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Of the career of Egbert,

the powerful king of Wessex, a sketch has already

been given in the First Book of the present volume. It will be remembered that in the first

quarter of the ninth century this distinguished

ruler succeeded in bringing under one sovereignty all the states of the Heptarchy. He

disclaimed for himself, however, the title of

king of England, being content with that of

Wessex. The peace of his long reign was by

no means undisturbed; for now it was that

the Northmen began to prey upon the coasts

of England. In the year 832 a band of these

audacious pirates captured and ravaged the

island of Shepp. In the next year Dorsetshire suffered a similar fate. The method

of the Danes was to fall upon a given coast,

rob, devastate, and fly. Attempting to

protect his shores, King Egbert was himself

at one time in imminent danger of capture.

In 834 the Northmen invaded Devonshire,

being joined on the expedition by the rebellious people of Land's End. Others of the

old Britons espoused the cause of the Danes;

but Egbert, equal to the emergency, met

the enemy at Hengsdown Hill, and defeated

them with great slaughter. So decisive was

the victory that for two years the pirates

kept aloof; but the career of Egbert was

already at an end. He died in the year

836, and was succeeded by Ethelwulf, his

oldest surviving son.

At this time might be noticed in the rising

monarchy of England the same disposition

which has so many times been remarked in

the history of Germany and France, to divide

among several sons the political power which

had been held by the father. Such was the

policy of Ethelwulf, who, on coming to the

throne, gave up Kent, Sussex, and Essex to

be held as a separate kingdom by his son

Athelstane. For himself he retained Wessex

and Mercia, but the latter soon revolted and

became independent. Nor were the Danes

slow to perceive the broken-up condition of England. They returned like birds of prey.

They took and pillaged London, Rochester,

and Canterbury. In 851 a congress of the

Saxon Thanes was held at Kingsbury, and

measures of defense were planned against the

Danes. In the course of the ensuing struggle

Barhulf, king of Mercia, was killed. But the

West Saxons, led by Ethelwulf, won a great

victory over the enemy in Surrey. Athelstane, king of Kent, was hardly less successful in a battle at Sandwich, where he took

nine ships from the pirates. The men of

Devonshire also gained a victory at Wenbury, and the sea-robbers, thus baffled at

every point, turned from the island, which

seemed to bristle with Saxon spears, and fell

upon the more inviting fields and hamlets of


The devout Ethelwulf now found opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Rome. In

853 he crossed the Alps, and was received

with honor in the Eternal City. On his return he fell in love-for such is the phrase of

man-with Judith, daughter of Charles the

Bald, and her he took in marriage. In the

mean time Athelstane, king of Kent, died,

and the king's next oldest son, Ethelbald, engaged in a conspiracy to dethrone his father.

The ostensible reason for the treasonable plot

was found in the fact that Ethelwulf had had

his new French wife crowned as queen in the

cathedral of Rheims. He had actually eaten

with her at the table! Such insults were not

to be borne by Anglo-Saxon patriotism. Thus

came it to pass that when Ethelwulf returned

with his bride to England, he found his hostile subjects in arms to oppose him. The

aged monarch would not go to war to maintain his rights, but agreed to a compromise,

by which the western and better portion of

Wessex was given up to his rebellious son.

In 857 the old king died, and Ethelbald succeeded to his whole dominions.

On his succession to the full crown of

Wessex, King Ethelbald claimed his father's

widow for his wife, from which it appeared

that his antipathy to a French queen did not

apply to his own case. The Roman Church,

however, was horrified at this forbidden