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the Isles (1), three kings of Wales, and two others (2), repaired thither at his command to do him homage. He was not satisfied with this confession of his power; his puerile vanity demanded a more painful sacrifice; he ascended a large vessel with his nobles and officers; and he stationed himself at the helm, while the eight kings, who had come to do him honour, were compelled to take the seats of the watermen, and to row him down the Dee (3). Such actions are not the evidences of true greatness, and never confer a lasting dignity.
Edgar was as tyrannical in the indulgence of his other passions : he had sent one of his earls, named Athelwold, on a visit to Ordgar, earl of Devonshire, to examine if the beauty of his daughter, Elfrida, was as great as fame reported. Athelwold saw her, and falsified his trust. He reported her unfavourably to the king, then courted her for himself, and married her.
Courtiers are busy to supplant, and Edgar soon heard the truth. He dissembled his anger, and announced to Athelwold his intention to see the lady. Alarmed at his danger, the nobleman entreated his wife to deform herself; but Elfrida was weary of domestic privacy, and, on the day of the royal visit, she added every charm of art to give brilliancy to her beauty. She excited Edgar's passions. He caused Athelwold to be assassinated in a wood, and then married Elfrida (4).
At another time he had the brutality to violate a lady of noble birth, who used a nun's veil as an expected, but an unavailing protection (5).
(1) Matt. West. 375. so entitles him, "Macone rege Monæ et plurimarum insularum." Malmsbury calls him Archipirala, p. 56. In 971, he witnessed one of Edgar's charters, with that epithet added to his signature. Spelman, 486. Who this Macchus was we learn from the Welsh Chronicle often already quoted. This says, 969, "y diffeithwyt Penn Mon y gan y Paganyeit a Mact' vab Harald : "The promontory of Anglesey was ravaged by the pagans under Mactus the son of Harald." In 970, he made it tributary. MS. Cleop. B. 5. On referring to Adam Bremensis, p. 25, we find two lines which express that Harald Blaatand, king of Denmark, sent his son Hiring to England, who having conquered the island, was betrayed in Northumbria. So the Icelandic fragment in Langbeck, ii. p. 148. I have already, in p. 230., stated from Snorre the death of Eric, son of Harald Harfragre, whom Langbeck wishes to make this Hiring or Hringr son of the Danish king. I think Snorre is correct, and that Mactus, the son of Harald, was the son of Harald Blaatand the Dane; not of Harfragre the Norwegian. In 946, there was another Maccus, son of Eric. See before, p. 145. The Danish Maccus did homage to Edgar. Wallingford spells his name Oriccus, p. 545., which comes nearer to Hiring or Hringr.
(2) Matt. West. styles these, Jacobo rege Galwalliæ et Jukil Westmariæ, p. 375. (3) Malmsb. 56. Mailros, 150. Hoveden, 426. Sim. Dun. 159. Al. Bev. 112. Flor. 359. Nothing can more strongly display Edgar's vanity than the pompous and boastful titles which he assumes in his charters. They sometimes run to the length of fifteen or eighteen lines. How different from Alfred's Ego occidentalium Saxonum Rex!
(4) Malmsb. 59. (5) Malmsb. 60.
Bromton gives the incident more in detail, 865, 866.
This was in his first wife's time. Eadmer, Vit. Dunst. 219.
A third incident of his contempt for the welfare of others, when his own gratification was in question, has been recorded. Visiting at Andover, he commanded a nobleman to bring him his daughter, whose person had been praised to him; but the mother of the young lady sent her attendant to personate her daughter (1). For these actions Dunstan imposed only trifling penances on Edgar (2).
Yet amid these defects, some traits of an enlarged and liberal policy appear, which reflect credit on Edgar or his ministers. The most important of these was his patronage of foreigners and trade. People from Saxony, Flanders, and Denmark, frequently came to him (3); whom he received so well as to excite a censure from one monkish chronicler, that he loved them too much (4), and from another, that they injured his people by the vices they imported (5). He showed his care of trade by his exemplary punishment of the people of Thanet, who had seized and plundered some merchants coming from York (6). His commuting the tribute from Wales into three hundred wolves' heads (7), in order to extirpate these animals from the country, was a scheme of sound wisdom and generous policy. His reformation of his coin was also intelligent. It had become so diminished in weight, by the fraud of clipping, that the actual value was very inferior to the nominal; he therefore had new coins made all over England (8).
(1) Malmsb. 60. This author's expressions, nam cæteris infamias-magis resperserunt cantilenæ, p. 56., imply that the Anglo-Saxon poets made Edgar's dissolute conduct the subject of their poetry.
(2) As occasional fasting, and not to wear his crown for seven years. Malmsb. 60. Osb. 111. One part of the penance was artfully chosen to promote the monk's purposes. The king was to lavish his treasures upon a nunnery, to expel the clergy with new vigour, and to introduce monks. Osb.
(3) Malmsb. 56. The Welsh Chronicle, MS. Cleop. B. 5. says, "Canys canneat agavas gwyr Denmarc ar drigaw yn yr ynys honn tra vynnynt y gan Edgar vrenhin Lloegyr:"-" Because to the men of Denmark leave was granted by Edgar, king of England, on their request, to dwell in this island."
(4) Extraneos huc adductos plus æquo diligens. Hunt. 356.
(5) Malmsbury says, "A Saxonibus animorum inconditam ferocitatem, a Flandritis corporum enervem mollitiem, a Danis potationem discerent. Homines ante hæc in talibus integra et naturali simplicitate sua defensare, aliena non mirari," p. 56. The Welsh Chronicle adds to the last passage quoted another, which states, that the Danes became so numerous, that they were in every city and town in England; that they gave themselves up to such drinking and idolatry, that they could not be governed; and that this occasioned nails to be put in their cups to mark the quantity they were to drink. MS. Cleop. B. 5. Malmsbury says of Dunstan, that he caused silver or gold nails to be put into the drinking vessels, to prevent drunkenness and quarrels, p. 56.
(6) Matt. West. 374.
(7) Malmsbury says, the tribute ceased on the fourth year, for want of wolves, p. 59.
(8) Matt. West. 375. Dunstan may have influenced him in this law; for it is stated in his life, that finding three coiners of false money not punished on the appointed day, because it was Whitsunday, he ordered the day not to be regarded;
He is said to have stationed three fleets of 1200 ships cach on the east, west, and south coasts of the island for the defence of the kingdom (1). This, however, looks more like idle parade than public utility; for England was threatened with no foreign hostility in his reign, and one third of the number would have guarded the coast. There was more true glory obtained by his practice every spring and winter, of riding through his provinces, to examine the conduct of the powerful, to protect the weak, and to punish every violation of law (2). This attention to the wants and relief of his people merits our applause; and whether Dunstan's solicitude for popularity (3), or the king's noble feelings occasioned the custom, it ought not to be mentioned without high praise. His vigilant police freed the kingdom from robbers (4).
Edgar was generous to his friends. To Kenneth of Scotland, who visited him, he not only gave the county of Louth, but one hundred ounces of pure gold, many silken ornaments and rings, with precious stones (5).
The person of Edgar was small and thin; and Kenneth one day remarked that it was wonderful that so many provinces should obey a man so insignificant. These words were carried to the king. He led Kenneth apart into a wood, and bade him take one of two swords which he produced. "Our arms shall decide which ought to obey the other; for it will be base to have asserted that at a feast which you cannot support with your sword." Kenneth, confused, recollected his hasty remark, and apologised for it as a joke (6). There is such an energy and a magnanimity in this incident, that if Edgar had attained his power at a later age, or had possessed better counsellors, he might have displayed a nobler character. Abstracted from his vices, he may be ranked in the superior order of our Saxon sovereigns.
Edgar was twice married. By his first wife, Elfleda the Fair, daughter of Ordmer, he had Edward, his successor, and a daughter, who became a nun. Elfrida, whom he had made the widow of
"for," said he, "coiners are thieves, and I know of no thieves more harmful. They disturb the country, and injure both rich and poor." Eadmer, p. 216.
(1) Mailros, 150. Matt. West. makes 4800 ships, by adding a northern fieet. Perhaps either number is an exaggeration. Malmsbury says, that every Easter they sailed round the island, p. 59.
(2) Malmsb. 59. Mailros, 150. Matt. West. 375.
(3) After Dunstan had become a metropolitan, he hastened to travel through every city in the kingdom, to preach to it; and such was his acuteness and eloquence, says his biographer, that nothing could be wiser, or more pleasant. Osberne, 110.
(4) Malmsb. 59.
(5) Matt. West. says, Louth was given on condition that Kenneth should come every year to Edgar's principal feasts. The king gave him several houses for his entertainment during his journey.
(6) Malmsb. 59.
Athelwold (1), that had deceived him, bore him two sons; Edmund, who died before him; and Ethelred, who also obtained the
Edgar's reign has been celebrated as the most glorious of all the Anglo-Saxon kings. No other sovereign, indeed, enjoyed his prosperity with such personal pomp; yet no other sovereign was more degraded in his posterity. With his short life, for he died at thirty-two, the gaudy pageantry ceased; and all the dominion in which he had so ostentatiously exulted, vanished from his children's grasp. His eldest son perished by the scheme of his preferred Elfrida; his youngest reigned only to show, that one weak reign is sufficient to ruin even a brave and great people.
It is an instance of the mutability of human greatness, that although Edgar made kings his watermen, yet the son of his beloved wife bought his kingdom five times from Danish rovers; the favourites became traitors, and he surrendered his throne to a foreign invader. Of Edgar's grandsons one perished violently soon after his accession. The other was the last of his race who ruled the Anglo-Saxon nation (2).
Edward the Martyr, or Edward the Second of the Anglo-Saxon Kings.
Dunstan had used the power of Edgar to plant England with the new monks, and to exclude from their seats the ancient clergy; but he had not reconciled all the nation to the severity of the measure or to his own administration; for on Edgar's death an attempt was made to humble his power, and to restore the clergy. As Edward appeared subservient to the views of Dunstan, his accession was disputed. Some chose him, and others Ethelred (3). But Edward had been named by his father as successor, and Dunstan took the shortest road to his object. He and Oswald assembled their ecclesiastical friends and some duces, and crowned
(1) The Saxon Chron. MS. Tib. B. 4., dates Edgar's marriage with Elfrida in 965. Hearne places our illustrious Tom Thumb in this reign as an actual living character. He says, in his preface to Benedictus Abbas, "The History of Tom Thumb was certainly founded on some authentic history, as being nothing else, originally, but a description of King Edgar's dwarf. "
(2) That Edgar was considered by the Anglo-Saxons as the greatest of their kings in power and dominion, we find from Elfric, who was nearly his contemporary. He calls Edgar, "of all the kings of the English nation, the most powerful. And it was the Divine will that his enemies, both kings and earls, who came to him desiring peace, should, without any battle, be subjected to him to do what he willed. Hence he was honoured over a wide extent of land." Wanl. 39.
(3) Flor. Wig. 361. Mailros, 151.
Edward (1). Edward, like all the kings since Athelstan, was very young at his accession.
The quarrel between the two systems grew more vehement. The governor of Mercia turned out all the monks (2). The governor of East Anglia supported them (3). Many tumults ensued (4). The clergy got hold of the monastic possessions, which they distributed to the governors in return for their protection (5).
Elfrida opposed Dunstan. She joined the party of the clergy, and endeavoured to bias the minds of the great in favour of her son Ethelred.
Though Dunstan had procured Edward's coronation, he could not recover the alienated minds of the nobility. He attempted to govern them by the influence of superstition. He had forcibly expelled the clergy who had been reinstated; but on Edgar's death they endeavoured to restore themselves : and Elfere, the governor of Mercia, pulled down all the monasteries which had been built in that province. To appease these discontents, a synod was convened at Winchester. While the opinions were forming, and the assembly expected his answer to a peculiar appeal which had been made to him, the crucifix in the wall became vocal. It commanded the former proceedings it forbad a change (6). “What wish ye more?" exclaimed Dunstan, immediately; "the divine voice determines the affair (7).”
This artifice, for, unless we believe it to have been a miracle, no other name can be given to it, did not fully succeed. It was followed by another event, which, taken in conjunction with the preceding, leads the impartial mind to the strongest suspicion of its having been a scheme of the most questionable character. The
(1) Hist. Rames. 413. Mailros, 151. Eadmer, Vit. D. 220. (2) Ingulf, 54. Malmsb. 61.
(4) Multus inde tumultus in omni angulo Angliæ factus est. Ingulf, 54.
(5) Ingulf, 54. One author says, he cannot express the sufferings of the monks. Hist. Rames. 412.
(3) Hist. Rames. 412.
(6, Malmsbury, p. 61. Gervase gives the words, "absit ut hoc fiat, absit ut hoc fiat," 1647. So Osberne, p. 112.
(7) We have this speech of Dunstan in Eadmer's life of him, p. 219. Wh. Ang. Sax. He and Osberne place it under Edgar's reign, which is less probable than the chronology of the others, because Edgar's attachment to Dunstan and power made such aids useless. Whatever affects the character of Dunstan, Dr. Lingard wishes to believe a mere popular tale. If Dunstan's enemies had written his life, Dr. Lingard's incredulity would be a fair exertion of cautious though arbitrary pyrrhonism. But all that we know of Dunstan comes from his friends and panegyrists. It is our moral sympathies that have improved, not our historical evidence which has diminished. Yet it is remarkable that the Papal church, in this enlightened day, should cling so tenaciously to such mixed characters as Dunstan and Becket, in opposition both to reason and impartial history. would act more wisely if it discerned and abandoned the untenable and revolting, and suffered its legends to sink quietly into oblivion. They are unnecessary to i as a religion, and are not likely to assist its political power in an age when the current of the human mind runs so strongly against all palpable credulity.