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Bernwulf, King of Mercia, fought a battle at Wilton, in which Egbert gained the victory, but there was great slaughter on both sides. Then sent he his son Ethelwulf into Kent, with a large detachment from the main body of the army, accompanied by his bishop, Elstan, and his alderman, Wulfherd; who drove Baldred, the king, northward over the Thames. Whereupon the men of Kent immediately submitted to him; as did also the inhabitants of Surrey, and Sussex, and Essex; who had been unlawfully kept from their allegiance by his relatives. The same year, also, the King of the East Angles and his subjects besought King Egbert to give them peace and protection against the terror of the Mercians; whose king, Bernwulf, they slew in the course of the same year.”
· Thus far it is evident, that nothing in reality was added by Egbert to the dominion of Wessex, except the protective superiority over the kingdom of the East Angles; for Surrey and Sussex (the kingdom of the South Saxons), seem to have been incorporated with the West Saxons by Ina in 725. They had been reduced to a state of dependence by his predecessor Ceadwulla in 688. Nor had Ina, on the death of their tributary king, Authum, permitted the throne to be filled again, but had driven Ealdbert, their Etheling, into exile (probably on the disturbances in 722); and on the renewal of insurrection in 725 had defeated and slain him. They had revolted again, it is true, during the troubles and disorders in Wessex, arising out of the tyranny and deposition of Sigebryht; but seem to have been subdued by Cynewulf—for we hear no more of their former king, Osmond, or any successor to him afterwards.
And as for Essex (that petty kingdom, the alternate prey of the neighbouring states of Wessex, Kent, and Mercia), we have no record of its distinct existence, either in the Chronicle or elsewhere, after the accession of Swithred in 746,-save that in 799 it is briefly mentioned, that “ Siru, King of the East Saxons, went to Rome;" and from the language of the passage we have quoted, it seems evident, that his kingship had been merely tributary, or dependent. We find, however, that in 827 “ King Ecgbright conquered the Mercian kingdom, and all that is south of the Humber. And he was the eighth king (eahtetha cyning) who was the Bret-ralda.” We give the word exactly as it stands in the Chronicle, using only the modern instead of the Saxon characters; and we quote, in the same way, the different modes in which it is written in various MSS.-as Bryten-wealda, Briten-walda, Bryten-weald, Bretean-woelda,-which Mr. Ingram, somewhat too largely, and we might say hypothetically, translates “ sovereign of all the British dominions.” Surely the conquest, however absolute, of all the Saxon states, south of the Humber, would not render the King of Wessex sovereign of all the British dominions, or even of the entire Heptarchy. And though we should admit (what indeed is very probable) that Wales was in a state of, at least, comparative subjugation; and adopt the statement of Rapin (apparently confirmed, indeed, by the concluding paragraph of the passage from which we have digressed) that “ Andred and the Northumbrians, unable to make head against him, submitted to him, and accepted the same terms granted to the Mercians and East Anglians," this would, after all, not make him King of England ; or vest him with any other authority than that which had been enjoyed at different periods by several precedent princes of the Heptarchy. The Saxon Chronicle, indeed, in the very passage we are referring to (whatever may be the just and adequate translation of the title Brylen-wealda — wielder, or chief potentate of Britain, we should say ;) so far from adorning him with the comprehensive title of King of England, or of having effected the final dissolution of the Heptarchy, expressly puts him on the same footing with seven precedent potentates : one of whom, Edwin the Great, of Northumbria, perhaps possessed a larger, and has been celebrated for a more benignant dominion than himself.
“Ella, King of the South Saxons (continues the Chronicle), was the first who possessed so large a territory; the second was Ceawlin, King of the West Saxons; the third was Ethelbert, King of Kent; the fourth was Redwald, King of the East-Angles; the fifth was Edwin, King of the Northumbrians; the sixth was Oswald, who succeeded him; the seventh was Oswry, the brother of Oswald ; the eighth was Egbert, King of the West-Saxons. This same Egbert led an army against the Northumbrians, as far as Dore, where they met him, and offered terms of obedience and subjection, on the acceptance of which they returned home.”
Yet it has never entered into the imagination of any of our historians to deck any one of the seven precedent chiefs of the Heptarchy with the titles either of sovereigns of all the British dominions, or Kings of England: although the extent of the authority of Edwin, in particular, has been sufficiently attested, and the good purposes to which he applied it, by the venerable Bede and other ancient writers of our annals, in
the first of our Saxon kings commemorated for the virtues of civil government, and the strict execution of justice. Rapin, indeed, and Hume (who in this part of his history seems merely to have abridged him, and never even to have looked into the authorities he pretends to quote) seem to confine the influence of these virtues to his own Northumbrian dominions—which stretched, however, from Edinburgh and the Lothians to the banks of the Humber; but elder authorities expressly say, that during his reign a child with a purse of gold in its hand, or an unprotected virgin, might have passed from one extremity of the island to the other, without any danger of violence or robbery.
But whatever might be the comparative ascendency of these respective princes, or successive chiefs of the Saxon confederacy, the Saxon Chronicle puts it out of all doubt, that Egbert bequeathed no undivided sovereignty over Saxon England to his posterity; and, in fact, that his own actual kingdom only extended over the principalities of Wessex, Kent, Essex, and Sussex, as the following quotations will sufficiently show.
“A. D. 836. This year died King Egbert; him Offa, King of Mercia, and Beorhtric, the West-Saxon king, drove out of England into France three years before he was king. * Beorhtric was assisted
wards returned, reigned thirty-seven winters and seven months. Then Ethelwulf, the son of Egbert, succeeded to the West-Saxon kingdom; and he gave his son Athelstane the kingdoms of Kent, and Essex, and Surrey, and Sussex.”
Thus Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria, it is evident, still continued to be separate kingdoms; and, on the demise of Egbert, seem even to have regained their independence. Accordingly, A.D. 853, during the reign of Æthelwulf, we find the
* There seems to be some error here, probably of transcription, three for twelve: for Offa died in 794, six years “ before Egbert was king,” and could not be assistant in driving that prince out of England into France, three years after his own demise. Besides the circumstance seems, as related in the Chronicle, to stand in some connexion with the matrimonial alliance between the two kings of Wessex and Mercia ; and it was in the year 787 that the marriage took place between Beorhtric and Eadburhge, the daughter of Offa, so that Rapin seems to be right, though he quotes not his authority, (and it is evident that his researches never ascended to the Saxon original records) in assigning the period of twelve years to the exile of Egbert. We should add, that the context clearly shows that the passage we have quoted ought to be translated as we have rendered it, “ Beorhtric was assisted by Offa, not as Mr. Ingram (with all due submission to his superior knowledge of the Saxon language) has it, that “ Bertric assisted Offa," &c. for it was Bertric, not offa, who had motive for the persecution of this young hero: though the marriage of the daughter of Offa to the West-Saxon king might naturally enough dispose him to refuse that refuge, which it seems was sought, to the object of the jealousy of his son-in-law.
king of the former of these states, treating with the Mercian as upon equal terms.
“This year, Burhead, King of Mercia, with his council, besought King Æthelwulf to assist him to subdue North Wales, and made all the inhabitants submit to him.” And again. “ Burhead, the Mercian king, about this time, received in marriage the daughter of Æthelwulf, the West-Saxon king.” .
Again, on the death of Æthelwulf (in 857) we are told, that “ two of his sons divided the kingdom. Æthelbald became King of Wessex; and Æthelbert, King of Kent, Essex, Surrey, and Sussex.” And when Ethelbald died (A.D. 860), Æthelbert, his brother, succeeded to the whole kingdom, and held it in good order and great tranquillity :”- that is to say, to the four heptarchic states of Wessex, Sussex, Kent, and Essex, now (and not till now) permanently united, and included under the denomination of the West-Saxon kingdom. In which extended sense the language of the Chronicle is obviously to be understood, when it says—“A. D. 866. This year Æthelred, brother to Æthelbert, took the West-Saxon government." And, again, (A. D. 871) when it specifies, « Then Ælfred, his brother, the son of Æthelwulf, took the kingdom of Wessex.”_" The same year,” says the same authority, “ the West-Saxons made peace with the Danes.”
Thus, at the apparently inauspicious accession of our immortal Alfred (for nine general battles, besides skirmishes, were fought that year in the kingdom south of the Thames, and nine earls and one king were slain) the territory which had constituted the Anglian or Saxon Heptarchy was still indisputably divided into four kingdoms-namely, the West-Saxon, the Mid-Saxon, or Mercian; and the Northumbrian and EastAnglian, then in subjugation to the Danes.
The result of the long and arduous struggle with the Danish invaders, however, evidently extended, in no small degree, the influence of the West-Saxon sceptre over the Mercian state. That kingdom, in the general wreck and calamity, having been completely trampled, and its sceptre broken by the northern marauders, Alfred, the ultimate deliverer, would naturally assume an authority over the realm he had liberated from a foreign yoke. And, accordingly, we find, that when (A. D. 886) the defeated army of the northmen “ that before were bent eastward, went back again (over seas] to the west, and, proceeding upwards along the Seine, [laid siege to, and] fixed their winter-quarters in the city of Paris,* King Alfred
Anglian, result however west
* See Télibien, Histoire de la Ville de Paris, 1. ii, and the barbarous Latin hexameters of Abbo, abbot of Fleury.
having fortified the city of London, and committed it to the care of Alderman Æthered, the whole English nation turned to him, except that part of it which was held captive by the Danes.”-For it was the army of fresh invaders, and not the long-settled Danes of Northumbria and East-Anglia, that were thus completely vanquished and driven out of the island. And although the same authority, in noticing the death of Alfred, A.D.901,“ six nights before the mass of All Saints,” again observes, that “ he was king of all the English nation, except that part which was under the power of the Danes,” yet was he so far from assuming the title of King of England, that his laws and institutions, to the last, designate him only (like his ancestors) by the modest appellation of King of the West
And to the same title succeeded his scarcely less illustrious son, the heroic Edward the Elder. Nor did that gallant and enterprising prince entirely submerge, in the first instance, the Mercian kingdom in that of Wessex; but suffered it to be governed as a separate, though probably, in some degree, dependent state by his amazonian sister, Æthelfleda : who, as “ Lady (lilafdge) of all the Mercians," (such was the feminine of the regal title--for cwen, or queen, signified, in reality, only a companion) exercised in her own person all the rights of sovereignty; built her fortresses and waged her wars both against the Northumbrians, and those who disputed her sway; “sent her army into Wales (A.D. 916), stormed Brecknock; and there took the king's wife, with some four and thirty others ;” and “ with the help of God" took the town of Derby “ where were slain four of her thanes," and
“ A.D. 920, with God's assistance, the town of Leicester; where the greater part of the army that belonged thereto submitted to her. And the Yorkists had also promised and confirmed, some by agreement and some by oaths, that they would be in her interest. But very soon after they had done this, she departed, twelve nights before Midsummer, at Tamworth, the eighth year that she was holding the government of the Mercians with right dominion."
And now, and not till now, does Mercia seem to have become extinct as a separate kingdom :- for : “ This year, also, was the daughter of Æthered, lord of the Mercians, deprived of all authority over the Mercians, and led into Wessex, three weeks before mid-winter. Her name was Hælfwina.”
At this time, indeed, was the Saxon kingdom rapidly hastening to consolidation. For, (Edward having already triumphed over the hostile pretensions and attempts of “ Prince Æthelwald, the son of his paternal uncle ;" and that prince,