Robert Henry.

The history of Great Britain : from the first invasion of it by the Romans under Julius Cæsar. Written on a new plan (Volume 2) online

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to an entire fubjetlion to his government (i). Nor
was he at laft the aggreffor in thofe wars which termir
nated in the redu6f ion of all the kingdoms of the Hep-
tarchy to his obedience. For Bernulf, who had ufurped
the throne of Mercia, envying his profperity, and dreadr
ing his power, invaded Weffex with all his forces,
A. D. 823. Egbert meeting this bold invader atElIendun
(now Wilton,) defeated him with fuch prodigious llaugh-
ter, that the river is faid to have been difcoloured with
the blood, and choaked up with the carcafes of the
Mercians who fell in that battle (2). This victory was
fo decifive, that Egbert met with little further oppofition
in the conqueft of Mercia and its dependencies. The
two tributary kingdoms of Kent ^nd ElTex fubmitted,
without much refiilance, to his fon Ethelwolf, who
marched into thofe parts at the head of a detachment ;
and the Eaft-Angles, throwing off the Mercian yoke,
w^hich they had borne for fome time with great impati-
ence, put themfelves under the protection of Egbert.
This revolt of the Eaft-Angles completed the ruin of
the Mercian affairs, as both Bernulf, and his fucceffor
Ludecan, kings of Mercia, loft their lives in attempt-
ing to reduce them (3). "Wiglaf, who fucceeded Lude-
can, was foon obliged to abandon his throne, and con-
ceal himfelf in a cell at Croyland abbey, to prevent his
falling into the hands of the conqueror (4). Upon the
retreat of this prince, all oppofition ceafed, and Egbert
beheld himfelf fole monarch of all England to the fouth
oftheHumler, about four years after the commence-
ment of the war.

Though this furprifing fuccefs probably exceeded the
expedlations, it did not fatisfy the ambition, of Egbert,

( I ) Chron. Saxon, p. 6^.
(3) Ken. Kunt. 1. 4.

(:) Id. p. TO. Hen. Hunt. 1. 4.
(4) Ingulf. Hlfl.



who pafled the Humber with his army, in order to add A. D. 8oj,
the kingdom of Northumberland to his other conquefts. ^^ 9^'«
This kingdom v/as at that time in fuch an unfettled and ^^-^V"*^
diilra^ted (late, that it was in no condition to refift fo
powerful an invader ; and therefore its chief nobility
met him at Dore in Yorkfliire, made their fubmidion,
and acknowledged him for their fovereign (5). Thus
was the redu£lion of all the kingdoms of the Heptarchy
under one monarch completed A. D. 827, about three
hundred and feventy-eight years after the firil arrival of
the Saxons in this illand (6).

Egbert pofleffed the art of fecuring, as well as of Wjglaf
making conquefts. That he might not too much exaf^ ^'"g . ^^
perate the Mercians, who were a numerous and powder- ,1 ^.IV^ ^^1
ful people, by taking from them at once every fhadow made' tri-
of their former independency, he reftored their late fo- butary by
vereis[n "Widaf to the title of king ; but oblio-ed him to '^S^ert.
pay tribute, and hold his kingdom of him as his fuperior
lord (7). This moderation feems to have been very
pleafing, both to the Mercians . and their prince, a,s we
hear of no atttempts they made to fhake off a yoke which
w^as made fo eafy.

Egbert, obferving his own hereditary kingdom, and Egbert's
all his lace acquifitions, in a ftate of tranquillity, began .^^'^V^^lfh
to think of new conquefts. With this view, he marched andDanes,
his army into North Wales, over-ran the whole country
as far as Snowdon, and would probably have added it to
his other dominions, if he had not been called away to
encounter more formidable enemies (8). Thefe were
the Danes •, who, after a recefs of more than forty years,
began again to infeft the coafts of Britain, A. D. 832, '

when they plundered the ifle of Shepey. The very next
year they returned, with no fewer than thirty-five fhips,
and landed at Charmouth in Dorfetihire ; near to which
place a battle was fought between them and the Enorliih,
with great flaughter on both fides, but without much
reafon to boaft of victory on either (9). About two
years after, thefe teafing plunderers came again with a
llill greater iQeet and arniy ; and landing in Cornwall,
prevailed upon the Britons of that country to revolt, and
join them. Egjjert, not difmayed at this juntlion^ ea-r

(5) Chron. Saxon, p. ^r.

(6) W. Malrijf. 1. 2. c. I. Hen. Hunf. 1. 4.

(7) Chron. Saxqn. p. 72. Ingulf. Hili.

(8) Chron. Saxon, p. 72. Hen. Hunt. L 4, (9) Id. ibid.

6 'b



A. D. 3c I, gaged and defeated the combined army of the Di^nes
to 90 1 and Britons, at Hengfdown-hill, with prodigious llaugh-
^*'**■^''*"*^ ter. This was the lail glorious a£tion of the life of that
great prince, and firil EngHfh monarch, who died
A. D. 836 (10). ■
Acceiiion Egbert was fucceeded bv his fon Ethel wolf ; who, in
of Etp,el- ^'"^^ "^'^^y ^^^ y^^-^ o^ ^^s reign, gave the government of
Tkolf, Kent, SulTex, and ElTex, to his eldeft fon Athelftan,
with the title of king (11). The unwelcome vifits of the
Danes now became annual, or even more frequent ; and
the hifiory of England for feveral years confiils of nothing
but dry details of the defcents of thefe deftruftive ro-
vers on different parts of the coafcs, and of their battles
with the inhabitants. The moil coniiderable of thefe
battles v/as that which was fought at Okeley in Surrey,
A. D. 851, between Ethelwolf, afufced by his fon
Etheibald, and a great army of Danes, who had landed
from a fleet of J50 fail, at the m.outh of the river Thames,
mid had taken and plundered the cities of Canterbury
and London in their march. In this action, which is
faid to have been the bloodieft that ever had been fought
in England, the Englifh obtained a great viiicry (12).
But notwithftanding this, and two other vi£fories which
they obtained that fame year, one by land at Wanbury
in Dorfetlliire, the other by fea near Sandwich, a party
of Danes took poifeliion of the iile of Thanet, where
they continued feveral years, which was the firft attempt
they m^de to fettle in England (13). The people of
North "VVaks, obferving how much the Englim were
harrafled by the frequent depredations of the Danes,
and imagining that this was a favourable opportunity for
revenging- the injuries Vv^hich they had received from Eg-
bert, invaded Hercia, A. D. 853, with a very nume-
rous army f which obliged Burthred, the tributary king
of that counry, to implore the afiiftance of Etheiwolf,
u'ho was his father-in-law, as well as his fovereign lord.
Upon this Ethelwolf marched an army into Mercia, ex-
pelled the Wellh, and purfued them into their own
country (14)-
Etbp]- This was the laft militavy exploit of Ethelwolf-, who,

wolf's ^h^ year after, took a journey to Rome, where' he fpent
'T?ome'^re- about ten months in the fuperftitious devotions of thofe

tL!rn, and

death. (10) Chror. Ssxcr. p. 73- (lO Id- ibid, (12) Hen. Hunt. 1. 5.

(15) Id- ibid. C'aroii. Saxoiup. 76. (14) id. ibid.



times, anct in a61:s of liberality to tke pope and eler- A-. D. 801,
gy ; which made him a very welcome gueft, and pro- ^0901.
cured him all the frivolous unexpeniive honours his '^^^v^'"**^
heart could wiili •; and amongfl others the papal i-nclion
of his yourtgeil fon Alfred, who was with him; iTi that
city (15)^ Ij^ his return to England, through France, he-
married the princefs Judith, daughter to Charles the
Bald. On his arrival in his own dominions, he met
with- a very unexpefted difnculty. His eldeft furviving
i*on Ethelbald, having his impatient ambition encourag-
ed by feme evil counfeilors, had refoivei to prevent his
father's refuming the reins of grovernriient, and had
formed a very powerful party to ailift hirh. in executinpr,
that refoluticn. But this unnatural q.uarrel was happily
terminated wdthout biood, by the moderation of Ethel-
v/olf, who con fen ted that his fon {hould"retain the kiripr^^
dom of WelTex, and contented himfelf with his other do -
minions for the remainder of his life, which was only "
two years (16). 1

Ethelwolf, at his death. A, D. 857, left four fons, "^^""^ wars
nam.ed Eihelhald, Ethelhert, Ethered, and Alfred. By ^ajd ''''^^~
his will he divided his dominions between the two cldeit, Kthelbert
affigning the wellern parts* as moil honourable, to andEther-
Ethelbald, and the eaftern to Ethelbert (17). The firfl: ^^*
of thefe was a very profligate prince, and gave ereat
fcandal by marrying his fatPier's- widow fi8). At his
death, which happened A. D, 860, his brother Ethek \

bert fucceedsd to his domdnions, and thereby became the
fovereign cf all England. His reign was aifo Ihort , and
during the Gourfe of it the coafts were incefiantlv infefted
by the Danes. He was fucceededj, A. D. 86-5, by his
next brother Ethered % who, though a good prince, and
affiiled by his heroic brother Alfred, ha,rdly enjoyed one
mom.ent's tranquillity during his Vvmole reign. The
Danes, no longer contented with making ^defuitory de»
fcents upon the coafrs, came over in great multitudes,
under more honourable leaders, penetrated further into
the country, and attempted to make conquefts. A great
army of theie adventurers landed A. D. 865, amon;; the
Eaft-Angles *, wiio, to preferve themfelves from imme-
diate deftru6lion^ gave thena winter-quarters, and fur-

(15) AfTsrius Vir. Alfr?di, p. 2.

( i6) Id. ibid. W. Maimf. 1. 2. c. 3. (17) AiTerius. p. 2.

{18} Id. ibid. V /y ,F



A. D. 8oi, nifhecl them with a great number of horfes In the
to 901. fpnng (19). Thus provided, they directed their march
' northward, pafTed the Humber, and took the city of
York. The Northumbrians at this time were engaged
in 3 civil war, between two competitors for the govern-
ment, Ofbright and j^lia, who had the wifdom to fuf-
pend their hoftilities, and unite their forces againfl the
common enemy ; but were both killed in an attempt to
recover York (20). Next year the Danifh army leaving
York, penetrated into Mercia, and feized Nottingham,
where they wintered. Burthred, the tributary king of
Mercia, unable to expel thefe invaders, implored the
afTiiLance of Ethered ; who marching, with his brother
Alfred, at the head of a great army, inverted the Danes
in Nottingham, and partly, by force, and partly by treaty,
obliged them to evacuate that place, and return into the
north (21). Having refted almofl a whole year at York,
they again left that city A. D. 870, marched through
part of Mercia, marking their way with blood and ruin,
entered the country of the Eaft-AngleS; and took up
their winter quarters at Thetford (22). The Eaft- Ang-
les, finding that all their former fubmifiions could not
preferve them from ruin, flew to arms, and being com-
manded by Edmund, a young prince of diftinguifhed
piety and virtue, attacked the Danes ; but were totally
defeated, and their prince taken and put to death (23).
The Danes, encouraged by thefe fucceffes, advanced to
Reading, which they fortified, and made their head-
quarters ; ^nd threatened the whole country around with
deflructiorl. Ethered, in order to deliver his kingdom
from thoi^ dreadful enemies, who had fo long preyed up-
on its vitals, collefted all his forces, and fummoned the
Mercians and Northumbrians to join him with theirs.
But thefe infatuated nations, taking advantage of his
diftrefs to recover their independency, refufed to comply
with this fummons, by which they weakened the hands
of their fovereign, and brought ruin upon them-
felves (24). Not difpirited with this moft unfeafonable
defection, Ethered marched at the head of his native
fubjecls, to diflodge the Danes ; and in the courfeof one

(19) Chron Sax">Ti. p. 7S. (ic) Id. ibid AiTer. p. 5.

(21) AiTer. p. 5. (22) Id. p. 6. (23) Id. ibid,

^24) W, Malmf. 1. 2. c. 3.



year (871) engaged them in five pitched battles, with A. D. 801,
various fuccefs. Being mortally wounded in the laft of ^^^oi.
thefe battles, this virtuous but unhappy prince foon af- ' '
ter ended his life and reign, leaving his fubje6ls and fuc-
ceflbr in the moil dangerous and diftrefsful circumftan-
ces (25)*

Alfred, the youngefl and only furviving fon of Ethel- ^^ ^^^^^
wolf, fucceeded his brother Ethered A. D. 871, in the of A fed,
twenty-fecond year of his age. This excellent prince, and his firft
Who is jufdy called the Great, and hath been lo'^g ef- J'^^'j^'^j^^
teemed the pride and glory of the Englifh nation, be-
gan his reign under the greateft difadvantages. Many
of his cities, towns, and villages, were reduced to alhes,
his bed provinces almoft depopulated, his braveil cap-
tains and foldiers flain in battle, and a powerful army of
cruel exulting barbarians, the authors of all thefe cala-
mities, in the very bowels of his country. He was even
unfuccefsful in his firft efforts to deliver his fubjecls
from their enemies, being defeated at the battle of Wil-
ton, which was fought within a month after his accef-
(lon. The Danes, however, having ' loft one of their
kings, nine of their generals, and prodigious numbers
of their men in their late battles, and being no ftrangers
to the courage and condu£l of the youthful monarch
who oppofed them, confented to a peace, and agreed to
retire out of the Weft-Saxon territories (26). In con-
fequence of this agreement, they evacuated Reading,
and retired to London, where they fpent the winter (27).
Burthred, brother-in-law to Alfred, who then governed
Mercia, unable to dillodge thefe troublefomes inmates
by force, prevailed upon them by many valuable pre-
fents, to leave his country ; from whence they marched
into the kingdom of the Eaft-Angles, and fixed their
head-quarters for fome time at Torkfey. Having de-
ftroyed every thing in thefe parts, they returned A. D.
874 into Mercia, of which they made an entire con-
queft, obliging Burthred to abandon his country in de-*
fpair, and retire to Rome, where he foon after died (28).
This Danifh army, which had continued eight years in
England, and had traverfed and almoft ruined the whole
country to the north of the Thames and Severn, war

(25) AfTer. p. 7. [(26) Chron. Saxon, t). B2. AfTer. p. 8.

(27) Id. ibid. (28) id. ibid.



A. D. ?or, now become fo numerous, by continual acceflions of
to 501. new adventurers, that it was found inconvenient to re-
"^ main any longer in one body. It divided therefore at

Repton in Derbyihire : one half marching nortlhvvard
under the command of a prince named Haldnne., took
^ pofleflion of the kingdom of Northumberland, and there

began to fettle and apply to agriculture A. D. 875; the
other half marcliiug fouthward under the com.mand of
Guthrum, Ofcitil, and Amund, three chieftains who
had lately arrived with many followers, took up their
head-quarters at Cajnbridge (29). Before the Danes left
Mercia, they delegated the command of that country to
one Ceolwulf, a weak and difloyal nobleman, v/ho had
abandoned the fe' of Alfred, and joined the ene-
mies of his country (30). This was the melancholy
pofture of affairs in England in the beginning of the
year 876.
Continua- That part of the Danifli army which had wintered at
Hon of his Cambridge, marching from thence in the night, entered
'^^^^^ the kingdom of Weifex, - and penetrated as far as Ware-

ham in Dorfetfnire, which they furprifed (31). Alfred,
roufed by this inva^orn from the fliort rcpofe which he
had enjoyed fince the laft peace with the Danes, and
finding himfelf unprepared to meet them in the field,
entered into a negoLhttion with them, wliich ended in a
treaty, by which they engaged, and eoniirmed their en-
" gagements by the moR: folemn oaths, to retire a fecond
time out of the territories of the Weft-Saxcns (32). But
thefe faithiefs barbarians violated this treaty almofl as
foon as it was made, by furpriiing tlie city cf JLxctsr,
with their cavalry, to which their v/hole army marched
A. D. 877 (33). The^y met, however, with a very great
lofs this year by fea. j^eing overtaken by a dreadful
ftorm near Swaawic, as they v/ere bringing their fleet
from Wareham to JE?:eter, no fewer than 1 20 of their,
ihips were wrecked (34). Alfred beii?g now fully con-
vinced, that nothing could preferve His country from
beins conquered but a brave rch Ranee, • collected all his


forces, with which he invefted Exeter by land, while a
fleet which he had prepared, and manned chiefly with
Frifian pirates, blocked up the harbour. This fleet hav-

(•29) Chron. Saxon, p. 82, 83. AlTer. p. 8. (30) Id. ibid.

(3 ^^- il^''^' (32) Chror. Saxon, p. "83. AiVer. p. 8.

ill) ^«i- i^'^t^' Ja-ri.A^- ihid.



ing happily defeated a Daniili fquadron, which brought A. D. 8oi,
a reinforcement to the befieged, the Danes in Exeter to 90^*
capitulated, and agreed to evacuate that city, and all the ''"■"'•—""'
territories of the Well-Saxons j which they accordingly
did in Auguft tliis year,, and retired into Mercia, where
they fpent the winter (35). While they remained in
Mercia, they received a great reinforcement of their
countrymen; which emboldened them to return once
more into the kingdom of VfelTex ; and having feized
Chippenham, which was then a royal city, they over-
run the whole country, A. D. 878 {^6).

The Weft-Saxons, who, animxated by the exam.ple Alf-ed^s
and exhortations of their king, had made fo noble a fband ''etire-
in defence of their country, after all the reft of England °^^"^*
had fubmitted, were now at lail difpirited, thinkino- it
in vain any longer to oppofe enemies who were neither
bound by treaties nor diminiihed by defeats. Some of
them fled into foreign countries, fome fubmitted to the
conquerors, and fome concealed themfelves in woods
and foreils ; while the brave Alfred was abandoned by
all but a few faithful friends, and his own invincible re-
folution(37). At length, finding it unfafe to retain,
even thefe few followers about his perfon, he diliiiiiled
them, to v/ait for better times ; and putting on the drefs
of a country-clown, concealed himfelf in the cottage of
a cov/-herd (38}. As every circumftance relating to fa
great a perfon in fuch deep diftrefs appears important
and interefting, the following anecdote hath been pre-
ferved by feveral of our ancient hifcorians ; and particu- v
larly by Afler, who probably heard it from the kino-^s '
own mouth : That one day when he was fitting by the
fire in the cottage where he had concealed himfelf, trim-
ming his bow and arrov/s, he was heartily fcolded by the
good Vv^oman of the houfe (who knew not the quality of
her gueil) for negle£ling to turn fome cakes that were
toafting ; telling him in great anger, that he would be
aclive enough in eating them, though he would not take
the trouble to turn them (39). Alfred did not con-
tinue long in this ignoble difguife ; but as foon as the -
heat of tlie fearch after him was a little abated, he be-
gan to look abroad ; and finding a place convenient for

(35) AlTer. p. 9. Chron. Saxon, p, 84, (36) Id. jbid.

(37) Chron. Saxon, p. 84. AiTer. p. 9. (sS) Id. ibid.

(39)1^. ibid. ■



A. D. 8oi, his purpofe, at the confluence of the Thone and Parett
10901. in Somerfetfliire, he colle6led a few of the braved of
^^^'^'"^^"'^ his nobiHty, and there built a fmall fort for their refi-
dence and prote£lion. In this place, which he named
Ethelinp-eyy or, The IJle of Noblesy he continued about
four months, difirefhng his enemies, and procuring fub-
fiftence for himfelf and followers by frequent excur-
fions (40).
Alfred While Alfred was thus employed, he received intel-

leaves his H^ence, that Oddune earl of Devonlhire had defeated a
^^^'^^~ . A party of Danes, killed their leader, and taken their ma-
defeats :he gical ftandard called Reafan^ or, The Raven [^l). En-
Danes, eouraged by this news of the returning fpirit and fuccefs"
of his fubjecls, he refolved to leave his retreat, and
make a vigorous effort for the recovery of his crown.
But before he afTembled his forces, he refolved to gain
an exaft knowledge of the firength and pofture of his
enemies. With this view, he entered their camp in the
difguife of a harper, and d verted them fo much with his
muiic and pieafantries, that they kept him feveral days
in their army, introduced him to their general Guth-
tum, and gave him an opportunity of feeing every thing
lie defired (42). Obferving with pleaftire, that the
Danes were entirely off their guard, he difpatched trufty"
meffengers to all the nobility of Somerfetfliire, Wiltfhire,
and Hampfliire, commanding them to meet him, with
all their followers, on a certain day, at Brixton near
Selwood foreft. Thefe commands were fo well obeyed,
that Alfred, at the time and place appointed, beheld him-
felf at the head of a numerous army of his fubjecls, tranf-
ported with joy at the lignt of their beloved king, and
determined to die or conquer under his conduct. That
he might not give their ardour time to cool, he led tliem
directly towards Eddington, where their enemies were
incamned. The Danes were furprifed beyond meafure
at the approach of an Englifh army, with king Alfred at
their head ; and he, falling upon them with great fury
before they had time to recover from their furprife,
gained a complete vi61:ory (43). The (battered remains
of the Danifh army, with their commander Guthrtt-m,

(40) Alfer. p. 9.

(4s) Id. p. io. Alur'd. Heverlun. 1. *'. t). loc.

(42) Ingulf. Hilh W. Malraf. 1. 2. c. 4.

(43) Lhron. Saxon, p. 85. Affer. p. ig.



took fhelter in an oldcaftle near the field of battle, where A. D. 5oi,
they were immediately invefted by their victorious ene- to 901.
mies, who foqn compelled them to furrender at difcre- '
tion (44). On this occafion Alfred acquired as much
honour by his clemency as he had done by his valour.
' Inftead of glutting his revenge with the blood of thefe
proftrate wretches^ he formed the benevolent defign of
making them ufeful and happy. In order to this, he
propofed the following terms : That if they would be-
come Chriftians and join with him to prevent the ra-
vages of other Danes, he would fpare their lives, take
them under his prote6tion and aiTign them fufBcient ter-
ritories for their relidence. Thefe conditions were joy-
fully accepted by Guthrum and his followers, who were
baptized, and fettled in Eaft-Anglia and Northumber-
land, A. D. 880 (45).

From this period Alfred and his fubjecls enjoyed fome Continua-
repofe for feveral years ; which that excellent prince em- '^'^^ °^ ^^®
ployed in repairing his ruined cities, building forts in ^^Jen AI-
the moft convenient fituations for the prote£lion of the f:cd and
coafts, increafing his fleet, training his fubje6ls to the ^^^ Danes,
ufe of arms, and in the execution of. many other pro-
je6^s for the fccurity and improvement of his coun-
try (4(5). But this repofe, which had feveral times been
a little difturbed by tranfient defcents, vv^as at lafc de-
flroyed by a very formidable invafion. For the Danes, '

having all this time been making fuch deplorable devaf- *

tations in all the provinces of France, that they had re-
duced themfelves, as well as their enemies, to p^reat dif-
trefs and want, refolved once more to try their fortunes
in England, where they arrived A. D. 893, in a fleet of
330 (hips, under their famous leader Haftings (47). The
far greateft part of this mighty armament difembarked
in the fouth-eafh corner of Kent, and feizing the fcrt of
Apuldore, made it their head-quarters; while eighty .
fail under their chief commander Hailings, entered the
Thames, and landed their men at Milton j where they
erected a firong fortification, of which fome veiliges are .
ftill remaining (48). Alfred v/as in Eaft-Anglia, regu-
lating the afi^airs of that country and of Northumber-
land, when he received the news of this formidable in-

(44) Chron. Saxon, d. 85. Affer. p. 10.

(45) Id. P 86. Affer. p. 12. (46) Id. ibid.
(47) Chron. Saxon, p. 90. (48) Id. p. 92.

Vol. IL E vafion;



A. D. 80 1, vafion ; and before he left thefe parts, he exafted a new
to 901 Qji^h of allegiance, and a greater number of hoftages, froni
the Danes fettled in thefe tv/o kingdoms (40). He then
directed his march fouthwards, coilecling his forces as
he advanced, and incamped near the centre of Kent, and
in the middle between the two Danilli armies, in order
to prevent their junction, and check their excurlions.
In this pofture the three armies remained during the
greateft part of the year 894 ; in which innumerable

Online LibraryRobert HenryThe history of Great Britain : from the first invasion of it by the Romans under Julius Cæsar. Written on a new plan (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 54)