Page 1092

1092 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

Oxfordshire. From 757 to 794 the paramount authority of Mercia was again recognized, especially in the reign of King Offa, who, after

subduing Sussex and Kent, overran all that

part of the kingdom of Wessex on the left bank

of the Thames. He then made war on Wales,

and drove the king beyond the river Wye.

The country between that stream and the Severn was permanently occupied by Saxon colonists. In order to secure this region from

reconquest, he caused a ditch and an earthwork to be drawn for a hundred miles along

the Welsh frontier. The line of this defense is

still to be traced from Basingwerke to Bristol.

King Offa was called the Terrible. Well

might he so be named by the yeoman

of Wales, who many times felt his vengeful

blows. Those whom he met in battle he slew, and the captives he reduced to slavery. Albeit, he was a taciturn spirit, always abounding in silence, subtle to conceive, quick to

execute his designs; not without pride, but

above a petty vanity.

In the year 795 the king of Mercia died,

and the power which he had established by

his warlike deeds began rapidly to decline.

At the same time North Umbria fell into a

weak and helpless condition. Meanwhile the

kingdom of Wessex had been gradually gaining an ascendancy which was soon to be asserted in a still more striking manner. At

the time of Offa's death the West Saxons

were ruled by Beotric. His right, however,

was disputed by Prince Egbert, who, after a

short and unsuccessful struggle for the crown,

was obliged to seek safety in flight.. He found

refuge at the court of Mercia, whither he was

followed by the messengers of Beotric, who

demanded that the Saxon refugee should be

killed, and Eadburgha, daughter of Offa, be

given to himself in marriage. Escaping from

the Mercian capital, Egbert fled to the camp

of Charlemagne and took service in the army

of that great monarch. Beotric obtained

Eadburgha for a wife, but she soon proved to

be the bane of the kingdom. She instigated

her husband to the perpetration of many

crimes. She then became a murderess herself.

She prepared a cup of poison for one of Beotric's noblemen, but by mistake the potion

was drunk by the king himself, who died in a

horrid manner. The thanes and warriors then

rose against the bloody-minded queen, and

she was expelled from the kingdom. Flying

to the court of Charlemagne, she was sent to a

convent for security. Here her bad disposition reasserted itself, and she was turned out

of doors. Years afterwards she was seen

haggard and forlorn, begging bread in the

streets of Pavia.

Learning of the death of Beotric, Egbert

returned from the continent and claimed the

kingdom of Wessex. He was received by his

subjects with great joy, and acknowledged

without further opposition. His first enterprise was to establish his authority in Devonshire and on the side of Cornwall. Scarcely

had this work been accomplished when Wessex was invaded by the Mercians. Egbert

now established his character as a great captain by inflicting a decisive defeat on the enemy. Following up his advantage he subdued

the whole kingdom of Mercia, and annexed it

to his own dominions. He appointed a governor for the country and others in East Anglia and Kent. The country north of the

Humber was next invaded, and in a short

time North Umbria was compelled to submit.

Eanred, the North Umbrian king, became a

vassal of Egbert.

Thus in the year 827 were the kingdoms

of the Saxon Heptarchy consolidated under a

single ruler. It was three hundred and

seventy-six years since the landing of Hengist

and Horsa, and eleven years after the death

of Charlemagne. It will thus appear that the

tendency to political union was felt somewhat

later in England than on the continent, where

the great Frankish emperor had already established a single rule over most of the barbarian

states. Egbert continued to style himself the

king of Wessex and Britwalda of the Saxon

states. The name of king of England was

reserved for his illustrious grandson.

For seven years the island enjoyed the

blessings of a government more regular and

extensive by far than any previously established in Britain. Local insurrections here

and there were easily suppressed, and the English people began to feel the influence of