H́nh ảnh trang
PDF
ePub

reached his ears, and called him to the field. Hubba the Dane, having spread devastation, fire, and slaughter over Wales, had landed in Devonshire from twenty-three vessels, and laid siege to the castle of Kinwith, a place situated near the mouth of the small river Tau. Oddune, earl of Devonshire, with his followers, had taken shelter there; and being ill supplied with provisions, and even with water, he determined, by some vigorous blow, to prevent the necessity of submitting to the barbarous enemy. He made a sudden sally on the Danes before sunrising; and taking them unprepared, he put them to rout, pursued them with great slaughter, killed Hubba himself, and got possession of the famous Reafen, or enchanted standard, in which the Danes put great confidence P. It contained the figure of a raven, which had been inwoven by the three sisters of Hinguar and Hubba with many magical incantations, and which, by its different movements, prognosticated, as the Danes believed, the good or bad success of any enterprise".

When Alfred observed this symptom of successful resistance in his subjects, he left his retreat; but before he would assemble them in arms, or urge them to any attempt, which, if unfortunate, might, in their present despondency, prove fatal, he resolved to inspect, himself, the situation of the enemy, and to judge of the probability of success. For this purpose he entered their camp under the disguise of a harper, and passed unsuspected through. every quarter. He so entertained them with his music and facetious humours, that he met with a welcome reception; and was even introduced to the tent of Guthrum, their prince, where he remained some days'. He remarked the supine security of the Danes, their contempt of the English, their negligence in foraging and plundering, and their dissolute wasting of what they gained by rapine and violence. Encouraged by these favourable appearances, he secretly sent emissaries to the most considerable of his subjects, and summoned them to a renAbbas Rieval. p. 395. Alured. Ber W. Malms. lib. ii. cap. 4.

P Asser. p. 10. verl. p. 105.

Chron. Sax. p. 84.
4 Asser. p. 10.

dezvous, attended by their warlike followers, at Brixton, on the borders of Selwood forest". The English, who had hoped to put an end to their calamities by servile submission, now found the insolence and rapine of the conqueror more intolerable than all past fatigues and dangers; and, at the appointed day, they joyfully resorted to their prince. On his appearance, they received him with shouts of applause; and could not satiate their eyes with the sight of this beloved monarch, whom they had long regarded as dead, and who now, with voice and looks expressing his confidence of success, called them to liberty and to vengeance. He instantly conducted them to Eddington, where the Danes were encamped; and taking advantage of his previous knowledge of the place, he directed his attack against the most unguarded quarter of the enemy. The Danes, surprised to see an army of English, whom they considered as totally subdued, and still more astonished to hear that Alfred was at their head, made but a faint resistance, notwithstanding their superiority of number; and were soon put to flight with great slaughter. The remainder of the routed army, with their prince, was besieged by Alfred in a fortified camp to which they fled; but being reduced to extremity by want and hunger, they had recourse to the clemency of the victor, and offered to submit on any conditions. The king, no less generous than brave, gave them their lives; and even formed a scheme for converting them, from mortal enemies, into faithful subjects and confederates. He knew that the kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumberland were totally desolated by the frequent inroads of the Danes; and he now purposed to repeople them by settling there Guthrum and his followers. He hoped that the new planters would at last betake themselves to industry, when, by reason of his resistance, and the exhausted condition of the country, they could no longer subsist by plunder; and that they might serve him as a rampart against any future incursions of their counChron. Sax. p. 85. t Asser. p. 10. Chron. Sax. p. 85. Sim. Dunelm. p. 128. Alured. Beverl. p. 105. Abbas Rieval. p. 354.

trymen. But before he ratified these mild conditions with the Danes, he required that they should give him one pledge of their submission, and of their inclination to incorporate with the English, by declaring their conversion to christianity ". Guthrum and his army had no aversion to the proposal; and, without much instruction or argument or conference, they were all admitted to baptism. The king answered for Guthrum at the font, gave him the name of Athelstan, and received him as his adopted son *.

The success of this expedient seemed to correspond to Alfred's hopes. The greater part of the Danes settled peaceably in their new quarters; some smaller bodies of the same nation, which were dispersed in Mercia, were distributed into the five cities of Derby, Leicester, Stamford, Lincoln, and Nottingham, and were thence ́called the Fif or Five-burgers. The more turbulent and unquiet made an expedition into France under the command of Hastings; and except by a short incursion of Danes, who sailed up the Thames and landed at Fulham, but suddenly retreated to their ships, on finding the country in a posture of defence, Alfred was not for some years infested by the inroads of those barbarians".

The king employed this interval of tranquillity in restoring order to the state, which had been shaken by so many violent convulsions; in establishing civil and military institutions; in composing the minds of men to industry and justice; and in providing against the return of like calamities. He was, more properly than his grandfather Egbert, the sole monarch of the English, (for so the Saxons were now universally called,) because the kingdom of Mercia was at last incorporated in his state, and was governed by Ethelbert, his brother-in-law, who bore the title of earl: and though the Danes, who peopled East Anglia and Northumberland, were for some time ruled immediately by their own princes, they all acknowledged a subordination to Alfred, and submitted to

" Chron. Sax. p. 85.

y W. Malms. lib. ii. cap. 4. Ingulph. p. 26.

Asser. p. 10.

Chron. Sax. p. 90. z Asser. p. 11.

880.

his superior authority. As equality among subjects is the great source of concord, Alfred gave the same laws to the Danes and English, and put them entirely on a like footing in the administration both of civil and criminal justice. The fine for the murder of a Dane was the same with that for the murder of an Englishman; the great symbol of equality in those ages.

The king, after rebuilding the ruined cities, particularly London", which had been destroyed by the Danes in the reign of Ethelwolf, established a regular militia for the defence of the kingdom. He ordained that all his people should be armed and registered; he assigned them a regular rotation of duty; he distributed part into the castles and fortresses, which he built at proper places; he required another part to take the field on any alarm, and to assemble at stated places of rendezvous; and he left a sufficient number at home, who were employed in the cultivation of the land, and who afterwards took their turn in military service. The whole kingdom was like one great garrison; and the Danes could no sooner appear in one place, than a sufficient number was assembled to oppose them, without leaving the other quarters defenceless or disarmedd.

But Alfred, sensible that the proper method of opposing an enemy who made incursions by sea, was to meet them on their own element, took care to provide himself with a naval force, which, though the most natural defence of an island, had hitherto been totally neglected by the English. He increased the shipping of his kingdom both in number and strength, and trained his subjects in the practice as well of sailing as of naval action. He distributed his armed vessels in proper stations around the island, and was sure to meet the Danish ships either before or after they had landed their troops, and to pursue them in all their incursions. Though the Danes might suddenly, by surprise, disem

b*Asser.

a Asser. p. 15. Chron. Sax. p. 88. M. West. p. 171. Sim. Dunelm. P. 131. Brompton, p. 812. Alured. Beverl. ex edit. Hearne, p. 106. p. 18. Ingulph. p. 27. c Chron. Sax. p. 92, 93. d Spelman's Life of Alfred, p. 147. edit. 1709. e Asser. p. 9. M. West. p. 179.

bark on the coast, which was generally become desolate by their frequent ravages, they were encountered by the English fleet in their retreat; and escaped not, as formerly, by abandoning their booty, but paid, by their total destruction, the penalty of the disorders which they had committed.

In this manner Alfred repelled several inroads of these piratical Danes, and maintained his kingdom, during some years, in safety and tranquillity. A fleet of a hundred and twenty ships of war was stationed upon the coast; and being provided with warlike engines, as well as with expert seamen, both Frisians and English, (for Alfred supplied the defects of his own subjects by engaging able foreigners in his service,) maintained a superiority over those smaller bands, with which England had so often been infested. But at last Hastings, the famous Danish chief, having ravaged all the provinces of France, both along the seacoast and the Loire and Seine, and being obliged to quit that country, more by the desolation which he himself had occasioned, than by the resistance of the inhabitants, appeared off the coast of Kent with a fleet of three hundred and thirty sail. The greater part of the enemy disembarked in the Rother, and seized the fort of Apuldore. Hastings himself, commanding a fleet of eighty sail, entered the Thames, and fortifying Milton in Kent, began to spread his forces over the country, and to commit the most destructive ravages. But Alfred, on the first alarm of this descent, flew to the defence of his people, at the head of a select band of soldiers, whom he always kept about his person; and gathering to him the armed militia from all quarters, appeared in the field with a force superior to the enemy. All straggling parties, whom necessity or love of plunder had drawn to a distance from their chief encampment, were cut off by the English; and these pirates, instead of increasing their spoil, found themselves cooped up in their fortifications,

f Asser. p. 11. Chron. Sax. p. 86, 87. M. West. p. 176.
8 Asser, p. 19.
h Chron. Sax. p. 92.

893.

« TrướcTiếp tục »