Page 1210

1210 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

the invader. Hastings was surrounded and

besieged. Supplies were cut off, and Alfred soon had the pleasure of hearing that

the pent-up Danes were reduced to the extremity of filling their insatiable maws with

the flesh of their own half-starved horses.

The Danish leader, however, knew no such

word as despair. Summoning all his resources for the effort, he dashed himself

upon the line of the besiegers and succeeded

in breaking through. But the desperate

exploit cost him the larger part of his

forces. With the remainder he retraced his

course and reached his fleet on the coast of

Essex.

In the following winter Hastings was reinforced by men out of Danelagh. With

the opening of spring he made an expedition into the central counties of the kingdom. He gained possession of the town of

Chester, fortified of old by the Romans,

and here established himself in a position

impregnable to assault. So skillful, however, were the maneuvers of Alfred that

Hastings in a short time found his supplies

cut off, and, dreading a repetition of his

experience at Buttington, left Chester and

marched into the north of Wales. In that

country they were confronted and turned

back by an army of Welsh and Saxons.

On the retreat the Danes traversed Northumbria, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk,

and finally reached their winter quarters in

Essex.

In the following year Hastings ascended

the river Lea and erected a fortress at Ware.

Here he was attacked by the men of London, but the latter were defeated with great

losses. Alfred was obliged to protect the

people of the city by encamping between it

and the position of the Danish army. At

this juncture the genius of the king stood him

well in hand. Taking possession of the Lea

at a point below the town of Ware, he threw

up fortifications and then dug three deep

and broad canals from the river to the Thames.

The waters of the Lea were thus drained into

the parent stream, and the Danish fleet, left

high and dry, was rendered useless. Perceiving his critical condition, Hastings abandoned

every thing, broke from his camp by night,

and made for the Severn. Here he took up

a strong position at Quatbridge, and having

fortified his camp, remained therein during the winter. Meanwhile the men of London

made their way to the Lea, seized the stranded

fleet, destroyed what ships they could not

drag away, and floated the rest down to the

city.

It was now evident that the career of

Hastings on English soil was well-nigh at an

end. His expeditions had been gradually restricted to the poorer districts of the country,

and his ill success during the last three years

had destroyed his prestige with his own people. While in their winter quarters at Quatbridge, the Danish leaders quarreled, and with

the opening of the spring of 897, these restless followers of the raven of Denmark left

their fortifications, broke up into small detachments and scattered in all directions. A

few who still adhered to the fortunes of

Hastings made their way to the eastern coast,

where they equipped a small fleet and sailed

away to France.

So rapid had been the progress of the

Anglo-Saxons in the building and management of ships, that King Alfred's navy was

now greatly superior to any which the Danes

could bring against him. The form of the

English ships had been improved and their

size enlarged to almost double the dimensions of the craft of the pirates. The shores

of England were now protected by more

than a hundred ships, and it was only occasionally that a Danish fleet durst anywhere

come to land. The king, moreover, adopted

a more severe policy with respect to his

enemies, who, the hope of conquest being

now abandoned, could be regarded only as

robbers. In one instance a severe naval battle occurred off the Isle of Wight. Two of the

enemy's ships with their crews were taken

and brought to shore, whereupon the king

ordered the last man of them to be hanged.

In the following three years, the same severity was shown in the case of twenty

other ships captured from the enemy; and

this conduct, so at variance with the humane

disposition of the king, was justified on the

ground that the Danish crews so taken were

traitors out of Danelagh and not honorable

pagans from abroad.

During the period of the Danish invasions of England, the country suffered besides the calamities of war the ravages of

pestilence. The contemporaneous famine on

the continent seems not greatly to have