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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Ethelred on this attack fell into the greatest distress


At

this very moment the Danes renewed their invasions.

Little did Edgar and those around him understand their position, when they attributed the peace they enjoyed to their own military power, in the splendid and extensive display of which they took delight. In reality it was the state of the world at large that brought this peace about. First of all, it was due to the settlement of the Normans in North Gaul, under the condition that they should be of one religion and one realm, and should fulfil the natural duty of keeping off fresh incursions: the current of Northern invasion thus lost its aim and direction. But it was of still more decisive effect at the first that the energetic family which arose in North Germany, and even assumed the imperial authority, not content with warding off the Danes, sought them out in their own country instead, and carried the war against heathenism into the North. The Saxons beyond the sea were indebted for the peace which they enjoyed chiefly to the great and splendid deeds of arms of their kindred on the mainland. How much all depended on this became very clear when Otto II, in the full glow of great enterprises, met with an unlooked for and early death. Within the empire two able women and their advisers succeeded in maintaining peace; but in Denmark, as in other neighbouring countries, the hostile elements got the upper hand. The Danish king's son, Sven Otto, abandoned the religion which he regarded as a yoke

laid on him by the German conquerors; he could not destroy the order of things established in Denmark, but he revived the old sea-king's life, and threw himself with the old superiority of the Viking arms on the English coasts.

Ethelred on this attack fell into the greatest distress, mainly because he was not sure of his great nobles. How often did the commanders of the fleet desert it at the moment of action, and the leaders of the inland levies go over to the enemy! Ethelred sought for safety by an alliance with the Duchy of Normandy, then daily rising to greater power. Thus supported, he proceeded to unjustifiable outrages against his domestic as well as his foreign foes. The great nobles whom he suspected were mercilessly killed or exiled, and their children blinded. The Danes who remained in the land he caused to be murdered all on one day.

The consequences of this deed necessarily recoiled upon himself. When Sven some years after again landed with redoubled enmity, which was to a certain extent justified, he experienced no effectual resistance whatever; Ethelred had to fly before him and quit the island. But now that Sven too, who had been already saluted by many as King, died in the first enjoyment of his victory, a question arose which extended far beyond the personal relations and embarrassments of the moment.

The influence always exercised by the Witans of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in determining the succession to the throne remained much the same when they were all fused into a single kingdom; even among the descendants of Alfred, the great men designated the sovereign. In the disturbed state of things in which they now found themselves, the lawful King having fled, and the other, who


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