Alfred’s children had grown up to maturity, and seemed to inherit, in some degree, their father’s character. He had a daughter, named AEthelfleda, who was married to a prince of Mercia, and who was famed all over England for the superiority of her mental powers, her accomplishments, and her moral worth. The name of his oldest son was Edward; he was to succeed Alfred on the throne, and it was a source now of great satisfaction to the king to find this son emulating his virtues, and preparing for an honorable and prosperous reign. Alfred had warning, in the progress of his disease, of the approach of his end. When he found that the time was near at hand, he called his son Edward to his side, and gave him these his farewell counsels, which express in few words the principles and motives by which his own life had been so fully governed.
“Thou, my dear son, set thee now beside me, and I will deliver thee true instructions. I feel that my hour is coming. My strength is gone; my countenance is wasted and pale. My days are almost ended. We must now part. I go to another world, and thou art to be left alone in the possession of all that I have thus far held. I pray thee, my dear child, to be a father to thy people. Be the children’s father and the widow’s friend. Comfort the poor, protect and shelter the weak, and, with all thy might, right that which is wrong. And, my son, govern thyself by law. Then shall the Lord love thee, and God himself shall be thy reward. Call thou upon him to advise thee in all thy need, and he shall help thee to compass all thy desires.”
Alfred was fifty-two years of age when he died. His death was universally lamented. The body was interred in the great cathedral at Winchester. The kingdom passed peacefully and prosperously to his son, and the arrangements which Alfred had spent his life in framing and carrying into effect, soon began to work out their happy results. The constructions which he founded stand to the present day, strengthened and extended rather than impaired by the hand of time; and his memory, as their founder, will be honored as long as any remembrance of the past shall endure among the minds of men.
The romantic story of Godwin forms the sequel to the history of Alfred, leading us onward, as it does, toward the next great era in English history, that of William the Conqueror.
Although, as we have seen in the last chapter, the immediate effects of Alfred’s measures was to re-establish peace and order in his kingdom, and although the institutions which he founded have continued to expand and develop themselves down to the present day, still it must not be supposed that the power and prosperity of his kingdom and of the Saxon dynasty continued wholly uninterrupted after his death. Contentions and struggles between the two great races of Saxons