State of England.
Having thus brought down the narrative of Alfred’s early life as far and as fully as the records that remain enable us to do so, we resume the general history of the national affairs by returning to the subject of the depredations and conquests of the Danes, and the circumstances connected with Alfred’s accession to the throne.
To give the reader some definite and clear ideas of the nature of this warfare, it will be well to describe in detail some few of the incidents and scenes which ancient historians have recorded. The following was one case which occurred:
The Danes, it must be premised, were particularly hostile to the monasteries and religious establishments of the Anglo-Saxons. In the first place, they were themselves pagans, and they hated Christianity. In the second place, they knew that these places of sacred seclusion were often the depositories selected for the custody or concealment of treasure; and, besides the treasures which kings and potentates often placed in them for safety, these establishments possessed utensils of gold and silver for the service of the chapels, and a great variety of valuable gifts, such as pious saints or penitent sinners were continually bequeathing to them. The Danes were, consequently, never better pleased than when sacking an abbey or a monastery. In such exploits they gratified their terrible animal propensities, both of hatred and love, by the cruelties which they perpetrated personally upon the monks and the nuns, and at the same time enriched their coffers with the most valuable spoils. A dreadful tale is told of one company of nuns, who, in the consternation and terror which they endured at the approach of a band of Danes, mutilated their faces in a manner too horrid to be described, as the only means left to them for protection against the brutality of their foes. They followed, in adopting this measure, the advice and the example of the lady superior. It was effectual.
There was a certain abbey, called Crowland, which was in those days one of the most celebrated in the island. It was situated near the southern border of Lincolnshire, which lies on the eastern side of England. There is a great shallow bay, called The Wash, on this eastern shore, and it is surrounded by a broad tract of low and marshy land, which is drained by long canals, and traversed by roads built upon embankments. Dikes skirt the margins of the streams, and wind-mills are engaged in perpetual toil to raise the water from the fields into the channels by which it is conveyed away.
Crowland is at the confluence of two rivers, which flow sluggishly through this flat but beautiful and verdant region. The remains of the old abbey still stand, built on piles driven into the marshy ground, and they form at the present time a very interesting mass of ruins. The year before Alfred acceded to the throne, the abbey was in all its glory; and on one occasion it furnished two hundred men, who went out under the command of one of the monks, named Friar Joly, to join the English armies and fight the Danes.