Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great (Old English: Ælfrēd,[a] Ælfrǣd[b], "elf counsel"
or "wise elf"; 849 – 26 October 899) was
King of Wessex
King of Wessex from 871 to
Alfred was the youngest son of King
Æthelwulf of Wessex. Taking the
throne after the death of his brother Æthelred, Alfred spent several
years dealing with
Viking invasions. After a decisive victory in the
Battle of Edington
Battle of Edington in 878 Alfred made an agreement with the Vikings,
creating what was known as
Danelaw in the North of England. Alfred
also oversaw the conversion of the
Viking leader, Guthrum.
Alfred successfully defended his kingdom against the
Viking attempt at
conquest, and by the time of his death had become the dominant ruler
in England. He is one of only two English monarchs to be given the
epithet "the Great", the other being the Scandinavian Cnut the Great.
He was also the first King of the West Saxons to style himself "King
of the Anglo-Saxons". Details of Alfred's life are described in a work
by the 9th-century Welsh scholar and bishop Asser.
Alfred had a reputation as a learned and merciful man of a gracious
and level-headed nature who encouraged education, proposing that
primary education be conducted in English rather than Latin, and
improved his kingdom's legal system, military structure, and his
people's quality of life. In 2002 Alfred was ranked number 14 in the
BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
2 Reigns of Alfred's brothers
2.1 Fighting the
3 King at war
3.1 Early struggles, defeat and flight
3.2 Counter-attack and victory
3.3 Quiet years, restoration of London (880s)
Viking attacks repelled (890s)
4.1 Administration and taxation
4.2 Burghal system
4.3 English navy
5 Legal reform
6 Foreign relations
7 Religion and culture
7.1 Impact of Danish raids on education
7.2 Establishment of a court school
7.3 Advocacy of education in the English language
8 Appearance and character
11 Death, burial and fate of remains
Alfred University (New York)
13.5 Cleveland, Ohio
14 See also
18 Further reading
19 External links
House of Wessex
House of Wessex family tree
Alfred was born in the village of Wanating, now Wantage, historically
Berkshire but now in Oxfordshire. He was the youngest son of King
Æthelwulf of Wessex
Æthelwulf of Wessex by his first wife, Osburh.[c]
In 853, at the age of four, Alfred is reported by the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle to have been sent to Rome where he was confirmed by
IV, who "anointed him as king". Victorian writers later interpreted
this as an anticipatory coronation in preparation for his eventual
succession to the throne of Wessex. This is unlikely; 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"; 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, 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 magnates of the realm met in
council to hammer out a compromise. Æthelbald would retain the
western shires (i.e. historical Wessex), and
Æthelwulf would rule in
the east. When King
Æthelwulf died in 858 Wessex was ruled by three
of Alfred's brothers in succession: Æthelbald, Æthelberht and
Asser tells the story of how as a child Alfred won as a prize a
book of Saxon poems, offered by his mother to the first of her
children able to memorize it. 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. Statues of Alfred in
Wantage portray him as a great warrior. Evidence suggests he was not
physically strong and, though not lacking in courage, he was noted
more for his intellect than as a warlike character.
Reigns of Alfred's brothers
A map of the route taken by the
Great Heathen Army
Great Heathen Army which
England from Denmark, Norway, and southern Sweden in 865.
Alfred is not mentioned during the short reigns of his older brothers
Æthelbald and Æthelberht. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the
Great Heathen Army, an army of Danes, landing in
East Anglia with the
intent of conquering the four kingdoms that constituted Anglo-Saxon
England in 865. Alfred's public life began at age 16 with the
accession of his third brother, 18-year-old King Æthelred, in 865.
During this period, Bishop
Asser applied to Alfred the unique title of
"secundarius", which may indicate a position similar to the Celtic
"tanist", a recognised successor closely associated with the reigning
monarch. This arrangement may have been sanctioned by Alfred's father
or by the Witan to guard against the danger of a disputed succession
should Æthelred fall in battle. It is well known among other Germanic
peoples to crown a successor as royal prince and military commander,
such as among the Swedes and Franks, to whom the Anglo-Saxons were
In 868, Alfred is recorded as fighting beside Æthelred in an
unsuccessful attempt to keep the
Great Heathen Army
Great Heathen Army led by Ivar the
Boneless out of the adjoining Kingdom of Mercia. The Danes arrived
in his homeland at the end of 870, and nine engagements were fought in
the following year, with varying outcomes, though the places and dates
of two of these battles have not been recorded.
A successful skirmish at the
Battle of Englefield
Battle of Englefield in
Berkshire on 31
December 870 was followed by a severe defeat at the siege and Battle
of Reading by Ivar's brother
Halfdan Ragnarsson on 5 January 871. Four
days later, the Anglo-Saxons won a brilliant victory at the Battle of
Ashdown on the
Berkshire Downs, possibly near Compton or Aldworth.
Alfred is particularly credited with the success of this last
The Saxons were defeated at the
Battle of Basing on 22 January. They
were defeated again on 22 March at the
Battle of Merton
Battle of Merton (perhaps
Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset). Æthelred died shortly
afterwards on 23 April.
King at war
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, even though Æthelred left two
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 had left jointly to his sons in his will. 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 accession probably went uncontested.
While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the
Danes defeated the Saxon army in his absence at an unnamed spot, and
then again in his presence at Wilton 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, according
to sources that do not tell what the terms of the peace were. Bishop
Asser claimed that the pagans agreed to vacate the realm and made good
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, Alfred probably also paid
the Vikings cash to leave, much as the Mercians were to do in the
following year. Hoards dating to the
Viking occupation of London
in 871/2 have been excavated at Croydon, Gravesend, and Waterloo
Bridge. These finds hint at the cost involved in making peace with the
Vikings. For the next five years the Danes occupied other parts of
A Victorian portrayal of the 12th-century legend of Alfred burning the
In 876 under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes slipped past the
Saxon army and attacked and occupied Wareham in Dorset. 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 broke their word
and, after killing all the hostages, slipped away under cover of night
Exeter in Devon.
Alfred blockaded the
Viking ships in
Devon and, with a relief fleet
having been scattered by a storm, the Danes were forced to submit. The
Danes withdrew to Mercia. In January 878 the Danes made a sudden
attack on Chippenham, 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 in the marshes of
Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe." From
his fort at Athelney, an island in the marshes near North Petherton,
Alfred was able to mount an effective resistance movement, rallying
the local militias from Somerset,
Wiltshire and Hampshire.
A legend, originating from 12th century chronicles, tells how when
he first fled to the
Somerset Levels, Alfred was given shelter by a
peasant woman who, unaware of his identity, left him to watch some
wheaten cakes she had left cooking on the fire. Preoccupied with the
problems of his kingdom Alfred accidentally let the cakes burn and was
roundly scolded by the woman upon her return.
878 was the low-water mark in the history of the
With all the other kingdoms having fallen to the Vikings, Wessex alone
was still resisting.
Counter-attack and victory
King Alfred's Tower
King Alfred's Tower (1772) on the supposed site of "Egbert's Stone",
the mustering place before the Battle of Edington.[d]
In the seventh week after Easter (4–10 May 878), around Whitsuntide,
Alfred rode to
Egbert's Stone east of Selwood where he was met by "all
the people of
Somerset and of
Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire
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 shires. This meant not only that
the king had retained the loyalty of ealdormen, royal reeves and
king's thegns, 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 his summons to war. Alfred's actions
also suggest a system of scouts and messengers.
Alfred won a decisive victory in the ensuing
Battle of Edington
Battle of Edington which
may have been fought near Westbury, Wiltshire. He then pursued the
Danes to their stronghold at
Chippenham and starved them into
submission. One of the terms of the surrender was that
to Christianity. Three weeks later the Danish king and 29 of his chief
men were baptised at Alfred's court at Aller, near Athelney, with
Guthrum as his spiritual son.
According to Asser:
The unbinding of the chrisom [e] on the eighth day took place at a
royal estate called Wedmore.
Wedmore Alfred and
Guthrum negotiated what some historians
have called the Treaty of Wedmore, but it was to be some years after
the cessation of hostilities that a formal treaty was signed.
Under the terms of the so-called Treaty of
Wedmore the converted
Guthrum was required to leave Wessex and return to East Anglia.
Consequently, in 879 the
Viking army left
Chippenham and made its way
to Cirencester.  The formal Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum,
Old English in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
(Manuscript 383), and in a
Latin compilation known as
"Quadripartitus", was negotiated later, perhaps in 879 or 880, when
Ceolwulf II of Mercia
Ceolwulf II of Mercia 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 to the River Lea, follow the Lea to its source (near
Luton), from there extend in a straight line to Bedford, and from
Bedford follow the River Ouse to Watling Street.
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). 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, held by West Saxon kings since
the days of Egbert, 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.
Quiet years, restoration of London (880s)
A coin of Alfred, king of Wessex, London, 880 (based upon a Roman
Obv: King with royal band in profile, with legend: ÆLFRED REX "King
With the signing of the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, an event most
commonly held to have taken place around 880 when Guthrum's people
began settling East Anglia,
Guthrum was neutralised as a threat.
Viking army, which had stayed at Fulham during the winter of
878–879, sailed for Ghent and was active on the continent from
Alfred 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 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
Pope Marinus. Among these gifts was reputed
to be a piece of the true cross, a great 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 in Kent, an allied kingdom in South
East England, during the year 885, which was 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 this incursion Alfred led an
Anglo-Saxon 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,
Asser claims that it was for the sake of plunder. After
travelling up the River Stour the fleet was met by Danish vessels that
numbered 13 or 16 (sources vary on the number) and a battle
Anglo-Saxon fleet emerged victorious and, as
Huntingdon accounts, "laden with spoils". The victorious fleet was
then caught unawares when attempting to leave the River Stour and was
attacked by a Danish force at the mouth of the river. The Danish fleet
defeated Alfred's fleet, which may have been weakened in the previous
A plaque in the
City of London
City of London noting the restoration of the Roman
walled city by Alfred.
A year later, in 886, Alfred reoccupied the city of London and set out
to make it habitable again. Alfred entrusted the city to the care
of his son-in-law Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia. The restoration of
London progressed through the latter half of the 880s 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
This is also the period in which almost all chroniclers agree that the
Saxon people of pre-unification
England submitted to Alfred. This
was not, however, the point at which Alfred came to be known as King
of England; in fact he would never adopt the title for himself.
Between the restoration of London and the resumption of large-scale
Danish attacks in the early 890s, Alfred's reign was rather
uneventful. The relative peace of the late 880s was marred by the
death of Alfred's sister, Æthelswith, en route to Rome in 888. In
the same year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelred, also died. One
year later Guthrum, or Athelstan by his baptismal name, Alfred's
former enemy and king of East Anglia, died and was buried in Hadleigh,
Map of Britain in 886
Guthrum's passing changed the political landscape for Alfred. The
resulting power vacuum stirred 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.
Viking attacks repelled (890s)
After another lull, in the autumn of 892 or 893, the Danes attacked
again. Finding their position in mainland Europe precarious, they
England in 330 ships in two divisions. They entrenched
themselves, the larger body, at Appledore, Kent, and the lesser under
Hastein, 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 eldest son,
Edward, and were defeated in a general engagement at
Surrey. They took refuge on an island at Thorney, on the River Colne
Buckinghamshire and Middlesex, where they were blockaded and
forced to give hostages and promise to leave Wessex. They then
Essex and, after suffering another defeat at Benfleet, joined
with Hastein's force at Shoebury.
Alfred had been on his way to relieve his son at Thorney when he heard
that the Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes were besieging
an unnamed stronghold on the North
Devon shore. Alfred at once hurried
westward and raised the
Siege of Exeter. The fate of the other place
is not recorded.
Meanwhile, the force under
Hastein set out to march up the Thames
Valley, possibly with the idea of assisting their friends in the west.
They were met by a large force under the three great ealdormen of
Somerset and, forced to head off to the
northwest, being finally overtaken and blockaded at Buttington. (Some
identify this with
Buttington Tump at the mouth of the River Wye,
Buttington near Welshpool.) An attempt to break through
the English lines was defeated. Those who escaped retreated to
Shoebury. After collecting reinforcements, they made a sudden dash
England and occupied the ruined Roman walls of Chester. The
English did not attempt a winter blockade but contented themselves
with destroying all the supplies in the district.
Early in 894 or 895 lack of food obliged the Danes to retire once more
to Essex. At the end of the year the Danes drew their ships up the
River Thames and the
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 near Bridgnorth. The next year, 896 (or
897), they gave up the struggle. Some retired to Northumbria, some to
East Anglia. Those who had no connections in
England withdrew back to
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great silver offering penny, 871–899. Legend: AELFRED REX
SAXONUM "Ælfred King of the Saxons".
The Germanic tribes who invaded Britain in the fifth and sixth
centuries relied upon the unarmoured infantry supplied by their tribal
levy, or fyrd, and it was upon this system that the military power of
the several kingdoms of early
England depended. The
fyrd was a local militia in the
Anglo-Saxon shire in which all freemen
had to serve; those who refused military service were subject to fines
or loss of their land. According to the law code of King Ine of
Wessex, issued in about 694:
If a nobleman who holds land neglects military service, he shall pay
120 shillings and forfeit his land; a nobleman who holds no land shall
pay 60 shillings; a commoner shall pay a fine of 30 shillings for
neglecting military service.
Wessex's history of failures preceding his success in 878 emphasised
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, advancing against their target and overcoming the
oncoming wall marshalled against them in defence.
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 to which they could retreat should their
raiders meet strong resistance.
These bases were prepared in advance, often by capturing an estate and
augmenting its defences with surrounding ditches, ramparts and
palisades. Once inside the fortification, Alfred realised, 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 the Anglo-Saxons marshalled forces to defend
against marauders also left them vulnerable to the Vikings. It was the
responsibility of the shire fyrd to deal with local raids. The king
could call up the national militia to defend the kingdom but, in the
case of the
Viking hit-and-run raids, problems with communication, and
raising supplies meant that the national militia could not be mustered
quickly enough. It was only after the raids were underway that a call
went out to landowners to gather their men for battle. Large regions
could be devastated before the fyrd could assemble and arrive. 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 capitalised on the relatively
peaceful years immediately following his victory at Edington by
focusing on an ambitious restructuring of his kingdom's military
defences. On a trip to Rome Alfred had stayed with Charles the Bald
and it is possible that he may have studied how the Carolingian kings
had dealt with the
Viking problem. Learning from their experiences he
was able to put together a system of taxation and defence for his own
kingdom. Also there had been a system of fortifications in pre-Viking
Mercia that may have been an influence. So when the
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.
Administration and taxation
England had a threefold obligation based on
their landholding: the so-called "common burdens" of military service,
fortress work, and bridge repair. This threefold obligation has
traditionally been called trinoda necessitas or trimoda
Old English name for the fine due for neglecting
military service was fierdwite.
To maintain the burhs, and to reorganise the fyrd as a standing army,
Alfred expanded the tax and conscription system based on the
productivity of a tenant's landholding. The "hide" was the basic unit
of the system on which the tenant's public obligations were assessed.
A "hide" is thought to represent the amount of land required to
support one family. The "hide" would differ in size according to the
value and resources of the land, and the landowner would have to
provide service based on how many "hides" he owned.
See also: Burghal Hidage
A map of burhs named in the Burghal Hidage.
At the centre of Alfred's reformed military defence system was the
network of burhs, distributed at strategic points throughout the
kingdom. There were thirty-three in total, spaced approximately 30
kilometres (19 miles) apart, enabling the military to confront attacks
anywhere in the kingdom within a single day.
Alfred's burhs (later termed boroughs) ranged from former Roman towns,
such as Winchester, where the stone walls were repaired and ditches
added, to massive earthen walls surrounded by wide ditches, probably
reinforced with wooden revetments and palisades, such as at Burpham,
Sussex. The size of the burhs ranged from tiny outposts such
as Pilton to large fortifications in established towns, the largest
being at Winchester.
A contemporary document now known as the
Burghal Hidage provides an
insight into how the system worked. It lists the "hidage" for each of
the fortified towns contained in the document. For example,
Wallingford had a "hidage" of 2400, which meant that the landowners
there were responsible for supplying and feeding 2,400 men, the number
sufficient for maintaining 9,900 feet (3.0 kilometres) of wall. A
total of 27,071 soldiers were needed system-wide, or approximately one
in four of all the free men in Wessex.
Many of the burhs were twin towns that straddled a river and were
connected by a fortified bridge, like those built by Charles the Bald
a generation before. The double-burh blocked passage on the river,
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. The burhs were also interconnected by a road system
maintained for army use (known as "herepaths"). These roads would
allow an army to be quickly assembled, sometimes from more than one
burh, to confront the
Viking invader. This network 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. The Vikings lacked both
the equipment necessary to undertake a siege against a 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 gave the king time to send his mobile field
army or garrisons from neighbouring burhs along the well-maintained
army roads. 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, the Anglo-Saxons
were able to limit their penetration to the outer frontiers of Wessex
Alfred's burghal system was revolutionary in its strategic conception
and potentially expensive in its execution. His contemporary
Asser wrote that many nobles balked at the new demands
placed upon them even though they were for "the common needs of the
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. Wessex had
possessed a royal fleet before this. King Athelstan of
Ealdorman Ealhhere had defeated a
Viking fleet in 851 capturing nine
ships, and Alfred himself had conducted naval actions in 882.
Nevertheless, 897 clearly marked an important development in the naval
power of Wessex. The author of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle related that
Alfred's ships were larger, 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, with high sides, designed for fighting rather than
Alfred had seapower in mind—if he could intercept raiding fleets
before they landed, he could spare his kingdom from being ravaged.
Alfred's ships may have been superior in conception. 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
The warships of the time were not designed to be ship killers but
rather troop carriers. It has been suggested that, like sea battles in
Viking age Scandinavia, these battles may have entailed a ship
coming alongside an enemy vessel, lashing the two ships together and
then boarding the enemy craft. The result was effectively a land
battle involving hand-to-hand fighting on board the two lashed
In the one recorded naval engagement in 896 Alfred's new fleet
of nine ships intercepted six
Viking ships at the mouth of an
unidentified river in the south of England. The Danes had beached half
their ships and gone inland. Alfred's ships immediately moved to block
their escape. 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 and proceeded to kill the Vikings. One ship escaped, because
Alfred's heavy ships became grounded when the tide went out. A
land battle ensued between the crews. The Danes were heavily
outnumbered, but as the tide rose they returned to their boats which,
with shallower drafts, were freed first. The English watched as the
Vikings rowed past them. But they had suffered so many casualties
(120 dead against 62 Frisians and English) that they had difficulty
putting out to sea. All were too damaged to row around Sussex and two
were driven against the Sussex coast (possibly at Selsey
Bill). The shipwrecked crew were brought before Alfred at
Winchester and hanged.
Main article: Doom book
A silver coin of Alfred.
In the late 880s or early 890s Alfred issued a long domboc or law code
consisting of his "own" laws, followed by a code issued by his late
seventh-century predecessor King Ine of Wessex. Together these
laws are arranged into 120 chapters. In his introduction Alfred
explains that he gathered together the laws he found in many
"synod-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, king of the Mercians, or King Æthelberht
Kent who first among the English people received baptism". 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.
Offa is not known to have issued a law code leading
Patrick Wormald to speculate that Alfred had in mind the
legatine capitulary of 786 that was presented to
Offa by two papal
About a fifth of the law code is taken up by Alfred's introduction
which includes translations into English of the Ten Commandments, a
few chapters from the Book of Exodus, and the "Apostolic Letter" from
Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles (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 linked the holy past to the historical present and represented
Alfred's law-giving as a type of divine legislation.
Similarly Alfred divided his code into 120 chapters because 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
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
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
was 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 domboc's 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 contradicted 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 have been 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
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
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
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, commissioned at the time of Alfred, was
probably written to promote unification of England, whereas
Asser's The Life of King Alfred promoted Alfred's achievements and
personal qualities. It was possible that the document was designed
this way so that it could be disseminated in Wales, as Alfred had
recently acquired overlordship of that country.
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 corresponded with Elias III, the Patriarch of
Jerusalem, and embassies to Rome conveying the English alms to the
Pope were fairly frequent.[f] Around 890 Wulfstan of Hedeby
undertook a journey from
Jutland along the
Baltic Sea to the
Prussian trading town of Truso. Alfred personally collected details of
Alfred's relations with the Celtic princes in the western half of
Britain are clearer. Comparatively early in his reign, according to
Asser, the southern Welsh princes, owing to the pressure on them from
North Wales and Mercia, commended themselves to Alfred. Later in his
reign the North Welsh 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
though mythical, may show Alfred's interest in that island.
Religion and culture
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great pictured in a stained glass window in the West
Window of the South Transept of Bristol Cathedral.
In the 880s, at the same time that he was "cajoling and threatening"
his nobles to build and man the burhs, Alfred, perhaps inspired by the
Charlemagne almost a century before, undertook an equally
ambitious effort to revive learning. During this time period the
Viking raids were often seen as a divine punishment and Alfred may
have wished to revive religious awe in order to appease God's
wrath. This revival 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, with a genealogy that stretched back to Adam, thus giving the
West Saxon kings a biblical ancestry.
Very little is known of the church under Alfred. The Danish attacks
had been particularly damaging to the monasteries. Although Alfred
founded monasteries at
Athelney and Shaftesbury, these were the first
new monastic houses in Wessex since the beginning of the eighth
century. According to Asser, Alfred enticed foreign monks to
England for his monastery at
Athelney as there was little interest for
the locals to take up the monastic life.
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
Pastoral Care 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 thegns and officials
who could better defend them against
Impact of Danish raids on education
The Danish raids had a devastating effect 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
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
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.
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
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
Establishment of a court school
Following the example of Charlemagne, 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 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
Advocacy of education in the English language
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.
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
Viking attacks. Alfred was, until recently, often
considered to have been the author of many of the translations but
this is now considered doubtful in almost all cases. Scholars more
often refer to translations as "Alfredian" indicating that they
probably had something to do with his patronage but are unlikely to be
his own work.
Apart from the lost Handboc or Encheiridio, 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. The translation was undertaken at Alfred's command by
Werferth, Bishop of Worcester, 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", St. Augustine's
Soliloquies and the first fifty psalms of the Psalter.
One might add to this list the translation, in Alfred's law code, of
excerpts from the
Vulgate Book of Exodus. The
Old English versions of
Orosius's Histories against the Pagans and Bede's Ecclesiastical
History of the English People 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 and
Michael Lapidge suggest this also for Bald's Leechbook and the
Old English Martyrology.
The preface of Alfred's translation of
Pope Gregory the Great's
Pastoral Care explained why he thought it necessary to translate works
such as this from
Latin into English. Although he described his method
as translating "sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense",
the translation actually keeps very close to the original although,
through his choice of language, he blurred throughout the distinction
between spiritual and secular authority. Alfred meant the translation
to be used, and circulated it to all his bishops. Interest in
Alfred's translation of
Pastoral Care was so enduring that copies were
still being made in the 11th century.
Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy was the most popular philosophical
handbook of the Middle Ages. Unlike the translation of the Pastoral
Care the Alfredian text deals very freely with the original and,
though the late Dr. G. Schepss showed that many of the additions to
the text are to be traced not to the translator himself but to
the glosses and commentaries which he used, still there is much in the
work which is distinctive to the translation and has been taken to
reflect philosophies of kingship in Alfred's milieu. It is in the
Boethius that the oft-quoted sentence occurs: "To speak briefly: I
desired 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.
The last of the Alfredian works is one which bears the name Blostman,
i.e. "Blooms" or Anthology. The first half is based mainly on the
Soliloquies of St Augustine of Hippo, the remainder is drawn from
various sources. The material has traditionally been thought to
contain 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 where his wisdom and skill with proverbs is
praised. The Proverbs of Alfred, a thirteenth-century work, contains
sayings that are not likely to have originated with Alfred but attest
to his posthumous medieval reputation for wisdom.
2A drawing of the Alfred Jewel.
The Alfred Jewel, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, commissioned by
The Alfred jewel, discovered in
Somerset 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 2 1⁄2 inches (6.4 centimetres) long, made of filigreed
gold, enclosing a highly polished piece of quartz crystal beneath
which is set in 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
mancuses 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
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
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
Appearance and character
Asser wrote of Alfred in his Life of King Alfred:
Now, he was greatly loved, more than all his brothers, by his father
and mother—indeed, by everybody—with a universal and profound
love, and he was always brought up in the royal court and nowhere
else. ... [He] was seen to be more comely in appearance than his other
brothers, and more pleasing in manner, speech and behaviour ... [and]
in spite of all the demands of the present life, it has been the
desire for wisdom, more than anything else, together with the nobility
of his birth, which have characterized the nature of his noble
It is also written by
Asser that Alfred did not learn to read until he
was twelve years old or later, which is described as "shameful
negligence" of his parents and tutors. Alfred was an excellent
listener and had an incredible memory and he retained poetry and
psalms very well. A story is told by
Asser about how his mother held
up a book of Saxon poetry to him and his brothers, and said; "I shall
give this book to whichever one of you can learn it the fastest."
After excitedly asking, "Will you really give this book to the one of
us who can understand it the soonest and recite it to you?" Alfred
then took it to his teacher, learned it, and recited it back to his
Alfred is also noted as carrying around a small book, probably a
medieval version of a small pocket notebook, which contained psalms
and many prayers that he often collected.
Asser writes: these "he
collected in a single book, as I have seen for myself; amid all the
affairs of the present life he took it around with him everywhere for
the sake of prayer, and was inseparable from it."
An excellent hunter in every branch of the sport, Alfred is remembered
as an enthusiastic huntsman against whom nobody’s skills could
Although he was the youngest of his brothers, he was probably the most
open-minded. He was an early advocate for education. His desire for
learning could have come from his early love of English poetry and
inability to read or physically record it until later in life. Asser
writes that Alfred "could not satisfy his craving for what he desired
the most, namely the liberal arts; for, as he used to say, there were
no good scholars in the entire kingdom of the West Saxons at that
In 868 Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of a Mercian nobleman,
Ealdorman of the Gaini. 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 who
succeeded his father as king;
Æthelflæd who became Lady (ruler) of
the Mercians in her own right; and Ælfthryth who married Baldwin II
the Count of Flanders. His mother was Osburga, daughter of Oslac of
the Isle of Wight, Chief
Butler of England. Asser, in his Vita
Ælfredi asserts that this shows his lineage from the
Jutes of the
Isle of Wight. This is unlikely as
Bede tells us that they were all
slaughtered by the Saxons under Cædwalla. In 2008 the skeleton of
Queen Eadgyth, granddaughter of
Alfred the Great
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
Osferth was described as a relative in King Alfred's will and he
attested charters in a high position until 934. A charter of King
Edward's reign described him as the king's brother, "mistakenly"
according to Keynes and Lapidge, but in the view of
Janet Nelson he
probably was an illegitimate son of King Alfred.
12 June 918
Married c 886,
Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians
Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians d. 911; had issue
17 July 924
Married (1) Ecgwynn, (2) Ælfflæd, (3) 919 Eadgifu
Abbess of Shaftesbury
16 October 922(?)
Married and had issue
Married Baldwin II d. 918; had issue
Ancestors of Alfred the Great
8. Ealhmund of Kent
4. Egbert of Wessex
Æthelwulf of Wessex
1. Alfred the Great
Source: Abels. Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in
Death, burial and fate of remains
Alfred died on 26 October 899. How he died is unknown, although
he suffered throughout his life with a painful and unpleasant illness.
Asser gave a detailed description of Alfred's symptoms
and this has allowed modern doctors to provide a possible diagnosis.
It is thought that he had either
Crohn's disease or haemorrhoidal
disease. His grandson King
Eadred seems to have suffered from
a similar illness.[g]
Alfred was originally buried temporarily in the Old Minster in
Winchester. Four years after his death he was moved to the New Minster
(perhaps built especially to receive his body). When the New Minster
moved to Hyde, a little north of the city, in 1110, the monks were
Hyde Abbey along with Alfred's body and those of his
wife and children, which were presumably interred before the high
altar. Soon after the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, during the
reign of Henry VIII, the church was demolished, leaving the graves
The royal graves and many others were probably rediscovered by chance
in 1788 when a prison was being constructed by convicts on the site.
Prisoners dug across the width of the altar area in order to dispose
of rubble left at the dissolution. Coffins were stripped of lead, and
bones were scattered and lost. The prison was demolished between 1846
and 1850. Further excavations in 1866 and 1897 were
inconclusive. In 1866 amateur antiquarian John Mellor
claimed to have recovered a number of bones from the site which he
said were those of Alfred. These later came into the possession of the
vicar of nearby St Bartholomew's Church who reburied them in an
unmarked grave in the church graveyard.
Excavations conducted by the
Winchester Museums Service of the Hyde
Abbey site in 1999 located a second pit dug in front of where the high
altar would have been located, which was identified as probably dating
to Mellor's 1886 excavation. The 1999 archeological excavation
uncovered the foundations of the abbey buildings and some bones. Bones
suggested at the time to be those of Alfred proved instead to belong
to an elderly woman.
In March 2013 the Diocese of
Winchester exhumed the bones from the
unmarked grave at St Bartholomew's and placed them in secure storage.
The diocese made no claim they were the bones of Alfred, but intended
to secure them for later analysis, and from the attentions of people
whose interest may have been sparked by the recent identification of
the remains of King Richard III. The bones were
radiocarbon-dated but the results showed that they were from the 1300s
and therefore unrelated to Alfred. In January 2014, a fragment of
pelvis unearthed in the 1999 excavation of the Hyde site, which had
subsequently lain in a
Winchester museum store room, was
radiocarbon-dated to the correct period. It has been suggested that
this bone may belong to either Alfred or his son Edward, but this
See also: Cultural depictions of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great at Wantage, Oxfordshire
Alfred is venerated as a saint by some Christian traditions, but
an attempt by Henry VI of
England in 1441 to have him canonized by the
pope was unsuccessful.[h] The
Anglican Communion venerates him as
a Christian hero, with a feast day or commemoration on 26 October, and
he may often be found depicted in stained glass in Church of England
Alfred commissioned Bishop
Asser to write his biography, which
inevitably emphasised Alfred's positive aspects. Later medieval
historians, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, also reinforced Alfred's
favourable image. By the time of the
Reformation Alfred was seen as
being a pious Christian ruler who promoted the use of English rather
than Latin, and so the translations that he commissioned were viewed
as untainted by the later Roman Catholic influences of the Normans.
Consequently, it was writers of the sixteenth century who gave Alfred
his epithet as 'the Great' rather than any of Alfred's
contemporaries. The epithet was retained by succeeding
generations of Parliamentarians and empire-builders who saw Alfred's
patriotism, success against barbarism, promotion of education and
establishment of the rule of law as supporting their own ideals.
A number of educational establishments are named in Alfred's honour.
The University of
Winchester created from the former 'King Alfred's
College, Winchester' (1928 to 2004).
Alfred University and
Alfred State College
Alfred State College in Alfred, New York. The
local telephone exchange for
Alfred University is 871 in commemoration
of Alfred's ascension to the throne.
In honour of Alfred, the
University of Liverpool
University of Liverpool created a King Alfred
Chair of English Literature.
18th century portrait of Alfred by Samuel Woodforde
King Alfred's Academy, a secondary school in Wantage, Oxfordshire, the
birthplace of Alfred.
King's Lodge School in Chippenham,
Wiltshire is so named because King
Alfred's hunting lodge is reputed to have stood on or near the site of
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,
Dorset [Now defunct after
King's College, Taunton, Somerset. (The king in question is King
King Alfred's house in Bishop Stopford's School at Enfield.
Saxonwold Primary School in Gauteng, South Africa names one of its
houses after King Alfred. The others being Bede, Caedmon, and Dunston.
Royal Navy has named one ship and two shore establishments HMS
King Alfred, and one of the first ships of the US Navy was named USS
Alfred in his honour. In 2002, Alfred was ranked number 14 in the
BBC's list of the
100 Greatest Britons
100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote.
Alfred University (New York)
One of the first items visible when entering the campus of Alfred
University is a bronze statue of the king, created in 1990 by William
Underhill. It features the king as a young man, holding a shield in
his left hand and an open book in his right.
Further information: Statue of Alfred the Great, Pewsey
A prominent statue of King
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great stands in the middle of
Pewsey. It was unveiled in June 1913 to commemorate the coronation of
King George V.
A statue of Alfred the Great, situated in the
Wantage market place,
was sculpted by Count Gleichen, a relative of Queen Victoria, and
unveiled on 14 July 1877 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The
statue was vandalised on
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve 2007, losing part of its right
arm and axe. After the arm and axe were replaced the statue was again
Christmas Eve 2008, losing its axe.
A bronze statue of
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great stands at the eastern end of The
Broadway, close to the site of Winchester's medieval East Gate. The
statue was designed by Hamo Thornycroft, and erected in 1899 to mark
one thousand years since Alfred's death. The statue is
placed on a pedestal consisting of two immense blocks of grey Cornish
A marble statue of
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great stands on the North side of the
Cuyahoga County Courthouse
Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio. It was sculpted by
Isidore Konti in 1910.
Cultural depictions of Alfred the Great
Old English pronunciation: [ælfreːd]
Old English pronunciation: [ælfræːd]
^ Alfred was the youngest of either four (Weir, Alison, Britain's
Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (1989), p.5) or five
brothers, the primary record conflicting regarding whether
Æthelstan of Wessex was a brother or uncle.
^ The inscription reads "ALFRED THE GREAT AD 879 on this Summit
Erected his Standard Against Danish Invaders To him We owe The Origin
of Juries The Establishment of a
Militia The Creation of a Naval Force
ALFRED The Light of a Benighted Age Was a Philosopher and a Christian
The Father of his People The Founder of the English MONARCHY and
LIBERTY" (Horspool 2006, pp. 73)
^ A "chrisom" was the face-cloth or piece of linen laid over a child's
head when he or she was baptised or christened. Originally the purpose
of the chrisom-cloth was to keep the "chrism", a consecrated oil, from
accidentally rubbing off.
^ Some versions of the "
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" reported that Alfred
sent a delegation to India, although this could just mean Asia as
other versions say "Iudea".(Abels 1998, pp. 190–92)
^ According to St Dunstan's apprentice "...poor King
Eadred would suck
the juice out of the food, chew what remained for a little while and
spit it out: a nasty practice that often turned the stomachs of the
thegns who dined with him."
^ Some Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Alfred should be
recognised as a saint. See Case for and Case against
^ Yorke 2001, pp. 27–28.
^ a b Crown staff 2011.
^ Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 853.
^ Wormald 2006.
^ Crofton 2006, p. 8.
Asser 866, paragraph 23.
^ a b Craig 1991, pp. 303–05.
^ Cornwell 2009, "Historical Note" (p. 385 and following).
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 16–17.
^ Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 868.
^ a b c d e f g Plummer 1911, p. 582.
^ a b Abels 1998, pp. 140–41.
^ Brooks & Graham-Campbell 1986, pp. 91–110.
^ Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 876.
^ Arnold 2011, p. 37.
^ Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 877.
^ a b Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 878.
^ Savage 1988, p. 101.
^ Lavelle 2010, pp. 187–91.
^ Nares 1859, p. 160.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, Ch. 56.
^ Horspool 2006, pp. 123–24.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, Ch. 60.
^ Abels 1998, p. 163.
^ Attenborough 1922, pp. 98–101, Treaty of Alfred and Gunthrum.
^ Blackburn 1998, pp. 105–24.
^ Pratt 2007, p. 94.
^ a b c Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 86.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 250–51.
^ Alfred 1969, p. 76.
Asser 1969, p. 78.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 88.
^ a b c Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 87.
^ Huntingdon 1969, p. 81.
^ Woodruff 1993, p. 86.
^ Keynes 1998, p. 24.
^ Keynes 1998, p. 23.
^ Pratt 2007, p. 106.
Asser 1969, p. 114.
^ Woodruff 1993, p. 89.
^ "A History of King Alfred The Great and the Danes". Local Histories.
Retrieved 5 September 2016.
^ a b Merkle 2009, p. 220.
^ a b Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 115–16, 286.
^ a b c d e f g h Plummer 1911, p. 583.
^ Preston, Wise & Werner 1956, p. 70.
^ Hollister 1962, pp. 59–60.
^ a b Attenborough 1922, pp. 52–53.
^ a b c Abels 1998, pp. 194–95.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 139, 152.
^ Cannon 1997, p. 398.
^ Abels 1998, p. 194.
^ a b c Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 14.
^ Lavelle 2010, p. 212
^ a b Lavelle 2010, pp. 70–73.
^ Lapidge 2001.
^ Pratt 2007, p. 95.
^ Hull 2006, p. xx.
^ Abels 1998, p. 203.
^ Welch 1992, p. 127.
^ Abels 1998, p. 304.
^ Bradshaw 1999, which is referenced in Hull 2006, p. xx
^ Hill & Rumble 1996, p. 5.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 204–07.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 198–202.
^ Lavelle 2003, p. 26.
^ Abels 1988, pp. 204, 304.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 287, 304.
^ Asser, translated by Keynes & Lapidge 1983
^ Abels 1998, p. 206.
^ a b c d e Savage 1988, p. 111.
^ Savage 1988, pp. 86–88.
^ Savage 1988, p. 97.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 305–07 Cf. the much more positive view of the
capabilities of these ships in Gifford & Gifford 2003,
^ Abels 1998, pp. 305–07.
^ a b c d Lavelle 2010, pp. 286–97.
^ Giles & Ingram 1996, Year 896.
^ Attenborough 1922, pp. 62–93.
^ "Alfred" Int. 49.9, trans. Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 164.
^ Wormald 2001, pp. 280–81.
^ Pratt 2007, p. 215.
^ Abels 1998, p. 248.
^ Wormald 2001, p. 417.
^ a b "Alfred" Intro, 49.7, trans. Keynes & Lapidge 1983,
^ Abels 1998, p. 250 cites "Alfred's Pastoral Care" ch. 28
^ Wormald 2001, p. 427.
^ "Alfred" 2, in Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 164.
Asser chap. 106, in Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 109
^ The charter is Sawyer 1445 and is printed in Whitelock 1996,
^ Asser, chap. 106, in Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 109–10.
^ a b Parker 2007, pp. 48–50.
Orosius & Hampson 1855, p. 16.
^ Studies in the Early History of
Shaftesbury Abbey. "King Alfred the
Shaftesbury Abbey". Simon Keynes.
Dorset County Council 1999
^ a b Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 28–29.
^ Gransden 1996, pp. 34–35.
^ Yorke 1995, p. 201.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 101–02.
^ Ranft 2012, pp. 78–79.
^ a b Sweet 1871, pp. 1–9.
^ Fleming 1985.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 125.
^ Abels 1998, p. 55.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 265–68.
^ Dumville 1992, p. 190.
^ Brooks 1984, pp. 172–73.
Asser chap. 75, in Keynes & Lapidge 1983 pp. 90–91. Cf.
Codicology of the court school of Charlemagne: Gospel book production,
illumination, and emphasised script (European university studies.
Series 28, History of art)
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 92–93.
^ Preface to Alfred's translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care
in Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 126
^ a b Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 125–26.
^ Janet M. Bately, 'Alfred as Author and Translator' in A Companion to
Alfred the Great, ed. by Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach
(Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 113–42, doi:10.1163/9789004283763_006.
^ a b Bately 1970, pp. 433–60; Bately 1990, pp. 45–78.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 33–34.
^ a b Plummer 1911, p. 584.
^ Paul 2015, MS Ii.2.4.
^ Schepss 1895, pp. 149–60.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 133.
^ MS Bodley 180, Oxford Bodleian Library
^ Cotton MS Otho A. vi. British Library.
^ Kiernan 1998, Alfred the Great's Burnt "Boethius".
^ Parker 2007, pp. 115–26.
^ Pratt 2007, pp. 189–91.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 203–06.
^ a b Abels 1998, pp. 219–57.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 124–45.
^ Sedgefield 1900, p. 35.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 74–75.
^ a b c d Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 75.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 77, 240–41.
Bristol University staff 2010.
^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, p. 322, n. 79.
^ Nelson 1999, pp. 60–62.
^ Abels 1998, pp. 46–52.
^ Blair 1977, p. 80.
^ Jackson 1992, p. 58.
^ Malmesbury 1904, p. 145.
^ Dunstan 1992, p. 248.
^ a b c
Winchester Museums Service 2009, Hyde Community Archaeology
^ a b The Church Monuments Society 2014.
^ Dodson 2004, p. 37.
^ a b Kennedy 2013.
^ Cohen 2013.
BBC staff 2014.
^ Keys 2014.
Saint Alfred the Great". CatholicSaints.info. Retrieved 13 January
^ Foot 2011, p. 231.
^ Horspool 2006, pp. 190–91.
^ a b Yorke 1999.
^ Daily Mail staff 2002.
^ Alfred University : About AU : Statue of King Alfred,
Alfred University, www.alfred.edu/glance/statue_of_king_alfred.cfm.
^ Pewsey.uk website: Village History
^ a b Townsend 2008.
^ David Ross, Statue of King
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great BritainExpress.
Retrieved 3 October 2017.
^ Visit Winchester: King Alfred the Great
^ Victorian Web:
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great - Sculpture by Sir W. Hamo
^ "Alfred the Great", Isidore Konti 1910". Sculpture Center. Retrieved
3 October 2017.
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the public domain: Plummer, Charles (1911). "Alfred the Great".
In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge
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medieval Britain. ISBN 978-0-7546-0957-5.
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.
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Bowyer and J. Nichols and sold by S. Baker (published 1773).
Alfred the Great
House of Wessex
Born: 849 Died: 26 October 899
King of Wessex
Edward the Elder
King of the Anglo-Saxons
Monarchs of Wessex
House of Wessex
Penda of Mercia
Alfred the Great
Edward the Elder
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