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