Third Millennium Library'
CAMBRIDGE MEDIEVAL HISTORY
THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM OF ENGLAND.
WHEN Offa died in 796, the consolidation of central and south-eastern England into an orderly state under a stable dynasty had continued long enough to make it seem improbable that the work would have to be done a second time. The Mercian kingdom was still far from comprising all England. Wessex and Northumbria were still independent. But in both states the rulers had accepted Mercian brides, and neither seemed sufficiently strong to thwart Mercia's further expansion. Nor was internal faction apparently to be feared. Offa's death brought the crown to Ecgfrith his only son; but though this prince died within a few months of his accession leaving no heir, no struggle arose over the vacant throne. The Mercian witan arranged the succession peaceably among themselves, their choice falling on the aetheling Coenwulf, a member of the royal kindred who seems to have been only distantly related to Offa. This orderly election, if compared with the faction fights which regularly disgraced Northumbria under similar circumstances, is in itself good evidence of the political progress made by Mercia in the eighth century, and Coenwulf's subjects may fairly have looked forward to a further expansion taking 'place under his leadership.
At Coenwulf's accession the ruler of Wessex was Beorhtric, a weak man who had married Eadburh, Offa's third daughter, and who was almost a Mercian vassal. Of his reign (786-802) little of note is recorded except that it was disturbed one summer by the landing of rovers coming from Hörthaland in Norway on the coast of Dorset. This is the first recorded appearance in England of the so-called Vikings, a most ominous event as the future was to prove. In the Norse sagas the word Viking means a free buccaneer of any nationality, and the phrase "to go in viking" denotes freebooting as opposed to trading voyages, both being regarded as equally honourable activities. Not only England but all Western Europe was soon to rue their advent. One other event of Beorhtric's days had far-reaching consequences. In conjunction with Offa he drove into exile an aetheling called Ecgbert, whose father Ealhmund had for a time been under-king in Kent (784-786). This Ecgbert was destined to return and become the ancestor of England's future kings.
Anarchy in Northumbria. Coenwulf of Mercia
In Northumbria in Offa's closing years we also hear of piratical raids. In June 793 heathen men, whether Danish or Norse cannot be decided, ravaged the church at Lindisfarne and captured many of the monks to sell as slaves. Next summer they came again and attacked Wearmouth and Jarrow where Bede had spent his days. These inroads however did not continue, nor can they have disturbed the Northumbrians very much. For the magnates of Bernicia and Deira for many years past had been flying at each other's throats with wearisome monotony. Harryings and burnings had become the rule, and king after king had met with deposition or a violent death. Aethelred, son of Moll, held the throne when the heathen ships appeared. He had married Offa's second daughter, and, like Beorhtric, may be regarded as almost Offa's vassal; but the alliance had brought him little strength. In 796 he was murdered at Corbridge on Tyne. His immediate successor reigned for only twenty-seven days, and then ,fled making way for Eardwulf, a prince whose reign of ten years (796-806) is merely a chronicle of plunderings and executions ending in his deposition. Clearly it is useless to peer into the gloom and turmoil of the North in these days. One event only seems of importance as it affected the ultimate position of the boundary of England. It was in these years that the Galloway bishopric of Whithern (Candida Casa), hitherto subject to York, came to an end, the Picts of this district throwing off their subjection to the English and uniting with the British kingdom of Strathclyde.
Coenwulf ruled over Mercia for a full quarter of a century (796-821). On the whole he showed himself a man of resource and energy; but his reign was not without its difficulties, and he seems to have been unable to reap any advantage either from the want of enterprise of the West Saxons or from the chaos which reigned among the Northumbrians. In his days nothing occurred to alter the balance of power in England. Mercia remained the leading state; nor is there any record of attacks on its coasts by sea rovers. The king's first recorded activity is a war against the North Welsh, which led to a battle at Rhuddlan. We learn this from the Annales Cambriae. As this campaign was followed up later in his reign by another against the South Welsh, it may be useful at this point to say a few words about the general condition of Wales in the years that followed the building of Offa's celebrated boundary dyke. Our information is scanty, but sufficient to prove that the land was subdivided into many chieftaincies or so-called "kingdoms." The most important tribal units, counting from North to South were (1) Gwynedd or North Wales (in Latin Venedotia), (2) Powys, (3) Ceredigion (Cardigan), (4) the promontory of Dyfed (in Latin Demetia), (5) Ystrad Tywi (the Vale of the Towy), (6) Brycheiniog (Brecknock), (7) Morgannwg (Glamorgan), and (8) Gwent (Monmouthshire). The traditional primacy or overlordship over these and many other smaller units lay with the kings of Gwynedd, whose territories comprised the vales of the Clwyd and Conway, the promontory of Lleyn, the fastnesses of Snowdon and Cader Idris, and the comparatively fertile plains of the Isle of Môn, not yet known as Anglesey, their "principal seat" being at Aberffraw, a small port near Holyhead, whose history goes back to the days of Cadwalader, the contemporary of Oswy. But the superiority of the house of Cunedda, from whom Cadwalader descended, was often merely honorary, and it had long been challenged by princes of South Wales, the Dextralis pars Britanniae, as the Welsh termed it. In this, the more spacious and less mountainous half of Wales, a fairly strong principality, later to be known as Deheubarth, was emerging out of conquests made by Seisyll of Ceredigion at the expense of Dyfed, Ystrad Tywi and Brycheiniog. The larger part of these districts in the course of the eighth century were tending to unite under one chief, and already in Offa's day men regarded Dinefwr on the Towy, some fifteen miles east of Carmarthen, as a principal seat or capital, the possession of which carried with it the primacy of South Wales.
Wales in the eighth century. Nennius
For judicial and fiscal purposes most of the tribal units were subdivided into "cantrefs" of very varying sizes, but on the average rather larger than the English hundreds, each of which in theory was built up of a hundred "trefs" or hamlets. For ecclesiastical purposes there were yet other divisions. Out of the many monastic churches founded in the sixth century four had come to stand out as the most important and had become centres of episcopal organisation. These were Bangor and Llanelwy, otherwise St Asaph, in Northern Wales, Llandaff in Morgannwg, and Mynyw (in Latin Menevia), otherwise St David's, in Dyfed. The Welsh Church, too, no longer held aloof from Rome as in earlier days. About 768 it had adopted the Roman Easter, led by Elbodug, a monk of Caer Gybi or Holyhead, and a student of Bede's works. To Wales this peaceful revolution meant as much as the decision come to at Whitby had meant for England a hundred years earlier. With the acceptance of the Roman date for Easter, Wales threw itself open to the influence of the Continent, and not only so, but also to greatly increased intercourse of a non-military character with the English kingdoms. At the date of the fight at Rhuddlan, Elbodug was still living. He died about 809, "chief bishop in the land of Gwynedd." Among his disciples was Nennius, famed as the editor of the Historia Brittonum, from which come so many of the folk tales concerning Arthur and the first coming of the Saxons into Britain. Nennius seems to have lived in Deheubarth, probably near the borders of Brycheiniog. He was writing just about the time that Coenwulf ascended the Mercian throne, and his book soon: acquired a considerable popularity, not only in Wales, but also in England, Ireland, and Brittany. Nennius wrote shocking Latin, and complains that incessant wars and pestilence had dulled the senses of the Britons; but his work, puzzle-headed as it is, shews that the monasteries of Wales still had some learning. He himself refers to Isidore, Jerome, Prosper, and Eusebius, and there are also other indications that some of the Welsh monks of his day were acquainted with parts of the writings of Ovid and Cicero, with Eutychius the grammarian, and Martianus Capella.
Coenwulf and Archbishop Wulfred. Beornwulf
The Mercian attack on Wales in 796 was not pressed very far, as Coenwulf soon had other work to do in repressing a rebellion which broke out in Kent. The leader of this revolt was Eadbert Praen, presumably a descendant of the old Kentish kings. For two years he had some success, and then Coenwulf captured and blinded him, and set up his own brother Cuthred instead as under-king of Kent. But this was not all. During the revolt Archbishop Aethelheard had remained loyal to the Mercian cause, in spite of the affront that Offa had put upon the see of Canterbury in 786. Rather than yield to the rebels he had gone into exile, and there exists a letter to the Kentish leaders in which Alcuin pleads for his restoration. In return for this loyal conduct Coenwulf not only restored him to his rights, but agreed with him to undo Offa's work and suppress the recently erected Mercian archbishopric. Aethelheard accordingly journeyed to Rome to lay the matter before Pope Leo III, and having obtained his approval called a synod together at Clovesho in 803 which promulgated the deprivation of Archbishop Higbert and the restoration of the old metropolitan rights of Canterbury. It might have been expected that after this the old alliance between Tamworth and Canterbury would have been effectively restored, but it was not so. Archbishop Aethelheard died in 805, and was succeeded by a Kentish man named Wulfred, an ambitious prelate who resented Mercian control and desired independence for Kent. He soon quarrelled with Coenwulf over questions of property, especially over the nunnery of Minster in Thanet and over the important estate of Harrow in Middlesex. The trouble is said to have extended over six years and to have led to appeals to the Papacy, while it is certain that the archbishop showed his independence by coining money which does not bear any king's name. These turmoils and Welsh campaigns take up the remainder of Coenwulf's reign; but it must not be supposed that he was altogether unmindful of the claims of the Church. Existing land-books show that he was a benefactor to Worcester, and he is also credited with the foundation of Winchcombe Abbey. There is also some evidence that about 813 Wulfred was attempting monastic reforms at Canterbury.
Coenwulf died in 821, it is said at Basingwerk in Flint, still occupied with plans for extending the Mercian frontier westwards from Chester to the Conway. His successor was his brother Ceolwulf, who continued the Welsh policy with success, capturing the fort of Deganwy near Llandudno and overrunning Powys. Ceolwulf's accession, however, was not unchallenged, and two years later we find him deposed in favour of a duke called Beornwulf. We are quite in the dark as to Beornwulf's origin and the reasons for his elevation to the throne, but we may suspect the hand of Archbishop Wulfred in the background. For shortly afterwards we find Beornwulf making grants to Wulfred, and the abbess Cwenthryth, Coenwulf's daughter, compelled to resign Harrow to the see of Canterbury. The dispute about the succession between Ceolwulf and Beornwulf marks the beginning of evil days for Mercia. The unity and solidity, which had appeared so well established under Offa, disappears; the Mercian magnates fall a prey to faction, and almost as it were in the twinkling of an eye the supremacy of Mercia is wrecked forever.
Ecgbert of Wessex. Conquest of Cornwall
It is time now to turn again to the affairs of Wessex. When Beorhtric died in 802, poisoned, so the tale goes, by his wife, the West Saxon witan saluted as their king that Ecgbert whom Offa and Beorhtric had driven out of England. The choice was most happy; for Ecgbert was a man of experience, who had spent some time in Frankland, and possibly witnessed Charlemagne's Saxon campaigns. He had returned to Wessex about 799, but not before he had marked how the great Frank administered his kingdom. His elevation to the throne clearly meant a less dependent Wessex and so was distasteful to the Mercians. At any rate on the very day of Ecgbert's election the men of the Hwicce took horse and crossed the Upper Thames at Kempsford near Cirencester led by Aethelmund, a Gloucestershire magnate whose estates lay at Deerhurst and Berkeley. They were met by a West Saxon alderman named Weoxtan with the levies of Wiltshire. In the fight which ensued both leaders were killed, but the Mercians had to retreat, after which Ecgbert had several years of peace for organizing his kingdom. We know nothing of his acts as an administrator, but in 814 we find him imitating Coenwulf and engaged in expanding his borders westwards at the expense of the Welsh of Cornwall. As the Chronicle puts it, "he laid waste West Wales from eastward to westward," and thenceforth apparently held it as a ducatus or dukedom annexed to his regnum or kingdom of Wessex, but not wholly incorporated with it. Thus arose that Welsh-speaking duchy or earldom of Cornwall, which almost ever since has formed a quasi-royal appanage in the hands of Ecgbert's successors, and which maintained its distinct nationality to the eighteenth century. The exact stages of its reduction to submission cannot be followed. We only know that in 825 the West Welsh were once more in arms and that Ecgbert again put them down and, as a later document phrases it, "disposed of their territory as it seemed fit to him, giving a tenth part of it to God." In other words he incorporated Cornwall ecclesiastically with the West Saxon diocese of Sherborne, and endowed Ealhstan, his fighting bishop, who took part in the campaign, with an extensive Cornish estate consisting of Callington and Lawhitton, both in the Tamar valley, and Pawton near Padstow. One is naturally led to ask, were these three properties really equivalent to a tenth of all Cornwall; for if so, it is very noteworthy to find such large estate units already evolved as early as 825. All that can be said in answer is that the evidence of Domesday Book, written 260 years later, does not altogether bear out this conclusion, but yet is more in harmony with it than might have been expected; for that survey credits these three properties with 130 ploughlands, which is about an eighteenth part of the total ploughlands recorded for all Cornwall. At any rate, then, we may regard this gift as transferring a very considerable stretch of land, and its effect would be to open up West Wales not a little to English influences. Little, however, seems actually to have been done in the way of settling West Saxon colonists in the country, if we may judge from the sparsity of the English type of place-name everywhere but in the Tamar valley. The rest of Cornwall remains to this day a land of "trefs," that is to say, of petty hamlets, bearing such names as Trenance, Tregony and Trevelyan, of which quite a handful are required to form a parish, although this is not called after any one of them, but by the name of the saint to whom the church is dedicated. Nor would it seem were new local divisions introduced by the conquerors. The so-called Cornish shires, such as Pydershire or Wivelshire, seem to be really the old Welsh "cantrefs." The term "shire" must however have been applied to them almost from the first conquest; for King Alfred's will only sixty years later has an allusion to "Streatnet on Triconshire," that is to say to Stratton near Bude in Triggshire.
Battle of Ellandun. Ecgbert conquers Kent
The settlement of Cornwall was hardly effected when news came that the Mercians had again invaded Wiltshire. Ecgbert thereupon led his army eastwards and came up with Beornwulf's forces at Ellandun, a village near Swindon now called Nether Wroughton, but as late as the fourteenth century known as Elynton. A pitched battle ensued in which the Mercians were completely routed. This victory must be regarded as a turning point in England's development, for it led to a permanent alteration of the balance of power in England in favour of the West Saxons. To follow up his advantage, Ecgbert at once despatched his son, Aethelwulf, accompanied by Bishop Ealhstan, against Kent, a district which he could claim with some show of reason as he was the son of Ealhmund. Aethelwulf's march was as successful as his father's. Baldred, the Kentish under-king, appointed by Mercia, soon fled northwards over the Thames, and thereupon, as the chronicle has it, the men of Kent and Surrey submitted to Wessex, admitting that "they had been wrongly forced from Ecgbert's kin." Sussex and Essex a few weeks later followed suit; and finally the East Anglians also rose, and re-established their independence of Mercia, by attacking Beornwulf from the east and slaying him in battle.
No series of events could well be more dramatic than the successive disasters which brought about the collapse of Mercia in 825. Wessex and Mercia, as it were, changed parts. Within a year the Mercian kingdom dwindled to half its former size, while Wessex expanded so that it may be regarded henceforth as including all England south of the Thames. Kent, it is true, still retained its individuality in the hands of Ecgbert's son, as an under-kingdom enjoying its own special customs, and as the chief seat of church government; but its affairs were nevertheless directed from Winchester, and the archbishops of Canterbury could no longer look to Tamworth for protection, but were brought much more under West Saxon influences.
Ecgbert overthrows Mercia. Wiglaf restored
For the Mercians the immediate question after 825 was, could they maintain their independence or must they accept Ecgbert as an overlord. They evidently went on with the struggle, but their new king, Ludeca, fared no better than Beornwulf. He fell in battle in 827 with five of his dukes. Wiglaf then succeeded, but likewise made no headway, and soon fled into exile. Meantime Ecgbert, with the help of the East Anglians, overran the Midlands at will, and for the moment was acclaimed lord of all men south of the Humber. In 829 he even projected an attack on Northumbria, and led his army to Dore, a frontier village in the Peak district. The Northumbrian king at this time was Eanred (808-840). He came to Dore and apparently bought off Ecgbert's hostility with offers of homage and perhaps of tribute. Too much has sometimes been made of these episodes. They have even been treated as marking the unification of England under a single overlord, but certainly they had no such result. Ecgbert's position in Mercia was really precarious, and the very next year we find Wiglaf restored to his kingdom. Patriotic West Saxon tradition in later days liked to picture Ecgbert as a "Bretwalda" worthy to be classed with Edwin and Oswy and the other ancient heroes who in Bede's pages stood pre-eminent as wielding an imperium before the rise of Mercia; but eulogy must not be mistaken for sober history. It would seem, on the contrary, that Ecgbert's power soon waned, and that Wiglaf's restoration was due to a Mercian revival. The Wessex chronicle gives no hint that Ecgbert was active in Mercia after 830, nor do any Mercian notables attest his landbooks. It has indeed been suggested that the Aethelstan, who ruled East Anglia in Ecgbert's later years, was one of his sons, but this is a guess incapable of proof and hardly in harmony with the independence admittedly enjoyed by the East Anglians shortly afterwards.
Ecgbert and the Danes. Accession of Aethelwulf
Ecgbert's last years are of interest not because of any growth of unity in England but because they witnessed the re-appearance of the Vikings and the consequent rise of a new and grave danger for all the English kingdoms. All through the first quarter of the ninth century Scandinavian long-ships had been harrying Western Scotland and Ireland, coming by way of the Faroe islands and the Orkneys. Beginning in 795 with attacks on Skye, they had in 802 come south to Iona and Donegal and thence spread east and west along the coasts of Ulster and Connemara. By 825 they had fairly encircled Ireland and plundered most of its shrines. In England, on the other hand, no raids are heard of for forty years after the attacks on Lindisfarne and Jarrow in Offa's days, and it was not till 834 that the danger re-appeared as the result of the establishment of Danish exiled chieftains in Frisia, as the Netherlands were then called, by Louis the Pious. In that year considerable fleets set out from Denmark and the North to attack the Frankish Empire, and coming to the mouths of the Rhine burnt the important Frisian trading ports of Dorestad and Utrecht. The general situation on the Continent is dealt with in other chapters. Here we have only to note that a detachment of this force also came to England and entering the Thames ravaged the island of Sheppey. Two years later the Frisian provinces were again attacked and the town of Antwerp sacked. Again a small detachment came across to England. This time the raiders landed in Dorset, and Ecgbert himself met them at Charmouth not far from Lyme Regis. The Vikings had only 35 ships, with crews about 1200 strong, but the fight none the less went against the king, and the victors gained the impression that Wessex was worth attacking. At any rate in 838 there arrived a larger fleet which came to land in Cornwall. Once more Ecgbert marched to meet the raiders to find that the Cornish had risen to join them. Victory, however, lay with the English, the allied Danes and Welsh being put to flight at Hinxton Down, a moor on the west bank of the Tamar near Callington. As a result it would appear that a bishop, definitely subject to Canterbury, was shortly afterwards appointed for Cornwall in the person of one Kenstec, whose see was placed in the monastery of Dinnurrin. This was Ecgbert's last achievement. He died in the summer of 839.
The accession of his son Aethelwulf, which almost corresponds in point of time with the death of Louis the Pious and the break-up of the Carolingian Empire on the Continent, introduces a new phase into English affairs. Hitherto the main thread of English history has been concerned with the rivalries between the English kingdoms and with the gradual growth of civilization and a tendency to union under the auspices of the Church. But for the next forty years internal progress ceased, and as in Frankland, so in England, the one constant feature of the times was the ceaseless struggle which every province in turn had to wage against Danish invaders. In 839 the Viking raids could still be regarded as merely a passing inconvenience, and the English people hardly realized the full extent of the danger which threatened them; but from that date the raids grew more persistent and better organised year by year, and it soon became apparent that the object of the invaders was not merely plunder but the complete conquest of the country.
Character of the struggle with the Vikings
Before Aethelwulf died, the heathen fleets had already taken to wintering in England, and in the days of his sons the struggle reached its climax. The Viking armies then penetrated into all parts of the island, ravaging and burning unmercifully, and three of the four English kingdoms, Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, one after another succumbed to their onslaughts. At times it even looked as if Wessex, the strongest kingdom of them all, would also go under. Many battles went against its armies and more than once all the shires south of the Thames were overrun. In their hour of trial however the West Saxons found a saviour in the famous Alfred, Aethelwulf's youngest son. Under his leadership they again took courage, and at last beat back the invaders and compelled them to confine their settlements to the northern and eastern portions of the country. The England, which emerged from the struggle, was an entirely changed England. The four kingdoms of Ecgbert's day had been replaced by a division of the country into two well-marked spheres, one of which was English and Christian while the other was Danish in law and custom, and, in part, heathen. The Danish portion, subsequently known as the Danelaw, had however little political cohesion, being composed of a large number of petty communities under a variety of independent rulers, some styled kings and others "jarls," who were mutually distrustful of each other, whereas the English portion formed a comparatively compact state, looking for guidance and defence to the house of Ecgbert, which alone survived of the four older royal houses. In the hard-fought struggle much had been lost. Letters and the arts had practically perished; Christianity had received a severe shock, and monastic life had either disappeared or become degraded. But in spite of this partial lapse into barbarism much had also been gained, the new settlers being men of vigorous physique and character and eager to develop trade and industry. Their language, too, and their social and legal institutions were not so different from those of the English as to preclude the hope of amalgamation, and so a situation arose much more favourable than might have been expected for the ultimate unification of the country into a single state, provided that the West Saxon dynasty could retain its vigour and prestige.
Aethelwulf's Donation. The Danes winter in England
The change from Ecgbert to Aethelwulf, just as the period of turmoil began, was by no means a gain for Wessex. The best that can be said for the new king is that he was well-meaning and devout; but he was not the man to intimidate invaders or enlarge his patrimony. He was content to regard Beorhtwulf and Burhred, the kings who ruled in Mercia in his days, as his equals; and, so far as we know, he only once led an army across the Thames, and then not to coerce the Mercians but to assist them in a campaign against the Welsh. Aethelwulf's real bent was towards works of piety, and in later days he was best remembered for his donation to the Church. Landbooks refer to this transaction as a decimatio agrorum, and some have connected it with the institution of tithe, but clearly it had quite a different character. The chronicler Asser, who places the gift in 855, says that the king freed a tenth part of his land from royal dues and dedicated it to God for the redemption of his soul. This must mean that he gave very considerable properties to the monastic houses of Wessex; but we are left in the dark whether the king was dealing only with his private booklands, which he had power to dispose of by will, or with all the crown lands in Wessex. It is noticeable, however, that Aethelwulf is found creating "bookland" in favour of himself, perhaps with his donation in view. Aethelwulf also maintained close relations with Rome, sending his youngest son, Alfred, on a visit to Pope Leo IV in 853, and himself undertaking the journey thither two years later. Considering the progress made by the Vikings, the time chosen for his pilgrimage seems most ill advised. In all parts of England ever since Ecgbert's death the Viking raids had been growing in audacity. For example, in 841 one force had overrun Lindsey, while in 844 another had slain the king of Northumbria. In 851 a fleet of no less than 350 ships appeared in the Thames, whose crews burnt Canterbury and then stormed London and put Beorhtwulf of Mercia to flight. A gleam of success gained this year may perhaps account for Aethelwulf's false confidence, his troops winning a victory at a place called Oakley (Acleah) over a contingent of the Danes which had recrossed the Thames to raid in Surrey. This victory, however, meant little; for the enemy after their defeat only retreated to East Kent and remained in Thanet over the winter. This wintering in 851 marks the end of the period of mere raids. In 855 the outlook became even darker. Some heathen bands that year harried the province of the Wreocensaete along the upper Severn, and others wintered in Sheppey. Aethelwulf, however, was quite blind to the signs of the times. Instead of returning from Rome as quickly as possible, he remained out of England over a year, and on his way back turned aside to visit the West Frankish King, Charles the Bald. At his court he committed a further folly, marrying Charles's daughter, Judith, a girl of thirteen. This high alliance flattered the elderly king's vanity, but the news of it greatly offended his grown-up sons and drove Aethelbald, the eldest, who was acting as regent, to rebel and claim the western parts of Wessex for himself. Aethelwulf on his return had perforce to acquiesce in this, and for the remainder of his life Wessex was in reality partitioned and Ecgbert's work to a large extent undone.
Wales under Rhodri. Scotland under Kenneth
During the middle years of the century, while the English kingdoms seem to be going down hill, it is interesting to observe the development of an opposite tendency in Wales and Scotland. In both these Celtic districts rulers of ability appeared and effected some advance in the direction of national unity. In Wales, the movement first attracts attention about the time of the battle of Ellandun, when Merfyn the Freckled established a new dynasty in Gwynedd in the place of the ancient house of Cadwallon. Merfyn, however, was completely eclipsed in energy by his son, the celebrated Rhodri Mawr (844-878), who won undying fame among his countrymen by conquering Powys and the greater part of Deheubarth. The unity thus achieved did not, it is true, long endure, but considering that it was attained in the face of constant Viking raids, the feat was undoubtedly a memorable one. In Scotland, a similar task, but on a much larger scale, was undertaken by Kenneth Mac Alpin (844-860). This prince, beginning merely as king of the Dalriad Scots, in a reign of sixteen years not only added the realm of the Picts to his dominions, but also made himself a terror to Northern Bernicia, advancing in his raids into Lothian as far south as Dunbar and Melrose. He may, in fact, be reckoned the true founder of the Scottish kingdom as it was to be known to history, and the first Scot to advance the claim that the frontier of England should be set back from the Forth to the Tweed.
It was in 858, while these events were in progress in the North, that Aethelwulf died, leaving a will, no longer extant, in which it appears that he unwisely recognised the partition of Wessex. This mistake was fortunately remedied in 860, when events enabled his second son Aethelbert to regain Aethelbald's share of the kingdom, and five years later the realm passed entire to yet another brother, Aethelred. The short reigns of Aethelbald and Aethelbert were not without their disasters. In 861 the Vikings sacked Winchester, and in 865 so ravaged East Kent that Archbishop Ceolnoth had to allow clerks to fill the places of monks at Canterbury, while in the rest of the country learning had so decayed that scarcely a scholar remained who could read the mass in Latin. Worse, however, was yet to come. With Aethelred's accession we enter the most stormy period of the ninth century. Fresh swarms of allied sea kings then arrived determined to find homes in England. Our primary authority, the West Saxon Chronicle, is silent as to the names of the leaders, but according to later traditions they were Ingwar, Ubba and Halfdene, three brothers who are regarded by the Scandinavian saga writers as sons of the half mythical Ragnarr Lodbrok, in legendary song the greatest of all sea rovers. These chiefs landed first in East Anglia, then ruled by a prince called Edmund. Their immediate object, however, was not to overthrow this king but to obtain horses. In this they succeeded and then, either in 866 or 867, rode round the fens and north across Lindsey to attack Deira, where the usual civil war was in progress between Aelle and Osbeorht, two rival claimants for the Northumbrian throne. Legend tells us that they came to avenge the death of Ragnarr Lonrok, who is said to have been killed in an earlier raid in Northumbria, but probably they chose Northumbria for attack because its dissensions made it an easy prey. York was quickly taken, and in 867 both Aelle and Osbeorht were killed in a joint attempt to regain it. With their deaths the independence of Deira came to an end; but it would appear that the comparatively unfertile districts of Bernicia did not much attract the invaders, with the result that the country from the Tees northwards to the Scotch boundary remained subject to English princes, seated at Bamborough. These rulers retained for their diminished territories the name of Northumberland, which after this gradually ceases to be applied to the Yorkshire districts actually adjoining the Humber. Their small principality, however, could hardly be regarded as a kingdom, and so they soon dropped the title of king and came to be styled either dukes or later still "high-reeves of Bamborough."
Ingwar conquers Northumbria and East Anglia
Having secured their footing in the vale of York, the Danes next marched south along the Trent to Nottingham to see whether they could not also establish themselves in the ancient Mercian homeland. Attacked thus in the very heart of his kingdom, Burhred invoked help from the West Saxons; but though Aethelred, who was Burhred's brother-in-law, willingly came to his aid, the allied kings apparently dared not risk a pitched battle, and in 868 the Mercians were reduced to buying a truce by offers of tribute. For the moment this satisfied the Vikings, who withdrew once more to Deira. There they stayed quiet for a year, but in the autumn of 869 they again rode south, perhaps to meet fresh reinforcements, and after harrying Eastern Mercia from the Humber to the Ouse determined to try their luck against Edmund of East Anglia, whose territories they had spared on landing. Details of their march southwards are missing; but it was doubtless then that the fenland monasteries of Bardney, Medeshamstede, Crowland and Ely, after Worcester the chief centres of Mercian learning and civilization, were destroyed, and much of Lindsey and Middle Anglia given over again to heathendom. Burhred made no efforts, it would seem, to organize defensive measures for these districts, but a much stouter resistance awaited the Viking forces at Thetford, where they proposed to take up their winter quarters. Again details are very confused and scanty, but it is clear that the English forces were decisively beaten, and we are told that Edmund himself was captured by Ingwar and Ubba and put to death on November 20 at Hoxne in Suffolk by their orders because he refused to abjure Christianity. In the spring of 870 all East Anglia submitted, and there, too, heathendom and the worship of Thor and Woden was partially re-introduced, but their fallen king's memory was so cherished by the vanquished East Anglians that he soon came to be regarded as a saint and martyr, and a generation later the site of his tomb at Beadricesworth had grown to be a new Christian centre, which in a short time became famous under the name of St Edmund's Bury.
Halfdene attacks Wessex. Accession of Alfred
What became of Ingwar after Edmund's death is not known. It is possible that he returned to Deira to secure his first conquests and went thence to Scotland to assist the Irish Vikings, who, led by Olaf the White, the Norse king of Dublin, were about this time attacking the Strathclyde Britons. He may even be the Ivarr whose death is reported in the Annals of Ulster as occurring in 872. In England, at any rate, he ceases to be heard of, and his place as leader of the Danish army fell to Halfdene, represented as his brother, and to another sea king called Bagseag. These chiefs, by no means satisfied with the territories and booty already won, determined next to invade Wessex and surprise its king by a winter attack. They accordingly set out in the autumn to march by land into the Thames valley, and neglecting London descended late in December on Reading, in Berkshire. Here they set up a fortified camp at the point where the river Kennet joins the Thames. In describing the measures taken to repel this invasion, the West Saxon Chronicle suddenly becomes much more detailed, and so it is possible to follow the numerous engagements of the next few weeks with considerable minuteness, and even to gain some idea of the tactics employed. The most favourable encounter to the West Saxons was a fight which took place in January 871 to the west of Reading on the slopes of Ashdown. In this Aethelred fought in person and with the aid of his brother Alfred slew Bagseag and several other Danish leaders. But this success was counterbalanced by a defeat at Basing in Hampshire only a fortnight later, and by yet another disaster in March at a hamlet called Marton on the outskirts of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire.
Amid all this gloom Aethelred's reign terminated. He died about Easter, leaving only infant children, and was buried at Wimborne, one of Ine's foundations in Dorset. Aethelred's death was no real disaster for the West Saxons, for it opened the succession to his brother Alfred, who, in a reign of twenty-eight and a half years (871-899) was destined to prove himself one of the most remarkable characters known to history. Born at Wantage, in Berkshire, the youngest of Aethelwulfs sons by his first wife Osburh, Alfred was a married man just turned twenty-three when he was acclaimed king by the West Saxon magnates. His wife was Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucel, a leading Mercian duke, who witnesses many of Burhred's landbooks. Before his election Alfred was already known as a prince of courage and energy, who, according to his biographer Asser, had shewn in boyhood a taste for learning, which unfortunately had not been gratified, as he could get no proper masters. His health, however, had never been robust, and he must have taken up his task with many misgivings, having the disasters of eastern England before his eyes. The fate of central Wessex, indeed, seemed hanging by a thread a month later, when the Danes gained another well-contested battle at Wilton; but as it turned out Alfred was to have a four years' respite. After nine costly encounters, none of which had been at all decisive, the Danes began to think that the conquest of Wessex was too difficult and that Mercia would prove a more remunerative prey. Both sides, therefore, as at Nottingham three years before, found themselves anxious to treat, and a peace was patched up on the understanding that the Viking army should abandon its hold on Berkshire and withdraw across the Thames.
Burhred of Mercia. Collapse of Mercia
This peace shows well the complete want of national feeling in ninth-century England. It was now the turn of the Midlands to feel the fury of the "army" ; but just as Burhred, entangled it would appear in a conflict with the Welsh, had not come forward to help his brother-in-law, Aethelred, in his peril, so now Alfred pledged himself to inactivity while the Vikings laid their plans for the final ruin of Mercia. Their first move was from Reading to London, where they spent the spring of 872, watched by the West Saxons from across the Thames, until Burhred agreed to ransom the town and its dependent districts by the payment of a heavy tribute. Worcestershire documents which allude to this levy, or geld as the Saxons called it, still exist, and also pennies minted by Halfdene at London. The promise to evacuate south-eastern Mercia was redeemed by the army transferring itself once again to Deira, but it soon came back to Lindsey and encamped for the winter at Torksey on Trent in the immediate vicinity of Lincoln. From this base it could ravage at leisure all the country watered by the tributaries of the Middle Trent, and by the end of 873 it had pushed so far into Mercia that it was able to winter at Repton, revered as the burying place of the Mercian dynasty, only a few miles from Tamworth and Lichfield. One would like to know details of this campaign and hear more of the fate that overtook Leicester and Nottingham, but unfortunately no native chronicle exists to give vividness to the death struggle of Mercia. All we know comes from the West Saxon account, which merely states that Burhred's spirit was so entirely broken that in 874 he abandoned his kingdom and fled abroad, dying at Rome shortly afterwards. His vacant throne was promptly filled by one Ceolwulf, "an unwise king's thegn," but this ruler was little more than a puppet set up with Halfdene's connivance, a semivir, as William of Malmesbury terms him, who was forced by the Danes to swear that he would hold his kingdom for the behoof of the army and deliver it up whenever required. This transaction is pretty good evidence that the Danes had overrun more territory than they could hope to hold, but that their leaders were expecting reinforcements, and anticipated in the near future a need for additional settlements. The "army" accordingly retired from Repton, and not being united on a common plan broke up into two sections, one of which withdrew to Deira under Halfdene, while the other, under Guthrum, Oscytel and Anwind, sea kings not hitherto mentioned, went to Cambridge.
Halfdene's plan was apparently to regain for York its former dependencies. He established his base for the winter on the Tyne, and from thence in 875 organized savage raids into every corner of Bernicia, then ruled by Ricsig, and also into the territories of the Picts and Strathclyde Britons. Nothing permanent was achieved by these devastations, but they have some importance in church history, because they led Bishop Eardulf, who had charge of the shrines of St Aidan and St Cuthbert, to abandon his see at Lindisfarne, so long the spiritual capital of the North, and to set out on an eight years' pilgrimage through the moors of Cumberland and the coasts of Solway in search of a more secure asylum.
Danes settle in Northumbria and the Five Boroughs
And now at last we reach the stage of real colonization. In 876 Halfdene returned to York and "dealt out" Deira to his followers, "who thenceforward continued ploughing and tilling it." No Danish Domesday Book tells how the allotment of estates was carried out, or what proportion of the English owners preserved their lands, but it must in the main have been a process of imposing Danish warriors on English cultivators, very similar to the settlement of Normans, carried out 200 years later by William the Conqueror, except that the Danish armies contained a large class of freedmen, the so-called liesings or "men loosened from bondage," to whom no exact counterpart can be found in the later invasion. This half-free class had to be accommodated with land as well as the fully-free classes, the holds and bonde who formed the upper and middle grades of Viking society, but they were not of sufficient social standing to become independent landowners, being often of alien race and descended from prisoners of war, slaves and bankrupts. How exactly they were dealt with can only be guessed, but it seems not unlikely that they received holdings in the villages similar to those of the English ceorls, only that they held them by a distinctly freer tenure as members of the conquering armies. Nor is it fanciful to recognize their descendants later on in the peasant class known as sochemanni, who held a position in the society of the eleventh century just above the villani or ordinary cultivators, and who are found in very considerable numbers in just those parts of England where the Danes are known to have settled, but not at all or only in trifling numbers elsewhere.
A year later portions of Mercia were similarly colonized. "After harvest," so runs a laconic entry in the Wessex Chronicle, "the army went into Mercia, and some part of it they apportioned, and some they delivered to Ceolwulf." No clue is vouchsafed as to the identity of the army concerned, and no names are mentioned either of the leaders or the districts implicated. It is clear, however, from subsequent events that the districts left to Ceolwulf comprised all western Mercia from the Mersey to the Thames, and that the boundary fixed upon ran north and south from near the Peak in Derbyshire to a point just east of Tamworth on the Watling Street, and then along that high-way south-eastwards to the headwaters of the Worcestershire Avon and the Welland and perhaps even further, past Towcester to Stony Stratford on the Ouse. To the east of this boundary Danish customs and law were imposed upon the Mercian villages, and Danish political terminology introduced instead of English. Politically also there was a considerable re-organisation, the land being divided into five districts, each with its own "army" under an independent jarl, and each having for its centre a fortified camp, which the settlers could garrison in times of stress. The five centres selected were Lincoln, Stamford, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, and as the term burh at this date still had the meaning of "a fortified place," they soon came to be specially known as the "Five Boroughs."
Guthrum renews the attack on Wessex
Meantime in East Anglia and south-east Mercia affairs did not progress so swiftly towards a settlement. The rank and file of the army, which encamped in Cambridge in 875, would doubtless have been well content to form "borough districts" between the Thames and the Welland similar to those which were being set up between the Welland and the Humber, but their leader, Guthrum, coveted Alfred's dominions as well, and when he heard that fresh fleets were in the English Channel attacking the southern coasts of Wessex, he could not resist joining in the enterprise. Already in 875 there is mention of Alfred fighting the Vikings at sea. The next year a fleet appeared off the coast of Dorset over a hundred strong. The chronicler, Aethelweard, alludes to it as a "western army." The bulk of it therefore doubtless came from Ireland, but help reached it from Guthrum. Landing near Poole harbour, the allied vikings proceeded to harry the surrounding districts, and then seized Wareham after out-manoeuvring Alfred's forces. When winter approached, Alfred thought it best to offer terms. The vikings however treacherously deceived him, and, having accepted a sum of money on the condition that they would decamp, slipped out of Wareham suddenly and made a dash for Exeter, with the intention of using it as a base from which to ravage Devon. In 877 the luck turned. While Alfred kept the viking land-force shut up in Exeter, their fleet came to grief in a storm off Swanage. This disaster placed the marauders in a precarious position. Before the end of the year they had to capitulate, and if Aethelweard's account is to be believed, retired to Gloucester. Once more Wessex appeared to be saved. In reality the worst crisis of all was at hand. About midwinter Guthrum threw his whole army unexpectedly upon Wessex, and almost surprised Alfred at Chippenham where he was keeping Christmas. At the same moment Halfdene's brother Ubba, sailing from Dyfed, invaded North Devon. The brunt of Guthrum's invasion fell upon Wiltshire, but other shires also suffered severely, and so great was the general terror that many of the West Saxon leaders fled over sea. Alfred however never despaired; getting away with difficulty from Chippenham, he retired into the marshlands of Somerset and stockaded himself with Aethelnoth, the alderman of the district, in the island of Athelney at the junction of the Tone and Parret. There he remained on the defensive till the news came that the men of Devon, led by their alderman Odda, had defeated Halfdene's brother. The king then put himself once more at the head of the levies of central Wessex, his men meeting him early in May 878 on the borders of Wiltshire just to the east of Selwood Forest. Two days later he fell upon Guthrum's army at Edington (Ethandun) near Westbury, and so utterly defeated it that a fortnight later at Chippenham a peace was agreed to. The terms arranged were remarkable; for Guthrum not only promised that he would withdraw his army from Wessex, but also that he would accept baptism. The ceremony was accordingly performed in June at Aller near Athelney, the chrism-loosing taking place at Wedmore, a village near Glastonbury. The departure of the Danes from Wessex was carried out before long. In 879 we find them at Cirencester, and from that time forward the West Saxons were never again in any serious danger of being conquered by the Northm en.
Battle of Edington. West Mercia submits to Alfred
To the Mercians, in the yet unravaged valley of the Severn, the peace made at Chippenham, often inaccurately called the "Peace of Wedmore," only meant an increase of danger. The move to Cirencester seemed clearly to portend that Guthrum hoped to find satisfaction in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire for his failure in Wessex, and the danger seemed all the greater when it became known, in the summer of 879, that a new fleet of vikings had arrived in the Thames and landed at Fulham. In this predicament the magnates of the Hwicce decided to take an important step. To depend on the puppet king Ceolwulf for defence was clearly useless. They accordingly turned to the victor of Edington, and led by Aethelred of Gloucester their foremost duke, and by Werfrith, the Bishop of Worcester, offered Alfred their allegiance. How many of the leading Mercians supported Aethelred in this submission to Wessex is not recorded. All that can be said is that we find Aethelred after this treated by Alfred to some extent as a vassal and given in charters the title of "Duke of the Mercians." Thus ended the independent kingdom of Mercia.
On the Danes the effect of this politic stroke was immediate. In 880 the province of the Hwicce was evacuated without any fighting, and Guthrum withdrew from Cirencester and marched his army back into East Anglia, while the Fulham fleet returned to Flanders. Next there followed the apportionment of Hendrica, Essex and East Anglia among Guthrum's followers, while in Middle Anglia a second series of boroughs were set up, at Northampton, Huntingdon, Cambridge and Bedford, each ruled by a more or less independent jarl and each with its dependent territory defended by its own " army." Guthrum's own sphere was large enough to be regarded as a kingdom. It had Norwich, Thetford, Ipswich, Colchester and London for head centres, and when first established stretched westwards over half the district of the Cilternsaete. We may guess in fact that it was the creation of Guthrum's new Danish kingdom which first brought about the division of this old province into the two portions known to us today as Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire; for the former, when we get information about it in the eleventh century, shows no signs of Danish colonization and was regarded as subject to Mercian law, whereas the latter was then peopled to a considerable extent by sochemanni and was held to be a portion of the Danelaw.
Alfred's reforms. The Boroughs of Wessex
The followers of Halfdene and Guthrum when once settled proved fairly peaceable neighbours to Wessex and her Mercian ally, and in the next two decades only gave trouble on one or two occasions when roused by the appearance of fresh fleets from abroad. This furnished Alfred with a much needed opportunity for re-organizing his realm, and it is his great glory that he not only took up the task with patient doggedness, but showed himself if possible even more capable as a reformer in peace than as a leader in war. It is impossible for want of space to follow his reforms in detail, but a few of the more noteworthy developments due to his constructive statesmanship may be glanced at. First we may take his military reforms. These comprised the improvement of his naval force by the enlistment of Frisians, and the division of the fyrd, or national levy, into two parts, the one to be available as a relief to the other at convenient intervals, so that the peasant soldiers might have proper opportunities of attending to the needs of their farms and therefore less excuse for deserting in the middle of a campaign. But more important than either of these was the gradual creation in all parts of his kingdom of fortified strongholds, defended by earthworks and palisades of timber, in imitation of the Danish "boroughs," and the subdivision of the ancient West Saxon shires into smaller districts of varying size, each charged with the upkeep of one or more forts. The evidence for this is found in the many references to the "men of the boroughs" that begin to appear in the chronicle as the reign proceeds and even in the land-books, such as the Worcester charter, which sets forth how Aethelred, with Alfred's consent, "worked" a borough at Worcester for the protection of the bishop and monks and granted them the right to take a scot (burh-wealles-scaeting) for its maintenance. This, of course, is a Mercian instance, but a list' of the boroughs of Wessex and of the hidages assessed on their appendant districts has also chanced to be preserved, which cannot be of a date much after Alfred's death, and this mentions some twenty-five strongholds scattered up and down his kingdom. Of these, the more important along the south coast were Hastings, Lewes, Chichester, Porchester, Southampton, Wareham, Bridport and Exeter; and along the north frontier, Barnstaple, Watchet, Axbridge, Bath, Malmesbury, Crick lade, Wallingford and Southwark (Suthringa geweorc). It seems also likely that the scheme of hidage recorded in this document was of Alfred's devising; for the figures run smaller than in the eighth century Mercian scheme, though still based on a unit of 1200 hides, and we know of no other occasion so likely to have required a reform of fiscal arrangements as the creation of the borough districts.
Alfred's laws and literary activity
Passing to civil reforms the most arduous of all perhaps was the compilation of a fresh edition of the West Saxon laws. For this purpose Alfred examined and sifted not only Ine's earlier dooms but also the laws published by Offa, which unfortunately have not survived to us, and those issued by the Kentish kings. From these he selected what seemed to him to be the most useful, only adding a few new ordinances of his own. There is also good evidence that he took great pains to secure justice for his subjects, and that he was most careful in husbanding and increasing the royal revenue. Most noteworthy, however, of all his reforms was his attempt to revive religion and learning, which had been almost crushed out by the Danish inroads. For this purpose he not only set to work to educate himself in reading and translating Latin, but collected at his court a band of scholars who should give him advice and act as teachers in the schools which he instituted. Some of these he obtained from West Mercia which had not suffered so much as Wessex, some from Wales and Ireland, and some from the Continent. Among them were Werfrith, the Bishop of Worcester, who had helped to bring about the alliance with Aethelred; Plegmund, a Mercian, who, in 890, was chosen Archbishop of Canterbury; Grimbald, a Flemish monk from St Bertin's; John the Old Saxon from Corvey, who became abbot of a monastery founded by Alfred at Athelney; and Asser, a Welsh monk from St David's, who ultimately became Bishop of Sherborne and wrote Alfred's biography. With these men Alfred was on the most intimate terms, and with their help he not only set on foot the celebrated Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to record the deeds of his house and nation but also undertook a notable series of translations from Latin into English, in order to place the best authorities on different branches of knowledge within the reach of his subjects. Among the works he selected for this purpose were Bede's Ecclesiastical History, Gregory's Pastoral Care, Orosius's History of the World, and Boethius's De Consolation Philosophiae. All these by good fortune have come down to us, though Alfred's own Handbook is lost, in which he noted down what pleased him most in his reading. Many glimpses however are to be had of the king's own personal views in these works, for the translation is always free; and in them and the Chronicle we have the real starting point of English prose.
Alfred and Guthrum's Peace. Hasting's raids
Alfred's peaceful reforms were twice interrupted by spells of war. In 885 a viking force attacked Rochester, and this induced Guthrum to break the peace; whereupon the West Saxon fyrd proceeded to besiege London. The upshot was the recapture of that important centre, and such an overthrow of Guthrum's forces that he had to cede the westernmost portion of his kingdom to the English. The new frontier agreed upon is preserved for us in a document known as "Alfred and Guthrum's Peace." It went from the Thames east of London "up the river Lea to its source near Luton, then across country to Bedford, and from there up the river Ouse to the Watling Street." In other words the Danes ceded their portion of the Chilterns and the south-west half of Hendrica including St Albans, and these Alfred handed over to Duke Aethelred as being parts of Mercia. At the same time Aethelred married Aethelfleda, Alfred's eldest child, who was now about sixteen, and so still further cemented the bond between Mercia and Wessex. A further clause in the treaty which deserves notice, is the provision for equating the various grades of Englishmen and Danes, should legal questions arise in the ceded district involving a determination of their wergelds. As to this the treaty laid down the rule that the Danish bonde, though in his home across the North Sea only the equal of a ceorl, should, in disputes between Saxons and Danes, be regarded as the equal of the Mercian "twelve-hynd man," the thegn, as he had come to be called by Alfred's day, while the Mercian ceorl, or "twy-hynd man," was only to be regarded as the equal of the half-free liesing. In the case of the bonde and the thegn the wer was to be eight half marks of gold, equivalent, as the ratio of gold to silver was 9 : 1, to £24, and this in live stock meant 240 cows, the cow by Mercian law being valued at 24d. In the case of the liesing and the ceorl on the other hand the wer was to be two hundred Mercian shillings, that is to say 960d. or £4, the hundred in this case being the long hundred of six score, and the Mercian shilling being equivalent to 4d. The wer of the peasant classes therefore amounted in live stock to 40 cows, or the sixth part of the wer of the dear-born military class. All this, when properly understood, is of considerable interest; for it enables us to see how greatly Danish society had been modified by the conquest of Eastern England, and how seriously in the Danelaw the Saxon peasants had been depressed by the national defeat, even after some of their disasters had been retrieved and their prestige partially regained.
In 892 a far more dangerous crisis had to be faced when defeats in East Frankland drove another great fleet, led by a chief called Hasting, across the channel to seek lands in England. Over 800 ships, we are told, set sail from Boulogne and coming to Kent effected lodgements at Appledore near Romney and at Milton near Sheppey, and later on at Benfleet in Essex. With all his experience Alfred could hardly cope with the emergency, and for three years midland England was in a turmoil. It soon appeared that the aim of the invaders was to get possession of the Severn valley, still the least ravaged part of England, and in pursuit of this object they over and over again dashed across England from their base on the east coast and ravaged Aethelred's dukedom from end to end, one year wintering at Bridgnorth and another at Chester. In the end, however, Hasting was foiled in all his efforts by the steady cooperation of the West Saxon and Mercian fyrd, and finding in 896 that no real help was to be obtained either from the North Welsh or from the Northumbrian or Midland Danes, he gave up the contest and went back to Frankland. After this Alfred had peace for the rest of his days. He lived a few years longer, but died on 26 October 899, when still only fifty-one years old'.
Death of Alfred. Edward the Elder. Battle of Holme
The fifty years following the death of Alfred are the time when the kingdom of England was really established. Alfred's great work had been to save Wessex from foreign invaders, and then to re-organize what he had saved; but he had never aimed at conquests beyond his borders. Even over Mercia he had exercised no real sovereignty, and still less over the chieftains of Glamorgan and Gwent, Brecknock and Dyfed, who had sought his protection; and so he was in no sense king of England or even of half England. When he died, the territories over which he ruled, and where his laws held good, were confined to the shires south of the Thames, and in the rest of England there were a far greater number of independent principalities than there had been a century earlier. When therefore his eldest son, generally called Edward the Elder to distinguish him from later kings of the same name, was elected to succeed him, it was only the West Saxon magnates who took part in the ceremony, and no one could have predicted that a union of the petty English states would soon be brought about by the West Saxon dynasty. Edward, however, unlike his father, within a few years adopted a policy of expansion in imitation of the earlier Bretwaldas, and fortune so aided him and the three capable sons who afterwards succeeded him in turn, that by 954 the house of Ecgbert had not merely acquired an overlordship of the old pattern but had completely ousted all the other ruling families, whether English or Danish, so that, formally at any rate, there was only one recognised king left in all England.
The events, which produced this far-reaching change, are clear enough in their main outlines, but it is very difficult to arrange them in their proper sequence, as no dates in Edward's reign (899-925) can be fixed with any certainty owing to discrepancies in chronology between the English, Welsh and Irish annals, discrepancies which later historians have attempted to get over by dovetailing the various accounts one into the other, and therefore duplicating not a few of the incidents of the story. All the sources however agree in stating that Edward's first difficulties arose with his cousin Aethelwald, the younger of the sons of King Aethelred, Alfred's elder brother. This prince, A ethelhelm his elder brother, and a third aetheling, called Osferth, had under Alfred's will divided between them the royal booklands in Sussex and Surrey. Aethelwald's share comprised Guildford, Godalming and Steyning, all extensive estates, but this endowment by no means satisfied him, and at the very opening of the new reign he took forcible possession of the newly-built borough of Twyneham, now Christchurch in Hampshire, and also of an old British fortress, which may still be seen, at Badbury Rings near Wimborne. Driven out of these by Edward, he fled to the Yorkshire Danes, who received him as if he were a dispossessed king and offered him their allegiance, being at the moment themselves without a ruler. This led a little later to an alliance between Aethelwald and Eric, King of East Anglia, who had succeeded Guthrum in 890, and the two together, imitating the strategy of Halfdene thirty years before, marched their forces across the Chiltern country to Cricklade on the Upper Thames with the intention of raiding Wiltshire. This invasion met with little effective opposition from Duke Aethelred of Mercia through whose territories it passed, but Edward replied by a bold counterstroke, sending a force from Kent to join the Mercians of London with orders to attack the Danish districts between the river Lee and the river Ouse. The news that the ealdormen of East and West Kent, Sigwulf and Sighelm, were ravaging between the Ouse and the well-known dykes which form such a feature in East Cambridgeshire, soon compelled Aethelwald and Eric to retrace their steps, and this led to a fierce encounter between the two armies at Holme, a hamlet of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire'. The English accounts admit that the Danes won the day, but their victory was a hollow one. Both Aethelwald and Eric were killed, and another Guthrum became king of East Anglia, who almost immediately afterwards made a peace' at Yttingaford, in the township of Linslade in Buckinghamshire, on the terms that the old treaty between Alfred and Guthrum of 886 should be reconfirmed and that the Danes, in the dioceses of London and Dorchester, should abjure heathendom and pay tithes and other church dues to the bishops.
This campaign not only rid Wessex of a dangerous aetheling but convinced the Danes that Edward and Aethelred were firm in their alliance, and that it was no safe matter to attack them. The result was a period of peace for Wessex, during which Edward showed himself no unworthy follower of Alfred as a civil ruler. His first care was to finish his father's new minster at Winchester, known in later days as the Abbey of Hyde, and organize it as a college of clerks; and thither, as soon as the church was finished, he removed Alfred's tomb. Much more important however was a scheme, pressed upon him by Archbishop Plegmund, for increasing the number of the West Saxon sees. This was ultimately carried through in 909 on the deaths of Denewulf and
Edward's reforms. Battle of Tettenhall
Asser, the Bishops of Winchester and Sherborne, Plegmund having journeyed to Rome the year before to obtain the sanction of Pope Sergius III. By it the two ancient dioceses of Winchester and Sherborne were replaced by five smaller ones, the bishops' seats being fixed at Winchester for Surrey and Hampshire, at Ramsbury near Marlborough for Berkshire and North Wiltshire, at Sherborne for South Wiltshire and Dorset, at Wells for Somerset and at Crediton for Devon and Cornwall. These ecclesiastical reforms would by themselves be noteworthy and a credit to Edward. They stand, however, by no means alone, his efforts to put down theft and to improve justice and trade being equally remarkable. For these we must turn to his laws', especially to the dooms issued at Exeter which instructed the witan to search out better devices for maintaining the peace than had hitherto been employed, and to those ordering the king's "reeves" to hold "moots" every four weeks and to see that every man was " worthy of folkright." This allusion to the moots held by the king's reeves is the first definite indication in the Anglo-Saxon laws of the existence, in Wessex or elsewhere, of any comprehensive system of local courts for areas smaller than the shires. It does not follow from this that Edward need be regarded as the inventor of these courts, but it shews at any rate that he was active in developing them, a conclusion further borne out by another of his dooms which directs that all buying and selling must take place before a "port-reeve" in a "port." Here also we have a novel provision notable for its ultimate effects; for a "port" or urban centre practically meant in most cases a "borough," and so this rule set going a movement which in the end destroyed the military character of the boroughs and converted them into centres of trade and industry.
That Wessex could devote itself for a time to internal reform was largely due to the fact that its boundaries nowhere marched with the Danelaw, but for Mercia as a buffer state the conditions were just the opposite. There, all round the frontiers there was chronic unrest, so that its duke was kept constantly busy with defensive measures. In 907 for example he fortified Chester to guard against the Welsh and raiders from Ireland, while in 910-11 he had to meet an invasion of Danes from Yorkshire and the Midlands. These bands seem to have ravaged all over the dukedom, one force penetrating to the Bristol Avon, and another across the Severn into Herefordshire. In this emergency Aethelred naturally turned to his brother-in-law for help, and there followed a pitched battle near Tettenhall in Staffordshire in which Edward's forces took a prominent part. The result was a great defeat for the Danes, no fewer than three kings, two jarls and seven holds being slain. In fact this victory marks the beginning of the reconquest of the Danelaw.
Aetheyeda, the Lady of the Mercians
Shortly after Duke Aethelred died, leaving only a daughter to carry on his line. At the moment his decease made little difference, for his widow Aethelfleda took up the reins of government without opposition, and for nearly eight years (912-919) led the Mercian forces with a skill and energy which few women rulers have ever equalled. In the scanty annals of these years, which speak of her regularly as "the Lady of the Mercians," she is always described as the directing mind, and we are not told the names of the men who assisted her, but one cannot help suspecting that at her right hand there really stood her nephew Aethelstan, the heir to the throne of Wessex, who is known to have been fostered and trained in the arts of ruling by Aethelred. For if this supposition may be hazarded, it will account for the ease with which the Mercian heiress was set aside after Aethelfleda's death, and also for the fact that, when Aethelstan came to be king, he seems to have been as much at home in Mercia as in his ancestral dominions. At any rate throughout Aethelfleda's period of power there was complete accord between herself and her brother, and her first step was to arrange that Edward should take over the defence of the districts that owed obedience to London and Oxford, these being much more easily protected from Wessex than from the Severn Valley. And then began a long-sustained campaign, carried on over several years by the sister and brother in conjunction, with the avowed object of expanding their territories, Edward acting against the Danes from the south and Aethelfleda from the west. Their plan evidently was to keep cautiously moving forward on a regular system, erecting "boroughs" as they went along their frontiers, as Alfred had done in Wessex, to secure their base should they at any moment be forced to draw back. In 913 for example Aethelfleda prepared for an advance in the Trent Valley by erecting boroughs at Stafford and Tamworth, and Edward for an advance in Essex by building two others at Hertford and Witham. In 914 the Danes retaliated by a raid on Luton and a foray into Mercian Cilternsaete as far as Hook Norton, both of which were easily repulsed by Edward, while further north Aethelfleda fortified Warwick in ancient Mercia and Eddisbury in Westerna. In 915 the appearance of a force of vikings from Brittany in the Severn mouth caused some diversion, but Buckingham in Danish Cilternsaete was fortified none the less, and this led next year to the flight of Thurkytel, jail of Bedford and the capture of his borough.
During these events, some of Aethelfleda's energy was being expended on her Welsh frontiers. We hear of a borough which she built at Chirbury in Shropshire and of an expedition into Brecknock; but in 917 she returned to the prosecution of the main scheme and got possession of Derby. This meant that the armies of Northampton and Leicester were placed between two fires, and it convinced their jarls that something must be done. Accordingly they in 918 stirred up the jarl of Huntingdon to move his army across the Ouse and entrench himself at Tempsford in the neighbourhood of Holme in the hope of regaining Hendrica. At the same time they organized attacks on two new boroughs which Edward had just erected, one at Towcester in Middle Anglia and the other probably at Wing' near Aylesbury. Neither operation was however successful, and even the arrival of the king of East Anglia with considerable reinforcements for the men of Huntingdon failed to make any difference. Guthrum's intervention on the contrary proved his ruin, for Edward made an assault on Tempsford and there slew Guthrum and two of his jarls called Toglos and Mann. This crushing disaster seems to have taken all the fight out of the Danish leaders. We hear of one or two more encounters in Essex in connection with Colchester and Maldon; and then the Danish resistance collapsed, and the various armies, as it were, tumbled over each other in their haste to make terms with the victorious English. The first chief to come in was Thurferth, the jarl of Northampton, and he was quickly followed by the captains commanding the armies of Huntingdon, Cambridge and East Anglia. All alike agreed to submit without further fighting, and took Edward for their protector and lord on the condition that they and their men should retain their estates and enjoy their national customs. At the same time the army of Leicester without further fighting submitted to Aethelfleda.
East Anglia and East Mercia submit to Edward
Great must have been the rejoicings throughout Wessex and Mercia at the triumphs of 918, but the next year had even greater events in store. It was opened by Edward marching to Stamford and there receiving the submission of the Danes of Kesteven and Holland. There too in June he received the news that Aethelfleda had died at Tamworth. At this juncture a less confident man might have hesitated what step to take. Not so Edward. Without loss of time he marched straight to Tamworth, claiming to be his sister's successor. And thereupon the Mercians also agreed to take him as their lord. This settled, he set out for Nottingham and took possession of it, and a little later he received the submission of the men of Lindsey. Finally embassies arrived from the chief princes of Wales, from Idwal of Gwynedd and Hywel of Deheubarth, the grandsons of Rhodri Mawr, tendering their alliance. Rarely indeed have events moved so quickly. At the beginning of 918 Edward was only one among a great number of princes claiming rule in England; at the close of 919 he was unquestioned superior of all men south of the Humber as well Danish as English.
Edward and the Danes of Yorkshire
It is natural to ask why the resistance of the Danes in central and eastern England broke down so rapidly after 911. Many causes may be assigned to account for it, the more obvious being their total lack of cohesion (no jarl helped another until it was too late) and the softening of their manners as Christianity made headway among them. It seems also clear that few of the rank and file cared much by whom they were ruled, as long as they ran no risk of losing the fertile lands won by their fathers forty years before. Land-hunger had brought the vikings to England, not desire for national expansion, and so their ideal was peace, plenty and opportunities for trading, and not political independence. It is well also to remember that at the very moment when Aethelfleda succeeded her husband, the treaty of St Clair-sur-Epte provided a congenial asylum for the more ambitious and wilder spirits, so that from 911 onwards there was a constant drift of English Danes to Normandy, eager to take service under Rollo in the new Frankish Danelaw. A noticeable example of this movement is oh record in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which tells how Thurkytel, jarl of Bedford, made peace in 914, but a year or two later, with Edward's assistance, "fared over sea with such men as would follow him." This trend of events evidently was not overlooked by Edward, and fairly accounts for the confident way in which he kept pushing forward. Having reached the Humber and Mersey, he might well have paused for a year or two to consolidate what he had won. On the contrary, in the next year he is found advancing as steadily as ever, bent on regaining for Mercia the northern half of the ancient Westerna, the land " betwixt the Mersey and the Ribble," and, in order to control the road from Chester to York, building a fort at Manchester, well within the borders of the Danes of Yorkshire. These Danes had long been a prey to internal dissensions, the old curse of Northumbria, as it were, resting upon them, but they had recently accepted a new king in the person of Regnald of Waterford, an Irish viking, who had first got a footing in Cumberland and then spent most of his time in ravaging the territories of Ealdred, the high reeve of Bamborough, and of Constantine III, King of the Scots (900-942). Edward's bold advance justified itself more rapidly than he could have hoped. In 920, while building a borough at Bakewell in Peakland, he received the homage of all who dwelt in Northumbria, both English and Danes, that is to say of both Regnald and Ealdred of Bamborough. Nor was this all. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there also appeared an embassy from Donald of Strathclyde and from Constantine, saying that the whole nation of the Scots was prepared to take the West Saxon for their "father and lord." Patriotic Scots have mostly challenged the credibility of the annal which makes this assertion, especially as it later became the basis of the claim put forward by the Plantagenet kings of England to suzerainty over Scotland. It seems probable, however, that the embassy really did come to Bakewell, but meant no more than that Constantine and his neighbours wished to offer Edward their congratulations and pave the way for an alliance. It is quite gratuitous to suppose that they held themselves to be in any way submitting to him as vassals in the feudal sense. In fact, even as regards the Yorkshire Danes, it need not be held that more was meant than that Regnald for the moment wished for peace ; and so things remained as long as Edward lived. He died on 17 July 925 having reigned 26 years.
Reign of Aethelstan. Battle of Brunanburh
Edward was succeeded by his son Aethelstan, an equally great organizer and soldier, who ruled for fourteen years (925-939). The most striking military achievements of his reign were: the actual annexation of the kingdom of York in 926 on the death of Sihtric, Regnald's brother, an expedition beyond the Forth in 933 to chastise King Constantine for taking up the cause of Anlaf Cuaran, Sihtric's son, and the crowning battle of Brunanburh in 937, to be located it would seem at Birrenswark, an old Roman camp in Annandale nine miles north of the Solway. By this latter victory he broke up a great league of Scots, Strathclyde Britons, Irish vikings, and Danes from Cumberland and Yorkshire, which Constantine had laboriously built up in order to avenge his own wrongs and re-establish a buffer state at York. These triumphs completely cowed Aethelstan's enemies, and for the moment justified him in assuming the vaunting title of "Rex totius Britanniae" which is found on his coinage. They also brought him very great renown on the Continent, so that contemporary sovereigns eagerly sought the hands of his sisters, one of them having married Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks, another marrying Hugh the Great, Count of Paris, the father of Hugh Capet, and a third Otto the Saxon, son of Henry the Fowler, who in due time was to found a new line of Roman Emperors.
Reign of Edmund. Archbishop Oda
Aethelstan's successor was his half-brother Edmund, a youth of eighteen, who had fought at Brunanburh. His accession in October 939 was the signal for a tardy attempt to regain independence on the part of the Yorkshire Danes. Led by Wulfstan, whom Aethelstan had made Archbishop of York, they set up Anlaf Guthfrithson, the King of Dublin, as their ruler. By themselves the men of Yorkshire were perhaps no longer formidable; but the revolt quickly spread to the Five Boroughs, and this enabled Anlaf to cross the Welland and attack Northampton. There he was beaten off; but he soon afterwards stormed Tamworth. He was then himself in turn besieged by Edmund at Leicester. The upshot was a truce, by which Edmund acknowledged the Watling Street as his frontier. This was a great loss; but on Anlaf meeting his death in Bernicia in 941, Edmund at once fell on Anlaf Cuaran, Guthfrithson's cousin and successor; and in 942 he regained the ancient Mercian frontier, which ran from Dore near Sheffield eastwards to Whitwell near Worksop and so to the Humber. Two years later Anlaf Cuaran fled back to Dublin, and Edmund re-entered York, but feeling himself unequal to maintaining control over the whole of Aethelstan's realm, handed over Cumberland in 945 to Malcolm, King of Scots (942-952), on the condition " that he should be his fellow-worker by land and sea," and keep in control the unruly colony of Norwegians, who by this time had firmly seated themselves round Carlisle.
When not fighting Edmund seems to have been much under the influence of churchmen, especially of Oda, a remarkable Dane whom he promoted to the see of Canterbury, and of Dunstan, a Somersetshire noble a trifle younger than himself, whom he made Abbot of Glastonbury probably in 943. It is to Oda and other bishops, rather than to the king himself, that we must ascribe a measure, of considerable importance for the growth of civilization, which is found in Edmund's dooms. This is an ordinance which declared that for the future a manslayer's kinsmen, provided they lent the culprit no support after the deed, were not to be held liable to make any amends to the slain man's kin, and conversely that the maegth or kindred of the slain man were only to take their vengeance on the slayer himself, who was to be treated by every one as an outlaw and to forfeit all he possessed. Here we have the first recorded attempt in England to put down the time-honoured institution of the blood feud, and to make each man responsible only for his own acts, and to break up the solidarity of the powerful family groups, whose feeling of cousinship often reduced the authority of the state to a shadow. Needless to say the good old custom of following up feuds relentlessly, generation after generation, was at first little abated by this well-meant edict. Its promulgation however marks the spread of a civilizing movement which was ultimately to make away with the whole system of private war and wergilds.
Reign of Eadred. Final submission of the North
This gradual evolution, it need hardly be pointed out, was not altogether in the best interests of the monarchy; for the new dukes had to be given very considerable estates to support their authority, and this meant that the Crown was unable to retain in its own hands sufficient of the newly-won territories to guarantee itself the same territorial superiority over the dukes, as it had formerly possessed in Wessex. Statistics of course cannot be produced to show the precise distribution of territorial influence, but all indications lead to the conclusion that, everywhere north of the Thames, the Crown had to content itself with a comparatively weak position, especially in East and Middle Anglia, which from 930 onwards were placed in the hands of an aetheling enjoying such a regal endowment that he came to be familiarly known as Aethelstan Half-king.
Responsibility for this development in the direction of feudalism should probably be laid on Aethelstan's shoulders rather than on Edmund's; for Edmund had little opportunity of reconsidering his brother's policy, his career being cut short by assassination when he was still under twenty-five. He left two sons, Eadwig and Edgar, but as these were mere children, the crown was passed on to their uncle Eadred, the youngest son of Edward the Elder. This prince was also short-lived, but his reign of nine years (946-955) remains a landmark, because it witnessed the last attempt made by the men north of the Humber to re-assert their lost independence. In this rising the Danes were led at first by Anlaf Cuaran, their former king, and finally by a viking called Eric, probably Eric Blood-axe, son of Harold Fairhair the unifier of Norway. They also had the support of Archbishop Wulfstan, Edmund's shifty opponent, whom the West Saxon house had vainly tried to bind to their cause by a grant of Amounderness (central Lancashire). The chief incidents of the struggle are reported to have been the deposition and imprisonment of Wulfstan, the burning of Ripon and sundry encounters near Tanshelf, now better known as Pontefract, to secure the ford over the river Aire. In the end however Eric abandoned the struggle, and in 954 Eadred took final possession of Yorkshire and committed it to Oswulf, the high reeve of Bamborough, to hold as a "jarldom." Thus was completed the long process of welding England into a single kingdom with continuous territories stretching from the Forth to the English Channel.