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THE SAXONS BECOME CHRISTIANS.
not appear that the Church of Britain had made any attempt to convert its Pagan invaders to the faith of Christ; and the Saxons, who believed that their god Woden had given them the victory, despised the religion of the people whom they had conquered. But the time was come when the Christian religion was once more to be preached in all the land.
It was in the year 597, that the first missionaries to the Saxons landed in Britain. They were sent by Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome. His pity had been moved by the sight of some Saxon children, sold for slaves in the market-place of the city. "Who are these beautiful boys, with bright complexion and long fair curls ?" asked Gregory; "and are they Christian children ?" "No," said the slave-merchant; "they are Angles, and come from a heathen land." Gregory was grieved, and answered, "It is well they should be named Angles, for they have the faces of Angels, and ought to be fellow-heirs with the angels in heaven." And from that day he was resolved that, if possible, the Gospel should be preached to the heathens who dwelt in Britain.
He made choice of forty missionaries, and placed at their head a priest named Augustine. They landed in Kent first, because Ethelbert, the King of Kent, had married a French princess who was a Christian, though he worshipped Odin himself. When he heard that missionaries had landed in his country, he sent a messenger to them, and fixed a day on which they were to come before him, and he would hear what they had to say. When the day came, the king went out of the city with his soldiers and chief men, and seated himself on the ground, and
presently Augustine came up with all his companions who were chanting a solemn Litany as they walked along. Augustine spoke first, and told the king what he wished to teach the people. Ethelbert made answer that he would give the missionaries a house to live in, and everything that was necessary, and they might persuade his subjects to be Christians if they could; but for himself, he said, he could not receive these strange doctrines, and forsake the gods of his fathers. Yet Ethelbert was himself one of the very first who was persuaded to believe in Jesus Christ.
He was baptized on Whit Sunday, 597, not many weeks after the landing of the missionaries. The people liked to do what the king did, and on the following Christmas-day a great crowd, in number ten thousand, came together and received baptism. After this, the Gospel was preached in other parts of England, and by degrees the people gave up their false gods. But it was a long time-more than eighty years before all the seven kingdoms could be called Christian, and even then not many of the people gave up their love of war and fighting, so that there was little peace in England.
The Christian teachers did a great deal of good in the places where they settled. In general they built a monastery, in which several of them could live together. Some cultivated the land, and there were no corn-fields and gardens like those of the monks; some showed the people how to work in stone, and wood, and metal; and others had schools in which they taught children and young men. Many Englishmen went abroad to be missionaries to the people in the north of Germany, and in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
EGBERT, KING OF THE ENGLISH.
EGBERT, KING OF THE ENGLISH-THE DANES INVADE ENGLAND— ALFRED THE DELIVERER.
(From 800 to 871 A.D.)
THE time when there were seven Saxon kingdoms in England is generally called the Heptarchy, from two Greek words which mean seven governments. In 827, a very clever king of Wessex, named Egbert, forced all the other kingdoms to obey him, and took the title of King of the English. After that we hear no more of the Heptarchy. But there was no peace for the country, for new and terrible enemies began to afflict it now. These were the Northmen, or Danes, who came from Norway and Denmark. Their chiefs were called Sea-Kings, and they were excellent seamen, and very brave, but fearfully cruel.
At first they only visited the English coasts for a few weeks at a time, and then returned to their own country, carrying with them all the spoil they could gather. But very soon they began to treat the Saxons just as the Saxons had treated the Britons four hundred years before. Year after year fresh swarms of Danes landed in England, and spread themselves over the country. They plundered and burnt the towns, and made slaves of the people. The Sea-Kings were worshippers of Odin, and had a particular hatred for the Christian priests; they put them to death without mercy, and destroyed the churches and monasteries.
It seemed as if all England would soon be in the hands of these terrible strangers, but God raised up a
The him it
deliverer for the land-the great and good King Alfred. He was the grandson of Egbert, and was born in 849, twelve years after Egbert's death. Even when a little child, Alfred had shown himself brave, and quick to learn,-not to learn from books, for neither his father nor anyone else had so much as taught him his letters. But he learned to use his spear and bow and arrows against the wild animals which lived in the forests. He listened eagerly to the minstrels, when they sang of the great things which had been done in old time by heroes and brave men, and he learnt to sing like them, and to play upon the harp. And at last he learnt to read. queen showed him a book one day, and told should be his if he would learn to read it. adorned with beautiful pictures, and full of poems like those which the minstrels sang. Alfred would not rest till he had found some one to teach him to read, and now that he had gained one book, he sought eagerly after more. But it was not easy for anyone, even for a king's son, to get books then. Printing was not invented till 1450, six hundred years after Alfred's time, and in his days all books had to be written out, slowly and carefully. This made them so dear, that persons sometimes gave a great deal of land or a large sum of money to procure one volume. But Alfred read and learnt everything that he could. He was often called away from his studies to help his elder brothers to fight against the Danes, who had gained all England now, excepting Wessex, and were trying to obtain that also. In the course of the war, Alfred's brothers died, and he became king, in the year 871.
REIGN OF ALFRED.
REIGN OF ALFRED.
(From 871 to 901 A.D.)
ALFRED'S subjects were not much pleased with him at first. He fought bravely for them, but many of them were very ignorant, and did not care for anything but hunting and feasting: and Alfred could not but feel contempt for such things. Most of the people deserted him; some submitted to the Danes, and others fled out of the country, and Alfred was obliged to disguise himself like a poor man, and take refuge in the cottage of a swine-herd. He lived and worked like one of the family, and the mistress of the cottage thought he was a poor soldier, who had escaped out of the hands of the Danes.
One day, as he sat by the fire, trimming his bow and arrows, she bade him watch the cakes she had set on the hearth to bake, and see that they did not burn. Alfred promised, but as he sat there alone, thinking of his country, all overrun by the cruel Danes, he forgot the bread, and when the good woman came back, her cakes were burning to cinders. She was very angry, and told him he was always ready enough to eat her bread, and yet was so shamefully lazy he could not even be trusted to bake it. Some time afterwards she found out it was Alfred the king whom she had scolded so sharply; but he only laughed, and said he should always be grateful to her and her husband for having sheltered him in his distress. Alfred did not despise any one now for being ignorant; he tried to make them wiser if he could; but he had learned to be gentle and lowly in heart.