Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.
The breach between Mercia and Wessex was thus widened, and as the Danish attacks continued without interruption the redeless king soon found himself comparatively isolated in his own paternal dominions.  Northumbria, under its earl, Uhtred (one of the house of Bamborough), and the Five Burgs under their Danish leaders, acted almost independently of Wessex throughout the whole of AEthelred’s reign.  In 991 Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury, advised that the Danes should be bought off by a payment of ten thousand pounds, an enormous sum; but it was raised somehow and duly paid.  In 992, the command of a naval force, gathered from the merchant craft of the Thames, was entrusted to AElfric, who had been recalled; and the Mercian leader went over on the eve of an engagement at London to the side of the enemy.  Bamborough was stormed and captured with great booty, and the host sailed up Humber mouth.  There they stood in the midst of the old Danish kingdom, and found the leading men of Northumbria and Lindsey by no means unfriendly to their invasion.  In fact, the Danish north was now far more ready to welcome the kindred Scandinavian than the West Saxon stranger.  AEthelred’s realm practically shrank at once to the narrow limits of Kent and Wessex.

The Danes, however, were by no means content even with these successes.  Olaf Tryggvesson, king of Norway, and Swegen Forkbeard,[1] king of Denmark, fell upon England.  The era of mere plundering expeditions and of scattered colonisation had ceased; the era of political conquest had now begun.  They had determined upon the complete subjugation of all England.  In 994 Olaf and Swegen attacked London with 94 ships, but were put to flight by a gallant resistance of the townsmen, who did “more harm and evil than ever they weened that any burghers could do them.”  Thence the host sailed away to Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, burning and slaying all along the coast as they went.  AEthelred and his witan bought them off again, with the immense tribute of sixteen thousand pounds.  The host accepted the terms, but settled down for the winter at Southampton—­a sufficient indication of their intentions—­within easy reach of Winchester itself; and there “they fed from all the West Saxons’ land.”  AEthelred was alarmed, and sent to Olaf, who consented to meet him at Andover.  There the king received him “with great worship,” and gifted him with kinglike gifts, and sent him away with a promise never again to attack England.  Olaf kept his word, and returned no more.  But still Swegen remained, and went on pillaging Devonshire and Cornwall, wending into Tamar mouth as far as Lidford, where his men “burnt and slew all that they found.”  Thence they betook themselves to the Frome, and so up into Dorset, and again to Wight.  In 999, on the eve of doomsday as men then thought, they sailed up Thames and Medway, and attacked Rochester.  The men of Kent stoutly fought them, but, as usual, without assistance from

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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