The Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 5

Part 2 out of 8

Verdun, whither they had repaired to concert their next movement, a
messenger from Lothair, with peaceful proposals which they were
unwilling to reject. The principal was that, with the exception of
Italy, Aquitaine, and Bavaria, to be secured without dispute to their
then possessors, the Frankish empire should be divided into three
portions, that the arbiters elected to preside over the partition should
swear to make it as equal as possible, and that Lothair should have his
choice, with the title of emperor. About mid-June, 842, the three
brothers met on an island of the Saone, near Chalons, where they began
to discuss the questions which divided them; but it was not till more
than a year after, in August, 843, that assembling, all three of them,
with their umpires, at Verdun, they at last came to an agreement about
the partition of the Frankish empire, save the three countries which it
had been beforehand agreed to accept. Louis kept all the provinces of
Germany of which he was already in possession, and received besides, on
the left bank of the Rhine, the towns of Mayence, Worms, and Spire, with
the territory appertaining to them. Lothair, for his part, had the
eastern belt of Gaul, bounded on one side by the Rhine and the Alps, on
the other by the courses of the Meuse, the Saone, and the Rhone,
starting from the confluence of the two latter rivers, and, further, the
country comprised between the Meuse and the Scheldt, together with
certain countships lying to the west of that river. To Charles fell all
the rest of Gaul: Vasconia or Biscaye, Septimania, the marshes of Spain,
beyond the Pyrenees; and the other countries of Southern Gaul which had
enjoyed hitherto, under the title of the kingdom of Aquitaine, a special
government subordinated to the general government of the empire, but
distinct from it, lost this last remnant of their Gallo-Roman
nationality, and became integral portions of Frankish Gaul, which fell
by partition to Charles the Bald, and formed one and the same kingdom
under one and the same king.

Thus fell through and disappeared, in 843, by virtue of the treaty of
Verdun, the second of Charlemagne's grand designs, the resuscitation of
the Roman Empire by means of the Frankish and Christian masters of Gaul.
The name of _emperor_ still retained a certain value in the minds of the
people, and still remained an object of ambition to princes; but the
empire was completely abolished, and, in its stead, sprang up three
kingdoms, independent one of another, without any necessary connection
or relation. One of the three was thenceforth France.

In this great event are comprehended two facts: the disappearance of the
empire and the formation of the three kingdoms which took its place. The
first is easily explained. The resuscitation of the Roman Empire had
been a dream of ambition and ignorance on the part of a great man, but a
barbarian. Political unity and central, absolute power had been the
essential characteristics of that empire. They became introduced and
established, through a long succession of ages, on the ruins of the
splendid Roman Republic destroyed by its own dissensions, under favor of
the still great influence of the old Roman senate though fallen from its
high estate, and beneath the guardianship of the Roman legions and
Imperial praetorians. Not one of these conditions, not one of these
forces, was to be met with in the Roman world reigned over by
Charlemagne. The nation of the Franks and Charlemagne himself were but
of yesterday; the new Emperor had neither ancient senate to hedge at the
same time that it obeyed him, nor old bodies of troops to support him.
Political unity and absolute power were repugnant alike to the
intellectual and the social condition, to the national manners and
personal sentiments of the victorious barbarians. The necessity of
placing their conquests beyond the reach of a new swarm of barbarians
and the personal ascendency of Charlemagne were the only things which
gave his government a momentary gleam of success in the way of unity and
of factitious despotism under the name of empire. In 814 Charlemagne had
made territorial security an accomplished fact; but the personal power
he had exercised disappeared with him. The new Gallo-Frankish community
recovered, under the mighty but gradual influence of Christianity, its
proper and natural course, producing disruption into different local
communities and bold struggles for individual liberties, either one with
another, or against whosoever tried to become their master.

As for the second fact, the formation of the three kingdoms which were
the issue of the treaty of Verdun, various explanations have been given
of it. This distribution of certain peoples of Western Europe into three
distinct and independent groups, Italians, Germans, and French, has been
attributed at one time to a diversity of histories and manners; at
another to geographical causes and to what is called the rule of natural
frontiers; and oftener still to a spirit of nationality and to
differences of language. Let none of these causes be gainsaid; they all
exercised some sort of influence, but they are all incomplete in
themselves and far too redolent of theoretical system. It is true that
Germany, France, and Italy began at that time to emerge from the chaos
into which they had been plunged by barbaric invasion and the conquests
of Charlemagne, and to form themselves into quite distinct nations; but
there were, in each of the kingdoms of Lothair, of Louis the Germanic,
and of Charles the Bald, populations widely differing in race, language,
manners, and geographical affinity, and it required many great events
and the lapse of many centuries to bring about the degree of national
unity they now possess. To say nothing touching the agency of individual
and independent forces, which is always considerable, although so many
men of intellect ignore it in the present day, what would have happened,
had any one of the three new kings, Lothair, or Louis the Germanic, or
Charles the Bald, been a second Charlemagne, as Charlemagne had been a
second Charles Martel? Who can say that, in such a case, the three
kingdoms would have taken the form they took in 843?

Happily or unhappily, it was not so; none of Charlemagne's successors
was capable of exercising on the events of his time, by virtue of his
brain and his own will, any notable influence.

Attempts at foreign invasion of France were renewed very often and in
many parts of Gallo-Frankish territory during the whole duration of the
Carlovingian dynasty, and, even though they failed, they caused the
population of the kingdom to suffer from cruel ravages. Charlemagne,
even after his successes against the different barbaric invaders, had
foreseen the evils which would be inflicted on France by the most
formidable and most determined of them, the Northmen, coming by sea and
landing on the coast. The most closely contemporaneous and most given to
detail of his chroniclers, the monk of St. Gall, tells in prolix and
pompous but evidently heartfelt and sincere terms the tale of the great
Emperor's farsightedness.

"Charles, who was ever astir," says he, "arrived by mere hap and
unexpectedly in a certain town of Narbonnese Gaul. While he was at
dinner and was as yet unrecognized of any, some corsairs of the Northmen
came to ply their piracies in the very port. When their vessels were
descried, they were supposed to be Jewish traders according to some,
African according to others, and British in the opinion of others; but
the gifted monarch, perceiving by the build and lightness of the craft,
that they bare not merchandise but foes, said to his own folk, 'These
vessels be not laden with merchandise, but manned with cruel foes.' At
these words all the Franks, in rivalry one with another, run to their
ships, but uselessly; for the Northmen, indeed, hearing that yonder was
he whom it was still their wont to call Charles the 'Hammer,'[22] feared
lest all their fleet should be taken or destroyed in the port, and they
avoided, by a flight of inconceivable rapidity, not only the glaives,
but even the eyes of those who were pursuing them.

"Pious Charles, however, a prey to well-grounded fear, rose up from
table, stationed himself at a window looking eastward, and there
remained a long while, and his eyes were filled with tears. As none
durst question him, this warlike prince explained to the grandees who
were about his person the cause of his movement and of his tears: 'Know
ye, my lieges, wherefore I weep so bitterly? Of a surety I fear not lest
these fellows should succeed in injuring me by their miserable piracies;
but it grieveth me deeply that, while I live, they should have been nigh
to touching at this shore, and I am a prey to violent sorrow when I
foresee what evils they will heap upon my descendants and their

[Footnote 22: After his grandfather, Charles Martel.]

The forecast and the dejection of Charles were not unreasonable. It will
be found that there is special mention made, in the chronicles of the
ninth and tenth centuries, of forty-seven incursions into France of
Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Irish pirates, all comprised under the
name of Northmen; and doubtless many other incursions of less gravity
have left no trace in history. "The Northmen," says Fauriel, "descended
from the north to the south by a sort of natural gradation or ladder.
The Scheldt was the first river by the mouth of which they penetrated
inland; the Seine was the second; the Loire the third. The advance was
threatening for the countries traversed by the Garonne; and it was in
844 that vessels freighted with Northmen for the first time ascended
this last river to a considerable distance inland, and there took
immense booty. The following year they pillaged and burnt Saintes. In
846 they got as far as Limoges. The inhabitants, finding themselves
unable to make head against the dauntless pirates, abandoned their
hearths, together with all they had not time to carry away. Encouraged
by these successes the Northmen reappeared next year upon the coasts and
in the rivers of Aquitaine, and they attempted to take Bordeaux, whence
they were valorously repulsed by the inhabitants; but in 848, having
once more laid siege to that city, they were admitted into it at night
by the Jews, who were there in great force; the city was given up to
plunder and conflagration; a portion of the people was scattered abroad,
and the rest put to the sword."

The monasteries and churches, wherein they hoped to find treasures, were
the favorite object of the Northmen's enterprises; in particular, they
plundered, at the gates of Paris, the abbey of St. Germain des Pres and
that of St. Denis, whence they carried off the abbot, who could not
purchase his freedom save by a heavy ransom. They penetrated more than
once into Paris itself, and subjected many of its quarters to
contributions or pillage. The populations grew into the habit of
suffering and fleeing; and the local lords, and even the kings, made
arrangement sometimes with the pirates either for saving the royal
domains from the ravages, or for having their own share therein. In 850
Pepin, King of Aquitaine, and brother of Charles the Bald, came to an
understanding with the Northmen who had ascended the Garonne and were
threatening Toulouse. "They arrived under his guidance," says Fauriel,
"they laid siege to it, took it and plundered it, not halfwise, not
hastily, as folks who feared to be surprised, but leisurely, with all
security, by virtue of a treaty of alliance with one of the kings of the
country. Throughout Aquitaine there was but one cry of indignation
against Pepin, and the popularity of Charles was increased in proportion
to all the horror inspired by the ineffable misdeed of his adversary.
Charles the Bald himself, if he did not ally himself, as Pepin did, with
the invaders, took scarce any interest in the fate of the populations
and scarcely more trouble to protect them, for Hincmar, archbishop of
Rheims, wrote to him in 859: 'Many folks say that you are incessantly
repeating that it is not for you to mix yourself up with these
depredations and robberies, and that everyone has but to defend himself
as best he may.'"

In the middle and during the last half of the ninth century, a chief of
the Northmen, named Hastenc or Hastings, appeared several times over on
the coasts and in the rivers of France, with numerous vessels and a
following. He had also with him, say the chronicles, a young Norwegian
or Danish prince, Bioern, called "Ironsides," whom he had educated, and
who had preferred sharing the fortunes of his governor to living quietly
with the King, his father. After several expeditions into Western
France, Hastings became the theme of terrible and very probably fabulous
stories. He extended his cruises, they say, to the Mediterranean, and,
having arrived at the coasts of Tuscany, within sight of a city which in
his ignorance he took for Rome, he resolved to pillage it; but, not
feeling strong enough to attack it by assault, he sent to the bishop to
say he was very ill, felt a wish to become a Christian, and begged to be
baptized. Some days afterward his comrades spread a report that he was
dead, and claimed for him the honors of a solemn burial. The bishop
consented; the coffin of Hastings was carried into the church, attended
by a large number of his followers, without visible weapons; but, in the
middle of the ceremony, Hastings suddenly leaped up, sword in hand, from
his coffin; his followers displayed the weapons they had concealed,
closed the doors, slew the priests, pillaged the ecclesiastical
treasures, and reembarked before the very eyes of the stupefied
population, to go and resume, on the coasts of France, their incursions
and their ravages.

Whether they were true or false, these rumors of bold artifices and
distant expeditions on the part of Hastings aggravated the dismay
inspired by his appearance. He penetrated into the interior of the
country, took possession of Chartres, and appeared before Paris, where
Charles the Bald, intrenched at St. Denis, was deliberating with his
prelates and barons as to how he might resist the Northmen or treat with
them. The chronicle says that the barons advised resistance, but that
the King preferred negotiation, and sent the abbot of St. Denis, "the
which was an exceeding wise man," to Hastings, who, "after long parley
and by reason of large gifts and promises," consented to stop his
cruisings, to become a Christian, and to settle in the countship of
Chartres, "which the King gave him as an hereditary possession, with all
its appurtenances." According to other accounts, it was only some years
later, under the young king Louis III, grandson of Charles the Bald,
that Hastings was induced, either by reverses or by payment of money, to
cease from his piracies and accept in recompense the countship of
Chartres. Whatever may have been the date, he was, it is believed, the
first chieftain of the Northmen who renounced a life of adventure and
plunder, to become, in France, a great landed proprietor and a count of
the King's.

A greater chieftain of the Northmen than Hastings was soon to follow his
example, and found Normandy in France; but before Rolf, that is, Rollo,
came and gave the name of his race to a French province, the piratical
Northmen were again to attempt a greater blow against France and to
suffer a great reverse.

In November, 885, under the reign of Charles the Fat, after having, for
more than forty years, irregularly ravaged France, they resolved to
unite their forces in order at length to obtain possession of Paris,
whose outskirts they had so often pillaged without having been able to
enter the heart of the place. Two bodies of troops were set in motion:
one, under the command of Rollo, who was already famous among his
comrades, marched on Rouen; the other went right up the course of the
Seine, under the orders of Siegfried, whom the Northmen called their
king. Rollo took Rouen, and pushed on at once for Paris. Duke Renaud,
general of the Gallo-Frankish troops, went to encounter him on the banks
of the Eure, and sent to him, to sound his intentions, Hastings, the
newly made count of Chartres. "Valiant warriors," said Hastings to
Rollo, "whence come ye? What seek ye here? What is the name of your lord
and master? Tell us this; for we be sent unto you by the King of the
Franks." "We be Danes," answered Rollo, "and all be equally masters
among us. We be come to drive out the inhabitants of this land, and to
subject it as our own country. But who art thou, thou who speakest so
glibly?" "Ye have sometime heard tell of one Hastings, who, issuing
forth from among you, came hither with much shipping and made desert a
great part of the kingdom of the Franks?" "Yes," said Rollo, "we have
heard tell of him; Hastings began well and ended ill." "Will ye yield
you to King Charles?" asked Hastings. "We yield," was the answer, "to
none; all that we shall take by our arms we will keep as our right. Go
and tell this, if thou wilt, to the King, whose envoy thou boastest to

Hastings returned to the Gallo-Frankish army, and Rollo prepared to
march on Paris. Hastings had gone back somewhat troubled in mind. Now
there was among the Franks one Count Tetbold (Thibault), who greatly
coveted the countship of Chartres, and he said to Hastings: "Why
slumberest thou softly? Knowest thou not that King Charles doth purpose
thy death by cause of all the Christian blood that thou didst aforetime
unjustly shed? Bethink thee of all the evil thou hast done him, by
reason whereof he purposeth to drive thee from his land. Take heed to
thyself that thou be not smitten unawares." Hastings, dismayed, at once
sold to Tetbold the town of Chartres, and, removing all that belonged to
him, departed to go and resume, for all that appears, his old course of

On the 25th of November, 885, all the forces of the Northmen formed a
junction before Paris; seven hundred huge barks covered two leagues of
the Seine, bringing, it is said, more than thirty thousand men. The
chieftains were astonished at sight of the new fortifications of the
city, a double wall of circumvallation, the bridges crowned with towers,
and in the environs the ramparts of the abbeys of St. Denis and St.
Germain solidly rebuilt. Siegfried hesitated to attack a town so well
defended. He demanded to enter alone and have an interview with the
bishop, Gozlin. "Take pity on thyself and thy flock," said he to him;
"let us pass through the city; we will in no wise touch the town; we
will do our best to preserve, for thee and Count Eudes, all your
possessions." "This city," replied the bishop, "hath been confided unto
us by the emperor Charles, king and ruler, under God, of the powers of
the earth. He hath confided it unto us, not that it should cause the
ruin but the salvation of the kingdom. If peradventure these walls had
been confided to thy keeping as they have been to mine, wouldst thou do
as thou biddest me?"

"If ever I do so," answered Siegfried, "may my head be condemned to fall
by the sword and serve as food to the dogs! But if thou yield not to our
prayers, so soon as the sun shall commence his course our armies will
launch upon thee their poisoned arrows; and when the sun shall end his
course, they will give thee over to all the horrors of famine; and this
will they do from year to year."

The bishop, however, persisted, without further discussion; being as
certain of Count Eudes as he was of himself. Eudes, who was young and
but recently made Count of Paris, was the eldest son of Robert the
Strong, Count of Anjou, of the same line as Charlemagne, and but lately
slain in battle against the Northmen. Paris had for defenders two
heroes, one of the Church and the other of the empire: the faith of the
Christian and the fealty of the vassal; the conscientiousness of the
priest and the honor of the warrior.

The siege lasted thirteen months, whiles pushed vigorously forward with
eight several assaults, whiles maintained by close investment, and with
all the alternations of success and reverse, all the intermixture of
brilliant daring and obscure sufferings that can occur when the
assailants are determined and the defenders devoted. Not only a
contemporary but an eye-witness, Abbo, a monk of St. Germain des Pres,
has recounted the details in a long poem, wherein the writer, devoid of
talent, adds nothing to the simple representation of events; it is
history itself which gives to Abbo's poem a high degree of interest. We
do not possess, in reference to these continual struggles of the
Northmen with the Gallo-Frankish populations, any other document which
is equally precise and complete, or which could make us so well
acquainted with all the incidents, all the phases of this irregular
warfare between two peoples, one without a government, the other without
a country. The bishop, Gozlin, died during the siege. Count Eudes
quitted Paris for a time to go and beg aid of the Emperor; but the
Parisians soon saw him reappear on the heights of Montmartre with three
battalions of troops, and he reentered the town, spurring on his horse
and striking right and left with his battle-axe through the ranks of the
dumfounded besiegers. The struggle was prolonged throughout the summer;
and when, in November, 886, Charles the Fat at last appeared before
Paris, "with a large army of all nations," it was to purchase the
retreat of the Northmen at the cost of a heavy ransom, and by allowing
them to go and winter in Burgundy, "whereof the inhabitants obeyed not
the Emperor."

Some months afterward, in 887, Charles the Fat was deposed, at a diet
held on the banks of the Rhine, by the grandees of Germanic France; and
Arnulf, a natural son of Carloman, the brother of Louis III, was
proclaimed emperor in his stead. At the same time Count Eudes, the
gallant defender of Paris, was elected King at Compiegne, and crowned by
the archbishop of Sens. Guy, Duke of Spoleto, descended from Charlemagne
in the female line, hastened to France and was declared king at Langres
by the bishop of that town, but returned with precipitation to Italy,
seeing no chance of maintaining himself in his French kingship.
Elsewhere Boso, Duke of Arles, became King of Provence, and the
Burgundian Count Rudolph had himself crowned at St. Maurice, in the
Valais, King of transjuran Burgundy. There was still in France a
legitimate Carlovingian, a son of Louis the Stutterer, who was hereafter
to become Charles the Simple; but being only a child, he had been
rejected or completely forgotten, and, in the interval that was to
elapse ere his time should arrive, kings were being made in all

In the midst of this confusion the Northmen, though they kept at a
distance from Paris, pursued in Western France their cruising and
plundering. In Rollo they had a chieftain far superior to his vagabond
predecessors. Though he still led the same life that they had, he
displayed therein other faculties, other inclinations, other views. In
his youth he had made an expedition to England, and had there contracted
a real friendship with the wise king Alfred the Great. During a campaign
in Friesland he had taken prisoner Rainier, Count of Hainault; and
Alberade, Countess of Brabant, made a request to Rollo for her husband's
release, offering in return to set free twelve captains of the Northmen,
her prisoners, and to give up all the gold she possessed. Rollo took
only half the gold, and restored to the countess her husband. When, in
885, he became master of Rouen, instead of devastating the city after
the fashion of his kind, he respected the buildings, had the walls
repaired, and humored the inhabitants. In spite of his violent and
extortionate practices where he met with obstinate resistance, there
were to be discerned in him symptoms of more noble sentiments and of an
instinctive leaning toward order, civilization, and government. After
the deposition of Charles the Fat and during the reign of Eudes, a
lively struggle was maintained between the Frankish King and the
chieftain of the Northmen, who had neither of them forgotten their early
encounters. They strove, one against the other, with varied fortunes;
Eudes succeeded in beating the Northmen at Montfaucon, but was beaten in
Vermandois by another band, commanded, it is said, by the veteran
Hastings, sometime Count of Chartres.

Rollo, too, had his share at one time of success, at another of reverse;
but he made himself master of several important towns, showed a
disposition to treat the quiet populations gently, and made a fresh trip
to England, during which he renewed friendly relations with her King,
Athelstan, the successor of Alfred the Great. He thus became, from day
to day, more reputable as well as more formidable in France, insomuch
that Eudes himself was obliged to have recourse, in dealing with him, to
negotiations and presents. When, in 898, Eudes was dead, and Charles the
Simple, at hardly nineteen years of age, had been recognized sole King
of France, the ascendency of Rollo became such that the necessity of
treating with him was clear. In 911 Charles, by the advice of his
councillors and, among them, of Robert, brother of the late king Eudes,
who had himself become Count of Paris and Duke of France, sent to the
chieftain of the Northmen Franco, Archbishop of Rouen, with orders to
offer him the cession of a considerable portion of Neustria and the hand
of his young daughter Gisele, on condition that he became a Christian
and acknowledged himself the King's vassal. Rollo, by the advice of his
comrades, received these overtures with a good grace and agreed to a
truce for three months, during which they might treat about peace. On
the day fixed Charles, accompanied by Duke Robert, and Rollo, surrounded
by his warriors, repaired to St. Clair-sur-Epte, on the opposite banks
of the river, and exchanged numerous messages. Charles offered Rollo
Flanders, which the Northman refused, considering it too swampy; as to
the maritime portion of Neustria he would not be contented with it; it
was, he said, covered with forests, and had become quite a stranger to
the ploughshare by reason of the Northmen's incessant incursions. He
demanded the addition of territories taken from Brittany, and that the
princes of that province, Berenger and Alan, lords, respectively, of
Redon and Dol, should take the oath of fidelity to him. When matters had
been arranged on this basis, "the bishops told Rollo that he who
received such a gift as the duchy of Normandy was bound to kiss the
King's foot. 'Never,' quoth Rollo, 'will I bend the knee before the
knees of any, and I will kiss the foot of none.' At the solicitation of
the Franks he then ordered one of his warriors to kiss the King's foot.
The Northman, remaining bolt upright, took hold of the King's foot,
raised it to his mouth, and so made the King fall backward, which caused
great bursts of laughter and much disturbance among the throng. Then the
King and all the grandees who were about him, prelates, abbots, dukes,
and counts, swore, in the name of the Catholic faith, that they would
protect the patrician Rollo in his life, his members, and his folk, and
would guarantee to him the possession of the aforesaid land, to him and
his descendants forever; after which the King, well satisfied, returned
to his domains; and Rollo departed with Duke Robert for the town of

The dignity of Charles the Simple had no reason to be well satisfied;
but the great political question which, a century before, caused
Charlemagne such lively anxiety was solved; the most dangerous, the most
incessantly renewed of all foreign invasions, those of the Northmen,
ceased to threaten France. The vagabond pirates had a country to
cultivate and defend; the Northmen were becoming French.


A.D. 871-901



(Alfred the Great was the grandson of Egbert, King of the West Saxons,
who during a reign of thirty-seven years consolidated in the Saxon
heptarchy the seven Teutonic kingdoms into which Anglia or England had
been divided, since the expulsion of the Britons by the Saxons about
585. In the latter part of Egbert's reign the Danish Northmen appeared
in the estuaries and rivers of England, sacking and burning the towns
along their banks. Ethelwulf who had been made King of Kent in 828, and
succeeded his father Egbert as King of Anglia in 837, was early occupied
in resisting and repelling attacks along his coasts, and by several
successful pitched battles with the Danish invaders obtained comparative
freedom from their visits for eight years. Ethelwulf had married
Osburga, the daughter of Oslac his cup-bearer, and had a daughter and
five sons, of whom Alfred, the youngest, was born in 849. Part of
Alfred's childhood was spent in Rome. At Compiegne and Verberie among
his playmates were Charles, the boy king of Aquitaine, and Judith,
children of the French king Charles the Bald. Judith at fourteen years
of age became Ethelwulf's second wife, and when the old King died two
years later, to the amazement and scandal of the nation married her
stepson Ethelbald.

According to Ethelwulf's will, Ethelbald became King of Wessex,
Ethelbert, the second son, King of Kent, while Ethelred and Alfred were
to be in the line of succession to Ethelbald. Ethelbald died in 860, and
Judith returned to France, subsequently marrying Baldwin, Count of
Flanders. Ethelbert as successor joined the kingdoms of Wessex and Kent.
Alfred lived at the court of Ethelbert, and became noted for the
intelligence and studious activities which were to make his future reign
the conspicuous epoch in English history, so brilliantly commemorated a
thousand years after his death in 901, in the millenary celebrated in
Winchester and its neighborhood in 1901.

Ethelbert died in 866 and was succeeded by Ethelred. In 868 Alfred
married Elswitha, the daughter of Ethelred Mucil of Mercia. Meanwhile
the Danes had resumed their predatory excursions, and in the winter of
870-871 Ethelred accompanied by Alfred attacked them at Reading, but
after an initial victory was repulsed. Four days later, Ethelred and
Alfred with their forces were attacked on Ashdown near White Horse Hill;
after a heavy slaughter the Danes were out to flight. The Danes,
however, reinforced by Guthrum with new troops from over the sea, within
a fortnight resumed offensive operations, and at Merton, two months
later, Ethelred was mortally wounded. He died almost immediately after
the battle, and "at the age of twenty-three Alfred ascended the throne
of his fathers, which was tottering, as it seemed, to its fall.")


The throne of the West Saxons was not an inheritance to be desired in
the year 871, when Alfred succeeded his gallant brother. It descended on
him without comment or ceremony, as a matter of course. There was not
even an assembly of the witan to declare the succession as in ordinary
times. With Guthrum and Hinguar in their intrenched camp at the
confluence of the Thames and Kennet, and fresh bands of marauders
sailing up the former river, and constantly swelling the ranks of the
pagan army during these summer months, there was neither time nor heart
among the wise men of the West Saxons for strict adherence to the letter
of the constitution, however venerable. The succession had already been
settled by the Great Council, when they formally accepted the provisions
of Ethelwulf's will, that his three sons should succeed, to the
exclusion of the children of any one of them.

The idea of strict hereditary succession has taken so strong a hold of
us English in later times that it is necessary constantly to insist that
our old English kingship was elective. Alfred's title was based on
election; and so little was the idea of usurpation, or of any wrong done
to the two infant sons of Ethelred, connected with his accession, that
even the lineal descendant of one of those sons, in his chronicle of
that eventful year, does not pause to notice the fact that Ethelred left
children. He is writing to his "beloved cousin Matilda," to instruct her
in the things which he had received from ancient traditions, "of the
history of our race down to these two kings from whom we have our
origin." "The fourth son of Ethelwulf," he writes, "was Ethelred, who,
after the death of Ethelbert, succeeded to the kingdom, and was also my
grandfather's grandfather. The fifth was Alfred, who succeeded after all
the others to the whole sovereignty, and was your grandfather's
grandfather." And so passes on to the next facts, without a word as to
the claims of his own lineal ancestor, though he had paused in his
narrative at this point for the special purpose of introducing a little
family episode.

When Alfred had buried his brother in the cloisters of Wimborne Minster,
and had time to look out from his Dorsetshire resting-place, and take
stock of the immediate prospects and work which lay before him, we can
well believe that those historians are right who have told us that for
the moment he lost heart and hope, and suffered himself to doubt whether
God would by his hand deliver the afflicted nation from its terrible
straits. In the eight pitched battles which we find by the _Saxon
Chronicle_ (Asser giving seven only) had already been fought with the
pagan army, the flower of the youth of these parts of the West Saxon
kingdom must have fallen. The other Teutonic kingdoms of the island, of
which he was overlord, and so bound to defend, had ceased to exist
except in name, or lay utterly powerless, like Mercia, awaiting their
doom. Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, which were now an integral part of the
royal inheritance of his own family, were at the mercy of his enemies,
and he without a hope of striking a blow for them. London had been
pillaged, and was in ruins. Even in Wessex proper, Berkshire and
Hampshire, with parts of Wilts and Dorset, had been crossed and
recrossed by marauding bands, in whose track only smoking ruins and dead
bodies were found. "The land was as the garden of Eden before them, and
behind them a desolate wilderness." These bands were at this very moment
on foot, striking into new districts farther to the southwest than they
had yet reached. If the rich lands of Somersetshire and Devonshire, and
the yet unplundered parts of Wilts and Dorset, are to be saved, it must
be by prompt and decisive fighting, and it is time for a king to be in
the field. But it is a month from his brother's death before Alfred can
gather men enough round his standard to take the field openly. Even
then, when he fights, it is "almost against his will," for his ranks are
sadly thin, and the whole pagan army are before him, at Wilton near
Salisbury. The action would seem to have been brought on by the
impetuosity of Alfred's own men, whose spirit was still unbroken, and
their confidence in their young King enthusiastic. There was a long and
fierce fight as usual, during the earlier part of which the Saxons had
the advantage, though greatly outnumbered.

But again we get glimpses of the old trap of a feigned flight and
ambuscade, into which they fell, and so again lose "possession of the
place of death," the ultimate test of victory. "This year," says the
_Saxon Chronicle_, "nine general battles were fought against the army in
the kingdom south of the Thames; besides which Alfred, the king's
brother, and single aldermen and king's thanes, oftentimes made attacks
on them, which were not counted; and within the year one king and nine
jarls [earls] were slain." Wilton was the last of these general actions,
and not long afterward, probably in the autumn, Alfred made peace with
the pagans, on condition that they should quit Wessex at once.

They were probably allowed to carry off whatever spoils they may have
been able to accumulate in their Reading camp, but I can find no
authority for believing that Alfred fell into the fatal and humiliating
mistake of either paying them anything or giving hostages or promising
tribute. This young King, who, as crown prince, led the West Saxons up
the slopes at Ashdown, when Bagsac, the two Sidrocs, and the rest were
killed, and who has very much their own way of fighting--going into the
clash of arms "when the hard steel rings upon the high helmets," and
"the beasts of prey have ample spoil," like a veritable child of
Odin--is clearly one whom it is best to let alone, at any rate so long
as easy plunder and rich lands are to be found elsewhere, without such
poison-mad fighting for every herd of cattle and rood of ground. Indeed,
I think the careful reader may trace from the date of Ashdown a decided
unwillingness on the part of the Danes to meet Alfred, except when they
could catch him at disastrous odds. They succeeded, indeed, for a time
in overrunning almost the whole of his kingdom, in driving him an exile
for a few wretched weeks to the shelter of his own forests; but whenever
he was once fairly in the field they preferred taking refuge in strong
places, and offering treaties and hostages to the actual arbitrament of

So the pagan army quitted Reading, and wintered in 872 in the
neighborhood of London, at which place they received proposals from
Buhred, King of the Mercians, Alfred's brother-in-law, and for a money
payment pass him and his people contemptuously by for the time, making
some kind of treaty of peace with them, and go northward into what has
now become their own country. They winter in Lincolnshire, gathering
fresh strength during 873 from the never-failing sources of supply
across the narrow seas. Again, however, in this year of ominous rest
they renew their sham peace with poor Buhred and his Mercians, who thus
manage to tide it over another winter. In 874, however, their time has
come. In the spring, the pagan army under the three kings, Guthrum,
Oskytal, and Amund, burst into Mercia. In this one only of the English
Teutonic kingdoms they find neither fighting nor suffering hero to cross
their way, and leave behind for a thousand years the memory of a noble
end, cut out there in some half-dozen lines of an old chronicler, but
full of life and inspiration to this day for all Englishmen. The whole
country is overrun, and reduced under pagan rule, without a blow struck,
so far as we know, and within the year.

Poor Buhred, titular King of the Mercians, who has made believe to rule
this English kingdom these twenty-two years--who in his time has marched
with his father-in-law Ethelwulf across North Wales--has beleaguered
Nottingham with his brothers-in-law, Ethelred and Alfred, six years
back, not without show of manhood--sees for his part nothing for it
under such circumstances but to get away as swiftly as possible, as many
so-called kings have done before him, and since. The West Saxon court is
no place for him, quite other views of kingship prevailing in those
parts. So the poor Buhred breaks away from his anchors, leaving his wife
Ethelswitha even, in his haste, to take refuge with her brother; or is
it that the heart of the daughter of the race of Cerdic swells against
leaving the land which her sires had won, the people they had planted
there, in the moment of sorest need? In any case Buhred drifts away
alone across into France, and so toward the winter to Rome. There he
dies at once--about Christmas-time, 874--of shame and sorrow probably,
or of a broken heart as we say; at any rate having this kingly gift left
in him, that he cannot live and look on the ruin of his people, as St.
Edmund's brother Edwold is doing in these same years, "near a clear well
at Carnelia, in Dorsetshire," doing the hermit business there on bread
and water.

The English in Rome bury away poor Buhred, with all the honors, in the
Church of St. Mary's, to which the English schools rebuilt by his
father-in-law Ethelwulf were attached. Ethelswitha visited, or started
to visit, the tomb years later, we are told, in 888, when Mercia had
risen to new life under her great brother's rule. Through these same
months Guthrum, Oskytal, and the rest are wintering at Repton, after
destroying there the cloister where the kingly line of Mercia lie;
disturbing perhaps the bones of the great Offa, whom Charlemagne had to
treat as an equal.

Neither of the pagan kings is inclined at this time to settle in Mercia;
so, casting about what to do with it, they light on "a certain foolish
man," a king's thane, one Ceolwulf, and set him up as a sort of King
Popinjay. From this Ceolwulf they take hostages for the payment of
yearly tribute--to be wrung out of these poor Mercians on pain of
dethronement--and for the surrender of the kingdom to them on whatever
day they would have it back again. Foolish king's thanes, turned into
King Popinjays by pagans, and left to play at government on such terms,
are not pleasant or profitable objects in such times as these of one
thousand years since--or indeed in any times, for the matter of that. So
let us finish with Ceolwulf, just noting that a year or two later his
pagan lords seem to have found much of the spoil of monasteries, and the
pickings of earl and churl, of folkland and bookland, sticking to his
fingers, instead of finding its way to their coffers. This was far from
their meaning in setting him up in the high places of Mercia. So they
strip him and thrust him out, and he dies in beggary.

This, then, is the winter's work of the great pagan army at Repton,
Alfred watching them and their work doubtless with keen eye--not without
misgivings too at their numbers, swollen again to terrible proportions
since they sailed away down Thames after Wilton fight. It will take
years yet before the gaps in the fighting strength of Wessex, left by
those nine pitched battles, and other smaller fights, will be filled by
the crop of youths passing from childhood to manhood. An anxious
thought, that, for a young king.

The pagans, however, are not yet ready for another throw for Wessex; and
so when Mercia is sucked dry for the present, and will no longer
suitably maintain so great a host, they again sever. Halfdene, who would
seem to have joined them recently, takes a large part of the army away
with him northward. Settling his head-quarters by the river Tyne, he
subdues all the land, and "ofttimes spoils the Picts and the Strathclyde
Britons." Among other holy places in those parts, Halfdene visits the
Isle of Lindisfarne, hoping perhaps in his pagan soul not only to commit
ordinary sacrilege in the holy places there, which is every-day work for
the like of him, but even to lay impious hands on, and to treat with
indignity, the remains of that holy man St. Cuthbert, who has become, in
due course, patron and guardian saint of hunters, and of that scourge of
pagans, Alfred the West Saxon. If such were his thoughts, he is
disappointed of his sacrilege; for Bishop Eardulf and Abbot
Eadred--devout and strenuous persons--having timely warning of his
approach, carry away the sainted body from Lindisfarne, and for nine
years hide with it up and down the distracted northern counties, now
here, now there, moving that sacred treasure from place to place until
this bitterness is overpast, and holy persons and things, dead or
living, are no longer in danger, and the bodies of saints may rest
safely in fixed shrines; the pagan armies and disorderly persons of all
kinds having been converted or suppressed in the mean time; for which
good deed the royal Alfred--in whose calendar St. Cuthbert, patron of
huntsmen, stands very high--will surely warmly befriend them hereafter,
when he has settled his accounts with many persons and things. From the
time of this incursion of Halfdene, Northumbria may be considered once
more a settled state, but a Danish, not a Saxon one.

The rest and greater part of the army, under Guthrum, Oskytal, and
Amund, on leaving Repton, strike southeast, through what was "Landlord"
Edmund's country, to Cambridge, where, in their usual heathen way, they
pass the winter of 875.

The downfall, exile, and death of his brother-in-law in 874 must have
warned Alfred, if he had any need of warning, that no treaty could bind
these foemen, and that he had nothing to look for but the same measure
as soon as the pagan leaders felt themselves strong enough to mete it
out to him and Wessex. In the following year we accordingly find him on
the alert, and taking action in a new direction. These heathen pirates,
he sees, fight his people at terrible advantage by reason of their
command of the sea. This enables them to choose their own point of
attack, not only along the sea-coast, but up every river as far as their
light galleys can swim; to retreat unmolested, at their own time,
whenever the fortune of war turns against them; to bring reinforcements
of men and supplies to the scene of action without fear of hindrance.
His Saxons have long since given up their seafaring habits. They have
become before all things an agricultural people, drawing almost
everything they need from their own soil. The few foreign tastes they
have are supplied by foreign traders. However, if Wessex is to be made
safe the sea-kings must be met on their own element; and so, with what
expenditure of patience and money and encouraging words and example we
may easily conjecture, the young King gets together a small fleet, and
himself takes command of it. We have no clew to the point on the south
coast where the admiral of twenty five fights his first naval action,
but know only that in the summer of 875 he is cruising with his fleet,
and meets seven tall ships of the enemy. One of these he captures, and
the rest make off after a hard fight--no small encouragement to the
sailor King, who has thus for another year saved Saxon homesteads from
devastation by fire and sword.

The second wave of invasion had now at last gathered weight and volume
enough, and broke on the King and people of the West Saxons.

The year 876 was still young when the whole pagan army, which had
wintered at and about Cambridge, marched to their ships and put to sea.
Guthrum was in command, with the other two kings, Anketel and Amund, as
his lieutenants, under whom was a host as formidable as that which had
marched across Mercia through forest and waste, and sailed up the Thames
five years before to the assault of Reading. There must have been some
few days of harassing suspense, for we cannot suppose that Alfred was
not aware of the movements of his terrible foes. Probably his new fleet
cruised off the south coast on the watch for them, and all up the Thames
there were gloomy watchings and forebodings of a repetition of the evil
days of 871. But the suspense was soon over. Passing by the Thames'
mouth, and through Dover Straits, the pagan fleet sailed, and westward
still past many tempting harbors and rivers' mouths, until they came off
the coast of Dorsetshire. There they land at Wareham, and seize and
fortify the neck of land between the rivers Frome and Piddle, on which
stood, when they landed, a fortress of the West Saxons and a monastery
of holy virgins. Fortress and monastery fell into the hands of the
Danes, who set to work at once to throw up earthworks and otherwise
fortify a space large enough to contain their army, and all spoil
brought in by marauding bands from this hitherto unplundered country.
This fortified camp was soon very strong, except on the western side,
upon which Alfred shortly appeared with a body of horsemen and such
other troops as could be gathered hastily together. The detachment of
the pagans, who were already out pillaging the whole neighborhood, fell
back apparently before him, concentrating on the Wareham camp. Before
its outworks Alfred paused. He is too experienced a soldier now to risk
at the outset of a campaign such a disaster as that which he and
Ethelred had sustained in their attempt to assault the camp at Reading
in 871. He is just strong enough to keep the pagans within their lines,
but has no margin to spare. So he sits down before the camp, but no
battle is fought, neither he nor Guthrum caring to bring matters to that
issue. Soon negotiations are commenced, and again a treaty is made.

On this occasion Alfred would seem to have taken special pains to bind
his faithless foe. All the holy relics which could be procured from holy
places in the neighborhood were brought together, that he himself and
his people might set the example of pledging themselves in the most
solemn manner known to Christian men. Then a holy ring or bracelet,
smeared with the blood of beasts sacrificed to Woden, was placed on a
heathen altar. Upon this Guthrum and his fellow kings and earls swore on
behalf of the army that they would quit the King's country and give
hostages. Such an oath had never been sworn by Danish leader on English
soil before. It was the most solemn known to them. They would seem also
to have sworn on Alfred's relics, as an extra proof of their sincerity
for this once, and their hostages "from among the most renowned men in
the army" were duly handed over. Alfred now relaxed his watch, even if
he did not withdraw with the main body of his army, leaving his horse to
see that the terms of the treaty were performed, and to watch the
Wareham camp until the departure of the pagan host. But neither oath on
sacred ring, nor the risk to their hostages, weighed with Guthrum and
his followers when any advantage was to be gained by treachery. They
steal out of the camp by night, surprise and murder the Saxon horsemen,
seize the horses, and strike across the country, the mounted men
leading, to Exeter, but leaving a sufficient garrison to hold Wareham
for the present. They surprise and get possession of the western
capital, and there settle down to pass the winter. Rollo, fiercest of
the vikings, is said by Asser to have passed the winter with them in
their Exeter quarters on his way to Normandy; but whether the great
robber himself were here or not, it is certain that the channel swarmed
with pirate fleets, who could put in to Wareham or Exeter at their
discretion, and find a safe stronghold in either place from which to
carry fire and sword through the unhappy country.

Alfred had vainly endeavored to overtake the march to Exeter in the
autumn of 876, and, failing in the pursuit, had disbanded his own troops
as usual, allowing them to go to their own homes until the spring.
Before he could be afoot again in the spring of 877 the main body of the
pagans at Exeter had made that city too strong for any attempt at
assault, so the King and his troops could do no more than beleaguer it
on the land side, as he had done at Wareham. But Guthrum could laugh at
all efforts of his great antagonist, and wait in confidence the sure
disbanding of the Saxon troops at harvest time, so long as his ships
held the sea.

Supplies were running short in Exeter, but the Exe was open and
communications going on with Wareham. It is arranged that the camp there
shall be broken up, and the whole garrison with their spoil shall join
head-quarters. One hundred and twenty Danish war-galleys are freighted,
and beat down channel, but are baffled by adverse winds for nearly a
month. They and all their supplies may be looked for any day in the Exe
when the wind changes. Alfred, from his camp before Exeter, sends to his
little fleet to put to sea. He cannot himself be with them as in their
first action, for he knows well that Guthrum will seize the first moment
of his absence to sally from Exeter, break the Saxon lines, and scatter
his army in roving bands over Devonshire, on their way back to the
eastern kingdom. The Saxon fleet puts out, manned itself, as some say,
partly with sea-robbers, hired to fight their own people. However
manned, it attacks bravely a portion of the pirates. But a mightier
power than the fleet fought for Alfred at this crisis. First a dense fog
and then a great storm came on, bursting on the south coast with such
fury that the pagans lost no less than one hundred of their chief ships
off Swanage, as mighty a deliverance perhaps for England--though the
memory of it is nearly forgotten--as that which began in the same seas
seven hundred years later, when Drake and the sea-kings of the sixteenth
century were hanging on the rear of the Spanish _armada_ along the Devon
and Dorset coasts, while the beacons blazed up all over England and the
whole nation flew to arms.

The destruction of the fleet decided the fate of the siege of Exeter.
Once more negotiations are opened by the pagans; once more Alfred,
fearful of driving them to extremities, listens, treats, and finally
accepts oaths and more hostages, acknowledging probably in sorrow to
himself that he can for the moment do no better. And on this occasion
Guthrum, being caught far from home, and without supplies or ships,
"keeps the peace well," moving as we conjecture, watched jealously by
Alfred, on the shortest line across Devon and Somerset to some ford in
the Avon, and so across into Mercia, where he arrives during harvest,
and billets his army on Ceolwulf, camping them for the winter about the
city of Gloster. Here they run up huts for themselves, and make some
pretense of permanent settlement on the Severn, dividing large tracts of
land among those who cared to take them.

The campaigns of 876-77 are generally looked upon as disastrous ones for
the Saxon arms, but this view is certainly not supported by the
chroniclers. It is true that both at Wareham and Exeter the pagans broke
new ground, and secured their position, from which no doubt they did
sore damage in the neighboring districts, but we can trace in these
years none of the old ostentatious daring and thirst for battle with
Alfred. Whenever he appears the pirate bands draw back at once into
their strongholds, and, exhausted as great part of Wessex must have been
by the constant strain, the West Saxons show no signs yet of falling
from their gallant King. If he can no longer collect in a week such an
army as fought at Ashdown, he can still, without much delay, bring to
his side a sufficient force to hem the pagans in and keep them behind
their ramparts.

But the nature of the service was telling sadly on the resources of the
kingdom south of the Thames. To the Saxons there came no new levies,
while from the north and east of England, as well as from over the sea,
Guthrum was ever drawing to his standard wandering bands of sturdy
Northmen. The most important of these reinforcements came to him from an
unexpected quarter this autumn. We have not heard for some years of
Hubba, the brother of Hinguar, the younger of the two vikings who
planned and led the first great invasion in 868. Perhaps he may have
resented the arrival of Guthrum and other kings in the following years,
to whom he had to give place. Whatever may have been the cause, he seems
to have gone off on his own account: carrying with him the famous raven
standard, to do his appointed work in these years on other coasts under
its ominous shade.

This "war flag which they call raven" was a sacred object to the
Northmen. When Hinguar and Hubba had heard of the death of their father,
Regnar Lodbrog, and had resolved to avenge him, while they were calling
together their followers, their three sisters in one day wove for them
this war-flag, in the midst of which was portrayed the figure of a
raven. Whenever the flag went before them into battle, if they were to
win the day the sacred raven would rouse itself and stretch its wings;
but if defeat awaited them, the flag would hang round its staff and the
bird remain motionless. This wonder had been proved in many a fight, so
the wild pagans who fought under the standard of Regnar's children
believed. It was a power in itself, and Hubba and a strong fleet were
with it.

They had appeared in the Bristol Channel in this autumn of 877, and had
ruthlessly slaughtered and spoiled the people of South Wales. Here they
propose to winter; but, as the country is wild mountain for the most
part, and the people very poor, they will remain no longer than they can
help. Already a large part of the army about Gloster are getting
restless. The story of their march from Devonshire, through rich
districts of Wessex yet unplundered, goes round among the new-comers.
Guthrum has no power, probably no will, to keep them to their oaths. In
the early winter a joint attack is planned by him and Hubba on the West
Saxon territory. By Christmas they are strong enough to take the field,
and so in midwinter, shortly after Twelfth Night, the camp at Gloster
breaks up, and the army "stole away to Chippenham," recrossing the Avon
once more into Wessex, under Guthrum. The fleet, after a short delay,
crosses to the Devonshire coast, under Hubba, in thirty war-ships.

And now at last the courage of the West Saxons gives way. The surprise
is complete. Wiltshire is at the mercy of the pagans, who, occupying the
royal burgh of Chippenham as headquarters, overrun the whole district,
drive many of the inhabitants "beyond the sea for want of the
necessaries of life," and reduce to subjection all those that remain.
Alfred is at his post, but for the moment can make no head against them.
His own strong heart and trust in God are left him, and with them and a
scanty band of followers he disappears into the forest of Selwood, which
then stretched away from the confines of Wiltshire for thirty miles to
the west. East Somerset, now one of the fairest and richest of English
counties, was then for the most part thick wood and tangled swamp, but
miserable as the lodging is it is welcome for the time to the King. In
the first months of 878 Selwood Forest holds in its recesses the hope of

It is at this point, as is natural enough, that romance has been most
busy, and it has become impossible to disentangle the actual facts from
monkish legend and Saxon ballad. In happier times Alfred was in the
habit himself of talking over the events of his wandering life
pleasantly with his courtiers, and there is no reason to doubt that the
foundation of most of the stories still current rests on those
conversations of the truth-loving King, noted down by Bishop Asser and

The best known of these is, of course, the story of the cakes. In the
depths of the Saxon forests there were always a few neatherds and
swineherds, scattered up and down, living in rough huts enough, we may
be sure, and occupied with the care of the cattle and herds of their
masters. Among these in Selwood was a neatherd of the King, a faithful
man, to whom the secret of Alfred's disguise was intrusted, and who kept
it even from his wife. To this man's hut the King came one day alone,
and, sitting himself down by the burning logs on the hearth, began
mending his bow and arrows. The neatherd's wife had just finished her
baking, and having other household matters to attend to, confided her
loaves to the King, a poor tired-looking body, who might be glad of the
warmth, and could make himself useful by turning the batch, and so earn
his share while she got on with other business. But Alfred worked away
at his weapons, thinking of anything but the good housewife's batch of
loaves, which in due course were not only done, but rapidly burning to a
cinder. At this moment the neatherd's wife comes back, and flying to the
hearth to rescue the bread, cries out: "Drat the man! never to turn the
loaves when you see them burning. I'ze warrant you ready enough to eat
them when they are done." But besides the King's faithful neatherd,
whose name is not preserved, there are other churls in the forest, who
must be Alfred's comrades just now if he will have any. And even here he
has an eye for a good man, and will lose no opportunity to help one to
the best of his power. Such a one he finds in a certain swineherd called
Denewulf, whom he gets to know, a thoughtful Saxon man, minding his
charge there in the oak woods. The rough churl, or thrall, we know not
which, has great capacity, as Alfred soon finds out, and desire to
learn. So the King goes to work upon Denewulf under the oak trees, when
the swine will let him, and is well satisfied with the results of his
teaching and the progress of his pupil.

But in those miserable days the commonest necessaries of life were hard
enough to come by for the King and his few companions, and for his wife
and family, who soon joined him in the forest, even if they were not
with him from the first. The poor foresters cannot maintain them, nor
are this band of exiles the men to live on the poor. So Alfred and his
comrades are soon out foraging on the borders of the forest, and getting
what subsistence they can from the pagans, or from the Christians who
had submitted to their yoke. So we may imagine them dragging on life
till near Easter, when a gleam of good news comes tip from the west, to
gladden the hearts and strengthen the arms of these poor men in the
depths of Selwood.

Soon after Guthrum and the main body of the pagans moved from Gloster,
southward, the viking Hubba, as had been agreed, sailed with thirty
ships-of-war from his winter quarters on the South Welsh coast, and
landed in Devon. The news of the catastrophe at Chippenham, and of the
disappearance of the King, was no doubt already known in the West; and
in the face of it Odda the alderman cannot gather strength to meet the
pagan in the open field. But he is a brave and true man, and will make
no terms with the spoilers; so, with other faithful thanes of King
Alfred and their followers, he throws himself into a castle or fort
called Cynwith, or Cynuit, there to abide whatever issue of this
business God shall send them. Hubba, with the war-flag Raven, and a host
laden with the spoil of rich Devon vales, appear in due course before
the place. It is not strong naturally, and has only "walls in our own
fashion," meaning probably rough earthworks. But there are resolute men
behind them, and on the whole Hubba declines the assault, and sits down
before the place. There is no spring of water, he hears, within the
Saxon lines, and they are otherwise wholly unprepared for a siege. A few
days will no doubt settle the matter, and the sword or slavery will be
the portion of Odda and the rest of Alfred's men; meantime there is
spoil enough in the camp from Devonshire homesteads, which brave men can
revel in round the war-flag Raven, while they watch the Saxon ramparts.
Odda, however, has quite other views than death from thirst, or
surrender. Before any stress comes, early one morning he and his whole
force sally out over their earthworks, and from the first "cut down the
pagans in great numbers": eight hundred and forty warriors--some say
twelve hundred--with Hubba himself are slain before Cynuit fort; the
rest, few in number, escape to their ships. The war-flag Raven is left
in the hands of Odda and the men of Devon.

This is the news which comes to Alfred, Ethelnoth the alderman of
Somerset, Denewulf the swineherd, and the rest of the Selwood Forest
group, some time before Easter. These men of Devonshire, it seems, are
still stanch, and ready to peril their lives against the pagan. No doubt
up and down Wessex, thrashed and trodden out as the nation is by this
time, there are other good men and true, who will neither cross the sea
nor the Welsh marches nor make terms with the pagan; some sprinkling of
men who will yet set life at stake, for faith in Christ and love of
England. If these can only be rallied, who can say what may follow? So,
in the lengthening days of spring, council is held in Selwood, and there
will have been Easter services in some chapel or hermitage in the
forest, or, at any rate, in some quiet glade. The "day of days" will
surely have had its voice of hope for this poor remnant. Christ is risen
and reigns; and it is not in these heathen Danes, or in all the Northmen
who ever sailed across the sea, to put back his kingdom or to enslave
those whom he has freed.

The result is that, far away from the eastern boundary of the forest, on
a rising ground--hill it can scarcely be called--surrounded by dangerous
marshes formed by the little rivers Thone and Parret, fordable only in
summer, and even then dangerous to all who have not the secret, a small
fortified camp is thrown up under Alfred's eye, by Ethelnoth and the
Somersetshire men, where he can once again raise his standard. The spot
has been chosen by the King with the utmost care, for it is his last
throw. He names it the Etheling's _eig_ or island, "Athelney." Probably
his young son, the Etheling of England, is there among the first, with
his mother and his grandmother Eadburgha, the widow of Ethelred Mucil,
the venerable lady whom Asser saw in later years, and who has now no
country but her daughter's. There are, as has been reckoned, some two
acres of hard ground on the island, and around vast brakes of
alder-bush, full of deer and other game.

Here the Somersetshire men can keep up constant communication with him,
and a small army grows together. They are soon strong enough to make
forays into the open country, and in many skirmishes they cut off
parties of the pagans and supplies. "For, even when overthrown and cast
down," says Malmesbury, "Alfred had always to be fought with; so, then
when one would esteem him altogether worn down and broken, like a snake
slipping from the hand of him who would grasp it, he would suddenly
flash out again from his hiding-places, rising up to smite his foes in
the height of their insolent confidence, and never more hard to beat
than after a flight."

But it was still a trying life at Athelney. Followers came in slowly,
and provender and supplies of all kinds are hard to wring from the
pagan, and harder still to take from Christian men. One day, while it
was yet so cold that the water was still frozen, the King's people had
gone out "to get them fish or fowl, or some such purveyance as they
sustained themselves withal." No one was left in the royal hut for the
moment but himself, and his mother-in-law Eadburgha. The King--after his
constant wont whensoever he had opportunity--was reading from the Psalms
of David, out of the Manual which he carried always in his bosom. At
this moment a poor man appeared at the door and begged for a morsel of
bread "for Christ his sake." Whereupon the King, receiving the stranger
as a brother, called to his mother-in-law to give him to eat. Eadburgha
replied that there was but one loaf in their store, and a little wine in
a pitcher, a provision wholly insufficient for his own family and
people. But the King bade her nevertheless to give the stranger part of
the last loaf, which she accordingly did. But when he had been served
the stranger was no more seen, and the loaf remained whole, and the
pitcher full to the brim. Alfred, meantime, had turned to his reading,
over which he fell asleep, and dreamt that St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
stood by him, and told him it was he who had been his guest, and that
God had seen his afflictions and those of his people, which were now
about to end, in token whereof his people would return that day from
their expedition with a great take of fish. The King awakening, and
being much impressed with his dream, called to his mother-in-law and
recounted it to her, who thereupon assured him that she too had been
overcome with sleep and had had the same dream. And while they yet
talked together on what had happened so strangely to them, their
servants come in, bringing fish enough, as it seemed to them, to have
fed an army.

The monkish legend goes on to tell that on the next morning the King
crossed to the mainland in a boat, and wound his horn thrice, which drew
to him before noon five hundred men. What we may think of the story and
the dream, as Sir John Spelman says, "is not here very much material,"
seeing that, whether we deem it natural or supernatural, "the one as
well as the other serves at God's appointment, by raising or dejecting
of the mind with hopes or fears, to lead man to the resolution of those
things whereof he has before ordained the event."

Alfred, we may be sure, was ready to accept and be thankful for any
help, let it come from whence it might, and soon after Easter it was
becoming clear that the time is at hand for more than skirmishing
expeditions. Through all the neighboring counties word is spreading that
their hero King is alive and on foot again, and that there will be
another chance for brave men ere long of meeting once more these
scourges of the land under his leading.

A popular legend is found in the later chroniclers which relates that at
this crisis of his fortunes Alfred, not daring to rely on any evidence
but that of his own senses as to the numbers, disposition, and
discipline of the pagan army, assumed the garb of a minstrel and with
one attendant visited the camp of Guthrum. Here he stayed, "showing
tricks and making sport," until he had penetrated to the King's tents,
and learned all that he wished to know. After satisfying himself as to
the chances of a sudden attack, he returns to Athelney, and, the time
having come for a great effort, if his people will but make it, sends
round messengers to the aldermen and king's thanes of neighboring
shires, giving them a tryst for the seventh week after Easter, the
second week in May.

On or about the 12th of May, 878, King Alfred left his island in the
great wood, and his wife and children and such household gods [sic] as
he had gathered round him there, and came publicly forth among his
people once more, riding to Egbert's Stone--probably Brixton--on the
east of Selwood, a distance of twenty-six miles. Here met him the men of
the neighboring shires--Odda, no doubt, with his men of Devonshire, full
of courage and hope after their recent triumph; the men of
Somersetshire, under their brave and faithful alderman Ethelnoth; and
the men of Wilts and Hants, such of them at least as had not fled the
country or made submission to the enemy. "And when they saw their King
alive after such great tribulation, they received him, as he merited,
with joy and acclamation." The gathering had been so carefully planned
by Alfred and the nobles who had been in conference or correspondence
with him at Athelney that the Saxon host was organized and ready for
immediate action on the very day of muster. Whether Alfred had been his
own spy we cannot tell, but it is plain that he knew well what was
passing in the pagan camp, and how necessary swiftness and secrecy were
to the success of his attack.

Local traditions cannot be much relied upon for events which took place
a thousand years ago, but where there is clearly nothing improbable in
them they are at least worth mentioning. We may note, then, that
according to Somersetshire tradition, first collected by Dr.
Giles--himself a Somersetshire man, and one who, besides his _Life of
Alfred_ and other excellent works bearing on the time, is the author of
the _Harmony of the Chroniclers_, published by the Alfred Committee in
1852--the signal for the actual gathering of the West Saxons at Egbert's
Stone was given by a beacon lighted on the top of Stourton hill, where
Alfred's Tower now stands. Such a beacon would be hidden from the Danes,
who must have been encamped about Westbury, by the range of the
Wiltshire hills, while it would be visible to the west over the low
country toward the Bristol Channel, and to the south far into

Not an hour was lost by Alfred at the place of muster. The bands which
came together there were composed of men well used to arms, each band
under its own alderman, or reeve. The small army he had himself been
disciplining at Athelney, and training in skirmishes during the last few
months, would form a reliable centre on which the rest would have to
form as best they could. So after one day's halt he breaks up his camp
at Egbert's Stone and marches to Aeglea, now called Clay hill, an
important height, commanding the vale to the north of Westbury, which
the Danish army were now occupying. The day's march of the army would be
a short five miles. Here the annals record that St. Neot, his kinsman,
appeared to him, and promised that on the morrow his misfortunes would

There are still traces of rude earthworks round the top of Clay hill,
which are said to have been thrown up by Alfred's army at this time. If
there had been time for such a work, it would undoubtedly have been a
wise step, as a fortified encampment here would have served Alfred in
good stead in case of a reverse. But the few hours during which the army
halted on Clay hill would have been quite too short time for such an
undertaking, which, moreover, would have exhausted the troops. It is
more likely that the earthworks, which are of the oldest type, similar
to those at White Horse hill, above Ashdown, were there long before
Alfred's arrival in May, 878. After resting one night on Clay hill,
Alfred led out his men in close order of battle against the pagan host,
which lay at Ethandune. There has been much doubt among the antiquaries
as to the site of Ethandune, but Dr. Giles and others have at length
established the claims of Edington, a village seven miles from Clay
hill, on the northeast, to the spot where the strength of the second
wave of pagan invasion was utterly broken and rolled back weak and
helpless from the rock of the West Saxon kingdom.

Sir John Spelman, relying apparently only on the authority of Nicholas
Harpesfeld's _Ecclesiastical History of England_, puts a speech into
Alfred's mouth, which he is supposed to have delivered before the battle
of Edington. He tells them that the great sufferings of the land had
been yet far short of what their sins had deserved. That God had only
dealt with them as a loving Father, and was now about to succor them,
having already stricken their foe with fear and astonishment, and given
him, on the other hand, much encouragement by dreams and otherwise. That
they had to do with pirates and robbers, who had broken faith with them
over and over again; and the issue they had to try that day was whether
Christ's faith or heathenism was henceforth to be established in

There is no trace of any such speech in the _Saxon Chronicle_ or Asser,
and the one reported does not ring like that of Judas Maccabaeus. That
Alfred's soul was on fire that morning, on finding himself once more at
the head of a force he could rely on, and before the enemy he had met so
often, we may be sure enough, but shall never know how the fire kindled
into speech, if indeed it did so at all. In such supreme moments many of
the strongest men have no word to say--keep all their heat within.

Nor have we any clew to the numbers who fought on either side at
Ethandune, or indeed in any of Alfred's battles. In the _Chronicles_
there are only a few vague and general statements, from which little can
be gathered. The most precise of them is that in the _Saxon Chronicle_,
which gives eight hundred and forty as the number of men who were slain,
as we heard, with Hubba before Cynuit fort, in Devonshire, earlier in
this same year. Such a death-roll, in an action in which only a small
detachment of the pagan army was engaged, would lead to the conclusion
that the armies were far larger than one would expect. On the other
hand, it is difficult to imagine how any large bodies of men could find
subsistence in a small country, which was the seat of so devastating a
war, and in which so much land remained still unreclaimed. But whatever
the power on either side amounted to we may be quite sure that it had
been exerted to the utmost to bring as large a force as possible into
line at Ethandune.

Guthrum fought to protect Chippenham, his base of operations, some
sixteen miles in his rear, and all the accumulated plunder of the busy
months which had passed since Twelfth Night; and it is clear that his
men behaved with the most desperate gallantry. The fight began at
noon--one chronicler says at sunrise, but the distance makes this
impossible unless Alfred marched in the night--and lasted through the
greater part of the day. Warned by many previous disasters the Saxons
never broke their close order, and so, though greatly outnumbered,
hurled back again and again the onslaughts of the Northmen. At last
Alfred and his Saxons prevailed, and smote his pagan foes with a very
great slaughter, and pursued them up to their fortified camp on Bratton
hill or Edge, into which the great body of the fugitives threw
themselves. All who were left outside were slain, and the great spoil
was all recovered. The camp may still be seen, called Bratton Castle,
with its double ditches and deep trenches, and barrow in the midst sixty
yards long, and its two entrances guarded by mounds. It contains more
than twenty acres, and commands the whole country side. There can be
little doubt that this camp, and not Chippenham, which is sixteen miles
away, was the last refuge of Guthrum and the great northern army on
Saxon soil.

So, in three days from the breaking up of his little camp at Athelney,
Alfred was once more King of all England south of the Thames; for this
army of pagans, shut up within their earthworks on Bratton Edge, are
little better than a broken and disorderly rabble, with no supplies and
no chance of succor from any quarter. Nevertheless he will make sure of
them, and above all will guard jealously against any such mishap as that
of 876, when they stole out of Wareham, murdered the horsemen he had
left to watch them, and got away to Exeter. So Bratton camp is strictly
besieged by Alfred with his whole power.

Guthrum, the destroyer, and now the King of East Anglia, the strongest
and ablest of all the Northmen who had ever landed in England, is now at
last fairly in Alfred's power. At Reading, Wareham, Exeter, he had
always held a fortified camp, on a river easily navigable by the Danish
war-ships, where he might look for speedy succor or whence at the worst
he might hope to escape to the sea. But now he, with the remains of his
army, is shut up in an inland fort with no ships on the Avon, the
nearest river, even if they could cut their way out and reach it, and no
hopes of reinforcements overland. Halfdene is the nearest viking who
might be called to the rescue, and he, in Northumbria, is far too
distant. It is a matter of a few days only, for food runs short at once
in the besieged camp. In former years, or against any other enemy,
Guthrum would probably have preferred to sally out and cut his way
through the Saxon lines, or die sword in hand as a son of Odin should.
Whether it were that the wild spirit in him is thoroughly broken for the
time by the unexpected defeat at Ethandune, or that long residence in a
Christian land and contact with Christian subjects have shaken his faith
in his own gods, or that he has learned to measure and appreciate the
strength and nobleness of the man he had so often deceived, at any rate
for the time Guthrum is subdued. At the end of fourteen days he sends to
Alfred, suing humbly for terms of any kind; offering on the part of the
army as many hostages as may be required, without asking for any in
return; once again giving solemn pledges to quit Wessex for good; and,
above all, declaring his own readiness to receive baptism. If it had not
been for the last proposal, we may doubt whether even Alfred would have
allowed the ruthless foes with whom he and his people had fought so
often, and with such varying success, to escape now. Over and over again
they had sworn to him, and broken their oaths the moment it suited their
purpose; had given hostages, and left them to their fate. In all English
kingdoms they had now for ten years been destroying and pillaging the
houses of God and slaying even women and children. They had driven his
sister's husband from the throne of Mercia, and had grievously tortured
the martyr Edmund. If ever foe deserved no mercy, Guthrum and his army
were the men.

When David smote the children of Moab, he "measured them with a line,
casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put
to death, and with one full line to keep alive." When he took Rabbah of
the children of Ammon, "he brought forth the people that were therein,
and put them under saws and under harrows of iron, and under axes of
iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln." That was the old
Hebrew method, even under King David, and in the ninth century
Christianity had as yet done little to soften the old heathen custom of
"woe to the vanquished." Charlemagne's proselytizing campaigns had been
as merciless as Mahomet's. But there is about this English King a divine
patience, the rarest of all virtues in those who are set in high places.
He accepts Guthrum's proffered terms at once, rejoicing over the chance
of adding these fierce heathen warriors to the church of his Master, by
an act of mercy which even they must feel. And so the remnant of the
army are allowed to march out of their fortified camp, and to recross
the Avon into Mercia, not quite five months after the day of their
winter attack and the seizing of Chippenham. The northern army went away
to Cirencester, where they stayed over the winter, and then returning
into East Anglia settled down there, and Alfred and Wessex hear no more
of them. Never was triumph more complete or better deserved; and in all
history there is no instance of more noble use of victory than this. The
West Saxon army was not at once disbanded. Alfred led them back to
Athelney, where he had left his wife and children; and while they are
there, seven weeks after the surrender, Guthrum and thirty of the
bravest of his followers arrive to make good their pledge.

The ceremony of baptism was performed at Wedmore, a royal residence
which had probably escaped the fate of Chippenham, and still contained a
church. Here Guthrum and his thirty nobles were sworn in, the soldiers
of a greater King than Woden, and the white linen cloth, the sign of
their new faith, was bound round their heads. Alfred himself was
godfather to the viking, giving him the Christian name of Athelstan; and
the chrism-loosing, or unbinding of the sacramental cloths, was
performed on the eighth day by Ethelnoth, the faithful alderman of
Somersetshire. After the religious ceremony there still remained the
task of settling the terms upon which the victors and vanquished were
hereafter to live together side by side in the same island; for Alfred
had the wisdom, even in his enemy's humiliation, to accept the
accomplished fact, and to acknowledge East Anglia as a Danish kingdom.
The Witenagemot had been summoned to Wedmore, and was sitting there, and
with their advice the treaty was then made, from which, according to
some historians, English history begins.

We have still the text of the two documents which together contain
Alfred and Guthrum's peace, or the treaty of Wedmore; the first and
shorter being probably the articles hastily agreed on before the
capitulation of the Danish army at Chippenham; the latter the final
terms settled between Alfred and his witan, and Guthrum and his thirty
nobles, after mature deliberation and conference at Wedmore, but not
formally executed until some years later.

The shorter one, that made at the capitulation, runs as follows:

"ALFRED AND GUTHRUM'S PEACE.--This is the peace that King Alfred and
King Guthrum, and the witan of all the English nation, and all the
people that are in East Anglia have all ordained, and with oaths
confirmed, for themselves and their descendants, as well for born as
unborn, who reck of God's mercy or of ours.

"First, concerning our land boundaries. These are upon the Thames, and
then upon the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then straight to
Bedford, then up the Ouse to Watling Street.

"Then there is this: if a man be slain we reckon all equally dear,
English and Dane, at eight half marks of pure gold, except the churl who
dwells on gavel land and their leisings, they are also equally dear at
two hundred shillings. And if a king's thane be accused of manslaughter,
if he desire to clear himself, let him do so before twelve king's
thanes. If any man accuse a man who is of less degree than king's thane,
let him clear himself with eleven of his equals and one king's thane.
And so in every suit which be for more than four mancuses; and if he
dare not, let him pay for it threefold, as it may be valued.

"_Of Warrantors_.--And that every man know his warrantor, for men, and
for horses, and for oxen.

"And we all ordained, on that day that the oaths were sworn, that
neither bondman nor freeman might go to the army without leave, nor any
of them to us. But if it happen that any of them from necessity will
have traffic with us, or we with them, for cattle or goods, that is to
be allowed on this wise: that hostages be given in pledge of peace, and
as evidence whereby it may be known that the party has a clean book."

By the treaty Alfred is thus established as King of the whole of England
south of the Thames; of all the old kingdom of Essex south of the Lea,
including London, Hertford, and St. Albans; of the whole of the great
kingdom of Mercia, which lay to the west of Watling Street, and of so
much to the east as lay south of the Ouse. That he should have regained
so much proves the straits to which he had brought the northern army,
who would have to give up all their new settlements round Gloster. That
he should have resigned so much of the kingdom which had acknowledged
his grandfather, father, and brothers as overlords proves how formidable
his foe still was, even in defeat, and how thoroughly the northeastern
parts of the island had by this time been settled by the Danes.

The remainder of the short treaty would seem simply to be provisional,
and intended to settle the relations between Alfred's subjects and the
army while it remained within the limits of the new Saxon kingdom. Many
of the soldiers would have to break up their homes in Glostershire; and,
with this view, the halt at Cirencester is allowed, where, as we have
already heard, they rest until the winter. While they remain in the
Saxon kingdom there is to be no distinction between Saxon and Dane. The
were-gild, or life-ransom, is to be the same in each case for men of
like rank; and all suits for more than four mancuses (about twenty-four
shillings) are to be tried by a jury of peers of the accused. On the
other hand, only necessary communications are to be allowed between the
northern army and the people; and where there must be trading, fair and
peaceful dealing is to be insured by the giving of hostages. This last
provision, and the clause declaring that each man shall know his
warrantor, inserted in a five-clause treaty, where nothing but what the
contracting parties must hold to be of the very first importance would
find place, are another curious proof of the care with which our
ancestors, and all Germanic tribes, guarded against social
isolation--the doctrine that one man has nothing to do with another--a
doctrine which the great body of their descendants, under the leading of
Schultze, Delitzsch, and others, seem likely to repudiate with equal
emphasis in these latter days, both in Germany and England.

Thus, in July, 878, the foundations of the new kingdom of England were
laid, for new it undoubtedly became when the treaty of Wedmore was
signed. The Danish nation, no longer strangers and enemies, are
recognized by the heir of Cerdic as lawful owners of the full half of
England. Having achieved which result, Guthrum and the rest of the new
converts leave the Saxon camp and return to Cirencester at the end of
twelve days, loaded with such gifts as it was still in the power of
their conquerors to bestow: and Alfred was left in peace, to turn to a
greater and more arduous task than any he had yet encountered.


Alfred was the noblest as he was the most complete embodiment of all
that is great, all that is lovable, in the English temper. He combined
as no other man has ever combined its practical energy, its patient and
enduring force, its profound sense of duty, the reserve and self-control
that steady in it a wide outlook and a restless daring, its temperance
and fairness, its frank geniality, its sensitiveness to action, its
poetic tenderness, its deep and passionate religion. Religion, indeed,
was the groundwork of Alfred's character. His temper was instinct with
piety. Everywhere throughout his writings that remain to us the name of
God, the thought of God, stir him to outbursts of ecstatic adoration.

But he was no mere saint. He felt none of that scorn of the world about
him which drove the nobler souls of his day to monastery or hermitage.
Vexed as he was by sickness and constant pain, his temper took no touch
of asceticism. His rare geniality, a peculiar elasticity and mobility of
nature, gave color and charm to his life. A sunny frankness and openness
of spirit breathe in the pleasant chat of his books, and what he was in
his books he showed himself in his daily converse. Alfred was in truth
an artist, and both the lights and shadows of his life were those of the
artistic temperament. His love of books, his love of strangers, his
questionings of travellers and scholars, betray an imaginative
restlessness that longs to break out of the narrow world of experience
which hemmed him in. At one time he jots down news of a voyage to the
unknown seas of the north. At another he listens to tidings which his
envoys bring back from the churches of Malabar.

And side by side with this restless outlook of the artistic nature he
showed its tenderness and susceptibility, its vivid apprehension of
unseen danger, its craving for affection, its sensitiveness to wrong. It
was with himself rather than with his reader that he communed as
thoughts of the foe without, of ingratitude and opposition within, broke
the calm pages of Gregory or Boethius.

"Oh, what a happy man was he," he cries once, "that man that had a naked
sword hanging over his head from a single thread; so as to me it always
did!" "Desirest thou power?" he asks at another time. "But thou shalt
never obtain it without sorrows--sorrows from strange folk, and yet
keener sorrows from thine own kindred." "Hardship and sorrow!" he breaks
out again; "not a king but would wish to be without these if he could.
But I know that he cannot!"

The loneliness which breathes in words like these has often begotten in
great rulers a cynical contempt of men and the judgments of men. But
cynicism found no echo in the large and sympathetic temper of Alfred. He
not only longed for the love of his subjects, but for the remembrance of
"generations" to come. Nor did his inner gloom or anxiety check for an
instant his vivid and versatile activity. To the scholars he gathered
round him he seemed the very type of a scholar, snatching every hour he
could find to read or listen to books read to him. The singers of his
court found in him a brother singer, gathering the old songs of his
people to teach them to his children, breaking his renderings from the
Latin with simple verse, solacing himself in hours of depression with
the music of the Psalms.

He passed from court and study to plan buildings and instruct craftsmen
in gold work, to teach even falconers and dog-keepers their business.
But all this versatility and ingenuity was controlled by a cool good
sense. Alfred was a thorough man of business. He was careful of detail,
laborious, methodical. He carried in his bosom a little handbook in
which he noted things as they struck him--now a bit of family genealogy,
now a prayer, now such a story as that of Ealdhelm playing minstrel on
the bridge. Each hour of the day had its appointed task; there was the
same order in the division of his revenue and in the arrangement of his

Wide, however, and various as was the King's temper, its range was less
wonderful than its harmony. Of the narrowness, of the want of
proportion, of the predominance of one quality over another which go
commonly with an intensity of moral purpose Alfred showed not a trace.
Scholar and soldier, artist and man of business, poet and saint, his
character kept that perfect balance which charms us in no other
Englishman save Shakespeare. But full and harmonious as his temper was,
it was the temper of a king. Every power was bent to the work of rule.
His practical energy found scope for itself in the material and
administrative restoration of the wasted land.

His intellectual activity breathed fresh life into education and
literature. His capacity for inspiring trust and affection drew the
hearts of Englishmen to a common centre, and began the upbuilding of a
new England. And all was guided, controlled, ennobled by a single aim.
"So long as I have lived," said the King as life closed about him, "I
have striven to live worthily." Little by little men came to know what
such a life of worthiness meant. Little by little they came to recognize
in Alfred a ruler of higher and nobler stamp than the world had seen.
Never had it seen a king who lived solely for the good of his people.
Never had it seen a ruler who set aside every personal aim to devote
himself solely to the welfare of those whom he ruled. It was this grand
self-mastery that gave him his power over the men about him. Warrior and
conqueror as he was, they saw him set aside at thirty the warrior's
dream of conquest; and the self-renouncement of Wedmore struck the
keynote of his reign. But still more is it this height and singleness of
purpose, this absolute concentration of the noblest faculties to the
noblest aim, that lifts Alfred out of the narrow bounds of Wessex.

If the sphere of his action seems too small to justify the comparison of
him with the few whom the world owns as its greatest men, he rises to
their level in the moral grandeur of his life. And it is this which has
hallowed his memory among his own English people. "I desire," said the
King in some of his latest words, "I desire to leave to the men that
come after me a remembrance of me in good works."

His aim has been more than fulfilled. His memory has come down to us
with a living distinctness through the mists of exaggeration and legend
which time gathered round it. The instinct of the people has clung to
him with a singular affection. The love which he won a thousand years
ago has lingered round his name from that day to this. While every other
name of those earlier times has all but faded from the recollection of
Englishmen, that of Alfred remains familiar to every English child.

The secret of Alfred's government lay in his own vivid energy. He could
hardly have chosen braver or more active helpers than those whom he
employed both in his political and in his educational efforts. The
children whom he trained to rule proved the ablest rulers of their time.
But at the outset of his reign he stood alone, and what work was to be
done was done by the King himself. His first efforts were directed to
the material restoration of his realm. The burnt and wasted country saw
its towns built again, forts erected in positions of danger, new abbeys
founded, the machinery of justice and government restored, the laws
codified and amended. Still more strenuous were Alfred's efforts for its
moral and intellectual restoration. Even in Mercia and Northumbria the
pirate's sword had left few survivors of the schools of Egbert or Bede,
and matters were even worse in Wessex, which had been as yet the most
ignorant of the English kingdoms.

"When I began to reign," said Alfred, "I cannot remember one priest
south of the Thames who could render his service-book into English." For
instructors indeed he could find only a few Mercian prelates and
priests, with one Welsh bishop, Asser.

"Formerly," the King writes bitterly, "men came hither from foreign
lands to seek for instruction, and now when we desire it we can only
obtain it from abroad." But his mind was far from being prisoned within
his own island. He sent a Norwegian shipmaster to explore the White Sea,
and Wulfstan to trace the coast of Esthonia; envoys bore his presents to
the churches of India and Jerusalem, and an annual mission carried
Peter's pence to Rome.

But it was with the Franks that his intercourse was closest, and it was
from them that he drew the scholars to aid him in his work of education.
A scholar named Grimbald came from St. Omer to preside over his new
abbey at Winchester; and John, the old Saxon, was fetched from the abbey
of Corbey to rule a monastery and school that Alfred's gratitude for his
deliverance from the Danes raised in the marshes of Athelney. The real
work, however, to be done was done, not by these teachers, but by the
King himself. Alfred established a school for the young nobles in his
court, and it was to the need of books for these scholars in their own
tongue that we owe his most remarkable literary effort.

He took his books as he found them--they were the popular manuals of his
age--the _Consolation of Boethius_, the _Pastoral_ of Pope Gregory, the
compilation of Orosius, then the one accessible handbook of universal
history, and the history of his own people by Bede. He translated these
works into English, but he was far more than a translator, he was an
editor for the people. Here he omitted, there he expanded. He enriched
Orosius by a sketch of the new geographical discoveries in the north. He
gave a West Saxon form to his selections from Bede. In one place he
stops to explain his theory of government, his wish for a thicker
population, his conception of national welfare as consisting in a due
balance of priest, soldier, and churl. The mention of Nero spurs him to
an outbreak on the abuses of power. The cold providence of Boethius
gives way to an enthusiastic acknowledgment of the goodness of God.

As he writes, his large-hearted nature flings off its royal mantle, and
he talks as a man to men. "Do not blame me," he prays with a charming
simplicity, "if any know Latin better than I, for every man must say
what he says and do what he does according to his ability."

But simple as was his aim, Alfred changed the whole front of our
literature. Before him, England possessed in her own tongue one great
poem and a train of ballads and battle-songs. Prose she had none. The
mighty roll of the prose books that fill her libraries begins with the
translations of Alfred, and above all with the chronicle of his reign.
It seems likely that the King's rendering of Bede's history gave the
first impulse toward the compilation of what is known as the English or
_Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, which was certainly thrown into its present
form during his reign. The meagre lists of the kings of Wessex and the
bishops of Winchester, which had been preserved from older times, were
roughly expanded into a national history by insertions from Bede; but it
is when it reaches the reign of Alfred that the chronicle suddenly
widens into the vigorous narrative, full of life and originality, that
marks the gift of a new power to the English tongue. Varying as it does
from age to age in historic value, it remains the first vernacular
history of any Teutonic people, and, save for the Gothic translations of
Ulfilas, the earliest and most venerable monument of Teutonic prose.

But all this literary activity was only a part of that general
upbuilding of Wessex by which Alfred was preparing for a fresh contest
with the stranger. He knew that the actual winning back of the Danelagh
must be a work of the sword, and through these long years of peace he
was busy with the creation of such a force as might match that of the
Northmen. A fleet grew out of the little squadron which Alfred had been
forced to man with Frisian seamen.

The national _fyrd_ or levy of all freemen at the King's call was
reorganized. It was now divided into two halves, one of which served in
the field while the other guarded its own _burhs_ (burghs or boroughs)
and townships, and served to relieve its fellow when the men's forty
days of service were ended. A more disciplined military force was
provided by subjecting all owners of five hides of land to
"thane-service," a step which recognized the change that had now
substituted the _thegn_ for the _eorl_ and in which we see the beginning
of a feudal system. How effective these measures were was seen when the
new resistance they met on the Continent drove the Northmen to a fresh
attack on Britain.

In 893 a large fleet steered for the Andredsweald, while the sea-king
Hasting entered the Thames. Alfred held both at bay through the year
till the men of the Danelagh rose at their comrades' call. Wessex stood
again front to front with the Northmen. But the King's measures had made
the realm strong enough to set aside its old policy of defence for one
of vigorous attack. His son Edward and his son-in-law Ethelred, whom he
had set as ealdorman[23] over what remained of Mercia, showed themselves
as skilful and active as the King.

[Footnote 23: Primitive of alderman; in this period, a chieftain, lord,
or earl; subsequently, the chief magistrate of a territorial district,
as of a county or province.]

The aim of the Northmen was to rouse again the hostility of the Welsh,
but while Alfred held Exeter against their fleet, Edward and Ethelred
caught their army near the Severn and overthrew it with a vast slaughter
at Buttington. The destruction of their camp on the Lea by the united
English forces ended the war; in 897 Hasting again withdrew across the
Channel, and the Danelagh made peace. It was with the peace he had won
still about him that Alfred died in 901; and warrior as his son Edward
had shown himself, he clung to his father's policy of rest.



A.D. 911-936


(The famous treaty of Verdun [843] was the culmination of a series of
civil wars between the descendants of Charlemagne. By it the great
empire which Charlemagne had built up was divided among his three
grandsons, Lothair, Charles the Bald, and Louis. With this treaty the
history of the Franks closes, and Germany and France take their places,
along with Italy, as distinct and separate nations.

The Teutonic kingdom, or Germany, fell to Louis. On his death, in 876,
after an uneventful reign, he was succeeded by his sons Charles the Fat,
Carloman, and Louis. The latter two dying, Charles the Fat became sole
King of Germany. A little later he became ruler of Italy, and was
crowned emperor by the pope. Then he was invited by the West Franks to
become their king. Thus almost the whole empire of the great Charlemagne
was reunited in the hands of Charles the Fat. However, his people soon
became disgusted with his weak efforts in the treatment of a series of
invasions by the Northmen, and he was deposed in 887. He died the next
year, and the Carlovingian empire fell to pieces, never to be united

Charles the Fat was succeeded in Germany by his nephew, Arnulf, who also
took possession of Italy and was crowned emperor by the pope, though his
power in Italy was merely nominal. On his death in 889 his second son,
Ludwig [Louis III] the child, became king in Germany.

The race of Charlemagne in Germany ended in 911 by the death of Ludwig.
Though a mere child he had been enthroned through the intrigues of Otto,
Duke of Saxony, and Hatto, Archbishop of Mayence, who virtually governed
the empire during Ludwig's short reign.

The empire at that time was composed of various nations, each under the
rule of a powerful duke. The bond of union between these nations was
slight. The dukes were constantly waging war against each other, and
these internal dissensions greatly weakened the central government.

At the same time the empire was exposed to the incursions of the Magyars
or Hungarians, whose wholesale depredations and cruelties so dismayed
the child-king that he concluded a treaty of peace with the invaders and
consented to pay them a ten-years' tribute.

The Germans were deeply sensible of the dishonor incurred by this
ignominious tribute, and of the dangers of their internal dissensions.
They longed for a stronger government, and on the death of Ludwig the
crown was offered to Otto of Saxony, the strongest of the dukes. He
declined in favor of Conrad, Duke of Franconia, a descendant in the
female line from Charlemagne. But Conrad's rule was weak, and during his
short reign of seven years civil war continued, part of the time with
Henry the Fowler, son of Duke Otto [who died in 912], owing to Conrad's
attempt to separate Thuringia from Saxony in order to weaken Henry's
ducal power. The empire also was again invaded by the Slavs and

Conrad died without male issue in 918, whereupon the Germans elected as
emperor Henry the Fowler, who thus became the first of the Saxon dynasty
in Germany, and proved himself to be the wisest and most vigorous
sovereign who had ruled in Germany since the days of Charlemagne.)

The extinction of the Carlovingian line did not sever the bond of union
that existed between the different nations of Germany, although a
contention arose between them concerning the election of the new
emperor, each claiming that privilege for itself; and as the increase of
the ducal power had naturally led to a wider distinction between them,
the diet convoked for the purpose represented nations instead of
classes. There were consequently four nations and four votes: the Franks
under Duke Conrad, whose authority, nevertheless, could not compete with
that of the now venerable Hatto, Archbishop of Mayence, who may be said
to have been, at that period, the pope in Germany; the Saxons,
Frieslanders, Thuringians, and some of the subdued Slavi, under Duke
Otto; the Swabians, with Switzerland and Elsace, under different
_grafs_, who, as the immediate officers of the crown, were named
_kammerboten_, in order to distinguish them from the grafs nominated by
the dukes; the Bavarians, with the Tyrolese and some of the subdued
eastern Slavi, under Duke Arnulf the Bad, the son of the brave duke
Luitpold. The Lothringians formed a fifth nation, under their duke
Regingar, but were at that period incorporated with France.

The first impulse of the diet was to bestow the crown on the most
powerful among the different competitors, and it was accordingly offered
to Otto of Saxony, who not only possessed the most extensive territory
and the most warlike subjects, but whose authority, having descended to
him from his father and grandfather, was also the most firmly secured.
But both Otto and his ancient ally, the bishop Hatto, had found the
system they had hitherto pursued, of reigning in the name of an imbecile
monarch, so greatly conducive to their interest that they were
disinclined to abandon it. Otto was a man who mistook the prudence
inculcated by private interest for wisdom, and his mind, narrow as the
limits of his dukedom, and solely intent upon the interests of his
family, was incapable of the comprehensive views requisite in a German
emperor, and indifferent to the welfare of the great body of the nation.
The examples of Boso, of Odo, of Rudolph of Upper Burgundy, and of
Berenger, who, favored by the difference in descent of the people they
governed, had all succeeded in severing themselves from the empire, were
ever present to his imagination, and he believed that as, on the other
side of the Rhine, the Frank, the Burgundian, and the Lombard severally
obeyed an independent sovereign, the East Frank, the Saxon, the Swabian,
and the Bavarian, on this side of the Rhine, were also desirous of
asserting a similar independence, and that it would be easier and less
hazardous to found a hereditary dukedom in a powerful and separate state
than to maintain the imperial dignity, undermined, as it was, by
universal hostility.

The influence of Hatto and the consent of Otto placed Conrad, Duke of
Franconia, on the imperial throne. Sprung from a newly risen family, a
mere creature of the bishop, his nobility as a feudal lord only dating
from the period of the Babenberg feud, he was regarded by the Church as
a pliable tool and by the dukes as little to be feared. His weakness was
quickly demonstrated by his inability to retain the rich allods of the
Carlovingian dynasty as heir to the imperial crown, and his being
constrained to share them with the rest of the dukes; he was,
nevertheless, more fully sensible of the dignity and of the duties of
his station than those to whom he owed his election probably expected.
His first step was to recall Regingar of Lothringia, who was oppressed
by France, to his allegiance as vassal of the empire.

Otto died in 912, and his son Henry, a high-spirited youth, who had
greatly distinguished himself against the Slavi, ere long quarrelled
with the aged bishop Hatto. According to the legendary account, the
bishop sent him a golden chain so skilfully contrived as to strangle its
wearer. The truth is that the ancient family feud between the house of
Conrad and that of Otto, which was connected with the Babenbergers,
again broke out, and that the Emperor attempted again to separate
Thuringia, which Otto had governed since the death of Burkhard, from
Saxony, in order to hinder the overpreponderance of that ducal house.
Hatto, it is probable, counselled this step, as a considerable portion
of Thuringia belonged to the diocese of Mayence, and a collision between
him and the duke was therefore unavoidable. Henry flew to arms, and
expelled the adherents of the bishop from Thuringia, which forced the
Emperor to take the field in the name of the empire against his haughty
vassal. This unfortunate civil war was a signal for a fresh irruption of
the Slavi and Hungarians. During this year the Bohemians and Sorbi also
made an inroad into Thuringia and Bavaria, and in 913 the Hungarians
advanced as far as Swabia, but being surprised near Oetting by the
Bavarians under Arnulf, who on this occasion bloodily avenged his
father's death, and by the Swabians under the kammerboten Erchanger and
Berthold, they were all, with the exception of thirty of their number,
cut to pieces. Arnulf subsequently embraced a contrary line of policy,
married the daughter of Geisa, King of Hungary, and entered into a
confederacy with the Hungarian and the Swabian kammerboten, for the
purpose of founding an independent state in the south of Germany, where
he had already strengthened himself by the appointment of several
markgrafs, Rudiger of Pechlarn in Austria, Rathold in Carinthia, and
Berthold in the Tyrol. He then instigated all the enemies of the empire
simultaneously to attack the Franks and Saxons, at that crisis at war
with each other, in 915, and while the Danes under Gorm the Old, and the
Obotrites, destroyed Hamburg, immense hordes of Hungarians, Bohemians,
and Sorbi laid the country waste as far as Bremen.

The Emperor was, meanwhile, engaged with the Saxons. On one occasion
Henry narrowly escaped being taken prisoner, being merely saved by the
stratagem of his faithful servant, Thiatmar, who caused the Emperor to
retreat by falsely announcing to him the arrival of a body of
auxiliaries. At length a pitched battle was fought near Merseburg, in
915, between Henry and Eberhard, the Emperor's brother, in which the
Franks[24] were defeated, and the superiority of the Saxons remained,
henceforward, unquestioned for more than a century. The Emperor was
forced to negotiate with the victor, whom he induced to protect the
northern frontiers of the empire while he applied himself in person to
the reestablishment of order in the south.

[Footnote 24: So great a slaughter took place that the Saxons said on
the occasion:

"'Twere difficult to find a hell
Where so many Franks might dwell!"]

In Swabia, Salomon, Bishop of Constance, who was supported by the
commonalty, adhered to the imperial cause, while the kammerboten were
unable to palliate their treason, and were gradually driven to
extremities. Erchanger, relying upon aid from Arnulf and the Hungarians,
usurped the ducal crown and took the bishop prisoner. Salomon's extreme
popularity filled him with such rage that he caused the feet of some
shepherds, who threw themselves on their knees as the captured prelate
passed by, to be chopped off. His wife, Bertha, terror-stricken at the
rashness of her husband, and foreseeing his destruction, received the
prisoner with every demonstration of humility, and secretly aided his
escape. He no sooner reappeared than the people flocked in thousands
around him. "_Heil Herro! Heil Liebo!_" ("Hail, master! Hail, beloved
one!") they shouted, and in their zeal attacked and defeated the
traitors and their adherents. Berthold vainly defended himself in his
mountain stronghold of Hohentwiel. The people so urgently demanded the
death of these traitors to their country that the Emperor convoked a
general assembly at Albingen in Swabia, sentenced Erchanger and Berthold
to be publicly beheaded, and nominated Burkhard, in 917, whose father
and uncle had been assassinated by order of Erchanger, as successor to
the ducal throne. Arnulf withdrew to his fortress at Salzburg, and
quietly awaited more favorable times. His name was branded with infamy
by the people, who henceforth affixed to it the epithet of "the Bad,"
and the _Nibelungenlied_ has perpetuated his detested memory.

Conrad died in 918 without issue. On his death-bed, mindful only of the
welfare of the empire, he proved himself deserving even by his latest
act of the crown he had so worthily worn, by charging his brother
Eberhard to forget the ancient feud between their houses, and to deliver
the crown with his own hands to his enemy, the free-spirited Henry, whom
he judged alone capable of meeting all the exigencies of the State.
Eberhard obeyed his brother's injunctions, and the princes respected the
will of their dying sovereign.

The princes, with the exception of Burkhard and of Arnulf, assembled at
Fritzlar, elected the absent Henry king, and despatched an embassy to
inform him of their decision. It is said that the young duke was at the
time among the Harz Mountains, and that the ambassadors found him in the
homely attire of a sportsman in the fowling floor. He obeyed the call of
the nation without delay and without manifesting surprise. The error he
had committed in rebelling against the State, it was his firm purpose to
atone for by his conduct as emperor. Of a lofty and majestic stature,
although slight and youthful in form, powerful and active in person,
with a commanding and penetrating glance, his very appearance attracted
popular favor; besides these personal advantages, he was prudent and
learned, and possessed a mind replete with intelligence. The influence
of such a monarch on the progressive development of society in Germany
could not fail of producing results fully equalling the improvements
introduced by Charlemagne.

The youthful Henry, the first of the Saxon line, was proclaimed king of
Germany at Fritzlar, in 919, by the majority of votes, and, according to
ancient custom, raised upon the shield. The Archbishop of Mayence
offered to anoint him according to the usual ceremony, but Henry
refused, alleging that he was content to owe his election to the grace
of God and to the piety of the German princes, and that he left the
ceremony of anointment to those who wished to be still more pious.

Before Henry could pursue his more elevated projects, the assent of the
southern Germans, who had not acknowledged the choice of their northern
compatriots, had to be gained. Burkhard of Swabia, who had asserted his
independence, and who was at that time carrying on a bitter feud with
Rudolph, King of Burgundy, whom he had defeated, in 919, in a bloody
engagement near Winterthur, was the first against whom he directed the
united forces of the empire, in whose name he, at the same time, offered
him peace and pardon. Burkhard, seeing himself constrained to yield,
took the oath of fealty to the new-elected King at Worms, but continued
to act with almost his former unlimited authority in Swabia, and even
undertook an expedition into Italy in favor of Rudolph, with whom he had
become reconciled. The Italians, enraged at the wantonness with which he
mocked them, assassinated him. Henry bestowed the dukedom of Swabia on
Hermann, one of his relations, to whom he gave Burkhard's widow in
marriage. He also bestowed a portion of the south of Alemannia on King
Rudolph in order to win him over, and in return received from him the
holy lance with which the side of the Saviour had been pierced as he
hung on the cross. Finding it no longer possible to dissolve the
dukedoms and great fiefs, Henry, in order to strengthen the unity of the
empire, introduced the novel policy of bestowing the dukedoms, as they
fell vacant, on his relations and personal adherents, and of allying the
rest of the dukes with himself by intermarriage, thus uniting the
different powerful houses in the State into one family.

Bavaria still remained in an unsettled state. Arnulf the Bad, leagued
with the Hungarians, against whom Henry had great designs, had still
much in his power, and Henry, resolved at any price to dissolve this
dangerous alliance, not only concluded peace with this traitor on that
condition, but also married his son Henry to Judith, Arnulf's daughter,
in 921. Arnulf deprived the rich churches of great part of their
treasures, and was consequently abhorred by the clergy, the chroniclers
of those times, who, chiefly on that account, depicted his character in
such unfavorable colors.

In France, Charles the Simple was still the tool and jest of the
vassals. His most dangerous enemy was Robert, Count of Paris, brother to
Odo, the late King. Both solicited aid from Henry, but in a battle that
shortly ensued near Soissons, Count Robert losing his life and Charles
being defeated, Rudolph of Burgundy, one of Boso's nephews, set himself
up as king of France, and imprisoned Charles the Simple, who craved
assistance from the German monarch, to whom he promised to perform
homage as his liege lord. Henry, meanwhile, contented himself with
expelling Rudolph from Lotharingia, and, after taking possession of
Metz, bestowed that dukedom upon Gisilbrecht, the son of Regingar, and
reincorporated it with the empire. These successes now roused the
apprehensions of the Hungarians, who again poured their invading hordes
across the frontier. In 926 they plundered St. Gall, but were routed
near Seckingen by the peasantry, headed by the country people of
Hirminger, who had been roused by alarm fires; and again in Alsace, by
Count Liutfried: another horde was cut to pieces near Bleiburg, in
Carinthia, by Eberhard and the Count of Meran. The Hungarian King,
probably Zoldan, was, by chance, taken prisoner during an incursion by
the Germans, a circumstance turned by Henry to a very judicious use. He
restored the captured prince to liberty, and also agreed to pay him a
yearly tribute, on condition of his entering into a solemn truce for
nine years. The experience of earlier times had taught Henry that a
completely new organization was necessary in the management of military
affairs in Germany before this dangerous enemy could be rendered
innoxious, and, as an undertaking of this nature required time, he
prudently resolved to incur a seeming disgrace by means of which he in
fact secured the honor of the State. During this interval of nine years
he aimed at bringing the other enemies of the empire, more particularly
the Slavi, into subjection, and making preparations for an expedition
against Hungary by which her power should receive a fatal blow.

In the mean time Gisilbrecht, the youthful Duke of Lotharingia, again
rebelled, but was besieged and taken prisoner in Zuelpich by Henry, who,
struck by his noble appearance, restored to him his dukedom, and
bestowed upon him his daughter, Gerberga, in marriage. Rudolph of France
also sued for peace, being hard pressed by his powerful rival, Hugo the
Great or Wise, the son of Robert. Charles the Simple was, on Henry's
demand, restored to liberty, but quickly fell anew into the power of his
faithless vassals.

Peace was now established throughout the empire, and afforded Henry an
opportunity for turning his attention to the introduction of measures,
in the interior economy of the State, calculated to obviate for the
future the dangers that had hitherto threatened it from without. The
best expedient against the irruptions of the Hungarians appeared to him
to be the circumvallation of the most important districts, the erection
of forts and of fortified cities. The most important point, however, was
to place the garrisons immediately under him as citizens of the State,
commanded by his immediate officers, instead of their being indirectly
governed by the feudal aristocracy and by the clergy. As these garrisons
were intended not only for the protection of the walls, but also for
open warfare, he had them trained to fight in rank and file, and formed
them into a body of infantry, whose solid masses were calculated to
withstand the furious onset of the Hungarian horse. These garrisons were
solely composed of the ancient freemen, and the whole measure was, in
fact, merely a reform of the ancient _arrier-ban_, which no longer
sufficed for the protection of the State, and whose deficiency had long
been supplied by the addition of vassals under the command of their
temporal or spiritual lieges, and by the mercenaries or bodyguards of
the emperors. The ancient class of freemen, who originally composed the
arrier-ban, had been gradually converted into feudal vassals; but they
were at that time still so numerous as to enable Henry to give them a
completely new military organization, which at once secured to them
their freedom, hitherto endangered by the preponderating power of the
feudal aristocracy, and rendered them a powerful support to the throne.
By collecting them into the cities, he afforded them a secure retreat
against the attempts of the grafs, dukes, abbots, and bishops, and
created for himself a body of trusty friends, of whom it would naturally
be expected that they would ever side with the Emperor against the

This new regulation appears to have been founded on the ancient mode of
division. At first, out of every nine freemen--which recalls the
_decania_--one only was placed within the new fortress, and the
remaining eight were bound--perhaps on account of their ancient
association into corporations or guilds--to nourish and support him; but
the remaining freemen, in the neighborhood of the new cities, appear to
have been also gradually collected within their walls, and to have
committed the cultivation of their lands in the vicinity to their
bondmen. However that may be, the ancient class of freemen completely
disappeared as the cities increased in importance, and it was only among
the wild mountains, where no cities sprang up, that the _centen_ or
cantons and whole districts or _gauen_ of free peasantry were to be met

Henry's original intention in the introduction of this new system was,
it is evident, solely to provide a military force answering to the
exigencies of the State; still there is no reason to suppose him blind
to the great political advantage to be derived from the formation of an
independent class of citizens; and that he had in reality premeditated a
civil as well as a military reformation may be concluded from the fact
of his having established fairs, markets, and public assemblies, which,
of themselves, would be closely connected with civil industry, within
the walls of the cities; and, even if these trading warriors were at
first merely feudatories of the Emperor, they must naturally in the end
have formed a class of free citizens, the more so as, attracted within
the cities by the advantages offered to them, their number rapidly and
annually increased.

The same military reasons which induced the emperor Henry to enroll the
ancient freemen into a regular corps of infantry, and to form them into
a civil corporation, caused him also to metamorphose the feudal
aristocracy into a regular troop of cavalry and a knightly institution.
The wild disorder with which the mounted vassals of the empire, the
dukes, grafs, bishops, and abbots, each distinguished by his own banner,
rushed to the attack, or vied with each other in the fury of the


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