Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Cornwall, to pursue the Saxons. On his approach, the Scots and Picts not only raised the siege, but fled precipitately to Lough Lomond, where they endeavoured to fortify themselves in the islands; but Arthur having quickly equipped a fleet, obliged them to surrender, and in his great clemency pardoned them.

In the mean time, Cador, Duke of Cornwall, taking a circuit round the Saxons, and thereby giving them time to collect themselves into a body, and to refresh after their fatigues, suddenly seized and carried away their ships, and then marched in quest of them, who, perceiving their desperate condition, retired into the isle of Thanet, where Cador blocked them up with their own ships, and after killing their commander, forced them to surrender upon articles, and to give hostages once more for their departing out of the kingdom.

This done, Cador rejoined the King, who kept his Christmas at York, where he destroyed the temples of the Pagans, restored the Christian churches, and appointed Pyramus, his chaplain, Archbishop of this See. He also promoted Augusel to the 'sovereignty over the Scots, rewarded other persons of distinction, and took himself to wife Ciuhanumara, a lady descended from the Romans, of exquisite beauty, bred up in the family of Cador, Duke of Cornwall.

The next summer he fitted out a fleet, and therewith invaded Ireland, of which Guillamurius was the chief King, who, to oppose him, drew together a numerous army, which Arthur defeated, and made him prisoner : upon this all the petty princes in the island submitted. Then he sailed to Iceland, which he likewise subdued, and received the submissions of Doldavius, King of Gothland, and Gunfasius, King of the Orkneys, whom the very terror of his arms had reduced to obedience. After this he returned into Britain, and governed here twelve years

in peace, with such magnificence and splendour, that all Europe was amazed at it, and the greatest potentates stood in fear of him.

At length Sichelin, King of the Norwegians, dying, and leaving his kingdom to Lot, Arthur's brother-in-law, the people of Norway, notwithstanding, set up Riculf. On this pretence, therefore, Arthur invaded that kingdom, defeated the Norwegians, killed Riculf, conquered Norway and Dacia, that is, Denmark, and having given the whole to Lot, proceeded with his victorious army to invade Gaul. The greatest part of the country he quickly subdued, blocked up the Roman Governor in Paris, and reduced him to such streights there, that he was on the very point of starving. In this distress he challenged Arthur to a single combat, which he was too gallant a man to refuse; whereupon a bloody duel ensued, in which at first Arthur had the worst, but at length he conquered and killed Flollo, upon which Paris surrendered.

He spent, however, nine years in conquering the rest of France, after which he returned to that city, and kept a royal court, bestowing Neustria, afterwards called Normandy, upon his butler, Bedver, and the rest of the provinces upon his domestics.

Upon the approach of the feast of Pentecost, Arthur determined to call a great assembly of the most noble of his subjects, which he appointed to be held at Caerleon, in Monmouthshire ; because, standing on the river Usk, near the Severn sea, it was both pleasant and commodious, for the coming and going of those who were invited. Accordingly there assembled Augusel, King of Scotland, the King of North Wales, the King of South Wales, Cador, King of Cornwall, the Archbishops of London and York, and Caerleon, with a multitude of British princes; there came, likewise, Guillamurius, King of Ireland, Malvasius, King of Iceland, Doldavius, King of Gothland, Gunfasius, King of the Orkneys, Lot, King of Norway, Aschillius, King of the Dacians, &c. At this time he was solemnly crowned, the Kings of Scotland, Cornwall, North and South Wales, carrying four golden swords before him.

Not long after this, the Romans demanded tribute, which Arthur, by the advice of his council, not only refused, but resolved to make war upon them. He gathered a mighty army, and marched to Southampton where he embarked, leaving the government of Britain to his nephew Modred, the son of Lot, by his sister Anne. But while he was coasting about the Isle of Wight, he had news brought him, that a Spanish chief had forcibly taken away Helena, the daughter of his nephew Hoel, Duke of Brittany, whom he had carried to Mount St. Michael in Cornwall. Thither the King pursuing him, slew him in single combat, after which he proceeded in the war he had first designed, and having therein triumphed over all the forces of the Roman empire, and slain with his own hand Lucius Tiberius, their General, as he was passing the Alps, he received advice that Modred, his nephew, had revolted, and had married Guanhumara, his Queen.

This obliged hiin to desist from his enterprise against Leo, King of the Romans : wherefore, sending Hoel, King of Brittany, with a great army to secure the peace of Gaul, he, with the rest of his forces, sailed for Britain. Modred, knowing the badness of his cause, endeavoured to fortify himself by many and great alliances. With this view he once more called in the Saxons, and also invited the Scots, Picts, and Irish, to fight under his banner. At length, having assembled eighty thousand men, he led them into Kent, to oppose his uncle, who he knew intended to land there. He could not, however, prevent Arthur's coming on shore; but he presently engaged him, and after a bloody battle, in which many of the King's friends fell, was defeated and forced to fly to Winchester. As for the Queen, she retired to the city of Caerleon, and there became a nun. King Arthur pursued his nephew to Winchester, and there a second time engaged him, beat him, and forced him to fly towards Cornwall. There, on the banks of the river Camel, Modred made a stand again with sixty thousand men, with whom Arthur fought a third battle, wherein, after

thousands had been slain, and amongst them, many of the most honorable persons on both sides, at length, Modred himself was killed, and his army totally routed. In this engagement, however, Arthur received several wounds, which forced him to retire into the island of Avalon, where, feeling himself extremely weak, he resigned the crown to Constantine, the son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, and a few days after died, A.D. 542.

Henry II., who was the first of the Plantagenet line, being, in the last year of his reign, at Pembroke, and hearing there a Welsh bard singing to his harp, the story of Arthur, concluding with an account of his death and burial, in the church of Glastonbury, between two pyramids, the King instantly gave orders that the matter should be enquired into, and the body dug up. This was done as the King directed, and at the depth of seven feet was found a vast stone, whereon was fastened a leaden cross, with this inscription on the inside : Hic Jacet Sepultus Inclytus Rex Arturius in Insula Avalonia ; i. e. Here lieth the famous King Arthur, buried in the Isle of Avalon. Digging still lower, they found the King's body in a trunk of a tree, his beautiful Queen lying by him, with long flowing hair, in colour bright as gold, which however sunk into dust when touched. The King's bones were very large sized, and in his skull there were ten wounds or more, all cicatrized, except that of which he died. This discovery was made in the year 1189, as Giraldus tells us, who saw these bones, and examined the whole matter carefully. There was also a table, containing this story, set up in the monastry of Glastonbury, and the leaden cross with the inscription remained there till the dissolution of the monastry, where it was seen by the great antiquary, Leland, and is now in existence at Wells.

The bones were removed into the great church at Glastonbury, and deposited in a magnificent shrine, which was afterwards placed, in obedience to the order of Edward I., before the high altar. He visited Glastonbury with his Queen, in 1276, and had the shrine of Arthur opened to contemplate his remains. They were both so interested by the sight, that the King folded the bones of Arthur in a rich shroud, and the Queen those of his wife ; and replaced them reverentially in their tomb.

To speak briefly of his famous actions,” says Buchanan, “this is manifest, that he wholly subdued the forces of the Saxons, and restored peace to Britain ; afterwards going over to Brittany, in France, he entrusted the kingdom to Modred, his nephew; but as to his exploits in Gaul, we have no certainty of them. This is certain, Arthur was a great man and very valiant, one who expressed his sincere love to his country in freeing it from bondage, reforming corruptions in religion, and restoring the true worship of God.”

In the neighbourhood of Edinburgh there is a very high hill, the top of which is styled Arthur's seat, from a tradition that Arthur surveyed the country from hence. King Edward I. in a letter written to Pope Boniface VIII, asserts positively, that Arthur, King of the Britons, a most renowned

C

prince, subdued Scotland when in rebellion against him, and almost destroyed the whole nation. He says farther, that the King of Scots attended King Arthur at the city of Legions, did homage for his kingdom, and carried King Arthur's sword before him.

Camden doubts the credit of the above narrative from Geoffrey of Monmouth; he in other places supports the history of Arthur. If Milton doubts whether there ever was such a prince ; Leland, the great antiquary, hath written a treatise expressly in support of his history; and the Primate Usher thought the objections brought against the story of his actions, but of very little weight.

“ The annals of Wales,” says Mr. Whittaker,““ have long laboured in Arthur's commendation. The Highlanders have long had a poetical history of his exploits in their own language. The whole island is in traditionary possession of his character. And six or seven hundred places within it are still distinguished by his name.”

In Mr. Whittaker's account of this prince's conduct in peace, he asserts, that Arthur saw that an appointment was wanted, which should at once be a more regular and more honourable signature of merit; by the certainty of the honour and the greatness of the dignity, call out all the worth of all the worthy in the nation ; and collect it round the throne of the Pendragon. Accordingly, he established a military order, called the Twelve Knights of the Round Table. This table he kept at Caerleon, Winchester, and Camelet, in Somersetshi re, and at Winchester it is still preserved. The articles of this order enjoin the usual military virtues.

[ocr errors]

ALFRED THE GREAT,

THE FOUNDER OF ENGLISH JURISPRUDENCE.

Alfred the father of the English laws, was the grandson of Egbert, the founder of the monarchy. He succeeded his brother Ethelred in a period of great public danger. The Danes were masters of Northumberland, East Anglia, and formidable even in the very heart of Wessex. They had come, like the Saxons of former days, in hordes and swarms, and their object was not merely to subdue, but to establish themselves in the kingdom. Alfred was scarcely a month on the throne when he found himself obliged to take the field. On hearing of his brother's death, they advanced towards Wilton against him. They fought ; his army was scattered, but his genius was roused. On quitting the field he rallied the fugitives, summoned new aid from his people, and was, to the surprise of the victors, again at the head of a gallant army. Astonished at his celerity they sued for peace, and he granted it. His troops were eager to fight; but he repressed their temerity, aware that the consequences of another battle would be ruinous. But the Danes wete barbarians without faith. No sooner had they received reinforcements than they laughed to scorn the conditions of the treaty, and Alfred saw that he could only take measures to secure himself from their treachery.

Having convened a general council of the great men of the kingdom, he addressed them in a pathetic speech :-“You have nothing,” he said, “ but your courage to deliver you from the danger that threatens us, - nothing but to choose between dishonourable subjection, or to risk your lives as brave men, and yield a portion of your estates to enable you to preserve the rest. It is by doing this that you can hope to avoid the calamities which have fallen on your neighbours." A numerous army rose at this spirited invocation, and Alfred, seven times in one campaign, engaged the enemy, but in each battle with doubtful victory; so that he was once more constrained to treat. By this treaty, it would appear, the Danes had gained an establishment in the country, as the Saxons had done ; for the main condition was, that they should no more invade Wessex, as if the seventh part of the heptarchy was all of the kingdom which Egbert had formed, that then remained independent.

Scarcely, however, had Alfred concluded this treaty, when a new swarm of the Danes, under Rollo, so renowned afterwards as the scourge of France, landed. He had probably been invited hither by his countrymen ; for finding they had made peace with Alfred, and him in a condition in consequence to oppose formidable resistance to his designs, Rollo withdrew his army, and directed his course towards the French shore.

Alfred, having thus obtained a respite from his enemies, determined to prepare a navy to engage the Danish adventurers at sea, before they could effect a landing. It is thus that, among other valuable institutions, the pation is indebted to him for that of the navy, its bulwark and pride, and the greatest engine of dominion ever possessed by any state. Nor was it long before he reaped the benefit of this wise precaution. Different Danish squadrons in their way to England with hostile freebooters, were met by his fleet at sea, and the greatest part of them taken or destroyed.

The Danes, however, still made alarming conquests, whether entirely by their own means, or with the aid of the aboriginal inhabitants, who had remained discontented with the ascendancy of the Saxons, cannot be ascertained; but the historians remark, that the Cornishmen, the subjects of the ancient duchy of Cornwall, always sided with them.

When they had acquired the entire possession of three of the ancient kingdoms of the heptarchy, and abolished the regal title within them, they resolved to attack Wessex, the patrimonial realm of Alfred; and, having concerted the means, and concentrated their forces for this purpose, they marched suddenly on Chippenham, his capital. Such was the expedition and secrecy of their march, that Alfred was unprepared to resist them. The city, the finest and strongest in his kingdom, was taken in the course

« AnteriorContinuar »