It was a matter of moment to find a safe and secure place of deposit for the body of Ethelred, who, as a Christian slain in contending with pagans, was to be considered a martyr. His memory was honored as that of one who had sacrificed his life in defense of the Christian faith. They knew very well that even his lifeless remains would not be safe from the vengeance of his foes unless they were placed effectually beyond the reach of these desperate marauders. There was, far to the south, in Dorsetshire, on the southern coast of England, a monastery, at Wimborne, a very sacred spot, worthy to be selected as a place of royal sepulture. The spot has continued sacred to the present day; and it has now upon the site, as is supposed, of the ancient monastery, a grand cathedral church or minster, full of monuments of former days, and impressing all beholders with its solemn architectural grandeur. Here they conveyed the body of Ethelred and interred it. It was a place of sacred seclusion, where there reigned a solemn stillness and awe, which no Christian hostility would ever have dared to disturb. The sacrilegious paganism of the Danes, however, would have respected it but little, if they had ever found access to it; but they did not. The body of Ethelred remained undisturbed; and, many centuries afterward, some travelers who visited the spot recorded the fact that there was a monument there with this inscription:
“IN HOC LOCO QUIESC’T CORPUS ETHELREDI REGIS WEST SAXONUM, MARTYRIS, QUI ANNO DOMINI DCCCLXXI., XXIII. APRILIS, PER MANUS DANORUM PAGANORUM, OCCUBUIT."
Such is the commonly received opinion of the death of Ethelred. And yet some of the critical historians of modern times, who find cause to doubt or disbelieve a very large portion of what is stated in ancient records, attempt to prove that Ethelred was not killed by the Danes at all, but that he died of the plague, which terrible disease was at that time prevailing in that part of England. At all events, he died, and Alfred, his brother, was called to reign in his stead.
[Footnote 1: “Here rests the body of Ethelred, king of West Saxony, the Martyr, who died by the hands of the pagan Danes, in the year of our Lord 871.”]
The historians say that Alfred was very unwilling to assume the crown when the death of Ethelred presented it to him. If it had been an object of ambition or desire, there would probably have been a rival claimant, whose right would perhaps have proved superior to his own, since it appears that one or more of the brothers who reigned before him left a son, whose claim to the inheritance, if the inheritance had been worth claiming, would have been stronger than that of their uncle. The son of the oldest son takes precedence always of the brother, for hereditary rights, like water, never move laterally so long as they can continue to descend.