1093 BARBARIAN ASCENDENCY-THE ANGLO-SAXON KINGDOMS.
civilization. Scarcely, however, had this state
of affairs supervened when the country was
profoundly shaken by a new invasion from
the north. The Anglo-Saxons were in their
turn made to feel the blows of lawless barbarism. Now it was that the Danes, disturbed
in their native seats on the Baltic, took to sea,
as the Angles and Saxons had done, and threw
themselves on the. shores, of England.
No brood of pirates more reckless, fierce,
and hardy had ever gone forth on the hazardous seas of fortune. The first landing of
these Northmen was effected in the Isle of
Sheppey in the year 832. In the following
year a new band was landed from thirty-five
ships at Chartmouth, in Devonshire. Here
they were met by the army of Egbert, and,
after a stubborn conflict, driven back on shipboard. The Saxons were astonished at the
desperate valor displayed in battle by their
.new enemy. The whole coast became infested
with the sea-robbers, who captured, killed, or
destroyed whatever came in their reach. They
made a league with Cornwall, and in 834
landed an army in that country to cooperate
with the Cornish king against Devonshire.
The people of Cornwall were in a state of
comparative independence. They felt themselves well able to regain the political position
which they had had before the invasion of
Egbert; but this hope was vain. They were
met by the Saxons at Hengsdown Hill, and
defeated with great slaughter. Great was the
misfortune to Wessex and all England when,
in 836, the warlike Egbert died. It became
at once apparent that the kingdom which he
had founded had been maintained by his
genius and sword. Scarcely was he buried
until the supremacy of the West Saxons was
denied, and the states began to reassert their
independence. The crown of the West Saxons
descended to Egbert's son Ethelwulf, who
began his reign by conferring the kingdom of
Kent on his son Athelstane. Mercia revolted
and regained her independence. Thus that
political union by which only England might
hope to protect herself was broken up.
Finding that the great Egbert was dead,
the Northmen spread inland everywhere.
The southern parts of Wessex and Kent were completely overrun, and a fleet of Danes sailing up the Thames captured and pillaged
London. So desperate became the condition
of the country that, in 851, the bishops and
thanes of Wessex and Mercia met in a congress at Kingsbury to devise means of defense.
Barhulf, king of Merda, led an army against
the Danes, but was defeated and slain. Better
success attended the campaign of Ethelwulf,
who, with his West Saxons, overthrew the
Northmen in Surrey, inflicting upon them
such a bloody defeat as they had never before
suffered in the island. Another victory was
gained over the pirates at Sanwich by Athelstane, of Kent. Ceorl, chief of Devonshire,
also defeated the Danes at Wenbury.
The distractions of France were at this
time such as to make that country a more inviting field than England to the rapacious
Northmen. In the time following their defeats they sailed up the Seine, captured Paris,
and laid the city in ashes. England was for
the moment relieved by this diversion of her
enemies. Ethelwulf even found time to make
an expedition into Wales and to punish the
people of that country for a recent insurrection. He carried his banners as far as Anglesey, and the Welsh were obliged to yield.
Returning from his war, Ethelwulf, whose
religious zeal was even greater than his military abilities, determined to make a pilgrimage
to Rome. In the year 853 he passed over to
the continent, crossed the Alps, and reached
Rome, where he remained for nearly a year.
On his return into France, the aged zealot
fell in love with Judith, daughter of Charles
the Bald, of France. Obtaining her father's
consent, he led the princess to the altar of the
cathedral at Rheims, where they were married, with a solemn ceremony.
Ethelwulf had five sons. Athalstane, the
eldest, who had been king of Kent, was now
dead. Ethelbald, the next of the brothers,
was ambitious to receive the kingdom from his
father. A plot was formed to anticipate the
course of nature for dethroning Ethelwulf.
The conspiracy extended over .all Wessex. A
manifesto was issued, in which the direful
flagitiousness of Ethelwulf was set forth in
this-that he had openly eaten with his French