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Chapter X, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

Edmund I. - His brief Reign and Death.
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Edmund was only eighteen years of age when in a.d. 941 he succeeded to the crown of his natural brother, whose activity and vigour had secured to England for several years before his death a profound repose. The Welsh paid their tribute with the utmost regularity; the Danes, who had so frequently experienced his prowess, desired no better than to remain at peace; and the unfortunate Anlaff, who, after the defeat of his hopes, had once more retired to Ireland during the reign of his conqueror, never renewed his attempts.

No sooner was it known, however, that Athelstan was dead, and a mere youth upon the throne, than the Danes prepared to revolt; the opportunity of carrying out their long-projected scheme of the conquest of the island appearing now too favourable to be overlooked.

Anlaff, who was informed of all that passed, deemed that the time was come for the prosecution of his claims, and entered into a treaty with Olaus, King of Norway, for assistance, which being liberally granted, he once more appeared in his father's kingdom of Northumbria, and obtained possession of York, the inhabitants opening the gates to him.

This example being followed by most of the neighbouring towns, the long-exiled prince soon found himself in a position to carry the war into Mercia, where his countrymen received him as a deliverer, and by their united efforts many strong places were recovered, which Edward had taken from them.

Edmund, though both young and inexperienced, appears to have inherited the courage of his race. The success of the enemy, instead of depressing him, rendered him more eager for battle; he marched at once to the north, and Anlaff, with equal confidence, advanced to meet him.

A battle was fought between these rival princes near Chester, in which success was so equally balanced, that it was impossible to say on which side it preponderated.

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury, to avoid any further effusion of blood, prevailed upon the parties to make peace. Anlaff was permitted to retain possession of the kingdom of Northumbria, whose limits were considerably increased.

The Northumbrians had not reason long to rejoice at the restoration of Anlaff, which they had so ardently desired; for this prince, having contracted a large debt with the King of Norway for the troops he had lent him, was anxious to pay it; and to this end laid heavy taxes on the people, by which he forfeited their affection. The inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Deira were the first that revolted, and having sent for Reginald, ids brother Godfrid's son, crowned him king at York.

Reginald was no sooner on the throne, than he armed against his uncle, who was also preparing to dispossess him. The quarrel between these two kings incited Edmund to march towards the north at the head of an army, to appease the troubles there, being apprehensive they might give occasion to the foreign Danes to return into England. He arrived upon the borders of Northumbria, when the uncle and nephew, wholly intent upon their private quarrel, thought of nothing less than repulsing the English. He probably might with ease have made himself master of that kingdom; but he was contented with procuring peace between the two kings, in such a manner that Reginald was to keep the crown he had lately received; but at the same time, Edmund obliged them both to swear allegiance to him, and be baptised, himself standing godfather.

This forced peace did not last long, and Edmund had hardly returned into Wessex, when the two Danish princes took up arms to free themselves from his yoke, having engaged the Mercian Danes and the King of Cumberland to espouse their quarrel. Whereupon Edmund immediately marched into Mercia, and before the Danes there could be joined by the Northumbrians, took from them Leicester, Stafford, Derby, Nottingham, and some other places of less note; and then advancing with the same expedition towards Northumbria, he surprised the two kings before they had drawn their forces together. This sudden attack threw the Northumbrians into such disorder, that their rulers, fearing to fall into the hands of Edmund, believed it their only refuge to abandon the island, where they could not possibly remain in safety, so closely were they pursued; and as their flight deprived the Danes of all hopes of withstanding Edmund, they threw down their arms, and gave him allegiance.

Before he returned to Wessex, Edmund resolved to punish the King of Cumberland, who, without cause, had taken part with the Danes; and he easily subdued that petty kingdom, whose forces bore no proportion to his own, and presented it to the King of Scotland, in order to attach him to his interest, and prevent him from again assisting the Northumbrians; reserving, however, the sovereignty of it, and obliging that king to do him homage, and appear at the court of England at the time of the solemn festivals, if summoned. This, perhaps, is what gave occasion to the assertion, subsequently made, that from thenceforward the kings of Scotland were vassals to the kings of England. They were certainly so with regard to Cumberland; but it does not appear that they ever did homage for the kingdom of Scotland.

Edmund was not wholly employed in military affairs; and there are some of his laws still in being which demonstrate how desirous he was of the people's welfare and happiness. Having observed that pecuniary punishments were not sufficient to put a stop to robberies, which were generally committed by people who had nothing to lose, he ordered, that in gangs of robbers, the oldest of them should be condemned to be hung; which was the first law in England that made it death to rob or steal.

Probably this prince would have rendered his people happy, had his reign been longer; but a fatal accident robbed him of his life. On May 26, a.d. 946, as he was solemnising a festival at Pucklechurch, in Gloucestershire, Leofa, a notorious robber, though banished the kingdom for his crimes, had the effrontery to enter and seat himself at one of the-tables in the hall where the king was at dinner. Edred, the king's brother, enraged at his insolence, commanded him to be apprehended; but perceiving he was drawing his dagger to defend himself, the king himself leaped up in great fury, and catching hold of him by the hair, dragged him out of the hall; and whilst he was wholly intent upon venting his furious passion, Leofa stabbed him in the breast with his dagger, so that he immediately expired upon the body of his murderer. Thus died King Edmund in 946, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, and the sixth of his reign. By Elgiva, his wife, he had two sons, Edwy and Edgar, who did not succeed him, on account of their minority; Edred, his brother, being placed on the throne by the unanimous consent of the clergy and nobility.

During his reign Dunstan began to distinguish himself; being in great favour with Edmund, who made him Abbot of Glastonbury.

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Pictures for Chapter X, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

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