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THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
YOUNG people learn the history of England by reading small books INTRODUCwhich connect some memorable event that they can understand, and remember, with the name of each king—such as Tyrrell's arrow-shot with William Rufus, or the wreck of the White Ship with Henry I. But when they begin to grow a little beyond these stories, it becomes difficult to find a history that will give details and enlarge their knowledge, without being too lengthy. They can hardly be expected to remember or take an interest in personages or events left, as it were, in the block. It was the sense of this want that prompted the writing of the series that here follows, in which the endeavour has been to take either individual characters, or events bearing on our history, and work them out as fully as materials permitted, so that each, taken by itself, might form an individual Cameo, or gem in full relief, and thus become impressed upon the mind.
The undertaking was first begun sixteen years ago, for a periodical for young people. At that time, the view was to make the Cameos hang, as it were, on the thread furnished by ordinary childish histories, so as to leave out what might be considered as too well-known. However, as the work made progress, this was found to be a mistake; the omissions prevented the finished parts from fitting together, and the characters were incomplete, without being shown in action. Thus, in preparing the Cameos for separate publication, it has been found better to supply what had previously been omitted, as well as to try to correct and alter the other Cameos by the light of increasing information.
None of them lay claim to being put together from original documents; they are only the attempt at collecting, from large and often not easily accessible histories, the more interesting or important scenes and facts, and at arranging them so that they may best impress the imagination and memory of the young, so as to prepare them for fuller and deeper reading.
Our commencement is with the Dukes of Normandy. The elder England has been so fully written of, and in such an engaging manner for youthful readers, in the late Sir Francis Palgrave's "History of the Anglo-Saxons," that it would have been superfluous to expand the very scanty Cameos of that portion of our history. The present volume, then, includes the history of the Norman race of sovereigns, from Rollo to Edward of Carnarvon, with whose fate we shall pause, hoping in a second volume to go through the French wars and the wars of the Roses. Nor have we excluded the mythical or semi-romantic tales of our early history. It is as needful to a person of education to be acquainted with them, as if they were certain facts, and we shall content ourselves with marking what come to us on doubtful authority.
If we try to look back at history nine hundred years, we shall see a world very unlike that in which we are now moving. Midway from the birth of our Lord to the present era, the great struggle between the new and old had not subsided, and the great European world of civilized nations had not yet settled into their homes and characters.
Christianity had been accepted by the Roman Emperor six hundred years previously, but the Empire was by that time too weak and corrupt to be renewed, even by the fresh spirit infused into it; and from the 4th century onwards, it had been breaking up under the force of the fierce currents of nations that rushed from the north-east of Europe. The Greek half of the Empire prolonged its existence in the Levant, but the Latin, or Western portion, became a wreck before the 5th century was far advanced. However, each conquering tribe that poured into the southern dominions had been already so far impressed with the wisdom and dignity of Rome, and the holiness of her religion, that they paused in their violence, and gradually allowed themselves to be taught by her doctrine, tamed by her manners, and governed by her laws. The Patriarch of Rome-Papa, or Father-was acknowledged by them, as by the subjects of Rome of old; they accepted the clergy, who had already formed dioceses and parishes, and though much of horrible savagery remained to be subdued in the general mass, yet there was a gradual work of amelioration in progress.
This was especially the case with the Franks, who had overspread the northern half of Gaul. Their first race of kings had become Christians simultaneously with their conquest; and though these soon dwindled away between crime and luxury, there had grown up under them a brave and ambitious family, whose earlier members were among the most distinguished persons in history.
Charles Martel turned back the Saracens at Tours, and saved Europe from Mahometanism, and his grandson, Charles the Great, rescued the Pope from the Lombards, and received from him in return the crown of a new Empire of the West-the Holy Roman Empire, which was sup
the Western Empire.
posed to be the great temporal power. As the Pope, or Patriarch, was
A little later, when Charles the Great formed his empire of Franks, Germans, Saxons, and Gauls, Egbert gathered, in like manner, the various petty kingdoms of the Angles and Saxons under the one dominant realm of Wessex, and thus became a sort of island Emperor.
It seems, however, to be a rule, that nations and families recently emerged from barbarism soon fade and decay under the influence of high civilization; and just as the first race of Frankish kings had withered away on the throne, so the line of Charles the Great, though not inactive, became less powerful and judicious, grew feeble in the very next generation, and were little able to hold together the multitude of nations that had formed the empire.
Soon the kingdom of France split away from the Empire; and while a fresh and more able Emperor became the head of the West, the descendants of the great Charles still struggled on at their royal cities of Laon and Soissons, with the terrible difficulties brought upon them by restless subjects, and by the last and most vigorous swarm of all the Teutonic invaders.
The wild rugged hills and coasts of Scandinavia, with their keen |climate, long nights, and many gulfs and bays, had contributed to nurse the Teuton race in a vigour and perfection scarcely found elsewhere-or not at least since the more southern races had yielded to the enervating influences of their settled life. Some of these had indeed been tamed, but more had been degraded. The English were degenerating into clownishness, the Franks into effeminacy; and though Christianity continually raised up most brilliant lights-now on the throne, now in the cathedral, now in the cloister-yet the mass of the people lay sluggish, dull, inert, selfish, and half savage.
They were in this state when the Norseman and the Dane fitted out their long ships, and burst upon their coasts. By a peculiar law, common once to all the Teuton nations, though by that time altered in the southern ones, the land of a family was not divided among its members, but all possessed an equal right in it ; and thus, as it was seldom adequate to maintain them all, the more enterprising used their right in it only to fell trees enough to build a ship, and to demand corn enough to victual their crew, which was formed of other young men whose family inheritance could not furnish more than a sword or spear.
Kings and princes-of whom there were many-were exactly in the same position as their subjects, and they too were wont to seek their fortunes upon the high seas. Fleets coalesced under the command of some chieftain of birth or note, and the Vikings, or pirates, sailed fearlessly forth, to plunder the tempting regions to the south of them. Fierce worshippers were they of the old gods, Odin, Frey, Thor; of the third above all others, and their lengthy nights had led to their working up those myths that had always been common to the whole race into a beauty, poetry, and force, probably not found elsewhere; and that nerved them both to fight vehemently for an entrance to Valhalla, the hall of heroes, and to revenge the defection of the Christians who had fallen from Odin. They plundered, they burnt, they slew; they specially devastated churches and monasteries, and no coast was safe from them from the Adriatic to the furthest north-even Rome saw their long ships, and, "From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us," was the prayer in every Litany of the West.
England had been well-nigh undone by them, when the spirit of her greatest king awoke, and by Alfred they were overcome: some were permitted to settle down and were taught Christianity and civilization, and the fresh invaders were driven from the coast. Alfred's gallant son and grandson held the same course, guarded their coasts, and made their faith and themselves respected throughout the North. But in France, the much-harassed house of Charles the Great, and the ill-compacted bond of different nations, were little able to oppose their fierce assaults, and ravage and devastation reigned from one end of the country to another.
However, the Vikings, on returning to their native homes, sometimes found their place filled up, and the family inheritance incapable of supporting so many. Thus they began to think of winning not merely gold and cattle, but lands and houses, on the coasts that they had pillaged. In Scotland, the Hebrides, and Ireland, they settled by leave of nothing but their swords; in England, by treaty with Alfred; and in France, half by conquest, half by treaty, always, however, accepting Christianity as a needful obligation when they accepted southern lands. Probably they thought that Thor was only the god of the North, and that the "white Christ," as they called Him who was made known to them in these new countries, was to be adored in what they deemed alone His territories.
Of all the sea-robbers who sailed from their rocky dwelling-places by the fiords of Norway, none enjoyed higher renown than Rolf, called the ganger or walker, as tradition relates, because his stature was so gigantic that, when clad in full armour, no horse could support his weight, and he therefore always fought on foot.
Rolf's lot had, however, fallen in what he doubtless considered as evil days. No such burnings and plunderings as had hitherto wasted England, and enriched Norway, fell to his share; for Alfred had made the bravest Northmen feel that his fleet and army were more than a match
men as Pirates.