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Edward the Martyr.
BORN A. D. 959.--DIED A. D. 978.
EDWARD, surnamed the Martyr, was only fifteen years of age at the time of his father Edgar's death in 975. Though the eldest surviving son, his accession did not take place without much difficulty and opposition. He had indeed the advantage of being nominated successor in his father's will; he was approaching manhood, and might soon be able to take the reins of government into his own hands; he had the support of the principal nobility, who dreaded the imperious temper and ambitious aims of Elfrida ; and as he seemed inclined to subserve the views of the new monks, his interest was espoused by Dunstan, whose character for sanctity had given him the highest credit with the people. But he had formidable obstacles on the other hand to encounter. Elfrida his step-mother attempted to secure the throne for her son, Ethelred, a child of seven years old. She affirmed that Edgar's marriage with the mother of Edward was liable to insuperable objections; and as she had possessed great influence with her husband, she had found means to attract adherents who seconded all her pretensions. Even in the church a faction had risen against him. Dunstan had succeeded in excluding the ancient ecclesiastics from their seats ; but he had not reconciled the whole nation to the severity of the measure, or to his own administration; and on the death of the late king, an attempt was made to humble his power, and to restore the clergy. It was of vast importance to this aspiring prelate and the monks, to place on the throne a king favourable to their cause; and to cut off all hostile pretensions, Dunstan, as executor of the king's will, resolutely anointed and crowned the young prince at Kingston.' This bold measure superseded the claims of Ethelred, and the whole country submitted to him without farther dispute. The quarrel, however, between the two religious systems became more vehement; and though Dunstan had got Edward crowned, he could not recover the alienated minds of the nobles whom his innovations and his arrogance had provoked. The secular clergy had many partisans in England who wished to support them in the possessions of their convents and of the ecclesiastical authority. On the first intelligence of Edgar's death, the governor or duke of Mercia expelled the Benedictine order from all the monasteries within his jurisdiction ;? while the dukes of East Anglia and Essex protected them within their respective territories, and insisted on the execution of the laws enacted in their favour. Nothing but tumult and confusion ensued. Elfrida joined the party of the seculars who had got hold of the monastic possessions, which they distributed to the governors in return for their support. Dunstan, on the other hand, expelled the clergy who had been reinstated; and to quiet the discontent which his violence had excited, as well as to maintain his own ascendancy, he had recourse to an infallible test in times of ignorance,—the miraculous aid of superstition. Different synods were convened, which, according to the practice of the age, consisted partly of ecclesiastics, and partly of nobility; yet the
Mailros Chron. 151.-Eadmeri Vit. 220.
Ingulf. 54.-Malm. 61.
Benedictine party might have been foiled, for the secret wishes, if not the declared sentiments of the leading men in the nation appear to have been against them, had they not had recourse to invention and pious forgeries to sustain their cause. The reputation of their pretended sanctity made their miracles the more easily swallowed by the populace. By such proceedings, Dunstan taught others to fight him with his own weapons, by practising similar crimes. Edward was subjected to his power, but the ambitious Elfrida still cherished the guilty wish of elevating her son, and unfortunately the divided state of the kingdom and the vindictive spirit of the nobility gave power to her malice. The death of Edward was conspired, as the only avenue to the completion of her hopes. And what adds to the infamy and the hardened enormity of her conduct, is the uniform kindness with which that prince had always treated her. Though she had opposed his succession, he always showed her marks of great regard. He gave her all Dorsetshire as a dower, with a royal dignity annexed to it, and towards her son he expressed on every occasion the most tender affection.
The fate of this amiable but too confiding prince was memorable and tragical, and his own unsuspecting temper facilitated the execution of the plot; for being endowed with an amiable innocence of manners, and having no impure intentions of his own, he was incapable of entertaining suspicion against others. He was one day hunting in Dorsetshire, near Wareham, a few miles from which stood Corfe-Castle, the residence of Elfrida and her son. His companions were dispersed in pursuit of the game, and, in the course of his sport, Edward approached the conspicuous walls of the mansion. Thither he rode unattended, to pay a visit to the young prince and his mother. His arrival presented her with the opportunity which she had so long sought. The plan was hastily settled. The king was received with apparent kindness, and invited to enter; but he declined to alight, merely desiring some refreshment, and requesting to see his brother. A cup of mead was brought him, and while raising the liquor to his lips, a wretch, the servant of Elfrida, stealing behind, stabbed him in the back. Feeling himself wounded, he put spurs to his horse to escape the assassin, or hurry in quest of his companions. But the dagger had been too successful; becoming faint with loss of blood, he fell from the saddle, his foot stuck in the stirrup, and the frightened steed dragged him along till he expired. His friends tracked his course by the blood; the mangled body was found and privately interred at Wareham, by his servants. It was soon after removed and buried at Shaftesbury, by Dunstan and the governor of Mercia. Thus fell Edward the Martyr, by 'the foulest deed,' as the chronicles of the time say, that ever stained the English name. He was in the fourth year of his reign, and the nineteenth of his age.
• Chron. Sax. 124, 125. Malm. 31.
BORN A. D. 970.--DIED A. D. 1016.
Ethelred succeeded to the throne in 979; but the means by which he obtained the crown had an unfavourable effect on his reputation and his reign. Historians have given him the epithet of the Unready; but the appellation appears to have been suggested not from any act of his own, but, almost as soon as he was born, by Dunstan's malevolence; for, when he took Ethelred from the font, he exclaimed with his usual vehemence, that “the babe would prove a man of nought;" and he never concealed the dislike which he entertained towards the son of Elfrida. The triumph of the murderer of Edward was short; and in attempting to subvert the daring prelate by such a deed she failed. Dunstan retained his dignity, and even his popular influence; for what nation could be so depraved as to patronise a woman who, at her own gate, had caused her step-son to be assassinated ? After no long interval, Dunstan excited the public odium and the terrors of guilt so successfully against her, that she became overwhelmed with shame, and took refuge in the vail and in building nunneries from that abhorrence which will never forsake her memory. There is no reason to suppose that Ethelred, a child of eleven years of age, had in any way aided or assented to the murder of his brother; and, when the nobles and clergy had acknowledged him king, according to the usages of the constitu. tion, Dunstan, whatever may have been his private dislike, was compelled to assist at the ceremony. Probably he might have set up a pretender, if any such could have been found; but Ethelred was the only remaining scion of the royal stem. But he showed the spirit of opposition that rankled in his bosom; for, when he placed the crown on the head of the youthful monarch, he accompanied it by a curse :
“ Even as by the death of thy brother thou didst aspire to the king. dom, hear the decree of heaven. The sin of thy wicked mother, and of her accomplices, shall rest upon thy head; and such evils shall fall upon the English as they have never yet suffered from the days when they first came into the isle of Britain, even until the present time." These invectives were a most inauspicious augury for a new reign; and his imprecations, though they arose obviously out of his aversion towards the prevailing party, had a very deleterious influence on the nation. The prophecy, like many others, was well-calculated to insure its own accomplishment. By persuading the people to attribute their misfortunes to the government, he weakened their power of resistance so long as Ethelred was on the throne; and he also directly instigated them to desert their monarch as the cause of the evils to which they were exposed. Accordingly, the great national honour and felicity which had accumulated under his predecessors, dwindled away from the period of his accession. The splendid prospects grew darker and darker, until the night of calamity settled down with all its horrors. Its approach was foretold and invited by a disordered country, a di
vided court, and an incapable sovereign. England was already prepared to succumb to any foreign enemy; and the misery and confusion which ensued, and which, in fact, opened the way for the entire subjugation of the country by the Normans, if not occasioned by the very words of Dunstan, were yet extremely enhanced by the effect of his denunciation. Ethelred, deprived of the confidence of his subjects, could not lead them to their own defence; and their distrust of their sovereign involved the whole state in a sort of anarchy.
For a considerable time, England had enjoyed a happy freedom from the depredations of the Danes, who had changed the scene of their piracies to the north of France. The repression of their excursions, like the damming of water, had accumulated an overgrown population at home; and these inherited from their fathers the same inveterate habits of war and plunder. A favourable era had occurred, and the second year of Ethelred's reign was distinguished by the re-appearance of those enemies whom the courage and wisdom of Alfred and his successors had exiled from the English coast. By way of experiment, seven vessels landed near Southampton, where the robbers having laid waste the country, and enriched themselves with spoil, departed with impunity. The leader of this expedition appears to have been Sweyn, the son of the king of Denmark. Banished from home by his father, he was in the full vigour of youth ; and the assistance he had at his command rendered him a formidable invader to a country unprepared for defence either in the council-hall or in the field. Next year another detachment of the northern host invaded Mercia ; Chester was taken, London was burnt, and the whole coast from the Mersey to the Thames was ravaged by these insatiable plunderers. Still the Danes did not act in concert with each other; and their fleets, or rather their squadrons, were frequently very small. Thus Dorsetshire was invaded by three ships; and if we estimate their crews at six hundred men, we shall probably overrate their numbers. Any reasonable degree of vigour would have been sufficient to repel so contemptible a force. The kingdom was flourishing in abundant population; its military strength was entire, and its government was undisputed ; but its administration was in weak hands; and, at a time when unanimity was requisite, great dissension prevailed. While the country was smoking with the fires kindled by the invaders, Ethelred was engaged in petty disputes with his subjects. He had quarrelled with the bishop of Rochester, and ravaged the lands belonging to that see, and even laid siege to the town ; but, on receiving payment of a sum of money, he desisted from further hostilities. About the same time Alfric, governor or earl of Mercia, a powerful but treacherous nobleman, had engaged in a conspiracy against Ethelred. He was condemned by the Wittenagemot; his property was confiscated, and he himself being outlawed, was banished from the country. The only part of England in which the Danes met with any effectual resistance was in East-Anglia. In 991 a large force, commanded by Justin and Gurthmund, attacked Ipswich, and advanced through the defenceless country as far as Milden. Here Brithnoth, governor of Essex, bravely opposed them with a small body of warriors; but they were defeated, the noble chief himsell
? Turner's As.gl. Sax. Ilist. vol. iii. p. 223.
being slain. The spoilers extended their devastation unmolested; so completely had courage and patriotism already departed from England. In this extremity Ethelred, instead of rousing his subjects to increased activity, or marching at the head of a new army, adopted the shame. ful expedient of buying off the invaders. Siric, archbishop of Canter- . bury, and successor of Dunstan, was the adviser of this unworthy and fatal measure. His argument was, that as the Danes only came for booty, it would be wiser to give them what they wanted; and in this pusillanimous opinion he was joined by many of the degenerate nobles. Ethelred accordingly purchased their retreat at the expensive bribe of ten thousand pounds. The effect of this imprudence was such as might have been anticipated. The Danes departed; but they appeared next year in greater numbers off the eastern coast. The bribe that had gratified their own avarice told them that England abounded with gold, but that her warlike spirit was no more. It was like a beacon of attraction planted on her cliffs, encouraging needy adventurers to plunder with impunity, and retire with wealth. This concession laid the foundation of a permanent burden on the country ; for, it is noticed by the annalists of the time, as having produced the evil of direct taxation, the tribute of Dane-gelt being raised by assessments on the land. “ We now pay (says a chronicler of the twelfth century) that from custom which terror first extorted from the Danes.” The im, positions were not remitted when the necessity had ceased to exist. Ethelred, mean
eanwhile, became sensible of his mistake, and when sober reflection had time to operate, the right means of defence were put in action. The Witan, or great council of the nation, had assembled, as being determined to give battle to the enemy; and a powerful fleet was constructed at London, and well-manned with chosen troops. But the wisdom of this measure was again baffled by the treachery of the person selected for the command. This was no other than Alfric, who, during his banishment, had employed every intrigue that could either restore him to his former independence, or prevent every success that might tend to establish the royal authority. If the exile of this turbulent chief was a proof of the rebellious spirit of Ethelred's nobles, his speedy restoration to the government of Mercia was a still greater evidence of the weak and vacillating policy of the court. The English had formed the plan of surrounding and destroying the Danish fleet in harbour, but the whole scheme was foiled by the perfidious Alfric, who privately informed the enemy of their danger, and when, in consequence of this intelligence, they quitted their station and put to sea, he consummated his villany by deserting to them, with the squadron under his command, the night before the engagement. The rest of the AngloSaxons pursued but could only overtake one vessel. Another division however met, and bravely attacked some of the enemy's ships before they could reach the harbour. The capture of Alfric's vessel crowned their victory, but its ruthless master with some difficulty effected his escape, and was again replaced in his honours. This instance of gross perfidy Ethelred avenged by seizing his son Alfgar, and ordering his
• Chron. Sax. 126.--Hoved. 245. - Wilk. L.L. Sax.