Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Alfred Conquers the Danes

Shortly after this accident with the cakes, Alfred went to join his followers in a fortified camp in the centre of a swamp. Here he made a bold plan to conquer the Danes. Before he could carry it out, however, he had to know just how many Danes he should have to fight, where their camp was situated, how it was guarded, and where the general's tent stood.

To find out these things, Alfred disguised himself as a bard, took his harp, and walked boldly into the Danish camp. The soldiers were glad to see a bard, and, gathering around him, called for song after song.

Alfred now sang and told them all the stories he knew; and as he sang and played on his harp, he glanced around him and noticed the number of men. The soldiers were so pleased with Alfred's songs and jests that they led him to their general, Guthrum, who, after hearing him sing and play, gave him some gold and praised his skill.

Alfred tarried in the Danish camp a few days, and made such good use of his eyes and ears that he found out enough to enable him to win a great victory over the Danes at Ethandun. He then signed the treaty of Wedmore with them, and gave them their choice, either to become Christians and keep the peace, or to leave England.

Most of the Danes preferred to stay, but a few of them joined a pirate chief named Hastings, and a few years later they came back with him, to try to recover their, lost ground. But Alfred again managed to defeat them, and made them promise to stay in the Danelagh, the part of the country which he said they might occupy. After this, the Danes lived on the northeast side of Watling Street, one of the old Roman roads which ran from Dover to Chester, passing through London, while the Anglo-Saxons occupied the land on the other side of it.

To frighten away the pirate Danes, and keep the Picts and Scots in order, Alfred built ships, and once a year he sailed all around the islands, to see that all was well. This is considered the beginning of the English navy, and by the time you have finished reading this book, you will see that England owes much of her prosperity to her fleet, and that she is justly known as the "Queen of the Sea."

The beginning of King Alfred's reign was mostly taken up in fighting; but when he had made peace with the Danes, he began to think how he could best help his people. To make the best use of his time, Alfred divided his days into three equal parts: one for sleeping, eating, and amusement; one for business; and one for study.

As there were no clocks in King Alfred's day, and as the sundials marked time only when the sun shone, Alfred had candles made of such size and thickness that they would burn a certain length of time. These candles were notched to divide the day into equal periods. But the king soon noticed that the candles burned unevenly, owing to draughts. When you hear that glass was used only in a few churches, and that the palace windows were closed only by rude wooden shutters, you can readily understand that there were many draughts, and that when the wind blew the candles flickered, went out, or burned too fast. To prevent this, King Alfred had boxes made of thin pieces of horn, in which to place the candles; so he may fairly be considered the inventor of the first lantern.

The time which Alfred spent in study was devoted in part to framing wise laws for his people; and we are told that he executed justice so carefully that no one dared steal in all his realm. It is even said that golden bracelets hung on a tree in a lonely spot for more than a year, and, although there was no one near to guard them, no thief ventured to lay a finger upon them.

King Alfred not only made good laws for his people, but he established the first real schools in England. As there were no books in Anglo-Saxon, Alfred patiently translated many of the Greek and Latin works into his own language. He encouraged teachers to come and settle in his kingdom, and bought many manuscripts. We are told that he once gave a whole estate for a work on geography—a work which was considered wonderful then, although it gave far less information on the subject than the poorest and cheapest book printed in our day.

In Alfred's time, people studied languages more than anything else. There was, indeed, little else to study. Science and history were sadly neglected. In arithmetic, only Roman numbers were used, so even learned men found it hard to work out simple sums; and said that the study was beyond human understanding! But when Arabic numbers were introduced, in the twelfth century, arithmetic became much easier so much easier that to-day children in the primary department can do sums that would have been almost impossible to the simple wise men of the ninth century.

You must not think, however, that the Saxons worked all the time. They liked to play, and when they could not run, or jump, or practise archery (shooting with a bow and arrow) outdoors, they sat by the fire, told stories, and sometimes played chess or backgammon.

King Alfred is remembered not only as a good general, a wise ruler, and a learned man; he is famous also for his patience, his perseverance, and most of all for his noble and truthful character. This is so well known that he is generally called Alfred the Great, or Alfred the Truth-teller. Although he always worked very hard, he was not strong, and after suffering for years from a terrible disease which none of the doctors of his time could cure, he died in the year 901. Just before he breathed his last, King Alfred said: "This I can now truly say: that so long as I have lived, I have striven to live worthily, and after my death to leave my memory to my descendants in good works."

It is because Alfred lived worthily that he has always been honoured as England's greatest king; and all the English-speaking race has reason to respect the man who, among many other benefits, translated all the gospels into the Anglo-Saxon language for his people's use.