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sequences which must attend his conduct, and the advantages which the numerous enemies that always pursue a royal favourite, would, by its means, be able to make against him. Edgar was soon informed of the truth ; but before he would execute vengeance on Athelwold's treachery, he resolved to satisfy himself with his own eyes of the certainty and full extent of his guilt. He told him, that he intended to pay him a visit in his castle, and be introduced to the acquaintance of his newmarried wife ; and Athelwold, as he could not refuse the honour, only craved leave to go before him a few hours, that he might better prepare everything for his reception, He then discovered the whole matter to Elfrida ; and begged her, if she had any regard either to her own honour or his life, to conceal from Edgar, by every circumstance of dress and behaviour, that fatal beauty which had seduced him from fidelity to uis friend, and had betrayed him into so many falsehoods, Elfrida promised compliance, though nothing was farther from her intentions. She deemed herself little beholden to Athelwold for a passion which had deprived her of a crown ; and knowing the force of her own charms, she did not despair even yet of reaching that dignity, of which her husband's artifice had bereaved her. She appeared before the king with all the advantages which the richest attire and the most engaging airs could bestow upon her, and she excited at once in his bosom the highest love towards herself, and the most furious desire of revenge against her husband. He knew, however, to dissemble these passions; and seducing Athelwold into a wood, on pretence of hunting, he stabbed him with his own hand, and soon after publicly espoused Elfrida.
24.—THE DANISH POWER.
BURKE. Edgar had two wives, Ellada and Elfrida ; by the first he had a son called Edward. The second bore him one, called Etheldred. On Edgar's death Edward, in the usual order of succession, was called to the throne ; but Elfrida caballed in favour of her son ; and finding it impossible to set him up in the life of his brother, she murdered him with her own hands in her castle of Corfe, whither he had retired to refresh himself, wearied with hunting. Etheldred, who by the crimes of his mother ascended a throne sprinkled with his brother's blood, had a part to act, which exceeded the capacity that could be expected in one of his youth and inexperience. The partisans of the secular clergy, who were kept down by the vigour of Edgar's government, thought this a fit time to renew their pretensions. The monks defended themselves in their possession ; there was no moderation on either side, and the whole nation joined in these parties. The murder of Edward threw an odious stain on the king, though he was wholly innocent of that crime. There was a general discontent; and every corner was full of murmurs and cabals. In this state of the kingdom it was equally dangerous to exert the fulness of the sovereign authority, or to suffer it to relax. The temper of the king was most inclined to the latter method, which is of all things the worst. A weak government, too easy, suffers evils to grow, which often make the most rigorous and illegal proceedings necessary. Through an extreme lenity it is on some occasions tyrannical. This was the condition of Etheldred's nobility ; who by being permitted everything, were never contented.
Thus all the principal men held a sort of factious and independent authority; they despised the king; they oppressed the people, and they hated one another. The Danes, in every part of England but Wessex as numerous as the English themselves, and in many parts more numerous, were ready to take advantage of these disorders; and waited with impatience some new attempt from abroad, that they might rise in
favour of the invaders. They were not long without such an occasion ; the Danes pour in almost upon every part at once, and distract the defence which the weak prince was preparing to make.
In those days of wretchedness and ignorance, when all the maritime parts of Europe were attacked by these formidable enemies at once, they never thought of entering into any alliance against them; they equally neglected the other obvious method to prevent their incursions, which was, to carry the war into the invader's country.
What aggravated these calamities, the nobility, mostly disaffected to the king, and entertaining very little regard to their country, made, some of them, a weak and cowardly opposition to the enemy; some actually betrayed their trust; some even were found, who undertook the trade of piracy themselves. It was in this condition, that Edric, Duke of Mercia, a man of some ability, but light, inconstant, and utterly devoid of all principle, proposed to buy a peace from the Danes. The general weakness and consternation disposed the king and the people to take this pernicious advice. At first, 10,0001. was given to the Danes, who retired with this money and the rest of their plunder. The English were now, for the first time, taxed to supply this payment. The imposition was called Danegelt, not more burthensome in the thing, than scandalous in the name. The scheme of purchasing peace not only gave rise to many internal hardships, but, whilst it weakened the kingdom, it inspired such a desire of invading it to the enemy, that Sweyn, king of Denmark, came in person soon after with a prodigious fleet and army. The English, having once found the method of diverting the storm by an inglorious bargain, could not bear to think of any other way of resistance. A greater sum, 48,0001. was now paid, which the Danes accepted with pleasure, as they could by this means exhaust their enemies and enrich themselves with little danger or trouble. With very short intermissions they still returned, continually increasing their demands. In a few years they extorted upwards of 160,0001. from the English, besides an annual tribute of 48,0001. The country was wholly exhausted both of money and spirit. The Danes in England, under the protection of the foreign Danes, committed a thousand insolencies; and so infatuated with stupidity and baseness were the English at this time, that they employed hardly any other soldiers for their defence.
In this state of shame and misery, their sufferings suggested to them a design rather desperate than brave. They resolved on a massacre of the Danes ; some authors say, that in one night the whole race was cut off. Many, probably all the military men, were so destroyed. But this massacre, injudicious as it was cruel, was certainly not universal ; por did it serve any other or better end than to exasperate those of the same nation abroad; who the next year landed in England with a powerful army to revenge it, and committed outrages even beyond the usual tenour of the Danish cruelty. There was in England no money left to purchase a peace, nor courage to wage a successful war ; and the King of Denmark, Sweyn, & prince of capacity, at the head of a large body of brave and enterprising men, soon mastered the whole kingdom, except London. Etheldred, abandoned by fortune and his subjects, was forced to fly into Normandy.
As there was no good order in the English affairs, though continually alarmed, they were always surprised ; they were only roused to arms by the cruelty of the enemy; and they were only formed into a body by being driven from their homes; so that they never made a resistance until they seemed to be entirely conquered. This may serve to account for the frequent sudden reductions of the island, and the frequent renewals of their fortune when it seemed the most desperate. Sweyn, in the midst of his victories, dics; and, though succeeded by his son Canute, who inherited his father's resolution their affairs were thrown into some disorder by
this accident. The English were encouraged by it. Etheldred was recalled, and the Danes retired out of the kingdom ; but it was only to return the next year with a greater and better appointed force. Nothing seemed able to oppose them, The king dies. A great part of the land was surrendered, without resistance, to Canute. Edmund, the eldest son of Etheldred, supported, however, the declining hopes of the English for some time; in three months he fought three victorious battles ; he attempted a fourth, but lost it by the base desertion of Edric, the principal cause of all these troubles. It is common with the conquered side to attribute all their misfortunes to the treachery of their own party. They choose to be thought subdued by the treachery of their friends, rather than the superior bravery of their enemies. All the old historians talk in this strain ; and it must be acknowledged, that all adherents to a declining party have many temptations to infidelity.
Edmund, defeated but not discouraged, retreated to the Severn, where he recruited his forces. Canute followed at his heels. And now the two armies were drawn up, which were to decide the fate of England ; when it was proposed to determine the war by single combat between the two kings. Neither was unwilling; the Isle of Alney, in the Severn, was chosen for the lists; Edmund had the advantage by the greatness of his strength, Canute by his address ; for when Edmund had so far prevailed as to disarm him, he proposed a parley; in which he persuaded Edmund to a peace, and to a division of the kingdom. Their armies accepted the agreement; and both kings departed in a seeming friendship. But Edmund died soon after, with a probable suspicion of being murdered by the instruments of his associate in the empire.
Canute on this event assembled the states of the kingdom, by whom he was acknowledged King of England. He was a prince truly great ; for having acquired the kingdom by his valour, he maintained and improved it by his justice and clemency. Choosing rather to rule by the inclination of his subjects than the right of conquest, he dismissed his Danish army, and committed his safety to the laws. He re-established the order and tranquillity which so long a series of bloody wars had banished. He revived the ancient statutes of the Saxon princes ; and governed through his whole reign with such steadiness and moderation, that the English were much happier under this foreign prince than they had been under their natural kings. Canute, though the beginning of his reign was stained with those marks of violence and injustice which attend conquest, was remarkable in his latter end for his piety. According to the mode of that time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, with a view to expiate the crimes which paved his way to the throne; but he made a good use of this peregrination, and returned full of the observations he had made in the country through which he passed, which he turned to the benefit of his extensive dominions. They comprehended England, Denmark, Norway, and many of the countries which lie upon the Baltick. Those he left, established in peace and security, to his children. The fate of his northern possessions is not of this place. England fell to his son Harold, though not without much competition in favour of the sons of Edmund Ironside ; while some contended for the right of the sons of Etheldred, Alfred and Edward. Harold inherited none of the virtues of Canute; he banished his mother Emma, murdered his half-brother Alfred, and died without issue after a short reign full of violence, weakness, and cruelty
His brother Hardicanute, who succeeded him, resembled him in his character ; he committed new cruelties and injustices in revenging those which his brother had committed, and he died after a yet shorter reign. The Danish power, established with so much blood, expired of itself; and Edward, the only surviving son
of Etheldred, then an exile in Normandy, was called to the throne by the unanimous voice of the kingdom.
C. Mac FARLANE. Unlike his father Sweyn, Canute was a thorough and an enthusiastic Christian. His father had permitted the worshippers of Odin to destroy the Christian churches and to revive the abominations of human sacrifices; but Canute laid the pagan temples prostrate, shattered the grim idols, and forbade the inhuman rites. He built many churches, and drew good preachers and teachers into Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, by liberally granting them houses and lands. He had the glory of completing the conversion of the Scandinavian race, and of destroying a faith which was calculated to perpetuate the spirit of war and cruelty. By his exertions and encouragement the Gospel was firmly established in all the cultivated districts; the old idolatry was driven to the sequestered woods and wilds in the isles of Fionia, Laaland, and Falster, where some faint vestiges of it are still to be traced in popular usages and traditions; churches, cathedrals, monasteries and abbeys, with their several schools and out-chapels, were erected, and filled in good part with Saxon priests, who gave back to Scandinavia the spiritual benefits their forefathers had received from the Italian missionaries of Pope Gregory, and who also imparted many temporal advantages by teaching the Danes and Norwegians sundry arts which they had hitherto neglected and despised.
The tranquillity of England, which could have been secured only by wise and good government, was so perfect, that he was enabled to absent himself from the island frequently, and for long intervals, during none of which there appears to have been the least commotion or disaffection. Under his rule the country recovered rapidly from the desolation it had suffered, and assumed that aspect of internal tranquillity and prosperity which it had enjoyed during the last years of the reign of King Alfred. Like that great sovereign, Canute was cheerful and accessible to all his subjects, whether Danes or Saxons, and took great pleasure in old songs and ballads, and in the society of poets and musicians. He most liberally patronised the scalds, minstrels, and gleemen,—the musicians and poets of the time,-and wrote verses himself in the Anglo-Saxon dialect which were orally circulated among the common people, and taken up and sung by them in the streets and market-places. His popularity was hereby greatly increased. It does not appear that he possessed anything like the learning and literary industry of the great Alfred, but his acquirements must, for the time in which he lived, have been very considerable, and he must always take rank among the “royal authors." A ballad of his composition long continued to be a favourite with the English people. All of it is lost except the first verse, which has been preserved through the monkish chroniclers of the great house of Ely, who were more interested than all other men in its preservation, for it was written in praise of their establishment, to which Canute and his queen were great benefactors. The interesting royal fragment is simply this ;
Merie sungen the muneches binnen Ely
And here we thes muneches saeng.
Merrily (sweetly) sung the monks within Elv
Being in verse and in rhyme, it is thought that Canute's words are reported in their original form; or that they cannot at any rate have been much altered. The verses are said to have been suggested to the royal Dane one day as he was rowing with some of his warlike chiefs on the river Nene near Ely Minster, by hearing the sweet and solemn music of the monastic choir floating on the air and along the tranquil water. The Ely historian says that in his day, after the lapse of a hundred and fifty years, the song was publicly sung among the people, and remembered in proverbs.
The monks say that he had a singular affection for the fen-country, and for their church, which was even then a magnificent structure ; and that he several times took occasion to keep the festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary with great solemnity and a boundless hospitality at Ely Abbey. They tell one story which is both picturesque and humorous.
One year, at the season of the Purification, the weather was uncommonly severe, and all the rivers, meres, and surrounding waters were frozen over. The courtiers recommended the king to put off his visit to Ely, and keep that holy festival in some other godly house, whither he might repair without the risk of being drowned under breaking ice; but such was the love the king bore to the abbot and monks of Ely, that he could not be prevailed upon to take this advice. Canute proposed going over the ice by Soham mere, which was then an immense sheet of water, declaring that if any one would go before and show him the way, he would be the first to follow. The courtiers and soldiers hesitated, and looked at one another with some confusion. But there chanced to be standing among the crowd one Brithmer, a churl or serf, a native of the Isle of Ely, and nicknamed Budde or Pudding, from his stoutness; and this fat man stood forth and said that he would go before the king and show him the way. “Then go on in the name of our Lady,” said Canute, "and I will follow; for if the ice on Soham mere can bear a man so large and fat as thou art, it will not break under the weight of a small thin man like me!" And so the churl went forward, and Canute the Great followed him, and the courtiers, one by one, and with intervals between, followed the king; and they all got safely across the mere, with no other mishap than a few slips and tumbles on the slippery ice, and Canute even as he had proposed kept the festival of the Purification with the monks of Ely. And in recompense for his opportune services the fat man Brithmer was made a free man, and his little property was made free ; "and so," concludes the chronicler, “ Brithmer's posterity continue in our days to be freemen, and to enjoy their possessions as free by virtue of the grant made by the king to their forefather."
In the year 1030 our great monarch of the north made a pilgrimage to Rome, with a view, it is said, to expiate the bloodshed and crimes which paved his way to the English throne. There can be no reasonable doubt that his devotion and superstition had much to do with this long journey ; but Canute may also have been impelled by other strong motives, for there was still much to learn, in government and the useful arts, at the eternal city, and it seems that a sort of royal and ecclesiastical congress had been appointed to meet there this year, to deliberate upon the means of bettering the condition of Christendom. Whatever were the mixed motives and objects of the journey, it is admitted that it was highly beneficial to the heart and understanding of Canute, and to the peoples over whom he ruled. He is represented as starting on his journey to Rome equipped like a common pilgrim, with a wallet on his back, and a pilgrim's staff in his hand ; his earls, knights, and other attendants being equipped in the like manner. The departure and the journey must have abounded in picturesque incidents. Alfred when a boy had gone the same road with his father, had crossed the same stupendous moun