A Child's History of England
Charles Dickens

Part 1 out of 8

A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens
Scanned and Proofed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

A Child's History of England


IF you look at a Map of the World, you will see, in the left-hand
upper corner of the Eastern Hemisphere, two Islands lying in the
sea. They are England and Scotland, and Ireland. England and
Scotland form the greater part of these Islands. Ireland is the
next in size. The little neighbouring islands, which are so small
upon the Map as to be mere dots, are chiefly little bits of
Scotland, - broken off, I dare say, in the course of a great length
of time, by the power of the restless water.

In the old days, a long, long while ago, before Our Saviour was
born on earth and lay asleep in a manger, these Islands were in the
same place, and the stormy sea roared round them, just as it roars
now. But the sea was not alive, then, with great ships and brave
sailors, sailing to and from all parts of the world. It was very
lonely. The Islands lay solitary, in the great expanse of water.
The foaming waves dashed against their cliffs, and the bleak winds
blew over their forests; but the winds and waves brought no
adventurers to land upon the Islands, and the savage Islanders knew
nothing of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world knew
nothing of them.

It is supposed that the Phoenicians, who were an ancient people,
famous for carrying on trade, came in ships to these Islands, and
found that they produced tin and lead; both very useful things, as
you know, and both produced to this very hour upon the sea-coast.
The most celebrated tin mines in Cornwall are, still, close to the
sea. One of them, which I have seen, is so close to it that it is
hollowed out underneath the ocean; and the miners say, that in
stormy weather, when they are at work down in that deep place, they
can hear the noise of the waves thundering above their heads. So,
the Phoenicians, coasting about the Islands, would come, without
much difficulty, to where the tin and lead were.

The Phoenicians traded with the Islanders for these metals, and
gave the Islanders some other useful things in exchange. The
Islanders were, at first, poor savages, going almost naked, or only
dressed in the rough skins of beasts, and staining their bodies, as
other savages do, with coloured earths and the juices of plants.
But the Phoenicians, sailing over to the opposite coasts of France
and Belgium, and saying to the people there, 'We have been to those
white cliffs across the water, which you can see in fine weather,
and from that country, which is called BRITAIN, we bring this tin
and lead,' tempted some of the French and Belgians to come over
also. These people settled themselves on the south coast of
England, which is now called Kent; and, although they were a rough
people too, they taught the savage Britons some useful arts, and
improved that part of the Islands. It is probable that other
people came over from Spain to Ireland, and settled there.

Thus, by little and little, strangers became mixed with the
Islanders, and the savage Britons grew into a wild, bold people;
almost savage, still, especially in the interior of the country
away from the sea where the foreign settlers seldom went; but
hardy, brave, and strong.

The whole country was covered with forests, and swamps. The
greater part of it was very misty and cold. There were no roads,
no bridges, no streets, no houses that you would think deserving of
the name. A town was nothing but a collection of straw-covered
huts, hidden in a thick wood, with a ditch all round, and a low
wall, made of mud, or the trunks of trees placed one upon another.
The people planted little or no corn, but lived upon the flesh of
their flocks and cattle. They made no coins, but used metal rings
for money. They were clever in basket-work, as savage people often
are; and they could make a coarse kind of cloth, and some very bad
earthenware. But in building fortresses they were much more

They made boats of basket-work, covered with the skins of animals,
but seldom, if ever, ventured far from the shore. They made
swords, of copper mixed with tin; but, these swords were of an
awkward shape, and so soft that a heavy blow would bend one. They
made light shields, short pointed daggers, and spears - which they
jerked back after they had thrown them at an enemy, by a long strip
of leather fastened to the stem. The butt-end was a rattle, to
frighten an enemy's horse. The ancient Britons, being divided into
as many as thirty or forty tribes, each commanded by its own little
king, were constantly fighting with one another, as savage people
usually do; and they always fought with these weapons.

They were very fond of horses. The standard of Kent was the
picture of a white horse. They could break them in and manage them
wonderfully well. Indeed, the horses (of which they had an
abundance, though they were rather small) were so well taught in
those days, that they can scarcely be said to have improved since;
though the men are so much wiser. They understood, and obeyed,
every word of command; and would stand still by themselves, in all
the din and noise of battle, while their masters went to fight on
foot. The Britons could not have succeeded in their most
remarkable art, without the aid of these sensible and trusty
animals. The art I mean, is the construction and management of
war-chariots or cars, for which they have ever been celebrated in
history. Each of the best sort of these chariots, not quite breast
high in front, and open at the back, contained one man to drive,
and two or three others to fight - all standing up. The horses who
drew them were so well trained, that they would tear, at full
gallop, over the most stony ways, and even through the woods;
dashing down their masters' enemies beneath their hoofs, and
cutting them to pieces with the blades of swords, or scythes, which
were fastened to the wheels, and stretched out beyond the car on
each side, for that cruel purpose. In a moment, while at full
speed, the horses would stop, at the driver's command. The men
within would leap out, deal blows about them with their swords like
hail, leap on the horses, on the pole, spring back into the
chariots anyhow; and, as soon as they were safe, the horses tore
away again.

The Britons had a strange and terrible religion, called the
Religion of the Druids. It seems to have been brought over, in
very early times indeed, from the opposite country of France,
anciently called Gaul, and to have mixed up the worship of the
Serpent, and of the Sun and Moon, with the worship of some of the
Heathen Gods and Goddesses. Most of its ceremonies were kept
secret by the priests, the Druids, who pretended to be enchanters,
and who carried magicians' wands, and wore, each of them, about his
neck, what he told the ignorant people was a Serpent's egg in a
golden case. But it is certain that the Druidical ceremonies
included the sacrifice of human victims, the torture of some
suspected criminals, and, on particular occasions, even the burning
alive, in immense wicker cages, of a number of men and animals
together. The Druid Priests had some kind of veneration for the
Oak, and for the mistletoe - the same plant that we hang up in
houses at Christmas Time now - when its white berries grew upon the
Oak. They met together in dark woods, which they called Sacred
Groves; and there they instructed, in their mysterious arts, young
men who came to them as pupils, and who sometimes stayed with them
as long as twenty years.

These Druids built great Temples and altars, open to the sky,
fragments of some of which are yet remaining. Stonehenge, on
Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, is the most extraordinary of these.
Three curious stones, called Kits Coty House, on Bluebell Hill,
near Maidstone, in Kent, form another. We know, from examination
of the great blocks of which such buildings are made, that they
could not have been raised without the aid of some ingenious
machines, which are common now, but which the ancient Britons
certainly did not use in making their own uncomfortable houses. I
should not wonder if the Druids, and their pupils who stayed with
them twenty years, knowing more than the rest of the Britons, kept
the people out of sight while they made these buildings, and then
pretended that they built them by magic. Perhaps they had a hand
in the fortresses too; at all events, as they were very powerful,
and very much believed in, and as they made and executed the laws,
and paid no taxes, I don't wonder that they liked their trade.
And, as they persuaded the people the more Druids there were, the
better off the people would be, I don't wonder that there were a
good many of them. But it is pleasant to think that there are no
Druids, NOW, who go on in that way, and pretend to carry
Enchanters' Wands and Serpents' Eggs - and of course there is
nothing of the kind, anywhere.

Such was the improved condition of the ancient Britons, fifty-five
years before the birth of Our Saviour, when the Romans, under their
great General, Julius Caesar, were masters of all the rest of the
known world. Julius Caesar had then just conquered Gaul; and
hearing, in Gaul, a good deal about the opposite Island with the
white cliffs, and about the bravery of the Britons who inhabited it
- some of whom had been fetched over to help the Gauls in the war
against him - he resolved, as he was so near, to come and conquer
Britain next.

So, Julius Caesar came sailing over to this Island of ours, with
eighty vessels and twelve thousand men. And he came from the
French coast between Calais and Boulogne, 'because thence was the
shortest passage into Britain;' just for the same reason as our
steam-boats now take the same track, every day. He expected to
conquer Britain easily: but it was not such easy work as he
supposed - for the bold Britons fought most bravely; and, what with
not having his horse-soldiers with him (for they had been driven
back by a storm), and what with having some of his vessels dashed
to pieces by a high tide after they were drawn ashore, he ran great
risk of being totally defeated. However, for once that the bold
Britons beat him, he beat them twice; though not so soundly but
that he was very glad to accept their proposals of peace, and go

But, in the spring of the next year, he came back; this time, with
eight hundred vessels and thirty thousand men. The British tribes
chose, as their general-in-chief, a Briton, whom the Romans in
their Latin language called CASSIVELLAUNUS, but whose British name
is supposed to have been CASWALLON. A brave general he was, and
well he and his soldiers fought the Roman army! So well, that
whenever in that war the Roman soldiers saw a great cloud of dust,
and heard the rattle of the rapid British chariots, they trembled
in their hearts. Besides a number of smaller battles, there was a
battle fought near Canterbury, in Kent; there was a battle fought
near Chertsey, in Surrey; there was a battle fought near a marshy
little town in a wood, the capital of that part of Britain which
belonged to CASSIVELLAUNUS, and which was probably near what is now
Saint Albans, in Hertfordshire. However, brave CASSIVELLAUNUS had
the worst of it, on the whole; though he and his men always fought
like lions. As the other British chiefs were jealous of him, and
were always quarrelling with him, and with one another, he gave up,
and proposed peace. Julius Caesar was very glad to grant peace
easily, and to go away again with all his remaining ships and men.
He had expected to find pearls in Britain, and he may have found a
few for anything I know; but, at all events, he found delicious
oysters, and I am sure he found tough Britons - of whom, I dare
say, he made the same complaint as Napoleon Bonaparte the great
French General did, eighteen hundred years afterwards, when he said
they were such unreasonable fellows that they never knew when they
were beaten. They never DID know, I believe, and never will.

Nearly a hundred years passed on, and all that time, there was
peace in Britain. The Britons improved their towns and mode of
life: became more civilised, travelled, and learnt a great deal
from the Gauls and Romans. At last, the Roman Emperor, Claudius,
sent AULUS PLAUTIUS, a skilful general, with a mighty force, to
subdue the Island, and shortly afterwards arrived himself. They
did little; and OSTORIUS SCAPULA, another general, came. Some of
the British Chiefs of Tribes submitted. Others resolved to fight
to the death. Of these brave men, the bravest was CARACTACUS, or
CARADOC, who gave battle to the Romans, with his army, among the
mountains of North Wales. 'This day,' said he to his soldiers,
'decides the fate of Britain! Your liberty, or your eternal
slavery, dates from this hour. Remember your brave ancestors, who
drove the great Caesar himself across the sea!' On hearing these
words, his men, with a great shout, rushed upon the Romans. But
the strong Roman swords and armour were too much for the weaker
British weapons in close conflict. The Britons lost the day. The
wife and daughter of the brave CARACTACUS were taken prisoners; his
brothers delivered themselves up; he himself was betrayed into the
hands of the Romans by his false and base stepmother: and they
carried him, and all his family, in triumph to Rome.

But a great man will be great in misfortune, great in prison, great
in chains. His noble air, and dignified endurance of distress, so
touched the Roman people who thronged the streets to see him, that
he and his family were restored to freedom. No one knows whether
his great heart broke, and he died in Rome, or whether he ever
returned to his own dear country. English oaks have grown up from
acorns, and withered away, when they were hundreds of years old -
and other oaks have sprung up in their places, and died too, very
aged - since the rest of the history of the brave CARACTACUS was

Still, the Britons WOULD NOT yield. They rose again and again, and
died by thousands, sword in hand. They rose, on every possible
occasion. SUETONIUS, another Roman general, came, and stormed the
Island of Anglesey (then called MONA), which was supposed to be
sacred, and he burnt the Druids in their own wicker cages, by their
own fires. But, even while he was in Britain, with his victorious
troops, the BRITONS rose. Because BOADICEA, a British queen, the
widow of the King of the Norfolk and Suffolk people, resisted the
plundering of her property by the Romans who were settled in
England, she was scourged, by order of CATUS a Roman officer; and
her two daughters were shamefully insulted in her presence, and her
husband's relations were made slaves. To avenge this injury, the
Britons rose, with all their might and rage. They drove CATUS into
Gaul; they laid the Roman possessions waste; they forced the Romans
out of London, then a poor little town, but a trading place; they
hanged, burnt, crucified, and slew by the sword, seventy thousand
Romans in a few days. SUETONIUS strengthened his army, and
advanced to give them battle. They strengthened their army, and
desperately attacked his, on the field where it was strongly
posted. Before the first charge of the Britons was made, BOADICEA,
in a war-chariot, with her fair hair streaming in the wind, and her
injured daughters lying at her feet, drove among the troops, and
cried to them for vengeance on their oppressors, the licentious
Romans. The Britons fought to the last; but they were vanquished
with great slaughter, and the unhappy queen took poison.

Still, the spirit of the Britons was not broken. When SUETONIUS
left the country, they fell upon his troops, and retook the Island
of Anglesey. AGRICOLA came, fifteen or twenty years afterwards,
and retook it once more, and devoted seven years to subduing the
country, especially that part of it which is now called SCOTLAND;
but, its people, the Caledonians, resisted him at every inch of
ground. They fought the bloodiest battles with him; they killed
their very wives and children, to prevent his making prisoners of
them; they fell, fighting, in such great numbers that certain hills
in Scotland are yet supposed to be vast heaps of stones piled up
above their graves. HADRIAN came, thirty years afterwards, and
still they resisted him. SEVERUS came, nearly a hundred years
afterwards, and they worried his great army like dogs, and rejoiced
to see them die, by thousands, in the bogs and swamps. CARACALLA,
the son and successor of SEVERUS, did the most to conquer them, for
a time; but not by force of arms. He knew how little that would
do. He yielded up a quantity of land to the Caledonians, and gave
the Britons the same privileges as the Romans possessed. There was
peace, after this, for seventy years.

Then new enemies arose. They were the Saxons, a fierce, sea-faring
people from the countries to the North of the Rhine, the great
river of Germany on the banks of which the best grapes grow to make
the German wine. They began to come, in pirate ships, to the sea-
coast of Gaul and Britain, and to plunder them. They were repulsed
by CARAUSIUS, a native either of Belgium or of Britain, who was
appointed by the Romans to the command, and under whom the Britons
first began to fight upon the sea. But, after this time, they
renewed their ravages. A few years more, and the Scots (which was
then the name for the people of Ireland), and the Picts, a northern
people, began to make frequent plundering incursions into the South
of Britain. All these attacks were repeated, at intervals, during
two hundred years, and through a long succession of Roman Emperors
and chiefs; during all which length of time, the Britons rose
against the Romans, over and over again. At last, in the days of
the Roman HONORIUS, when the Roman power all over the world was
fast declining, and when Rome wanted all her soldiers at home, the
Romans abandoned all hope of conquering Britain, and went away.
And still, at last, as at first, the Britons rose against them, in
their old brave manner; for, a very little while before, they had
turned away the Roman magistrates, and declared themselves an
independent people.

Five hundred years had passed, since Julius Caesar's first invasion
of the Island, when the Romans departed from it for ever. In the
course of that time, although they had been the cause of terrible
fighting and bloodshed, they had done much to improve the condition
of the Britons. They had made great military roads; they had built
forts; they had taught them how to dress, and arm themselves, much
better than they had ever known how to do before; they had refined
the whole British way of living. AGRICOLA had built a great wall
of earth, more than seventy miles long, extending from Newcastle to
beyond Carlisle, for the purpose of keeping out the Picts and
Scots; HADRIAN had strengthened it; SEVERUS, finding it much in
want of repair, had built it afresh of stone.

Above all, it was in the Roman time, and by means of Roman ships,
that the Christian Religion was first brought into Britain, and its
people first taught the great lesson that, to be good in the sight
of GOD, they must love their neighbours as themselves, and do unto
others as they would be done by. The Druids declared that it was
very wicked to believe in any such thing, and cursed all the people
who did believe it, very heartily. But, when the people found that
they were none the better for the blessings of the Druids, and none
the worse for the curses of the Druids, but, that the sun shone and
the rain fell without consulting the Druids at all, they just began
to think that the Druids were mere men, and that it signified very
little whether they cursed or blessed. After which, the pupils of
the Druids fell off greatly in numbers, and the Druids took to
other trades.

Thus I have come to the end of the Roman time in England. It is
but little that is known of those five hundred years; but some
remains of them are still found. Often, when labourers are digging
up the ground, to make foundations for houses or churches, they
light on rusty money that once belonged to the Romans. Fragments
of plates from which they ate, of goblets from which they drank,
and of pavement on which they trod, are discovered among the earth
that is broken by the plough, or the dust that is crumbled by the
gardener's spade. Wells that the Romans sunk, still yield water;
roads that the Romans made, form part of our highways. In some old
battle-fields, British spear-heads and Roman armour have been
found, mingled together in decay, as they fell in the thick
pressure of the fight. Traces of Roman camps overgrown with grass,
and of mounds that are the burial-places of heaps of Britons, are
to be seen in almost all parts of the country. Across the bleak
moors of Northumberland, the wall of SEVERUS, overrun with moss and
weeds, still stretches, a strong ruin; and the shepherds and their
dogs lie sleeping on it in the summer weather. On Salisbury Plain,
Stonehenge yet stands: a monument of the earlier time when the
Roman name was unknown in Britain, and when the Druids, with their
best magic wands, could not have written it in the sands of the
wild sea-shore.


THE Romans had scarcely gone away from Britain, when the Britons
began to wish they had never left it. For, the Romans being gone,
and the Britons being much reduced in numbers by their long wars,
the Picts and Scots came pouring in, over the broken and unguarded
wall of SEVERUS, in swarms. They plundered the richest towns, and
killed the people; and came back so often for more booty and more
slaughter, that the unfortunate Britons lived a life of terror. As
if the Picts and Scots were not bad enough on land, the Saxons
attacked the islanders by sea; and, as if something more were still
wanting to make them miserable, they quarrelled bitterly among
themselves as to what prayers they ought to say, and how they ought
to say them. The priests, being very angry with one another on
these questions, cursed one another in the heartiest manner; and
(uncommonly like the old Druids) cursed all the people whom they
could not persuade. So, altogether, the Britons were very badly
off, you may believe.

They were in such distress, in short, that they sent a letter to
Rome entreating help - which they called the Groans of the Britons;
and in which they said, 'The barbarians chase us into the sea, the
sea throws us back upon the barbarians, and we have only the hard
choice left us of perishing by the sword, or perishing by the
waves.' But, the Romans could not help them, even if they were so
inclined; for they had enough to do to defend themselves against
their own enemies, who were then very fierce and strong. At last,
the Britons, unable to bear their hard condition any longer,
resolved to make peace with the Saxons, and to invite the Saxons to
come into their country, and help them to keep out the Picts and

It was a British Prince named VORTIGERN who took this resolution,
and who made a treaty of friendship with HENGIST and HORSA, two
Saxon chiefs. Both of these names, in the old Saxon language,
signify Horse; for the Saxons, like many other nations in a rough
state, were fond of giving men the names of animals, as Horse,
Wolf, Bear, Hound. The Indians of North America, - a very inferior
people to the Saxons, though - do the same to this day.

HENGIST and HORSA drove out the Picts and Scots; and VORTIGERN,
being grateful to them for that service, made no opposition to
their settling themselves in that part of England which is called
the Isle of Thanet, or to their inviting over more of their
countrymen to join them. But HENGIST had a beautiful daughter
named ROWENA; and when, at a feast, she filled a golden goblet to
the brim with wine, and gave it to VORTIGERN, saying in a sweet
voice, 'Dear King, thy health!' the King fell in love with her. My
opinion is, that the cunning HENGIST meant him to do so, in order
that the Saxons might have greater influence with him; and that the
fair ROWENA came to that feast, golden goblet and all, on purpose.

At any rate, they were married; and, long afterwards, whenever the
King was angry with the Saxons, or jealous of their encroachments,
ROWENA would put her beautiful arms round his neck, and softly say,
'Dear King, they are my people! Be favourable to them, as you
loved that Saxon girl who gave you the golden goblet of wine at the
feast!' And, really, I don't see how the King could help himself.

Ah! We must all die! In the course of years, VORTIGERN died - he
was dethroned, and put in prison, first, I am afraid; and ROWENA
died; and generations of Saxons and Britons died; and events that
happened during a long, long time, would have been quite forgotten
but for the tales and songs of the old Bards, who used to go about
from feast to feast, with their white beards, recounting the deeds
of their forefathers. Among the histories of which they sang and
talked, there was a famous one, concerning the bravery and virtues
of KING ARTHUR, supposed to have been a British Prince in those old
times. But, whether such a person really lived, or whether there
were several persons whose histories came to be confused together
under that one name, or whether all about him was invention, no one

I will tell you, shortly, what is most interesting in the early
Saxon times, as they are described in these songs and stories of
the Bards.

In, and long after, the days of VORTIGERN, fresh bodies of Saxons,
under various chiefs, came pouring into Britain. One body,
conquering the Britons in the East, and settling there, called
their kingdom Essex; another body settled in the West, and called
their kingdom Wessex; the Northfolk, or Norfolk people, established
themselves in one place; the Southfolk, or Suffolk people,
established themselves in another; and gradually seven kingdoms or
states arose in England, which were called the Saxon Heptarchy.
The poor Britons, falling back before these crowds of fighting men
whom they had innocently invited over as friends, retired into
Wales and the adjacent country; into Devonshire, and into Cornwall.
Those parts of England long remained unconquered. And in Cornwall
now - where the sea-coast is very gloomy, steep, and rugged -
where, in the dark winter-time, ships have often been wrecked close
to the land, and every soul on board has perished - where the winds
and waves howl drearily and split the solid rocks into arches and
caverns - there are very ancient ruins, which the people call the
ruins of KING ARTHUR'S Castle.

Kent is the most famous of the seven Saxon kingdoms, because the
Christian religion was preached to the Saxons there (who domineered
over the Britons too much, to care for what THEY said about their
religion, or anything else) by AUGUSTINE, a monk from Rome. KING
ETHELBERT, of Kent, was soon converted; and the moment he said he
was a Christian, his courtiers all said THEY were Christians; after
which, ten thousand of his subjects said they were Christians too.
AUGUSTINE built a little church, close to this King's palace, on
the ground now occupied by the beautiful cathedral of Canterbury.
SEBERT, the King's nephew, built on a muddy marshy place near
London, where there had been a temple to Apollo, a church dedicated
to Saint Peter, which is now Westminster Abbey. And, in London
itself, on the foundation of a temple to Diana, he built another
little church which has risen up, since that old time, to be Saint

After the death of ETHELBERT, EDWIN, King of Northumbria, who was
such a good king that it was said a woman or child might openly
carry a purse of gold, in his reign, without fear, allowed his
child to be baptised, and held a great council to consider whether
he and his people should all be Christians or not. It was decided
that they should be. COIFI, the chief priest of the old religion,
made a great speech on the occasion. In this discourse, he told
the people that he had found out the old gods to be impostors. 'I
am quite satisfied of it,' he said. 'Look at me! I have been
serving them all my life, and they have done nothing for me;
whereas, if they had been really powerful, they could not have
decently done less, in return for all I have done for them, than
make my fortune. As they have never made my fortune, I am quite
convinced they are impostors!' When this singular priest had
finished speaking, he hastily armed himself with sword and lance,
mounted a war-horse, rode at a furious gallop in sight of all the
people to the temple, and flung his lance against it as an insult.
From that time, the Christian religion spread itself among the
Saxons, and became their faith.

The next very famous prince was EGBERT. He lived about a hundred
and fifty years afterwards, and claimed to have a better right to
the throne of Wessex than BEORTRIC, another Saxon prince who was at
the head of that kingdom, and who married EDBURGA, the daughter of
OFFA, king of another of the seven kingdoms. This QUEEN EDBURGA
was a handsome murderess, who poisoned people when they offended
her. One day, she mixed a cup of poison for a certain noble
belonging to the court; but her husband drank of it too, by
mistake, and died. Upon this, the people revolted, in great
crowds; and running to the palace, and thundering at the gates,
cried, 'Down with the wicked queen, who poisons men!' They drove
her out of the country, and abolished the title she had disgraced.
When years had passed away, some travellers came home from Italy,
and said that in the town of Pavia they had seen a ragged beggar-
woman, who had once been handsome, but was then shrivelled, bent,
and yellow, wandering about the streets, crying for bread; and that
this beggar-woman was the poisoning English queen. It was, indeed,
EDBURGA; and so she died, without a shelter for her wretched head.

EGBERT, not considering himself safe in England, in consequence of
his having claimed the crown of Wessex (for he thought his rival
might take him prisoner and put him to death), sought refuge at the
court of CHARLEMAGNE, King of France. On the death of BEORTRIC, so
unhappily poisoned by mistake, EGBERT came back to Britain;
succeeded to the throne of Wessex; conquered some of the other
monarchs of the seven kingdoms; added their territories to his own;
and, for the first time, called the country over which he ruled,

And now, new enemies arose, who, for a long time, troubled England
sorely. These were the Northmen, the people of Denmark and Norway,
whom the English called the Danes. They were a warlike people,
quite at home upon the sea; not Christians; very daring and cruel.
They came over in ships, and plundered and burned wheresoever they
landed. Once, they beat EGBERT in battle. Once, EGBERT beat them.
But, they cared no more for being beaten than the English
themselves. In the four following short reigns, of ETHELWULF, and
his sons, ETHELBALD, ETHELBERT, and ETHELRED, they came back, over
and over again, burning and plundering, and laying England waste.
In the last-mentioned reign, they seized EDMUND, King of East
England, and bound him to a tree. Then, they proposed to him that
he should change his religion; but he, being a good Christian,
steadily refused. Upon that, they beat him, made cowardly jests
upon him, all defenceless as he was, shot arrows at him, and,
finally, struck off his head. It is impossible to say whose head
they might have struck off next, but for the death of KING ETHELRED
from a wound he had received in fighting against them, and the
succession to his throne of the best and wisest king that ever
lived in England.


ALFRED THE GREAT was a young man, three-and-twenty years of age,
when he became king. Twice in his childhood, he had been taken to
Rome, where the Saxon nobles were in the habit of going on journeys
which they supposed to be religious; and, once, he had stayed for
some time in Paris. Learning, however, was so little cared for,
then, that at twelve years old he had not been taught to read;
although, of the sons of KING ETHELWULF, he, the youngest, was the
favourite. But he had - as most men who grow up to be great and
good are generally found to have had - an excellent mother; and,
one day, this lady, whose name was OSBURGA, happened, as she was
sitting among her sons, to read a book of Saxon poetry. The art of
printing was not known until long and long after that period, and
the book, which was written, was what is called 'illuminated,' with
beautiful bright letters, richly painted. The brothers admiring it
very much, their mother said, 'I will give it to that one of you
four princes who first learns to read.' ALFRED sought out a tutor
that very day, applied himself to learn with great diligence, and
soon won the book. He was proud of it, all his life.

This great king, in the first year of his reign, fought nine
battles with the Danes. He made some treaties with them too, by
which the false Danes swore they would quit the country. They
pretended to consider that they had taken a very solemn oath, in
swearing this upon the holy bracelets that they wore, and which
were always buried with them when they died; but they cared little
for it, for they thought nothing of breaking oaths and treaties
too, as soon as it suited their purpose, and coming back again to
fight, plunder, and burn, as usual. One fatal winter, in the
fourth year of KING ALFRED'S reign, they spread themselves in great
numbers over the whole of England; and so dispersed and routed the
King's soldiers that the King was left alone, and was obliged to
disguise himself as a common peasant, and to take refuge in the
cottage of one of his cowherds who did not know his face.

Here, KING ALFRED, while the Danes sought him far and near, was
left alone one day, by the cowherd's wife, to watch some cakes
which she put to bake upon the hearth. But, being at work upon his
bow and arrows, with which he hoped to punish the false Danes when
a brighter time should come, and thinking deeply of his poor
unhappy subjects whom the Danes chased through the land, his noble
mind forgot the cakes, and they were burnt. 'What!' said the
cowherd's wife, who scolded him well when she came back, and little
thought she was scolding the King, 'you will be ready enough to eat
them by-and-by, and yet you cannot watch them, idle dog?'

At length, the Devonshire men made head against a new host of Danes
who landed on their coast; killed their chief, and captured their
flag; on which was represented the likeness of a Raven - a very fit
bird for a thievish army like that, I think. The loss of their
standard troubled the Danes greatly, for they believed it to be
enchanted - woven by the three daughters of one father in a single
afternoon - and they had a story among themselves that when they
were victorious in battle, the Raven stretched his wings and seemed
to fly; and that when they were defeated, he would droop. He had
good reason to droop, now, if he could have done anything half so
sensible; for, KING ALFRED joined the Devonshire men; made a camp
with them on a piece of firm ground in the midst of a bog in
Somersetshire; and prepared for a great attempt for vengeance on
the Danes, and the deliverance of his oppressed people.

But, first, as it was important to know how numerous those
pestilent Danes were, and how they were fortified, KING ALFRED,
being a good musician, disguised himself as a glee-man or minstrel,
and went, with his harp, to the Danish camp. He played and sang in
the very tent of GUTHRUM the Danish leader, and entertained the
Danes as they caroused. While he seemed to think of nothing but
his music, he was watchful of their tents, their arms, their
discipline, everything that he desired to know. And right soon did
this great king entertain them to a different tune; for, summoning
all his true followers to meet him at an appointed place, where
they received him with joyful shouts and tears, as the monarch whom
many of them had given up for lost or dead, he put himself at their
head, marched on the Danish camp, defeated the Danes with great
slaughter, and besieged them for fourteen days to prevent their
escape. But, being as merciful as he was good and brave, he then,
instead of killing them, proposed peace: on condition that they
should altogether depart from that Western part of England, and
settle in the East; and that GUTHRUM should become a Christian, in
remembrance of the Divine religion which now taught his conqueror,
the noble ALFRED, to forgive the enemy who had so often injured
him. This, GUTHRUM did. At his baptism, KING ALFRED was his
godfather. And GUTHRUM was an honourable chief who well deserved
that clemency; for, ever afterwards he was loyal and faithful to
the king. The Danes under him were faithful too. They plundered
and burned no more, but worked like honest men. They ploughed, and
sowed, and reaped, and led good honest English lives. And I hope
the children of those Danes played, many a time, with Saxon
children in the sunny fields; and that Danish young men fell in
love with Saxon girls, and married them; and that English
travellers, benighted at the doors of Danish cottages, often went
in for shelter until morning; and that Danes and Saxons sat by the
red fire, friends, talking of KING ALFRED THE GREAT.

All the Danes were not like these under GUTHRUM; for, after some
years, more of them came over, in the old plundering and burning
way - among them a fierce pirate of the name of HASTINGS, who had
the boldness to sail up the Thames to Gravesend, with eighty ships.
For three years, there was a war with these Danes; and there was a
famine in the country, too, and a plague, both upon human creatures
and beasts. But KING ALFRED, whose mighty heart never failed him,
built large ships nevertheless, with which to pursue the pirates on
the sea; and he encouraged his soldiers, by his brave example, to
fight valiantly against them on the shore. At last, he drove them
all away; and then there was repose in England.

As great and good in peace, as he was great and good in war, KING
ALFRED never rested from his labours to improve his people. He
loved to talk with clever men, and with travellers from foreign
countries, and to write down what they told him, for his people to
read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now
another of his labours was, to translate Latin books into the
English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested, and
improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might
live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges,
that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their
property, and punished robbers so severely, that it was a common
thing to say that under the great KING ALFRED, garlands of golden
chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man
would have touched one. He founded schools; he patiently heard
causes himself in his Court of Justice; the great desires of his
heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England
better, wiser, happier in all ways, than he found it. His industry
in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into
certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain
pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches
or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched
across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus,
as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost
as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But
when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind
and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and
windows, and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter
and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into
cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first
lanthorns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease,
which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could
relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life,
like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and
then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year
nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the
love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are
freshly remembered to the present hour.

In the next reign, which was the reign of EDWARD, surnamed THE
ELDER, who was chosen in council to succeed, a nephew of KING
ALFRED troubled the country by trying to obtain the throne. The
Danes in the East of England took part with this usurper (perhaps
because they had honoured his uncle so much, and honoured him for
his uncle's sake), and there was hard fighting; but, the King, with
the assistance of his sister, gained the day, and reigned in peace
for four and twenty years. He gradually extended his power over
the whole of England, and so the Seven Kingdoms were united into

When England thus became one kingdom, ruled over by one Saxon king,
the Saxons had been settled in the country more than four hundred
and fifty years. Great changes had taken place in its customs
during that time. The Saxons were still greedy eaters and great
drinkers, and their feasts were often of a noisy and drunken kind;
but many new comforts and even elegances had become known, and were
fast increasing. Hangings for the walls of rooms, where, in these
modern days, we paste up paper, are known to have been sometimes
made of silk, ornamented with birds and flowers in needlework.
Tables and chairs were curiously carved in different woods; were
sometimes decorated with gold or silver; sometimes even made of
those precious metals. Knives and spoons were used at table;
golden ornaments were worn - with silk and cloth, and golden
tissues and embroideries; dishes were made of gold and silver,
brass and bone. There were varieties of drinking-horns, bedsteads,
musical instruments. A harp was passed round, at a feast, like the
drinking-bowl, from guest to guest; and each one usually sang or
played when his turn came. The weapons of the Saxons were stoutly
made, and among them was a terrible iron hammer that gave deadly
blows, and was long remembered. The Saxons themselves were a
handsome people. The men were proud of their long fair hair,
parted on the forehead; their ample beards, their fresh
complexions, and clear eyes. The beauty of the Saxon women filled
all England with a new delight and grace.

I have more to tell of the Saxons yet, but I stop to say this now,
because under the GREAT ALFRED, all the best points of the English-
Saxon character were first encouraged, and in him first shown. It
has been the greatest character among the nations of the earth.
Wherever the descendants of the Saxon race have gone, have sailed,
or otherwise made their way, even to the remotest regions of the
world, they have been patient, persevering, never to be broken in
spirit, never to be turned aside from enterprises on which they
have resolved. In Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the whole world
over; in the desert, in the forest, on the sea; scorched by a
burning sun, or frozen by ice that never melts; the Saxon blood
remains unchanged. Wheresoever that race goes, there, law, and
industry, and safety for life and property, and all the great
results of steady perseverance, are certain to arise.

I pause to think with admiration, of the noble king who, in his
single person, possessed all the Saxon virtues. Whom misfortune
could not subdue, whom prosperity could not spoil, whose
perseverance nothing could shake. Who was hopeful in defeat, and
generous in success. Who loved justice, freedom, truth, and
knowledge. Who, in his care to instruct his people, probably did
more to preserve the beautiful old Saxon language, than I can
imagine. Without whom, the English tongue in which I tell this
story might have wanted half its meaning. As it is said that his
spirit still inspires some of our best English laws, so, let you
and I pray that it may animate our English hearts, at least to this
- to resolve, when we see any of our fellow-creatures left in
ignorance, that we will do our best, while life is in us, to have
them taught; and to tell those rulers whose duty it is to teach
them, and who neglect their duty, that they have profited very
little by all the years that have rolled away since the year nine
hundred and one, and that they are far behind the bright example of


ATHELSTAN, the son of Edward the Elder, succeeded that king. He
reigned only fifteen years; but he remembered the glory of his
grandfather, the great Alfred, and governed England well. He
reduced the turbulent people of Wales, and obliged them to pay him
a tribute in money, and in cattle, and to send him their best hawks
and hounds. He was victorious over the Cornish men, who were not
yet quite under the Saxon government. He restored such of the old
laws as were good, and had fallen into disuse; made some wise new
laws, and took care of the poor and weak. A strong alliance, made
against him by ANLAF a Danish prince, CONSTANTINE King of the
Scots, and the people of North Wales, he broke and defeated in one
great battle, long famous for the vast numbers slain in it. After
that, he had a quiet reign; the lords and ladies about him had
leisure to become polite and agreeable; and foreign princes were
glad (as they have sometimes been since) to come to England on
visits to the English court.

When Athelstan died, at forty-seven years old, his brother EDMUND,
who was only eighteen, became king. He was the first of six boy-
kings, as you will presently know.

They called him the Magnificent, because he showed a taste for
improvement and refinement. But he was beset by the Danes, and had
a short and troubled reign, which came to a troubled end. One
night, when he was feasting in his hall, and had eaten much and
drunk deep, he saw, among the company, a noted robber named LEOF,
who had been banished from England. Made very angry by the
boldness of this man, the King turned to his cup-bearer, and said,
'There is a robber sitting at the table yonder, who, for his
crimes, is an outlaw in the land - a hunted wolf, whose life any
man may take, at any time. Command that robber to depart!' 'I
will not depart!' said Leof. 'No?' cried the King. 'No, by the
Lord!' said Leof. Upon that the King rose from his seat, and,
making passionately at the robber, and seizing him by his long
hair, tried to throw him down. But the robber had a dagger
underneath his cloak, and, in the scuffle, stabbed the King to
death. That done, he set his back against the wall, and fought so
desperately, that although he was soon cut to pieces by the King's
armed men, and the wall and pavement were splashed with his blood,
yet it was not before he had killed and wounded many of them. You
may imagine what rough lives the kings of those times led, when one
of them could struggle, half drunk, with a public robber in his own
dining-hall, and be stabbed in presence of the company who ate and
drank with him.

Then succeeded the boy-king EDRED, who was weak and sickly in body,
but of a strong mind. And his armies fought the Northmen, the
Danes, and Norwegians, or the Sea-Kings, as they were called, and
beat them for the time. And, in nine years, Edred died, and passed

Then came the boy-king EDWY, fifteen years of age; but the real
king, who had the real power, was a monk named DUNSTAN - a clever
priest, a little mad, and not a little proud and cruel.

Dunstan was then Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, whither the body of
King Edmund the Magnificent was carried, to be buried. While yet a
boy, he had got out of his bed one night (being then in a fever),
and walked about Glastonbury Church when it was under repair; and,
because he did not tumble off some scaffolds that were there, and
break his neck, it was reported that he had been shown over the
building by an angel. He had also made a harp that was said to
play of itself - which it very likely did, as AEolian Harps, which
are played by the wind, and are understood now, always do. For
these wonders he had been once denounced by his enemies, who were
jealous of his favour with the late King Athelstan, as a magician;
and he had been waylaid, bound hand and foot, and thrown into a
marsh. But he got out again, somehow, to cause a great deal of
trouble yet.

The priests of those days were, generally, the only scholars. They
were learned in many things. Having to make their own convents and
monasteries on uncultivated grounds that were granted to them by
the Crown, it was necessary that they should be good farmers and
good gardeners, or their lands would have been too poor to support
them. For the decoration of the chapels where they prayed, and for
the comfort of the refectories where they ate and drank, it was
necessary that there should be good carpenters, good smiths, good
painters, among them. For their greater safety in sickness and
accident, living alone by themselves in solitary places, it was
necessary that they should study the virtues of plants and herbs,
and should know how to dress cuts, burns, scalds, and bruises, and
how to set broken limbs. Accordingly, they taught themselves, and
one another, a great variety of useful arts; and became skilful in
agriculture, medicine, surgery, and handicraft. And when they
wanted the aid of any little piece of machinery, which would be
simple enough now, but was marvellous then, to impose a trick upon
the poor peasants, they knew very well how to make it; and DID make
it many a time and often, I have no doubt.

Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was one of the most sagacious
of these monks. He was an ingenious smith, and worked at a forge
in a little cell. This cell was made too short to admit of his
lying at full length when he went to sleep - as if THAT did any
good to anybody! - and he used to tell the most extraordinary lies
about demons and spirits, who, he said, came there to persecute
him. For instance, he related that one day when he was at work,
the devil looked in at the little window, and tried to tempt him to
lead a life of idle pleasure; whereupon, having his pincers in the
fire, red hot, he seized the devil by the nose, and put him to such
pain, that his bellowings were heard for miles and miles. Some
people are inclined to think this nonsense a part of Dunstan's
madness (for his head never quite recovered the fever), but I think
not. I observe that it induced the ignorant people to consider him
a holy man, and that it made him very powerful. Which was exactly
what he always wanted.

On the day of the coronation of the handsome boy-king Edwy, it was
remarked by ODO, Archbishop of Canterbury (who was a Dane by
birth), that the King quietly left the coronation feast, while all
the company were there. Odo, much displeased, sent his friend
Dunstan to seek him. Dunstan finding him in the company of his
beautiful young wife ELGIVA, and her mother ETHELGIVA, a good and
virtuous lady, not only grossly abused them, but dragged the young
King back into the feasting-hall by force. Some, again, think
Dunstan did this because the young King's fair wife was his own
cousin, and the monks objected to people marrying their own
cousins; but I believe he did it, because he was an imperious,
audacious, ill-conditioned priest, who, having loved a young lady
himself before he became a sour monk, hated all love now, and
everything belonging to it.

The young King was quite old enough to feel this insult. Dunstan
had been Treasurer in the last reign, and he soon charged Dunstan
with having taken some of the last king's money. The Glastonbury
Abbot fled to Belgium (very narrowly escaping some pursuers who
were sent to put out his eyes, as you will wish they had, when you
read what follows), and his abbey was given to priests who were
married; whom he always, both before and afterwards, opposed. But
he quickly conspired with his friend, Odo the Dane, to set up the
King's young brother, EDGAR, as his rival for the throne; and, not
content with this revenge, he caused the beautiful queen Elgiva,
though a lovely girl of only seventeen or eighteen, to be stolen
from one of the Royal Palaces, branded in the cheek with a red-hot
iron, and sold into slavery in Ireland. But the Irish people
pitied and befriended her; and they said, 'Let us restore the girl-
queen to the boy-king, and make the young lovers happy!' and they
cured her of her cruel wound, and sent her home as beautiful as
before. But the villain Dunstan, and that other villain, Odo,
caused her to be waylaid at Gloucester as she was joyfully hurrying
to join her husband, and to be hacked and hewn with swords, and to
be barbarously maimed and lamed, and left to die. When Edwy the
Fair (his people called him so, because he was so young and
handsome) heard of her dreadful fate, he died of a broken heart;
and so the pitiful story of the poor young wife and husband ends!
Ah! Better to be two cottagers in these better times, than king
and queen of England in those bad days, though never so fair!

Then came the boy-king, EDGAR, called the Peaceful, fifteen years
old. Dunstan, being still the real king, drove all married priests
out of the monasteries and abbeys, and replaced them by solitary
monks like himself, of the rigid order called the Benedictines. He
made himself Archbishop of Canterbury, for his greater glory; and
exercised such power over the neighbouring British princes, and so
collected them about the King, that once, when the King held his
court at Chester, and went on the river Dee to visit the monastery
of St. John, the eight oars of his boat were pulled (as the people
used to delight in relating in stories and songs) by eight crowned
kings, and steered by the King of England. As Edgar was very
obedient to Dunstan and the monks, they took great pains to
represent him as the best of kings. But he was really profligate,
debauched, and vicious. He once forcibly carried off a young lady
from the convent at Wilton; and Dunstan, pretending to be very much
shocked, condemned him not to wear his crown upon his head for
seven years - no great punishment, I dare say, as it can hardly
have been a more comfortable ornament to wear, than a stewpan
without a handle. His marriage with his second wife, ELFRIDA, is
one of the worst events of his reign. Hearing of the beauty of
this lady, he despatched his favourite courtier, ATHELWOLD, to her
father's castle in Devonshire, to see if she were really as
charming as fame reported. Now, she was so exceedingly beautiful
that Athelwold fell in love with her himself, and married her; but
he told the King that she was only rich - not handsome. The King,
suspecting the truth when they came home, resolved to pay the
newly-married couple a visit; and, suddenly, told Athelwold to
prepare for his immediate coming. Athelwold, terrified, confessed
to his young wife what he had said and done, and implored her to
disguise her beauty by some ugly dress or silly manner, that he
might be safe from the King's anger. She promised that she would;
but she was a proud woman, who would far rather have been a queen
than the wife of a courtier. She dressed herself in her best
dress, and adorned herself with her richest jewels; and when the
King came, presently, he discovered the cheat. So, he caused his
false friend, Athelwold, to be murdered in a wood, and married his
widow, this bad Elfrida. Six or seven years afterwards, he died;
and was buried, as if he had been all that the monks said he was,
in the abbey of Glastonbury, which he - or Dunstan for him - had
much enriched.

England, in one part of this reign, was so troubled by wolves,
which, driven out of the open country, hid themselves in the
mountains of Wales when they were not attacking travellers and
animals, that the tribute payable by the Welsh people was forgiven
them, on condition of their producing, every year, three hundred
wolves' heads. And the Welshmen were so sharp upon the wolves, to
save their money, that in four years there was not a wolf left.

Then came the boy-king, EDWARD, called the Martyr, from the manner
of his death. Elfrida had a son, named ETHELRED, for whom she
claimed the throne; but Dunstan did not choose to favour him, and
he made Edward king. The boy was hunting, one day, down in
Dorsetshire, when he rode near to Corfe Castle, where Elfrida and
Ethelred lived. Wishing to see them kindly, he rode away from his
attendants and galloped to the castle gate, where he arrived at
twilight, and blew his hunting-horn. 'You are welcome, dear King,'
said Elfrida, coming out, with her brightest smiles. 'Pray you
dismount and enter.' 'Not so, dear madam,' said the King. 'My
company will miss me, and fear that I have met with some harm.
Please you to give me a cup of wine, that I may drink here, in the
saddle, to you and to my little brother, and so ride away with the
good speed I have made in riding here.' Elfrida, going in to bring
the wine, whispered an armed servant, one of her attendants, who
stole out of the darkening gateway, and crept round behind the
King's horse. As the King raised the cup to his lips, saying,
'Health!' to the wicked woman who was smiling on him, and to his
innocent brother whose hand she held in hers, and who was only ten
years old, this armed man made a spring and stabbed him in the
back. He dropped the cup and spurred his horse away; but, soon
fainting with loss of blood, dropped from the saddle, and, in his
fall, entangled one of his feet in the stirrup. The frightened
horse dashed on; trailing his rider's curls upon the ground;
dragging his smooth young face through ruts, and stones, and
briers, and fallen leaves, and mud; until the hunters, tracking the
animal's course by the King's blood, caught his bridle, and
released the disfigured body.

Then came the sixth and last of the boy-kings, ETHELRED, whom
Elfrida, when he cried out at the sight of his murdered brother
riding away from the castle gate, unmercifully beat with a torch
which she snatched from one of the attendants. The people so
disliked this boy, on account of his cruel mother and the murder
she had done to promote him, that Dunstan would not have had him
for king, but would have made EDGITHA, the daughter of the dead
King Edgar, and of the lady whom he stole out of the convent at
Wilton, Queen of England, if she would have consented. But she
knew the stories of the youthful kings too well, and would not be
persuaded from the convent where she lived in peace; so, Dunstan
put Ethelred on the throne, having no one else to put there, and
gave him the nickname of THE UNREADY - knowing that he wanted
resolution and firmness.

At first, Elfrida possessed great influence over the young King,
but, as he grew older and came of age, her influence declined. The
infamous woman, not having it in her power to do any more evil,
then retired from court, and, according, to the fashion of the
time, built churches and monasteries, to expiate her guilt. As if
a church, with a steeple reaching to the very stars, would have
been any sign of true repentance for the blood of the poor boy,
whose murdered form was trailed at his horse's heels! As if she
could have buried her wickedness beneath the senseless stones of
the whole world, piled up one upon another, for the monks to live

About the ninth or tenth year of this reign, Dunstan died. He was
growing old then, but was as stern and artful as ever. Two
circumstances that happened in connexion with him, in this reign of
Ethelred, made a great noise. Once, he was present at a meeting of
the Church, when the question was discussed whether priests should
have permission to marry; and, as he sat with his head hung down,
apparently thinking about it, a voice seemed to come out of a
crucifix in the room, and warn the meeting to be of his opinion.
This was some juggling of Dunstan's, and was probably his own voice
disguised. But he played off a worse juggle than that, soon
afterwards; for, another meeting being held on the same subject,
and he and his supporters being seated on one side of a great room,
and their opponents on the other, he rose and said, 'To Christ
himself, as judge, do I commit this cause!' Immediately on these
words being spoken, the floor where the opposite party sat gave
way, and some were killed and many wounded. You may be pretty sure
that it had been weakened under Dunstan's direction, and that it
fell at Dunstan's signal. HIS part of the floor did not go down.
No, no. He was too good a workman for that.

When he died, the monks settled that he was a Saint, and called him
Saint Dunstan ever afterwards. They might just as well have
settled that he was a coach-horse, and could just as easily have
called him one.

Ethelred the Unready was glad enough, I dare say, to be rid of this
holy saint; but, left to himself, he was a poor weak king, and his
reign was a reign of defeat and shame. The restless Danes, led by
SWEYN, a son of the King of Denmark who had quarrelled with his
father and had been banished from home, again came into England,
and, year after year, attacked and despoiled large towns. To coax
these sea-kings away, the weak Ethelred paid them money; but, the
more money he paid, the more money the Danes wanted. At first, he
gave them ten thousand pounds; on their next invasion, sixteen
thousand pounds; on their next invasion, four and twenty thousand
pounds: to pay which large sums, the unfortunate English people
were heavily taxed. But, as the Danes still came back and wanted
more, he thought it would be a good plan to marry into some
powerful foreign family that would help him with soldiers. So, in
the year one thousand and two, he courted and married Emma, the
sister of Richard Duke of Normandy; a lady who was called the
Flower of Normandy.

And now, a terrible deed was done in England, the like of which was
never done on English ground before or since. On the thirteenth of
November, in pursuance of secret instructions sent by the King over
the whole country, the inhabitants of every town and city armed,
and murdered all the Danes who were their neighbours.

Young and old, babies and soldiers, men and women, every Dane was
killed. No doubt there were among them many ferocious men who had
done the English great wrong, and whose pride and insolence, in
swaggering in the houses of the English and insulting their wives
and daughters, had become unbearable; but no doubt there were also
among them many peaceful Christian Danes who had married English
women and become like English men. They were all slain, even to
GUNHILDA, the sister of the King of Denmark, married to an English
lord; who was first obliged to see the murder of her husband and
her child, and then was killed herself.

When the King of the sea-kings heard of this deed of blood, he
swore that he would have a great revenge. He raised an army, and a
mightier fleet of ships than ever yet had sailed to England; and in
all his army there was not a slave or an old man, but every soldier
was a free man, and the son of a free man, and in the prime of
life, and sworn to be revenged upon the English nation, for the
massacre of that dread thirteenth of November, when his countrymen
and countrywomen, and the little children whom they loved, were
killed with fire and sword. And so, the sea-kings came to England
in many great ships, each bearing the flag of its own commander.
Golden eagles, ravens, dragons, dolphins, beasts of prey,
threatened England from the prows of those ships, as they came
onward through the water; and were reflected in the shining shields
that hung upon their sides. The ship that bore the standard of the
King of the sea-kings was carved and painted like a mighty serpent;
and the King in his anger prayed that the Gods in whom he trusted
might all desert him, if his serpent did not strike its fangs into
England's heart.

And indeed it did. For, the great army landing from the great
fleet, near Exeter, went forward, laying England waste, and
striking their lances in the earth as they advanced, or throwing
them into rivers, in token of their making all the island theirs.
In remembrance of the black November night when the Danes were
murdered, wheresoever the invaders came, they made the Saxons
prepare and spread for them great feasts; and when they had eaten
those feasts, and had drunk a curse to England with wild
rejoicings, they drew their swords, and killed their Saxon
entertainers, and marched on. For six long years they carried on
this war: burning the crops, farmhouses, barns, mills, granaries;
killing the labourers in the fields; preventing the seed from being
sown in the ground; causing famine and starvation; leaving only
heaps of ruin and smoking ashes, where they had found rich towns.
To crown this misery, English officers and men deserted, and even
the favourites of Ethelred the Unready, becoming traitors, seized
many of the English ships, turned pirates against their own
country, and aided by a storm occasioned the loss of nearly the
whole English navy.

There was but one man of note, at this miserable pass, who was true
to his country and the feeble King. He was a priest, and a brave
one. For twenty days, the Archbishop of Canterbury defended that
city against its Danish besiegers; and when a traitor in the town
threw the gates open and admitted them, he said, in chains, 'I will
not buy my life with money that must be extorted from the suffering
people. Do with me what you please!' Again and again, he steadily
refused to purchase his release with gold wrung from the poor.

At last, the Danes being tired of this, and being assembled at a
drunken merry-making, had him brought into the feasting-hall.

'Now, bishop,' they said, 'we want gold!'

He looked round on the crowd of angry faces; from the shaggy beards
close to him, to the shaggy beards against the walls, where men
were mounted on tables and forms to see him over the heads of
others: and he knew that his time was come.

'I have no gold,' he said.

'Get it, bishop!' they all thundered.

'That, I have often told you I will not,' said he.

They gathered closer round him, threatening, but he stood unmoved.
Then, one man struck him; then, another; then a cursing soldier
picked up from a heap in a corner of the hall, where fragments had
been rudely thrown at dinner, a great ox-bone, and cast it at his
face, from which the blood came spurting forth; then, others ran to
the same heap, and knocked him down with other bones, and bruised
and battered him; until one soldier whom he had baptised (willing,
as I hope for the sake of that soldier's soul, to shorten the
sufferings of the good man) struck him dead with his battle-axe.

If Ethelred had had the heart to emulate the courage of this noble
archbishop, he might have done something yet. But he paid the
Danes forty-eight thousand pounds, instead, and gained so little by
the cowardly act, that Sweyn soon afterwards came over to subdue
all England. So broken was the attachment of the English people,
by this time, to their incapable King and their forlorn country
which could not protect them, that they welcomed Sweyn on all
sides, as a deliverer. London faithfully stood out, as long as the
King was within its walls; but, when he sneaked away, it also
welcomed the Dane. Then, all was over; and the King took refuge
abroad with the Duke of Normandy, who had already given shelter to
the King's wife, once the Flower of that country, and to her

Still, the English people, in spite of their sad sufferings, could
not quite forget the great King Alfred and the Saxon race. When
Sweyn died suddenly, in little more than a month after he had been
proclaimed King of England, they generously sent to Ethelred, to
say that they would have him for their King again, 'if he would
only govern them better than he had governed them before.' The
Unready, instead of coming himself, sent Edward, one of his sons,
to make promises for him. At last, he followed, and the English
declared him King. The Danes declared CANUTE, the son of Sweyn,
King. Thus, direful war began again, and lasted for three years,
when the Unready died. And I know of nothing better that he did,
in all his reign of eight and thirty years.

Was Canute to be King now? Not over the Saxons, they said; they
must have EDMUND, one of the sons of the Unready, who was surnamed
IRONSIDE, because of his strength and stature. Edmund and Canute
thereupon fell to, and fought five battles - O unhappy England,
what a fighting-ground it was! - and then Ironside, who was a big
man, proposed to Canute, who was a little man, that they two should
fight it out in single combat. If Canute had been the big man, he
would probably have said yes, but, being the little man, he
decidedly said no. However, he declared that he was willing to
divide the kingdom - to take all that lay north of Watling Street,
as the old Roman military road from Dover to Chester was called,
and to give Ironside all that lay south of it. Most men being
weary of so much bloodshed, this was done. But Canute soon became
sole King of England; for Ironside died suddenly within two months.
Some think that he was killed, and killed by Canute's orders. No
one knows.


CANUTE reigned eighteen years. He was a merciless King at first.
After he had clasped the hands of the Saxon chiefs, in token of the
sincerity with which he swore to be just and good to them in return
for their acknowledging him, he denounced and slew many of them, as
well as many relations of the late King. 'He who brings me the
head of one of my enemies,' he used to say, 'shall be dearer to me
than a brother.' And he was so severe in hunting down his enemies,
that he must have got together a pretty large family of these dear
brothers. He was strongly inclined to kill EDMUND and EDWARD, two
children, sons of poor Ironside; but, being afraid to do so in
England, he sent them over to the King of Sweden, with a request
that the King would be so good as 'dispose of them.' If the King
of Sweden had been like many, many other men of that day, he would
have had their innocent throats cut; but he was a kind man, and
brought them up tenderly.

Normandy ran much in Canute's mind. In Normandy were the two
children of the late king - EDWARD and ALFRED by name; and their
uncle the Duke might one day claim the crown for them. But the
Duke showed so little inclination to do so now, that he proposed to
Canute to marry his sister, the widow of The Unready; who, being
but a showy flower, and caring for nothing so much as becoming a
queen again, left her children and was wedded to him.

Successful and triumphant, assisted by the valour of the English in
his foreign wars, and with little strife to trouble him at home,
Canute had a prosperous reign, and made many improvements. He was
a poet and a musician. He grew sorry, as he grew older, for the
blood he had shed at first; and went to Rome in a Pilgrim's dress,
by way of washing it out. He gave a great deal of money to
foreigners on his journey; but he took it from the English before
he started. On the whole, however, he certainly became a far
better man when he had no opposition to contend with, and was as
great a King as England had known for some time.

The old writers of history relate how that Canute was one day
disgusted with his courtiers for their flattery, and how he caused
his chair to be set on the sea-shore, and feigned to command the
tide as it came up not to wet the edge of his robe, for the land
was his; how the tide came up, of course, without regarding him;
and how he then turned to his flatterers, and rebuked them, saying,
what was the might of any earthly king, to the might of the
Creator, who could say unto the sea, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and
no farther!' We may learn from this, I think, that a little sense
will go a long way in a king; and that courtiers are not easily
cured of flattery, nor kings of a liking for it. If the courtiers
of Canute had not known, long before, that the King was fond of
flattery, they would have known better than to offer it in such
large doses. And if they had not known that he was vain of this
speech (anything but a wonderful speech it seems to me, if a good
child had made it), they would not have been at such great pains to
repeat it. I fancy I see them all on the sea-shore together; the
King's chair sinking in the sand; the King in a mighty good humour
with his own wisdom; and the courtiers pretending to be quite
stunned by it!

It is not the sea alone that is bidden to go 'thus far, and no
farther.' The great command goes forth to all the kings upon the
earth, and went to Canute in the year one thousand and thirty-five,
and stretched him dead upon his bed. Beside it, stood his Norman
wife. Perhaps, as the King looked his last upon her, he, who had
so often thought distrustfully of Normandy, long ago, thought once
more of the two exiled Princes in their uncle's court, and of the
little favour they could feel for either Danes or Saxons, and of a
rising cloud in Normandy that slowly moved towards England.


CANUTE left three sons, by name SWEYN, HAROLD, and HARDICANUTE; but
his Queen, Emma, once the Flower of Normandy, was the mother of
only Hardicanute. Canute had wished his dominions to be divided
between the three, and had wished Harold to have England; but the
Saxon people in the South of England, headed by a nobleman with
great possessions, called the powerful EARL GODWIN (who is said to
have been originally a poor cow-boy), opposed this, and desired to
have, instead, either Hardicanute, or one of the two exiled Princes
who were over in Normandy. It seemed so certain that there would
be more bloodshed to settle this dispute, that many people left
their homes, and took refuge in the woods and swamps. Happily,
however, it was agreed to refer the whole question to a great
meeting at Oxford, which decided that Harold should have all the
country north of the Thames, with London for his capital city, and
that Hardicanute should have all the south. The quarrel was so
arranged; and, as Hardicanute was in Denmark troubling himself very
little about anything but eating and getting drunk, his mother and
Earl Godwin governed the south for him.

They had hardly begun to do so, and the trembling people who had
hidden themselves were scarcely at home again, when Edward, the
elder of the two exiled Princes, came over from Normandy with a few
followers, to claim the English Crown. His mother Emma, however,
who only cared for her last son Hardicanute, instead of assisting
him, as he expected, opposed him so strongly with all her influence
that he was very soon glad to get safely back. His brother Alfred
was not so fortunate. Believing in an affectionate letter, written
some time afterwards to him and his brother, in his mother's name
(but whether really with or without his mother's knowledge is now
uncertain), he allowed himself to be tempted over to England, with
a good force of soldiers, and landing on the Kentish coast, and
being met and welcomed by Earl Godwin, proceeded into Surrey, as
far as the town of Guildford. Here, he and his men halted in the
evening to rest, having still the Earl in their company; who had
ordered lodgings and good cheer for them. But, in the dead of the
night, when they were off their guard, being divided into small
parties sleeping soundly after a long march and a plentiful supper
in different houses, they were set upon by the King's troops, and
taken prisoners. Next morning they were drawn out in a line, to
the number of six hundred men, and were barbarously tortured and
killed; with the exception of every tenth man, who was sold into
slavery. As to the wretched Prince Alfred, he was stripped naked,
tied to a horse and sent away into the Isle of Ely, where his eyes
were torn out of his head, and where in a few days he miserably
died. I am not sure that the Earl had wilfully entrapped him, but
I suspect it strongly.

Harold was now King all over England, though it is doubtful whether
the Archbishop of Canterbury (the greater part of the priests were
Saxons, and not friendly to the Danes) ever consented to crown him.
Crowned or uncrowned, with the Archbishop's leave or without it, he
was King for four years: after which short reign he died, and was
buried; having never done much in life but go a hunting. He was
such a fast runner at this, his favourite sport, that the people
called him Harold Harefoot.

Hardicanute was then at Bruges, in Flanders, plotting, with his
mother (who had gone over there after the cruel murder of Prince
Alfred), for the invasion of England. The Danes and Saxons,
finding themselves without a King, and dreading new disputes, made
common cause, and joined in inviting him to occupy the Throne. He
consented, and soon troubled them enough; for he brought over
numbers of Danes, and taxed the people so insupportably to enrich
those greedy favourites that there were many insurrections,
especially one at Worcester, where the citizens rose and killed his
tax-collectors; in revenge for which he burned their city. He was
a brutal King, whose first public act was to order the dead body of
poor Harold Harefoot to be dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the
river. His end was worthy of such a beginning. He fell down
drunk, with a goblet of wine in his hand, at a wedding-feast at
Lambeth, given in honour of the marriage of his standard-bearer, a
Dane named TOWED THE PROUD. And he never spoke again.

EDWARD, afterwards called by the monks THE CONFESSOR, succeeded;
and his first act was to oblige his mother Emma, who had favoured
him so little, to retire into the country; where she died some ten
years afterwards. He was the exiled prince whose brother Alfred
had been so foully killed. He had been invited over from Normandy
by Hardicanute, in the course of his short reign of two years, and
had been handsomely treated at court. His cause was now favoured
by the powerful Earl Godwin, and he was soon made King. This Earl
had been suspected by the people, ever since Prince Alfred's cruel
death; he had even been tried in the last reign for the Prince's
murder, but had been pronounced not guilty; chiefly, as it was
supposed, because of a present he had made to the swinish King, of
a gilded ship with a figure-head of solid gold, and a crew of
eighty splendidly armed men. It was his interest to help the new
King with his power, if the new King would help him against the
popular distrust and hatred. So they made a bargain. Edward the
Confessor got the Throne. The Earl got more power and more land,
and his daughter Editha was made queen; for it was a part of their
compact that the King should take her for his wife.

But, although she was a gentle lady, in all things worthy to be
beloved - good, beautiful, sensible, and kind - the King from the
first neglected her. Her father and her six proud brothers,
resenting this cold treatment, harassed the King greatly by
exerting all their power to make him unpopular. Having lived so
long in Normandy, he preferred the Normans to the English. He made
a Norman Archbishop, and Norman Bishops; his great officers and
favourites were all Normans; he introduced the Norman fashions and
the Norman language; in imitation of the state custom of Normandy,
he attached a great seal to his state documents, instead of merely
marking them, as the Saxon Kings had done, with the sign of the
cross - just as poor people who have never been taught to write,
now make the same mark for their names. All this, the powerful
Earl Godwin and his six proud sons represented to the people as
disfavour shown towards the English; and thus they daily increased
their own power, and daily diminished the power of the King.

They were greatly helped by an event that occurred when he had
reigned eight years. Eustace, Earl of Bologne, who had married the
King's sister, came to England on a visit. After staying at the
court some time, he set forth, with his numerous train of
attendants, to return home. They were to embark at Dover.
Entering that peaceful town in armour, they took possession of the
best houses, and noisily demanded to be lodged and entertained
without payment. One of the bold men of Dover, who would not
endure to have these domineering strangers jingling their heavy
swords and iron corselets up and down his house, eating his meat
and drinking his strong liquor, stood in his doorway and refused
admission to the first armed man who came there. The armed man
drew, and wounded him. The man of Dover struck the armed man dead.
Intelligence of what he had done, spreading through the streets to
where the Count Eustace and his men were standing by their horses,
bridle in hand, they passionately mounted, galloped to the house,
surrounded it, forced their way in (the doors and windows being
closed when they came up), and killed the man of Dover at his own
fireside. They then clattered through the streets, cutting down
and riding over men, women, and children. This did not last long,
you may believe. The men of Dover set upon them with great fury,
killed nineteen of the foreigners, wounded many more, and,
blockading the road to the port so that they should not embark,
beat them out of the town by the way they had come. Hereupon,
Count Eustace rides as hard as man can ride to Gloucester, where
Edward is, surrounded by Norman monks and Norman lords. 'Justice!'
cries the Count, 'upon the men of Dover, who have set upon and
slain my people!' The King sends immediately for the powerful Earl
Godwin, who happens to be near; reminds him that Dover is under his
government; and orders him to repair to Dover and do military
execution on the inhabitants. 'It does not become you,' says the
proud Earl in reply, 'to condemn without a hearing those whom you
have sworn to protect. I will not do it.'

The King, therefore, summoned the Earl, on pain of banishment and
loss of his titles and property, to appear before the court to
answer this disobedience. The Earl refused to appear. He, his
eldest son Harold, and his second son Sweyn, hastily raised as many
fighting men as their utmost power could collect, and demanded to
have Count Eustace and his followers surrendered to the justice of
the country. The King, in his turn, refused to give them up, and
raised a strong force. After some treaty and delay, the troops of
the great Earl and his sons began to fall off. The Earl, with a
part of his family and abundance of treasure, sailed to Flanders;
Harold escaped to Ireland; and the power of the great family was
for that time gone in England. But, the people did not forget

Then, Edward the Confessor, with the true meanness of a mean
spirit, visited his dislike of the once powerful father and sons
upon the helpless daughter and sister, his unoffending wife, whom
all who saw her (her husband and his monks excepted) loved. He
seized rapaciously upon her fortune and her jewels, and allowing
her only one attendant, confined her in a gloomy convent, of which
a sister of his - no doubt an unpleasant lady after his own heart -
was abbess or jailer.

Having got Earl Godwin and his six sons well out of his way, the
King favoured the Normans more than ever. He invited over WILLIAM,
DUKE OF NORMANDY, the son of that Duke who had received him and his
murdered brother long ago, and of a peasant girl, a tanner's
daughter, with whom that Duke had fallen in love for her beauty as
he saw her washing clothes in a brook. William, who was a great
warrior, with a passion for fine horses, dogs, and arms, accepted
the invitation; and the Normans in England, finding themselves more
numerous than ever when he arrived with his retinue, and held in
still greater honour at court than before, became more and more
haughty towards the people, and were more and more disliked by

The old Earl Godwin, though he was abroad, knew well how the people
felt; for, with part of the treasure he had carried away with him,
he kept spies and agents in his pay all over England.

Accordingly, he thought the time was come for fitting out a great
expedition against the Norman-loving King. With it, he sailed to
the Isle of Wight, where he was joined by his son Harold, the most
gallant and brave of all his family. And so the father and son
came sailing up the Thames to Southwark; great numbers of the
people declaring for them, and shouting for the English Earl and
the English Harold, against the Norman favourites!

The King was at first as blind and stubborn as kings usually have
been whensoever they have been in the hands of monks. But the
people rallied so thickly round the old Earl and his son, and the
old Earl was so steady in demanding without bloodshed the
restoration of himself and his family to their rights, that at last
the court took the alarm. The Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, and
the Norman Bishop of London, surrounded by their retainers, fought
their way out of London, and escaped from Essex to France in a
fishing-boat. The other Norman favourites dispersed in all
directions. The old Earl and his sons (except Sweyn, who had
committed crimes against the law) were restored to their
possessions and dignities. Editha, the virtuous and lovely Queen
of the insensible King, was triumphantly released from her prison,
the convent, and once more sat in her chair of state, arrayed in
the jewels of which, when she had no champion to support her
rights, her cold-blooded husband had deprived her.

The old Earl Godwin did not long enjoy his restored fortune. He
fell down in a fit at the King's table, and died upon the third day
afterwards. Harold succeeded to his power, and to a far higher
place in the attachment of the people than his father had ever
held. By his valour he subdued the King's enemies in many bloody
fights. He was vigorous against rebels in Scotland - this was the
time when Macbeth slew Duncan, upon which event our English
Shakespeare, hundreds of years afterwards, wrote his great tragedy;
and he killed the restless Welsh King GRIFFITH, and brought his
head to England.

What Harold was doing at sea, when he was driven on the French
coast by a tempest, is not at all certain; nor does it at all
matter. That his ship was forced by a storm on that shore, and
that he was taken prisoner, there is no doubt. In those barbarous
days, all shipwrecked strangers were taken prisoners, and obliged
to pay ransom. So, a certain Count Guy, who was the Lord of
Ponthieu where Harold's disaster happened, seized him, instead of
relieving him like a hospitable and Christian lord as he ought to
have done, and expected to make a very good thing of it.

But Harold sent off immediately to Duke William of Normandy,
complaining of this treatment; and the Duke no sooner heard of it
than he ordered Harold to be escorted to the ancient town of Rouen,
where he then was, and where he received him as an honoured guest.
Now, some writers tell us that Edward the Confessor, who was by
this time old and had no children, had made a will, appointing Duke
William of Normandy his successor, and had informed the Duke of his
having done so. There is no doubt that he was anxious about his
successor; because he had even invited over, from abroad, EDWARD
THE OUTLAW, a son of Ironside, who had come to England with his
wife and three children, but whom the King had strangely refused to
see when he did come, and who had died in London suddenly (princes
were terribly liable to sudden death in those days), and had been
buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The King might possibly have made
such a will; or, having always been fond of the Normans, he might
have encouraged Norman William to aspire to the English crown, by
something that he said to him when he was staying at the English
court. But, certainly William did now aspire to it; and knowing
that Harold would be a powerful rival, he called together a great
assembly of his nobles, offered Harold his daughter ADELE in
marriage, informed him that he meant on King Edward's death to
claim the English crown as his own inheritance, and required Harold
then and there to swear to aid him. Harold, being in the Duke's
power, took this oath upon the Missal, or Prayer-book. It is a
good example of the superstitions of the monks, that this Missal,
instead of being placed upon a table, was placed upon a tub; which,
when Harold had sworn, was uncovered, and shown to be full of dead
men's bones - bones, as the monks pretended, of saints. This was
supposed to make Harold's oath a great deal more impressive and
binding. As if the great name of the Creator of Heaven and earth
could be made more solemn by a knuckle-bone, or a double-tooth, or
a finger-nail, of Dunstan!

Within a week or two after Harold's return to England, the dreary
old Confessor was found to be dying. After wandering in his mind
like a very weak old man, he died. As he had put himself entirely
in the hands of the monks when he was alive, they praised him
lustily when he was dead. They had gone so far, already, as to
persuade him that he could work miracles; and had brought people
afflicted with a bad disorder of the skin, to him, to be touched
and cured. This was called 'touching for the King's Evil,' which
afterwards became a royal custom. You know, however, Who really
touched the sick, and healed them; and you know His sacred name is
not among the dusty line of human kings.


HAROLD was crowned King of England on the very day of the maudlin
Confessor's funeral. He had good need to be quick about it. When
the news reached Norman William, hunting in his park at Rouen, he
dropped his bow, returned to his palace, called his nobles to
council, and presently sent ambassadors to Harold, calling on him
to keep his oath and resign the Crown. Harold would do no such
thing. The barons of France leagued together round Duke William
for the invasion of England. Duke William promised freely to
distribute English wealth and English lands among them. The Pope
sent to Normandy a consecrated banner, and a ring containing a hair
which he warranted to have grown on the head of Saint Peter. He
blessed the enterprise; and cursed Harold; and requested that the
Normans would pay 'Peter's Pence' - or a tax to himself of a penny
a year on every house - a little more regularly in future, if they
could make it convenient.

King Harold had a rebel brother in Flanders, who was a vassal of
HAROLD HARDRADA, King of Norway. This brother, and this Norwegian
King, joining their forces against England, with Duke William's
help, won a fight in which the English were commanded by two
nobles; and then besieged York. Harold, who was waiting for the
Normans on the coast at Hastings, with his army, marched to
Stamford Bridge upon the river Derwent to give them instant battle.

He found them drawn up in a hollow circle, marked out by their
shining spears. Riding round this circle at a distance, to survey
it, he saw a brave figure on horseback, in a blue mantle and a
bright helmet, whose horse suddenly stumbled and threw him.

'Who is that man who has fallen?' Harold asked of one of his

'The King of Norway,' he replied.

'He is a tall and stately king,' said Harold, 'but his end is

He added, in a little while, 'Go yonder to my brother, and tell
him, if he withdraw his troops, he shall be Earl of Northumberland,
and rich and powerful in England.'

The captain rode away and gave the message.

'What will he give to my friend the King of Norway?' asked the

'Seven feet of earth for a grave,' replied the captain.

'No more?' returned the brother, with a smile.

'The King of Norway being a tall man, perhaps a little more,'
replied the captain.

'Ride back!' said the brother, 'and tell King Harold to make ready
for the fight!'

He did so, very soon. And such a fight King Harold led against
that force, that his brother, and the Norwegian King, and every
chief of note in all their host, except the Norwegian King's son,
Olave, to whom he gave honourable dismissal, were left dead upon
the field. The victorious army marched to York. As King Harold
sat there at the feast, in the midst of all his company, a stir was
heard at the doors; and messengers all covered with mire from
riding far and fast through broken ground came hurrying in, to
report that the Normans had landed in England.

The intelligence was true. They had been tossed about by contrary
winds, and some of their ships had been wrecked. A part of their
own shore, to which they had been driven back, was strewn with
Norman bodies. But they had once more made sail, led by the Duke's
own galley, a present from his wife, upon the prow whereof the
figure of a golden boy stood pointing towards England. By day, the
banner of the three Lions of Normandy, the diverse coloured sails,
the gilded vans, the many decorations of this gorgeous ship, had
glittered in the sun and sunny water; by night, a light had
sparkled like a star at her mast-head. And now, encamped near
Hastings, with their leader lying in the old Roman castle of
Pevensey, the English retiring in all directions, the land for
miles around scorched and smoking, fired and pillaged, was the
whole Norman power, hopeful and strong on English ground.

Harold broke up the feast and hurried to London. Within a week,
his army was ready. He sent out spies to ascertain the Norman
strength. William took them, caused them to be led through his
whole camp, and then dismissed. 'The Normans,' said these spies to
Harold, 'are not bearded on the upper lip as we English are, but
are shorn. They are priests.' 'My men,' replied Harold, with a
laugh, 'will find those priests good soldiers!'

'The Saxons,' reported Duke William's outposts of Norman soldiers,
who were instructed to retire as King Harold's army advanced, 'rush
on us through their pillaged country with the fury of madmen.'

'Let them come, and come soon!' said Duke William.

Some proposals for a reconciliation were made, but were soon
abandoned. In the middle of the month of October, in the year one
thousand and sixty-six, the Normans and the English came front to
front. All night the armies lay encamped before each other, in a
part of the country then called Senlac, now called (in remembrance
of them) Battle. With the first dawn of day, they arose. There,
in the faint light, were the English on a hill; a wood behind them;
in their midst, the Royal banner, representing a fighting warrior,
woven in gold thread, adorned with precious stones; beneath the
banner, as it rustled in the wind, stood King Harold on foot, with
two of his remaining brothers by his side; around them, still and
silent as the dead, clustered the whole English army - every
soldier covered by his shield, and bearing in his hand his dreaded
English battle-axe.

On an opposite hill, in three lines, archers, foot-soldiers,
horsemen, was the Norman force. Of a sudden, a great battle-cry,
'God help us!' burst from the Norman lines. The English answered
with their own battle-cry, 'God's Rood! Holy Rood!' The Normans
then came sweeping down the hill to attack the English.

There was one tall Norman Knight who rode before the Norman army on
a prancing horse, throwing up his heavy sword and catching it, and
singing of the bravery of his countrymen. An English Knight, who
rode out from the English force to meet him, fell by this Knight's
hand. Another English Knight rode out, and he fell too. But then
a third rode out, and killed the Norman. This was in the first
beginning of the fight. It soon raged everywhere.

The English, keeping side by side in a great mass, cared no more
for the showers of Norman arrows than if they had been showers of
Norman rain. When the Norman horsemen rode against them, with
their battle-axes they cut men and horses down. The Normans gave
way. The English pressed forward. A cry went forth among the
Norman troops that Duke William was killed. Duke William took off
his helmet, in order that his face might be distinctly seen, and
rode along the line before his men. This gave them courage. As
they turned again to face the English, some of their Norman horse
divided the pursuing body of the English from the rest, and thus
all that foremost portion of the English army fell, fighting
bravely. The main body still remaining firm, heedless of the
Norman arrows, and with their battle-axes cutting down the crowds
of horsemen when they rode up, like forests of young trees, Duke
William pretended to retreat. The eager English followed. The
Norman army closed again, and fell upon them with great slaughter.

'Still,' said Duke William, 'there are thousands of the English,
firms as rocks around their King. Shoot upward, Norman archers,
that your arrows may fall down upon their faces!'

The sun rose high, and sank, and the battle still raged. Through
all the wild October day, the clash and din resounded in the air.
In the red sunset, and in the white moonlight, heaps upon heaps of
dead men lay strewn, a dreadful spectacle, all over the ground.

King Harold, wounded with an arrow in the eye, was nearly blind.
His brothers were already killed. Twenty Norman Knights, whose
battered armour had flashed fiery and golden in the sunshine all
day long, and now looked silvery in the moonlight, dashed forward
to seize the Royal banner from the English Knights and soldiers,
still faithfully collected round their blinded King. The King
received a mortal wound, and dropped. The English broke and fled.
The Normans rallied, and the day was lost.

O what a sight beneath the moon and stars, when lights were shining
in the tent of the victorious Duke William, which was pitched near
the spot where Harold fell - and he and his knights were carousing,
within - and soldiers with torches, going slowly to and fro,
without, sought for the corpse of Harold among piles of dead - and
the Warrior, worked in golden thread and precious stones, lay low,
all torn and soiled with blood - and the three Norman Lions kept
watch over the field!


UPON the ground where the brave Harold fell, William the Norman
afterwards founded an abbey, which, under the name of Battle Abbey,
was a rich and splendid place through many a troubled year, though
now it is a grey ruin overgrown with ivy. But the first work he
had to do, was to conquer the English thoroughly; and that, as you
know by this time, was hard work for any man.

He ravaged several counties; he burned and plundered many towns; he
laid waste scores upon scores of miles of pleasant country; he
destroyed innumerable lives. At length STIGAND, Archbishop of
Canterbury, with other representatives of the clergy and the
people, went to his camp, and submitted to him. EDGAR, the
insignificant son of Edmund Ironside, was proclaimed King by
others, but nothing came of it. He fled to Scotland afterwards,
where his sister, who was young and beautiful, married the Scottish
King. Edgar himself was not important enough for anybody to care
much about him.

On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey, under
the title of WILLIAM THE FIRST; but he is best known as WILLIAM THE
CONQUEROR. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who
performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would
have Duke William for their king? They answered Yes. Another of
the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They
too answered Yes, with a loud shout. The noise being heard by a
guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, was mistaken for resistance
on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the
neighbouring houses, and a tumult ensued; in the midst of which the
King, being left alone in the Abbey, with a few priests (and they
all being in a terrible fright together), was hurriedly crowned.
When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the
English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you
think, as I do, that if we except the Great Alfred, he might pretty
easily have done that.

Numbers of the English nobles had been killed in the last
disastrous battle. Their estates, and the estates of all the
nobles who had fought against him there, King William seized upon,
and gave to his own Norman knights and nobles. Many great English
families of the present time acquired their English lands in this
way, and are very proud of it.

But what is got by force must be maintained by force. These nobles
were obliged to build castles all over England, to defend their new
property; and, do what he would, the King could neither soothe nor
quell the nation as he wished. He gradually introduced the Norman
language and the Norman customs; yet, for a long time the great
body of the English remained sullen and revengeful. On his going
over to Normandy, to visit his subjects there, the oppressions of
his half-brother ODO, whom he left in charge of his English
kingdom, drove the people mad. The men of Kent even invited over,
to take possession of Dover, their old enemy Count Eustace of
Boulogne, who had led the fray when the Dover man was slain at his
own fireside. The men of Hereford, aided by the Welsh, and
commanded by a chief named EDRIC THE WILD, drove the Normans out of
their country. Some of those who had been dispossessed of their
lands, banded together in the North of England; some, in Scotland;
some, in the thick woods and marshes; and whensoever they could
fall upon the Normans, or upon the English who had submitted to the
Normans, they fought, despoiled, and murdered, like the desperate
outlaws that they were. Conspiracies were set on foot for a
general massacre of the Normans, like the old massacre of the
Danes. In short, the English were in a murderous mood all through
the kingdom.

King William, fearing he might lose his conquest, came back, and
tried to pacify the London people by soft words. He then set forth
to repress the country people by stern deeds. Among the towns
which he besieged, and where he killed and maimed the inhabitants
without any distinction, sparing none, young or old, armed or
unarmed, were Oxford, Warwick, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby,
Lincoln, York. In all these places, and in many others, fire and
sword worked their utmost horrors, and made the land dreadful to
behold. The streams and rivers were discoloured with blood; the
sky was blackened with smoke; the fields were wastes of ashes; the
waysides were heaped up with dead. Such are the fatal results of
conquest and ambition! Although William was a harsh and angry man,
I do not suppose that he deliberately meant to work this shocking
ruin, when he invaded England. But what he had got by the strong
hand, he could only keep by the strong hand, and in so doing he
made England a great grave.

Two sons of Harold, by name EDMUND and GODWIN, came over from
Ireland, with some ships, against the Normans, but were defeated.
This was scarcely done, when the outlaws in the woods so harassed
York, that the Governor sent to the King for help. The King
despatched a general and a large force to occupy the town of
Durham. The Bishop of that place met the general outside the town,
and warned him not to enter, as he would be in danger there. The
general cared nothing for the warning, and went in with all his
men. That night, on every hill within sight of Durham, signal
fires were seen to blaze. When the morning dawned, the English,
who had assembled in great strength, forced the gates, rushed into
the town, and slew the Normans every one. The English afterwards
besought the Danes to come and help them. The Danes came, with two
hundred and forty ships. The outlawed nobles joined them; they
captured York, and drove the Normans out of that city. Then,
William bribed the Danes to go away; and took such vengeance on the
English, that all the former fire and sword, smoke and ashes, death
and ruin, were nothing compared with it. In melancholy songs, and
doleful stories, it was still sung and told by cottage fires on
winter evenings, a hundred years afterwards, how, in those dreadful
days of the Normans, there was not, from the River Humber to the
River Tyne, one inhabited village left, nor one cultivated field -
how there was nothing but a dismal ruin, where the human creatures
and the beasts lay dead together.

The outlaws had, at this time, what they called a Camp of Refuge,
in the midst of the fens of Cambridgeshire. Protected by those
marshy grounds which were difficult of approach, they lay among the
reeds and rushes, and were hidden by the mists that rose up from
the watery earth. Now, there also was, at that time, over the sea
in Flanders, an Englishman named HEREWARD, whose father had died in
his absence, and whose property had been given to a Norman. When
he heard of this wrong that had been done him (from such of the
exiled English as chanced to wander into that country), he longed
for revenge; and joining the outlaws in their camp of refuge,
became their commander. He was so good a soldier, that the Normans
supposed him to be aided by enchantment. William, even after he
had made a road three miles in length across the Cambridgeshire
marshes, on purpose to attack this supposed enchanter, thought it
necessary to engage an old lady, who pretended to be a sorceress,
to come and do a little enchantment in the royal cause. For this
purpose she was pushed on before the troops in a wooden tower; but
Hereward very soon disposed of this unfortunate sorceress, by
burning her, tower and all. The monks of the convent of Ely near
at hand, however, who were fond of good living, and who found it
very uncomfortable to have the country blockaded and their supplies
of meat and drink cut off, showed the King a secret way of
surprising the camp. So Hereward was soon defeated. Whether he
afterwards died quietly, or whether he was killed after killing
sixteen of the men who attacked him (as some old rhymes relate that
he did), I cannot say. His defeat put an end to the Camp of
Refuge; and, very soon afterwards, the King, victorious both in
Scotland and in England, quelled the last rebellious English noble.
He then surrounded himself with Norman lords, enriched by the
property of English nobles; had a great survey made of all the land
in England, which was entered as the property of its new owners, on
a roll called Doomsday Book; obliged the people to put out their
fires and candles at a certain hour every night, on the ringing of
a bell which was called The Curfew; introduced the Norman dresses
and manners; made the Normans masters everywhere, and the English,
servants; turned out the English bishops, and put Normans in their
places; and showed himself to be the Conqueror indeed.

But, even with his own Normans, he had a restless life. They were
always hungering and thirsting for the riches of the English; and
the more he gave, the more they wanted. His priests were as greedy
as his soldiers. We know of only one Norman who plainly told his
master, the King, that he had come with him to England to do his
duty as a faithful servant, and that property taken by force from
other men had no charms for him. His name was GUILBERT. We should
not forget his name, for it is good to remember and to honour
honest men.

Besides all these troubles, William the Conqueror was troubled by
quarrels among his sons. He had three living. ROBERT, called
CURTHOSE, because of his short legs; WILLIAM, called RUFUS or the
Red, from the colour of his hair; and HENRY, fond of learning, and
called, in the Norman language, BEAUCLERC, or Fine-Scholar. When
Robert grew up, he asked of his father the government of Normandy,
which he had nominally possessed, as a child, under his mother,
MATILDA. The King refusing to grant it, Robert became jealous and
discontented; and happening one day, while in this temper, to be
ridiculed by his brothers, who threw water on him from a balcony as
he was walking before the door, he drew his sword, rushed up-
stairs, and was only prevented by the King himself from putting
them to death. That same night, he hotly departed with some
followers from his father's court, and endeavoured to take the
Castle of Rouen by surprise. Failing in this, he shut himself up
in another Castle in Normandy, which the King besieged, and where
Robert one day unhorsed and nearly killed him without knowing who
he was. His submission when he discovered his father, and the
intercession of the queen and others, reconciled them; but not
soundly; for Robert soon strayed abroad, and went from court to
court with his complaints. He was a gay, careless, thoughtless
fellow, spending all he got on musicians and dancers; but his
mother loved him, and often, against the King's command, supplied
him with money through a messenger named SAMSON. At length the
incensed King swore he would tear out Samson's eyes; and Samson,
thinking that his only hope of safety was in becoming a monk,
became one, went on such errands no more, and kept his eyes in his

All this time, from the turbulent day of his strange coronation,
the Conqueror had been struggling, you see, at any cost of cruelty
and bloodshed, to maintain what he had seized. All his reign, he
struggled still, with the same object ever before him. He was a
stern, bold man, and he succeeded in it.

He loved money, and was particular in his eating, but he had only
leisure to indulge one other passion, and that was his love of
hunting. He carried it to such a height that he ordered whole
villages and towns to be swept away to make forests for the deer.
Not satisfied with sixty-eight Royal Forests, he laid waste an
immense district, to form another in Hampshire, called the New
Forest. The many thousands of miserable peasants who saw their
little houses pulled down, and themselves and children turned into
the open country without a shelter, detested him for his merciless
addition to their many sufferings; and when, in the twenty-first
year of his reign (which proved to be the last), he went over to
Rouen, England was as full of hatred against him, as if every leaf
on every tree in all his Royal Forests had been a curse upon his
head. In the New Forest, his son Richard (for he had four sons)
had been gored to death by a Stag; and the people said that this so
cruelly-made Forest would yet be fatal to others of the Conqueror's

He was engaged in a dispute with the King of France about some
territory. While he stayed at Rouen, negotiating with that King,
he kept his bed and took medicines: being advised by his
physicians to do so, on account of having grown to an unwieldy
size. Word being brought to him that the King of France made light
of this, and joked about it, he swore in a great rage that he
should rue his jests. He assembled his army, marched into the
disputed territory, burnt - his old way! - the vines, the crops,
and fruit, and set the town of Mantes on fire. But, in an evil
hour; for, as he rode over the hot ruins, his horse, setting his
hoofs upon some burning embers, started, threw him forward against
the pommel of the saddle, and gave him a mortal hurt. For six
weeks he lay dying in a monastery near Rouen, and then made his
will, giving England to William, Normandy to Robert, and five
thousand pounds to Henry. And now, his violent deeds lay heavy on
his mind. He ordered money to be given to many English churches
and monasteries, and - which was much better repentance - released
his prisoners of state, some of whom had been confined in his
dungeons twenty years.

It was a September morning, and the sun was rising, when the King
was awakened from slumber by the sound of a church bell. 'What
bell is that?' he faintly asked. They told him it was the bell of
the chapel of Saint Mary. 'I commend my soul,' said he, 'to Mary!'
and died.

Think of his name, The Conqueror, and then consider how he lay in
death! The moment he was dead, his physicians, priests, and
nobles, not knowing what contest for the throne might now take
place, or what might happen in it, hastened away, each man for
himself and his own property; the mercenary servants of the court
began to rob and plunder; the body of the King, in the indecent
strife, was rolled from the bed, and lay alone, for hours, upon the
ground. O Conqueror, of whom so many great names are proud now, of
whom so many great names thought nothing then, it were better to


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