Page 1209


fifty ships, every vessel being filled with

warriors and horses gathered out of Flanders

and France. The fleet anchored at the eastern

termination of the Wood of Anderida, near

the mouth of the river Limine, into which

they towed their vessels. The invaders

then marched inland and constructed a

fortified camp at Appledore. In the same

year, the celebrated Hastings, commander-in-chief of the Danish fleet, sailed up the Thames

with a squadron of eighty ships and debarked at Milton. Here, also, a strong fortification was constructed. For the Danes

had now grown wary of the English king,

and acted on the defensive. The aged Guthrun was dead, and his conservative influence

was no longer felt in the movements of

his countrymen. Every thing conspired to

stake once more the fate of England on the

issue of battle. In the struggle that ensued, the military skill and valor of King

Alfred were fairly weighed against the

prowess of the brave and audacious Hastings.

The genius of the king now appeared conspicuous. According to Saxon law, the militia of the kingdom could only be called into

the field for the space of forty days. This

short period of service seemed an insuperable

difficulty in the organization of an army. To

remove this embarrassment, the king adopted

the plan of organizing his forces into two divisions, whose duties alternated between the

home service and the service of the field. He

thus succeeded in producing a more permanent

and thoroughly disciplined army than had

been seen in Britain since the days of the


Having in this manner prepared himself

for the conflict, the king advanced into Kent

and secured a position between the two

divisions of the Danes. His station was chosen

with so much skill and held with so much

courage that the two armies of the Northmen could in no way form a junction. From

his camp he sent forth small detachments of

troops to scour the country in all directions,

and cut off supplies from the Danes. The

latter were thus brought to the extremity of

breaking up their camp and leaving the

kingdom. But this movement of Hastings

was only a feint.

The Danish army, encamped on the

Limine, instead of sailing away, marched rapidly to Alfred's rear. When the king

turned about and followed this division of

the enemy, Hastings, who had apparently

put to sea, returned to Benfleet in Essex.

Alfred, however, continued his pursuit of

the other army, and overtook them at Farmham in Surrey. Here a great battle was

fought, in which the Saxons were victorious.

Those of the Danes who escaped were pursued through Middlesex and Essex across

the river Coin into the Isle of Mersey. Here

they were besieged by Alfred and compelled to sue for peace. They surrendered

on condition of an immediate departure from


But before Alfred could enforce the terms

of capitulation the men of Danelagh rose in

revolt and created such a diversion that the

attention of Alfred was immediately drawn to

other parts of his kingdom. A large Danish

fleet bore down upon the coast of Devon, and

the city of Exeter was besieged. Another

armament, equipped by the enemy in Northumbria, sailed around Scotland, and, descending the western coast as far as Bristol Channel, entered that water, and laid siege to a fortified

town on the Severn. The king was thus

obliged to make all speed from Essex to the

West. On reaching Exeter he attacked and

overthrew the Danes, driving them pell-mell to their ships. In like manner the Saxons

fell upon the enemy at Severn, and obliged

the raising of the siege. While these movements were in progress the king's son-in-law,

Ethelred, rallied the soldiery of London, attacked the fortified post of the enemy at

Benfleet, captured the Danish encampment,

and made captives of the wife of Hastings

and his two sons. With a generosity unusual,

perhaps unequaled in those half-barbaric

times, the king ordered the prisoners to be

returned to the Danish chieftain. It was an

act which would have been expected in vain

at the hands of Charlemagne, or even of

Otho the Great.

It appears that Hastings had but a feeble

appreciation of the chivalrous conduct of

his adversary. In a short time he reappeared

with his fleet in the Thames, and then marched

to the West. He traversed the country

as far as the Severn, and established himself at Buttington. But the Welsh as well

as the Saxons were now thoroughly aroused,

and with them made a common cause against