Modern education has not given us men who write better epitaphs or men who build better houses. It has given us men who are afraid to write epitaphs and leave it to the vicar. It has given us men who are afraid to build houses and leave it to the architect. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




An Unlucky Couple

Dunstan was the real ruler of England during the reign of Edred. When that king died, and Edwy, the sixteen-year-old son of Edmund, succeeded him, the priest was still at the head of affairs. But Dunstan had been master so long now that he often forgot to show the king due respect.

Edwy had married Elgiva, a beautiful, gentle, and lovable girl. But as she was his cousin, and as they had forgotten to ask the pope's permission to marry, Dunstan made up his mind to separate the young couple. Now we are told that on the night of Edwy's coronation the young king slipped out of the noisy banquet hall, and went to join his bride and her mother in their quiet apartment. Dunstan was very angry when he perceived this, for he did not wish the king to see Elgiva any more, and he considered it very rude of the king to leave his guests.

The priest's temper so completely overcame his good judgment, that he rushed into the queen's rooms and dragged Edwy back into the banquet hall. Not content with this, Dunstan soon went further, and tried to separate Edwy and his wife. First he bade the king send her away; but, as Edwy did not obey, some stories tell us that Dunstan had the young queen's face branded with a red-hot iron, in hopes that the king would cease to love her when she was no longer pretty.

Young as he was, Edwy was too much of a man to desert the poor little queen; and, knowing that Dunstan had used some of the public money, the king promptly took advantage of this fact to banish him. But although Dunstan was gone, he had given his orders to a friend of his, who seized the young queen and had her carried off to Ireland a prisoner. Then, hoping to make more trouble for Edwy, this same wicked man stirred up the monks and the king's brothers to rebellion, awing the people by performing wonders which he called miracles, but which were probably clever tricks, such as are now done to amuse people.

Poor Edwy did not know what to do, and when he heard that his beloved Elgiva, after escaping from Ireland to rejoin him, had been overtaken by her enemies and cruelly murdered, he became so ill that we are told he died of a broken heart, after reigning only three years.

As soon as Edwy died, one of his young brothers was placed on the throne, and Dunstan, coming back to England, again took the power into his own hands. The new king, Edgar, never dared disobey Dunstan in anything; and when he died, many years later, the monks who wrote his history, by Dunstan's order, declared that he was the best monarch that ever lived.

During his reign, Edgar not only fought the Danes, but frequently sailed around the islands with a fleet of three hundred and sixty ships, to overawe the people and prevent them from daring to disobey his laws. Eight princes are said to have recognized Edgar as their master, and on one occasion to have rowed his barge across the river Dee to do him honour.

Although Edgar was none too good himself, he made severe laws for his people, and insisted upon their keeping the Sabbath day very strictly. We are told that Edgar accepted from the Welsh king the tribute of three hundred wolf-skins, instead of a money payment. The result was, it seems, that the Welshmen hunted the wolves in their mountains so persistently that soon not one of these wild beasts was left to frighten the people in England and Wales, and devour their sheep or their children.

One of the chroniclers tells a very romantic story. King Edgar, he says, wished to marry; and when he heard that Elfrida, a Saxon princess, was noted for her beauty, he sent one of his courtiers to see if she was really handsome. The courtier no sooner beheld this maiden than he fell in love with her himself, so, without telling her that the king wished to sue for her hand, he wooed and won her.

Upon returning to court, this man told the king that Elfrida's charms were not very great, and at first Edgar believed him. But after a while he began to suspect that his courtier had deceived him, and suddenly announced that he was going to visit the bride.

The courtier bade his wife wear her old clothes and make herself as unattractive as possible; but Elfrida, who was proud of her beauty, disobeyed him. She seemed so beautiful that the king wanted her for his wife, and with her aid he murdered the courtier who had deceived them both. Then Edgar married Elfrida, who, as you see, was not at all a good woman, although she was so handsome.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

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