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The measure adopted by the government on this event, seems to have produced all the subsequent calamities. Instead of assembling the nobles with an army sufficient to chastise the invaders, the council of Ethelred advised him to buy off the invaders! Siric, the successor of Dunstan, reasoned, that as they only came for booty, it would be wiser to give them what they wanted. Ten thousand pounds were accordingly disgracefully granted as the price of their retreat (1). Whether the king's ecclesiastical advisers were afraid of calling out the chiefs of the country, with their military arrays; or, like most clerical statesmen, were incompetent to devise the wisest public measures; or whether the nobles, in their contempt for the king and his administration, were not displeased at the in
it dastardly if you should retire to your ships with your booty without joining in battle, since you have advanced thus far into our land. Ye shall not so softly win our treasures. The point and edge shall first determine between us in the grim game of war before we yield you tribute.'"
Byrhtnoth was so heroic as to allow the invaders an uninterrupted passage over the river before he attacked them. "The invading host began to move. They gave orders to advance, to cross the ford, and to lead their troops onwards. The earl, meanwhile, in the haughtiness of his soul, gave free permission to many of the hostile bands to gain the land unmolested. Thus did the son of Byrthelm shout across the cold river :-' Warriors, listen! Free space is allowed you. Come then speedily over to us. Advance as men to the battle. God alone knows which of us is destined to remain masters of the field of slaughter.'"
The battle ensued. One of the invading leaders fell, and the personal conflict of Byrhtnoth with the other is thus described :-"The (Danish) chieftain raised up his weapon, with his buckler for his defence, and stept forth against that lord. With equal eagerness the earl advanced against the carl. Each meditated evil against the other. The sea-chief then sped a southern dart, which wounded the lord of the army. He manœuvred with his shield, so that the shaft burst, and the spear sprang back and recoiled. Incensed, the chief pierced with his dart the exulting vikingr who had given him that wound. Skilful was the hero; he caused his franca javelin to traverse the neck of the youth, and speedily shot off another, so that his mail was pierced. He was wounded in the heart, through its ringed chains, and the javelin's point stood in his heart. Then was the earl blithe; the stern warrior laughed, and uttered thanks to his Creator for the work of that day."
The earl's catastrophe immediately followed his triumph. It is thus narrated:"But then some one of the enemies let fly a dart from his hand, which transfixed the noble thane of Ethelred. There stood by his side a youth not fully grown, a boy in the field, the son of Wulfstan, Wulfmor the young. He eagerly plucked from the chief the bloody weapon, and sent it to speed again on its destructive journey. The dart passed on till it laid on the earth him who had too surely reached his lord. Then a treacherous soldier approached the earl, to plunder from the chieftain his gems, his vestment, and his rings, and his ornamental sword. But Byrhtnoth drew from its sheath his battle-axe, broad and brown of edge, and smote him on his corslet. Very eagerly the pirate left him when he felt the force of the chieftain's arm. But at that moment his large hilted sword dropped to the earth. He could no longer hold his hand-glaive nor wield his weapon. Yet the hoary warrior still endeavoured to utter his commands. He bade the warlike youths, his brave companions, to march for-wards, but he could no longer stand firmly on his feet." Conyb. xciii. Hearne, 10. Glast. App. The contest was continued after Byrhtnoth's death, but the fragment ends abruptly. The concluding part has not been preserved.
(1) Malmsb. 62. 365. Sax. Chron. 126. Flor. 365. The Saxon Chronicle makes Siric the author of this counsel.
vasion, and therefore did not oppose the payment, cannot now be certainly known; but no measure could have been taken more likely to excite the Northmen to new depredations on a country that rewarded an invader for his aggressions.
The payment is noticed by the annalists as having produced the evil of direct taxation. We now pay that, says the chronicler of the twelfth century, from custom, which terror first extorted for the Danes (1). The impositions were not remitted when the necessity had disappeared.
Ethelred has been painted to us as a tall handsome man, elegant in manners, beautiful in countenance, and interesting in his deportment (2). The sarcasm of Malmsbury gives his portrait in a sentence he was "a fine sleeping figure (3).' He might adorn a lady's cabinet; he disgraced a council.
When wiser thoughts had sway, the right means of defence were put in action. Powerful ships were constructed at London, and were filled with selected soldiers (4); but all the wisdom of the measure was baffled by the choice of the commander. Alfric was the person intrusted to command the Anglo-Saxon fleet.
Alfric, in 983, had succeeded his father in the dukedom of Mercia (5). Three years afterwards, from causes not explained, but probably connected with the dissensions above mentioned, he was expelled from England (6). In 992, he was appointed to lead the new fleet, with another duke, and two bishops, whose addition to the military commission implies the prevalence of ecclesiastical counsels, and perhaps some mistrust of the nobles. Their instructions were to surprise the Danes in some port at which they could be surrounded. The judicious scheme was foiled by Alfric's treason. When the Danes were traced to a station which admitted of the enterprise, he sent them word of the intention, and consummated his perfidy by sailing secretly to join them. The AngloSaxons found the enemy in flight, but could only overtake one vessel. The rest did not, however, reach their harbours unmolested; a division of the English fleet from London and EastAnglia met them on their way, and attacked them with a bravery natural to the island. The capture of Alfric's vessels crowned their victory, but its ignominious master escaped, though with difficulty. The king barbarously avenged it on Alfric, by blinding his son Algar (7). The treason of Alfric and his companions seems inexplicable, unless we suppose it to have been an effect of the national divisions or discontent.
(1) Hunt, 357.
(3) Rex—pulchrè ad dormiendum factus, p. 63.
(4) Flor. 365. In 992, Oswald the friend of Dunstan died. Sax. Chron.
(5) Flor. 363. Sax. Chron. 125.
(6) Flor. 363. Sim. Dun. 161.
(7) Flor. 366. Malmsb. 62.
(2) Flor Wig. 362. Matt. West. 378.
This exertion, though its end was so disgraceful, 993. had driven the enemy from the southern counties. The northern districts were then attacked. An armament stormed Bebbanburh, and afterwards, turning to the Humber, filled part of Lincolnshire and Northumbria with their depredations. The provincials armed to defend their possessions, but they confided the command to three chiefs of Danish ancestry, who with fatal treachery fled at the moment of joining battle (1);-another indication of the discontent of the nobles and the unpopularity of the government.
In 994, the breezes of the spring wafted into the Thames two warlike kings, Olave Tryggva's son, king of Norway, and Svein king of Denmark, in a temporary confederation. They came with ninety-four ships. They were repelled at London; but though their force was unimportant, they were able to overrun the maritime part of Essex and Kent, and afterwards Sussex and Hampshire, with successful outrage (2). The progress of so small a force, and the presence of two kings accompanying it, may induce the reflective reader to suspect that they did not come without some previous concert or invitation from some part of the nation. But on this occasion, when a small exertion of the national vigour could have overpowered the invaders, Ethelred again obeyed a fatal advice. He sent to offer tribute and provisions, and to know the sum which would stop their hostilities! Sixteen thousand pounds was the sum demanded, by fewer than ten thousand men, for the redemption of England (3). Can we avoid inferring treason in his councils? That the nobles should patronise such a measure looks like a scheme for abasing the power of their ecclesiastical opponents, who still governed the royal mind; or of changing the dynasty, as at last took place, from Ethelred to Svein. Infatuation without treachery could hardly have been so imbecile, as to have bought off an invader a second time, when the nation was so powerful, and the enemy so inferior (4).
Olave was invited to Ethelred's court, and, upon receiving hostages for his safety, he went to the royal city, where the king received him with honour. During his visit he received the Christian rite of confirmation, and had rich presents. When he departed for his country in the summer, he promised to molest England no more, and he kept his word (5).
(1) Sim. Dun. 162.
(4) The Sermon of Lupus, preached about this time, implies the insubordination of the country, and its enmity to clergy. He calls the nation "Priest-slayers," and robbers of the clergy, and laments the seditions that prevailed. See it ap. Hickes's Diss. Ep. 99-106.
(5) Malmsb. 63. Sax. Chron. 129. Sim. Dun. 163.
Sax. Chron. 127.
Flor. Wig. 366. Sim. Dun. 162.
The army of Svein, on the last capitulation, had wintered at Southampton. After three years' respite, it resumed its hostilities, sailed along Wessex, and, doubling the Land's End, entered the Severn. Wales, and afterwards Cornwall and Devonshire, were infested. Proceeding up the Thamar, they leaped from their ships, and spread the flames as far as Lydeford. The monastery of Tavistock fell amid the general ruin. Their ships were laden with the plunder, and the invaders wintered in security near the scene of their outrage (1).
Resuming their activity with the revival of vegetation, they visited the Frome, and spread over great part of Dorset. Advancing thence to the Isle of Wight, they made alternate insults on this district and Dorsetshire, and compelled Sussex and Hampshire to supply them with provisions (2). But was the powerful nation of England thus harassed with impunity? When its enemies even stationed themselves on its coasts in permanent hostility, was no exertion directed to repress them? The answer of history is, that often was the Anglo-Saxon army collected to punish, but as soon as the battle was about to commence, either some treason or some misfortune prevented. They quitted their ranks, and gave an easy triumph to the half-welcomed Danes (3).
(1) Sim. Dun. 163. Sax. Chron. 129. Malmsb. 63.
(2) Sax. Chron. 129. Sim. Dun. 164. (3) Flor. 368. Sim. Dun. 163.
Matt. West. 386
(4) Sax. Chron. 130. (6) Sax. Chron. 130.
In the next year the Danish army, almost naturalised in England, approached the Thames, and, turning into the Medway, surrounded Rochester. The Kentishmen assembled to protect their city, but after a furious battle they yielded their dead to the invaders, who, collecting horses, almost destroyed the west of Kent (4).
A naval and military armament was now ordered against the invaders (5). But again the consequences of the national disaffection occurred. The commanders, as if befriending the invaders, interposed wilful delays in the equipment of the force. The fleet, when ready, was merely assembled; day after day drawled on without exertion, and injured only those who had been assessed to provide it. Whenever it was about to sail, some petty obstacle delayed it. The enemy was always permitted to increase and unite his strength; and when he chose to retire, then our fleet pursued. Thus even the very means which, properly used, would cleared the British ocean of its oppressors, only increased the calamity of the nation. The people were called to labour to no purpose; their money was wasted as emptily, and by such mock preparations the enemies were more encouraged to invade (6). When the Danish forces retired, the army of Ethelred almost depopulated Cumberland. His fleet set sail to coast round Wales and meet him; but
(5) Flor. 369.
the winds repelling them, they ravaged the Isle of Man as the substitute (1).
A powerful diversion happened this year in favour 1000. of Ethelred; for the quarrel between Svein and Olave attained its height. Assisted by a Swedish king (2), and the son of Hakon Jarl (3), Svein attacked Olave by surprise, near the Island of Wollin, with a great superiority of force. The bravery of Olave could not compensate for a deficiency of numbers. His ship was surrounded; but, disdaining to be a prisoner, he leapt into the sea (4), and disappeared from pursuit. Popular affection, unwilling to lose its favourite, gave birth to that wild rumour which has so often attended the death of the illustrious, that the king had escaped the fray, and was living recluse on some distant shore (5). Authentic history places his death in this battle (6).
This diversion was made more complete by the Northmen also molesting Normandy (7). But the interval brought no benefit to England. The Danes returned in 1001, with their usual facility. The same measure was adopted notwithstanding its experienced inefficacy; and twenty-four thousand pounds was the third ransom of the English nation (8). No measure could tend more to bring on the government the contempt of the people.
The year 1002 has become memorable in the annals Massacre of the of crime, by an action as useless as imbecility could deDanes. vise, and as sanguinary as cowardice could perpetrate. On the day before St. Brice's festival, every city received secret letters from the king, commanding the people, at an appointed hour, to destroy the Danes there suddenly by the sword, or to surround and consume them with fire. This order was the more atrocious, as the Danes were living in peace with the Anglo-Saxons. The expressions of Malmsbury imply even an endeared amity of connection; for he says, with correct feeling, that it was miserable to see every one betray his dearest guests, whom the cruel necessity made only more beloved (9). To murder those we have embraced,
(1) Flor. 369. Sax. Chron. 130.
(2) Sweden was at this time in the hand of many kings: "Isto tempore multi erant Uplandiarum reges, suæ singuli provinciæ imperitantes. - Heidmarkiæ imperium tenuere duo fratres Gudsbrandaliæ Gudrodus; etiam Raumarikiæ suus erat rex; suus quoque Thotniæ et Hadalandiæ, nec non suus Valdresiæ. Snorre, vol. ii. p. 36, 37.
(3) Theodoric, c. xiv. p. 23. against Olave, i. p. 334-345. (4) Saxo, 191. Snorre, 345.
(5) Theodoric, 24. The tale must have made impression, for Theodoric declares, he knows not which relation was the truest.
(6) Ara Frode dates it 130 years after the fall of Edmund in East Anglia, or in
1000, c. vii. p. 49. The conquerors shared Norway, Snorre, 348.
Ara Frode, p. 49. Snorre details the confederacy
(7) Sax. Chron. 130.
(8) Sax. Chron. 132. Both the MS. Chronicles have 24,000l.
(9) Malmsb. 64. The Saxon Chronicle says that Ethelred ordered it, because it