Imagens da página


1. Early history of the Anglo-Saxons; their settlement in Britain; the kingdom of Kent.—2. Progress of their power; the Heptarchy.--3. The reign of Egbert.-4. Religious state of the Saxons; traces of it remaining in our language.—5. Invasion of the Danes.—6. Egbert defeats them; they renew their ravages in the following reign. -7. Their progress in the time of Ethelred ; his death, and the succession of Alfred.

8. Alfred's birth and early life.-9. His education ; the artifice adopted by his step-mother to excite him to learn Latin.-10. Alfred marches against the Danes, who take possession of Mercia.—11. He defeats them in several battles ; loses his army in an unexpected attack at Chippenham, and goes into retirement.-12. Lives in disguiso as a peasant.-13. He takes up his residence in Athelney, fortifies himself, and with his band of followers gains some advantage over the Danes.-14. The invasion of Hubba ; his army

is routed and destroyed; his death.–15. Alfred visits the Danish camp of Guthrum disguised as a minstrel ; takes the field against his enemies, and completely subdues them; East Anglia is made a Danish province.-16. Religion of the Danes; their habits of cruelty and plunder.—17. The success of Alfred's measures in civilizing the Danes; he creates a navy, and forms a local militia.-18. The Danish invasion under Hastings; their intrenchment.–19. Alfred's stratagem to render their fleet useless ; Hastings driven out of the kingdom; the remnant of his followers entirely subdued and destroyed.—20. Alfred's supremacy fully established ; he restores and fortifies the principal cities, builds fortresses &c., for the defence of the coasts.—21. Alfred's efforts as a legislator; his success in the prevention of crime.—22. His friendship with Asser; Grimbold and Erigena.--23. Alfred promotes learning among the clergy; his literary labours; a great geographer.--24. He sends an embassy to


the churches of Malabar.—25. His division of his time and revenue.-26. The extraordinary character of his labours ; his bodily sufferings and death; his family.-27. His character in contrast with that of Charlemagne ; his superiority. Summary of his excellences by Hume and Burke.






1. From the death of Alfred the Great, to the period when the sway of the Saxon princes descended from him may be said to have terminated in the Norman conquest, we must pass over an interval of one hundred and sixty-six years. Of these about forty years were almost equally divided between Edward, his son, and Athelstan, an illegitimate descendant of the latter prince. Under both these princes the kingdom still continued steadily to maintain itself against the Danish disturbers, and Athelstan may in some sense be considered as more king of England than even Alfred himself, as he is said to have conquered Cornwall, a province that had not hitherto been attached to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Another forty years carries down the history of this kingdom to the second year of the reign of Ethelred the Second, surnamed the unready (A.D. 978). This interval was filled by no less than five princes, Edmund, Edred, Edwy, Edgar, and Edward the Martyr. Of these, the reign of the first, which lasted scarcely six years, is devoid of any interesting events. That of Edred (A.D. 940) was chiefly remarkable for the increase of the Benedictine order of monks in England, and the promotion of Dunstan to be Abbot of Glastonbury. The patronage of the monarch during his nine years' reign, was strenuously exercised to uphold monasticism and its superstitions. The next reign, that of Edwy, the nephew of Edred, though still shorter, extending only from A.D. 955 to 959, is far more conspicuous in the page of history; for it presents the picture of a young monarch struggling bravely to beat down the power of an inveterate superstition which was now becoming more powerful throughout the land. He undertook to combat with an arch-miraclemonger, whom his predecessor had raised to eminence, and to carry on a constant warfare with those swarms of monks who were now, with Dunstan at their head, enlisted in a fierce warfare against the married clergy, and against the King himself and his beautiful wife, Ethelgiva. The whole scene, however, terminated miserably in the triumph of the rebellious subjects of Edwy, and in the barbarous branding and cruel death of the object of his affections, an event which was speedily followed by his own, after a reign of scarcely four years.

Not less romantic and tragical is the picture that next presents itself, among the shifting scenes of the Anglo-Saxon history. Dunstan is still upon the stage, but he is now seen playing a different part. Here we behold the licentious monarch Edgar, in comparison with whom Edwy was a saint, treated with the indulgence of a favoured child. The crowned hypocrite is seen loudly rebuking the vices of the clergy, but himself indulging without restraint in the worst crimes; now building monasteries to sanctify his enormities, and receiving the loudest applause of Dunstan and his monks; at one time carrying off the nun, Editha, from a convent to become his mistress; at another, leading Elfrida as a bride to the altar, whose husband, his professed favourite, he had just murdered. Such are some of the events presenting them. selves during a prosperous and fortunate reign of nearly

Another short reign of about three years succeeds, without anything more remarkable than the struggles between the monastic and the secular clergy. It finishes with the unhappy death of Edward, styled the Martyr, from his having fallen by the hired dagger of El. frida, his murderous stepmother, who desired to raise her own son to the throne (A.D. 978).

2. The reign of Ethelred, which next follows, exhibits an inglorious period of thirty-five years, during which the Danes became almost masters of the island, being more than once bought off by this weak prince, and occasionally encountered without success. Their simultaneous massacre throughout the land during a time of peace (A.D. 1002),

sixteen years.

is one of the darkest chapters of our national tragedy, and paved the way for that final revenge, which they speedily took upon the Anglo-Saxon race, by expelling Ethelred and taking possession of his throne (A.D. 1014). Within three years from this period, by the death of Edmund Ironside (A.D. 1017), the son of Ethelred, the kingdom departed entirely for a season from the Saxons. During his short reign of twelve months he had been compelled, notwithstanding a firm and vigorous resistance to the Danes, to consent to a treaty for the partition of his power with Canute, King of Denmark (A.D. 1016).

Under the Danish sovereigns, who were now sole masters of the kingdom for nearly twenty-six years, of which about eighteen were occupied by Canute himself, the English nation was, upon the whole, governed well and wisely. The country now rapidly recovered from the desolation it bad suffered by war and civil dissensions, and began again to assume that aspect of internal tranquillity and prosperity with which it was blessed in the later years of the reign of Alfred.

3. Canute was one of the greatest princes of his age, governing at once four kingdoms, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and England. As a zealous Christian his influence was enployed in abolishing the savage rites and ceremonies of the Danish religion, and in converting his own people here and in Scandinavia to the true faith. By his liberal conduct to the church, he endeavoured in some degree to repair the injury that had been done by his countrymen. But the reigns of his two sons, Harold and Hardicanute, were of a different character, and were productive of little good to themselves, or their subjects. Happily they fill a space of hardly six years in our national annals. Of the first, whose bodily agility is remembered in his name of Harefoot, little is recorded except his cruelty to his half-brother Alfred, whose eyes he put out, and his barbarous murder of six hundred vassals of one of his nobles called Alfred, by which he proved himself to be in blood and manners a true Dane. The name of Hardicannte, or Canute the Hardy, bespeaks his bodily or robust qualities. But the manner of his death by drunkenness at the marriage of a Danish lord, within two years after his accession, is sufficient to denote his brutal habits. The most notorious action of his life was that of renewing the


« AnteriorContinuar »