Book 2, Chapter 9, Edward 975 AD to 1016 AD – Sweyn’s Revenge
Yet it shows that even then the wealth of the country must have been considerable, or it could not have met such severe imposts, occurring as they did so frequently. “While the administrators of England thus made their dastardly bargains with the foreign foe at the expense of the people, there was one man found, a rich and powerful magnate of the land, who preferred death to giving a sanction to such conduct by his own example. This was Alphege, archbishop of Canterbury. A prisoner of the Danes, on the capture of his metropolitan city, and dragged among their baggage from one encampment to another, he remained day after day in chains, without even uttering the word ransom.
The Danes, first breaking silence, offered to restore their captive to liberty on condition of his paying them three thousand gold pieces, and counselling King Ethelred to give them four times that amount in addition. “I have no money of my own,” replied the archbishop, “and I will not deprive my ecclesiastical territory of one penny on my account, neither will I counsel my sovereign aught that is contrary to the honour of my country.”
The Danes, more eager for money than for the archbishop’s blood, pressed their demand. ” You urge me in vain,” replied Alphege, “I am not one who will furnish Christian flesh for pagan teeth to tear, and it were doing so to give up to you that which my poor people have been saving for their sustenance.” The Danes at length lost all patience, and one day after they had been drinking copiously of wine just brought them from the south, they bethought themselves of trying the archbishop, by way of pastime.
He was led bound, and seated upon a miserable horse, to the centre of the encampment, which served alike for the council chamber, the judgment seat, and the banqueting hall. Here the chiefs and the more distinguished warriors were seated in a circle, on great stones, close by was a heap of the bones, the jaws, and horns of the oxen consumed at their repasts. As soon as the Saxon prelate was in the midst of the circle, a great cry arose from all around: “Gold, bishop, gold, or we will cause thee play a game shall make thee noted through the world.” Alphege calmly replied: ” I offer you the gold of wisdom, that you renounce your superstitions and be converts to the true God, if you heed not this counsel, know that you shall perish as Sodom, and shall take no root in this land.
At these words, which they regarded as a menace to themselves and an insult to their religion, the mock judges rose furiously from their seats, and rushing upon the archbishop, beat him to the earth with the backs of their hatchets, several of them then ran to the heap of bones, and taking up some of the largest, rained a deluge of blows upon the prostrate Saxon. The archbishop, having fruitlessly endeavoured to kneel, in order to of up a last payer, fell forward in a senseless condition, and his sufferings were terminated by the barbarous compassion of a soldier, whom he had baptised on the previous day, and who now split his skull with an axe. The murderers at first intended to throw the corpse into a neighbouring marsh, but the Anglo-Saxons, who honoured Alphege as a Martyr for Christ’s and for his country’s sake, purchased the body at a heavy cost, and buried it in St. Paul’s, at London.
Chapter 9, Edward the Martyr
Chapter 9, Ethelred
Chapter 9, Sweyn’s Revenge
Murder of Archbishop Alphege
Chapter 9, Thurkill Ravages England
Chapter 9, Edmund Ironside
Categories: Book 2