Drinking and Minstrelsy among the Saxons
Drinking and Minstrelsy among the Saxons

In the last year of the century, 900, King Alfred died; but his work was accomplished. He had saved Wessex from the Danes, and the saving of Wessex was the saving of England. No monarch has left a name more glorious; perhaps he is the only triumphant ruler of whom no man has ever ventured to speak a word in dispraise.

Whatsoever can be accounted the work of a king - as a leader in battle, as an organiser of victory, as an administrator, a legislator, a judge, as a teacher, as an exemplar, in a word as the father of his people - that work was done by Alfred in the face of tremendous difficulties, including personal ill-health, with unsurpassed wisdom and skill. He was happy in successors, who were well fitted to complete what he perforce left unfinished. He supplied the world with a new type, because the pre-eminence of his virtue was only the counterpart of the pre-eminence of his genius. No other man perhaps has been at once so good and so great.

An admirable captain in the field, he organised the military system and the military methods of the Saxons, making possible the triumphs of his children and his children's children. He created a navy, the only one which successfully challenged the sea-rovers on their own element. His codification of the Law gave it a permanent shape. He inspired every man who worked under him with his own enthusiasm for justice and mercy. He made his court the centre of the intellectual light, of the best culture and learning of the day, in order that it might irradiate his people.

Charlemagne himself was not a more zealous educator. Never, perhaps, have there been combined in one man such lofty idealism and such practical common-sense. The English nation has habitually refrained from fastening complimentary titles upon its monarchs; but it has rightly made him the one exception, and claimed for him the name of the Great.

The north
Before passing on to the next stage, it will be well to give brief attention to the North, where the Danes, appear not to have settled in Bernicia - at least north of the Tyne in the district which came to be known as Lothian; but the Norsemen constantly threatened to make permanent settlements on the west - in Cumbria and the Isles - and there to establish a Norwegian kingdom. Of the Celtic North we have seen that there were three main divisions - Pictland, Dalriada or Scotland, and Strathclyde. Matters so fell out that about the middle of the ninth century the heir to the kingdom of the Scots was also, by the Pictish law of succession through the female, heir to the kingdom of the Picts.

Scottish kingdoms
Thus very much as some seven and a half centuries later the crowns of England and Scotland were united not by conquest, but by the recognised laws of succession, so at this time were the kingdoms of the Scots and Picts permanently united. As a natural consequence the king, Kenneth McAlpine, a Scot on his father's side, was regarded as a Scot by the world at large, and he and his successors were known as kings of Scotland. It was not, however, till some time later that the Strathclyde kingdom came under the same dominion.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

Prehistory - Roman Britain - Dark Ages - Medieval Britain - The Tudor Era - The Stuarts - Georgian Britain - The Victorian Age