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portant part of Alfred's plan remained yet to be executed; that was, to gain intelligence of the pofture of the enemy, who were still encamped in great force in the kingdom of Weffex, fo that he might properly concert his measures for attacking them.
Alfred, not knowing on whom he could rely in the execution of an undertaking which required fo much prudence and penetration, took the boldest refolution that ever entered into the head of a prince; he ventured into their camp, difguifed like a harper, and having made himself master of their fituation and difcipline, returned without being discovered.
Having likewife learned that they were foon to celebrate a grand feftival in honour of fome of their idols, he determined to take advantage of the riot and inebriety of that day. He accordingly fixed on Selwood foreft for the general rendezvous of his troops, and on the appointed day attacked them, while they were employed in their sports, at Edington in Hampshire, which lay at some distance from their strong fortified camp. Not being prepared for fo fudden an attack, the Danes were entirely routed, and almost their whole army cut to pieces. The few
that escaped betook themselves to an adjacent caftle, but were foon obliged to capitulate.
Notwithstanding the great advantage he had just gained, the English monarch treated the remaining Danes with his usual lenity. Such of them as would embrace the Christian religion, he permitted to take poffeffion of the kingdom of East Anglia, on condition that they would oblige the reft of their countrymen to quit the ifland, and prevent, as much as lay in their power, any more foreigners from landing. Hoftages were given for the performance of these articles; and fuch as would not part with their own religion, embarked for the continent, where they exercifed their usual piracies.
By this fignal and important victory, Alfred found himself, on a fudden, reftored to a fituation exceeding even his most fanguine hopes. By one fingle battle he had expelled the Danes from his kingdom of Wessex, and regained entire poffeffion of it. His fcattered fubjects, whom fear had driven from their homes, or conftrained to fubmit to the enemy, now flocked with eagerness to renew their allegiance to him. And withing further to fecure the friendship of Guthrum, the
Danish chieftain, whom he had not only overcome by his arms, but by his courtesy, he gave him the kingdom of East Anglia, which was now inhabited entirely by Danes, reserving to himself the nominal fovereignty as Monarch of all England.
Alfred foon became poffeffed of a greater extent of territory, and invested with more unbounded fway, than any of his predeceffors had enjoyed; every fovereign within the island, even the British princes, who ruled over North and South Wales, either courting his friendship, or fuing for his protection. And though different parties of Danes made at times attempts upon his coaft, as the first step he had taken after his reftoration had been to increase his navy, they were generally defeated, or driven away.
Having thus fecured his coafts, he diligently fet about fortifying the rest of his kingdom with castles and walled towns, the want of which had greatly contributed to the fuccefs of the Danes. He in particular added many ftrong works to the fortifications of London. And, at length, but not till after many defperate encounters had taken place, he had the fatisfaction to fee peace and tranS quillity
quillity restored throughout the island, after fo many years of bloodshed and difquietude.
We have hitherto viewed this prince as a warrior only; in which character he certainly rivals any of those whose names have been immortalized for their warlike atchievements. It is now time to notice his gentler virtues, and take a view of him in a less striking, though not a lefs pleafing light; as a just, learned, and religious king; a lover of his country; and an indefatigable promoter of arts, sciences, juftice, and religion.
Among other exertions for the welfare of his fubjects, he collected a body of laws, with the greatest judgment, from the Sacred Scriptures; from those of Ina, Offa, and Ethelbert, the greatest lawgivers among the Saxon kings; as well as from the usages of the various nations that inhabited Britain. He is likewife fuppofed to have ingrafted into his fyftem, fome of the laws of the Trojans and Grecians, which he translated himfelf for that purpose.
This collection contained many wife and judicious regulations; but the chief and moft beneficial
beneficial was that of trial by juries, for which we are undoubtedly indebted to this, great and good king. But as laws, however good in themselves, will be ineffectual to anfwer the falutary purposes for which they are enacted, unless they are properly enforced, Alfred caufed his to be obferved with the greatest rigour; and he is faid to have ordered four and forty judges to be executed within the compass of one year, for not doing justice.
Thefe wife inftitutions had fuch a wonderful effect, and produced fo sudden and extraordinary a change throughout the kingdom, that instead of the murder and rapine which had fo long prevailed, there was neither robbery, breach of peace, public offence, nor private injury, to be heard of. When the king, to make trial of the honesty of his people, caufed gold bracelets to be hung up in the highways, no one ventured to take them down; virgins might then travel fafely alone, nor fear the infults of any rude libertine; and if a purse of money were dropped on the road, it was fuffered to lie there for months together, till taken up by the real proprietor.