HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
History of the English People - Book I Early England, 449-1071
Wessex and the Northmen - 796-947
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)

The Northmen Ecgberht
Conquests of the Northmen       Wessex and the Northmen
Ælfred English Literature
Eadward the Elder Æthelstan
Dunstan Conquest of the Danelaw

The Northmen

The union which each English kingdom in turn had failed to bring about was brought about by the pressure of the Northmen. The dwellers in the isles of the Baltic or on either side of the Scandinavian peninsula had lain hidden till now from Western Christendom, waging their battle for existence with a stern climate, a barren soil, and stormy seas. It was this hard fight for life that left its stamp on the temper of Dane, Swede, or Norwegian alike, that gave them their defiant energy, their ruthless daring, their passion for freedom and hatred of settled rule. Forays and plunder raids over sea eked out their scanty livelihood, and at the close of the eighth century these raids found a wider sphere than the waters of the northern seas. Tidings of the wealth garnered in the abbeys and towns of the new Christendom which had risen from the wreck of Rome drew the pirates slowly southwards to the coasts of Northern Gaul; and just before Offa's death their boats touched the shores of Britain. To men of that day it must have seemed as though the world had gone back three hundred years. The same northern fiords poured forth their pirate-fleets as in the days of Hengest or Cerdic. There was the same wild panic as the black boats of the invaders struck inland along the river-reaches or moored round the river isles, the same sights of horror, firing of homesteads, slaughter of men, women driven off to slavery or shame, children tossed on pikes or sold in the market-place, as when the English themselves had attacked Britain. Christian priests were again slain at the altar by worshippers of Woden; letters, arts, religion, government disappeared before these northmen as before the northmen of three centuries before.



In 794 a pirate band plundered the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and the presence of the freebooters soon told on the political balance of the English realms. A great revolution was going on in the south, where Mercia was torn by civil wars which followed on Cenwulf's death, while the civil strife of the West-Saxons was hushed by a new king, Ecgberht. In Offa's days Ecgberht had failed in his claim of the crown of Wessex and had been driven to fly for refuge to the court of the Franks. He remained there through the memorable year during which Charles the Great restored the Empire of the West, and returned in 802 to be quietly welcomed as King by the West-Saxon people. A march into the heart of Cornwall and the conquest of this last fragment of the British kingdom in the south-west freed his hands for a strife with Mercia, which broke out in 825 when the Mercian King Beornwulf marched into the heart of Wiltshire. A victory of Ecgberht at Ellandun gave all England south of Thames to the West-Saxons, and the defeat of Beornwulf spurred the men of East-Anglia to rise in a desperate revolt against Mercia. Two great overthrows at their hands had already spent its strength when Ecgberht crossed the Thames in 828, and the realm of Penda and Offa bowed without a struggle to its conqueror. But Ecgberht had wider aims than those of supremacy over Mercia alone. The dream of a union of all England drew him to the north. Northumbria was still strong; in learning and arts it stood at the head of the English race; and under a king like Eadberht it would have withstood Ecgberht as resolutely as it had withstood Æthelbald. But the ruin of Jarrow and Wearmouth had cast on it a spell of terror. Torn by civil strife, and desperate of finding in itself the union needed to meet the northmen, Northumbria sought union and deliverance in subjection to a foreign master. Its thegns met Ecgberht in Derbyshire, and owned the supremacy of Wessex.


Conquests of the Northmen

With the submission of Northumbria the work which Oswiu and Æthelbald had failed to do was done, and the whole English race was for the first time knit together under a single rule. The union came not a moment too soon. Had the old severance of people from people, the old civil strife within each separate realm, gone on it is hard to see how the attacks of the northmen could have been withstood. They were already settled in Ireland; and from Ireland a northern host landed in 836 at Charmouth in Dorsetshire strong enough to drive Ecgberht, when he hastened to meet them, from the field. His victory the year after at Hengestdun won a little rest for the land; but Æthelwulf who mounted the throne on Ecgberht's death in 839 had to face an attack which was only beaten off by years of hard fighting. Æthelwulf fought bravely in defence of his realm; in his defeat at Charmouth as in a final victory at Aclea in 851 he led his troops in person against the sea-robbers; and his success won peace for the land through the short and uneventful reigns of his sons Æthelbald and Æthelberht. But the northern storm burst in full force upon England when a third son, Æthelred, followed his brothers on the throne. The northmen were now settled on the coast of Ireland and the coast of Gaul; they were masters of the sea; and from west and east alike they closed upon Britain. While one host from Ireland fell on the Scot kingdom north of the Firth of Forth, another from Scandinavia landed in 866 on the coast of East-Anglia under Ivar the Boneless and marched the next year upon York. A victory over two claimants of its crown gave the pirates Northumbrian and seizing the passage of the Trent they threatened an attack on the Mercian realm. Mercia was saved by a march of King Æthelred to Nottingham, but the peace he made there with the northmen left them leisure to prepare for an invasion of East-Anglia, whose under-king, Eadmund, brought prisoner before their leaders, was bound to a tree and shot to death with arrows. His martyrdom by the heathen made Eadmund the St. Sebastian of English legend; in later days his figure gleamed from the pictured windows of church after church along the eastern coast, and the stately Abbey of St. Edmundsbury rose over his relics. With him ended the line of East-Anglian under-kings, for his kingdom was not only conquered, but divided among the soldiers of the pirate host when in 880 Guthrum assumed its crown. Already the northmen had turned to the richer spoil of the great abbeys of the Fen. Peterborough, Crowland, Ely went up in flames, and their monks fled or lay slain among the ruins. Mercia, though still free from actual attack, cowered panic-stricken before the Danes, and by payment of tribute owned them as its overlords.


Wessex and the Northmen

In five years the work of Ecgberht had been undone, and England north of the Thames had been torn from the overlordship of Wessex. So rapid a change could only have been made possible by the temper of the conquered kingdoms. To them the conquest was simply their transfer from one overlord to another, and it may be that in all there were men who preferred the overlordship of the Northman to the overlordship of the West-Saxon. But the loss of the subject kingdoms left Wessex face to face with the invaders. The time had now come for it to fight, not for supremacy, but for life. As yet the land seemed paralyzed by terror. With the exception of his one march on Nottingham, King Æthelred had done nothing to save his under-kingdoms from the wreck. But the pirates no sooner pushed up Thames to Reading in 871 than the West-Saxons, attacked on their own soil, turned fiercely at bay. A desperate attack drove the northmen from Ashdown on the heights that overlook the Vale of White Horse, but their camp in the tongue of land between the Kennet and Thames proved impregnable. Æthelred died in the midst of the struggle, and his brother Ælfred, who now became king, bought the withdrawal of the pirates and a few years' breathing-space for his realm. It was easy for the quick eye of Ælfred to see that the northmen had withdrawn simply with the view of gaining firmer footing for a new attack; three years indeed had hardly passed before Mercia was invaded and its under-king driven over sea to make place for a tributary of the invaders. From Repton half their host marched northwards to the Tyne, while Guthrum led the rest to Cambridge to prepare for their next year's attack on Wessex. In 876 his fleet appeared before Wareham, and in spite of a treaty bought by Ælfred, the northmen threw themselves into Exeter. Their presence there was likely to stir a rising of the Welsh, and through the winter Ælfred girded himself for this new peril. At break of spring his army closed round the town, a hired fleet cruised off the coast to guard against rescue, and the defeat of their fellows at Wareham in an attempt to relieve them drove the pirates to surrender. They swore to leave Wessex and withdrew to Gloucester. But Ælfred had hardly disbanded his troops when his enemies, roused by the arrival of fresh hordes eager for plunder, reappeared at Chippenham, and in the opening of 878 marched ravaging over the land. The surprise of Wessex was complete, and for a month or two the general panic left no hope of resistance. Ælfred, with his small band of followers, could only throw himself into a fort raised hastily in the isle of Athelney among the marshes of the Parret, a position from which he could watch closely the movements of his foes. But with the first burst of spring he called the thegns of Somerset to his standard, and still gathering troops as he moved marched through Wiltshire on the northmen. He found their host at Edington, defeated it in a great battle, and after a siege of fourteen days forced them to surrender and to bind themselves by a solemn peace or "frith" at Wedmore in Somerset. In form the Peace of Wedmore seemed a surrender of the bulk of Britain to its invaders. All Northumbria, all East-Anglia, all Central England east of a line which stretched from Thames' mouth along the Lea to Bedford, thence along the Ouse to Watling Street, and by Watling Street to Chester, was left subject to the northmen. Throughout this "Danelaw"--as it was called--the conquerors settled down among the conquered population as lords of the soil, thickly in northern Britain, more thinly in its central districts, but everywhere guarding jealously their old isolation and gathering in separate "heres" or armies round towns which were only linked in loose confederacies. The peace had in fact saved little more than Wessex itself. But in saving Wessex it saved England. The spell of terror was broken. The tide of invasion turned. From an attitude of attack the northmen were thrown back on an attitude of defence. The whole reign of Ælfred was a preparation for a fresh struggle that was to wrest back from the pirates the land they had won.



What really gave England heart for such a struggle was the courage and energy of the King himself. Alfred was the noblest as he was the most complete embodiment of all that is great, all that is loveable, in the English temper. He combined as no other man has ever combined its practical energy, its patient and enduring force, its profound sense of duty, the reserve and self-control that steadies in it a wide outlook and a restless daring, its temperance and fairness, its frank geniality, its sensitiveness to affection, its poetic tenderness, its deep and passionate religion. Religion indeed was the groundwork of Ælfred's character. His temper was instinct with piety. Everywhere throughout his writings that remain to us the name of God, the thought of God, stir him to outbursts of ecstatic adoration. But he was no mere saint. He felt none of that scorn of the world about him which drove the nobler souls of his day to monastery or hermitage. Vexed as he was by sickness and constant pain, his temper took no touch of asceticism. His rare geniality, a peculiar elasticity and mobility of nature, gave colour and charm to his life. A sunny frankness and openness of spirit breathes in the pleasant chat of his books, and what he was in his books he showed himself in his daily converse. Ælfred was in truth an artist, and both the lights and shadows of his life were those of the artistic temperament. His love of books, his love of strangers, his questionings of travellers and scholars, betray an imaginative restlessness that longs to break out of the narrow world of experience which hemmed him in. At one time he jots down news of a voyage to the unknown seas of the north. At another he listens to tidings which his envoys bring back from the churches of Malabar. And side by side with this restless outlook of the artistic nature he showed its tenderness and susceptibility, its vivid apprehension of unseen danger, its craving for affection, its sensitiveness to wrong. It was with himself rather than with his reader that he communed as thoughts of the foe without, of ingratitude and opposition within, broke the calm pages of Gregory or Boethius. "Oh, what a happy man was he," he cries once, "that man that had a naked sword hanging over his head from a single thread; so as to me it always did!" "Desirest thou power?" he asks at another time. "But thou shalt never obtain it without sorrows--sorrows from strange folk, and yet keener sorrows from thine own kindred." "Hardship and sorrow!" he breaks out again, "not a king but would wish to be without these if he could. But I know that he cannot!" The loneliness which breathes in words like these has often begotten in great rulers a cynical contempt of men and the judgements of men. But cynicism found no echo in the large and sympathetic temper of Ælfred. He not only longed for the love of his subjects, but for the remembrance of "generations" to come. Nor did his inner gloom or anxiety check for an instant his vivid and versatile activity. To the scholars he gathered round him he seemed the very type of a scholar, snatching every hour he could find to read or listen to books read to him. The singers of his court found in him a brother singer, gathering the old songs of his people to teach them to his children, breaking his renderings from the Latin with simple verse, solacing himself in hours of depression with the music of the Psalms. He passed from court and study to plan buildings and instruct craftsmen in gold-work, to teach even falconers and dog-keepers their business. But all this versatility and ingenuity was controlled by a cool good sense. Ælfred was a thorough man of business. He was careful of detail, laborious, methodical. He carried in his bosom a little handbook in which he noted things as they struck him--now a bit of family genealogy, now a prayer, now such a story as that of Ealdhelm playing minstrel on the bridge. Each hour of the day had its appointed task, there was the same order in the division of his revenue and in the arrangement of his court.

Wide however and various as was the King's temper, its range was less wonderful than its harmony. Of the narrowness, of the want of proportion, of the predominance of one quality over another which goes commonly with an intensity of moral purpose Ælfred showed not a trace. Scholar and soldier, artist and man of business, poet and saint, his character kept that perfect balance which charms us in no other Englishman save Shakspere. But full and harmonious as his temper was, it was the temper of a king. Every power was bent to the work of rule. His practical energy found scope for itself in the material and administrative restoration of the wasted land. His intellectual activity breathed fresh life into education and literature. His capacity for inspiring trust and affection drew the hearts of Englishmen to a common centre, and began the upbuilding of a new England. And all was guided, controlled, ennobled by a single aim. "So long as I have lived," said the King as life closed about him, "I have striven to live worthily." Little by little men came to know what such a life of worthiness meant. Little by little they came to recognize in Ælfred a ruler of higher and nobler stamp than the world had seen. Never had it seen a King who lived solely for the good of his people. Never had it seen a ruler who set aside every personal aim to devote himself solely to the welfare of those whom he ruled. It was this grand self-mastery that gave him his power over the men about him. Warrior and conqueror as he was, they saw him set aside at thirty the warrior's dream of conquest; and the self-renouncement of Wedmore struck the key-note of his reign. But still more is it this height and singleness of purpose, this absolute concentration of the noblest faculties to the noblest aim, that lifts Ælfred out of the narrow bounds of Wessex. If the sphere of his action seems too small to justify the comparison of him with the few whom the world owns as its greatest men, he rises to their level in the moral grandeur of his life. And it is this which has hallowed his memory among his own English people. "I desire," said the King in some of his latest words, "I desire to leave to the men that come after me a remembrance of me in good works." His aim has been more than fulfilled. His memory has come down to us with a living distinctness through the mists of exaggeration and legend which time gathered round it. The instinct of the people has clung to him with a singular affection. The love which he won a thousand years ago has lingered round his name from that day to this. While every other name of those earlier times has all but faded from the recollection of Englishmen, that of Ælfred remains familiar to every English child.


English Literature

The secret of Ælfred's government lay in his own vivid energy. He could hardly have chosen braver or more active helpers than those whom he employed both in his political and in his educational efforts. The children whom he trained to rule proved the ablest rulers of their time. But at the outset of his reign he stood alone, and what work was to be done was done by the King himself. His first efforts were directed to the material restoration of his realm. The burnt and wasted country saw its towns built again, forts erected in positions of danger, new abbeys founded, the machinery of justice and government restored, the laws codified and amended. Still more strenuous were Ælfred's efforts for its moral and intellectual restoration. Even in Mercia and Northumbria the pirates' sword had left few survivors of the schools of Ecgberht or Bæda, and matters were even worse in Wessex which had been as yet the most ignorant of the English kingdoms. "When I began to reign," said Ælfred, "I cannot remember one priest south of the Thames who could render his service-book into English." For instructors indeed he could find only a few Mercian prelates and priests with one Welsh bishop, Asser. "In old times," the King writes sadly, "men came hither from foreign lands to seek for instruction, and now if we are to have it we can only get it from abroad." But his mind was far from being prisoned within his own island. He sent a Norwegian ship-master to explore the White Sea, and Wulfstan to trace the coast of Esthonia; envoys bore his presents to the churches of India and Jerusalem, and an annual mission carried Peter's-pence to Rome. But it was with the Franks that his intercourse was closest, and it was from them that he drew the scholars to aid him in his work of education. Grimbald came from St. Omer to preside over his new abbey at Winchester; and John, the Old Saxon, was fetched it may be from the Westphalian abbey of Corbey to rule the monastery that Ælfred's gratitude for his deliverance from the Danes raised in the marshes of Athelney. The real work however to be done was done, not by these teachers but by the King himself. Ælfred established a school for the young nobles at his own court, and it was to the need of books for these scholars in their own tongue that we owe his most remarkable literary effort. He took his books as he found them--they were the popular manuals of his age--the Consolation of Boethius, the Pastoral Book of Pope Gregory, the compilation of "Orosius," then the one accessible handbook of universal history, and the history of his own people by Bæda. He translated these works into English, but he was far more than a translator, he was an editor for his people. Here he omitted, there he expanded. He enriched "Orosius" by a sketch of the new geographical discoveries in the North. He gave a West-Saxon form to his selections from Bæda. In one place he stops to explain his theory of government, his wish for a thicker population, his conception of national welfare as consisting in a due balance of the priest, the thegn, and the churl. The mention of Nero spurs him to an outbreak on the abuses of power. The cold Providence of Boethius gives way to an enthusiastic acknowledgement of the goodness of God. As he writes, his large-hearted nature flings off its royal mantle, and he talks as a man to men. "Do not blame me," he prays with a charming simplicity, "if any know Latin better than I, for every man must say what he says and do what he does according to his ability." But simple as was his aim, Ælfred changed the whole front of our literature. Before him, England possessed in her own tongue one great poem and a train of ballads and battle-songs. Prose she had none. The mighty roll of the prose books that fill her libraries begins with the translations of Ælfred, and above all with the chronicle of his reign. It seems likely that the King's rendering of Bæda's history gave the first impulse towards the compilation of what is known as the English or Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was certainly thrown into its present form during his reign. The meagre lists of the kings of Wessex and the bishops of Winchester, which had been preserved from older times, were roughly expanded into a national history by insertions from Bæda: but it is when it reaches the reign of Ælfred that the chronicle suddenly widens into the vigorous narrative, full of life and originality, that marks the gift of a new power to the English tongue. Varying as it does from age to age in historic value, it remains the first vernacular history of any Teutonic people, and save for the work of Ulfilas who found no successors among his Gothic people, the earliest and most venerable monument of Teutonic prose.

But all this literary activity was only a part of that general upbuilding of Wessex by which Ælfred was preparing for a fresh contest with the stranger. He knew that the actual winning back of the Danelaw must be a work of the sword, and through these long years of peace he was busy with the creation of such a force as might match that of the northmen. A fleet grew out of the little squadron which Ælfred had been forced to man with Frisian seamen. The national fyrd or levy of all freemen at the King's call was reorganized. It was now divided into two halves, one of which served in the field while the other guarded its own burhs and townships and served to relieve its fellow when the men's forty days of service were ended. A more disciplined military force was provided by subjecting all owners of five hides of land to thegn-service, a step which recognized the change that had now substituted the thegn for the eorl and in which we see the beginning of a feudal system. How effective these measures were was seen when the new resistance they met on the Continent drove the northmen to a fresh attack on Britain. In 893 a large fleet steered for the Andredsweald, while the sea-king Hasting entered the Thames. Ælfred held both at bay through the year till the men of the Danelaw rose at their comrades' call. Wessex stood again front to front with the northmen. But the King's measures had made the realm strong enough to set aside its old policy of defence for one of vigorous attack. His son Eadward and his son-in-law Æthelred, whom he had set as Ealdorman over what remained of Mercia, showed themselves as skilful and active as the King. The aim of the northmen was to rouse again the hostility of the Welsh, but while Ælfred held Exeter against their fleet, Eadward and Æthelred caught their army near the Severn and overthrew it with a vast slaughter at Buttington. The destruction of their camp on the Lea by the united English forces ended the war; in 897 Hasting again withdrew across the Channel, and the Danelaw made peace. It was with the peace he had won still about him that Ælfred died in 901, and warrior as his son Eadward had shown himself, he clung to his father's policy of rest. It was not till 910 that a fresh rising of the northmen forced Ælfred's children to gird themselves to the conquest of the Danelaw.


Eadward the Elder

While Eadward bridled East-Anglia his sister Æthelflæd, in whose hands Æthelred's death left English Mercia, attacked the "Five Boroughs," a rude confederacy which had taken the place of the older Mercian kingdom. Derby represented the original Mercia on the upper Trent, Lincoln the Lindiswaras, Leicester the Middle-English, Stamford the province of the Gyrwas, Nottingham probably that of the Southumbrians. Each of these "Five Boroughs" seems to have been ruled by its earl with his separate "host"; within each twelve "lawmen" administered Danish law, while a common "Thing" may have existed for the whole district. In her attack on this powerful league Æthelflæd abandoned the older strategy of battle and raid for that of siege and fortress-building. Advancing along the line of Trent, she fortified Tamworth and Stafford on its head-waters; when a rising in Gwent called her back to the Welsh border, her army stormed Brecknock; and its king no sooner fled for shelter to the northmen in whose aid he had risen than Æthelflæd at once closed on Derby. Raids from Middle-England failed to draw the Lady of Mercia from her prey; and Derby was hardly her own when, turning southward, she forced the surrender of Leicester. Nor had the brilliancy of his sister's exploits eclipsed those of the King, for the son of Ælfred was a vigorous and active ruler; he had repulsed a dangerous inroad of the northmen from France, summoned no doubt by the cry of distress from their brethren in England, and had bridled East-Anglia to the south by the erection of forts at Hertford and Witham. On the death of Æthelflæd in 918 he came boldly to the front. Annexing Mercia to Wessex, and thus gathering the whole strength of the kingdom into his single hand, he undertook the systematic reduction of the Danelaw. South of the Middle-English and the Fens lay a tract watered by the Ouse and the Nen--originally the district of a tribe known as the South-English, and now, like the Five Boroughs of the north, grouped round the towns of Bedford, Huntingdon, and Northampton. The reduction of these was followed by that of East-Anglia; the northmen of the Fens submitted with Stamford, the Southumbrians with Nottingham. Eadward's Mercian troops had already seized Manchester; he himself was preparing to complete his conquests, when in 924 the whole of the North suddenly laid itself at his feet. Not merely Northumbria but the Scots and the Britons of Strathclyde "chose him to father and lord."



The triumph was his last. Eadward died in 925, but the reign of his son Æthelstan, Ælfred's golden-haired grandson whom the King had girded as a child with a sword set in a golden scabbard and a gem-studded belt, proved even more glorious than his own. In spite of its submission the North had still to be won. Dread of the northmen had drawn Scot and Cumbrian to their acknowledgement of Eadward's overlordship, but Æthelstan no sooner incorporated Northumbria with his dominions than dread of Wessex took the place of dread of the Danelaw. The Scot King Constantine organized a league of Scot, Cumbrian, and Welshman with the northmen. The league was broken by Æthelstan's rapid action in 926; the North-Welsh were forced to pay annual tribute, to march in his armies, and to attend his councils; the West-Welsh of Cornwall were reduced to a like vassalage, and finally driven from Exeter, which they had shared till then with its English inhabitants, But eight years later the same league called Æthelstan again to the North; and though Constantine was punished by an army which wasted his kingdom while a fleet ravaged its coasts to Caithness the English army had no sooner withdrawn than Northumbria rose in 937 at the appearance of a fleet of pirates from Ireland under the sea-king Anlaf in the Humber. Scot and Cumbrian fought beside the northmen against the West-Saxon King; but his victory at Brunanburh crushed the confederacy and won peace till his death. His brother Eadmund was but eighteen at his accession in 940, and the North again rose in revolt. The men of the Five Boroughs joined their kinsmen in Northumbria; once Eadmund was driven to a peace which left him king but south of the Watling Street; and only years of hard fighting again laid the Danelaw at his feet.



But policy was now to supplement the work of the sword. The completion of the West-Saxon realm was in fact reserved for the hands, not of a king or warrior, but of a priest. Dunstan stands first in the line of ecclesiastical statesmen who counted among them Lanfranc and Wolsey and ended in Laud. He is still more remarkable in himself, in his own vivid personality after eight centuries of revolution and change. He was born in the little hamlet of Glastonbury, the home of his father, Heorstan, a man of wealth and brother of the bishops of Wells and of Winchester. It must have been in his father's hall that the fair, diminutive boy, with scant but beautiful hair, caught his love for "the vain songs of heathendom, the trifling legends, the funeral chaunts," which afterwards roused against him the charge of sorcery. Thence too he might have derived his passionate love of music, and his custom of carrying his harp in hand on journey or visit. Wandering scholars of Ireland had left their books in the monastery of Glastonbury, as they left them along the Rhine and the Danube; and Dunstan plunged into the study of sacred and profane letters till his brain broke down in delirium. So famous became his knowledge in the neighbourhood that news of it reached the court of Æthelstan, but his appearance there was the signal for a burst of ill-will among the courtiers. Again they drove him from Eadmund's train, threw him from his horse as he passed through the marshes, and with the wild passion of their age trampled him under foot in the mire. The outrage ended in fever, and Dunstan rose from his sick-bed a monk. But the monastic profession was then little more than a vow of celibacy and his devotion took no ascetic turn. His nature in fact was sunny, versatile, artistic; full of strong affections, and capable of inspiring others with affections as strong. Quick-witted, of tenacious memory, a ready and fluent speaker, gay and genial in address, an artist, a musician, he was at the same time an indefatigable worker alike at books or handicraft. As his sphere began to widen we see him followed by a train of pupils, busy with literature, writing, harping, painting, designing. One morning a lady summons him to her house to design a robe which she is embroidering, and as he bends with her maidens over their toil his harp hung upon the wall sounds without mortal touch tones which the excited ears around frame into a joyous antiphon.


Conquest of the Danelaw

From this scholar-life Dunstan was called to a wider sphere of activity towards the close of Eadmund's reign. But the old jealousies revived at his reappearance at court, and counting the game lost Dunstan prepared again to withdraw. The king had spent the day in the chase; the red deer which he was pursuing dashed over Cheddar cliffs, and his horse only checked itself on the brink of the ravine at the moment when Eadmund in the bitterness of death was repenting of his injustice to Dunstan. He was at once summoned on the king's return. "Saddle your horse," said Eadmund, "and ride with me." The royal train swept over the marshes to his home; and the king, bestowing on him the kiss of peace, seated him in the abbot's chair as Abbot of Glastonbury. Dunstan became one of Eadmund's councillors, and his hand was seen in the settlement of the north. It was the hostility of the states around it to the West-Saxon rule which had roused so often revolt in the Danelaw; but from the time of Brunanburh we hear nothing more of the hostility of Bernicia, while Cumbria was conquered by Eadmund and turned adroitly to account in winning over the Scots to his cause. The greater part of it was granted to their king Malcolm on terms that he should be Eadmund's "fellow-worker by sea and land." The league of Scot and Briton was thus finally broken up, and the fidelity of the Scots secured by their need of help in holding down their former ally. The settlement was soon troubled by the young king's death. As he feasted at Pucklechurch in the May of 946, Leofa, a robber whom Eadmund had banished from the land, entered the hall, seated himself at the royal board, and drew sword on the cup-bearer when he bade him retire. The king sprang in wrath to his thegn's aid, and seizing Leofa by the hair, flung him to the ground; but in the struggle the robber drove his dagger to Eadmund's heart. His death at once stirred fresh troubles in the north; the Danelaw rose against his brother and successor, Eadred, and some years of hard fighting were needed before it was again driven to own the English supremacy. But with its submission in 954 the work of conquest was done. Dogged as his fight had been, the Dane at last owned himself beaten. From the moment of Eadred's final triumph all resistance came to an end. The Danelaw ceased to be a force in English politics. North might part anew from South; men of Yorkshire might again cross swords with men of Hampshire; but their strife was henceforth a local strife between men of the same people; it was a strife of Englishmen with Englishmen, and not of Englishmen with Northmen.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works