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The Reign of Edward the Elder.

Edward the


Alfred had been called to the crown in preference to the children of his elder brother. Their pretensions were equally neglected at his death; and Edward, his son, who had distinguished himself against Hastings, was chosen by the nobles as their king (1).

Ethelwold, one of the disregarded princes, in opposition to the decision of the Anglo-Saxon witena, aspired to the crown, and scized Wimburn, declaring that he would keep it or perish (2). But when the king advanced with an army against him, he fled, at night, to the Northumbrian Danes; and exciting their sympathy, was appointed their sovereign at York, over all their other kings and chiefs (3).

By this incident he became formidable both to 905. Edward and his people. The Northmen colonists, by occupying all Northumbria and East Anglia, independently of Edward, possessed one-third part of England; and if Ethelwold's abilities had equalled his ambition, or if Edward had been a weaker character, the Northmen might have gained the sovereignty of the island. But Ethelwold seems not to have long pleased his new subjects; for he was afterwards on the seas a pirate (4), and sailed to France in quest of partisans to distress the king (5). He returned with a great fleet, and subdued Essex (6); persuading the East Anglian Danes to join him, he entered Mercia, and ravaged as far as Cricklade. He even passed the Thames into Wessex, plundered in Wiltshire; but the Anglo-Saxons not supporting him, he returned. The army of Edward followed him, and ravaged, in retaliation, to the fens of Lincolnshire. When the king withdrew, he directed his forces not to separate. The Kentish troops neglected his orders, and remained after the others had retired.


(1) A primatis electus. Ethelwerd, 847. He was crowned at the Whitsuntide after his father's death. Ibid.

(2) Sax. Ch. 100. Hen. Hunt. 352. Matt. West. 351. At Wimburn, he possessed himself of a nun by force, and married her. Ibid.

(3) Hen. Hunt. 352. Matt. West. 351. Sax. Ch. 100. Flor. 337. The king replaced the nun in her retreat.

(4) In exilium trusus pirates adduxerat. Malm. 46.

(5) Matt. West. 351,

(6) Hunt. 352. Sax. Ch. 100.

Ethelwold eagerly attacked them with superior numbers. The Kentish men were overpowered, but their defence was desperate. Their chiefs fell; and the author of the quarrel also perished in his victory (1). His fate released the island from the destructive competition; and a peace, two years afterwards, restored amity between the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Danes (2).

But war was soon renewed between the rival 910. powers. With his Mercians and West-Saxons, Edward, in a five weeks' depredation of Northumbria, destroyed and plundered extensively. In the next year, the Northerns devastated Mercia (3). A misconception of the Danes brought them within the reach of the king's sword. While he was tarrying in Kent, he collected one hundred ships, which he sent to guard the south-eastern coast (4), probably to prevent new invasions. The Danes, fancying the great body of his forces to be on the seas, advanced into the country to the Avon, and plundered without apprehension, and passed onwards to the Severn. Edward immediately sent a powerful army to attack them; his orders were obeyed. The Northerns were surprised into a fixed battle at Wodensfield, and were defeated, with the slaughter of many thousands. Two of their kings fell, brothers of the celebrated Ingwar, and therefore children of Ragnar Lodbrog, and many earls and officers (5). The Anglo-Saxons sung hymns on their great victory (6).

The event of this battle established the superiority of Edward over his dangerous neighbours, and checked the progress of their power. He pursued the plans which Alfred had devised for the protection of his throne. As the Danes possessed the north of England, from the Humber to the Tweed, and the eastern districts, from the Ouse to the sea, he protected his own frontiers by a line of fortresses. In the places where irruptions into Mercia and

(1) Sax. Ch. 101. Hunt. 352. Eohric, the Anglo-Danish king, fell in the struggle. Ethelwerd places this battle at Holme, 848. Holme in Saxon means a river island. In Lincolnshire there is one called Axelholme. Camd. 474. The printed Saxon Chronicle makes a battle at Holme in 902, besides the battle wherein Ethelwold fell; but the MS. Chron. Tib. b. iv. omits the battle in 902. So the MS. Tib. b. i. With these Florence agrees; and therefore the passage of 902, in the printed Chronicle, may be deemed a mistake.

(2) Sax. Chron. Matt. West. adds, that the king immediately afterwards reduced those who had rebelled against him: Et maxime cives Londonienses et Oxonienses, p. 352. In 905, Ealswythe, the widow of Alfred, died; and her brother, Athulf, an caldorman, in 903. Sax. Ch. 101. She had founded a monastery of nuns at Winchester. Mailros, 146.

(3) Sax. Ch. 102. Hunt. 352. The MS. Saxon Chronicles mention, that the English defeated at this time the Danes at Totanheale. Florence and Hoveden place this conflict and place in Staffordshire.

(4) Sax. Ch. 102.

(5) Flor. 340. Ethelw. 848. Sax. Ch. 103.

(6) Hunt. 353. Ethelwerd's account of Edward's battles have several poetical phrases, as if he had translated some fragments of these songs.


Wessex were most practicable, and therefore where a prepared defence was more needed, he built burghs or fortifications. He filled these with appointed soldiers, who, when invaders approached, marched out in junction with the provincials to chastise them. No time was lost in waiting for the presence of the king, or of the earls of the county they were empowered to act of themselves on every emergency; and by this plan of vigilance, energy, and cooperation, the invaders were so easily defeated, that they became a derision to the English soldiery (1). Ethelfleda co-operated in thus fortifying the country. She became a widow in 912; but she continued in the sovereignty of Mercia (2), and displayed great warlike activity.

The position of these fortresses, which soon became inhabited towns, demonstrates their utility. Wigmore, in Herefordshire; Bridgnorth and Cherbury, in Shropshire; Edesbury, in Cheshire; and Stafford and Wedesborough, in Staffordshire; were well chosen to coerce the Welsh upon the western limits. Runcorne and Thelwall, in Cheshire, and Bakewell, in Derbyshire, answered the double purpose of awing Wales, and of protecting that part of the north frontier of Mercia, from the incursions of the Northumbrian Danes. Manchester, Tamworth in Staffordshire, Leicester, Nottingham, and Warwick, assisted to strengthen Mercia on this northern frontier; and Stamford, Towcester, Bedford, Hartford, Colchester, Witham, and Malden, presented a strong boundary of defence against the hostilities of the East Anglian Danes. The three last places guarded three rivers important for their affording an easy debarkation from foreign parts.


The strength of Edward was tried by an invasion of Northmen from Armorica, and his military policy was evidenced by its issue. Two chieftains led the hostile fleet round Cornwall into the Severn, and devastated North Wales. They debarked and plundered in Herefordshire. The men of Hereford, Gloucester, and the nearest burghs or fortified places, defeated them with the loss of one of their chiefs, and the brother of the other, and drove the rest into a wood, which they besieged. Edward directed armed bodies to watch the Severn, from Cornwall to the Avon. The enemy endeavoured one night to escape in two divisions, but the English overtook them in Somersetshire. One was destroyed in Watchet; the other in Porlock bay. The remainder sheltered themselves in a neighbouring island, till, urged by famine, they fled to South Wales, whence in the autumn they sailed to Ireland (3).

(1) Malmsb. 46.

(2) Sax. Ch. 103. Ethelred, her husband, had been long infirm before his death. Hunt. 353.

(3) Sax. Chron. 105. Flor. 343.

The Anglo-Saxon monarchy received new security 920. from Edward's incorporation of Mercia with Wessex, on Ethelfleda's death.

Both Edward and Ethelfleda had many struggles with the Northmen in England; but their triumphs were easy, for they attacked enemies, not in their compact strength, but in their scattered positions. Thus Ethelfleda warred with them in Derby. In assaulting the castle, four of her bravest and most esteemed generals fell; but she still urged the combat, and at last mastered the place she also obtained Leicester (1), Derby, and even York.


Edward endured, and perhaps provoked similar conflicts. The Danes attacked his fortress at Towcester, but the garrison and the provincials repulsed them. In Buckinghamshire, the invasion was formidable, and many districts were overrun, till Edward rescued his people by new victories. In some parts they seemed to copy his policy. They built hostile fortresses at Huntingdon, and at Temesford in Bedfordshire, and assailed Bedford; but the garrison and its supporters defeated them with slaughter (2).

A peculiar spirit of hostility seemed in the latter years of his reign to have excited the Anglo-Danes; for scarcely had they experienced the defeats already noticed, before another aggression was attempted, and was punished (3). The progress of Edward's power endangering their own, may have caused their animosity. But happily for the Anglo Saxons and Edward, their love of freedom, and the independence of their chiefs, made their kings weak in actual power, and prevented their permanent union under one sovereign. Before they retrieved their former disasters, the king collected a large army from the burghs nearest his object, and attacked them at Temesford. A king, and some earls, perished against him; the survivors were taken, with the city. Pressing on his advantages, he raised another powerful force from Kent, Surrey, Essex, and their burghs, and stormed and mastered Colchester. The East Anglian Danes marched against Malden, in alliance with some vikingr, whom they had invited from the seas (4); but they failed. Edward secured his conquests by new fortifications; and the submission of many districts augmented his realms, and enfeebled his competitors (5). The East Anglian

(1) Hunt. 353, 354. Sax. Chron. 106. Ingulf says of her: "Ipsam etiam urbibus extrucndis, castellis muniendis, ac exercitibus ducendis deditam, sexum mutasse putaris," p. 28.

(2) Matt. West. 358. Sax. Chron. 107.

(3) Sce Sax. Chron. 108, 109.

(4) Gegadrode micel here hine of East Englum, ægther ge thæs land heres, ge thara Wicinga the hie him to fultume asranen hæfdon. Sax. Chron. 108.

(5) Sax. Chron. 109. Thus the king went to Pasham in Northamptonshire, and staid there while a burgh was made at Towcester; then Thurferth Eorl and his followers, and all the army from Northampton to the river Weland in that county, sought him to Hlaforde, and to Mundboran. Ibid. 109.

Danes not only swore to him, "that they would will what he should will (1)," and promised immunity to all who were living under his protection; but the Danish army at Cambridge separately chose him for their lord and patron (2).


These examples of submission spread. When the king was at Stamford, constructing a burgh, all the people about the north of the river received his dominion. The Welsh kings yielded to his power. Howell, Cledauc, and Jeothwell, with their subjects, submitted to him as their chief lord (3), and the king of the Scots chose him for his father and lord. If princes almost beyond the reach of his ambition acquiesced in his superiority, it is not surprising that the kings of Northumbria and the Strathcluyd population should follow the same impulse (4). After these successes, Edward died at Farrington in Berkshire (5).

Edward the Elder must be ranked among the founders of the English monarchy. He executed with judicious vigour the military plans of his father; and not only secured the Anglo-Saxons from a Danish sovereignty, but even prepared the way for that destruction of the Anglo-Danish power which his descendants achieved.

It has been said of Edward, that he was inferior to his father in letters, but superior to him in war, glory, and power (6). This assertion is rather an oratorical point than an historical fact. Edward had never to struggle with such warfare as that during which Alfred ascended his throne, in which he lost it, and by whose suppression he regained it. Edward encountered but the fragments of that tremendous mass which Alfred first broke.

Edward had many children besides Athelstan. He was twice married. His first marriage produced two sons, Ethelward and

(1) Tha hie eall tha woldon tha he rolde. Sax. Chron. 109.

(2) Hine geceas synderlice him to Hlaforde and to Mundboran. Sax. Chron.


(3) Sax. Chron. 110. The Welsh had previously suffered from the warlike Ethelfleda. She took Brecon and a Welsh queen, and signalised herself afterwards in another invasion. Howel was the celebrated Howel Dha, the legislator of Wales. He held both Powys and South Wales. Clydauc was his brother. Wynne's Hist. 44, 45. Powys and Dinéfawr were tributary to the king of Aberfraw. The laws of Howel Dha mention the tribute to the king of London thus: "Sixty-three pounds is the tribute from the king of Aberfraw to the king of London, when he took his kingdom from him; and besides this, except dogs, hawks, and horses, nothing else shall be exacted." Lib. iii. c. 2. p. 199. Wotton's edition. (4) Mailros, 147. Sax. Chron. 110. Flor. 347. 422. Malmsbury, 46. Ingulf, 28. Bromton, 835.

Matt. West. 359. Hoveden,

(5) The year of his death is differently stated: 924 is given by Matt. West. 359.; Bromton, 837.; Flor. 347.; Malm. 48.; Mail. 147.; Chron. Petrib. 25.; and by the MS. Chron. Tib. b. i. and also b. iv. The printed Saxon Chronicle has 925, p. 110. Hoveden puts 919, and Ethelwerd 926. The authorities for 924 preponderate.

(6) Malmsb. 46. Flor. 336. Ingulf, 28.

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