to arise.

I pause to think with admiration, of the noble king who, in his
single person, possessed all the Saxon virtues. Whom misfortune
could not subdue, whom prosperity could not spoil, whose
perseverance nothing could shake. Who was hopeful in defeat, and
generous in success. Who loved justice, freedom, truth, and
knowledge. Who, in his care to instruct his people, probably did
more to preserve the beautiful old Saxon language, than I can
imagine. Without whom, the English tongue in which I tell this
story might have wanted half its meaning. As it is said that his
spirit still inspires some of our best English laws, so, let you
and I pray that it may animate our English hearts, at least to this
- to resolve, when we see any of our fellow-creatures left in
ignorance, that we will do our best, while life is in us, to have
them taught; and to tell those rulers whose duty it is to teach
them, and who neglect their duty, that they have profited very
little by all the years that have rolled away since the year nine
hundred and one, and that they are far behind the bright example of


ATHELSTAN, the son of Edward the Elder, succeeded that king. He
reigned only fifteen years; but he remembered the glory of his
grandfather, the great Alfred, and governed England well. He
reduced the turbulent people of Wales, and obliged them to pay him
a tribute in money, and in cattle, and to send him their best hawks
and hounds. He was victorious over the Cornish men, who were not
yet quite under the Saxon government. He restored such of the old
laws as were good, and had fallen into disuse; made some wise new
laws, and took care of the poor and weak. A strong alliance, made
against him by ANLAF a Danish prince, CONSTANTINE King of the
Scots, and the people of North Wales, he broke and defeated in one
great battle, long famous for the vast numbers slain in it. After
that, he had a quiet reign; the lords and ladies about him had
leisure to become polite and agreeable; and foreign princes were
glad (as they have sometimes been since) to come to England on
visits to the English court.

When Athelstan died, at forty-seven years old, his brother EDMUND,
who was only eighteen, became king. He was the first of six boy-
kings, as you will presently know.

They called him the Magnificent, because he showed a taste for
improvement and refinement. But he was beset by the Danes, and had
a short and troubled reign, which came to a troubled end. One
night, when he was feasting in his hall, and had eaten much and
drunk deep, he saw, among the company, a noted robber named LEOF,
who had been banished from England. Made very angry by the
boldness of this man, the King turned to his cup-bearer, and said,
'There is a robber sitting at the table yonder, who, for his
crimes, is an outlaw in the land - a hunted wolf, whose life any
man may take, at any time. Command that robber to depart!' 'I
will not depart!' said Leof. 'No?' cried the King. 'No, by the
Lord!' said Leof. Upon that the King rose from his seat, and,
making passionately at the robber, and seizing him by his long
hair, tried to throw him down. But the robber had a dagger
underneath his cloak, and, in the scuffle, stabbed the King to
death. That done, he set his back against the wall, and fought so
desperately, that although he was soon cut to pieces by the King's
armed men, and the wall and pavement were splashed with his blood,
yet it was not before he had killed and wounded many of them. You
may imagine what rough lives the kings of those times led, when one
of them could struggle, half drunk, with a public robber in his own
dining-hall, and be stabbed in presence of the company who ate and
drank with him.

Then succeeded the boy-king EDRED, who was weak and sickly in body,
but of a strong mind. And his armies fought the Northmen, the
Danes, and Norwegians, or the Sea-Kings, as they were called, and
beat them for the time. And, in nine years, Edred died, and passed

Then came the boy-king EDWY, fifteen years of age; but the real
king, who had the real power, was a monk named DUNSTAN - a clever
priest, a little mad, and not a little proud and cruel.

Dunstan was then Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, whither the body of
King Edmund the Magnificent was carried, to be buried. While yet a
boy, he had got out of his bed one night (being then in a fever),
and walked about Glastonbury Church when it was under repair; and,
because he did not tumble off some scaffolds that were there, and
break his neck, it was reported that he had been shown over the
building by an angel. He had also made a harp that was said to
play of itself - which it very likely did, as AEolian Harps, which
are played by the wind, and are understood now, always do. For
these wonders he had been once denounced by his enemies, who were
jealous of his favour with the late King Athelstan, as a magician;
and he had been waylaid, bound hand and foot, and thrown into a
marsh. But he got out again, somehow, to cause a great deal of
trouble yet.

The priests of those days were, generally, the only scholars. They
were learned in many things. Having to make their own convents and
monasteries on uncultivated grounds that were granted to them by
the Crown, it was necessary that they should be good farmers and
good gardeners, or their lands would have been too poor to support
them. For the decoration of the chapels where they prayed, and for
the comfort of the refectories where they ate and drank, it was
necessary that there should be good carpenters, good smiths, good
painters, among them. For their greater safety in sickness and
accident, living alone by themselves in solitary places, it was
necessary that they should study the virtues of plants and herbs,
and should know how to dress cuts, burns, scalds, and bruises, and
how to set broken limbs. Accordingly, they taught themselves, and
one another, a great variety of useful arts; and became skilful in
agriculture, medicine, surgery, and handicraft. And when they
wanted the aid of any little piece of machinery, which would be
simple enough now, but was marvellous then, to impose a trick upon
the poor peasants, they knew very well how to make it; and DID make
it many a time and often, I have no doubt.

Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was one of the most sagacious
of these monks. He was an ingenious smith, and worked at a forge
in a little cell. This cell was made too short to admit of his
lying at full length when he went to sleep - as if THAT did any
good to anybody! - and he used to tell the most extraordinary lies
about demons and spirits, who, he said, came there to persecute
him. For instance, he related that one day when he was at work,
the devil looked in at the little window, and tried to tempt him to
lead a life of idle pleasure; whereupon, having his pincers in the
fire, red hot, he seized the devil by the nose, and put him to such
pain, that his bellowings were heard for miles and miles. Some
people are inclined to think this nonsense a part of Dunstan's
madness (for his head never quite recovered the fever), but I think
not. I observe that it induced the ignorant people to consider him
a holy man, and that it made him very powerful. Which was exactly
what he always wanted.

On the day of the coronation of the handsome boy-king Edwy, it was
remarked by ODO, Archbishop of Canterbury (who was a Dane by
birth), that the King quietly left the coronation feast, while all
the company were there. Odo, much displeased, sent his friend
Dunstan to seek him. Dunstan finding him in the company of his
beautiful young wife ELGIVA, and her mother ETHELGIVA, a good and
virtuous lady, not only grossly abused them, but dragged the young
King back into the feasting-hall by force. Some, again, think
Dunstan did this because the young King's fair wife was his own
cousin, and the monks objected to people marrying their own
cousins; but I believe he did it, because he was an imperious,
audacious, ill-conditioned priest, who, having loved a young lady
himself before he became a sour monk, hated all love now, and
everything belonging to it.

The young King was quite old enough to feel this insult. Dunstan
had been Treasurer in the last reign, and he soon charged Dunstan
with having taken some of the last king's money. The Glastonbury
Abbot fled to Belgium (very narrowly escaping some pursuers who
were sent to put out his eyes, as you will wish they had, when you
read what follows), and his abbey was given to priests who were
married; whom he always, both before and afterwards, opposed. But
he quickly conspired with his friend, Odo the Dane, to set up the
King's young brother, EDGAR, as his rival for the throne; and, not
content with this revenge, he caused the beautiful queen Elgiva,
though a lovely girl of only seventeen or eighteen, to be stolen
from one of the Royal Palaces, branded in the cheek with a red-hot
iron, and sold into slavery in Ireland. But the Irish people
pitied and befriended her; and they said, 'Let us restore the girl-
queen to the boy-king, and make the young lovers happy!' and they
cured her of her cruel wound, and sent her home as beautiful as
before. But the villain Dunstan, and that other villain, Odo,
caused her to be waylaid at Gloucester as she was joyfully hurrying
to join her husband, and to be hacked and hewn with swords, and to
be barbarously maimed and lamed, and left to die. When Edwy the
Fair (his people called him so, because he was so young and
handsome) heard of her dreadful fate, he died of a broken heart;
and so the pitiful story of the poor young wife and husband ends!
Ah! Better to be two cottagers in these better times, than king
and queen of England in those bad days, though never so fair!

Then came the boy-king, EDGAR, called the Peaceful, fifteen years
old. Dunstan, being still the real king, drove all married priests
out of the monasteries and abbeys, and replaced them by solitary
monks like himself, of the rigid order called the Benedictines. He
made himself Archbishop of Canterbury, for his greater glory; and
exercised such power over the neighbouring British princes, and so
collected them about the King, that once, when the King held his
court at Chester, and went on the river Dee to visit the monastery
of St. John, the eight oars of his boat were pulled (as the people
used to delight in relating in stories and songs) by eight crowned
kings, and steered by the King of England. As Edgar was very
obedient to Dunstan and the monks, they took great pains to
represent him as the best of kings. But he was really profligate,
debauched, and vicious. He once forcibly carried off a young lady
from the convent at Wilton; and Dunstan, pretending to be very much
shocked, condemned him not to wear his crown upon his head for
seven years - no great punishment, I dare say, as it can hardly
have been a more comfortable ornament to wear, than a stewpan
without a handle. His marriage with his second wife, ELFRIDA, is
one of the worst events of his reign. Hearing of the beauty of
this lady, he despatched his favourite courtier, ATHELWOLD, to her
father's castle in Devonshire, to see if she were really as
charming as fame reported. Now, she was so exceedingly beautiful
that Athelwold fell in love with her himself, and married her; but
he told the King that she was only rich - not handsome. The King,
suspecting the truth when they came home, resolved to pay the
newly-married couple a visit; and, suddenly, told Athelwold to
prepare for his immediate coming. Athelwold, terrified, confessed
to his young wife what he had said and done, and implored her to
disguise her beauty by some ugly dress or silly manner, that he
might be safe from the King's anger. She promised that she would;
but she was a proud woman, who would far rather have been a queen
than the wife of a courtier. She dressed herself in her best
dress, and adorned herself with her richest jewels; and when the
King came, presently, he discovered the cheat. So, he caused his
false friend, Athelwold, to be murdered in a wood, and married his
widow, this bad Elfrida. Six or seven years afterwards, he died;
and was buried, as if he had been all that the monks said he was,
in the abbey of Glastonbury, which he - or Dunstan for him - had
much enriched.

England, in one part of this reign, was so troubled by wolves,
which, driven out of the open country, hid themselves in the
mountains of Wales when they were not attacking travellers and
animals, that the tribute payable by the Welsh people was forgiven
them, on condition of their producing, every year, three hundred
wolves' heads. And the Welshmen were so sharp upon the wolves, to
save their money, that in four years there was not a wolf left.

Then came the boy-king, EDWARD, called the Martyr, from the manner
of his death. Elfrida had a son, named ETHELRED, for whom she
claimed the throne; but Dunstan did not choose to favour him, and
he made Edward king. The boy was hunting, one day, down in
Dorsetshire, when he rode near to Corfe Castle, where Elfrida and
Ethelred lived. Wishing to see them kindly, he rode away from his
attendants and galloped to the castle gate, where he arrived at
twilight, and blew his hunting-horn. 'You are welcome, dear King,'
said Elfrida, coming out, with her brightest smiles. 'Pray you
dismount and enter.' 'Not so, dear madam,' said the King. 'My
company will miss me, and fear that I have met with some harm.
Please you to give me a cup of wine, that I may drink here, in the
saddle, to you and to my little brother, and so ride away with the
good speed I have made in riding here.' Elfrida, going in to bring
the wine, whispered an armed servant, one of her attendants, who
stole out of the darkening gateway, and crept round behind the
King's horse. As the King raised the cup to his lips, saying,
'Health!' to the wicked woman who was smiling on him, and to his
innocent brother whose hand she held in hers, and who was only ten
years old, this armed man made a spring and stabbed him in the
back. He dropped the cup and spurred his horse away; but, soon
fainting with loss of blood, dropped from the saddle, and, in his
fall, entangled one of his feet in the stirrup. The frightened
horse dashed on; trailing his rider's curls upon the ground;
dragging his smooth young face through ruts, and stones, and
briers, and fallen leaves, and mud; until the hunters, tracking the
animal's course by the King's blood, caught his bridle, and
released the disfigured body.

Then came the sixth and last of the boy-kings, ETHELRED, whom
Elfrida, when he cried out at the sight of his murdered brother
riding away from the castle gate, unmercifully beat with a torch
which she snatched from one of the attendants. The people so
disliked this boy, on account of his cruel mother and the murder
she had done to promote him, that Dunstan would not have had him
for king, but would have made EDGITHA, the daughter of the dead
King Edgar, and of the lady whom he stole out of the convent at
Wilton, Queen of England, if she would have consented. But she
knew the stories of the youthful kings too well, and would not be
persuaded from the convent where she lived in peace; so, Dunstan
put Ethelred on the throne, having no one else to put there, and
gave him the nickname of THE UNREADY - knowing that he wanted
resolution and firmness.

At first, Elfrida possessed great influence over the young King,
but, as he grew older and came of age, her influence declined. The
infamous woman, not having it in her power to do any more evil,
then retired from court, and, according, to the fashion of the
time, built churches and monasteries, to expiate her guilt. As if
a church, with a steeple reaching to the very stars, would have
been any sign of true repentance for the blood of the poor boy,
whose murdered form was trailed at his horse's heels! As if she
could have buried her wickedness beneath the senseless stones of
the whole world, piled up one upon another, for the monks to live

About the ninth or tenth year of this reign, Dunstan died. He was
growing old then, but was as stern and artful as ever. Two
circumstances that happened in connexion with him, in this reign of
Ethelred, made a great noise. Once, he was present at a meeting of
the Church, when the question was discussed whether priests should
have permission to marry; and, as he sat with his head hung down,
apparently thinking about it, a voice seemed to come out of a
crucifix in the room, and warn the meeting to be of his opinion.
This was some juggling of Dunstan's, and was probably his own voice
disguised. But he played off a worse juggle than that, soon
afterwards; for, another meeting being held on the same subject,
and he and his supporters being seated on one side of a great room,
and their opponents on the other, he rose and said, 'To Christ
himself, as judge, do I commit this cause!' Immediately on these
words being spoken, the floor where the opposite party sat gave
way, and some were killed and many wounded. You may be pretty sure
that it had been weakened under Dunstan's direction, and that it
fell at Dunstan's signal. HIS part of the floor did not go down.
No, no. He was too good a workman for that.

When he died, the monks settled that he was a Saint, and called him
Saint Dunstan ever afterwards. They might just as well have
settled that he was a coach-horse, and could just as easily have
called him one.

Ethelred the Unready was glad enough, I dare say, to be rid of this
holy saint; but, left to himself, he was a poor weak king, and his
reign was a reign of defeat and shame. The restless Danes, led by
SWEYN, a son of the King of Denmark who had quarrelled with his
father and had been banished from home, again came into England,
and, year after year, attacked and despoiled large towns. To coax
these sea-kings away, the weak Ethelred paid them money; but, the
more money he paid, the more money the Danes wanted. At first, he
gave them ten thousand pounds; on their next invasion, sixteen
thousand pounds; on their next invasion, four and twenty thousand
pounds: to pay which large sums, the unfortunate English people
were heavily taxed. But, as the Danes still came back and wanted
more, he thought it would be a good plan to marry into some
powerful foreign family that would help him with soldiers. So, in
the year one thousand and two, he courted and married Emma, the
sister of Richard Duke of Normandy; a lady who was called the
Flower of Normandy.

And now, a terrible deed was done in England, the like of which was
never done on English ground before or since. On the thirteenth of
November, in pursuance of secret instructions sent by the King over
the whole country, the inhabitants of every town and city armed,
and murdered all the Danes who were their neighbours.

Young and old, babies and soldiers, men and women, every Dane was
killed. No doubt there were among them many ferocious men who had
done the English great wrong, and whose pride and insolence, in
swaggering in the houses of the English and insulting their wives
and daughters, had become unbearable; but no doubt there were also
among them many peaceful Christian Danes who had married English
women and become like English men. They were all slain, even to
GUNHILDA, the sister of the King of Denmark, married to an English
lord; who was first obliged to see the murder of her husband and
her child, and then was killed herself.

When the King of the sea-kings heard of this deed of blood, he
swore that he would have a great revenge. He raised an army, and a
mightier fleet of ships than ever yet had sailed to England; and in
all his army there was not a slave or an old man, but every soldier
was a free man, and the son of a free man, and in the prime of
life, and sworn to be revenged upon the English nation, for the
massacre of that dread thirteenth of November, when his countrymen
and countrywomen, and the little children whom they loved, were
killed with fire and sword. And so, the sea-kings came to England
in many great ships, each bearing the flag of its own commander.
Golden eagles, ravens, dragons, dolphins, beasts of prey,
threatened England from the prows of those ships, as they came
onward through the water; and were reflected in the shining shields
that hung upon their sides. The ship that bore the standard of the
King of the sea-kings was carved and painted like a mighty serpent;
and the King in his anger prayed that the Gods in whom he trusted
might all desert him, if his serpent did not strike its fangs into
England's heart.

And indeed it did. For, the great army landing from the great
fleet, near Exeter, went forward, laying England waste, and
striking their lances in the earth as they advanced, or throwing
them into rivers, in token of their making all the island theirs.
In remembrance of the black November night when the Danes were
murdered, wheresoever the invaders came, they made the Saxons
prepare and spread for them great feasts; and when they had eaten
those feasts, and had drunk a curse to England with wild
rejoicings, they drew their swords, and killed their Saxon
entertainers, and marched on. For six long years they carried on
this war: burning the crops, farmhouses, barns, mills, granaries;
killing the labourers in the fields; preventing the seed from being
sown in the ground; causing famine and starvation; leaving only
heaps of ruin and smoking ashes, where they had found rich towns.
To crown this misery, English officers and men deserted, and even
the favourites of Ethelred the Unready, becoming traitors, seized
many of the English ships, turned pirates against their own
country, and aided by a storm occasioned the loss of nearly the
whole English navy.

There was but one man of note, at this miserable pass, who was true
to his country and the feeble King. He was a priest, and a brave
one. For twenty days, the Archbishop of Canterbury defended that
city against its Danish besiegers; and when a traitor in the town
threw the gates open and admitted them, he said, in chains, 'I will
not buy my life with money that must be extorted from the suffering
people. Do with me what you please!' Again and again, he steadily
refused to purchase his release with gold wrung from the poor.

At last, the Danes being tired of this, and being assembled at a
drunken merry-making, had him brought into the feasting-hall.

'Now, bishop,' they said, 'we want gold!'

He looked round on the crowd of angry faces; from the shaggy beards
close to him, to the shaggy beards against the walls, where men
were mounted on tables and forms to see him over the heads of
others: and he knew that his time was come.

'I have no gold,' he said.

'Get it, bishop!' they all thundered.

'That, I have often told you I will not,' said he.

They gathered closer round him, threatening, but he stood unmoved.
Then, one man struck him; then, another; then a cursing soldier
picked up from a heap in a corner of the hall, where fragments had
been rudely thrown at dinner, a great ox-bone, and cast it at his
face, from which the blood came spurting forth; then, others ran to
the same heap, and knocked him down with other bones, and bruised
and battered him; until one soldier whom he had baptised (willing,
as I hope for the sake of that soldier's soul, to shorten the
sufferings of the good man) struck him dead with his battle-axe.

If Ethelred had had the heart to emulate the courage of this noble
archbishop, he might have done something yet. But he paid the
Danes forty-eight thousand pounds, instead, and gained so little by
the cowardly act, that Sweyn soon afterwards came over to subdue
all England. So broken was the attachment of the English people,
by this time, to their incapable King and their forlorn country
which could not protect them, that they welcomed Sweyn on all
sides, as a deliverer. London faithfully stood out, as long as the
King was within its walls; but, when he sneaked away, it also
welcomed the Dane. Then, all was over; and the King took refuge
abroad with the Duke of Normandy, who had already given shelter to
the King's wife, once the Flower of that country, and to her

Still, the English people, in spite of their sad sufferings, could
not quite forget the great King Alfred and the Saxon race. When
Sweyn died suddenly, in little more than a month after he had been
proclaimed King of England, they generously sent to Ethelred, to
say that they would have him for their King again, 'if he would
only govern them better than he had governed them before.' The
Unready, instead of coming himself, sent Edward, one of his sons,
to make promises for him. At last, he followed, and the English
declared him King. The Danes declared CANUTE, the son of Sweyn,
King. Thus, direful war began again, and lasted for three years,
when the Unready died. And I know of nothing better that he did,
in all his reign of eight and thirty years.

Was Canute to be King now? Not over the Saxons, they said; they
must have EDMUND, one of the sons of the Unready, who was surnamed
IRONSIDE, because of his strength and stature. Edmund and Canute
thereupon fell to, and fought five battles - O unhappy England,
what a fighting-ground it was! - and then Ironside, who was a big
man, proposed to Canute, who was a little man, that they two should
fight it out in single combat. If Canute had been the big man, he
would probably have said yes, but, being the little man, he
decidedly said no. However, he declared that he was willing to
divide the kingdom - to take all that lay north of Watling Street,
as the old Roman military road from Dover to Chester was called,
and to give Ironside all that lay south of it. Most men being
weary of so much bloodshed, this was done. But Canute soon became
sole King of England; for Ironside died suddenly within two months.
Some think that he was killed, and killed by Canute's orders. No
one knows.


CANUTE reigned eighteen years. He was a merciless King at first.
After he had clasped the hands of the Saxon chiefs, in token of the
sincerity with which he swore to be just and good to them in return
for their acknowledging him, he denounced and slew many of them, as
well as many relations of the late King. 'He who brings me the
head of one of my enemies,' he used to say, 'shall be dearer to me
than a brother.' And he was so severe in hunting down his enemies,
that he must have got together a pretty large family of these dear
brothers. He was strongly inclined to kill EDMUND and EDWARD, two
children, sons of poor Ironside; but, being afraid to do so in
England, he sent them over to the King of Sweden, with a request
that the King would be so good as 'dispose of them.' If the King
of Sweden had been like many, many other men of that day, he would
have had their innocent throats cut; but he was a kind man, and
brought them up tenderly.

Normandy ran much in Canute's mind. In Normandy were the two
children of the late king - EDWARD and ALFRED by name; and their
uncle the Duke might one day claim the crown for them. But the
Duke showed so little inclination to do so now, that he proposed to
Canute to marry his sister, the widow of The Unready; who, being
but a showy flower, and caring for nothing so much as becoming a
queen again, left her children and was wedded to him.

Successful and triumphant, assisted by the valour of the English in
his foreign wars, and with little strife to trouble him at home,
Canute had a prosperous reign, and made many improvements. He was
a poet and a musician. He grew sorry, as he grew older, for the
blood he had shed at first; and went to Rome in a Pilgrim's dress,
by way of washing it out. He gave a great deal of money to
foreigners on his journey; but he took it from the English before
he started. On the whole, however, he certainly became a far
better man when he had no opposition to contend with, and was as
great a King as England had known for some time.

The old writers of history relate how that Canute was one day
disgusted with his courtiers for their flattery, and how he caused
his chair to be set on the sea-shore, and feigned to command the
tide as it came up not to wet the edge of his robe, for the land
was his; how the tide came up, of course, without regarding him;
and how he then turned to his flatterers, and rebuked them, saying,
what was the might of any earthly king, to the might of the
Creator, who could say unto the sea, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and
no farther!' We may learn from this, I think, that a little sense
will go a long way in a king; and that courtiers are not easily
cured of flattery, nor kings of a liking for it. If the courtiers
of Canute had not known, long before, that the King was fond of
flattery, they would have known better than to offer it in such
large doses. And if they had not known that he was vain of this
speech (anything but a wonderful speech it seems to me, if a good
child had made it), they would not have been at such great pains to
repeat it. I fancy I see them all on the sea-shore together; the
King's chair sinking in the sand; the King in a mighty good humour
with his own wisdom; and the courtiers pretending to be quite
stunned by it!

It is not the sea alone that is bidden to go 'thus far, and no
farther.' The great command goes forth to all the kings upon the
earth, and went to Canute in the year one thousand and thirty-five,
and stretched him dead upon his bed. Beside it, stood his Norman
wife. Perhaps, as the King looked his last upon her, he, who had
so often thought distrustfully of Normandy, long ago, thought once
more of the two exiled Princes in their uncle's court, and of the
little favour they could feel for either Danes or Saxons, and of a
rising cloud in Normandy that slowly moved towards England.


CANUTE left three sons, by name SWEYN, HAROLD, and HARDICANUTE; but
his Queen, Emma, once the Flower of Normandy, was the mother of
only Hardicanute. Canute had wished his dominions to be divided
between the three, and had wished Harold to have England; but the
Saxon people in the South of England, headed by a nobleman with
great possessions, called the powerful EARL GODWIN (who is said to
have been originally a poor cow-boy), opposed this, and desired to
have, instead, either Hardicanute, or one of the two exiled Princes
who were over in Normandy. It seemed so certain that there would
be more bloodshed to settle this dispute, that many people left
their homes, and took refuge in the woods and swamps. Happily,
however, it was agreed to refer the whole question to a great
meeting at Oxford, which decided that Harold should have all the
country north of the Thames, with London for his capital city, and
that Hardicanute should have all the south. The quarrel was so
arranged; and, as Hardicanute was in Denmark troubling himself very
little about anything but eating and getting drunk, his mother and
Earl Godwin governed the south for him.

They had hardly begun to do so, and the trembling people who had
hidden themselves were scarcely at home again, when Edward, the
elder of the two exiled Princes, came over from Normandy with a few
followers, to claim the English Crown. His mother Emma, however,
who only cared for her last son Hardicanute, instead of assisting
him, as he expected, opposed him so strongly with all her influence
that he was very soon glad to get safely back. His brother Alfred
was not so fortunate. Believing in an affectionate letter, written
some time afterwards to him and his brother, in his mother's name
(but whether really with or without his mother's knowledge is now
uncertain), he allowed himself to be tempted over to England, with
a good force of soldiers, and landing on the Kentish coast, and
being met and welcomed by Earl Godwin, proceeded into Surrey, as
far as the town of Guildford. Here, he and his men halted in the
evening to rest, having still the Earl in their company; who had
ordered lodgings and good cheer for them. But, in the dead of the
night, when they were off their guard, being divided into small
parties sleeping soundly after a long march and a plentiful supper
in different houses, they were set upon by the King's troops, and
taken prisoners. Next morning they were drawn out in a line, to
the number of six hundred men, and were barbarously tortured and
killed; with the exception of every tenth man, who was sold into
slavery. As to the wretched Prince Alfred, he was stripped naked,
tied to a horse and sent away into the Isle of Ely, where his eyes
were torn out of his head, and where in a few days he miserably
died. I am not sure that the Earl had wilfully entrapped him, but
I suspect it strongly.

Harold was now King all over England, though it is doubtful whether
the Archbishop of Canterbury (the greater part of the priests were
Saxons, and not friendly to the Danes) ever consented to crown him.
Crowned or uncrowned, with the Archbishop's leave or without it, he
was King for four years: after which short reign he died, and was
buried; having never done much in life but go a hunting. He was
such a fast runner at this, his favourite sport, that the people
called him Harold Harefoot.

Hardicanute was then at Bruges, in Flanders, plotting, with his
mother (who had gone over there after the cruel murder of Prince
Alfred), for the invasion of England. The Danes and Saxons,
finding themselves without a King, and dreading new disputes, made
common cause, and joined in inviting him to occupy the Throne. He
consented, and soon troubled them enough; for he brought over
numbers of Danes, and taxed the people so insupportably to enrich
those greedy favourites that there were many insurrections,
especially one at Worcester, where the citizens rose and killed his
tax-collectors; in revenge for which he burned their city. He was
a brutal King, whose first public act was to order the dead body of
poor Harold Harefoot to be dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the
river. His end was worthy of such a beginning. He fell down
drunk, with a goblet of wine in his hand, at a wedding-feast at
Lambeth, given in honour of the marriage of his standard-bearer, a
Dane named TOWED THE PROUD. And he never spoke again.

EDWARD, afterwards called by the monks THE CONFESSOR, succeeded;
and his first act was to oblige his mother Emma, who had favoured
him so little, to retire into the country; where she died some ten
years afterwards. He was the exiled prince whose brother Alfred
had been so foully killed. He had been invited over from Normandy
by Hardicanute, in the course of his short reign of two years, and
had been handsomely treated at court. His cause was now favoured
by the powerful Earl Godwin, and he was soon made King. This Earl
had been suspected by the people, ever since Prince Alfred's cruel
death; he had even been tried in the last reign for the Prince's
murder, but had been pronounced not guilty; chiefly, as it was
supposed, because of a present he had made to the swinish King, of
a gilded ship with a figure-head of solid gold, and a crew of
eighty splendidly armed men. It was his interest to help the new
King with his power, if the new King would help him against the
popular distrust and hatred. So they made a bargain. Edward the
Confessor got the Throne. The Earl got more power and more land,
and his daughter Editha was made queen; for it was a part of their
compact that the King should take her for his wife.

But, although she was a gentle lady, in all things worthy to be
beloved - good, beautiful, sensible, and kind - the King from the
first neglected her. Her father and her six proud brothers,
resenting this cold treatment, harassed the King greatly by
exerting all their power to make him unpopular. Having lived so
long in Normandy, he preferred the Normans to the English. He made
a Norman Archbishop, and Norman Bishops; his great officers and
favourites were all Normans; he introduced the Norman fashions and
the Norman language; in imitation of the state custom of Normandy,
he attached a great seal to his state documents, instead of merely
marking them, as the Saxon Kings had done, with the sign of the
cross - just as poor people who have never been taught to write,
now make the same mark for their names. All this, the powerful
Earl Godwin and his six proud sons represented to the people as
disfavour shown towards the English; and thus they daily increased
their own power, and daily diminished the power of the King.

They were greatly helped by an event that occurred when he had
reigned eight years. Eustace, Earl of Bologne, who had married the
King's sister, came to England on a visit. After staying at the
court some time, he set forth, with his numerous train of
attendants, to return home. They were to embark at Dover.
Entering that peaceful town in armour, they took possession of the
best houses, and noisily demanded to be lodged and entertained
without payment. One of the bold men of Dover, who would not
endure to have these domineering strangers jingling their heavy
swords and iron corselets up and down his house, eating his meat
and drinking his strong liquor, stood in his doorway and refused
admission to the first armed man who came there. The armed man
drew, and wounded him. The man of Dover struck the armed man dead.
Intelligence of what he had done, spreading through the streets to
where the Count Eustace and his men were standing by their horses,
bridle in hand, they passionately mounted, galloped to the house,
surrounded it, forced their way in (the doors and windows being
closed when they came up), and killed the man of Dover at his own
fireside. They then clattered through the streets, cutting down
and riding over men, women, and children. This did not last long,
you may believe. The men of Dover set upon them with great fury,
killed nineteen of the foreigners, wounded many more, and,
blockading the road to the port so that they should not embark,
beat them out of the town by the way they had come. Hereupon,
Count Eustace rides as hard as man can ride to Gloucester, where
Edward is, surrounded by Norman monks and Norman lords. 'Justice!'
cries the Count, 'upon the men of Dover, who have set upon and
slain my people!' The King sends immediately for the powerful Earl
Godwin, who happens to be near; reminds him that Dover is under his
government; and orders him to repair to Dover and do military
execution on the inhabitants. 'It does not become you,' says the
proud Earl in reply, 'to condemn without a hearing those whom you
have sworn to protect. I will not do it.'

The King, therefore, summoned the Earl, on pain of banishment and
loss of his titles and property, to appear before the court to
answer this disobedience. The Earl refused to appear. He, his
eldest son Harold, and his second son Sweyn, hastily raised as many
fighting men as their utmost power could collect, and demanded to
have Count Eustace and his followers surrendered to the justice of
the country. The King, in his turn, refused to give them up, and
raised a strong force. After some treaty and delay, the troops of
the great Earl and his sons began to fall off. The Earl, with a
part of his family and abundance of treasure, sailed to Flanders;
Harold escaped to Ireland; and the power of the great family was
for that time gone in England. But, the people did not forget

Then, Edward the Confessor, with the true meanness of a mean
spirit, visited his dislike of the once powerful father and sons
upon the helpless daughter and sister, his unoffending wife, whom
all who saw her (her husband and his monks excepted) loved. He
seized rapaciously upon her fortune and her jewels, and allowing
her only one attendant, confined her in a gloomy convent, of which
a sister of his - no doubt an unpleasant lady after his own heart -
was abbess or jailer.

Having got Earl Godwin and his six sons well out of his way, the
King favoured the Normans more than ever. He invited over WILLIAM,
DUKE OF NORMANDY, the son of that Duke who had received him and his
murdered brother long ago, and of a peasant girl, a tanner's
daughter, with whom that Duke had fallen in love for her beauty as
he saw her washing clothes in a brook. William, who was a great
warrior, with a passion for fine horses, dogs, and arms, accepted
the invitation; and the Normans in England, finding themselves more
numerous than ever when he arrived with his retinue, and held in
still greater honour at court than before, became more and more
haughty towards the people, and were more and more disliked by

The old Earl Godwin, though he was abroad, knew well how the people
felt; for, with part of the treasure he had carried away with him,
he kept spies and agents in his pay all over England.

Accordingly, he thought the time was come for fitting out a great
expedition against the Norman-loving King. With it, he sailed to
the Isle of Wight, where he was joined by his son Harold, the most
gallant and brave of all his family. And so the father and son
came sailing up the Thames to Southwark; great numbers of the
people declaring for them, and shouting for the English Earl and
the English Harold, against the Norman favourites!

The King was at first as blind and stubborn as kings usually have
been whensoever they have been in the hands of monks. But the
people rallied so thickly round the old Earl and his son, and the
old Earl was so steady in demanding without bloodshed the
restoration of himself and his family to their rights, that at last
the court took the alarm. The Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, and
the Norman Bishop of London, surrounded by their retainers, fought
their way out of London, and escaped from Essex to France in a
fishing-boat. The other Norman favourites dispersed in all
directions. The old Earl and his sons (except Sweyn, who had
committed crimes against the law) were restored to their
possessions and dignities. Editha, the virtuous and lovely Queen
of the insensible King, was triumphantly released from her prison,
the convent, and once more sat in her chair of state, arrayed in
the jewels of which, when she had no champion to support her
rights, her cold-blooded husband had deprived her.

The old Earl Godwin did not long enjoy his restored fortune. He
fell down in a fit at the King's table, and died upon the third day
afterwards. Harold succeeded to his power, and to a far higher
place in the attachment of the people than his father had ever
held. By his valour he subdued the King's enemies in many bloody
fights. He was vigorous against rebels in Scotland - this was the
time when Macbeth slew Duncan, upon which event our English
Shakespeare, hundreds of years afterwards, wrote his great tragedy;
and he killed the restless Welsh King GRIFFITH, and brought his
head to England.

What Harold was doing at sea, when he was driven on the French
coast by a tempest, is not at all certain; nor does it at all
matter. That his ship was forced by a storm on that shore, and
that he was taken prisoner, there is no doubt. In those barbarous
days, all shipwrecked strangers were taken prisoners, and obliged
to pay ransom. So, a certain Count Guy, who was the Lord of
Ponthieu where Harold's disaster happened, seized him, instead of
relieving him like a hospitable and Christian lord as he ought to
have done, and expected to make a very good thing of it.

But Harold sent off immediately to Duke William of Normandy,
complaining of this treatment; and the Duke no sooner heard of it
than he ordered Harold to be escorted to the ancient town of Rouen,
where he then was, and where he received him as an honoured guest.
Now, some writers tell us that Edward the Confessor, who was by
this time old and had no children, had made a will, appointing Duke
William of Normandy his successor, and had informed the Duke of his
having done so. There is no doubt that he was anxious about his
successor; because he had even invited over, from abroad, EDWARD
THE OUTLAW, a son of Ironside, who had come to England with his
wife and three children, but whom the King had strangely refused to
see when he did come, and who had died in London suddenly (princes
were terribly liable to sudden death in those days), and had been
buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The King might possibly have made
such a will; or, having always been fond of the Normans, he might
have encouraged Norman William to aspire to the English crown, by
something that he said to him when he was staying at the English
court. But, certainly William did now aspire to it; and knowing
that Harold would be a powerful rival, he called together a great
assembly of his nobles, offered Harold his daughter ADELE in
marriage, informed him that he meant on King Edward's death to
claim the English crown as his own inheritance, and required Harold
then and there to swear to aid him. Harold, being in the Duke's
power, took this oath upon the Missal, or Prayer-book. It is a
good example of the superstitions of the monks, that this Missal,
instead of being placed upon a table, was placed upon a tub; which,
when Harold had sworn, was uncovered, and shown to be full of dead
men's bones - bones, as the monks pretended, of saints. This was
supposed to make Harold's oath a great deal more impressive and
binding. As if the great name of the Creator of Heaven and earth
could be made more solemn by a knuckle-bone, or a double-tooth, or
a finger-nail, of Dunstan!

Within a week or two after Harold's return to England, the dreary
old Confessor was found to be dying. After wandering in his mind
like a very weak old man, he died. As he had put himself entirely
in the hands of the monks when he was alive, they praised him
lustily when he was dead. They had gone so far, already, as to
persuade him that he could work miracles; and had brought people
afflicted with a bad disorder of the skin, to him, to be touched
and cured. This was called 'touching for the King's Evil,' which
afterwards became a royal custom. You know, however, Who really
touched the sick, and healed them; and you know His sacred name is
not among the dusty line of human kings.


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