| 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 |
HOW KING ALFRED LEARNED TO READ
 WHEN the Saxons first came to England, they came only to
fight and kill, but soon they began to love their new home
and, when two or three hundred years had passed, they forgot
that they had ever lived in any other country. So, instead
of fighting against England, they began to fight for and
love the land as their own.
Then English kings arose who tried to make good laws and
rule the people well, as some of the British kings had done.
But just as the Romans had come to conquer Britain, and as
the Saxons themselves had come, so now another people came.
These new enemies were the Northmen or Danes. They came from
the countries which we now call Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
These Danes, as we shall call them all, were fierce, wild
men. They loved to sail upon the sea; they loved to fight.
They were heathen too, just as the Saxons had been when they
first came to England.
Many and long were the battles which were fought between the
English and the Danes, but year by year the Danes grew
stronger, and the English weaker, till it seemed as if the
land was going to be conquered once again. But at last a
great English king, called Alfred, began to rule. He beat
the Danes in many battles, and nearly drove them out of the
 Alfred was the youngest son of Ethelwulf, who was King of
Wessex, one of the seven kingdoms into which England was
divided. He was also the grandson of Egbert, that king who
changed the name of Britain to England.
Although Ethelwulf was really king only of Wessex, he was
"over-lord" over all the rulers of the other seven kingdoms
of England. So you must remember, when we speak of the King
of England at this time, that we do not mean that he was the
only king in the land. But Wessex was the chief of the seven
kingdoms, and the King of Wessex was the chief of the seven
kings. In the end the King of Wessex became real king of all
England, while the other kingdoms disappeared and their
kings were forgotten.
King Ethelwulf's wife was called Osburga. She was a good and
wise woman, and a very kind mother to her little children.
She was clever, too, and fond of reading, which was rather
uncommon in those days when very few people could read or
cared about it.
In the time of the Romans, you remember, books were written
on strips of parchment, and rolled up like maps. Now they
were shaped and bound just like our books, only as there was
no paper and no printing, they were still written on
parchment and the pictures were all painted by hand. It took
a long time to make a book, and required a great deal of
money to buy one.
One day when Alfred, the youngest son of King Ethelwulf, was
quite a tiny boy, he was playing with his big brothers,
while Osburga, his mother, sat watching them, and reading.
The book she read was one of old English songs. Osburga was
very fond of these songs, and used to say them to her little
boys when they were tired of play.
 It was a pretty book,
full of pictured and bright letters in gold, and blue, and
As Osburga turned the pages Alfred saw the pretty pictures,
so he left his play, and came to lean against his mother's
knee, to look at them.
"What a pretty book it is, mother!" he said.
"Do you like it, little one?" said Osburga.
"Yes, mother, I do," replied Alfred.
Then all the other boys came crowding round their mother to
see the pretty book too. They pressed against her, and
leaned over her shoulder till nothing was to be seen but
five curly heads close together.
"Oh, isn't it lovely!" they said, as Osburga slowly turned
the pages, explaining the pictures, and letting them look at
the beautiful colored letters at the beginnings of the
When Osburga saw how they all liked the book, she was very
much pleased. She pushed them all away from her a little,
and looked round their happy eager faces. You see in those
days even kings' sons had no picture-books, such as every
child has now, and it was quite a treat for these princes to
be allowed to look at this beautiful one.
"Do you truly like this book?" asked Osburga.
"Oh yes, mother, we do," they all answered at once.
"Then, boys," she said, "I will give it to the one who first
learns to read it."
"O mother, do you mean it? May I try too?" asked Alfred.
"Yes, I do mean it, and, of course, you may try," answered
Osburga, smiling at him. And perhaps she hoped that he would
win the prize, for both his father and his mother loved
Alfred best of all their children.
And Alfred did win the prize. He was so eager to
 have the
book that he worked hard all day long. And one morning,
while his big brothers were still trying to read the book,
he came to his mother and read it without making any
Then Osburga kissed him and gave him the prize, as she had
promised. All his life afterwards Alfred was fond of books;
and even when he became king, and had many, many other
things to do, he still found time not only to read, but to
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