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near the Devizes in Wiltshire, the Saxons found to their coft, that they had now a truly formidable foe to deal with, King Ethelred being mortally wounded in it, and Alfred obliged to retreat with great lofs.
Alfred, by virtue of his father's will, fucceeded his brother Ethelred to the throne of England, and was foon after anointed King at Winchester. Nothing but the distracted state of the kingdom could have induced him to accept the crown; nor was it till after repeated folicitations from the nobility and clergy, that he could be prevailed on to take the helm of government.
Since his twelfth year he had imbibed a tafte for literature, which gave him a turn for that retirement neceffary to the purfuit of knowledge: it was therefore with difficulty he could be engaged to dive into the fea of troubles and perplexities which then particularly furrounded the throne he was preffed to accept. However, having once accepted of the regal power, he was not to be daunted by these difficulties; they only excited him to apply with greater ardour and prudence, to the management of the war, and the administration of public affairs.
From this time he continued to oppose the different bodies of Danes, that were continually pouring in upon him, with various fuccefs. Sometimes, in order to get rid of them, he was obliged to enter into treaties with them, when the evacuation of his kingdom was not to be purchased at an easy rate from fuch mercenary plunderers. But as the several bodies of thefe infidels were independent of each other, and did not confider themfelves bound by treaties made with those of a different party, these accommodations were of little avail.
At length, greatly weakened by the various battles they had fought, and dispirited by the repeated invafions of their enemies, the English gave themfelves up to defpair. Thofe who could not fly, fubmitted to the victors, and preferved their lives at the expence of their happiness; others fled into Wales, in order to fecrete themfelves till fome happy revolution fhould reftore them to their country; while a few, unwilling to abandon their fovereign in his adverfity, furrounded him with profeffions of loyalty and affection.
Alfred alone rose fuperior to this fevere attack of fortune; with that magnanimity
which the truly brave ever experience in the hour of danger, inftead of giving way to defpair, he determined to yield to the ftorm for awhile, and wait "the rise of more aufpicious stars," without forgetting for a moment his people's welfare.
The fecurity of his family gave him the moft pungent concern. He had early married Elfwitha, daughter of Ethelred, a Saxon earl, furnamed, for his merit, the Great, and of Eadburgha, his wife, defcended from the kings of Mercia. This lady, who, by her birth, accomplishments, and beauty, was worthy of the high station to which he had raised her, Alfred loved with the fincereft affection, and had the happiness to find his love returned with equal fincerity. Heaven had already bleffed them with feveral children, and they began to rejoice in the profpect of a numerous progeny.
How diftreffing, therefore, muft Alfred's fituation be, when this anxiety was added to his apprehenfions for his unhappy subjects! But there was no alternative: he muft either fubmit to a temporary feparation from the objects of his tenderness, or run the risk of becoming a prey to his favage and inexorable enemies,
enemies, whom it was now impoffible for him to withstand. The former he prudently chose; and, after having placed his family in the most eligible fecurity the times would allow of, till he could find a more fecure retreat for them, he difguifed himself in mean attire, and entered into the fervice of the perfon who had the care of his herds.
Whether he was known to the neat-herd, and depended on his confidence, is uncertain; but that he remained unknown to the peafant's wife, is certified by the following incident related by Affer Menevenfis. The difguised king being one day fitting by the fire, absorbed in thought, he suffered a cake, which his mistress had placed before it, to burn, notwithstanding she had given him orders to take care of it. The old woman feverely reprimanded him for the neglect, telling him, that though he would not trouble himself to turn it, yet he would eat it fast enough when ready.
What a fituation for a once potent monarch! But Heaven defigned, by these trials of his fortitude, to accuftom his mind to the natural viciffitudes of life, and to give him. that equal temper which afterwards enabled
him to bear profperity with the moderation of a man and a chriftian. It is this extreme reverse, from the spendour of a throne, to the degrading inconveniences of a servile state, which places the name of Alfred in the lift here given.
For more than a year, Alfred remained enveloped by this cloud of adversity; but Oddune, earl of Devon, with a few brave men who ftill retained their loyalty, having by a defperate effort put the principal body of the Danes to flight, and killed Hubba their general, he determined to live no longer in his prefent obfcurity.
Having informed his friends of the place of his retreat, he defired they would come to him, that he might reap the benefit of their advice at this critical juncture. Several noblemen accordingly vifited him at Athelney in Somersetshire, the place of his retirement. The refult of their confultation was, that the nobles having collected, with the utmost expedition, all the troops they were able, they were to keep them in fmall bodies, in order to prevent fufpicion, but to be ready to join each other at the king's command.
The moft difficult, as well as the most important