Page 1220


A Danish armament was now fitted out by

far greater than any that had ever been seen

off the coasts of England. An army of chosen

warriors, all in the prime of life, was embarked, and the squadron set sail for its destination. The first landing was effected

near the city of Exeter. That place was

soon taken and plundered. The work of

vengeance was now begun in earnest. In

every town through which the invading

army passed the Danes compelled the Saxons

to furnish them a feast. As soon as the

warriors had eaten their fill they slew their

hosts and set fire to the houses. When at

last a Saxon army of nearly equal strength

was brought out to stay this desolating

inroad, it was commanded by that same

Alfric of Mercia who had already betrayed

an English fleet into the hands of the enemy,

How or why he had again been restored

to the king's favor does not appear. At

any rate, when a battle was imminent, the

traitor got in his work by feigning sickness

until what time King Sweyn succeeded

in securing his booty and made his way

unmolested to the coast. In the year 1004

England was reduced to famine, and the

Danes, not liking the prospect of starvation in a foreign island, sailed away to the


In the mean time that train of events was

carried forward which portended the establishment of the Norman ascendancy in England.

Ethelred had hoped, by his marriage with the

Princess Emma, to obtain an alliance with the

Normans against the Danes. In his emergency he appealed to Duke Richard for help.

The latter heeded his call, but only in such a

way as to promote the interests of his country.

Those Normans who came over to the island

for the ostensible purpose of taking up Ethelred's cause against the northern invaders were

more concerned about the establishment of

their master's influence in England than about

the chastisement of the Danes. In the mean

time the king's conduct towards his wife had

been such as to give mortal offense to her

womanly pride. She laid her cause before

her brother, the duke, and found in him a

ready listener to the story of her wrongs. A

violent quarrel broke out between him and

Ethelred. The latter was on the eve of invading Normandy, and was only hindered in

his purpose by the distracted condition of the kingdom. The duke, upon his part, seized

upon all the English in his realm, killed

some, and cast the rest into prison. Thus

was engendered between England and Normandy a state of hostility which was not

likely to be appeased, except by the conquest

of one of the countries by the other.

While these events were in progress

King Sweyn again returned into England,

further to appease his vengeance on the

murderers of his countrymen. The Witenagemot, knowing the warrior with whom they

had to deal, and thoroughly distrusting

their own sovereign, adopted the usual

expedient of purchasing a peace. But the

triumphant Sweyn now demanded thirty

thousand pounds as the price of his forbearance. This enormous sum was raised

and paid; but the people began at last to

see that the spoliation of the country was

as dreadful under the policy adopted by

the king as if the land were left a prey to the


In 1008, only two years after the former

levy, another assessment was made upon

the lands of the kingdom. The object in

this instance was to rebuild the English

fleet; but after this work was accomplished

the squadron was soon broken up by the

dissension and treachery of the commanders. A certain courtier named Edric had

obtained such an ascendancy over Ethelred's

mind that he virtually ruled the kingdom.

Bithric, a brother of this magnate, was also

in high favor. The latter made a conspiracy

against Earl Wulfnoth, who was obliged

to save himself by flight. He took with

him, however, twenty ships of the English

navy, and when pursued by Bithric, with

eighty vessels, had the good fortune to see

his enemy's squadron wrecked in a storm.

The remainder of the English armament

was dispersed by mismanagement or accident, and the kingdom was thus left naked

to her enemies.

As soon as it was known in Denmark that

the preparations for defending the island had

come to naught, a large fleet was equipped

and an army put on board, under command

of a leader named Thurkill. For three years

this host ravaged England at will. The kingdom had no peace or security except such as

was afforded by brief truces purchased from

the Danes. During this period the adherents