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marriage, and soon compelled its abrogation by


Ethelbald was succeeded in the kingdom

by Ethelbert, who, after a short and inglorious reign, died in the year 866. The crown

thereupon descended to the third brother,

Ethelred, in whose reign the Danes again

swarmed in innumerable hosts along the shores

of England. They had already invaded Wessex and burned Winchester, which was then

the capital. They had established themselves

in the Isle of Thanet, from which they now

went forth to ravage, plunder, and destroy.

Ethelred is said to have fought nine pitched

battles with these ferocious marauders. It

was in the course of these furious conflicts

that the military genius of Prince Alfred,

youngest but greatest son of Ethelwulf, began

to be displayed. In the hard fought battle of

Ashton, while the pious Ethelred was at his

prayers and refused to go into the fight until

the mass was over, Alfred threw himself

with his West Saxons upon the oncoming

Danes, and thus saved the king's cause from

ruin. In the battles of Basing and Mereton,

which were fought soon afterwards, Ethelred

was defeated. In the last-named conflict he

received a wound from which he presently

died, and in 871 the crown descended without

opposition to the popular Prince Alfred.

The new king was destined to an inheritance of war and glory. Within a month

after his succession he was obliged to fight a

terrible battle with the Danes. Near nightfall the field was won by the Saxons; but the

pagans, seeing by how few they were pursued, turned and regained as much as they

had lost. Nevertheless, so great had been

their losses that they were fain to conclude

a treaty. Withdrawing from Wessex, the

Northmen went to London, and there passed

the winter. In the following year they ravaged Lincofaishire, and then, repairing to

Derby, took up their quarters at Repton. In

875 Northumbria was overrun by the Danes

as far as the firths of Clyde and Forth, where

they came into contact with the Scots.

Halfdane, leader of this marauding host,