Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

years. He

the country at large, at the age of nineteen years, having been born in 922. Though young, he had given proofs of his military knowledge at the battle of Brunsbury; and it was not long before his skill in arms was still further tested in a battle at Tamworth against the Northumbrian and Mercian Danes, who had united their forces under the command of Anlaf. The English suffered a defeat, but shortly afterwards the Danish leader died, and thus relieved Edmund from an opponent whose bravery and influence with his countrymen rendered him somewhat of a rival to the Saxon crown. With Anlaf's removal the northmen, like a vessel without a rudder, knew not what course to pursue other than submitting to the king's authority. They adopted this alternative, and Edmund having subdued Cumberland, over which a hostile independent chieftain had reigned, assigned it to Malcolm, king of Scotland, on condition of his performing military service. The period of tranquillity, however, that now ensued the monarch did not long enjoy. He was stabbed by Leofa, a returned criminal, at the feast of St. Augustine, after a reign of about six was buried with great pomp at Glastonbury, in the church which his gifts had made so rich, and his privileges so powerful. The ecclesiastical writers have not neglected to extol him, for the munificence and protection that he bestowed on, and extended to, their religion. His short administration was not distinguished by any circumstances worthy of particular comment. The youthful warrior and sovereign closed his career ere he perceived the wants of his people.

His brother Edred was called by the General Assembly to fill the vacant throne; Edmund's sons being then (946) in infancy. Fresh disturbances broke out in the North, but the king, possessing the martial spirit of his ancestors, reduced the insurgent Northumbrians and Scots to submission, imprisoned Wulstan, Archbishop of York, on account of his having instigated the Danish revolt, and obliged Malcolm to observe the treaty concluded with his predecessor. We may justly ascribe much of Edred's vigorous government to his Chancellor Turketul, and to Dunstan, the ambitious abbot of Glastonbury. The former, whose functions corresponded somewhat to those of the present Home Secretary's, fought bravely at the battle of Brunsbury, retained his appointments during the three preceding reigns, but relinquished, with Edred's consent, the turmoils of war and the state for the peaceful retirement of Croyland Abbey. This ancient building, which had sustained, and was doomed to sustain, so much injury from the Danes, he restored to its pristine magnificence, and there, amidst the shelter and repose that the monastery afforded him, he closed his life in the year 975. In Dunstan we perceive a character cast in a different mould. He was the crafty designing ecclesiastic, the ambitious statesman, and the all-powerful prelate. Born in 925, his career of sixty-three years formed a prominent era in English history. The advancement of his sect was the secret of his actions : to this end he devoted his undoubted abilities; for this object he sacrificed character and the love of his fellow creatures. But notwithstanding the high sacerdotal offices which he filled, the extent of his influence and the ardour

of his religious zeal, the hypocritical motives of his conduct were fathomed, and the veil that shrouded his many failings was unceremoniously torn down by a discerning public. To use the words of Sir Walter Scott, he finished his days “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”

Edred, after holding the reins of government nine years, died at Frome in 955, and was buried at Winchester. In him the monks lost a patron who had uniformly acceded to their requests; we believe not so much from conviction, as from the immense sway which Dunstan exerted over a mind enfeebled by a weak constitution.

The vacant crown now reverted to Edwy, the son of Edmund I. ; but owing to his youth (being only sixteen years of age), the government devolved principally upon other persons, of whom Dunstan was the leader both in civil and ecclesiastical affairs. His disgraceful procedure on the occasion of Edwy's coronation is, no doubt, fresh in our readers' recollection. Not contented with invading the privacy of his royal master, he instigated his pitiful supporters to persecute his innocent and beautiful queen, Elgiva, to perpetrate the most barbarous cruelties, from the sufferings induced by which, death soon happily relieved her. And this, too, was enacted under the guise of piety, the mask of religion, and the blind belief that they were following the precepts of their sacred creed ! But Edwy, in spite of his youth, could not brook Dunstan's rude insolence, in dragging him from the companionship of his beloved Elgiva, to the noisy hall in which the prelate and his friends were banqueting after their sovereign's coronation. He requested an account of the treasure that Edred had left in charge at Glastonbury Abbey, a question which Dunstan evaded answering by leaving the country. One would have thought that with his flight order would have been restored; but his influence extended so far, that the clergy, deeming the king to have been the cause of his removal, excited hostility towards Edwy and his advisers; Mercia and Northumberland rose to arms, and elected as their ruler his brother Edgar, a prince only fourteen years old. On the adoption of this measure Dunstan returned from exile, placed himself at the head of young Edgar, and procured his elevation to the highest ecclesiastical and secular stations. Of that revolution, Edwy was in no trifling degree the cause : he had so persecuted the monks by sequestrating their property, that they naturally thought their extinction was inevitable, and therefore endeavoured to raise to the throne a member of the royal family who would promote their interests. But Edwy's reign soon terminated. The complication of difficulties which thus surrounded his path proved too formidable for his youthful capacities. From their effects he died, after wearing the imperial diadem four years. His remains rest in Westminster Abbey. In viewing his brief administration we must use great leniency. Unaccustomed to the cares and turmoil of a throne, surrounded by a powerful clergy whose influence pervaded all classes, and over whom presided an aspiring designing prelate, we do not feel surprised that so young a king should have failed in maintaining tranquillity and prosperity: Before, too, he had obtained that share of wisdom which would have enabled him to retrieve his early errors, he fell a sacrifice to the ills that his enemies had in some measure produced. Seeing, then, that his defects were not those of cruelty, oppression, or licentiousness, let us not load his name with opprobrium ; but rather drop the mantle of charity over one whose good qualities and mental capacities were obscured and perverted by his bigoted counsellors.

Edgar, who was born in the year 942, succeeded to the vacant throne A.D. 959. The events of this reign have distinguished it far and wide, not less for its vigour and glory than for the assistance afforded to Dunstan in his sweeping monastic changes. Edgar owed his elevation to the clergy, and of them he was ever a most liberal and devoted partisan. His early years were passed among the Mercian Danes, into the philosophy of whose customs he thus became initiated; and on assuming the regal functions, he showed that his intercourse with the Northmen had rendered him not only conversant with their various peculiarities of character, but considerate of the different distinctions existing in his other subjects. The favourable nature of Dunstan's prediction at the time of his birth was fully verified in his after life: his prophecy, which he represented to have received from angelic lips, being to this effect:“ Peace to England so long as this child shall reign, and our Dunstan survives!”. Edgar's military deeds were very successful. He marched into Wales to punish the king for neglecting to pay the tribute imposed since Athelstan's reign; reduced to subjection the

Northumbrian Danes, as well as the refractory Scotch and Irish, of whose capital, Dublin, at that time a resort of the Danes, he obtained possession. He stationed fleets on the coasts, maintained the tranquillity of the northern parts of England by retaining troops in those districts, made a journey twice a year throughout his dominions to inquire into and correct abuses; held annual reviews of the naval forces, so that the posture of defence which the island presented effectually averted foreign invasion and internal rebellion. Indeed, so extensive was his power, that eight princes acknowledged his supremacy; and, more than this, to prove that they were in every respect his

vassals, they rowed him on the river Dee, an occurrence which the country never before witnessed. No monarch had previously greater reason to be designated King of England than Edgar. The policy of his administration (excepting his extreme partiality to the monks), was deserving of no little praise. He encouraged the settlement of foreigners whose presence would be likely to advance civilisation, fostered the growth of commerce, and in order to destroy the large number of wolves that infested Wales, he changed the tribute payable by that kingdom into an annual contribution of three hundred wolves' heads, a measure which soon extirpated that animal. The coinage having become much depreciated, he restored it to the former value by a new issue. The public security, owing to the rigour of the penal laws, was very great. The wants of the poor received his care; so that, altogether, the country attained to a high state of prosperity,

In religious matters Edgar was the tool of Dunstan. That rare Christian (!) endeavoured to supplant the existing system of monachism, which allowed the priests a justifiable degree of licence, by the strict Benedictine order, and the king, knowing that his secure retention of the crown depended upon seconding the prelate's wishes, became involved in the religious revolution which now shattered the old ecclesiastical régime. The secular clergy were deprived of their benefices, the austere principles of Dunstan established, forty-seven additional monasteries erected, and ancient charters forged, in order to swell the immunities and privileges of the religious institutions. The promotion of such a system on the part of Edgar of course excited the warm admiration of the fanatic Dunstan and his followers, who, under the guise of superior sanctity, expelled the former clergy, the nature of whose creed, though by no means free from the vices inseparable to a dark age, partook more of the spirit of Christianity than the severe and rigorous character of the Benedictine rule. But notwithstanding the king's support of the Archbishop of Canterbury's measures in abolishing all social enjoyments among religious orders, there have been few sovereigns whose licentiousness and open immorality deserve more unqualified censure. We shall not enter into a description of his numerous amours: the details are recorded in the historic page in regular and disgraceful succession. Against the commission of these outrages on humanity, neither Dunstan nor the other exponents of his principles ever raised a protest; they were too well contented with enjoying the fruits of Edgar's munificence to dream of opposing the lusts of their royal patron. If such were the results which flowed from an observance of the ecclesiastical doctrines of the middle ages, what a Herculean task the intrepid and noble Reformers spent their lives in accomplishing. Posterity owes an inextinguishable debt of gratitude to those men, who so thoroughly swept away the religious rubbish of centuries !

Edgar died A.D. 975, at the age of thirty-three, and after a reign of sixteen years. He left two sons, Edward and Ethelred, both of whom succeeded to the throne, and one daughter, who entered a convent. In glancing at his government, we feel bound to bestow upon it a high panegyric. He ruled peacefully and successfully for a considerable period, and extended his sway over the whole island. His administration procured respect both at home and abroad. We do not coincide with the opinion of the old chroniclers. They have exalted his character to a degree totally incompatible with his life; they have not even stigmatised his licentiousness, but were so blind to his faults that his most glaring improprieties have been passed over in silence. Though it may appear a paradox, Edgar was at once the glory and the disgrace of his country.

Edward II., surnamed the Martyr, the son of the late king, was consecrated by Dunstan in the year 975. Like his predecessor, the regal diadem was placed upon his brow at a very early age, and to this circumstance we attribute, in some measure, the misfortunes of his reign. The peace of his dominions was disturbed by the struggle for supremacy between the secular clergy and the Benedictine monks, and by the ambitious designs of his step-mother, Elfrida, who, notwithstanding his uniformly kind and generous treatment towards her, wished her infant son Ethelred to occupy the throne, in order that she might then act as regent. It was not long ere her cruel and treacherous attempt to remove Edward met with success. After having been engaged in the chase, he stopped at Corfe Castle (her residence at that time) to quench his thirst, and while doing so an attendant, acting upon her instructions, stabbed the youthful prince. He immediately put spurs to his horse, so as to rejoin his companions ; but sensibility having soon fled, he fell from the saddle. His lifeless body was found by his friends, interred at Wareham, and subsequently removed to Shaftesbury. The tragical end which thus terminated the career of Edward II. was the reason of his being called the Martyr. Never was such a designation more justly applied, never was a deed more unmerited or barbarous.

Ethelred II., the son of Edgar, a prince of nine years of age, was crowned by Dunstan, at Kingston-on-Thames, A.D. 978. The memorable events of this reign will ever render it one of peculiar importance. They were predicted by that prelate; his prophecy became interwoven into the public mind, and, before the king's death, received ample verification. To Dunstan the people listened with as much devotedness as did the followers of Mahomet; to him they looked for aid and counsel, so that after his demise, in the year 988, the intellect that had ruled with such energy for so long a period sank into merited oblivion, and the fabric of religion that his zeal and ability had raised fell from its once commanding eminence.

Ethelred's coronation was a scene in which Dunstan exhibited a spirit of aversion to the boyish monarch unworthy of so influential a person. His sense of loyalty should have prevented such a denunciation as the following ; so subversive of peace, so pregnant with evil:—“Even as by the death of thy brother thou didst aspire to the kingdom, hear the decree of Heaven. The sin of thy wicked mother and of her accomplices shall rest upon thy head; and such disasters 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.” Before long these gloomy prognostications were confirmed by fact. The Danes under the command of Sweyn (son of the Danish monarch), landed at Southampton, and desolated the coast ; in 982 repeated their visit, plundered the country from the Mersey to the Thames ; in 991 descended upon East Anglia, but left on condition of receiving a subsidy of ten thousand pounds. This impolitic measure effectually ensured their return. In 993 they entered the Humber, and ravaged the northern part of England; the following year they landed in Wessex, marched to London, were defeated by the valiant citizens, exacted a further sum of sixteen thousand pounds; next carried their inroads into the western counties, destroyed the beautiful abbey of Tavistock, killing alike the innocent and the guilty, respecting neither beauty nor infancy, neither sanctity nor old age. But we have not arrived at the close of the mournful recital. They again ravaged Hampshire and the adjoining counties, received another payment of twenty-four thousand pounds to suspend hostilities, repeated their attacks in the year 1003, till at last Ethelred and his subjects, having become thoroughly dispirited, concluded a treaty of peace, by surrendering sixteen counties, and paying forty-eight thousand pounds, in addition to almost as large a sum passed into the Danish coffers shortly before. This occurred in 1010. Three years afterwards, bereft of friends, troops, and influence, the Danes having broken faith, re-commenced their ravages, and the people having acknowledged the supremacy of Sweyn and his son Canute, Ethelred fled with his consort and chil. dren to his brother-in-law, Richard of Normandy. A few months after his arrival Sweyn died, and, though Canute was immediately elected king by his countrymen, the ex-monarch responded so quickly to his people's wish that he should again place himself at their head, that the Danish general, surprised at his return, and the ardour with which the English supported their hereditary sovereign regarded the recently-acquired dominions of his father as irrecoverably lost, and sailed for Denmark. In 1015, however, Canute, at the suggestion of one of his subjects, invaded the island with a fleet of two hundred vessels, equipped in the most complete manner, and conveying soldiers inspired with

bravery and devotion to their leader. On landing, the Danes formerly in Ethelred's service forsook their colours, and thus increased the ranks of the enemy.

During this time, the king had been suffering from illness at Corsham, from whence he removed to London, where he closed his disastrous reign on the 12th of March, 1016, at the age of forty-six.* He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His queen, Emma, with her two sons, returned to Normandy, her native land. In the meanwhile the brave Edmund Ironside was proclaimed his father's successor. He at once collected his forces, and routed the Danes at Penn, in Dorsetshire; encountered them near Chipping Norton, where, after a day of desperate fighting, darkness and fatigue terminated the engagement; repulsed Canute at London—and would have vanquished him at the memorable battle of Assingdon but for the treachery of Edric, who, at Canute's command, joined the English forces, for the purpose of betraying them. Though defeated, and the flower of his army slain, Edmund's remaining soldiers rallied round him with the intention of again meeting the enemy. Here, however, the king's humanity saved the country from rivers of bloodshed: he challenged Canute to a single combat; the proposal was accepted ; but the Dane, finding his opponent the most valiant, suggested, by way of terminating the contest, that England should be divided—the northern half to revert to him, the southern to Edmund. The respective armies, as well as the brave Ironside, consented to the measure; and hope, ever buoyant, led the people to believe that peace would be the result of this coalition. But the death of Edmund (some say by the hand of an assassin), on the 30th of November, 1017, placed the English sceptre in the power of Canute. Glastonbury Abbey received the remains of this able warrior.

Of Ethelred II. we entertain a very unfavourable opinion. Few circumstances exist to counterbalance the impolicy and weakness of his unhappy reign. His exertions to repel the Danes seldom succeeded—his measures were feeble-neither adapted to meet the difficulties he wished to remove, nor, when suited to the end (which was occasionally the case), were they energetically carried out. What measure could be more barbarous and unwise than to massacre all the Danes in his dominions ? To this cruel expedient we ascribe the augmented power of that nation in Britain : it filled them with bitter animosity against the English, and revenge, as much as the acquisition of new territory, henceforth became their object. Then, again, his successive purchases of peace by large sums of money, amounting in the aggregate to 134,0001., his flight from the field of danger, when his regal position, and that love of country which should exist in every man's breast, might have dictated a different course ; his mean retaliation on Alfric's son, while he was perfectly innocent of participating in his father's treachery, are acts which admit of no justification or palliation. Through them he lost the support and popularity of his people, and acquired the very suitable cognomen of Ethelred the Unready. Edmund, the last of that once-heroic Germanic race of kings, did much to extricate his countrymen from Danish domination, but perished, after earning a fame pure and unsullied, and ere an occasion offered for testing those qualities which, we are sure, would have distinguished him as eminently in the discharge of civil duties as on the battle-field.

Thus terminated, for a time, the Anglo-Saxon dynasty. Its downfal we can trace to several causes : the incompetency of many of the later sovereigns—the religious struggles which so long disturbed the peace of the nation—and the determined character of the Danes. Had the people adopted and acted upon the motto, “ Union is strength," the enemy might have been driven from the island; but, placing little confidence in their king, and disorganised by ecclesiastical disputes, they allowed their country to be overrun by a horde of brave but barbarous Northmen, whose mission was emphatically conquest, plunder, and destruction!

The Saxon chronicle states the 23rd of April.

« AnteriorContinuar »