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Asser of Saint David’s Annals of the reign of Alfred the Great From A.D. 849 to A.D. 887.

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Asser of Saint David’s
Annals of the reign of Alfred the Great From A.D. 849 to A.D. 887.
page 6

 The pagans had divided themselves into two bodies, and began to prepare defences, for they had two kings and many earls, so they gave the middle part of the army to the two kings, and the other part to all their earls. Which the Christians perceiving, divided their army also into two troops, and also began to construct defences. But Alfred, as we have been told by those who were present, and would not tell an untruth, marched up promptly with his men to give them battle; for king Ethelred remained a long time in his tent in prayer, hearing the mass, and said that he would not leave it, till the priest had done, or abandon the divine protection for that of men. And he did so too, which afterwards availed him much with the Almighty, as we shall declare more fully in the sequel. Now the Christians had determined that king Ethelred, with his men, should attack the two pagan kings, but that his brother Alfred, with his troops, should take the chance of war against the two earls. Things being so arranged, the king remained a long time in prayer, and the pagans came up rapidly to fight. Then Alfred, though possessing a subordinate authority, could no longer support the troops of the enemy, unless he retreated or charged upon them without waiting for his brother. At length he bravely led his troops against the hostile army, as they had before arranged, but without awaiting his brother's arrival; for he relied in the divine counsels, and forming his men into a dense phalanx, marched on at once to meet the foe. But here I must inform those who are ignorant of the fact, that the field of battle was not equally advantageous to both parties. The pagans occupied the higher ground, and the Christians came up from below. There was also a single thorn-tree, of strutted growth, but we have ourselves never seen it. Around this tree the opposing armies came together with loud shouts from all sides, the one party to pursue their wicked course, the other to fight for their lives, their dearest ties, and their country. And when both armies had fought long and bravely, at last the pagans, by the divine judgment, were no longer able to bear the attacks of the Christians, and having lost great part of their army, took to a disgraceful flight. One of their two kings, and five earls were there slain, together with many thousand pagans, who fell on all sides, covering with their bodies the whole plain of Ashdune. There fell in that battle king Bagsac, earl Sidrac the elder, and earl Sidrac the younger, earl Osborn, earl Frene, and earl Harold; and the whole pagan army pursued its flight, not only until night but until the next day, even until they reached the stronghold from which they had sallied. The Christians followed, slaying all they could reach, until it became dark. After fourteen days had elapsed, king Ethelred, with his brother Alfred, again joined their forces and marched to Basing to fight with the pagans. The enemy came together from all quarters, and after a long contest gained the victory. After this battle, another army came from beyond the sea, and joined them. The same year, after Easter, the aforesaid king Ethelred, having bravely, honourably, and with good repute, governed his kingdom five years, through much tribulation, went the way of all flesh, and was buried in Wimborne Minster, where he awaits the coming of the Lord, and the first resurrection with the just. The same year, the aforesaid Alfred, who had been up to that time only of secondary rank, whilst his brothers were alive, now, by God's permission, undertook the government of the whole kingdom, amid the acclamations of all the people; and if he had chosen, he might have done so before, whilst his brother above-named was still alive; for in wisdom and other qualities he surpassed all his brothers, and moreover, was warlike and victorious in all his wars. And when he had reigned one month, almost against his will, for he did not think he could alone sustain the multitude and ferocity of the pagans, though even during his brothers' lives, he had borne the woes of many, -- he fought a battle with a few men, and on very unequal terms, against all the army of the pagans, at a hill called Wilton, on the south bank of the river Wily, from which river the whole of that district is named, and after a long and fierce engagement, the pagans, seeing the danger they were in, and no longer able to bear the attack of their enemies, turned their backs and fled. But, oh, shame to say, they deceived their too audacious pursuers, and again rallying, gained the victory. Let no one be surprised that the Christians had but a small number of men, for the Saxons had been worn out by eight battles in one year, against the pagans, of whom they had slain one king, nine dukes, and innumerable troops of soldiers, besides endless skirmishes, both by night and by day, in which the oft-named Alfred, and all his chieftains, with their men, and several of his ministers, were engaged without rest or cessation against the pagans. How many thousand pagans fell in these numberless skirmishes God alone knows, over and above those who were slain in the eight battles above-mentioned. In the same year the Saxons made peace with the pagans, on condition that they should take their departure, and they did so. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 872, the twenty-fourth of king Alfred's life, the above-named army of pagans went to London, and there wintered. The Mercians made peace with them. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 873, the twenty-fifth of king Alfred, the above-named army, leaving London, went into the country of the Northumbrians, and there wintered in the district of Lindsey; and the Mercians again made treaty with them. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 874, the twenty-sixth since the birth of king Alfred, the army before so often mentioned left Lindsey and marched to Mercia, where they wintered at Repton. Also they compelled Burhred, king of Mercia, against his will, to leave his kingdom and go beyond the sea to Rome, in the twenty- second year of his reign. He did not long live after his arrival, but died there, and was honourably buried in the school of the Saxons, in St. Mary's church, where he awaits the Lord's coming and the first resurrection with the just. The pagans also, after his expulsion, subjected the whole kingdom of the Mercians to their dominion; but by a most miserable arrangement, gave it into the custody of a certain foolish man, named Ceolwulf, one of the king's ministers, on condition that he should restore it to them, whenever they should wish to have it again; and to guarantee this agreement, he gave them hostages, and swore that he would not oppose their will, but be obedient to them in every respect.

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