The Northern Way

Part 2: A.D. 750 - 919

Page 5

A.D. 886. This year went the army back again to the west, that before were bent eastward; and proceeding upwards along the Seine, fixed their winter-quarters in the city of Paris. (37) The same year also King Alfred fortified the city of London; and the whole English nation turned to him, except that part of it which was held captive by the Danes. He then committed the city to the care of Alderman Ethered, to hold it under him.

A.D. 887. This year the army advanced beyond the bridge at Paris; (38) and then upwards, along the Seine, to the Marne. Then upwards on the Marne as far as Chezy; and in their two stations, there and on the Yonne, they abode two winters. This same year died Charles, king of the Franks. Arnulf, his brother's son, had six weeks before his death bereft him of his kingdom; which was now divided into five portions, and five kings were consecrated thereto. This, however, was done with the consent of Arnulf; and they agreed that they should hold in subjection to him; because none of them had by birth any claim on the father's side, except him alone. Arnulf, therefore, dwelt in the country eastward of the Rhine; Rodulf took to the middle district; Oda to the western; whilst Berenger and Witha became masters of Lombardy and the Cisalpine territory. But they held their dominion in great discord; fought two general battles, and frequently overran the country in partial encounters, displacing each other several times. The same year also, in which the Danish army advanced beyond the bridge at Paris, Alderman Ethelhelm led the alms of the West-Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome.

A.D. 888. This year Alderman Beeke conducted the alms of the West-Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome; but Queen Ethelswith, who was the sister of King Alfred, died on the way to Rome; and her body lies at Pavia. The same year also Ethered, Archbishop of Canterbury and Alderman Ethelwold, died in one month.

A.D. 889. This year there was no journey to Rome; except that King Alfred sent two messengers with letters.

A.D. 890. This year Abbot Bernhelm conducted the alms of the West-Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome; and Guthrum, king of the Northern men, departed this life, whose baptismal name was Athelstan. He was the godson of King Alfred; and he abode among the East-Angles, where he first established a settlement. The same year also went the army from the Seine to Saint Lo, which is between the Bretons and the Franks; where the Bretons fought with them, obtained the victory, and drove them out into a river, in which many of them were drowned. This year also was Plegmund chosen by God and all his saints to the archbishopric in Canterbury.

A.D. 891. This year went the army eastward; and King Arnulf fought with the land-force, ere the ships arrived, in conjunction with the eastern Franks, and Saxons, and Bavarians, and put them to flight. And three Scots came to King Alfred in a boat without any oars from Ireland; whence they stole away, because they would live in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God, they recked not where. The boat in which they came was made of two hides and a half; and they took with them provisions for seven nights; and within seven nights they came to land in Cornwall, and soon after went to King Alfred. They were thus named: Dubslane, and Macbeth, and Maelinmun. And Swinney, the best teacher that was among the Scots, departed this life. And the same year after Easter, about the gang-days or before, appeared the star that men in book-Latin call "cometa": some men say that in English it may be termed "hairy star"; for that there standeth off from it a long gleam of light, whilom on one side, whilom on each.

A.D. 893. This year went the large army, that we before spoke about, back from the eastern district westward to Bologne; and there were shipped; so that they transported themselves over at one time with their horses withal. And they came up with two hundred and fifty ships into the mouth of the Limne, which is in East-Kent, at the east end of the vast wood that we call Andred. This wood is in length, east and west, one hundred and twenty miles, or longer, and thirty miles broad. The river that we before spoke about lieth out of the weald. On this river they towed up their ships as far as the weald, four miles from the mouth outwards; and there destroyed a fort within the fen, whereon sat a few churls, and which was hastily wrought. Soon after this came Hasten up with eighty ships into the mouth of the Thames, and wrought him there a work at Milton, and the other army at Appledore.

A.D. 894. This year, that was about twelve months after they had wrought a work in the eastern district, the Northumbrians and East-Angles had given oaths to King Alfred, and the East-Angles six hostages; nevertheless, contrary to the truce, as oft as the other plunderers went out with all their army, then went they also, either with them, or in a separate division. Upon this King Alfred gathered his army, and advanced, so that he encamped between the two armies at the highest point he could find defended by wood and by water, that he might reach either, if they would seek any field. Then went they forth in quest of the wealds, in troops and companies, wheresoever the country was defenceless. But they were also sought after most days by other companies, either by day or by night, both from the army and also from the towns. The king had divided his army into two parts; so that they were always half at home, half out; besides the men that should maintain the towns. The army came not all out of their stations more than twice; once, when they first came to land, ere the forces were collected, and again, when they wished to depart from their stations. They had now seized much booty, and would ferry it northward over Thames into Essex, to meet their ships. But the army rode before them, fought with them at Farnham, routed their forces, and there arrested the booty. And they flew over Thames without any ford, then up by the Colne on an island. Then the king's forces beset them without as long as they had food; but they had their time set, and their meat noted. And the king was advancing thitherwards on his march with the division that accompanied him. But while he was advancing thitherwards, the other force was returning homewards. The Danes, however, still remained behind; for their king was wounded in the fight, so that they could not carry him. Then collected together those that dwell in Northumbria and East-Anglia about a hundred ships, and went south about; and with some forty more went north about, and besieged a fort in Devonshire by the north sea; and those who went south about beset Exeter. When the king heard that, then went he west towards Exeter with all his force, except a very considerable part of the eastern army, who advanced till they came to London; and there being joined by the citizens and the reinforcements that came from the west, they went east to Barnfleet. Hasten was there with his gang, who before were stationed at Milton, and also the main army had come thither, that sat before in the mouth of the Limne at Appledore. Hasten had formerly constructed that work at Barnfleet, and was then gone out on plunder, the main army being at home. Then came the king's troops, and routed the enemy, broke down the work, took all that was therein money, women, and children and brought all to London. And all the ships they either broke to pieces, or burned, or brought to London or to Rochester. And Hasten's wife and her two sons they brought to the king, who returned them to him, because one of them was his godson, and the other Alderman Ethered's. They had adopted them ere Hasten came to Bamfleet; when he had given them hostages and oaths, and the king had also given him many presents; as he did also then, when he returned the child and the wife. And as soon as they came to Bamfleet, and the work was built, then plundered he in the same quarter of his kingdom that Ethered his compeer should have held; and at another time he was plundering in the same district when his work was destroyed. The king then went westward with the army toward Exeter, as I before said, and the army had beset the city; but whilst he was gone they went to their ships. Whilst he was thus busied there with the army, in the west, the marauding parties were both gathered together at Shobury in Essex, and there built a fortress. Then they both went together up by the Thames, and a great concourse joined them, both from the East-Angles and from the Northumbrians. They then advanced upward by the Thames, till they arrived near the Severn. Then they proceeded upward by the Severn. Meanwhile assembled Alderman Ethered, Alderman Ethelm, Alderman Ethelnoth, and the king's thanes, who were employed at home at the works, from every town east of the Parret, as well as west of Selwood, and from the parts east and also north of the Thames and west of the Severn, and also some part of North-Wales. When they were all collected together, they overtook the rear of the enemy at Buttington on the banks of the Severn, and there beset them without on each side in a fortress. When they had sat there many weeks on both sides of the water, and the king meanwhile was in Devonshire westward with the naval force, then were the enemy weighed down with famine. They had devoured the greater part of their horses; and the rest had perished with hunger. Then went they out to the men that sat on the eastern side of the river, and fought with them; but the Christians had the victory. And there Ordhelm, the king's thane, was slain; and also many other king's thanes; and of the Danes there were many slain, and that part of them that came away escaped only by flight. As soon as they came into Essex to their fortress, and to their ships, then gathered the remnant again in East-Anglia and from the Northumbrians a great force before winter, and having committed their wives and their ships and their booty to the East-Angles, they marched on the stretch by day and night, till they arrived at a western city in Wirheal that is called Chester. There the army could not overtake them ere they arrived within the work: they beset the work though, without, some two days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom they could overtake without the work, and all the corn they either burned or consumed with their horses every evening. That was about a twelvemonth since they first came hither over sea.

A.D. 895. Soon after that, in this year, went the army from Wirheal into North-Wales; for they could not remain there, because they were stripped both of the cattle and the corn that they had acquired by plunder. When they went again out of North- Wales with the booty they had acquired there, they marched over Northumberland and East-Anglia, so that the king's army could not reach them till they came into Essex eastward, on an island that is out at sea, called Mersey. And as the army returned homeward that had beset Exeter, they went up plundering in Sussex nigh Chichester; but the townsmen put them to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, and took some of their ships. Then, in the same year, before winter, the Danes, who abode in Mersey, towed their ships up on the Thames, and thence up the Lea. That was about two years after that they came hither over sea.

A.D. 896. This same year wrought the aforesaid army a work by the Lea, twenty miles above the city of London. Then. in the summer of this year, went a large party of the citizens. and also of other folk, and made an attack on the work of the Danes; but they were there routed, and some four of the king's thanes were slain. In the harvest afterward the king encamped close to the city, whilst they reaped their corn, that the Danes might not deprive them of the crop. Then, some day, rode the king up by the river; and observed a place where the river might be obstructed, so that they could not bring out their ships. And they did so. They wrought two works on the two sides of the river. And when they had begun the work, and encamped before it, then understood the army that they could not bring out their ships. Whereupon they left them, and went over land, till they came to Quatbridge by Severn; and there wrought a work. Then rode the king's army westward after the enemy. And the men of London fetched the ships; and all that they could not lead away they broke up; but all that were worthy of capture they brought into the port of London. And the Danes procured an asylum for their wives among the East-Angles, ere they went out of the fort. During the winter they abode at Quatbridge. That was about three years since they came hither over sea into the mouth of the Limne.


(37) For a more circumstantial account of the Danish or Norman operations against Paris at this time, the reader may consult Felibien, "Histoire de la Ville de Paris", liv. iii. and the authorities cited by him in the margin. This is that celebrated siege of Paris minutely described by Abbo, Abbot of Fleury, in two books of Latin hexameters; which, however barbarous, contain some curious and authentic matter relating to the history of that period. Back

(38) This bridge was built, or rebuilt on a larger plan than before, by Charles the Bald, in the year 861, "to prevent the Danes or Normans (says Felibien) from making themselves masters of Paris so easily as they had already done so many times," etc. -- "pour empescher que les Normans ne se rendissent maistres de Paris aussi facilement qu'ils l'avoient deja fait tant de lois," etc. -- Vol. i. p. 91, folio. It is supposed to be the famous bridge afterwards called "grand pont" or "pont au change", -- the most ancient bridge at Paris, and the only one which existed at this time. Back

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