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REFERENCES to London in the early chronicles are comparatively few; under Roman rule it took the place for which it was fitted by its geographical situation — a commercial port, and it flourished or decayed as trade prospered or declined. The Saxon invaders did not care for walled towns, and London was neglected; moreover, they did not care for commerce, and there was no need for a commercial centre or port. The unsettled condition of the country made it impossible for the city to prosper, and the invasions of the Danes further interfered with its growth. But in spite of all these drawbacks, London was definitely marked out form the first as the best and most convenient centre for trading and commercial activity; and Alfred fully realised the importance of the city not only for purposes of trade, but as a bulwark of national defence.
The following are the most important passages in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relating to London. Its importance as a military station appears to have been very great in the time of Cnut, to judge by the efforts he made to capture the town; and the proportion of tribute paid in 1018 seems to show that the population and wealth of the city must have been very considerable.
AN. 457. Hengist and Æsc his son fought against the Britons at the place called Cregan Ford, and there slew four thousand men; and the Britons then forsook Kent and in great terror fled to London
AN. 886. In this year the army again went west, which had before landed in the east, and then up the Seine, and there took winter-quarters at the city of Paris. In the same year King Ælfred restored London; and all the Angle-race turned to him that were not in the bondage of the Danish men; and he then committed the burgh to the keeping of the aldorman Æthered.
AN. 894. . . . Then those who dwell with the Northumbrians and with the East Angles gathered some hundred ships, and went south about, and besieged a work in Devonshire by the north sea; and those who went south about besieged Exeter. When the King heard that, he turned west towards Exeter with all the force, save a very powerful body of the people eastwards. These went on until they came to London, and then, with the townsmen and with the aid which came to them from the west, marched east to Benfleet. Hæsten was then come there with his army, which had previously sat at Middleton (Milton); and the great army also was come thereto, which had before sat at the mouth of te Limen, at Appledore. Hæsten had before wrought the work at Benfleet, and was hen gone out harrying, and the great army was at home. They then marched up and put the army to fight, and stormed the work, and took all that thee was within, as well money, as women and children, and brought all to London; and all the ships they either broke in pieces, or burned, or brought to London, or to Rochester.
AN. 4994. In this year came Olaf (Anlaf) and Svein to London, on the Nativity of St. Mary (Sept. 8th), with ninety-four ships, and they were obstinately fighting against the town, and would also have set it on fire. But they there sustained more harm and evil than they ever weened that any townsmen 3 could do to them. For the holy mother of God, on that day, manifested her mercy to the townsmen, and delivered them from their foes.
AN. 1016. . . . And the ætheling Eadmund went to London to his father. And then, after Easter, King Cnut went with all his ships towards London. Then it befell that King Æthelred died before the ships came. He ended his days on St. George’s mass-day (April 23rd): and he held his kingdom with great toil and difficulty, while his life lasted. And then, after his end, all the “witan” that were in London, and the townsmen, chose Eadmund for King; and he boldly defended his kingdom while his time was. Then came the ships to Greenwich in the Rogation days (May 7th); and within a little space they went to London, and they then dug a great ditch on the south side, and dragged their ships to the west side of the bridge, and afterwards ditched the town without, so that no once could pass either in or out; and they repeatedly fought against the town, but they boldly withstood them. Then before that, King Eadmund had gone out; and he rode over Wessex, and all the folk submitted to him. And shortly after that, he fought against the army at Pen by Gillingham. And a second battle he fought after Midsummer at Sherston (Sceorstân), and there was great slaughter made on each side, and the armies of themselves separated. In that battle the aldorman Eadric and Ælmær Dyrling gave aid to the army against king Eadmund. And then a third time he gathered a force and went to London. all north of the Thames, and so out through Clayhanger, and saved the townsmen, and drove the army in flight to their ships. And then, two nights after, the king went over at Brentford, and then fought against the army, and put it to flight; and there were drowned a great many of the English folk, by their own carelessness, those who went before the force, and would take booty. And after that, the king went into Wessex, and collected his force. Then the army went forthwith to London, and beset the city around, and obstinately fought against it, both by water and by land. And Almighty God saved it.4
AN. 1018. In this year the tribute was paid over all the Angle-race [to King Cnut]: that was in all two and seventy thousand pounds, exclusive of what the townsmen of London paid, which was ten and a half thousand pounds.