| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
KING ALFRED IN THE COWHERD'S COTTAGE
 WHEN Ethelwulf, Alfred's father, died, each of his sons
became king in turn. During these reigns the Danes became
more and more troublesome. Nearly all the time was spent in
fighting, so that the country came to be in a very sad state
When Ethelred (who was the last of Ethelwulf's sons except
Alfred) came to the throne, Alfred had grown to be a man,
and although he was still very young, he helped his brother
a great deal. And when Ethelred died, the people chose
Alfred to be their king. For although Ethelred had two sons,
they were little boys, and no one thought of making either
of them king. The people knew that a strong and wise man was
needed to rule in England, and Alfred was both strong and
No king has ever had to fight more bravely for his kingdom
than Alfred had. When he came to the throne, the Danes were
growing more and more bold. They did not now only come in
their ships to plunder and rob, and then sail away again.
They came now to live in the land, killing the people, and
then taking their houses for themselves.
So all the first years of Alfred's reign were spent in
fighting these fierce enemies. But Alfred did not only fight
bravely, he thought too.
 The Danes were brave and daring sailors, just as the English
had been before they came to live in England. But somehow
after the English settled down, they seem to have forgotten
about how to build ships and how to sail upon the sea.
But Alfred was wise and saw how much better it would be to
stop the Danes before they landed at all. So he built ships
and went in them to fight the Danes on the sea.
In the year 875 A.D., King Alfred and his ships met the
Danes and their ships and fought a great battle and won a
great victory. That was the first of many, many
sea-victories which the English have won, and ever since the
days of Alfred, England has had a navy and Britannia has
ruled the waves.
"Ye mariners of England
That guard our native seas,
Whose flag had braved a thousand years
The battle and the breeze;
Your glorious standard launch again
To match another foe
And sweep through the deep,
While the stormy winds do blow;
While the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.
Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep;
Her march is on the mountain waves,
Her home is on the deep.
With thunders from her native oak
She quells the floods below,
As they roar on the shore,
When the stormy winds do blow;
When the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow."
 But even although Alfred gained this battle at sea, the
Danes were not beaten altogether. Again and again Alfred had
to fight, but at last he forced the Danes to make peace.
They swore by a most solemn and dreadful oath that they
would go away and never make war against the English again.
This vow was taken with great ceremony. Sheep and cattle
were killed and offered in sacrifice to the heathen gods,
for the Danes, you remember were heathen. A beautiful ring
of gold, called the holy bracelet, was dipped in the blood
of the animals. The bracelet was then placed upon an altar
and, laying their hands upon it, the Danish chiefs swore to
fight no more against the English.
This was not the first time that the Danes had promised to
go away and fight no more, but they had always broken their
promises. Now Alfred thought they would be sure to keep
their word, because of the very solemn vow they had taken.
But the Danes did not mean to keep this promise any more than
the others. Very soon they came back again as bold as
before, or bolder. Once more fierce battles raged, till at
last, weary of fighting, and forsaken by nearly all his
followers, Alfred was forced to hide for a time in the
marshes of Somerset.
This was the saddest part of Alfred's life. He was a king,
yet he had neither crown nor royal robes, neither palace nor
servants. He was so poor that he went to live in the cottage
of a cowherd called Denewulf. His clothes were so old and
worn that the cowherd's wife thought that he was a friend of
her husband, and so she treated him as if he had been a
common man and not a great king.
One day Denewulf's wife was very busy. She had been baking
cakes, and had still many things to do.
 Alfred meanwhile was
sitting by the fire. He had been mending his bow and arrows,
but they had dropped from his hand, for, thinking deeply
about his kingdom and his people, and of how he could free
them from the Danes, he had forgotten all else.
It seemed to Denewulf's wife that Alfred was a lazy sort of
fellow. She did not know the great matters he had to think
of, and she wondered how any one could sit for hours by the
fire doing nothing, while she and her husband had to work so
Now, she said to herself, this lazy fellow can at least look
after my cakes, while I go to do something else.
"Here, good man," she said to him, "just mind my cakes for
me. And don't let them burn. When they are nice and brown on
one side, turn them over on to the other side,
like this—" and she showed him how to do it.
"All right, good wife, I will look after your cakes for
you," replied Alfred.
But when the good woman had gone, Alfred sank once more deep
in thought. As he watched the cakes, he looked into the
fire. Soon, in the red glow of the burning ashes, he saw
wonderful things. The cakes and the cowherd's cottage
vanished. Once again he was leading his army, his banner
with its golden dragons fluttered in the breeze, his spear
was in his hand, his crown upon his head. He heard the shout
of his soldiers as they charged the Danes. The ranks of the
enemy broke, they fled—to their ships they fled. Fast
behind them came the English. They set fire to the Danish
ships. He smelt the smoke as it rolled upward, heard the
crackle of the flames, the shrieks of the dying, the shouts
of victory. England was saved.
Then suddenly he was awakened out of his dream by
 a blow to
his shoulder, and an angry voice in his ear,
"Canst thee not mind the cakes, man?
And doesn't thee see them burn?
I's bound thee'll eat them fast enough
As soon as 'tis thy turn."
Alas! the cakes, and not the Danish ships, were burning.
Alfred was a great king, but he had proved a poor cook; and
the good wife was very angry.
She scolded him well, little thinking that she was scolding
her King. She was still rating when Denewulf came in.
"Hush thee, woman, hush thee," he said, ashamed and
"Hush, shall I?" she cried angrily. "The lazy loon, the idle
good-for-naught, to sit by the fire, and see the cakes burn,
and never stir a finger."
"Hush thee, woman," said Denewulf again in despair. "It is
"The King!" cried the good wife, astonished, and a little
frightened too. "Well, king or no king," she added
grumblingly after a minute, "he ought to have minded the
Alfred was not angry, as Denewulf feared he would be, and
afterwards, when he came to his kingdom again, Alfred made
the cowherd a bishop, for he had found out while hiding in
his cottage that Denewulf was a good and wise man. So his
wife became a great lady, and perhaps never baked any more
cakes. Certainly she never again had a king to watch them
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