HOW EDMUND IRONSIDE FOUGHT FOR THE CROWN
 GUNHILDA was right. This act of Ethelred's proved to be not
only wicked, but foolish, and it brought great sorrow upon
England. For as soon as Sweyn, King of Denmark, heard of the
cruel murder, he determined to avenge his sister's death.
Gathering a great company of soldiers and a most wonderful
fleet of ships, he set sail for England.
Over the blue waves came the fierce sea-kings in their
splendid ships, with purple sails and glittering, golden
prows. Beasts and birds, dragons and serpents were carved
upon the painted and gilded ships, and it seemed as if all
the monsters of fairyland were gathered to terrify and
conquer the people of England.
No storm stayed the ships. Soft winds blew gently over sunny
sparkling waters, as nearer and nearer they came. Never
before had the Danes come in such splendour and such force.
The frightened people fled as these fierce sea-warriors
landed, and where they landed, and on through all the
country, wherever they passed, they left behind them a track
of death and desolation. The people were killed, the towns
were burned, the crops and cattle trampled and destroyed;
hunger, misery and tears filled the land. Ethelred, weak and
cowardly as ever, deserting his country in the hour of need,
fled to France with his wife and children.
 Ethelred fled to France because his wife, Emma, was the
daughter of the Duke of Normandy. Normandy is part of
France. Queen Emma's father received them kindly, and no
doubt Ethelred enjoyed himself very much at the Norman
court, riding and hunting, and quite forgetting his poor
So Sweyn, King of Denmark, was master of England. But though
he was proclaimed king, he never wore the crown, for he died
suddenly, leaving the throne to his son Canute.
But Englishmen could not forget the great Alfred and his
good sons. They longed to have a king of their own people
again. So when Sweyn died, they sent messengers to France,
begging Ethelred to come back, and promising to be true to
him and to fight for him, if only he would rule a little
better than he had done.
Ethelred came back, and had he had a little courage, he
might soon have won all England again. For his people were
ready and willing to die for their country. They only waited
for a brave man to lead them. But Ethelred was neither
better nor wiser than before. Soon his soldiers lost heart
again, and some of them even deserted and went to fight for
Canute the Dane. This, too, in spite of all that Edmund
Ironside, the brave son of Ethelred, could do.
Edmund was called Ironside because of his strength and
courage. He tried to keep the army together, but he could
not hide his father's cowardice and weakness from the
soldiers. Soon, however, Ethelred died, and the people
immediately crowned Edmund king.
But some of the wise men and nobles thought it was of no use
to try to fight against the Danes any longer, so they
crowned Canute king. Thus there were two kings in England,
an English king and a Danish,
 and the wars between the two
nations continued as fiercely as ever.
But now the English had a wise king and brave leader. That
was all they asked. They took heart again and joyfully
followed him. Five great battles were fought, and in nearly
all of them the English were victorious. That seems to show
that it was truly Ethelred's fault that the English were
ever beaten. He did not love his people, and he did not care
what happened to them. He thought only of his own pleasure
But Edmund Ironside was different. He thought only of his
country, and although he was winning battle after battle, it
made him sad and sick at heart to see his people die. The
horror of war had filled the land for so many years that he
longed for peace.
One day as the two armies lay opposite each other ready for
battle, Edmund sat in his tent sad and weary. The summer sun
shone on unplowed fields and ruined homes. All around there
was sorrow and desolation. As Edmund looked across the land
with sad eyes, he thought to himself that he would gladly
die, if he could bring peace to his dear country.
He sat some time in thought, then suddenly calling one of
his captains, he said to him, "Go to Canute the Dane. Say to
him that I, Edmund Ironside, King of England, send him
greeting, that, weary of battle and death, I challenge him to
fight in single combat with me alone. He who dies shall die
and be buried as befits a king. He who lives shall be ruler
over all England."
The captain bowed low before the King, and mounting upon his
horse, he rode off to the Danish camp with this strange
When Canute heard it, he sat silently thinking for some
time. Then turning to the messenger, he said, "Go,
Edmund Ironside that I will meet him and, please God,
although I am the lesser man, I shall conquer him and still
be King of England."
Both kings then arrayed themselves in splendid armour with
shield and sword and spear, and rode out to fight. The two
armies stood around watching in hope and fear. At first the
kings fought with their spears while riding upon their
horses, then leaping to the ground they attacked each other
fiercely with their swords.
Both were strong, but Edmund was the taller, and Canute soon
began to feel that he was being beaten. So in a loud voice
he cried out, "Why should we fight thus? Two kings as we
should be brothers, not enemies. Let us stop fighting, and
divide the kingdom and be at peace."
Then King Edmund, throwing down his sword, held out his
hands to Canute. "Brother." He said, "we will be kings
So once more England was divided. Edmund Ironside, the
Englishman, ruled over the south part, and Canute the Dane
ruled over the north part, and there was peace in the land.
But this did not last for long, for very soon Edmund died.
Altogether he had only reigned seven months, and much of
that time had been spent in fighting, yet he had done more
for his people than Ethelred had done in many years.