Page 1213

1213 THE AGE OF CHARLEMAGNE-ALFRED AND HIS SUCCESSORS.

the king at Woodstock, in Oxfordshire,

and was called by him-from its adaptation

to the common affairs of life-the Handbook

or Manual. The rendering of the Ecclesiastical History of the Venerable Bede

was a work of the highest importance to

the young nationality of England, for the

story was of such sort as to affect the still half-barbarous Anglo-Saxons much as Homer's

song of ancient Troy may be supposed to

have swayed the passions of the old Hellenes.

Time would fail to narrate the swift transformation of England effected by the genius

of Alfred the Great. He found his country

without a navy and his countrymen ignorant

of the management of ships. When he died,

the English fleet was the best on the western

coast of Europe. By the most unwearied

efforts he obtained a fair geographical knowledge, not only of his own country, but also

of most of the nearer states and kingdoms of

the continent. Whatever could be gathered in the way of information was carefully reduced to writing. Travelers and

voyagers were sent abroad for the express

purpose of deciding disputed points in geography. On such a mission even so distinguished a person as Swithelm, bishop of

Sherburn, was dispatched overland to India! Not less astonishing is the fact that

the journey was safely performed, and that

the adventurous bishop came happily home,

bringing with him gems and spices from the

East.

Among the other enterprises of Alfred

may be mentioned the better style of building which he introduced; the general prevalence of human comfort which he encouraged;

the rebuilding of desolated towns and the

founding of others; the construction of fortifications and harbors; the survey of the coasts

and rivers of England; the erection of strong

towers and castles in different parts of the

kingdom; the revision of the Anglo-Saxon

laws; the development of the Witenagemot

into a regular parliament, upon which, jointly

with himself, was devolved the care of the

state; the institution of a system of police

so effective that it was said bracelets of gold

might be hung out of doors without the

least danger of theft, the establishment of

an efficient judiciary; and the general stimulus which he afforded to all kinds of industry in the kingdom. It is not wonderful,

in view of the prodigious activities, kindly

genius, and generous character of Alfred,

that even after the times of William the

Conqueror the Norman kings and nobles

were accustomed to refer to this illustrious

ruler as the chief glory of early England.

On the death of Alfred the Great, in

the year 901, the succession was disputed

by his son Edward and his nephew Ethelwald, son of that Ethelbald who had preceded Alfred on the throne. Each of the

claimants gathered an army; but the forces

of Ethelwald were found so much inferior

to those of Edward that the former, forbearing to fight, fled into Danelagh, where

he was recognized as king. Prince Edward then ascended the throne of England, and received the surname of the Elder.

The turbulent Danes had long fretted under the strict law of Alfred, and many restless spirits among the Saxons had chosen the

North as the more congenial scene of their

lawlessness. All of these malcontent elements

of the rising English society combined around

the standard of Ethelwald. Between him and

Edward, in the year 905, a terrible battle

was fought, in which Ethelwald was slain;

but the general result was so indecisive that

the Danes were enabled to treat on equal

terms with the Saxon prince. The project

of the complete independence of Danelagh

was entertained by the rebels; nor were

they without a hope of regaining their ascendancy over the whole island. For six years

the war continued with varying successes,

but in 911 Edward met the Danes on the

river Severn, and inflicted on them an overwhelming defeat.

In the mean time a peculiar complication

had arisen in the earldom of Mercia. In

that country the Princess Ethelfleda, daughter

of Alfred the Great and wife of Ethelred,

had succeeded her deceased husband in

authority. Nor did she hesitate to assert

and maintain the independence of her country

of her brother Edward's rule. She raised an

army and commanded like a warrior. It

was evident that her father's spirit was upon

her. She made a successful defense against

the claims of her brother, and then drove

the Danes out of Derby and Leicester. In

battle she commanded in person, and even led