Young Folks' History of England HTML version

5. The Danish Conquest, A.D. 958—1035
The last very prosperous king was Alfred's great-grandson, Edgar, who was
owned as their over-lord by all the kings of the remains of the Britons in
Wales and Scotland. Once, eight of these kings came to meet him at Chester,
and rowed him in his barge along the river Dee. It was the grandest day a
king of England enjoyed for many years. Edgar was called the peaceable,
because there were no attacks by the Danes at all through his reign. In fact,
the Northmen and Danes had been fighting among themselves at home, and
these fights generally ended in some one going off as a Sea-King, with all his
friends, and trying to gain a new home in some fresh country. One great
party of Northmen under a very tall and mighty chief named Rollo, had some
time before, thus gone to France, and forced the King to give them a great
piece of his country, just opposite to England, which was called after them
Normandy. There they learned to talk French, and grew like Frenchmen,
though they remained a great deal braver, and more spirited than any of their
There were continually fleets of Danish ships coming to England; and the son
of Edgar, whose name was Ethelred, was a helpless, cowardly sort of man, so
slow and tardy, that his people called him Ethelred the Unready. Instead of
fitting out ships to fight against the Danes, he took the money the ships
ought to have cost to pay them to go away without plundering; and as to
those who had come into the country without his leave, he called them his
guard, took them into his pay, and let them live in the houses of the English,
where they were very rude, and gave themselves great airs, making the
English feed them on all their best meat, and bread, and beer, and always call
them Lord Danes. He made friends himself with the Northmen, or Normans,
who had settled in France, and married Emma, the daughter of their duke;
but none of his plans prospered: things grew worse and worse, and his mind
and his people's grew so bitter against the Danes, that at last it was agreed
that all over the South of England every Englishman should rise up in one
night and murder the Dane who lodged in his house.
Among those Danes who were thus wickedly killed was the sister of the King
of Denmark. Of course he was furious when he heard of it, and came over to
England determined to punish the cruel, treacherous king and people, and
take the whole island for his own. He did punish the people, killing, burning,
and plundering wherever he went; but he could never get the king into his
hands, for Ethelred went off in the height of the danger to Normandy, where
he had before sent his wife Emma, and her children, leaving his eldest son(
child of his first wife), Edmund Ironside, to fight for the kingdom as best he
The King of Denmark died in the midst of his English war; but his son Cnut
went on with the conquest he had begun, and before long Ethelred, the