At that time a violent discord arose, by the instigation of the devil, among the inhabitants of Northumberland; as always is used to happen among a people who have incurred the wrath of God. For the Northumbrians at that time, as we have said, had expelled their lawful king Osbert, and appointed a certain tyrant named Aella, not of royal birth, over the affairs of the kingdom; but when the pagans approached, by divine providence, and the union of the nobles for the common good, that discord was a little appeased, and Osbert and Aella uniting their resources, and assembling an army, marched to York. The pagans fled at their approach, and attempted to defend themselves within the walls of the city. The Christians, perceiving their flight and the terror they were in, determined to destroy the walls of the town, which they succeeded in doing; for that city was not surrounded at that time with firm or strong walls, and when the Christians had made a breach as they had purposed, and many of them had entered into the town, the pagans, urged by despair and necessity, made a fierce sally upon them, slew them, routed them, and cut them down on all sides, both within and without the walls. In that battle fell almost all the Northumbrain warriors, with both the kings and a multitude of nobles; the remainder, who escaped, made peace with the pagans. In the same year, Ealstan, bishop of the church of Sherborne, went the way of all flesh, after he had honourably ruled his see four years, and he was buried at Sherborne. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 868, which was the twentieth of king Alfred's life, there was a severe famine. Then the aforesaid revered king Alfred, but at that time occupying a subordinate station, asked and obtained in marriage a noble Mercian lady, daughter of Athelred, surnamed Mucil,(*) earl of the Gaini. (**)
The mother of this lady was named Edburga, of the royal line of Mercia, whom we have often seen with our own eyes a few years before her death. She was a venerable lady, and after the decease of her husband, she remained many years a widow, even till her own death. In the same year, the above-named army of pagans, leaving Northumberland, invaded Mercia and advanced to Nottingham, which is called in the British tongue, "Tiggocobauc," but in Latin, the "House of Caves," and they wintered there that same year. Immediately on their approach, Burhred, king of Mercia, and all the nobles of that nation, sent messengers to Ethelred, king of the West-Saxons, and his brother Alfred, suppliantly entreating them to come and aid them in fighting against the aforesaid army. Their request was easily obtained; for the brothers, as soon as promised, assembled an immense army from all parts of their dominions, and entering Mercia, came to Nottingham, all eager for battle, and when the pagans, defended by the castle, refused to fight, and the Christians were unable to destroy the wall, peace was made between the Mercians and pagans, and the two brothers, Ethelred and Alfred, returned home with their troops. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 869, which was the twenty- first of king Alfred's life, there was a great famine and mortality of men, and a pestilence among the cattle. And the aforesaid army of the pagans, galloping back to Northumberland, went to York, and there passed the winter. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 870, which was the twenty- second of king Alfred's life, the above-named army of pagans, passed through Mercia into East-Anglia, and wintered at Thetford. In the same year Edmund, king of the East-Angles, fought most fiercely against them; but, lamentable to say, the pagans triumphed, Edmund was slain in the battle, and the enemy reduced all that country to subjection. In the same year Ceolnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, went the way of all flesh, and was buried peaceably in his own city. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 871, which was the twenty- third of king Alfred's life, the pagan army, of hateful memory, left the East-Angles, and entering the kingdom of the West- Saxons, came to the royal city, called Reading, situated on the south bank of the Thames, in the district called Berkshire; and there, on the third day after their arrival, their earls, with great part of the army, scoured the country for plunder, while the others made a rampart between the rivers Thames and Kennet on the right side of the same royal city. They were encountered by Ethelwulf, earl of Berkshire, with his men, at a place called Englefield;(***) both sides fought bravely, and made long resistance.
At length one of the pagan earls was slain, and the greater part of the army destroyed; upon which the rest saved themselves by flight, and the Christians gained the victory. Four days afterwards, Ethelred, king of the West-Saxons, and his brother Alfred, united their forces and marched to Reading, where, on their arrival, they cut to pieces the pagans whom they found outside the fortifications. But the pagans, nevertheless, sallied out from the gates, and a long and fierce engagement ensued. At last, grief to say, the Christians fled, the pagans obtained the victory, and the aforesaid earl Ethelwulf was among the slain. Roused by this calamity, the Christians, in shame and indignation, within four days, assembled all their forces, and again encountered the pagan army at a place called Ashdune, which means the "Hill of the Ash." (****)
(*)This nobleman occurs as a witness [Mucil, dux] to many Mercian
charters, dated from A.D. 814 to 866.
(**)Inhabitants of Gainsborough.
(***)Englefield Green is about four miles from Windsor.
(****)Aston, in Berkshire.