Friday, October 19, 2012

Æthelstan. 925—940

Three sons of Eadward reigned in succession.

The eldest, of illegitimate birth, was Æthelstan. Sihtric, the Danish king at York, owned him as over-lord, and on Sihtric's death in 926, Æthelstan took Danish North-humberland under his direct rule. The Welsh kings were reduced to make a fuller acknowledgment of his supremacy than they had made to his father. He drove the Welsh out of the half of Exeter which had been left to them, and confined them to the modern Cornwall beyond the Tamar. Great rulers on the Continent sought his alliance. The empire of Charles the Great had broken up.

One of Æthelstan's sisters was given to Charles the Simple, the king of the Western Franks; another to Hugh the Great, Duke of the French and lord of Paris, who, though nominally the vassal of the king, was equal in power to his lord, and whose son was afterwards the first king of modern France. A third sister was given to Otto, the son of Henry, the king of the Eastern Franks, from whom, in due time, sprang a new line of Emperors.

Æthelstan's greatness drew upon him the jealousy of the king of the Scots and of all the northern kings. In 937 he defeated them all in a great battle at Brunanburh, of which the site is unknown. His victory was celebrated in a splendid war-song.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eadward's Conquests

Eadward was not, like his father, a legislator or a scholar, but he was a great warrior. In a series of campaigns he subdued the Danish parts of England as far north as the Humber. He was aided by his brother-in-law, Æthelred, and after Æthelred's death by his own sister, Æthelred's widow, Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, one of the few warrior-women of the world. Step by step the brother and sister won their way, not contenting themselves with victories in the open country, but securing each district as they advanced by the erection of 'burhs' or fortifications. Some of these 'burhs' were placed in desolate Roman strongholds, such as Chester. Others were raised, like that of Warwick, on the mounds piled up in past times by a still earlier race. Others again, like that of Stafford, were placed where no fortress had been before. Towns, small at first, grew up in and around the 'burhs,' and were guarded by the courage of the townsmen themselves.
 
Eadward, after his sister's death, took into his own hands the government of Mercia, and from that time all southern and central England was united under him. In 922 the Welsh kings acknowledged his supremacy.

Tradition assigns to Eadward a wider rule shortly before his death. In the middle of the ninth century the Picts and the intruding Scots had been amalgamated under Keneth MacAlpin, the king of the Scots, and the new kingdom had since been welded together, just as Mercia and Wessex were being welded together by the attacks of the Danes. It is said that in 925 the king of the Scots, together with other northern rulers, chose Eadward 'to father and lord.' Probably this statement only covers some act of alliance formed by the English king with the king of Scots and other lesser rulers. Nothing was more natural than that the Scottish king, Constantine, should wish to obtain the support of Eadward against his enemies; and it was also natural that if Eadward agreed to support him, he would require some acknowledgment of the superiority of the English king; but what was the precise form of the acknowledgment must remain uncertain.

In 925 Eadward died.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Eadward the Elder 899-825

In 899 Ælfred died. He had already fortified London as an outpost against the Danes, and he left to his son, Eadward, a small but strong and consolidated kingdom. The Danes on the other side of the frontier were not united. Guthrum's kingdom stretched over the old Essex and East Anglia, as well as over the south-eastern part of the old Mercia. The land from the Humber to the Nen was under the rule of Danes settled in the towns known to the English as the Five boroughs of Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Stamford, and Nottingham. In the old Deira or modern Yorkshire was a separate Danish kingdom. Danes, in short, settled wherever we now find the place-names, such as Derby and Whitby, ending in the Danish termination 'by' instead of in the English terminations 'ton' or 'ham,' as in Luton and Chippenham. Yet even in these parts the bulk of the population was usually English, and the English population would everywhere welcome an English conqueror.

A century earlier a Mercian or a North-humbrian had preferred independence to submission to a West Saxon king. They now preferred a West Saxon king to a Danish master, especially as the old royal houses were extinct, and there was no one but the West Saxon king to lead them against the Danes.

Eadward was not, like his father, a legislator or a scholar, but he was a great warrior. In a series of campaigns he subdued the Danish parts of England as far north as the Humber. He was aided by his brother-in-law, Æthelred, and after Æthelred's death by his own sister, Æthelred's widow, Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, one of the few warrior-women of the world. Step by step the brother and sister won their way, not contenting themselves with victories in the open country, but securing each district as they advanced by the erection of 'burhs' or fortifications. Some of these 'burhs' were placed in desolate Roman strongholds, such as Chester. Others were raised, like that of Warwick, on the mounds piled up in past times by a still earlier race. Others again, like that of Stafford, were placed where no fortress had been before. Towns, small at first, grew up in and around the 'burhs,' and were guarded by the courage of the townsmen themselves.

Eadward, after his sister's death, took into his own hands the government of Mercia, and from that time all southern and central England was united under him. In 922 the Welsh kings acknowledged his supremacy.

Tradition assigns to Eadward a wider rule shortly before his death. In the middle of the ninth century the Picts and the intruding Scots had been amalgamated under Keneth MacAlpin, the king of the Scots, and the new kingdom had since been welded together, just as Mercia and Wessex were being welded together by the attacks of the Danes. It is said that in 925 the king of the Scots, together with other northern rulers, chose Eadward 'to father and lord.' Probably this statement only covers some act of alliance formed by the English king with the king of Scots and other lesser rulers. Nothing was more natural than that the Scottish king, Constantine, should wish to obtain the support of Eadward against his enemies; and it was also natural that if Eadward agreed to support him, he would require some acknowledgment of the superiority of the English king; but what was the precise form of the acknowledgment must remain uncertain.

In 925 Eadward died.