Page images
PDF
EPUB

that this terror was but too justo, The Danes returned with redoubled fury: ,and, though often repulsed, and sometinies defeated, they always obtained their end, by committing plunder, and carrying off their logoty. - They avoided a general engagement, because it was not suited to their plan of operations. Their vessels being, small, ran easily up the creeks and rivers: they drew them ashore, and formed an entrenchment around thein, leaving them under a guard. They scattered themselves over the face of the country in small parties, making spoil of every - thing that came in their way; goods, cattle, and women. If opposed by a superior force, they betook themselves to their vessels, set sail, and invaded some distant quarter, not prepared for their reception. All England was kept in continyal alarm: Hor durst the inhabitants of one part go to the assistance of another, lest their own families and possessions should be exposed to the fury of the ravagers. - Encouraged by their past success, the Danes, in the year 851, landed in so large a body as seemed to threaten the whole island with subjection. But the Anglo-Saxons, though; labouring uoder the weight of superstition, were still a gallant people they roused themselves, and defeated their invaders in several engagements. The Danes,

however, ventured, for the first time, to take up their winiter quarters in England; and receiving, in the following year, a strong reinforcement of three hundred a

and fifty vessele, they advanced from the isle of Thanet, where they kad stationed theinselves, and burnt the cities of London and Canterbury. They were repeatedly defeated, but still maintained their settlenient in the isle of Thanet, and spent the next winter in the isle of Sheppey, 1 (7. The barassed state of his kingdon did not hinder Ethelwolf from making a pilgrimage to Rome. Thither he carried Alfred, his fourth and favourite son, then only six years of age. Ių his return, after a twelvemonth spent in devotions and benefactions to the see of Rome, Ethelwolf married Judith, daughter of the emperor Charles the Bald; and, soon after his arrival in England, he conferred a perpetual donation on the church, by granting to the clergy a tenth of all the produce of land. - During the absence of Ethelwolf, his eldest sou Athelstan, kied; and Etbelbald, the second son, had formed the pro..

[ocr errors]

ject of excluding bis father from the throne. This unnatural attempt gave the pionis monarch little concern. He complied with most of his son's demands, and the kingdom was divided between them. Ethelwolf lived only two years after his return to England, dying in the year 857. He left his kingdom, by will, to be shared between his two eldest sons, Ethelbald and Ethelbert.

8. Ethelbald was a profligate prince, but his reign was happily, short; he died in 860 and was buried at Sherborn, but his remains were afterwards removed to Salisbury:

9. Ethelbert succeeded to the government of the whole kingdom, and conducted himself, during a reign of five years, in a manner more suitable to his rank." England was still ivfested by the depredations of the Danes; who in this reign sacked Winchester, but were there defeated.

10. Ethelred succeeded to the throne in 866; his whole reign was one continued struggle with the Danes. He defended his kigdomn with niuch bravery, and was gallantly seconded in all his efforts by his younger brother, Alfred; who, though excluded from a large inheritance left him by his father, generously sacrificed his resentment to the public good.

The Danes in 870, destroyed the monasteries of Bradney, Crowland, Peterborough, Ely, and Huntingdon; and in East Anglia they murdered Edinand, at Edmundsbury, in Suffolk. Ethelred routed the Danes, 871'; at Assendon. He had nine pitched battles with them in one year, and was wounded at Wirtingham, which occasioned his death in 872. He was buried at Winborne, in Dorsetshire,

11. Alfred, was now twenty years of age, and a prince of very promising talents. He had no sooner buried his brother, than he was obliged to take the field against the Dapes. They had seized Wilton, and were ravaging the neighbouring country. He gave them battle, and at first gained some advantage over them, but, persuing his victory too far, he was worsted by the enemy. The loss of the Danes, however, was so considerable that, fearing Alfred might suddenly receive reinforcements from his subjects, they stipulated for a safe retreat, under a promise of leaving the kingdoni. They were no sooner delivered from danger than they renewed their ravages.

A new swarm of Danes landed under three principal leaders ; and

Alfred, in the year 875, fought eight battles with these faithless and inhuman invaders, and reduced them to the greatest extremity. But this generous prince, again condescending to treat with them, was again deceived. While he was expecting the execution of the agreement, a third swarm landed from the northern hive, and reduced the Saxons to despair.'. Some left their country, other's submitted to the conquerors, but none would listen to the exhortations of Alfred ; who, still undismayed, intreated them to make one exertion more in defence of their possessions, their liberty, and their prince. Thus abandoned by his subjects, this illustrious monarch was obliged to lay aside the ensigos of his dignity, and assume the babit of a peasant. In that mean disguise, he eluded the pursuit and fury of his enemies. At length, in the year 880, a prosperous event emboldened the royal fugitive to leave his retreat, and enter on a scene of action more worthy of himself.

12. Oddune, Earl of Devonshire, being besieged in his castle by Hubba; a celebrated Danish general, made an unexpected sally upon the enemy, routed and pursued them with great slaughter; killed Hubba bimself, and got possession of the famous Reafen, or Raven, auenchanted standard, in which the Danes put great confidence. The news of this victory was immediately carried by the faithful eari to Alfred, who entered the Danish camp under the disguise of a harper, and passed unsuspected through every quarter. He observed the supine security of the ravagers, their contempt of the English, and their neglect of all military regulations. Encouraged by these propitious appearances, he sent secret intelligence to his most powerful subjects, and summoned them to assemble, along with their retainers, on the borders of Sherwood Forest. The English joyfully resorted to the place of rendezvous, They saluted their beloved monarch with bursts of applause ; they could not satiate their eyes with the sight of a prince whom they had believed dead, and who now appeared as stheir deliverer; they begged to bei led to, liberty and vengeance. Alfred did not suffer their árdour to cool ; the conducted them instantly tó Eddingtou, where the Danes lay encamped ; and, taking advantage of his previous knowledge of the enemy's situation, he directed bis attack against the most unguarded quarter. Surprised to see an army of Englisbpien, whom they considered as totally subdued, and still more to find Alfred at their head, the Danes made but a feeble resistance, notwithstanding their superior numbers. They were soou put to fligbt, and routed with great slaughter.

Alfred, no less generous than brate, granted them their lives on submission, and liberty to settle in tlie kingdoms of Northumberland and East Anglia, on condition that they should embrace Christianity. They consented, and were baptized. The king sload godfather to Guthrum the Danishi prince.

13. Alfred, in the mean time, was employed in establish ing civil and military institutions, in composing the minds of men to industry and justice, and in providing against the return of like calamities. After rebuilding the ruined eities, particularly London, which had been destroyed by the Danes in the reigo of Ethelwolf, he established a regular militia for the defence of the kingdoin. He took care that all his subjects should be armed and registered, and assigned them a regular round of duty; he distribnted one part into the castles and fortresses, which he erected at proper places; he appointed another to take the field on any alarm, and assembled at stated places of rendezvous" ;* and he left a sufficient number at home, who were employed in the cultivation of the lards, and afterwards took their turn in niilitary service. The whole kingdom was like one great garrison; the Danes could lio sooner land in any quarter, than a sufficient force was ready to oppose them, and that withort leaving the other parts naked or defenceless.

But Alfred did not trust solely to his land forces. He may be considered as the creator of the English navy, as well as the establisher of the moriarchy. Sensible that ships are the niost natural bulwark of an island, he provided himself with a naval force, and met the Danes on their own element, "A feet of a hundred and twenty armed vessels was stationed on the coast : and being provided with warlike engines, and expert seamen, both Frisians and English, maintained a superiority over the enemy, and gave birth to that claim, which England still supports, the sovereignty of the ocean.

14. In order to render the execution of justice” more striet and regular, Alfred divided all England into counties; these counties he subdivided into hundreds, and the hundreds into tythings. Every householder was answerable for the behaviour of his family, of his slaves, and even of bis guests, if they resided above three days in his house. Ten neighbouring householders, answerable for each other's condact, were formed into one corporation, under the name of a tything, decennary, or fribourgh, over which a person called a tything-man, headbourgh, or borsholder, presided. Every man was punished as an outlaw who did not register himself in some tything; and no man could change his habitation without a warrant and certificate from the borsholder of the tything to which he formerly belonged.

These regulations may seem rigorous; but Alfred took care to temper their severity by other institutions favourable to the freedom and security of the subject. Nothing could be more liberal than his plan for the administration of justice. The borsholder summoned his whole decenuary to assist him in the decision of smaller differences among the members of the corporation. In controversies of greater moment, the dispute was brought before the hundred, which consisted of ten decennaries, or a hundred families of free

and was regularly assembled once in four weeks, for the trying of causes. Their mode of decision claims attention. Twelve freeholders were chosen; who having sworn along with the magistrate of the hundred to administer im. partial justice, proceeded to the examination of the cause that was submitted to them. In this simple form of trial will be perceived the origin of juries, or judgment by equals, an institution now almost peculiar to the English nation, admirable in itself, and the best calculated for the preservation of man's natural rights, and the administration of justice. Besides these monthly meetings of the hundred, there was an annual meeting, appointed for the more general inspection of the police of the district : inquiring into crines, correcting abuses in magistrates, and obliging every person to show the decennary in which he was registered. In imitation of their ancestors, the antient Germans, the people on those occasious assem. bled in arms; whence a hundred was sometimes called a wapentake, and its court served for the support of mi-,

(

men,

« PreviousContinue »