A white dove flew into a church there one day, and let fall upon the altar of St. Peter a paper, on which was written, in Anglo-Saxon characters,
In Clent Cow-batch, Kenelme
king bearne, lieth under Thorne, head
For a time nobody could read the writing. At length an Anglo-Saxon saw it, and translated it into Latin, so that the pope and all others could understand it. The pope then sent a letter to the authorities in England, who made search and found the body.
But we must end these digressions, which we have indulged thus far in order to give the reader some distinct conception of the ideas and habits of the times, and proceed, in the next chapter, to relate the events immediately connected with Alfred’s accession to the throne.
[Footnote 1: A great many other tales are told of the miraculous phenomena exhibited by the body of St. Edmund, which well illustrate the superstitious credulity of those times. One writer says seriously that, when the head was found, a wolf had it, holding it carefully in his paws, with all the gentleness and care that the most faithful dog would manifest in guarding a trust committed to him by his master. This wolf followed the funeral procession to the tomb where the body was deposited, and then disappeared. The head joined itself to the body again where it had been severed, leaving only a purple line to mark the place of separation.]
ALFRED’S ACCESSION TO THE THRONE
At the battle in which Alfred’s brother, Ethelred, whom Alfred succeeded on the throne, was killed, as is briefly mentioned at the close of chapter fourth, Alfred himself, then a brave and energetic young man, fought by his side. The party of Danes whom they were contending against in this fatal fight was the same one that came out in the expedition organized by the sons of Lothbroc, and whose exploits in destroying monasteries and convents were described in the last chapter. Soon after the events there narrated, this formidable body of marauders moved westward, toward that part of the kingdom where the dominions more particularly pertaining to the family of Alfred lay.
There was in those days a certain stronghold or castle on the River Thames, about forty miles west from London, which was not far from the confines of Ethelred’s dominions. The large and populous town of Reading now stands upon the spot. It is at the confluence of the River Thames with the Kennet, a small branch of the Thames, which here flows into it from the south. The spot, having the waters of the rivers for a defense upon two sides of it, was easily fortified. A castle had been built there, and, as usual in such cases, a town had sprung up about the walls.