If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. — Thomas Jefferson

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

St. Dunstan

When Edgar died, the Witenagemot chose Edward, his eldest son, to succeed him. This choice greatly displeased Edward's stepmother, Elfrida, who wanted her own son to reign. One day soon after his coronation, the young king, who had been out hunting, stopped at Corfe Castle to greet his little brother, whom he dearly loved. As he was about to ride away, Elfrida came out on the doorstep to give him a cup of wine. Edward gladly accepted it; but while he was drinking, Elfrida made a sign to one of her servants, who suddenly drew his dagger and thrust it into the king's back.

Although mortally wounded, Edward drove his spurs into his steed, which galloped wildly away. The king soon grew too faint to sit upon his horse, and as he fell from the saddle, his foot caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged over the rough roads by the frightened animal. When his followers found him, Edward was dead, and by Dunstan's orders he was buried in the chapel of Westminster, which had just been finished.

On account of his death, this monarch is known in history as Edward the Martyr. He was succeeded by his little brother Ethelred, the child who was standing beside Elfrida when the murder was committed.

When Ethelred came to the throne, at the age of ten, Elfrida deprived Dunstan of much of the power which he had exercised during so many years and under four previous kings. The priest was so angry at being set aside that he withdrew to his seat at Canterbury, where, we are told, he died of chagrin. The monks, whom he had befriended all his life, were naturally very grateful to him, and either because he was better than some stories would make us believe, or because they did not know all the wrong he had done, they always regarded him as a very good man, and at their request he was placed among the saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

Elfrida had, as we have seen, not only made her son King of England, but reigned in his name. She was not a happy woman, however, for she was haunted by the recollection of the crimes she had committed. She therefore left the court to withdraw into a nunnery, where she spent the rest of her life in penance and prayer.

You have seen how some Danes had settled in England. A little before Dunstan's time, some other Northmen went with their leader Rollo to France. This Rollo was so tall and heavy that none of the Northmen's little horses could carry him, and as he was thus forced to walk, he was known among his people as Rolf Ganger, or Rollo the Walker. He forced the French king to give him a province in northern France, which, as it became the home of the Northmen, or Normans, has ever since been known as Normandy. In exchange for the land, and the title of Duke, Rollo promised to consider the French king his overlord, and to do homage to him.

To do homage, a nobleman knelt before his monarch, placed both hands between the royal palms, and in that position took his oath of fealty, or faithfulness. Then, the oath taken, he stooped and kissed the king's foot.

When Rollo was told what he was to do, he angrily refused to comply. But after the French courtiers had argued with him some time, he called one of his men, and bade him go through the ceremony for him. The huge Northman obeyed with ill grace, and took the necessary oath. But when he was told to kiss the king's foot, instead of stooping down to do so, he violently jerked it up to his lips, thus making the king lose his balance and fall over backward.


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
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