Hastings was an old and successful soldier before he came to England. He had led a wild life for many years as a sea king on the German Ocean, performing deeds which in our day entail upon the perpetrator of them the infamy of piracy and murder, but which then entitled the hero of them to a very wide-spread and honorable fame. Afterward Hastings landed upon the Continent, and pursued, for a long time, a glorious career of victory and plunder in France. In these enterprises, the tide, indeed, sometimes turned against him. On one occasion, for instance, he found himself obliged to give way before his enemies, and he retreated to a church, which he seized and fortified, making it his castle until a more favorable aspect of his affairs enabled him to issue forth from this retreat and take the field again. Still he was generally very successful in his enterprises; his terrible ferocity, and that of his savage followers, were dreaded in every part of the civilized world.
Hastings had made one previous invasion of England; but Guthrum, faithful to his covenants with Alfred, repulsed him. But Guthrum was now dead, and Alfred had to contend against his formidable enemy alone.
Hastings selected a point on the southern coast of England for his landing. Guthrum’s Danes still continued to occupy the eastern part of England, and Hastings went round on the southern coast until he got beyond their boundaries, as if he wished to avoid doing any thing directly to awaken their hostility. Guthrum himself, while he lived, had evinced a determination to oppose Hastings’s plans of invasion. Hastings did not know, now that Guthrum was dead, whether his successors would oppose him or not. He determined, at all events, to respect their territory, and so he passed along on the southern shore of England till he was beyond their limits, and then prepared to land.
[Illustration: HASTINGS BESIEGED IN THE CHURCH.]
He had assembled a large force of his own, and he was joined, in addition to them, by many adventurers who came out to attach themselves to his expedition from the bays, and islands, and harbors which he passed on his way. His fleet amounted at least to two hundred and fifty vessels. They arrived, at length, at a part of the coast where there extends a vast tract of low and swampy land, which was then a wild and dismal morass. This tract, which is known in modern times by the name of the Romney Marshes, is of enormous extent, containing, as it does, fifty thousand acres. It is now reclaimed, and is defended by a broad and well-constructed dike from the inroads of the sea. In Hastings’s time it was a vast waste of bogs and mire, utterly impassable except by means of a river, which, meandering sluggishly through the tangled wilderness of weeds and bushes in a deep, black stream, found an outlet at last into the sea.