Page 1093

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