On aethelstan's death and the accession of his young brother Eadmund, the Danelaw rose again in revolt; the men of the Five Boroughs joined their kinsmen in Northumbria, and a peace which was negotiated by the two archbishops, Odo and Wulfstan, practically restored the old balance of aelfred's day, and re-established Watling Street as the boundary between Wessex and the Danes. Eadmund however possessed the political and military ability of his house. The Danelaw was once more reduced to submission; he seized on an alliance with the Scots as a balance to the Danes, and secured the aid of their king by investing him with the fief of Cumberland. But his triumphs were suddenly cut short by his death. As the king feasted at Pucklechurch a robber, Leofa, whom he had banished, seated himself at the royal board, and drew his sword on the cupbearer who bade him retire. Eadmund, springing to his thegn's aid, seized the robber by his hair and flung him to the ground, but Leofa had stabbed the king ere rescue could arrive.
The completion of the West-Saxon realm was in fact reserved for the hands, not of a king or warrior, but of a priest. With the death of Eadmund a new figure comes to the front in English affairs. [Dunstan stands first in the line of ecclesiastical statesmen who counted among them Lanfranc and Wolsey, and ended in Laud. He is still more remarkable in himself, in his own vivid personality after nine centuries of revolution and change. He was born in the little hamlet of Glastonbury, beside Ine's church; his father, Heorstan, was a man of wealth and kinsman of three bishops of the time and of many thegns of the court. It must have been in his father's hall that the fair diminutive boy, with his scant but beautiful hair, caught his love for " the vain songs of ancient heathendom, the trifling legends, the funeral chants," which afterwards roused against him the charge of sorcery. Thence too he may have derived his passionate love of music, and his custom of carrying his harp in hand on journey or visit. The wandering scholars of Ireland left their books in the monastery of Glastonbury, as they left them along the Rhine and the Danube; and Dunstan plunged into the study of sacred and profane letters till his brain broke down in delirium.
His knowledge became famous in the neighbourhood and reached the court of.aethelstan, but his appearance there was the signal for a burst of ill-will among the courtiers, though many of them were kinsmen of his own, and he was forced to withdraw. Even when Eadmund recalled him to the court, his rivals drove him from the king's train, threw him from his horse as he passed through the marshes, and with the wild passion of their age trampled him underfoot in the mire. The outrage ended in fever, and in the bitterness of his disappointment and shame Dunstan rose from his sick bed a monk. But in England at this time the monastic profession seems to have been little more than a vow of celibacy, and his devotion took no ascetic turn. His nature was sunny, versatile, artistic, full of strong affections and capable of inspiring others with affections as strong. Quick-witted, of tenacious memory, a ready and fluent speaker, gay and genial in address, an artist, a musician, he was at the same time an indefatigable worker, busy at books, at building, at handicraft.
Throughout his life he won the love of women; he now became the spiritual guide of a woman of high rank, who lived only for charity and the entertainment of pilgrims. "He ever clave to her, and loved her in wondrous fashion." His sphere of activity widened as the wealth of his devotee was placed unreservedly at his command; we see him followed by a train of pupils, busy with literature, writing, harping, painting, designing. One morning a lady summons him to her house to design a robe which she is embroidering. As he bends with her maidens over their toil, his harp hung upon the wall sounds without mortal touch tones which the startled ears around frame into a joyous antiphon. The tie which bound him to this scholar-life was broken by the death of his patroness; and towards the close of Eadmund's reign Dunstan was again called to the court. But the old jealousies revived, and counting the game lost he prepared again to withdraw. The King had spent the day in the chase; the red deer which he was pursuing dashed over Cheddar cliffs, and his horse only checked itself on the brink of the ravine while Eadmund in the bitterness of death was repenting of his injustice to Dunstan. He was at once summoned on the King's return. "Saddle your horse," said Eadmund, "and ride with me!" The royal train swept over the marshes to Dunstan's home; and greeting him with the kiss of peace, the king seated him in the priestly chair as Abbot of Glastonbury.
From that moment Dunstan may have exercised influence on public affairs; but it was not till the accession of Eadred, Eadmund's brother, that his influence became supreme as leading counsellor of the crown. We may trace his hand in the solemn proclamation of the king's crowning. Eadred's election was the first national election where Briton, Dane, and Englishman were alike represented; his coronation was the first national coronation, the first union of the primate of the north and the primate of the south in setting the crown on the head of one who was to rule from the Forth to the Channel. A revolt of the north two years later was subdued; at the outbreak of a fresh rising the Archbishop of York, Wulfstan, was thrown into prison; and with the submission of the Danelaw in 954 the long work of aelfred's house was done. Dogged as his fight had been, the Dane at last owned himself beaten. From the moment of Eadred's final triumph all resistance came to an end. The north was finally brought into the general organization of the English realm, and the Northumbrian under-kingdom sank into an earldom under Oswulf. The new might of the royal power was expressed in the lofty titles assumed by Eadred; he was not only "King of the Anglo-Saxons," but "Caesar of the whole of Britain".