Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

Next spring, the flood of wickings began to pour in earnest over England.  Thirty-three piratical ships sailed up Southampton Water to pillage Southampton, perhaps with an ultimate eye to the treasures of royal Winchester, the capital and minster-town of the West Saxon over-lord himself.  This was a bold attempt, but the West Saxons met it in full force.  The ealdorman Wulfheard gathered together the levy of fighting men, attacked the host, and put it to flight with great slaughter.  Shortly after a second Danish host landed near Portland, doubtless to plunder Dorchester:  and the local ealdorman AEthelhelm, falling upon them with the levy of Dorset men, was defeated after a sharp struggle, leaving the heathen in possession of the field.  It was not in Wessex, however, that the wickings were to make their great success.  The north had long suffered from terrible anarchy, and was a ready prey for any invader.  Out of fourteen kings who had reigned in Northumbria during the eighth century, no less than seven were put to death and six expelled by their rebellious subjects.  Christian Northumbria, which in Baeda’s days had been the most flourishing part of Britain, was now reduced to a mere agglomeration of petty princes and clans, dependent on the West Saxon over-lord, and utterly unconnected with one another in feeling or sympathy.  Already we have seen how the Danes harried Northumbria without opposition.  The same was probably the case with the whole Anglian coast on the east.  In 840, the wickings fell on the fen country.  “The ealdorman Hereberht was slain by heathen men, and many with him among the marsh-men.”  All down the east coast, the piratical fleet proceeded, burning and slaughtering as it went.  “In the same year, in Lindsey, and in East Anglia, and among the Kent men, many men were slain by the host.”  A year later, the wickings returned, growing bolder as they found out the helplessness of the people.  They sailed up the Thames, and ravaged Rochester and London, with great slaughter; after which they crossed the channel and fell upon Cwantawic, or Etaples, a commercial port in the Saxon land of the Boulonnais.  In 842, a Danish host defeated AEthelwulf himself at Charmouth in Dorset; and in the succeeding summer “the ealdorman Eanulf, with the Somerset levy, and Bishop Ealhstan and the ealdorman Osric, with the Dorset levy, fought at Parretmouth with the host, and made a muckle slaughter, and won the day.”

The utter weakness of the first English resistance is well shown in these facts.  A terrible flood of heathen savagery was let loose upon the country, and the people were wholly unable to cope with it.  There was absolutely no central organisation, no army, no commissariat, no ships.  The heathen host landed suddenly wherever it found the people unprepared, and fell upon the larger towns for plunder.  The local authority, the ealdorman or the under-king, hastily gathered together the local levy in arms, and fell upon the pirates tumultuously with the men

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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