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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 28. KING EGELRED OR ETHELRED, "THE UNREADY"


    King Edward thus being murdered, as is aforesaid, the crown fell next to Egelred, his younger brother, and son to King Edgar by the foresaid Queen Alfrith, as we have declared. This Egelred had a long reign given him of God, which dured the term of eight and thirty years, but very unfor tunate and full of great miseries; and he himself (by the histories) seemeth to be a prince not of the greatest courage to govern a common wealth. Our English stories writing of him, thus report of his reign, that in the beginning it was ungracious, wretched in the middle, and hateful in the latter end. Of this Egelred it is read, that when Dunstan the archbishop should christen him, as he did hold him over the font, something there happened that pleased not Dunstan, whereupon he sware, By the mother of Christ, he will be a prince untoward and cowardly. I find in William of Malmesbury, that this Egelred, being of the age of ten years, when he heard of his brother Edward to be slain, made such sorrow and weeping for him, that his mother, falling therewith in a rage, took wax candles, (having nothing else at hand,) wherewith she scourged him so sore, (well near till he swooned,) that after the same he could never abide any wax candles to burn before him. After this, about the year of our Lord 981, (the day of his coronation being appointed by the queen the mother, and the nobles,) Dunstan the archbishop of Canterbury, (who first refused so to do,) with Oswald archbishop of York, were enforced to crown the king, and so they did at Kingston. In doing whereof the report of stories goeth, that the said Dunstan should say thus, prophesying, unto the king: that forsomuch as he came to the kingdom by the death of his brother, and through the conspiracy of the wicked conspirators and other English men, they should not be without bloodshedding and sword, till there came a people of an unknown tongue, and should bring them into thraldom, neither should that trespass be cleansed without long vengeance, &c.

    Not long after the coronation of this king, a cloud was seen throughout the land, which appeared the one half like blood, and the other half like fire, and changed after into sundry colours, and vanished at the last in the morning. Shortly after the appearance of this cloud, in the third year of his reign, the Danes, arriving in sundry places of the land, first spoiled Southampton, either slaving the inhabitants, or leading them captive away. From thence they went to the Isle of Thanet, then they invaded Chester, from thence they proceeded to Cornwall and Devonshire, and so to Sussex, where in those coasts they did much harm, and so retired to their ships again. Roger Hoveden, writing hereof, saith, that London the same time, or (as Fabian saith) a great part of London, was consumed with fire. About this time fell a variance between the foresaid Egelred and the bishop of Rochester; insomuch that he made war against him, and besieged the city. And notwithstanding that Dunstan required the king, sending him admonishment, to give over for the sake of St. Andrew; yet continued he his siege, till the bishop offered him a hundred pounds of gold; which he received, and so departed. The Danes seeing the discord that then was in the realm, and especially the hatred of the subjects against the king, rose again, and did great harm in divers places of England; insomuch that the king was glad to grant them great sums of money for peace to be had. For the assurance of which peace, Analaffe, captain of the Danes, became a Christian man, and so returned home to his country, and did no more harm. Besides these miseries before recited, a sore sickness of the bloody flux and hot fevers fell among the people, whereof many died; with a like murrain also among the beasts. Moreover, for lack of justice, many thieves, rioters, and bribers were in the land, with much misery and mischief.

    About the eleventh year (some say the ninth year) of this king's reign died Dunstan. After whom succeeded Ethelgarus, or, as Jornalensis writeth, Stilgarus. After him Elfricus, as affirmeth Gulielmus; but, as Polydorus saith, Siricius. After him Elfricus came; but Siricius, after the mind of Gulielmus; but Polydore saith Aluricius, then Elphegus, &c.

    About the same time, in the year of our Lord 995, Aldunus, bishop, translated the body of St. Cuthbert from Chester (which first was at a northern island, next at Rochester) to Durelme, or Dunelme. Where upon the bishop's see of Dunelme first began.

    Not long after the death of Dunstan, the Danes again entered England in many and sundry places of the land; in such sort, that the king was to seek to which coast he should go first to withstand his enemies. But in conclusion, for the avoiding of more harm, he was compelled to appease them with great sums of money. But when that money was spent, they fell to new robbing of the people, and assailing the land in divers places, not only about the country of Northumberland, but also besieged the city of London at the last. But being from thence repelled by the manhood of the Londoners, they strayed to other countries adjoining, as to Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, burning and killing wheresoever they went; so that, for lack of a good head or governor, many things in the land perished. For the king gave himself to the vice of lechery, and polling of his subjects, and disinherited men of their possessions, and caused them to redeem the same again with great sums of money; for he paid great tributes to the Danes yearly, which was called Danegelt. Which tributes so increased, that from the first tribute of ten thousand pounds, it was brought at last in process of five or six years to forty thousand pounds. The which yearly (until the coming of St. Edward, and after) was levied of the subjects of this land.

    To this sorrow moreover was joined hunger and penury among the commons, insomuch that every one of them was constrained to pluck and steal from others. So that, what for the pillage of the Danes, and what by inward thieves and bribers, this land was brought into great affliction. Albeit the greatest cause of this affliction (as to me appeareth) is not so much to be imputed to the king as to the dissension among the lords themselves, who then did not agree one with another. But when they assembled in consultation together, either they did draw divers ways; or if any thing were agreed upon any matter of peace between the parties, soon it was broken again; or else if any good thing were devised for the prejudice of the enemy, anon the Danes were warned thereof by some of the same counsel. Of whom the chief doers were Edrike, duke of Mercia, and Alfrike, the admiral or captain of the ships, who betrayed the king's navy to the Danes. Wherefore the king apprehended Alfagarus son of the said Alfrike, put out his eyes, and so did he after to the two sons of Duke Edrike in like manner.

    The Danes, thus prevailing more and moreover the Englishmen, grew in such pride and presumption, that when they by strength caused the husbandmen to ear and sow the land, and to do all other vile labour belonging to the house, they would sit at home, holding the wife at their pleasure, with daughter and servant. And when the husbandman came home, he should scantly have of his own, as his servants had; so that the Dane had all at his will and fill, faring of the best, when the owner scantly had his fill of the worst. Thus the common people, being of them oppressed, were in such fear and dread, that not only they were constrained to suffer them in their doings, but also glad to please them, and called every one of them, in the house where they had rule, Lord Dane. Which word after (in process of time, when the Danes were voided) was, for despite of the Danes, turned of the Englishmen to a name of opprobry, that when one Englishman would rebuke another, he would for the more part call him Lurdane.

    And thus hitherto (through the assistance of Christ) we have brought this history to the year of our Lord 1000. During now and continuing these great miseries upon this English nation, the land being brought into great ruin by the grievous tributes of the Danes, and also by sustaining the manifold villanies and injuries, as well by them as by other oppressions within this realm; this year, which was the year of our Saviour 1000, this Egelred, through the counsel of certain his familiars about him, in the one and twentieth year of his reign began a matter, which was occasion, either given by the one, or taken by the other, of a new plague to ensue upon the Saxons, who had driven out the Britons before; that was in joining with the Normans in marriage. For the king this year above said, for the more strength (as he thought) both of him and the realm, married Emma, the daughter of Richard, duke of Normandy. Which Richard was the third duke of the Normans, and the first of that name. By reason of which marriage King Egelred was not a little enhanced in his own mind; and, by presumption thereof, sent secret and strict commissions to the rulers of every town in England, that, upon St. Brice's day, at an hour appointed, the Danes should be suddenly slain. And so it was performed, which turned after to more trouble.

    After that tidings came into Denmark of the murder of those Danes, anon after, Swanus, king of Denmark, with a great host and navy, landed in Cornwall; where, by treason of a Norman named Hugh, which by favour of Queen Emma was made earl of Devonshire, the said Swanus took Exeter, and after beat down the walls. From thence, proceeding further into the land, they came to Wilton and Shirebome, where they cruelly spoiled the country, and slew the people. But anon Swanus, hearing that the king was coming to him with the power of his land, took his ships and went round to Northfolke; where, after much wasting of that country, and spoiling the city of Norwich, and burning the town of Thetford, and destroying the country thereabout, at length Duke Uskatell met him and beat him, and slew many of the Danes. Wherefore Swanus for that year returned to Denmark, and there made great provision to re-enter the land again the next year following; and so did, landing at Sandwich about the five and twentieth year of the reign of King Egelred, and there spoiled that country. And as soon as he heard of any host of Englishmen coming toward him, then he took shipping again. So that when the king's army sought to meet him in one coast, then would he suddenly land in another. And when the king provided to meet with him upon the sea, either they would feign to flee, or else they would with gifts blind the admiral of the king's navy. And thus wearied they the Englishmen, and in conclusion brought them into extreme and unspeakable misery. Insomuch that the king was fain to take peace with them, and gave to King Swanus thirty thousand pounds. After which peace thus made, Swanus returned again to Denmark.

    But this peace continued not long. For the year next following, King Egelred made Edricus above mentioned duke of Mercia, who was subtle of wit, glossing and eloquent of speech, untrusty, and false to the king and the realm. And soon after one Turkillus (a prince of the Danes) landed in Kent with much people, and there did such harm, that the Kentish men were fain to make peace with great gifts, and so thence departed. But this persecution of the Danes (in one country or other in England) never ceased, nor the king did ever give to them any notable battle. For when he was disposed to give them battle, this Edricus would ever counsel him to the contrary; so that the Danes ever spoiled and robbed, and waxed rich, and the Englishmen ever poor and bare.

    After this, Swanus being in Denmark, and hearing of the increase of his people in England, brake his covenants before made, and with a great army and navy, in most defensible wise appointed, landed in Northumberland, proclaimed himself to be king of this land. Where, after much vexation, when he had subdued the people, and caused the earl with the rulers of the country to swear to him fealty, he passed the river of Trent to Ganishurgh, and to Northwatling Street, and subduing the people there forced them to give him pledges; which pledges he committed with his navy unto Canutus his son to keep, while he went further into the land; and so with a great host came to Mercia, killing and slaying. Then he took by strength Winchester and Oxford, and did there what him liked. That done, he came toward London, and hearing the king was there, passed by the river Thames, and came into Kent, and there besieged Canterbury, where he was resisted the space of twenty days. At length, by treason of a deacon, called Almaricus, (whom the bishop had preserved from death before,) he won it, and took the goods of the people, and fired the city, and tithed the monks of St. Augustine's abbey (that is to mean, they slew nine by cruel torment, and the tenth they kept alive as for their slave). So they slew there of religious men to the number of nine hundred persons; of other men, women, and children, they slew above eight thousand. And, finally, when they had kept the bishop Elphegus in strait prison the space of seven months, because he would not condescend to give unto them three thousand pounds; after many vilanies unto him done, they brought him to Greenwich, and there stoned him to death.

    King Egelred, in the mean time, fearing the end of this persecution, sent his wife Emma, with his two sons Alfred and Edward, to the duke of Normandy, with whom also he sent the bishop of London. The Danes proceeded still in their fury and rage, and when they had won a great part of West Saxony, they returned again to London. Whereof the Londoners hearing, sent unto them certain great gifts and pledges. At last the king, about the five and thirtieth year of his reign, was chased unto the Isle of Wight, and with a secret company he spent there a great part of the winter; and, finally, without cattle or comfort, sailed into Normandy to his wife. Swanus being ascertained thereof, (inflamed with pride,) reared exceeding impositions upon the people. And among other he required a great sum of money of St. Edmund's lands, which the people there claiming to be free from kings' tributes, denied to pay. For this Swanus entered the territory of St. Edmund, and wasted and spoiled the country, despising the holy martyr, and menacing also the place of his sepulture. Wherefore the men of that country, fearing his tyranny, fell to prayer and fasting, so that shortly after Swanus died suddenly, crying and yelling among his knights. Some say that he was stricken with the sword of St. Edmund, whereof he died the third day after.

    In fear whereof Canutus, his son, which ruled as king after his father, granted them the freedom of all their liberties; and, moreover, ditched the land of the said martyr with a deep ditch, and granted to the inhabitants thereof great freedoms, quitting them from all task or tribute; and after builded a church over the place of his sepulture, and ordained there a house of monks, and endowed them with rich possessions. And after that time it was used, that kings of England, when they were crowned, sent their crowns for an offering to St. Edmund's shrine, and redeemed the same again afterwards with a condign price.

    When King Egelred heard of the death of Swanus, he made provision, and returned into England. For whose sudden coming Canutus, being unprovided, fled to Sandwich, and there cutting off the noses and hands of the pledges, which his father left with him, sailed into Denmark; who the next year returned again with a great navy, and landed in the south country. Wherefore the eldest son of King Egelred, called Edmund Ironside, made provision, with the aid of Edrike, duke of Mereia, to meet him. But Edrike, feigning himself sick, came not, but deceived him. For, as it was after proved, Edrike had promised his allegiance to Canutus. By reason whereof Canutus entered the country of West Saxon, and forced the people to be sworn unto him, and to give him pledges. In this season, King Egelred, being at London, was taken with great sickness, and there died, and was buried in the north side of Paul's church, behind the quire, after he had reigned unprosperously thirty and six years; leaving after him his said eldest son Edmund Ironside, and Alfred, and Edward, which which were in Normandy, sent thither before, as is above rehearsed. This Egelred, although he was miserably impugned and vexed of his enemies, yet he, with his council, gave forth wholesome laws, whereof there is one parcel, containing good rules and lessons for all judges and justices to learn and follow.

    Of this King Egelred I find noted in the book of Roger Hoveden, that he deposed and deprived from all possessions a certain judge or justicer named Walgeatus, the son of one Leonet, for false judgment and other proud doings, whom, notwithstanding, he loved above all others.

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