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

Reign of Edward the Elder - Continuation of the War with the Danes - Elfrida - War with the Welsh.
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At the accession of Edward, the son of Alfred, England was nearly equally divided between the Saxons and the Danes. The former still possessed the important kingdom of Wessex, which included Essex and most of the territory to the south of the Thames. Mercia was inhabited by a mixed population, in which, however, the English race predominated. Their enemies were more numerous in the east and north of the island.

Both parties began to be weary of war - of mutually destroying each other - and a brief repose was welcome. To the new settlers the retreat of their countrymen was as acceptable as to the Saxons; for the hordes who invaded the island with no other object than obtaining plunder, were little scrupulous which possessions they ravaged; and the consequence was, that the Danes suffered at times as much as the earlier possessors of the soil.

Edward had not long obtained possession of the crown before a civil war broke out, which ultimately strengthened the Saxons as a nation. Alfred's elder brother, Ethelbert, left two sons, the eldest of whom, Ethelward, having arrived at man's estate, claimed the throne, on the plea that his grandfather, Ethelwulph, had no right to make a will leaving the succession to his three sons, according to-their seniority, to the exclusion of their issue - a claim which, in these days, would undoubtedly be looked upon as valid. A numerous party supported his pretensions, and Edward was compelled to draw the sword to maintain himself in his inheritance.

Defeated in his first attempt, the pretender fled to the Danes, who received him hospitably, and, seeing the use which such an instrument might be made of in their hands, at once proclaimed him King of Wessex.

In this crisis Edward proved himself worthy of his illustrious father, and acted with a promptitude and decision which ultimately secured to him his crown. Immediately after the battle of Wimborne, in which he had defeated his rival, he marched against him and his new allies, his army increasing daily. The Danes, unable to resist the overwhelming forces led against them, dismissed the pretender from amongst them, and ceded several strongholds as the price of peace.

In the year 915, according to some historians, Edward founded the University of Cambridge; others contend for a yet earlier date - an assumption, however, resting on tradition merely. They attribute it to one Cantaber, three hundred years before the Christian era.

In 910 the war between the two races broke out once more, and lasted, with brief intermission, for ten years; when the Danes, finding they were losing ground, sued for peace. Those who inhabited Mercia were the first to submit, the East Anglians followed their example, and the Northumbrians were the last.

Edward was materially assisted in these struggles by his warlike sister Elfleda, the widow of the Earl of Mercia, who, despite her sex, appears to have delighted in arms. Aided by her brother's troops, she attacked the Welsh, who had sided with the Danes, and obliged them to pay tribute to her.

On the death of this princess the Welsh threw off the yoke, and made a desperate effort to regain their freedom. They entered into an alliance with the Danes; but on the defeat of the latter Edward marched against them, vanquished Rees ap Madoc, their king, and once more reduced them to become tributaries.

Although Edward equalled his illustrious predecessor in military talents, and was much more fortunate in all his undertakings, he was far inferior to him in virtue, having several concubines; his son by one of these, named Egwina, ultimately succeeded him.

Concerning this woman, the chroniclers relate that she was the daughter of a shepherd, and, whilst watching her father's flock, fell asleep in the fields, and had an extraordinary dream. She dreamt that a globe of light, resembling the moon, shone out from her body, and that all England was illuminated by it. This she related to Edward's nurse, who was so struck by it that she adopted her, gave her a good education, and purposely threw her in the way of the king, by whom she had three children, Athelstan, Alfred, and a daughter named Editha.

Edward had four other sons and several daughters. The eldest son, Elfward, died at Oxford a few days after his father; and Edwin, the second, perished miserably. Edmund and Edred, Edward's sons by his queen Edgiva, both lived to reign in England.

Of the daughters several married, and the rest devoted themselves to a religious life. Eifleda, the eldest, was Abbess of Ramsey; Ogina married Charles the Simple, King of France; Edilda became a nun. Another sister, named Eadhild, was the wife of Hugh, Earl of Paris, whose son, Hugh Capet, afterwards became so celebrated. Eadgith was the wife of Otho, the German emperor, and Edgiva queen of Louis the Blind, King of Provence. Another sister, named Edburga, became a nun.

It was during the reign of Edward that the famous adventurer Rollo, who had led a band of Normans into France, compelled Charles the Simple to confirm him in the new possession of Neustria, and bestow on him the hand of his daughter Gisella in marriage. The only condition the feeble monarch ventured to exact was that the barbarian should be baptised, a ceremony to which Rollo readily submitted, and assumed the title of Duke of Normandy, holding his possessions as a fief from the crown of France.

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

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