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1 Chiefly original. 2 From the Chronicle.

8 Prudentius of Troyes (in Annales Bertiniani, an. 856,, ed. Waitz,
p. 47), says of Bishop Hincmar : ' Earn . . . reginse nomine insignit,
quod sibi suseque genti eatenus fuerat insuetum.'


For the nation of the West Saxons does not allow the
queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called queen, but
only the king's wife ; which refusal, or rather reproach,
the chief persons of that land say arose from a certain
headstrong and malevolent queen of the nation, who did
all things so contrary to her lord and to the whole people
that not only did the hatred which she brought upon her-
self bring to pass her exclusion from the queenly throne,
but also entailed the same corruption upon those who came
after her, since, in consequence of the extreme malignity of
that queen, all the inhabitants of the land banded them-
selves together by an oath never in their lives to let any
king reign over them who should bid his queen take her seat
on the royal throne by his side. And because, as I think,
it is not known to many whence this perverse and detest-
able custom first arose in Wessex, contrary to the custom
of all the Germanic peoples, it seems to me right to explain
it a little more fully, as I have heard it from my lord Alfred
the truth-teller, King of the Anglo-Saxons, who often told
me about it, as he also had heard it from many men
of truth who related the fact, or, I should rather say,
expressly preserved the remembrance of it.

14. Offa and Eadburh. 1 There was in Mercia in recent
times a certain valiant king, who was dreaded by all the
neighboring kings and states. His name was Offa, and it
was he who had the great dike made from sea to sea
between Wales and Mercia. 2 His daughter, named Eadburh,
was married to Beorhtric, King of the West Saxons. The
moment she had possessed herself of the king's good will,
and practically the whole power of the realm, she began to

1 Original.

2 Offa's Dike ; it extended from the mouth of the Dee to that of the


live tyrannically, after the manner of her father. Every
man whom Beorhtric loved she would execrate, and would
do all things hateful to God and man, accusing to the king
all whom she could, thus depriving them insidiously either
of life or of power. And if she could not obtain the king's
consent, she used to take them off by poison, as is ascertained
to have been the case with a certain young man beloved by
the king, whom she poisoned, seeing that she could not
accuse him to the king. It is said, moreover, that King
Beorhtric unwittingly tasted of the poison, though the queen
had intended to give it, not to him, but to the young man ;
the king, however, was beforehand with him, and so both

15. Eadburh's Further Life. 1 King Beorhtric therefore
being dead, the queen, since she could no longer remain
among the Saxons, sailed beyond sea with countless treas-
ures, and came to Charles, 2 King of the Franks. As she
stood before the dais, bringing many gifts to the king, Charles
said to her : ' Choose, Eadburh, between me and my son, who
stands with me on this dais.' She, without deliberation, fool-
ishly replied : ' If I am to have my choice, I choose your son,
because he is younger than you.' At which Charles smiled
and answered : ' If you had chosen me, you should have had
my son ; but since you have chosen him, you shall have
neither me nor him.' However, he gave her a large convent
of nuns, in which, having laid aside her secular habit, and
assumed the dress worn by the nuns, she discharged the
office of abbess for a few years. As she is said to have
lived irrationally in her own country, so she appears to
have acted much more so among a foreign people ; for, being
finally caught in illicit intercourse with a man of her own
nation, she was expelled from the monastery by order of
1 Original. 2 Charlemagne.


King Charles. Henceforward she lived a life of shame in
poverty and misery until her death ; so that at last, accom-
panied only by one slave, as I have heard from many who
saw her, she begged her bread daily at Pavia, 1 and so
wretchedly died.

16. JEthelwulf's Will. 2 Now King ^Ethelwulf lived two
years after his return from Rome ; during which, among
many other good deeds of this present life, reflecting on his
departure .according to the way of all flesh, that his sons
might not quarrel unreasonably after their father's death,
he ordered a will or letter of instructions to be written, 8
in which he commanded that his kingdom should be duly
divided between his two eldest sons ; his private heritage
between his sons, his daughter, and his relatives; and the
money which he should leave behind him between his
soul * and his sons and nobles. Of this prudent policy I
have thought fit to record a few instances out of many for
posterity to imitate, namely, such as are understood to
belong principally to the needs of the soul ; for the others,
which relate only to human stewardship, it is not necessary

1 ' Pavia was on the road to Rome, and was hence frequented by
English pilgrims on their journey to the latter' (Stevenson). The
Chronicle says under 888 : ' Queen ^Ethelswith, who was King Alfred's
sister, died ; and her body lies at Pavia. ' ' With this story of Eadburh's
begging in that city we may compare the statement of St. Boniface,
written about 747, as to the presence of English prostitutes or adulter-
esses in the cities of Lombardy, Frankland, or Gaul (Diimmler, Epis-
tol(K Karolini Mm 1. 355 ; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils 3. 381). At
the date of this letter the Lombards still spoke their native Germanic
tongue, and it is probable that as late as Eadburh's time it was still
the predominant speech in Lombardy ' (Stevenson).

2 Mostly original.

8 In Alfred's will (Cart. Sax. 2. 177. 9) he refers to this as ' AJmlfes
cinges yrfegewrit ' (Stevenson).
4 That is, for the good of his soul.


to insert in this little work, lest prolixity should create
disgust in those who read or wish to hear. For the bene-
fit of his soul, then, which he studied to promote in all
things from the first flower of his youth, he directed that,
through all his hereditary land, one poor man to every ten
hides, 1 either native or foreigner, should be supplied with
food, drink, and clothing by his successors unto the final
Day of Judgment ; on condition, however, that that land
should still be inhabited both by men and cattle, and should
not become deserted. He commanded also a large sum
of money, namely, three hundred mancuses, 2 to be carried
annually to Home for the good of his soul, to be there
distributed in the following manner : a hundred man-
cuses in honor of St. Peter, especially to buy oil for the
lights of that apostolic church on Easter Eve, and also at
cockcrow; a hundred mancuses in honor of St. Paul, for
the same purpose of buying oil for the church of St. Paul
the apostle, to fill the lamps for Easter Eve and cock-
crow ; and a hundred mancuses for the universal apostolic

17. JEthelbald marries Judith. 3 But when King ^Ethel-
wulf was dead <and buried at Winchester), 4 his son ^Ethel-
bald, contrary to God's prohibition and the dignity of a
Christian, contrary also to the custom of all the heathen, 5
ascended his father's bed, and married Judith, daughter
of Charles, King of the Franks, incurring much infamy
from all who heard of it. During two years and a half of

1 Lat. manentibus.

2 A mancus was thirty pence, one-eighth of a pound.

3 Original.

4 From Florence of Worcester. The Annals of St. Neots have: ' and
buried at Steyning ' (Stemrugam).

6 This last statement is incorrect.


lawlessness he held after his father the government of the
West Saxons.

18. JEthelbert's Reign. 1 In the year of our Lord's incar-
nation 860, which was the twelfth of King Alfred's life,
<King> JSthelbald <died, and) was buried at Sherborne.
His brother ./Ethelbert, as was right, added Kent, Surrey,
and Sussex to his realm. In his days a great army of
heathen came from the sea, and attacked and laid waste
the city of Winchester. As they were returning laden
with booty to their ships, Osric, Ealdorman of Hampshire,
with his men, and Ealdorman ^Ethelwulf, with the men of
Berkshire, faced them bravely. Battle was then joined in
the town, and the heathen were slain on every side ; and
rinding themselves unable to resist, they took to flight like
women, and the Christians held the battle-field.

19. ^thelbert's Death. 2 So JEthelbert governed his
kingdom five years in peace and love and honor; and
went the way of all flesh, to the great grief of his subjects.
He rests interred in honorable wise at Sherborne. by the
side of his brother.

20. The Danes in Kent. 3 In the year of our Lord's in-
carnation 864 the heathen wintered in the isle of Thanet,
and made a firm treaty with the men of Kent, who prom-
ised them money for observing their agreement. In the
meantime, however, the heathen, after the manner of foxes,
burst forth with all secrecy from their camp by night, and
setting at naught their engagements, and spurning the
promised money which they knew was less than they

1 From the Chronicle under 860. As ^thelbert was already in pos-
session of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, it should rather be said that he
added Wessex.

2 From the Chronicle under 860.

8 Chiefly from the Chronicle under 865 and 866.


could get by plunder they ravaged all the eastern coast
of Kent.

21. ^thelred's Accession. 1 In the year of our Lord's in-
carnation 866, which was the eighteenth of King Alfred's
life, .(Ethelred, brother of King ^Ethelbert, undertook the
government of the West Saxon realm. The same year a
great fleet of heathen came to Britain from the Danube, 2
and wintered in the kingdom of the East Saxons, which
is called in Saxon East Anglia ; and there they became in
the main an army of cavalry. But, to speak in nautical
phrase, I will no longer commit my vessel to wave and
sail, or steer my roundabout course at a distance from land
through so many calamities of wars and series of years, but
rather return to that which first prompted me to this task :
that is to say, I think it right briefly to insert in this place
the little that has come to my knowledge about the char-
acter of my revered lord Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons,
during the years of infancy and boyhood.

22. Alfred's Rearing. 3 He was extraordinarily beloved
by both his father and mother, and indeed by all the peo-
ple, beyond all his brothers ; in inseparable companionship
with them he was reared at the royal court. 4 As he ad-
vanced through the years of infancy and youth, he appeared
more comely in person than his brothers, as in counte-
nance, speech, and manners he was more pleasing than
they. His noble birth and noble nature implanted in him
from his cradle a love of wisdom above all things, even
amid all the occupations of this present life ; but with
shame be it spoken ! by the unworthy neglect of his

1 The earlier part from the Chronicle.

2 Probably meaning the mouths of the Rhine (Stevenson).

3 Original.

* Curto, a word showing Frankish influence.


parents and governors he remained illiterate till he was
twelve years old or more, though by day and night he was
an attentive listener to the Saxon poems which he often
heard recited, and, being apt at learning, kept them in his
memory. He was a zealous practiser of hunting in all its
branches, and followed the chase with great assiduity and
success ; for his skill and good fortune in this art, and in
all the other gifts of God, were beyond those of every one
else, as I have often witnessed.

23. Alfred and the Book of Saxon Poems. 1 Now on a cer-
tain day his mother was showing him and his brothers a
book of Saxon poetry, which she held in her hand, and
finally said : 'Whichever of you can soonest learn this vol-
ume, to him will I give it.' Stimulated by these words, or
rather by divine inspiration, and allured by the beautifully
illuminated letter at the beginning of the volume, < Alfred) 2
spoke before all his brothers, who, though his seniors in
age, were not so in grace, and answered his mother : l Will
you really give that book to that one of us who can first
understand and repeat it to you ? ' At this his mother
smiled with satisfaction, and confirmed what she had
before said : ' Yes/ said she, < that I will.' Upon this the
boy took the book out of her hand, and went to his master
and learned it by heart, 8 whereupon he brought it back to
his mother and recited it.

24. Alfred's Handbook. 4 After this <he learned) 2 the
daily course, that is, the celebration of the hours, and
afterwards certain Psalms, and many prayers, contained
in a book 6 which he kept day and night in his bosom, as

1 Original. Stevenson would refer this event to a date earlier than
855. 2 From Florence of Worcester.

8 So Pauli and Stevenson interpret legit.
* Original. 5 Cf. chap. 88.


I myself have seen, and always carried about with him,
for the sake of prayer, through all the bustle and business
of this present life. But, sad to relate, he could not gratify
his ardent wish to acquire liberal art, 1 because, as he was
wont to say, there were at that time no good teachers in
all the kingdom of the West Saxons. 2

25. Alfred's Love of Learning. 8 This he would confess,
with many lamentations and with sighs from the bottom
of his heart, to have been one of his greatest difficulties
and impediments in this present life, that when he was
young and had leisure and capacity for learning, he had no
masters; but when he was more advanced in years, he was
continually occupied, not to say harassed, day and night,
by so many diseases unknown to all the physicians of this
island, as well as by internal and external anxieties of
sovereignty, and by invasions of the heathen by sea and
land, that though he then had some store of teachers and
writers, 4 it was quite impossible for him to study. But yet
among the impediments of this present life, from child-
hood to the present day [and, as I believe, even until his
death], 5 he has continued to feel the same insatiable desire.

1 The liberal arts were seven, consisting of the trivium grammar,
logic, and rhetoric and the quadrivium arithmetic, geometry,
music, and astronomy. This course of study was introduced in the
sixth century. Asser here employs the singular, artem, which might
be translated by 'education.'

2 See Alfred's own statement in Appendix I, p. 69.
8 Original.

* Alfred says (Preface to the Pastoral Care) : 'Thanks be to
Almighty God that we have any teachers among us now.' In this
same Preface he mentions, among those who aided him in the trans-
lation, Archbishop Plegmund, Bishop Asser, our author, and the two
priests Grimbold and John. Cf. chaps. 77, 78, 79, 81, 88, and
Appendix I, p. 71. 6 Stevenson brackets this clause.


26. The Danes occupy York. 1 In the year of our Lord's
incarnation 867, which was the nineteenth of the aforesaid
King Alfred's life, the army of heathen before mentioned
removed from East Anglia to the city of York, which is
situated on the north bank of the river Humber.

27. Defeat of the Northumbrians. 1 At that time a vio-
lent discord arose, by the instigation of the devil, among
the Northumbrians, as always is wont to happen to
a people who have incurred the wrath of God. For the
Northumbrians at that time, as I have said, 2 had expelled
their lawful king Osbert from his realm, and appointed a
certain tyrant named ^Ella, not of royal birth, over the
affairs of the kingdom. But when the heathen approached,
by divine providence, and the furtherance of the common
weal by the nobles, that discord was a little appeased, and
Osbert and ^Ella uniting their resources, and assembling
an army, marched to the town of York. The heathen fled
at their approach, and attempted to defend themselves
within the walls of the city. The Christians, perceiving
their flight and the terror they were in, determined to fol-
low them within the very ramparts of the town, and to
demolish the wall ; and this they succeeded in doing, since
the city at that time was not surrounded by firm or strong
walls. When the Christians had made a breach, as they
had purposed, and many of them had entered into the city
along with the heathen, the latter, impelled by grief and
necessity, made a fierce sally upon them, slew them, routed
them, and cut them down, both within and without the
walls. In that battle fell almost all the Northumbrian

1 Mostly from the Chronicle.

2 This clause must refer to the first line of the chapter, as there is
no previous mention of the Northumbrians.


troops, and both the kings were slain ; the remainder, who
escaped, made peace with the heathen.

28. Death of Ealhstan. 1 In the same year, Ealhstan,
Bishop of the church of Sherborne, went the way of all
flesh, after he had honorably ruled his see fifty years ; and
in peace he was buried at Sherborne.

29. Alfred marries. 2 In the year of our Lord's incarna-
tion 868, which was the twentieth of King Alfred's life,
the aforesaid revered King Alfred, then occupying only
the rank of viceroy (secundarify, betrothed 3 and espoused
a noble Mercian lady, 4 daughter of J5thelred, surnamed
Mucill, Ealdorman of the Gaini. 5 The mother of this
lady was named Eadburh, of the royal line of Mercia,
whom I often saw with my own eyes a few years before
her death. She was a venerable lady, and after the decease
of her husband remained many years a chaste widow, even
till her own death.

30. The Danes at Nottingham. 6 In that same year the
above-named army of heathen, leavingNorthumbria, invaded
Mercia, and advanced to Nottingham, which is called in
Welsh Tigguocobauc, 7 but in Latin ' The House of Caves,'

1 From the Chronicle. 2 Original.

8 'Subarravit, formed from sub and arrha, represents literally the
English verb wed, which refers to the giving of security upon the
engagement of marriage. . . . [It] is glossed by beweddian in Napier's
Old English Glosses' (Stevenson).

4 William of Malmesbury calls her ^Ethelswith.

6 Of the Gaini nothing is known.

6 Largely from the Chronicle.

7 'A compound of tig (Modern Welsh ty, "house"), and guocobauc
(Modern Welsh gogofawg), an adjective derived f rom gogof, "cave."
. . . The name ... is certainly applicable to Nottingham, which has
long been famous for the houses excavated out of the soft sandstone
upon which it stands' (Stevenson). The word Nottingham itself, how-
ever, has not this meaning.


and wintered there that same year. Immediately on their
approach, Burgred, King of the Mercians, and all the
nobles of that nation, sent messengers to ^Ethelred, 1 King
of the West Saxons, and his brother Alfred, entreating
them to come and aid them in fighting against the afore-
said army. Their request was readily granted; for the
brothers, as soon as promised, assembled an immense army
from every part of their <realm>, and, entering Mercia, came
to Nottingham, all eager for battle. When now the heathen,
defended by the castle, refused to fight, and the Christians
were unable to destroy the wall, peace was made between
the Mercians and the heathen, and the two brothers,
JEthelred and Alfred, returned home with their troops.

31. The Danes at York. 2 In the year of our Lord's incar-
nation 869, which was the twenty -first of King -Alfred's life,
the aforesaid army of heathen, riding back to Northumbria,
went to the city of York, and there passed the whole winter.

32. The Danes at Thetford. 2 In the year of our Lord's
incarnation 870, which was the twenty-second of King
Alfred's life, the above-mentioned army of heathen passed
through Mercia into East Anglia, and wintered at Thetford. 3

33. The Danes triumph. 2 That same year Edmund,
King of the East Angles, fought most fiercely against that
army ; but, lamentable to say, the heathen triumphed,
for he and most of his men were there slain, while the
enemy held the battle-field, and reduced all that region to

34. Ceolnoth dies. 4 That same year Ceolnoth, Arch-
bishop of Canterbury, went the way of all flesh, and was
buried in peace in that city.

1 Here and elsewhere in the text often spelled ^thered.

2 From the Chronicle. 8 In Norfolk.
4 Mostly from the Chronicle.


35. The Danes defeated at Englefield. 1 In the year of
our Lord's incarnation 871, which was the twenty-third of
King Alfred's life, the heathen army, of hateful memory,
left East Anglia, and, entering the kingdom of the West
Saxons, came to the royal vill called Heading, situated on
the south bank of the Thames, in the district called Berk-
shire ; and there, on the third day after their arrival, their
<two> ealdormen, with great part of the army, rode forth
for plunder, while the others made an entrenchment be-
tween the rivers Thames and Kennet, on the southern
side of the same royal vill. They were encountered by
^Ethelwulf, Ealdorman of Berkshire, with his men, at a
place called Englefield 2 <in English, and in Latin ' The
Field of the Angles'). 8 Both sides fought bravely, and
made long resistance to each other. At length one of the
heathen ealdormen was slain, and the greater part of the
army destroyed; upon which the rest saved themselves
by flight, and the Christians gained the victory and held
the battle-field.

36. Battle of Reading. 1 Four days afterwards, King
^Ethelred and his brother Alfred, uniting their forces and
assembling an army, marched to Reading, where, on their
arrival at the castle gate, they cut to pieces and overthrew
the heathen whom they found outside the fortifications.
But the heathen fought no less valiantly and, rushing like
wolves out of every gate, waged battle with all their
might. Both sides fought long and fiercely, but at last,
sad to say, the Christians turned their backs, the heathen
obtained the victory and held the battle-field, the aforesaid
Ealdorman ^Ethelwulf being among the slain.

1 Chiefly from the Chronicle.

2 Five and one-half miles southwest of Reading.

3 Added from Florence of Worcester by Stevenson.


37. Battle of Ashdown. 1 Boused by this grief and
shame, the Christians, after four days, with all their forces
and much spirit advanced to battle against the aforesaid
army, at a place called Ashdown, 2 which in Latin signi-
fies ' Ash's 8 Hill.' The heathen, forming in two divisions,
arranged two shield- walls of similar size ; and since they
had two kings and many ealdormen, they gave the middle 4
part of the army to the two kings, and the other part to
all the ealdormen. The Christians, perceiving this, divided
their army also into two troops, and with no less zeal
formed shield-walls. 6 But Alfred, as I have been told by
truthful eye-witnesses, marched up swiftly with his men to
the battle-field ; for King ^Ethelred had remained a long
time in his tent in prayer, hearing mass, and declaring that
he would not depart thence alive till the priest had done,
and that he was not disposed to abandon the service of God
for that of men ; and according to these sentiments he acted.
This faith of the Christian king availed much with the
Lord, as I shall show more fully in the sequel.

38. Alfred begins the Attack. 6 Now the Christians had
determined that King ^Ethelred, with his men, should
attack the two heathen kings, and that his brother Alfred,
with his troops, should take the chance of war against all
the leaders of the heathen. Things being so arranged on

1 Chiefly from the Chronicle.

2 The Berkshire Downs (Stevenson).

3 Stevenson is convinced that ^Escesdun, though interpreted as
'mons fraxini,' cannot mean 'the hill of the ash,' but that Ash is
here a man's name.

4 Perhaps mediam is a scribal error for unam or primam (Steven-

5 There is a note on the Germanic shield-wall in my edition of
Judith (305 a ), in the Belles Lettres Series.

6 All original except final clause.


both, sides, the king still continued a long time in prayer,
and the heathen, prepared for battle, had hastened to the
field. Then Alfred, though only second in command, could
no longer support the advance of the enemy, unless he
either retreated or charged upon them without waiting for
his brother. At length, with the rush of a wild boar, he

2 4 5 6 7

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