Page 1217

1217 THE AGE OF CHARLEMAGNE-ALFRED AND HIS SUCCESSORS.

Welsh tribute was commuted into three hundred wolf scalps annually. He called in the

worn and mutilated coin of the kingdom,

and reissued a new money in place of the

old. Many other beneficent measures attested the progressive character of the times.

In his private life, however, the king was

any other than a temperate or virtuous

ruler. His court was the resort of profligate

men and abandoned women. Notwithstanding the fact that the king, as the willing

instrument of Odo and Dunstan, enforced

the celibacy of the clergy with a rigor never

before known among the Anglo-Saxons, he

himself failed terribly as an exemplar

of the domestic canons of the church. He

bore the character of a profligate, surrounding himself with concubines and converting

the court into a harem. Not satisfied with

ordinary flagitiousness, he abducted from

the monastery of Wilton a beautiful nun,

named Elfreda, and made her his paramour.

Notwithstanding this outrageous conduct the

monkish chroniclers of the age bestow great

praise on Edgar as a virtuous and godly

prince! Forsooth it was sufficient that he

countenanced them in their doctrines and

practices, and supported the profligate race

of shaven scribes who lauded his fictitious

and sham morality.

The story of Edgar's second marriage

is illustrative of the character of the times.

Orgar, earl of Devonshire, had a beautiful

daughter named Elfrida. The fame of

her charms was borne to the ears of the

royal voluptuary. Imagining himself already in love with the lily of Devon, he

sent thither one of his courtiers named

Athelwold to spy out the hidden beauty

of the West, and to recite to him her varied

attractions. The courier d'amour found the

princess even as she had been represented,

and then, after the manner of men, fell

in love with her himself. Concealing the

true object of his mission, he sought and

obtained the hand of Orgar's daughter in

marriage. He then hurried back to his

master and reported that the princess of

Devon was indeed wealthy, but that her

beauty was a myth. The king, however,

suspected his spy of lying, and determined

to resolve with his own eyes the question

of Elfrida's charms. Athelwold was ordered to return to Devon and to make straight a path for the king. The courtier, thus brought into a narrow place, and knowing

not what to do, ordered his wife to put on

coarse attire and demean herself like a peasant; but she, perceiving that she had taken

a courtier when she might have married a

king, was not unwilling that her beauty

might dazzle the royal vision. It thus happened that the double-dealing Athelwold was

hoisted on his own petard. Presently afterwards he was found murdered in the woods,

and the ambitious Elfrida was taken by

the king. It was not long until Edgar's

son by his former wife was also disposed

of, and the way thus cleared for the succession of Elfrida's offspring to the throne.

A few years after the perpetration of these

crimes King Edgar died, and was succeeded

in 975 by his son, called Edward the Martyr,

at that time but fifteen years of age. He

it was whose claims were resisted by Elfrida. She advanced the charge that Edward

was of illegitimate birth. The right of her

own son Ethelred was boldly advanced by

the unscrupulous queen, and the two half-brothers were soon arrayed against each

other in war. Now it was that the anticelibate party in the priesthood rallied from

obscurity and banishment, and espousing

the cause of Ethelred, sought the restoration

of their fortunes. On the other hand, Dunstan, who had now succeeded Odo as archbishop of Canterbury, upheld the claims of

Edward. In the struggle that ensued the

latter was at first successful, but Elfrida was

by no means content to see her son displaced.

She made a league with Alfere, the elder man of Mercia, and organized a conspiracy

among the Thanes of the North. For three

years the hostile parties faced each other,

but did not proceed to the extremity of

war. Elfrida and her son, meanwhile, resided at Corfe Castle, in Dorsetshire. On a

certain occasion, the king, hunting, in this

neighborhood, resolved to pay a visit to his

half-brother. Elfrida received Edward with

smiles at the castle gate, and gave him a

cup of wine to drink; but as he was raising

the cup to his host, one of Elfrida's attendants

stabbed him in the back. The wounded king

put spurs to his horse and fled, but presently

fainting and falling from the saddle, he was

dragged by one foot through the woods until

life was extinct.