The angry historians see one side of the question. The calm historians see nothing at all, not even the question itself. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




A Saxon Nobleman

During the war between the English and the Danes, in the reign of Ethelred or of Edmund Ironsides, a Danish nobleman, separated from his companions, lost his way. As he was afraid of falling into the hands of the English, he began to look about him for a guide.

He soon discovered a poor little hut, and, boldly entering, asked the Saxon peasant who dwelt there to help him. Now you know the Saxons were noted for their kindness to their guests; so, although the peasant knew this man was an enemy, he gave him food and drink and promised that his son should guide him safely back to the Danish camp. But the peasant asked in return, that the Dane should keep the youth in his service; for if the lad came back, and the Saxons discovered that he had helped an enemy, they would surely kill him.

The Dane, led back to his companions by the Saxon youth Godwin, took him into his household, and found him very useful. Godwin was clever and ambitious, and worked so hard and so faithfully that he finally became one of the principal officers of Canute. We are told, further, that he even married one of the king's relatives.

Canute died after a reign of eighteen years, leaving his kingdom to three of his sons, who were to be kings of Norway, Denmark, and England. The last-named throne he intended for his youngest boy, Emma's son, Hardicanute. But another of Canute's sons, Harold, who was surnamed the Harefoot because he could run so fast, took possession of the greater part of England.

Godwin at first took the part of Hardicanute, and made war against Harold. But after a while he changed sides, and some historians tell us that one of his daughters finally married Harold.

Hardicanute, instead of fighting, lingered in Denmark, allowing his mother Emma to rule in his stead over the small part of England which Harold had not won. The sons of Ethelred, hearing there was war in England, now hoped to recover their father's kingdom; but they did not succeed. One of them, Alfred, was made prisoner and cruelly put to death. Although Godwin was accused of this crime, it could not be proved, so he was acquitted.

The English soon grew tired of being neglected by Hardicanute, and said they would rather belong to Harold, who thus became sole king. But when Harold died, Hardicanute came to England to rule over the whole country in his turn. Godwin, who had once deserted him in favor of Harold, now tried to win his forgiveness by making him a present of a beautiful galley, whose oars, rigging, and hull were gilded all over, so as to make it look like a golden ship. Hardicanute graciously accepted Godwin's present, but never fully trusted the man again. His reign was very short, for after ruling two years he died as he stood drinking at a wedding feast.

The English were now tired of Danish kings, so the Witenagemot chose Edward, Ethelred's son, to rule over them next. Edward gladly accepted the crown, and the people welcomed him by a great festival. Some say that it was held every year, in memory of his coronation; but others claim that Hockday, as the festival is called, celebrates the massacre of the Danes on St. Brice's day.

The people were still more joyful when Edward put a stop to the Danegeld, a tax which they had been forced to pay for many a year. Their new king was gentle and very pious, and spent so much of his time in penance and prayer that he was considered a very holy man and called the Confessor. He was very fond of the Normans, among whom he had been brought up, and would gladly have made them his sole advisers, but he did not dare to do so as long as Godwin lived. This Saxon nobleman was still the most important man at court, and he tried to gain more power by making the king marry his daughter Edith. Edward, however, never cared for her, and when Godwin lost his power, some time after, the poor queen was shut up in a nunnery, and all her property was taken from her.

As people fancied that the mere touch of so holy a man as Edward could cure them, many sick were brought to him; and for several centuries after this, it was the custom for the King of England to lay his hands upon people who were afflicted by a certain disease called the "king's evil," because he was supposed to have inherited Edward the Confessor's power to heal it.

Edward built many churches and monasteries during his reign, and would have liked to go to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Sepulchre. He was not able to do so, however, for his Norman friends and Godwin were always quarreling. Tired of these disputes, Edward once turned angrily upon Godwin, then restored to favour, and accused him of having taken part in the murder of Prince Alfred.

Godwin, who was then sitting at table, denied the crime, adding that he hoped the food he was then eating would choke him if he were not telling the truth. One story says that he choked to death on the next mouthful. According to another version, the king, in anger, bade him leave the country, and while he was doing so the Norman nobles pursued and murdered him in the place now known as Goodwin Sands. Still another story, and this is the most probable, says that while sitting at the king's table Godwin was stricken dead by an attack of apoplexy.

A few years later, after having given his people good laws, Edward the Confessor died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the chapel which bears his name. With his death begins a new epoch in English history, when the Normans came in their turn to take possession of the land which had belonged to the Gaels, Celts, Britons, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Danes.



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