Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

Overview
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 from 871 to 899.

Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 monarch still to be accorded the epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself "King of the Anglo-Saxons".
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Encyclopedia
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 from 871 to 899.

Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 monarch still to be accorded the epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself "King of the Anglo-Saxons". Details of his life are described in a work by the 10th century
10th century in England
Events from the 10th century in the Kingdom of England.-Events:* 902** Irish Norsemen, expelled from Dublin, establish colonies on The Wirral.* 910–920** Edward the Elder, King of Wessex, and Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia, conquer most of the Danelaw....

 Welsh
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 scholar and bishop Asser
Asser
Asser was a Welsh monk from St David's, Dyfed, who became Bishop of Sherborne in the 890s. About 885 he was asked by Alfred the Great to leave St David's and join the circle of learned men whom Alfred was recruiting for his court...

. Alfred was a learned man who encouraged education and improved his kingdom's legal
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 system and military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 structure. He is regarded as a saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 by some Catholics, but has never been officially canonized. The Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

 venerates him as a Christian hero
Saints in Anglicanism
In a catholic sense the term "saint" refers to any spiritually saved person—however, since the 10th century, the title "Saint" is only given to persons who have been officially recognised by the Church for outstanding Christian service and conduct. In the days when the Church of England was...

, with a feast day of 26 October, and he may often be found depicted in stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 in Church of England parish church
Church of England parish church
A parish church in the Church of England is the church which acts as the religious centre for the people within the smallest and most basic Church of England administrative region, known as a parish.-Parishes in England:...

es.

Childhood


Alfred was born in the village of Wanating, now Wantage
Wantage
Wantage is a market town and civil parish in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire, England. The town is on Letcombe Brook, about south-west of Abingdon and a similar distance west of Didcot....

, Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, by his first wife, Osburga
Osburga
Osburh or Osburga was the first wife of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and mother of Alfred the Great. Alfred's biographer, Asser, described her as "a most religious woman, noble in character and noble by birth"....

.

At the age of five years, Alfred is said to have been sent to Rome where, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

, he was confirmed by Pope Leo IV
Pope Leo IV
Pope Saint Leo IV was pope from 10 April 847 to 17 July 855.A Roman by birth, he was unanimously chosen to succeed Sergius II. When he was elected, on 10 April 847, he was cardinal of Santi Quattro Coronati, and had been subdeacon of Gregory IV and archpriest under his predecessor...

 who "anointed him as king". Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 writers interpreted this as an anticipatory coronation
Coronation
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

 in preparation for his ultimate succession to the throne of Wessex. However, his succession could not have been foreseen at the time, as Alfred had three living elder brothers. A letter of Leo IV shows that Alfred was made a "consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

"; a misinterpretation of this investiture, deliberate or accidental, could explain later confusion. It may also be based on Alfred's later having accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Rome where he spent some time at the court of Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald , Holy Roman Emperor and King of West Francia , was the youngest son of the Emperor Louis the Pious by his second wife Judith.-Struggle against his brothers:He was born on 13 June 823 in Frankfurt, when his elder...

, King of the Franks, around 854–855. On their return from Rome in 856, Æthelwulf was deposed by his son Æthelbald. With civil war looming, the magnate
Magnate
Magnate, from the Late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities...

s of the realm met in council to hammer out a compromise. Æthelbald would retain the western shires (i.e., traditional Wessex), and Æthelwulf would rule in the east. King Æthelwulf died in 858; meanwhile Wessex was ruled by three of Alfred's brothers in succession.

Bishop Asser tells the story of how as a child Alfred won a prize of a volume of poetry in English, offered by his mother to the first of her children able to memorize it. This story may be true, or it may be a myth intended to illustrate the young Alfred's love of learning. Legend also has it that the young Alfred spent time in Ireland seeking healing. Alfred was troubled by health problems throughout his life. It is thought that he may have suffered from Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease, also known as regional enteritis, is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, causing a wide variety of symptoms...

. Statues of Alfred in Winchester and Wantage portray him as a great warrior. Evidence suggests he was not physically strong, and though not lacking in courage, he was more noted for his intellect than a warlike character.

Under Æthelred



During the short reigns of the older two of his three elder brothers, Æthelbald of Wessex and Æthelbert of Wessex, Alfred is not mentioned. However, his public life began with the accession of his third brother, Æthelred of Wessex, in 866. It is during this period that Bishop Asser applied to him the unique title of "secundarius", which may indicate a position akin to that of the Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic tanist
Tanistry
Tanistry was a Gaelic system for passing on titles and lands. In this system the Tanist was the office of heir-apparent, or second-in-command, among the Gaelic patrilineal dynasties of Ireland, Scotland and Man, to succeed to the chieftainship or to the kingship.-Origins:The Tanist was chosen from...

, a recognised successor closely associated with the reigning monarch. It is possible that this arrangement was sanctioned by Alfred's father, or by the Witan
Witenagemot
The Witenagemot , also known as the Witan was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated from before the 7th century until the 11th century.The Witenagemot was an assembly of the ruling class whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was...

, to guard against the danger of a disputed succession should Æthelred fall in battle. The arrangement of crowning a successor as royal prince and military commander is well known among other Germanic
Germanic monarchy
Germanic kingship refers to the customs and practices surrounding kings among the pagan Germanic tribes of the Migration period and the kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages ....

 tribes, such as the Swedes and Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

, to whom the Anglo-Saxons were closely related.

In 868, Alfred is recorded as fighting beside Æthelred in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the invading Danes out of the adjoining Kingdom of Mercia. For nearly two years, Wessex was spared attacks because Alfred paid the Vikings to leave him alone. However, at the end of 870, the Danes arrived in his homeland. The year which followed has been called "Alfred's year of battles". Nine engagements were fought with varying outcomes, though the place and date of two of these battles have not been recorded. In Berkshire, a successful skirmish at the Battle of Englefield
Battle of Englefield
The Battle of Englefield was a battle on 31 December 870 at Englefield, near Reading in what is now the English county of Berkshire. It was one of a series of battles, with honours to both sides, that took place following an invasion of the then kingdom of Wessex by an army of Danes, during which...

 on 31 December 870 was followed by a severe defeat at the siege and Battle of Reading
Battle of Reading (871)
The first Battle of Reading was a battle on 4 January 871 at Reading in what is now the English county of Berkshire. It was one of a series of battles, with honours to both sides, that took place following an invasion of the then kingdom of Wessex by an army of Danes led by Bagsecg and Halfdan...

 on 5 January 871; then, four days later, Alfred won a brilliant victory at the Battle of Ashdown
Battle of Ashdown
The Battle of Ashdown, in Berkshire , took place on 8 January 871. Alfred the Great, then a prince of only twenty-one, led the West Saxon army of his brother, King Ethelred, in a victorious battle against the invading Danes.Accounts of the battle are based to a large extent on Asser's "Life of...

 on the Berkshire Downs
North Wessex Downs AONB
The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is located in the English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire...

, possibly near Compton
Compton, Berkshire
Compton is a village and civil parish in the River Pang valley in the Berkshire Downs about south of Didcot. It has a population of 1,521. The Pang flows through the village as a winter bourne, a stream that only flows after periods of unusually high rainfall.-Parish church:The bell tower of the...

 or Aldworth
Aldworth
Aldworth is a small village and civil parish in the English county of Berkshire, close to the modern northern county boundary with Oxfordshire. It is in the rural area between Reading, Newbury and Streatley. The parish includes the neighbouring hamlet of Westridge Green.Aldworth is on the high...

. Alfred is particularly credited with the success of this latter battle. However, later that month, on 22 January, the English were defeated at the Battle of Basing
Battle of Basing
The Battle of Basing was a battle on 22 January 871 at Old Basing in what is now the English county of Hampshire. It was one of a series of battles that took place following an invasion of the then kingdom of Wessex by an army of Danes...

 and, on the 22 March at the Battle of Merton (perhaps Marden in Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 or Martin in Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

), in which Æthelred was killed. The two unidentified battles may have occurred in between.

Early struggles, defeat and flight



In April 871, King Æthelred died, and Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex and the burden of its defence, despite the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Æthelwulf in his will had left jointly to his sons. The deceased's sons would receive only whatever property and riches their father had settled upon them and whatever additional lands their uncle had acquired. The unstated premise was that the surviving brother would be king. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the youth of his nephews, Alfred's succession probably went uncontested. Tensions between Alfred and his nephews, however, would arise later in his reign.

While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the English in his absence at an unnamed spot, and then again in his presence at Wilton
Wilton, Wiltshire
Wilton is a town in Wiltshire, , England, with a rich heritage dating back to the Anglo-Saxons. Today it is dwarfed by its larger and more famous neighbour, Salisbury, but still has a range of notable shops and attractions, including Wilton House.The confluence of the rivers Wylye and Nadder is at...

 in May. The defeat at Wilton smashed any remaining hope that Alfred could drive the invaders from his kingdom. He was forced, instead, to ‘make peace’ with them. The sources do not tell what the terms of the peace were. Bishop Asser claimed that the 'pagans' agreed to vacate the realm and made good their promise; and, indeed, the Viking army did withdraw from Reading in the autumn of 871 to take up winter quarters in Mercian London. Although not mentioned by Asser or by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

, Alfred probably also paid the Vikings cash to leave, much as the Mercians were to do in the following year. Hoard
Hoard
In archaeology, a hoard is a collection of valuable objects or artifacts, sometimes purposely buried in the ground. This would usually be with the intention of later recovery by the hoarder; hoarders sometimes died before retrieving the hoard, and these surviving hoards may be uncovered by...

s dating to the Viking occupation of London in 871/2 have been excavated at Croydon
Croydon
Croydon is a town in South London, England, located within the London Borough of Croydon to which it gives its name. It is situated south of Charing Cross...

, Gravesend
Gravesend, Kent
Gravesend is a town in northwest Kent, England, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Tilbury in Essex. It is the administrative town of the Borough of Gravesham and, because of its geographical position, has always had an important role to play in the history and communications of this part of...

, and Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge crossing the River Thames in London, England between Blackfriars Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The name of the bridge is in memory of the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815...

; these finds hint at the cost involved in making peace with the Vikings. For the next five years, the Danes occupied other parts of England. However, in 876 under their new leader, Guthrum
Guthrum
The name Guthrum corresponds to Norwegian Guttom and to Danish Gorm.The name Guthrum may refer to these kings:* Guthrum, who fought against Alfred the Great* Gorm the Old of Denmark and Norway* Guthrum II, a king of doubtful historicity...

, the Danes slipped past the English army and attacked and occupied Wareham
Wareham, Dorset
Wareham is an historic market town and, under the name Wareham Town, a civil parish, in the English county of Dorset. The town is situated on the River Frome eight miles southwest of Poole.-Situation and geography:...

 in Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

. Alfred blockaded them but was unable to take Wareham by assault. Accordingly, he negotiated a peace which involved an exchange of hostages and oaths, which the Danes swore on a "holy ring" associated with the worship of Thor. The Danes, however, broke their word and, after killing all the hostages, slipped away under cover of night to Exeter in Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

. There, Alfred blockaded them, and with a relief fleet having been scattered by a storm, the Danes were forced to submit. They withdrew to Mercia, but, in January 878, made a sudden attack on Chippenham
Chippenham, Wiltshire
Chippenham is a market town in Wiltshire, England, located east of Bath and west of London. In the 2001 census the population of the town was recorded as 28,065....

, a royal stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over Christmas, "and most of the people they killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney
Athelney
Athelney is located between the villages of Burrowbridge and East Lyng in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, England. The area is known as the Isle of Athelney, because it was once a very low isolated island in the 'very great swampy and impassable marshes' of the Somerset Levels. Much of the...

 in the marshes of Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe". From his fort at Athelney
Athelney
Athelney is located between the villages of Burrowbridge and East Lyng in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, England. The area is known as the Isle of Athelney, because it was once a very low isolated island in the 'very great swampy and impassable marshes' of the Somerset Levels. Much of the...

, an island in the marshes near North Petherton
North Petherton
North Petherton is a small town and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated on the edge of the eastern foothills of the Quantocks, and close to the edge of the Somerset Levels.The town has a population of 5,189...

, Alfred was able to mount an effective resistance movement, rallying the local militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

s from Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 and Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

.
A popular legend, originating from 12th century chronicles, tells how when he first fled to the Somerset Levels
Somerset Levels
The Somerset Levels, or the Somerset Levels and Moors as they are less commonly but more correctly known, is a sparsely populated coastal plain and wetland area of central Somerset, South West England, between the Quantock and Mendip Hills...

, Alfred was given shelter by a peasant woman who, unaware of his identity, left him to watch some cakes she had left cooking on the fire. Preoccupied with the problems of his kingdom, Alfred accidentally let the cakes burn.

870 was the low-water mark in the history of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. With all the other kingdoms having fallen to the Vikings, Wessex alone was still resisting.

Counterattack and victory



In the seventh week after Easter [4–10 May 878], around Whitsuntide, Alfred rode to ‘Egbert's Stone’ east of Selwood
Selwood, Somerset
Selwood used to be a village but is now part of the suburbs of Frome. It is a civil parish in the Mendip district of Somerset, England. The parish includes the villages of East and West Woodlands, Rodden and the hamlet of Alder Row.-History:...

, where he was met by "all the people of Somerset and of Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

 which is on this side of the sea [that is, west of Southampton Water], and they rejoiced to see him". Alfred’s emergence from his marshland stronghold was part of a carefully planned offensive that entailed raising the fyrds of three shire
Shire
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit. Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far...

s. This meant not only that the king had retained the loyalty of ealdormen, royal reeve
High-reeve
High-reeve was a title taken by some English magnates during the 10th and 11th-centuries, and is particularly associated with the rulers of Bamburgh. It was not however only used by rulers of Bamburgh...

s and king’s thegn
Thegn
The term thegn , from OE þegn, ðegn "servant, attendant, retainer", is commonly used to describe either an aristocratic retainer of a king or nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England, or as a class term, the majority of the aristocracy below the ranks of ealdormen and high-reeves...

s (who were charged with levying and leading these forces), but that they had maintained their positions of authority in these localities well enough to answer Alfred’s summons to war. Alfred’s actions also suggest a finely honed system of scouts and messengers. Alfred won a decisive victory in the ensuing Battle of Ethandun, which may have been fought near Westbury, Wiltshire
Westbury, Wiltshire
Westbury is a town and civil parish in the west of the English county of Wiltshire, most famous for the Westbury White Horse.-Name:The most likely origin of the West- in Westbury is simply that the town is near the western edge of the county of Wiltshire, the bounds of which have been much the same...

. He then pursued the Danes to their stronghold at Chippenham and starved them into submission. One of the terms of the surrender was that Guthrum convert to Christianity; and three weeks later the Danish king and 29 of his chief men were baptised at Alfred's court at Aller
Aller
The Aller is a river, long, in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony in Germany. It is a right-hand, and hence eastern, tributary of the River Weser and is also its largest tributary. Its last form the Lower Aller federal waterway...

, near Athelney
Athelney
Athelney is located between the villages of Burrowbridge and East Lyng in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, England. The area is known as the Isle of Athelney, because it was once a very low isolated island in the 'very great swampy and impassable marshes' of the Somerset Levels. Much of the...

, with Alfred receiving Guthrum as his spiritual son. The "unbinding of the chrism" took place with great ceremony eight days later at the royal estate at Wedmore in Somerset, after which Guthrum fulfilled his promise to leave Wessex. There is no contemporary evidence that Alfred and Guthrum agreed upon a formal treaty at this time; the so-called Treaty of Wedmore
Treaty of Wedmore
The Peace of Wedmore is a term used by historians for an event referred to by the monk Asser in his Life of Alfred, outlining how in 878 the Viking leader Guthrum was baptised and accepted Alfred as his adoptive father. Guthrum agreed to leave Wessex and a "Treaty of Wedmore" is often assumed by...

 is an invention of modern historians. The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum is an agreement between Alfred of Wessex and Guthrum, the Viking ruler of East Anglia. Its date is uncertain, but must have been between 878 and 890. The treaty is one of the few existing documents of Alfred's reign; it survives in Old English in Corpus Christi...

, preserved in Old English in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Corpus Christi College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It is notable as the only college founded by Cambridge townspeople: it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary...

 (Manuscript 383), and in a Latin compilation known as Quadripartitus
Quadripartitus
The title Quadripartitus refers to an extensive legal collection compiled during the reign of Henry I, king of England . The work consists of Anglo-Saxon legal materials in Latin translation as well as a number of Latin texts of legal interest that were produced after the Conquest...

, was negotiated later, perhaps in 879 or 880, when King Ceolwulf II of Mercia
Ceolwulf II of Mercia
Ceolwulf II was the last king of the Mercians. He succeeded Burgred of Mercia who was deposed in 874.-Dynastic background:...

 was deposed. That treaty divided up the kingdom of Mercia. By its terms the boundary between Alfred’s and Guthrum’s kingdoms was to run up the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, to the River Lea; follow the Lea to its source (near Luton); from there extend in a straight line to Bedford
Bedford
Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, in the East of England. It is a large town and the administrative centre for the wider Borough of Bedford. According to the former Bedfordshire County Council's estimates, the town had a population of 79,190 in mid 2005, with 19,720 in the adjacent town...

; and from Bedford follow the River Ouse
River Great Ouse
The Great Ouse is a river in the east of England. At long, it is the fourth-longest river in the United Kingdom. The river has been important for navigation, and for draining the low-lying region through which it flows. Its course has been modified several times, with the first recorded being in...

 to Watling Street
Watling Street
Watling Street is the name given to an ancient trackway in England and Wales that was first used by the Britons mainly between the modern cities of Canterbury and St Albans. The Romans later paved the route, part of which is identified on the Antonine Itinerary as Iter III: "Item a Londinio ad...

. In other words, Alfred succeeded to Ceolwulf’s kingdom, consisting of western Mercia; and Guthrum incorporated the eastern part of Mercia into an enlarged kingdom of East Anglia (henceforward known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

). By terms of the treaty, moreover, Alfred was to have control over the Mercian city of London and its mints — at least for the time being. The disposition of Essex
Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

, held by West Saxon kings since the days of Egbert
Egbert of Wessex
Egbert was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent...

, is unclear from the treaty, though, given Alfred’s political and military superiority, it would have been surprising if he had conceded any disputed territory to his new godson.

The quiet years; Restoration of London



With the signing of the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum is an agreement between Alfred of Wessex and Guthrum, the Viking ruler of East Anglia. Its date is uncertain, but must have been between 878 and 890. The treaty is one of the few existing documents of Alfred's reign; it survives in Old English in Corpus Christi...

, an event most commonly held to have taken place around 880 when Guthrum’s people began settling East Anglia, Guthrum was neutralized as a threat. In conjunction with this agreement an army of Danish left the island and sailed to Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

. Alfred however was still forced to contend with a number of Danish threats. A year later in 881 Alfred fought a small sea battle against four Danish ships “On the high seas”. Two of the ships were destroyed and the others surrendered to Alfred’s forces. Similar small skirmishes with independent Viking raiders would have occurred for much of the period as they had for decades.

In the year 883, though there is some debate over the year, King Alfred because of his support and his donation of alms to Rome received a number of gifts from the Pope Marinus
Pope Marinus I
Pope Marinus I , Pope between December 16, 882 and May 15, 884. He succeeded John VIII in about the end of December 882.-Prior history:...

. Among these gifts was reputed to be a piece of the true cross
True Cross
The True Cross is the name for physical remnants which, by a Christian tradition, are believed to be from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.According to post-Nicene historians, Socrates Scholasticus and others, the Empress Helena The True Cross is the name for physical remnants which, by a...

, a true treasure for the devout Saxon king. According to Asser because of Pope Marinus’ friendship with King Alfred the pope granted an exemption to any Anglo-Saxons residing within Rome from tax or tribute.

After the signing of the treaty with Guthrum, Alfred was spared any large scale conflicts for some time. Despite this relative peace the king was still forced to deal with a number of Danish raids and incursions. Among these was a raid taking place in Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, an allied country in Southeast England during the year 885, quite possibly the largest raid since the battles with Guthrum. Asser’s account of the raid places the Danish raiders at the Saxon city of Rochester, where they built a temporary fortress in order to besiege the city. In response to incursion Alfred led an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 force against the Danes who, instead of engaging the army of Wessex, fled to their beached ships and sailed to another part of Britain. The retreating Danish force supposedly left Britain the following summer.

Not long after the failed Danish raid in Kent Alfred dispatched his fleet to East Anglia. The purpose of this expedition is debated, though Asser claims that it was for the sake of plunder. After traveling up the River Stour
River Stour, Suffolk
The River Stour is a river in East Anglia, England. It is 76 km long and forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk to the north, and Essex to the south. It rises in eastern Cambridgeshire, passes to the east of Haverhill, through Cavendish, Sudbury and the Dedham Vale, and joins the...

, the fleet was met by Danish vessels that numbered 13 or 16 (sources vary on the number) and a battle ensued. The Anglo-Saxon Fleet emerged victorious and as Huntingdon accounts,“laden with spoils.” The victorious fleet was then caught unaware when attempting to leave the River Stour and was attacked by a Danish force at the mouth of the river. The Danish fleet was able to defeat Alfred's fleet which may have been weakened in the previous engagement.

A year later in 886 Alfred reoccupied the city of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and set out to make it habitable again. Alfred entrusted the city to the care of his son-in law Æthelred, ealdorman
Ealdorman
An ealdorman is the term used for a high-ranking royal official and prior magistrate of an Anglo-Saxon shire or group of shires from about the ninth century to the time of King Cnut...

 of Mercia. The restoration of London progressed through the later half of the 880’s and is believed to have revolved around a new street plan, added fortifications in addition to the existing Roman walls, and some believe the construction of matching fortifications on the South bank of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. This is also the time period almost all chroniclers agree the Saxon people of pre-unification England submitted to Alfred. This was not, however, the point in which Alfred came to be known as King of England; in fact he would never adopt the title for himself. In truth the power which Alfred wielded over the English peoples at this time seemed to stem largely from the military might of the West Saxons, Alfred’s political connections having the ruler of Mercia as his son-in-law, and Alfred’s keen administration talents.

Between the restoration of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and the resumption of large scale Danish attacks in the early 890’s Alfred’s reign was rather uneventful. The relative peace of the late 880’s was marred by the death of Alfred's sister, Æthelswith, who died en route to Rome in 888. In the same year the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, Æthelred also passed away. One year later Guthrum, or Athelstan by his baptized name, Alfred’s former enemy and king of East Anglia died and was buried in Hadleigh, Suffolk. Guthrum’s passing marked a change in the political sphere Alfred dealt with. Guthrum’s death created a power vacuum which would stir up other power–hungry warlords eager to take his place in the following years. The quiet years of Alfred’s life were coming to a close, and war was on the horizon.

Further Viking attacks repelled


After another lull, in the autumn of 892 or 893, the Danes attacked again. Finding their position in mainland Europe precarious, they crossed to England in 330 ships in two divisions. They entrenched themselves, the larger body at Appledore, Kent
Appledore, Kent
Appledore is a village and civil parish in the Ashford District of Kent, England. The village centre is 12 miles south-west of Ashford town, and on the northern edge of the Romney Marsh The northerly part of this village is Appledore Heath....

, and the lesser, under Hastein
Hastein
Hastein was a notable Viking chieftain of the late 9th century who made several raiding voyages.- Early life :...

, at Milton, also in Kent. The invaders brought their wives and children with them, indicating a meaningful attempt at conquest and colonisation. Alfred, in 893 or 894, took up a position from which he could observe both forces. While he was in talks with Hastein, the Danes at Appledore broke out and struck northwestwards. They were overtaken by Alfred's oldest son, Edward
Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder was an English king. He became king in 899 upon the death of his father, Alfred the Great. His court was at Winchester, previously the capital of Wessex...

, and were defeated in a general engagement at Farnham
Farnham
Farnham is a town in Surrey, England, within the Borough of Waverley. The town is situated some 42 miles southwest of London in the extreme west of Surrey, adjacent to the border with Hampshire...

 in Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

. They took refuge on an island in the Hertfordshire Colne
River Colne, Hertfordshire
The Colne is a river in England which is a tributary of the River Thames. It flows mainly through Hertfordshire and forms the boundary between the South Bucks district of Buckinghamshire and the London Borough of Hillingdon...

, where they were blockaded and were ultimately forced to submit. The force fell back on Essex and, after suffering another defeat at Benfleet, coalesced with Hastein's force at Shoebury
Shoeburyness
Shoeburyness is a town in southeast Essex, England, situated at the mouth of the river Thames Estuary. It is within the borough of Southend-on-Sea, and is situated at the far east of the borough, around east of Southend town centre...

.

Alfred had been on his way to relieve his son at Thorney
Thorney
Thorney is the name of more than one place. It is also used as a common nickname for people with the surname Thorne.It often means "Thorn eyot", or Isle of Thorns; the isle might be in a fen or river, or the sea.In the United Kingdom:...

 when he heard that the Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

n and East Anglian Danes were besieging Exeter
Exeter
Exeter is a historic city in Devon, England. It lies within the ceremonial county of Devon, of which it is the county town as well as the home of Devon County Council. Currently the administrative area has the status of a non-metropolitan district, and is therefore under the administration of the...

 and an unnamed stronghold on the North Devon
North Devon
North Devon is the northern part of the English county of Devon. It is also the name of a local government district in Devon. Its council is based in Barnstaple. Other towns and villages in the North Devon District include Braunton, Fremington, Ilfracombe, Instow, South Molton, Lynton and Lynmouth...

 shore. Alfred at once hurried westward and raised the Siege
Siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

 of Exeter
Exeter
Exeter is a historic city in Devon, England. It lies within the ceremonial county of Devon, of which it is the county town as well as the home of Devon County Council. Currently the administrative area has the status of a non-metropolitan district, and is therefore under the administration of the...

. The fate of the other place is not recorded. Meanwhile, the force under Hastein set out to march up the Thames Valley
Thames Valley
The Thames Valley Region is a loose term for the English counties and towns roughly following the course of the River Thames as it flows from Oxfordshire in the west to London in the east. It includes parts of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, North Hampshire, Surrey and west London...

, possibly with the idea of assisting their friends in the west. But they were met by a large force under the three great ealdormen of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

, Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 and Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, and forced to head off to the northwest, being finally overtaken and blockaded at Buttington
Buttington
Buttington is a village in Powys, Wales. The Montgomery Canal passes through the village.-The Battle of Buttington:This battle took place in 893 AD between a combined Welsh and Mercian army, which defeated Danish invaders who had marched from Essex....

. Some identify this with Buttington Tump at the mouth of the River Wye
River Wye
The River Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and for parts of its length forms part of the border between England and Wales. It is important for nature conservation and recreation.-Description:...

, others with Buttington near Welshpool
Welshpool
Welshpool is a town in Powys, Wales, or ancient county Montgomeryshire, from the Wales-England border. The town is low-lying on the River Severn; the Welsh language name Y Trallwng literally meaning 'the marshy or sinking land'...

. An attempt to break through the English lines was defeated. Those who escaped retreated to Shoebury. Then, after collecting reinforcements, they made a sudden dash across England and occupied the ruined Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 walls of Chester. The English did not attempt a winter blockade
Blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...

, but contented themselves with destroying all the supplies in the neighbourhood. Early in 894 (or 895), want of food obliged the Danes to retire once more to Essex
Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

. At the end of this year and early in 895 (or 896), the Danes drew their ships up the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 and River Lea and fortified themselves twenty miles (32 km) north of London. A direct attack on the Danish lines failed but, later in the year, Alfred saw a means of obstructing the river so as to prevent the egress of the Danish ships. The Danes realised that they were outmanoeuvred. They struck off north-westwards and wintered at Cwatbridge
Quatford
Quatford is a village in the Severn Valley, Shropshire, England. It is located on the A442, just south of the town of Bridgnorth and on the bank of the River Severn.-History:...

 near Bridgnorth
Bridgnorth
Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire, England, along the Severn Valley. It is split into Low Town and High Town, named on account of their elevations relative to the River Severn, which separates the upper town on the right bank from the lower on the left...

. The next year, 896 (or 897), they gave up the struggle. Some retired to Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

, some to East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

. Those who had no connections in England withdrew back to the continent.

Military reorganisation



Wessex's history of failures preceding his success in 878 emphasized to Alfred that the traditional system of battle he had inherited played to the Danes' advantage. While both the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes attacked settlements to seize wealth and other resources, they employed very different strategies. In their raids, the Anglo-Saxons traditionally preferred to attack head-on by assembling their forces in a shield wall
Shield wall
The wall, is a military tactic that was common in many cultures in the Pre-Early Modern warfare age...

, advancing against their target and overcoming the oncoming wall marshaled against them in defense. In contrast, the Danes preferred to choose easy targets, mapping cautious forays designed to avoid risking all their accumulated plunder with high-stake attacks for more. Alfred determined their strategy was to launch smaller scaled attacks from a secure and reinforced defensible base which they could retreat to should their raiders meet strong resistance. These bases were prepared in advance, often by capturing an estate and augmenting its defenses with surrounding ditches, ramparts
Defensive wall
A defensive wall is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements...

 and palisade
Palisade
A palisade is a steel or wooden fence or wall of variable height, usually used as a defensive structure.- Typical construction :Typical construction consisted of small or mid sized tree trunks aligned vertically, with no spacing in between. The trunks were sharpened or pointed at the top, and were...

s. Once inside the fortification, Alfred realized, the Danes enjoyed the advantage, better situated to outlast their opponents or crush them with a counter attack as the provisions and stamina of the besieging forces waned.

The means by which they marshaled the forces to defend against marauders also left the Anglo-Saxons vulnerable to the Vikings. It was only after the raids were underway that a call went out to landowners to gather men for battle, and large regions could be devastated before the newly assembled army arrived. And although the landowners were obliged to the king to supply these men when called, during the attacks in 878, many of them opportunistically abandoned their king and collaborated with Guthrum.

With these lessons in mind, Alfred capitalized on the relatively peaceful years immediately following his victory at Ethandrun by focusing on an ambitious restructuring of his kingdom's military defenses. When the Viking raids resumed in 892, Alfred was better prepared to confront them with a standing, mobile field army, a network of garrisons, and a small fleet of ships navigating the rivers and estuaries.

Burghal system


At the center of Alfred's reformed military defence system was a network of fortresses, or burh
Burh
A Burh is an Old English name for a fortified town or other defended site, sometimes centred upon a hill fort though always intended as a place of permanent settlement, its origin was in military defence; "it represented only a stage, though a vitally important one, in the evolution of the...

s, distributed at strategic points throughout the kingdom. There were thirty-three total spaced approximately 30 kilometres (20 mi) distant, enabling the military to confront attacks anywhere in the kingdom within a single day. Alfred's burhs, (later termed boroughs), consisted mainly of massive earthen walls surrounded by wide ditches, probably reinforced with wooden revetment
Revetment
Revetments, or revêtements , have a variety of meanings in architecture, engineering and art history. In stream restoration, river engineering or coastal management, they are sloping structures placed on banks or cliffs in such a way as to absorb the energy of incoming water...

s and palisades. The size of the burhs ranged from tiny outposts such as Pilton to large fortifications in established towns, the largest at Winchester
Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

. Many of the burhs were twin towns that straddled a river and connected by a fortified bridge, like those built by Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald , Holy Roman Emperor and King of West Francia , was the youngest son of the Emperor Louis the Pious by his second wife Judith.-Struggle against his brothers:He was born on 13 June 823 in Frankfurt, when his elder...

 a generation before. The double-burh blocked passage on the river, forcing Viking ships to navigate under a garrisoned bridge lined with men armed with stones, spears, or arrows. Other burhs were sited near fortified royal villas allowing the king better control over his strongholds.

This network of well-garrisoned burhs posed significant obstacles to Viking invaders, especially those laden with booty. The system threatened Viking routes and communications making it far more dangerous for the Viking raiders. However the Vikings lacked both the equipment necessary to undertake a siege against the burh and a developed doctrine of siegecraft, having tailored their methods of fighting to rapid strikes and unimpeded retreats to well defended fortifications. The only means left to them was to starve the burh into submission, but this allowed the king time to send assistance with his mobile field army or garrisons from neighbouring burhs. In such cases, the Vikings were extremely vulnerable to pursuit by the king's joint military forces. Alfred's burh system posed such a formidable challenge against Viking attack that when the Vikings returned in 892 and successfully stormed a half-made, poorly garrisoned fortress up the Lympne estuary in Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, the Anglo-Saxons were able to limit their penetration to the outer frontiers of Wessex and Mercia.

Alfred's burghal system was revolutionary in its strategic conception and potentially expensive in its execution. His contemporary biographer Asser wrote that many nobles balked at the new demands placed upon them even though they were for "the common needs of the kingdom". The cost of building the burhs was great in itself, but this paled before the cost of upkeep for these fortresses and the maintenance of their standing garrisons. A remarkable early tenth-century document, known as the Burghal Hidage
Burghal Hidage
The Burghal Hidage is an Anglo-Saxon document providing a list of the fortified burhs in Wessex and elsewhere in southern England. It offers an unusually detailed picture of the network of burhs that Alfred the Great designed to defend his kingdom from the predations of Viking invaders.-Burhs and...

, provides a formula for determining how many men were needed to garrison a borough, based on one man for every 5.5 yards (5 meters) of wall. This calculates to a total of 27,071 soldiers needed system wide, or approximately one in four of all the free men in Wessex.

Reconstituted fyrd


Over the last two decades of his reign, Alfred undertook a radical reorganisation of the military institutions of his kingdom, strengthened the West Saxon economy through a policy of monetary reform and urban planning and strove to win divine favour by resurrecting the literary glories of earlier generations of Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

. Alfred pursued these ambitious programmes to fulfil, as he saw it, his responsibility as king. This justified the heavy demands he made upon his subjects' labour and finances. It even excused the expropriation of strategically located Church lands. Recreating the fyrd into a standing army, ringing Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 with some thirty garrisoned fortified towns, and constructing new and larger ships for the royal fleet were costly endeavours that provoked resistance from noble and peasant alike. But they paid off. When the Vikings returned in force in 892 they found a kingdom defended by a standing, mobile field army and a network of garrisoned fortresses that commanded its navigable rivers and Roman roads
Roman roads in Britain
Roman roads, together with Roman aqueducts and the vast standing Roman army , constituted the three most impressive features of the Roman Empire. In Britain, as in other provinces, the Romans constructed a comprehensive network of paved trunk roads Roman roads, together with Roman aqueducts and the...

.

Alfred analysed the defects of the military system that he had inherited and implemented changes to remedy them. Alfred's military reorganisation of Wessex consisted of three elements: the building of thirty fortified and garrisoned towns (burh
Burh
A Burh is an Old English name for a fortified town or other defended site, sometimes centred upon a hill fort though always intended as a place of permanent settlement, its origin was in military defence; "it represented only a stage, though a vitally important one, in the evolution of the...

s) along the rivers and Roman roads of Wessex; the creation of a mobile (horsed) field force, consisting of his nobles and their warrior retainers, which was divided into two contingents, one of which was always in the field; and the enhancement of Wessex's seapower through the addition of larger ships to the existing royal fleet. Each element of the system was meant to remedy defects in the West Saxon military establishment exposed by the Viking invasions. If under the existing system he could not assemble forces quickly enough to intercept mobile Viking raiders, the obvious answer was to have a standing field force. If this entailed transforming the West Saxon fyrd from a sporadic levy of king's men and their retinues into a mounted standing army, so be it. If his kingdom lacked strongpoints to impede the progress of an enemy army, he would build them. If the enemy struck from the sea, he would counter them with his own naval power. Characteristically, all of Alfred's innovations were firmly rooted in traditional West Saxon practice, drawing as they did upon the three so-called ‘common burdens' of bridge work, fortress repair and service on the king's campaigns that all holders of bookland and royal loanland owed the Crown. Where Alfred revealed his genius was in designing the field force and burhs to be parts of a coherent military system. Neither Alfred's reformed fyrd nor his burhs alone would have afforded a sufficient defence against the Vikings; together, however, they robbed the Vikings of their major strategic advantages: surprise and mobility.

Administration and taxation


To obtain the needed garrison troops and workers to build and maintain the burhs' defences, Alfred regularised and vastly expanded the existing (and, one might add, quite recent) obligation of landowners to provide ‘fortress work’ on the basis of the hidage assessed upon their lands. The allotments of the Burghal Hidage represent the creation of administrative districts for the support of the burhs. The landowners attached to Wallingford, for example, were responsible for producing and feeding 2,400 men, the number sufficient for maintaining 9,900 feet (3 km) of wall. Each of the larger burhs became the centre of a territorial district of considerable size, carved out of the neighbouring countryside in order to support the town. In one sense, Alfred conceived nothing truly new here. The shire
Shire
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit. Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far...

s of Wessex went back at least to the reign of King Ine, who probably also imposed a hidage assessment upon each for food rents and other services owed the Crown.

English navy


Alfred also tried his hand at naval design. In 896,
he ordered the construction of a small fleet, perhaps a dozen or so longships, that, at 60 oars, were twice the size of Viking warships. This was not, as the Victorians asserted, the birth of the English Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. Wessex possessed a royal fleet before this. King Athelstan of Kent and Ealdorman Ealhhere had defeated a Viking fleet in 851, capturing nine ships, and Alfred himself had conducted naval actions in 882. But, clearly, the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and probably Alfred himself regarded 897 as marking an important development in the naval power of Wessex. The chronicler flattered his royal patron by boasting that Alfred's ships were not only larger, but swifter, steadier and rode higher in the water than either Danish or Frisian ships. (It is probable that, under the classical tutelage of Asser, Alfred utilised the design of Greek and Roman warships
Hellenistic-era warships
From the 4th century BC on, new types of oared warships appeared in the Mediterranean Sea, superseding the trireme and transforming naval warfare. Ships became increasingly bigger and heavier, including some of the largest wooden ships ever constructed...

, with high sides, designed for fighting rather than for navigation.) Alfred had seapower in mind: if he could intercept raiding fleets before they landed, he could spare his kingdom from ravaging. Alfred's ships may have been superior in conception, however in practice they proved to be too large to manoeuvre well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers, the only places in which a 'naval' battle could occur. (The warships of the time were not designed to be ship killers but troop carriers. A naval battle entailed a ship's coming alongside an enemy vessel, at which point the crew would lash the two ships together and board the enemy. The result was effectively a land battle involving hand-to-hand fighting on board the two lashed vessels.)

In the one recorded naval engagement in the year 896, Alfred's new fleet of nine ships intercepted six Viking ships in the mouth of an unidentified river along the south of England.
The Danes had beached half their ships, and gone inland, either to rest their rowers or to forage for food. Alfred's ships immediately moved to block their escape to the sea. The three Viking ships afloat attempted to break through the English lines. Only one made it, Alfred's ships intercepted the other two. Lashing the Viking boats to their own, the English crew boarded the enemy's vessels and proceeded to kill everyone on board. The one ship that escaped managed to do so only because all of Alfred's heavy ships became mired when the tide went out. What ensued was a land battle between the crews of the grounded ships. The Danes, heavily outnumbered, would have been wiped out if the tide had not risen. When that occurred, the Danes rushed back to their boats, which being lighter, with shallower drafts, were freed before Alfred's ships. Helplessly, the English watched as the Vikings rowed past them. But the pirates had suffered so many casualties (120 Danes dead against 62 Frisians and English), that they had difficulties putting out to sea. All were too damaged to row around Sussex and two were driven against the Sussex coast. The shipwrecked sailors were brought before Alfred at Winchester and hanged.

Legal reform



In the late 880s or early 890s, Alfred issued a long domboc
Doom book
The Doom Book, Code of Alfred or Legal Code of Aelfred the Great was the code of laws compiled by Alfred the Great The Doom Book, Code of Alfred or Legal Code of Aelfred the Great was the code of laws ("dooms", laws or judgments) compiled by Alfred the Great The Doom Book, Code of Alfred or Legal...

 or law code, consisting of his "own" laws followed by a code issued by his late seventh-century predecessor King Ine of Wessex
Ine of Wessex
Ine was King of Wessex from 688 to 726. He was unable to retain the territorial gains of his predecessor, Cædwalla, who had brought much of southern England under his control and expanded West Saxon territory substantially...

. Together these laws are arranged into 120 chapters. In his introduction, Alfred explains that he gathered together the laws he found in many 'synod
Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

-books' and "ordered to be written many of the ones that our forefathers observed--those that pleased me; and many of the ones that did not please me, I rejected with the advice of my councillors, and commanded them to be observed in a different way." Alfred singled out in particular the laws that he "found in the days of Ine, my kinsman, or Offa
Offa
Offa may refer to:Two kings of the Angles, who are often confused:*Offa of Angel , on the continent*Offa of Mercia , in Great BritainA king of Essex:*Offa of Essex A town in Nigeria:* Offa, Nigeria...

, king of the Mercians, or King Æthelbert of Kent, who first among the English people received baptism." It is difficult to know exactly what Alfred meant by this. He appended rather than integrated the laws of Ine into his code, and although he included, as had Æthelbert, a scale of payments in compensation for injuries to various body parts, the two injury tariffs are not aligned. And, Offa is not known to have issued a law code, leading historian Patrick Wormald
Patrick Wormald
Charles Patrick Wormald was a British historian born in Neston, Cheshire, son of historian Brian Wormald.He attended Eton College as a King's Scholar...

 to speculate that Alfred had in mind the legatine capitulary of 786 that was presented to Offa by two papal legates.

About a fifth of the law code is taken up by Alfred's introduction, which includes translations into English of the Decalogue
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

, a few chapters from the Book of Exodus, and the so-called 'Apostolic Letter' from Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

 (15:23-29). The Introduction may best be understood as Alfred's meditation upon the meaning of Christian law. It traces the continuity between God's gift of Law to Moses to Alfred's own issuance of law to the West Saxon people. By doing so, it links the holy past to the historical present and represents Alfred's law-giving as a type of divine legislation. This is the reason that Alfred divided his code into precisely 120 chapters: 120 was the age at which Moses died and, in the number-symbolism of early medieval biblical exegetes, 120 stood for law. The link between the Mosaic Law and Alfred's code is the 'Apostolic Letter,' which explained that Christ "had come not to shatter or annul the commandments but to fulfill them; and he taught mercy and meekness" (Intro, 49.1). The mercy that Christ infused into Mosaic Law underlies the injury tariffs that figure so prominently in barbarian law codes, since Christian synods "established, through that mercy which Christ taught, that for almost every misdeed at the first offence secular lords might with their permission receive without sin the monetary compensation, which they then fixed." The only crime that could not be compensated with a payment of money is treachery to a lord, "since Almighty God adjudged none for those who despised Him, nor did Christ, the Son of God, adjudge any for the one who betrayed Him to death; and He commanded everyone to love his lord as Himself." Alfred's transformation of Christ's commandment from "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matt. 22:39-40) to love your secular lord as you would love the Lord Christ himself underscores the importance that Alfred placed upon lordship, which he understood as a sacred bond instituted by God for the governance of man.

When one turns from the dombocs introduction to the laws themselves, it is difficult to uncover any logical arrangement. The impression one receives is of a hodgepodge of miscellaneous laws. The law code, as it has been preserved, is singularly unsuitable for use in lawsuits. In fact, several of Alfred's laws contradict the laws of Ine that form an integral part of the code. Patrick Wormald's explanation is that Alfred's law code should be understood not as a legal manual, but as an ideological manifesto of kingship, "designed more for symbolic impact than for practical direction." In practical terms, the most important law in the code may well be the very first: "We enjoin, what is most necessary, that each man keep carefully his oath and his pledge," which expresses a fundamental tenet of Anglo-Saxon law.

Alfred devoted considerable attention and thought to judicial matters. Asser underscores his concern for judicial fairness. Alfred, according to Asser, insisted upon reviewing contested judgments made by his ealdormen and reeves, and "would carefully look into nearly all the judgements which were passed [issued] in his absence anywhere in the realm, to see whether they were just or unjust." A charter from the reign of his son Edward the Elder depicts Alfred as hearing one such appeal in his chamber, while washing his hands. Asser represents Alfred as a Solomonic judge, painstaking in his own judicial investigations and critical of royal officials who rendered unjust or unwise judgments. Although Asser never mentions Alfred's law code, he does say that Alfred insisted that his judges be literate, so that they could apply themselves "to the pursuit of wisdom." The failure to comply with this royal order was to be punished by loss of office. It is uncertain how seriously this should be taken; Asser was more concerned to represent Alfred as a wise ruler than to report actual royal policy.

Foreign relations


Asser speaks grandiosely of Alfred's relations with foreign powers, but little definite information is available. His interest in foreign countries is shown by the insertions which he made in his translation of Orosius. He certainly corresponded with Elias III
Elias III of Jerusalem
Elias III was the Patriarch of Jerusalem from the dates 878 AD to 907 AD....

, the Patriarch of Jerusalem
Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is the head bishop of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, ranking fourth of nine Patriarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since 2005, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has been Theophilos III...

, and possibly sent a mission to India in honour of Saint Thomas the Apostle, whose tomb was believed to lie in that country. Contact was also made with the Caliph
Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

 in Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

. Embassies to Rome conveying the English alms to the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 were fairly frequent. Around 890, Wulfstan of Haithabu undertook a journey from Haithabu on Jutland
Jutland
Jutland , historically also called Cimbria, is the name of the peninsula that juts out in Northern Europe toward the rest of Scandinavia, forming the mainland part of Denmark. It has the North Sea to its west, Kattegat and Skagerrak to its north, the Baltic Sea to its east, and the Danish–German...

 along the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 to the Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n trading town of Truso
Truso
Truso, situated on Lake Druzno, was an Old Prussian town near the Baltic Sea just east of the Vistula River. It was one of the trading posts on the Amber Road, and is thought to be the antecedent of the city of Elbląg . In the words of Marija Gimbutas, "the name of the town is the earliest known...

. Alfred personally collected details of this trip.http://books.google.com/books?id=GhNAAAAAYAAJ&dq=alfred%20orosius&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=wulfstan&f=false

Alfred's relations with the Celtic princes in the western half of Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 are clearer. Comparatively early in his reign, according to Asser, the southern Welsh
South Wales
South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

 princes, owing to the pressure on them from North Wales
North Wales
North Wales is the northernmost unofficial region of Wales. It is bordered to the south by the counties of Ceredigion and Powys in Mid Wales and to the east by the counties of Shropshire in the West Midlands and Cheshire in North West England...

 and Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

, commended themselves to Alfred. Later in the reign the North Welsh
North Wales
North Wales is the northernmost unofficial region of Wales. It is bordered to the south by the counties of Ceredigion and Powys in Mid Wales and to the east by the counties of Shropshire in the West Midlands and Cheshire in North West England...

 followed their example, and the latter cooperated with the English in the campaign of 893 (or 894). That Alfred sent alms to Irish and Continental monasteries may be taken on Asser's authority. The visit of the three pilgrim "Scots" (i.e. Irish) to Alfred in 891 is undoubtedly authentic. The story that he himself in his childhood was sent to Ireland to be healed by Saint Modwenna, though mythical, may show Alfred's interest in that island.

Religion and culture



In the 880s, at the same time that he was "cajoling and threatening" his nobles to build and man the burh
Burh
A Burh is an Old English name for a fortified town or other defended site, sometimes centred upon a hill fort though always intended as a place of permanent settlement, its origin was in military defence; "it represented only a stage, though a vitally important one, in the evolution of the...

s, Alfred, perhaps inspired by the example of Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 almost a century before, undertook an equally ambitious effort to revive learning. It entailed the recruitment of clerical scholars from Mercia, Wales and abroad to enhance the tenor of the court and of the episcopacy; the establishment of a court school to educate his own children, the sons of his nobles, and intellectually promising boys of lesser birth; an attempt to require literacy in those who held offices of authority; a series of translations into the vernacular of Latin works the king deemed "most necessary for all men to know"; the compilation of a chronicle detailing the rise of Alfred's kingdom and house; and the issuance of a law code that presented the West Saxons as a new people of Israel and their king as a just and divinely inspired law-giver.

Very little is known of the church under Alfred. The Danish attacks had been particularly damaging to the monasteries, and though Alfred founded monasteries at Athelney and Shaftesbury, the first new monastic houses in Wessex since the beginning of the eighth century, and enticed foreign monks to England, monasticism did not revive significantly during his reign. Alfred undertook no systematic reform of ecclesiastical institutions or religious practices in Wessex. For him the key to the kingdom's spiritual revival was to appoint pious, learned, and trustworthy bishops and abbots. As king he saw himself as responsible for both the temporal and spiritual welfare of his subjects. Secular and spiritual authority were not distinct categories for Alfred. He was equally comfortable distributing his translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

 to his bishops so that they might better train and supervise priests, and using those same bishops as royal officials and judges. Nor did his piety prevent him from expropriating strategically sited church lands, especially estates along the border with the Danelaw, and transferring them to royal thegn
Thegn
The term thegn , from OE þegn, ðegn "servant, attendant, retainer", is commonly used to describe either an aristocratic retainer of a king or nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England, or as a class term, the majority of the aristocracy below the ranks of ealdormen and high-reeves...

s and officials who could better defend them against Viking attacks.

The Danish raids had also a devastating impact on learning in England. Alfred lamented in the preface to his translation of Gregory's Pastoral Care that "learning had declined so thoroughly in England that there were very few men on this side of the Humber who could understand their divine services in English, or even translate a single letter from Latin into English: and I suppose that there were not many beyond the Humber either". Alfred undoubtedly exaggerated for dramatic effect the abysmal state of learning in England during his youth. That Latin learning had not been obliterated is evidenced by the presence in his court of learned Mercian and West Saxon clerics such as Plegmund, Wæferth, and Wulfsige, but Alfred's account should not be entirely discounted. Manuscript production in England dropped off precipitously around the 860s when the Viking invasions began in earnest, not to be revived until the end of the century. Numerous Anglo-Saxon manuscripts burnt up along with the churches that housed them. And a solemn diploma from Christ Church, Canterbury dated 873 is so poorly constructed and written that historian Nicholas Brooks posited a scribe who was either so blind he could not read what he wrote or who knew little or no Latin. "It is clear," Brooks concludes, "that the metropolitan church [of Canterbury] must have been quite unable to provide any effective training in the scriptures or in Christian worship."

Following the example of Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

, Alfred established a court school for the education of his own children, those of the nobility, and "a good many of lesser birth". There they studied books in both English and Latin and "devoted themselves to writing, to such an extent .... they were seen to be devoted and intelligent students of the liberal arts." He recruited scholars from the Continent and from Britain to aid in the revival of Christian learning in Wessex and to provide the king personal instruction. Grimbald
Grimbald
Saint Grimbald was a Benedictine, invited to England by King Alfred the Great in 885. King Alfred met Grimbald while journeying to Rome at the French abbey of Saint-Bertin . Grimbald arrived in England and declined the see of Canterbury, preferring to remain a monk...

 and John the Saxon came from Francia; Plegmund (whom Alfred appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 890), Bishop Werferth of Worcester, Æthelstan, and the royal chaplains Werwulf, from Mercia; and Asser, from St. David's in south-western Wales.

Alfred's educational ambitions seem to have extended beyond the establishment of a court school. Believing that without Christian wisdom there can be neither prosperity nor success in war, Alfred aimed "to set to learning (as long as they are not useful for some other employment) all the free-born young men now in England who have the means to apply themselves to it." Conscious of the decay of Latin literacy in his realm, Alfred proposed that primary education be taught in English, with those wishing to advance to holy orders to continue their studies in Latin. The problem, however, was that there were few "books of wisdom" written in English. Alfred sought to remedy this through an ambitious court-centred programme of translating into English the books he deemed "most necessary for all men to know." It is unknown when Alfred launched this programme, but it may have been during the 880s when Wessex was enjoying a respite from Viking attacks.

Apart from the lost Handboc or Encheiridion, which seems to have been a commonplace book kept by the king, the earliest work to be translated was the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, a book greatly popular in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. The translation was undertaken at Alfred's command by Werferth
Werferth
Werferth was an English bishop of Worcester, from 873 to 915. A contemporary and friend of Alfred the Great, he was a significant translator, from Latin into Old English. His translations include the Dialogues of Gregory, commissioned by Alfred.-References:* accessed on September 6, 2007*...

, Bishop of Worcester
Bishop of Worcester
The Bishop of Worcester is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury, England. He is the head of the Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury...

, with the king merely furnishing a preface. Remarkably, Alfred, undoubtedly with the advice and aid of his court scholars, translated four works himself: Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy is a philosophical work by Boethius, written around the year 524. It has been described as the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity, and is also the last great Western work that can be called Classical.-...

, St. Augustine
St. Augustine
-People:* Augustine of Hippo or Augustine of Hippo , father of the Latin church* Augustine of Canterbury , first Archbishop of Canterbury* Augustine Webster, an English Catholic martyr.-Places:*St. Augustine, Florida, United States...

's Soliloquies, and the first fifty psalms of the Psalter
Psalter
A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were...

. One might add to this list Alfred's translation, in his law code, of excerpts from the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

 Book of Exodus. The Old English versions of Orosius's Histories against the Pagans and Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

's Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.It is considered to be one of the most important original references on...

 are no longer accepted by scholars as Alfred's own translations because of lexical and stylistic differences. Nonetheless, the consensus remains that they were part of the Alfredian programme of translation. Simon Keynes
Simon Keynes
Simon Douglas Keynes MA, PhD, Litt.D, FBA is the current Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic at Cambridge University.-Biography:...

 and Michael Lapidge
Michael Lapidge
Michael Lapidge D.Litt. is a Canadian historical linguist, fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and Fellow of the British Academy A lecturer in Anglo-Saxon studies at Cambridge from 1974 onwards, Lapidge was Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1991 to 1998...

 suggest this also for Bald's Leechbook and the anonymous Old English Martyrology.

Alfred's first translation was of Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, which he prefaced with an introduction explaining why he thought it necessary to translate works such as this one from Latin into English. Although he described his method as translating "sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense," Alfred's translation actually keeps very close to his original, although through his choice of language he blurred throughout the distinction between spiritual and secular authority. Alfred meant his translation to be used and circulated it to all his bishops.

Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy was the most popular philosophical handbook of the Middle Ages. Unlike his translation of the Pastoral Care, Alfred here deals very freely with his original and though the late Dr. G. Schepss showed that many of the additions to the text are to be traced not to Alfred himself, but to the glosses and commentaries which he used, still there is much in the work which is solely Alfred's and highly characteristic of his style. It is in the Boethius that the oft-quoted sentence occurs: "My will was to live worthily as long as I lived, and after my life to leave to them that should come after, my memory in good works." The book has come down to us in two manuscripts only. In one of these the writing is prose, in the other a combination of prose and alliterating verse. The latter manuscript was severely damaged in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the authorship of the verse has been much disputed; but likely it also is by Alfred. In fact, he writes in the prelude that he first created a prose work and then used it as the basis for his poem Metres of Boethius, his crowning literary achievement. He spent a great deal of time working on these books, which he tells us he gradually wrote through the many stressful times of his reign to refresh his mind. Of the authenticity of the work as a whole there has never been any doubt.

The last of Alfred's works is one to which he gave the name Blostman, i.e., "Blooms" or Anthology. The first half is based mainly on the Soliloquies of St Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

, the remainder is drawn from various sources, and contains much that is Alfred's own and highly characteristic of him. The last words of it may be quoted; they form a fitting epitaph for the noblest of English kings. "Therefore he seems to me a very foolish man, and truly wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear."

Alfred appears as a character in the twelfth- or thirteenth-century poem The Owl and the Nightingale
The Owl and the Nightingale
The Owl and the Nightingale is a 12th- or 13th-century Middle English poem detailing a debate between an owl and a nightingale as overheard by the poem's narrator. It is the earliest example in Middle English of a literary form known as debate poetry...

, where his wisdom and skill with proverbs is praised. The Proverbs of Alfred
The Proverbs of Alfred
The Proverbs of Alfred is a collection of early Middle English sayings ascribed to King Alfred the Great , said to have been uttered at an assembly in Seaford, East Sussex.-Transmission:...

, a thirteenth-century work, contains sayings that are not likely to have originated with Alfred but attest to his posthumous medieval reputation for wisdom.

The Alfred jewel
Alfred Jewel
The Alfred Jewel is an Anglo-Saxon ornament dating from the late 9th century, discovered in 1693.It was made in the reign of King Alfred the Great and is inscribed "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN", meaning "Alfred ordered me made"...

, discovered in Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

 in 1693, has long been associated with King Alfred because of its Old English inscription "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN" (Alfred ordered me to be made). The jewel is about 2½ inches (6.1 cm) long, made of filigreed gold, enclosing a highly polished piece of quartz crystal beneath which is set a cloisonné enamel plaque, with an enamelled image of a man holding floriate sceptres, perhaps personifying Sight or the Wisdom of God. It was at one time attached to a thin rod or stick based on the hollow socket at its base. The jewel certainly dates from Alfred's reign. Although its function is unknown, it has been often suggested that the jewel was one of the æstels—pointers for reading—that Alfred ordered sent to every bishopric accompanying a copy of his translation of the Pastoral Care. Each æstel was worth the princely sum of 50 mancus
Mancus
Mancus was a term used in early medieval Europe to denote either a gold coin, a weight of gold of 4.25g , or a unit of account of thirty silver pence. This made it worth about a months wages for a skilled worker, such as a craftsman or a soldier...

es, which fits in well with the quality workmanship and expensive materials of the Alfred jewel.

Historian Richard Abels sees Alfred's educational and military reforms as complementary. Restoring religion and learning in Wessex, Abels contends, was to Alfred's mind as essential to the defence of his realm as the building of the burhs. As Alfred observed in the preface to his English translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, kings who fail to obey their divine duty to promote learning can expect earthly punishments to befall their people. The pursuit of wisdom, he assured his readers of the Boethius, was the surest path to power: "Study Wisdom, then, and, when you have learned it, condemn it not, for I tell you that by its means you may without fail attain to power, yea, even though not desiring it". The portrayal of the West-Saxon resistance to the Vikings by Asser and the chronicler as a Christian holy war was more than mere rhetoric or 'propaganda'. It reflected Alfred's own belief in a doctrine of divine rewards and punishments rooted in a vision of a hierarchical Christian world order in which God is the Lord to whom kings owe obedience and through whom they derive their authority over their followers. The need to persuade his nobles to undertake work for the 'common good' led Alfred and his court scholars to strengthen and deepen the conception of Christian kingship that he had inherited by building upon the legacy of earlier kings such as Offa as well as clerical writers such as Bede, Alcuin and the other luminaries of the Carolingian renaissance. This was not a cynical use of religion to manipulate his subjects into obedience, but an intrinsic element in Alfred's worldview. He believed, as did other kings in ninth-century England and Francia, that God had entrusted him with the spiritual as well as physical welfare of his people. If the Christian faith fell into ruin in his kingdom, if the clergy were too ignorant to understand the Latin words they butchered in their offices and liturgies, if the ancient monasteries and collegiate churches lay deserted out of indifference, he was answerable before God, as Josiah had been. Alfred's ultimate responsibility was the pastoral care of his people.

Family


In 868, Alfred married Ealhswith
Ealhswith
Ealhswith or Ealswitha was the daughter of a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucil, Ealdorman of the Gaini. She was married in 868 to Alfred the Great, before he became king of Wessex. In accordance with ninth century West Saxon custom, she was not given the title of queen. -Life:Ealswith was the...

, daughter of a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucil, Ealdorman
Ealdorman
An ealdorman is the term used for a high-ranking royal official and prior magistrate of an Anglo-Saxon shire or group of shires from about the ninth century to the time of King Cnut...

 of the Gaini
Gaini
The Gaini were an early Anglo-Saxon tribe. Their location cannot now be identified, but they are thought to have been one of the tribes which made up the kingdom of Mercia....

. The Gaini were probably one of the tribal groups of the Mercians. Ealhswith's mother, Eadburh, was a member of the Mercian royal family.

They had five or six children together, including Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder was an English king. He became king in 899 upon the death of his father, Alfred the Great. His court was at Winchester, previously the capital of Wessex...

, who succeeded his father as king, Æthelflæd, who would become Queen
Queen Dowager
A queen dowager or dowager queen is a title or status generally held by the widow of a deceased king. In the case of the widow of a deceased emperor, the title of empress dowager is used...

 of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 in her own right, and Ælfthryth who married Baldwin II
Baldwin II, Count of Flanders
Baldwin II , nicknamed Calvus was the second count of Flanders. He was also hereditary abbot of St. Bertin from 892 till his death. He was the son of Baldwin I of Flanders and Judith, a daughter of Charles the Bald...

 the Count of Flanders
Count of Flanders
The Count of Flanders was the ruler or sub-ruler of the county of Flanders from the 9th century until the abolition of the position by the French revolutionaries in 1790....

. His mother was Osburga
Osburga
Osburh or Osburga was the first wife of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and mother of Alfred the Great. Alfred's biographer, Asser, described her as "a most religious woman, noble in character and noble by birth"....

 daughter of Oslac of the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

, Chief Butler
Butler
A butler is a domestic worker in a large household. In great houses, the household is sometimes divided into departments with the butler in charge of the dining room, wine cellar, and pantry. Some also have charge of the entire parlour floor, and housekeepers caring for the entire house and its...

 of England. Asser
Asser
Asser was a Welsh monk from St David's, Dyfed, who became Bishop of Sherborne in the 890s. About 885 he was asked by Alfred the Great to leave St David's and join the circle of learned men whom Alfred was recruiting for his court...

, in his Vita Ælfredi asserts that this shows his lineage from the Jutes
Jutes
The Jutes, Iuti, or Iutæ were a Germanic people who, according to Bede, were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples of their time, the other two being the Saxons and the Angles...

 of the Isle of Wight. This is unlikely as Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

 tells us that they were all slaughtered by the Saxons under Cædwalla. In 2008 the skeleton of Queen Eadgyth
Eadgyth
Edith of England , also spelt Eadgyth or Ædgyth, was the daughter of Edward the Elder, and the wife of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor.-Life:...

, granddaughter of Alfred the Great was found in Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany. It was confirmed in 2010 that these remains belong to her — one of the earliest members of the English royal family.
Name|DeathEdward
Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder was an English king. He became king in 899 upon the death of his father, Alfred the Great. His court was at Winchester, previously the capital of Wessex...

870 17 July 924 Married (1) Ecgwynn
Ecgwynn
Ecgwynn or Ecgwynna , was the first consort of Edward the Elder, later king of the English , by whom she bore the future King Æthelstan , and a daughter who married Sihtric Cáech, Norse king of Dublin and Northumbria. Extremely little is known about her background and life...

, (2) Ælfflæd
Ælfflæd, wife of Edward the Elder
Ælfflæd was the second wife of Edward the Elder, king of the English.Ælfflæd was the daughter of an ealdorman Æthelhelm. There were several contemporaries of this name, but some historians, including Pauline Stafford and David H. Kelley, have identified him as Æthelhelm, a son of Edward's uncle,...

, (3) 919 Eadgifu
Æthelgifu Abbess of Shaftesbury
Ælfthryth 929 Married Baldwin, Count of Flanders
Baldwin II, Count of Flanders
Baldwin II , nicknamed Calvus was the second count of Flanders. He was also hereditary abbot of St. Bertin from 892 till his death. He was the son of Baldwin I of Flanders and Judith, a daughter of Charles the Bald...

; had issue
Æthelweard 16 October 922(?) Married and had issue

Death, burial and legacy


Alfred died on 26 October. The actual year is not certain, but it was not necessarily 901 as stated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. How he died is unknown, although he suffered throughout his life with a painful and unpleasant illness - possibly Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease, also known as regional enteritis, is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, causing a wide variety of symptoms...

, which seems to have been inherited by his grandson King Edred. He was originally buried temporarily in the Old Minster
Old Minster, Winchester
The Old Minster was the Anglo-Saxon cathedral for the diocese of Wessex and then Winchester from 660 to 1093. It stood on a site immediately north of and partially beneath its successor, Winchester Cathedral....

 in Winchester
Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

, then moved to the New Minster
New Minster, Winchester
The New Minster, Winchester was a royal Benedictine abbey founded in 901 in Winchester in the English county of Hampshire.Alfred the Great had intended to build the monastery, but only got around to buying the land. His son, Edward the Elder, finished the project according to Alfred's wishes, with...

 (perhaps built especially to receive his body). When the New Minster moved to Hyde
Hyde Abbey
Hyde Abbey was a medieval Benedictine monastery just outside the walls of Winchester, Hampshire, England. It was dissolved and demolished in 1538....

, a little north of the city, in 1110, the monks transferred to Hyde Abbey
Hyde Abbey
Hyde Abbey was a medieval Benedictine monastery just outside the walls of Winchester, Hampshire, England. It was dissolved and demolished in 1538....

 along with Alfred's body and those of his wife and children. Soon after the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

, the church was demolished, leaving the graves intact. The royal graves and many others were probably rediscovered by chance in 1788 when a prison was being constructed by convicts on the site. Coffins were stripped of lead, bones were scattered and lost, and no identifiable remains of Alfred have subsequently been found. Further excavations in 1866 and 1897 were inconclusive.

A number of educational establishments are named in Alfred's honour. These include:
  • The University of Winchester
    University of Winchester
    The University of Winchester is a British public university primarily based in Winchester, Hampshire, England. Winchester is a historic cathedral city and the ancient capital of Wessex and the Kingdom of England.-History:...

     was named 'King Alfred's College, Winchester' between 1928 and 2004, whereupon it was re-named "University College Winchester".
  • Alfred University
    Alfred University
    Alfred University is a small, comprehensive university in the Village of Alfred in Western New York, USA, an hour and a half south of Rochester and two hours southeast of Buffalo. Alfred has an undergraduate population of around 2,000, and approximately 300 graduate students...

     and Alfred State College
    Alfred State College
    Alfred State College is a State University of New York College of Technology located in Alfred, New York in Allegany County. This college, formerly the Agricultural and Technical College at Alfred, now grants baccalaureate degrees in 18 areas, associate degrees in nearly 60 areas, as well as a...

     located in Alfred, NY
    Alfred (village), New York
    Alfred is a village located in the Town of Alfred in Allegany County, New York, USA. The population was 3,954 at the 2000 census. The village is named after Alfred the Great....

    , are both named after the king.
  • In honour of Alfred, the University of Liverpool
    University of Liverpool
    The University of Liverpool is a teaching and research university in the city of Liverpool, England. It is a member of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities and the N8 Group for research collaboration. Founded in 1881 , it is also one of the six original "red brick" civic...

     created a King Alfred Chair of English Literature
    King Alfred Chair of English Literature
    The King Alfred Chair of English Literature was founded at the University of Liverpool, England in 1881.The holders of the chair have been:*1881-1889: A.C. Bradley*1890-1900: Walter Raleigh*1901-1925: Oliver Elton*1929-1951: Leonard Martin...

    .
  • King Alfred's Community and Sports College
    King Alfred's Community and Sports College
    King Alfred's is a secondary school in Wantage, Oxfordshire. It is named after King Alfred who was born in Wantage some time between 847 and 849AD.The school has approximately 140 teachers and 2000 students spread across three sites....

    , a secondary school in Wantage, Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Alfred.
  • King's Lodge School, in Chippenham, Wiltshire
    Chippenham, Wiltshire
    Chippenham is a market town in Wiltshire, England, located east of Bath and west of London. In the 2001 census the population of the town was recorded as 28,065....

     is so named because King Alfred's hunting lodge is reputed to have stood on or near the site of the school.
  • The King Alfred School & Specialist Sports Academy, Burnham Road, Highbridge is so named due to its rough proximity to Brent Knoll (a Beacon site) and Athelney.
  • The King Alfred School in Barnet, North London, UK.
  • King Alfred's Middle School, Shaftesbury
    Shaftesbury
    Shaftesbury is a town in Dorset, England, situated on the A30 road near the Wiltshire border 20 miles west of Salisbury. The town is built 718 feet above sea level on the side of a chalk and greensand hill, which is part of Cranborne Chase, the only significant hilltop settlement in Dorset...

    , Dorset
    Dorset
    Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

     [Now defunct after reorganisation]
  • King's College, Taunton, Somerset. (The king in question is King Alfred).


The Royal Navy has named one ship and two shore establishments HMS King Alfred
HMS King Alfred
One ship and two shore establishments of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS King Alfred, after Alfred the Great:Ships was a Drake-class armoured cruiser launched in 1901 and sold in 1920....

.

Wantage statue


A statue of Alfred the Great, situated in the Wantage
Wantage
Wantage is a market town and civil parish in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire, England. The town is on Letcombe Brook, about south-west of Abingdon and a similar distance west of Didcot....

 market place
Market Place
Market Place is the financial programme broadcast Monday to Friday at 10:30pm in Hong Kong by television channel TVB Pearl....

, was sculpted by Count Gleichen
Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
Admiral Victor Ferdinand Franz Eugen Gustaf Adolf Constantin Friedrich of Hohenlohe-Langenburg GCB , also known as Count Gleichen, was an officer in the Royal Navy, and a sculptor.-Biography:...

, a relative of Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

's, and unveiled on 14 July 1877 by the Prince
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
Edward VII was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910...

 and Princess of Wales
Alexandra of Denmark
Alexandra of Denmark was the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom...

.

The statue was vandalised on New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is observed annually on December 31, the final day of any given year in the Gregorian calendar. In modern societies, New Year's Eve is often celebrated at social gatherings, during which participants dance, eat, consume alcoholic beverages, and watch or light fireworks to mark the...

 2007, losing part of its right arm and axe. After the arm and axe were replaced the statue was again vandalised on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

 2008, once more losing its axe.

See also


  • Alfred Jewel
    Alfred Jewel
    The Alfred Jewel is an Anglo-Saxon ornament dating from the late 9th century, discovered in 1693.It was made in the reign of King Alfred the Great and is inscribed "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN", meaning "Alfred ordered me made"...

     at the Ashmolean Museum
    Ashmolean Museum
    The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum...

  • Alfred Street
    Alfred Street
    Alfred Street is a street running between the High Street to the north and the junction with Blue Boar Street and Bear Lane at the southern end, in central Oxford, England. To the south is Christ Church, one of Oxford University's historic colleges....

     in Oxford
    Oxford
    The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

  • Kingdom of England
    Kingdom of England
    The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

  • Military history of Britain
  • The Masque of King Alfred by Thomas Arne

Further reading

  • Dugan, Christina. "King Alfred: England's Greatest King", 2010. ISBN 1453871403. An illustrated children's book on the life of King Alfred.
  • Frantzen, Allen J., King Alfred the Great (Twayne's English Authors Series), 9780805769180
  • Fry, Fred: Patterns of Power: The Military Campaigns of Alfred the Great, 2006, ISBN 9781905226931
  • Giles, J. A. (ed.): The Whole Works of King Alfred the Great (Jubilee Edition, 3 vols, Oxford and Cambridge, 1858)
  • Merkle, Benjamin: The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great (Thomas Nelson, 2009), ISBN 1595552529
  • Parker, Joanne: England's Darling The Victorian Cult of Alfred the Great, 2007, ISBN 9780719073564
  • Pollard, Justin: Alfred the Great : the man who made England, 2006, ISBN 0719566665
  • Reuter, Timothy (ed.), Alfred the Great (Studies in early medieval Britain), 2003, ISBN 9780754609575
  • The whole works of King Alfred the Great, with preliminary essays, illustrative of the history, arts, and manners, of the ninth century, 1969, OCLC 28387
  • For a novelisation of King Alfred's exploits, there is Bernard Cornwell's series, beginning with The Last Kingdom.
  • A historically accurate novelisation is Alfred Duggan's The King of Athelney Faber & Faber, 1961

External links