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   Chapter 4 No.4

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 3792

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Danes held the City for twelve years at least. One cannot believe that these fierce warriors, who were exactly what the Saxons and Jutes had been four hundred years before-as fierce, as rude, as pagan-suffered any of the inhabitants, except the slaves, to remain. Massacre and pillage-or the fear of both-drove away all the residents. But the City was the headquarters of the Danes. Alfred recovered it in the year 884.

He found it as the East Saxons had found it three hundred years before, a city of ruins; the wall a ruin; the churches destroyed.

King Alfred has left many imperishable monuments of his reign. One of the greatest is the City of London, which he rebuilt. A recent historian (Loftie, Historic Towns, 'London') says that it would hardly be wrong to write, 'London was founded, rather more than a thousand years ago, by King Alfred-who chose for the site of his city a place formerly fortified by the Romans but desolated successively by the Saxons and the Danes.'

The first thing he did was to rebuild the wall. This work re-established confidence in the minds of the citizens. Alfred placed his son-in-law Ethelred, afterwards Alderman (i.e. Chief man-Governor) of the Mercians, in command of the City, which seems to have been immediately filled with people. The London citizens went out with Ethelred to defeat the Danes at Benfleet, and with Alfred to defeat the Danes at the mouth of the river Lea; they went out with Athelstan to fight at Brunanburgh. London was never again taken by the Danes. Twice Sweyn endeavoured to take the City but was repulsed. Nor did London open her gates to him until the King had left the City. And when the Danes again entered the City there was no more pillage or massacre; London was too strong to be pillaged or massacred, and too rich to be abandoned to the army.

King Ethelred came back and died, and was buried in St. Pa

ul's; the old St. Paul's-that of King Ethelbert or that of Bishop Cedd-was burned down and the Londoners were building a new cathedral.

Edmund Ironside was elected and crowned within the City walls. Then followed a siege of London by Canute. He dug a canal through the swamps, and dragged his ships by its means from Redriff to Lambeth. But he could not take the City. But the Treaty of Partition between Edmund and himself was agreed upon and the Dane once more obtained the City. He has left one or two names behind him. The church of St. Olave's in Hart Street, and that in 'Tooley,' or St. Olave's Street, Southwark, and the Church of St. Magnus, attest to the sovereignty of the Dane.


(Harl. MS. 603.)

At this time the two principal officers of the City were the Bishop and the Portreeve: there was also the 'Staller' or Marshal. The principal governing body was the 'Knighten Guild,' which was largely composed of the City aldermen. But these aldermen were not like those of the present day, an elected body: they were hereditary: they were aldermen in right of their estates within the City. What powers the Knighten Guild possessed is not easy to define. Besides this, the aristocracy of the City, there were already trade guilds for religious purposes and for feasting-but, as yet, with no powers. The people had their folk mote, or general gathering: their ward mote: and their weekly hustings. We must not seek to define the powers of all these bodies and corporations. They overlapped each other: the aristocratic party was continually innovating while the popular party as continually resisted. In many ways what we call the government of the City had not begun to be understood. That there was order of a kind is shown by the strict regulations, as strictly enforced, of the dues and tolls for ships that came up the river to the Port of London.

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