But Alfred was not only a brave warrior. He was a most good and holy man, who feared God above all things, and tried to do his very best for his people. He made good laws for them, and took care that every one should be justly treated, and that nobody should do his neighbor wrong without being punished. So many Abbeys had been burnt and the monks killed by the Danes, that there were hardly any books to be had, or scholars to read them. He invited learned men from abroad, and wrote and translated books himself for them; and he had a school in his house, where he made the young nobles learn with his own sons. He built up the churches, and gave alms to the poor; and he was always ready to hear the troubles of any poor man. Though he was always working so hard, he had a disease that used to cause him terrible pain almost every day. His last years were less peaceful than the middle ones of his reign, for the Danes tried to come again; but he beat them off by his ships at sea, and when he died at fifty-two years old, in the year 901, he left England at rest and quiet, and we always think of him as one of the greatest and best kings who ever reigned in England, or in any other country. As long as his children after him and his people went on in the good way he had taught them, all prospered with them, and no enemies hurt them; and this was all through the reigns of his son, his grandson, and great-grandsons. Their council of great men was called by a long word that is in our English, “Wise Men’s Meeting,” and there they settled the affairs of the kingdom. The king’s wife was not called queen, but lady; and what do you think lady means? It means “loaf-giver”—giver of bread to her household and the poor. so a lady’s great work is to be charitable.
The Danish conquest. A.D. 958—1035.
The last very prosperous king was Alfred’s great-grandson, Edgar, who was owned as their over-lord by all the kings of the remains of the Britons in Wales and Scotland. Once, eight of these kings came to meet him at Chester, and rowed him in his barge along the river Dee. It was the grandest day a king of England enjoyed for many years. Edgar was called the peaceable, because there were no attacks by the Danes at all through his reign. In fact, the Northmen and Danes had been fighting among themselves at home, and these fights generally ended in some one going off as a Sea-King, with all his friends, and trying to gain a new home in some fresh country. One great party of Northmen under a very tall and mighty chief named Rollo, had some time before, thus gone to France, and forced the King to give them a great piece of his country, just opposite to England, which was called after them Normandy. There they learned to talk French, and grew like Frenchmen, though they remained a great deal braver, and more spirited than any of their neighbors.