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CHAPTER IV.

FROM THE FIRST LANDING OF THE DANES IN ENGLAND TO

THEIR ARRIVAL UNDER HASTINGS.

The

737.

The same year, 787, in which the marriage of Bertric, King of Wessex, with Offa's daughter was celebrated, Danes, the Danes first landed in England,' and began that system of slaughter and plunder which ended with the foundation of the dynasty of Sweyn, and which was revived after the wanton and horrible mangling of the body of the last Saxon king, the heroic Harold, around the hoar apple tree at Senlac. The Danes began by killing one man, but before their swords were finally sheathed thousands had fallen before them."

The northern rovers were perfectly at home upon the billows, and when in the trough of the sea they habits would sing aloud, “The force of the storm is a help to the arms of our rowers; the hurricane is in our service, and carries us the way we would go." The Danes looked upon the Saxons as renegades from the faith of their forefathers. When the Saxon priests and their followers were pierced through by the spear, cloven with the sword, or crushed with the battle-axe, the

Their

1 Her nom Beorhtric cyning Offan dohtor Eadburgae to wive. And on his dogum cuomon aeresť 3 scipu Northmauna of Haeretha lande.—Saxon Chronicle.

The reeve wished to take the crew from these strange ships to the king's town, as he did not know who they were ; they killed him.

Guy of Amiens; William of Poitiers. * Saxon Chronicle, 1066.

* Henry of Huntingdon, 787

2

Ella.

Danes shouted forth, “We have sung the mass of spears, it began at the rising of the sun.” 1

One of the earliest and most renowned of the seaRegner Lodbrog.

kings was Regner Lodbrog. After ravaging the shores of the Baltic, the North and Irish Seas, and the coasts of France, and sacking Paris, he landed in England, and was captured by Ella of Northumbria, who hurled him into a pit which swarmed with adders and snakes. While their venom filled his veins, and their fangs gnawed his vitals, he composed that song, which ought to live for ever in the memory of his countrymen, and excite the horror and sympathy of the humane.

The news of Lodbrog's death roused up the ardent spirits of the Norsemen. They rushed to join the standard of his sons, Halfden, Ingwar, and Ubba, who threw themselves upon the shores of England with such relentless fury, that she writhed more and endured greater agony than did the mighty rover and poet, Regner Lodbrog. Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia were overrun by them. They captured Ella, their father's murderer; and the “cubs of the boar avenged his death, for they cut Ella's ribs from his spine, drew his lungs through the opening, and then

threw salt into the wounds. There was no power in Helpless state of England to oppose the progress of these desperate men. England. Wessex was in a state of thraldom to the priests; its

martial spirit had fled, and its throne had become a

· Thierry, vol. i., book 11.
2 Sharon Turner's History of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. i., book 4, chap. 3.

They also captured Edmund, King of East Anglia, and having used his body as a target for their arrows, they cut off his head.—Matthew of Westminster, 870.

* Alfred had fought nine battles against the invaders in 871, at Reading, Ashdown, Basing, and elsewhere, so that his forces were unable to contend successfully against the almost incessant attacks of the Danes.

3

mere stage, across which a phantom line of kings flitted, they disappeared so rapidly one after another. The whole country was sunk in the slough of despair, and utterly exhausted. Alfred had indeed appeared, shedding around him the same short-lived and dazzling brilliancy that a meteor does as it flashes across the sky, dark with a blackness the more awful in contrast to the unexpected streak of fire. As the sky after such an appearance relapses into a darkness that might be felt, so did England, after the fatal and disastrous rout of Alfred and his few forces by Guthrum, on the unpropitious Christmas Eve of 878, present the unusual phenomenon of a land without a king or government, the former being a fugitive, and the latter but a Alfred's memory of the past. But though the king was a

flight, fugitive and contemned by his own subjects, the Danish rule was not to be as yet; that catastrophe was postponed for almost another half century. It was necessary to contend with Alfred even after he was overcome, after he was prostrate; insomuch that when he might be supposed altogether vanquished, he would escape like a slippery serpent from the hand that held him, glide from his lurking place, and, with undiminished courage, spring on his insulting foes. After flight he became more circumspect from the recollections of defeat, more bold from the thirst of vengeance. The refuge at the swamp amidst the waters of the Tone and Parret; the revilings of the swineherd's wife;o the overthrow of Ubba, the last surviving son of Ubba.

878.

1 Asser. 2 Will. of Malm., book 2, chap. 4. According to William of Malmesbury, Alfred's mother (who had been dead many years) was with him in the isle of Athelney!

* Matthew of Westminster, 878.

Lodbrog, a man of terrible obstinacy and unheard of valour; with the slaughter of twelve hundred of his followers, and the capture of the mysterious banner called the Raven, which was woven in one noontide by the daughters of the mighty Jarl;' the king's secret visit

to the foemen's camp; the discomfiture and blockade The Danes of the Danish host; and the peace with Guthrum,—were

followed by several years of comparative rest, during which time Alfred struggled to repair the great ills that had afflicted the country. He erected camps and forts. He built ships, and gathered around him such a force as would for the future defy the combined attacks of his foes. Well was it for England that she had for her ruler such a vigilant and prudent monarch.

The years employed in internal reform were succeeded by a complete inundation of the land by the countless

hordes from the North, under the guidance of the reHastings. doubtable and far-famed Hastings, the son of a labourer

at Troyes, the pupil of Lodbrog, the tutor of his son Biorn, the vanquisher of Count Robert the Strong, the scourge of France, and the terror of Italy. Satiated with the spoils obtained from the imbecile French and Italians, and disappointed of the French crown and the imperial diadem, Hastings thought to hurl from the throne of England its king, seize the kingdom for himself, and found a dynasty. This was a mighty project. It was undertaken with all his might. But he was more mightily opposed by the far-seeing and ever alert Alfred, with the aid of the Royal Ethelred, and the princes and warriors of Wales and of the Welsh borders. It must be allowed that Hastings had a fair chance of success, when we recollect that his followers did not consist of the factious or lukewarm, but of the choice spirits of the North, of veterans who had fought, bled, and triumphed with Regner Lodbrog, of men who venerated their leader as a descendant of Wodin,' and who scorned to abide at home. In his ranks, too, were exploits youths flushed with the first bloom of liberty, and of

1 Flor. Wig., 878; Henry of Huntingdon and the Saxon Chronicle say 850.

3 Thierry, vol. i., book 2. * Sharon Turner, vol. i., book 4. chap. 11.

2 Asser.

Hastings. burning to gain the approbation of their chief, outdo their comrades, and emulate the heroes whose exploits had been the theme for praise in their northern homes, while the snow covered the land and the storm howled around their rude abodes, and lashed into fury the elements, which they were taught to regard as the servants of their will and their guides to immortal

renown.

Before the birth of Alfred, Hastings had won for himself a name which, when mentioned, struck terror into the hearts of his enemies, but filled his admirers and followers with the fiercest enthusiasm. He had routed the forces of the Frankish King, accepted his gold and pillaged his subjects. Failing to stir up Guthrum to revolt, and not contented with harassing the shores of Britain and of France, Hastings destroyed the inhabitants of Paris and other cities. He afterwards shaped his course into the Mediterranean, for the express purpose of feasting his men amidst the palaces of Papal Rome. The worshipper of Wodin was desirous of looking into the face of the Pope, and of obliging him to confer upon himself the imperial title; or, in default of compliance with his wish, he determined to witness the dying agonies of the Chief

* Matt. of Westm. 887. 2 Will. of Malmesbury, book 2, c. 4.

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