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return to their own country, they willingly embraced an opportunity of
settling in the warm climates and cultivated fields of the south.

Affairs were in this situation with Rollo and his followers, when
Charles proposed to relinquish to them part of the province formerly
called Neustria, and to purchase peace on these hard conditions.
After all the terms were fully settled, there appeared only one
circumstance shocking to the haughty Dane: he was required to do
homage to Charles for this province, and to put himself in that
humiliating posture imposed on vassals by the rites of the feudal law.
He long refused to submit to this indignity; but being unwilling to
lose such important advantages for a mere ceremony, he made a
sacrifice of his pride to his interest, and acknowledged himself, in
form, the vassal of the French monarch [k]. Charles gave him his
daughter, Gisla, in marriage; and that he might bind him faster to his
interests, made him a donation of a considerable territory, besides
that which he was obliged to surrender to him by his stipulations.
When some of the French nobles informed him, that in return for so
generous a present it was expected that he should throw himself at the
king's feet and make suitable acknowledgments for his bounty, Rollo
replied, that he would rather decline the present; and it was with
some difficulty they could persuade him to make that compliment by one
of his captains. The Dane commissioned for this purpose, full of
indignation at the order, and despising so unwarlike a prince, caught
Charles by the foot, and pretending to carry it to his mouth, that he
might kiss it, overthrew him before all his courtiers. The French,
sensible of their present weakness, found it prudent to overlook this
insult [l].
[FN [k] Ypod. Neust. p. 417. [1] Gul Gemet. lib. 2. cap. 17.]

Rollo, who was now in the decline of life, and was tired of wars and
depredations, applied himself, with mature counsels, to the settlement
of his newly-acquired territory, which was thenceforth called
Normandy; and he parcelled it out among his captains and followers.
He followed, in this partition, the customs of the feudal law, which
was then universally established in the southern countries of Europe,
and which suited the peculiar circumstances of that age. He treated
the French subjects, who submitted to him, with mildness and justice;
he reclaimed his ancient followers from their ferocious violence; he
established law and order throughout his state; and after a life spent
in tumult and ravages, he died peaceably in a good old age, and left
his dominions to his posterity [m].
[FN [m] Ibid. cap. 19, 20, 21.]

William I. who succeeded him, governed the duchy twenty-five years;
and, during that time, the Normans were thoroughly intermingled with
the French, had acquired their language, had imitated their manners,
and had made such progress towards cultivation, that on the death of
William, his son Richard, though a minor [n], inherited his dominions:
a sure proof that the Normans were already somewhat advanced in
civility, and that their government could now rest secure on its laws
and civil institutions, and was not wholly sustained by the abilities
of the sovereign. Richard, after a long reign of fifty-four years,
was succeeded by his son of the same name in the year 996 [o]; which
was eighty-five years after the first establishment of the Normans in
France. This was the duke who gave his sister Emma in marriage to
Ethelred, King of England, and who thereby formed connexions with a
country which his posterity was so soon after destined to subdue.
[FN [n] Order. Vitalis, p. 459. Gul. Gemet. lib. 4. cap. 1. [o]
Order. Vitalis, p. 459.]

The Danes had been established during a longer period in England than
in France; and though the similarity of their original language to
that of the Saxons invited them to a more early coalition with the
natives, they had hitherto found so little example of civilized
manners among the English, that they retained all their ancient
ferocity, and valued themselves only on their national character of
military bravery. The recent as well as more ancient achievements of
their countrymen tended to support this idea; and the English princes,
particularly Athelstan and Edgar, sensible of that superiority, had
been accustomed to keep in pay bodies of Danish troops, who were
quartered about the country, and committed many violences upon the
inhabitants. These mercenaries had attained to such a height of
luxury, according to the old English writers [p], that they combed
their hair once a day, bathed themselves once a week, changed their
clothes frequently; and by all these arts of effeminacy, as well as by
their military character, had rendered themselves so agreeable to the
fair sex, that they debauched the wives and daughters of the English,
and dishonoured many families. But what most provoked the
inhabitants, was, that instead of defending them against invaders,
they were ever ready to betray them to the foreign Danes, and to
associate themselves with all straggling parties of that nation. The
animosity between the inhabitants of English and Danish race had from
these repeated injuries risen to a great height; when Ethelred, from a
policy incident to weak princes, embraced the cruel resolution of
massacring the latter throughout all his dominions [q]. [MN 1002.]
Secret orders were despatched to commence the execution everywhere on
the same day; and the festival of St. Brice [MN Nov. 13.], which fell
on a Sunday, the day on which the Danes usually bathed themselves, was
chosen for that purpose. It is needless to repeat the accounts
transmitted concerning the barbarity of this massacre: the rage of the
populace, excited by so many injuries, sanctioned by authority, and
stimulated by example, distinguished not between innocence and guilt,
spared neither sex nor age, and was not satiated without the tortures
as well as death of the unhappy victims. Even Gunilda, sister to the
King of Denmark, who had married Earl Paling, and had embraced
Christianity, was, by the advice of Edric, Earl of Wilts, seized and
condemned to death by Ethelred, after seeing her husband and children
butchered before her face. This unhappy princess foretold, in the
agonies of despair, that her murder would soon be avenged by the total
ruin of the English nation.
[FN [p] Wallingford, p. 547. [q] See note [D] at the end of the

[MN 1003.]
Never was prophecy better fulfilled; and never did barbarous policy
prove more fatal to the authors. Sweyn and his Danes, who wanted but
a pretence for invading the English, appeared off the western coast,
and threatened to take full revenge for the slaughter of their
countrymen. Exeter fell first into their hands, from the negligence
or treachery of Earl Hugh, a Norman, who had been made governor by the
interest of Queen Emma. They began to spread their devastations over
the country; when the English, sensible what outrages they must now
expect from their barbarous and offended enemy, assembled more early,
and in greater numbers than usual, and made an appearance of vigorous
resistance. But all these preparations were frustrated by the
treachery of Duke Alfric, who was intrusted with the command, and who,
feigning sickness, refused to lead the army against the Danes, till it
was dispirited, and at last dissipated, by his fatal misconduct.
Alfric soon after died; and Edric, a greater traitor than he, who had
married the king's daughter, and had acquired a total ascendant over
him, succeeded Alfric in the government of Mercia, and in the command
of the English armies. A great famine, proceeding partly from the bad
seasons, partly from the decay of agriculture, added to all the other
miseries of the inhabitants. The country, wasted by the Danes,
harassed by the fruitless expeditions of its own forces, was reduced
to the utmost desolation; and at last [MN 1007.] submitted to the
infamy of purchasing a precarious peace from the enemy, by the payment
of thirty thousand pounds.

The English endeavoured to employ this interval in making preparations
against the return of the Danes, which they had reason soon to expect.
A law was made, ordering the proprietors of eight hides of land to
provide each a horseman and a complete suit of armour; and those of
three hundred and ten hides to equip a ship for the defence of the
coast. When this navy was assembled, which must have consisted of
near eight hundred vessels [r], all hopes of its success were
disappointed by the factions, animosities, and dissensions of the
nobility Edric had impelled his brother Brightric to prefer an
accusation of treason against Wolfnoth, Governor of Sussex, the father
of the famous Earl Godwin; and that nobleman, well acquainted with the
malevolence, as well as power of his enemy, found no means of safety
but in deserting with twenty ships to the Danes. Brightric pursued
him with a fleet of eighty sail; but his ships being shattered in a
tempest, and stranded on the coast, he was suddenly attacked by
Wolfnoth, and all his vessels were burnt or destroyed. The imbecility
of the king was little capable of repairing this misfortune: the
treachery of Edric frustrated every plan for future defence; and the
English navy, disconcerted, discouraged, and divided, was at last
scattered into its several harbours.
[FN [r] There were 243,600 hides in England. Consequently the ships
equipped must be 785. The cavalry was 30,450 men.]

It is almost impossible, or would be tedious, to relate particularly
all the miseries to which the English were thenceforth exposed. We
hear of nothing but the sacking and burning of towns; the devastation
of the open country; the appearance of the enemy in every quarter of
the kingdom; their cruel diligence in discovering any corner which had
not been ransacked by their former violence. The broken and
disjointed narration of the ancient historians is here well adapted to
the nature of the war, which was conducted by such sudden inroads as
would have been dangerous even to an united and well-governed kingdom,
but proved fatal, where nothing but a general consternation and mutual
diffidence and dissension prevailed. The governors of one province
refused to march to the assistance of another, and were at last
terrified from assembling their forces for the defence of their own
province. General councils were summoned; but either no resolution
was taken, or none was carried into execution. And the only expedient
in which the English agreed, was the base and imprudent one of buying
a new peace from the Danes, by the payment of forty-eight thousand

[MN 1011.] This measure did not bring them even that short interval
of repose which they had expected from it. The Danes, disregarding
all engagements, continued their devastations and hostilities; levied
a new contribution of eight thousand pounds upon the county of Kent
alone; murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had refused to
countenance this exaction; and the English nobility found no other
resource than that of submitting every where to the Danish monarch,
swearing allegiance to him [MN 1013.], and delivering him hostages for
their fidelity. Ethelred, equally afraid of the violence of the enemy
and the treachery of his own subjects, fled into Normandy, whither he
had sent before him Queen Emma and her two sons, Alfred and Edward.
Richard received his unhappy guests with a generosity that does honour
to his memory.

[MN 1014.] The king had not been above six weeks in Normandy when he
heard of the death of Sweyn, who expired at Gainsborough, before he
had time to establish himself in his newly acquired dominions. The
English prelates and nobility, taking advantage of this event, sent
over a deputation to Normandy, inviting Ethelred to return to them,
expressing a desire of being again governed by their native prince,
and intimating their hopes, that being now tutored by experience, he
would avoid all those errors which had been attended with such
misfortunes to himself and to his people. But the misconduct of
Ethelred was incurable; and on his resuming the government, he
discovered the same incapacity, indolence, cowardice, and credulity,
which had so often exposed him to the insults of his enemies. His
son-in-law, Edric, notwithstanding his repeated treasons, retained
such influence at court as to instil into the king jealousies of
Sigefert and Morcar, two of the chief nobles of Mercia: Edric allured
them into his house, where he murdered them; while Ethelred
participated in the infamy of the action, by confiscating their
estates and thrusting into a convent the widow of Sigefert. She was a
woman of singular beauty and merit; and in a visit which was paid her,
during her confinement, by Prince Edmond, the king’s eldest son, she
inspired him with so violent an affection, that he released her from
the convent, and soon after married her, without the consent of his

Meanwhile the English found in Canute, the son and successor of Sweyn,
an enemy no less terrible than the prince from whom death had so
lately delivered them. He ravaged the eastern coast with merciless
fury, and put ashore all the English hostages at Sandwich, after
having cut off their hands and noses. He was obliged, by the
necessity of his affairs, to make a voyage to Denmark; but returning
soon after, he continued his depredations along the southern coast: he
even broke into the counties of Dorset, Wilts, and Somerset; where an
army was assembled against him, under the command of Prince Edmond and
Duke Edric. The latter still continued his perfidious machinations;
and after endeavouring in vain to get the prince into his power, he
found means to disperse the army; and he then openly deserted to
Canute with forty vessels. [MN 1015.]

Notwithstanding this misfortune, Edmond was not disconcerted; but,
assembling all the force of England, was in a condition to give battle
to the enemy. The king had had such frequent experience of perfidy
among his subjects, that he had lost all confidence in them: he
remained at London, pretending sickness, but really from apprehensions
that they intended to buy their peace, by delivering him into the
hands of his enemies. The army called aloud for their sovereign to
march at their head against the Danes; and, on his refusal to take the
field, they were so discouraged, that those vast preparations became
ineffectual for the defence of the kingdom. Edmond, deprived of all
regular supplies to maintain his soldiers, was obliged to commit equal
ravages with those which were practised by the Danes; and after making
some fruitless expeditions into the north, which had submitted
entirely to Canute’s power, he retired to London, determined there to
maintain, to the last extremity, the small remains of English liberty.
[MN 1016.] He here found every thing in confusion by the death of the
king, who expired after an unhappy and inglorious reign of thirty-five
years. He left two sons by his first marriage, Edmond, who succeeded
him, and Edwy, whom Canute afterwards murdered. His two sons by the
second marriage, Alfred and Edward, were immediately, upon Ethelred’s
death, conveyed into Normandy by Queen Emma.

[MN Edmond Ironside.]
This prince, who received the name of Ironside from his hardy valour,
possessed courage and abilities sufficient to have prevented his
country from sinking into those calamities, but not to raise it from
that abyss of misery into which it had already fallen. Among the
other misfortunes of the English, treachery and disaffection had crept
in among the nobility and prelates; and Edmond found no better
expedient for stopping the farther progress of these fatal evils, than
to lead his army instantly into the field, and to employ them against
the common enemy. After meeting with some success at Gillingham, he
prepared himself to decide, in one general engagement, the fate of his
crown; and at Scoerston, in the county of Gloucester, he offered
battle to the enemy, who were commanded by Canute and Edric. Fortune,
in the beginning of the day, declared for him; but Edric, having cut
off the head of one Osmer, whose countenance resembled that of Edmond,
fixed it on a spear, carried it through the ranks in triumph, and
called aloud to the English, that it was time to fly; for, behold! the
head of their sovereign. And though Edmond, observing the
consternation of the troops, took off his helmet and showed himself to
them, the utmost he could gain by his activity and valour was to leave
the victory undecided. Edric now took a surer method to ruin him, by
pretending to desert to him, and as Edmond was well acquainted with
his power, and probably knew no other of the chief nobility in whom he
could repose more confidence, he was obliged, notwithstanding the
repeated perfidy of the man, to give him a considerable command in the
army. A battle soon after ensued at Assington in Essex, where Edric,
flying in the beginning of the day, occasioned the total defeat of the
English, followed by a great slaughter of the nobility. The
indefatigable Edmond, however, had still resources; assembling a new
army at Gloucester, he was again in a condition to dispute the field;
when the Danish and English nobility, equally harassed with those
convulsions, obliged their kings to come to a compromise, and to
divide the kingdom between them by treaty. Canute reserved to himself
the northern division, consisting of Mercia, East Anglia, and
Northumberland, which he had entirely subdued; the southern parts were
left to Edmond. This prince survived the treaty about a month. He
was murdered at Oxford by two of his chamberlains, accomplices of
Edric, who thereby made way for the succession of Canute the Dane to
the crown of England.

[MN Canute 1017.]
The English, who had been unable to defend their country, and maintain
their independency, under so active and brave a prince as Edmond,
could, after his death, expect nothing but total subjection from
Canute, who, active and brave himself, and at the head of a great
force, was ready to take advantage of the minority of Edwin and
Edward, the two sons of Edmond. Yet this conqueror, who was commonly
so little scrupulous, showed himself anxious to cover his injustice
under plausible pretences; before he seized the dominions of the
English princes, he summoned a general assembly of the states, in
order to fix the succession of the kingdom. He here suborned some
nobles to depose that, in the treaty of Gloucester, it had been
verbally agreed either to name Canute, in case of Edmond’s death,
successor to his dominions, or tutor to his children (for historians
vary in this particular); and that evidence, supported by the great
power of Canute, determined the states immediately to put the Danish
monarch in possession of the government. Canute, jealous of the two
princes, but sensible that he should render himself extremely odious
if he ordered them to be despatched in England, sent them abroad to
his ally, the King of Sweden, whom he desired, as soon as they arrived
at his court, to free him by their death from all farther anxiety.
The Swedish monarch was too generous to comply with the request, but
being afraid of drawing on himself a quarrel with Canute, by
protecting the young princes, he sent them to Solomon, King of
Hungary, to be educated in his court. The elder, Edwin, was
afterwards married to the sister of the King of Hungary, but the
English prince dying without issue, Solomon gave his sister-in-law,
Agatha, daughter of the Emperor Henry II., in marriage to Edward, the
younger brother; and she bore him Edgar Atheling, Margaret, afterwards
queen of Scotland, and Christiana, who retired into a convent.

Canute, though he had reached the great point of his ambition, in
obtaining possession of the English crown, was obliged at first to
make great sacrifices to it; and to gratify the chief of the nobility,
by bestowing on them the most extensive governments and jurisdictions.
He created Thurkill Earl or Duke of East Anglia, (for these titles
were then nearly of the same import,) Yric of Northumberland, and
Edric of Mercia, reserving only to himself the administration of
Wessex. But seizing afterwards a favourable opportunity, he expelled
Thurkill and Yric from their governments, and banished them the
kingdom; he put to death many of the English nobility, on whose
fidelity he could not rely, and whom he hated on account of their
disloyalty to their native prince. And even the traitor Edric, having
had the assurance to reproach him with his services, was condemned to
be executed, and his body to be thrown into the Thames; a suitable
reward for his multiplied acts of perfidy and rebellion.

Canute also found himself obliged, in the beginning of his reign, to
load the people with heavy taxes, in order to reward his Danish
followers: he exacted from them at one time the sum of seventy-two
thousand pounds; besides eleven thousand pounds, which he levied on
London alone. He was probably willing, from political motives, to
mulct severely that city, on account of the affection which it had
borne to Edmond, and the resistance which it had made to the Danish
power in two obstinate sieges [s]. But these rigours were imputed to
necessity; and Canute, like a wise prince, was determined that the
English, now deprived of all their dangerous leaders, should be
reconciled to the Danish yoke by the justice and impartiality of his
administration. He sent back to Denmark as many of his followers as
he could safely spare; he restored the Saxon customs in a general
assembly of the states; he made no distinction between Danes and
English in the distribution of justice; and he took care, by a strict
execution of law, to protect the lives and properties of all his
people. The Danes were gradually incorporated with his new subjects;
and both were glad to obtain a little respite from those multiplied
calamities from which the one, no less than the other, had, in their
fierce contest for power, experienced such fatal consequences.
[FN [s] W. Malm. p. 72. In one of these sieges, Canute diverted the
course of the Thames, and by that means brought his ships above London

The removal of Edmond’s children into so distant a country as Hungary,
was, next to their death, regarded by Canute as the greatest security
to his government: he had no farther anxiety, except with regard to
Alfred and Edward, who were protected and supported by their uncle,
Richard Duke of Normandy. Richard even fitted out a great armament,
in order to restore the English princes to the throne of their
ancestors; and, though the navy was dispersed by a storm, Canute saw
the danger to which he was exposed from the enmity of so warlike a
people as the Normans. In order to acquire the friendship of the
duke, he paid his addresses to Queen Emma, sister of that prince; and
promised that he would leave the children whom he should have by that
marriage in possession of the crown of England. Richard complied with
his demand, and sent over Emma to England, where she was soon after
married to Canute [t]. The English, though they disapproved of her
espousing the mortal enemy of her former husband and his family, were
pleased to find at court a sovereign to whom they were accustomed, and
who had already formed connexions with them; and thus Canute, besides
securing by this marriage the alliance of Normandy, gradually
acquired, by the same means, the confidence of his own subjects [u].
The Norman prince did not long survive the marriage of Emma; and he
left the inheritance of the duchy to his eldest son of the same name;
who dying a year after him without children, was succeeded by his
brother Robert, a man of valour and abilities.
[FN [t] Chron Sax. p. 151. W. Malmes. p. 73. [u] W. Malmes. p. 73.
Higden, p. 275.]

Canute, having settled his power in England beyond all danger of a
revolution, made a voyage to Denmark, in order to resist the attacks
of the King of Sweden; and he carried along with him a great body of
the English, under the command of Earl Godwin. This nobleman had here
an opportunity of performing a service by which he both reconciled the
king’s mind to the English nation, and, gaining to himself the
friendship of his sovereign, laid the foundation of that immense
fortune which he acquired to his family. He was stationed next the
Swedish camp, and observing a favourable opportunity which he was
obliged suddenly to seize, he attacked the enemy in the night, drove

Online LibraryDavid HumeThe History of England, Volume I → online text (page 13 of 57)