Alfred the Great (also Ælfred from Old English) (849? – 26 October 899) was Wessex's king from 871 to 899. Alfred is known for his readiness to make this southward Anglesaxish kingdom strong against its foes, most the Danish Vikings, becoming the only English king to be known by the name, "the Great" (although not English, Canute the Great was an other English king given this name by the Danes.) Alfred was the first West Saxon king to name himself "King of the Anglesaxish". His lifetale is told in a work by the learned Welshman, Asser. A learned man himself, Alfred fostered learning and knowhood and honed the kingdom's law framework.
In 2002, Alfred was named in a(or ) as the fourteenth greatest Briton of alltime.
Childhood[edit | edit source]
Alfred was born sometime between 847 and 849 at Wantage. He was Wessex's King Aethelwulf's fifth and youngest son, by his Jutish first wife Osburga. In 868, Alfred wed Ealhswith, Ethelred Mucill's daughter.
At age five, Alfred is said to have gone to Rome with his father, where the Anglesaxish Tales tell that he was welcomed into the church's fullness, and blessed as a king-to-be by his godfather Pope Leo IV. Some Victorian writers have taken this as a betokening step in readiness for his rise one day to the Wessex's kingship. However, this step could not have been foreseen at the time, since Alfred had three living elder brothers. A Leo IV errandwrit shows that Alfred was given highnesslike righthood and, maybe this step's misreading, wilful or otherwise, could shed light on more late misunderstanding. It may also be staddled on Alfred's more late afaring, together with his father, to Rome and his spending some time at the Frankish king, Charles the Bald's kinghall sometime in 854-855. On their turning back from Rome in 856, Ethelwulf learned that his son Ethelbald had taken the kingship from him. Ethelwulf left for Kent and there stayed till his death in 858. Wessex became under kingships headed by Alfred's three brothers one after the other.
Asser tells how as a child Alfred won an Anglesaxish scopcraft book, given to him by his mother as the first of her children to know it by heart. This tale may be true, or it may be a folktale put forth to show the young Alfred's lust for learning.
Under Ethelred[edit | edit source]
Throughout his two elder brothers', Ethelbald and Ethelbert, short kingships, little is known about Alfred. However, with his third brother Ethelred I's coming to the throne in 1866, Alfred's life steeped in rank and high standing truly began. It is in this time that Asser gives to him the name 'secundarius', which may be to show a ranking somewhat akin to that held by the Celtish tanist, one acknowledged as next in line to kingship. It may be that this set-up was given the Witan's blessing, to stave off the threat of infighting for the kingship should Ethelred fall in war. Crowning an atheling and war leader as next in line to the kingship is also well known among Germanish kindreds, such as the Swedes and Franks, with whom the Anglesaxish had near ties.
In 868, Alfred, fighting beside his brother Ethelred, could not stop Danish thrusts into the neighboring kingdom, Mercia. For near to two years, Wessex itself was free from Viking strikes, for Alfred paid the Vikings a heavy frithgeld to leave him all one. However, at 870's end, the Danes struck out at his homeland. The next year, 871, saw Alfred locked in fighting with his old foe. Nine times fierce fighting broke out between Alfred's men and the Danes, with both good and bad outcomes for the men from Wessex. All but two warfields and times are known. In Berkshire, a short but winning clash at Englefield, on 31 December 870, was followed by a bloodish setback at the Reading's besetting, on 5 January 871, and then, four days more late, an outstanding win in fighting at Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs, by hap near to Compton or Aldworth. Alfred, more than most others, is acknowledged for bringing about the highly good outcome in this latter fighting. However, more late that month, on the 22nd of January, the English were once more overcome in fighting at Basing and, again, on the following 22 March at 'Merton' (by hap Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset).
King at war[edit | edit source]
In April 871, upon King Ethelred's death, and given that Ethelred left two young sons, Alfred became Wessex's king. With it, Alfred was bequeathed the heavy burden: a still forthgoing war. Although unrest at that time meant that Alfred on becoming king — a man warsmart with strong and rich backers — rather than his brother's sons went smooth without infighting, he yet had to withkeep their landownership right from threat. While he was away, busy with the undertakings for his brother's burying, the Danes overcame the English at an unnamed warfield, and then again under his leadership at Wilton in May. Following this, there was a halt in fighting and, for the next five years, the Danes took over other landshares in England. However, in 876, under their new leader, Guthrum, they stole past the English warband and struck at Wareham in Dorset. From there, early in 877, while moots, seeking to bring about frithfulness were going on, they moved westward and overtook Exeter in Devon. There, Alfred beset them and, with an other fleet sent to help them having been blown asunder by a storm, the Danes had to yield to Alfred's fighters. They withdrew to Mercia, but, in January 878, made a strike without warning upon Chippenham, a stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over Yuletide,
"and most folk they put to the sword, aside from the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and by wetlands, and after Easter he built a stronghold at Athelney, and from that stronghold kept up the fighting against the foe" (Anglo-Saxon Tales).
It has been said that the Yuletide strike may have been the first step along the path to uprising within the Witan, with the thought of brooking Guthrum's warband to keep sway after the overtaking.
A well known folktale tells how, when he first fled to the Somerset Flats, Alfred was taken in by a woman, a churl, who, unaware who he was, left him to watch some cakes which she had left baking in the oven. Beset by his kingdom's dane-bane, Alfred, by hap, let the cakes burn and was scolded bitterly by the woman upon her coming at home. When it dawned upon her that Alfred was the king, the woman chided herself, but Alfred said, forbearingly, that he was the one who needed to be sorry. From his stronghold at Athelney, a somewhat marshy island near to North Petherton, Alfred's warband was strong enough to hold back and harry his foes, while at the same time, bringing together the warbands of the nearby folkwards of Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire
An other tale tells how Alfred dressed himself up as a folksinger or gleeman so as to get into Guthrum's camp to learn about his next steps. This, it is thought, led to the fighting at Edington, near to Westbury in Wiltshire. The outcome was an overwhelming win for Alfred. The Danes yielded and, from Asser's writings, we learn that Guthrum, and his leaders, twenty nine in all, underwent christening when they underwrote the Wedmore Frithdeed. As an aftermath, England became broken in two: the southwestern half was kept by the Saxons, and the northeastern half with London, thence known as the Danelaw, was kept by the Vikings. By the next year (879), both Wessex and Mercia, to Watling Street's west, were Danish threat free.
For the next few years, there was a halt in fighting, with the Danes being kept busy in Europe. A landing in Kent in 884 or 885 near to Plucks Gutter, though easily driven back, gave heart to the East Anglian Danes to rise up. The steps taken by Alfred to quell this uprising came to a head with London being overtaken by his fighters in 885 or 886, and an understanding being reached between Alfred and Guthrum, known as the Alfred and Guthrum's Frithdeed. Once more, for a time, the fighting stopped, but in the 892 or 893's fall, the Danes struck again. Finding their life in Europe somewhat unsteadish, they moved over to England in 330 ships in two bands. They set themselves up, the greater body at Appledore, Kent, and the lesser, under Haesten, at Milton also in Kent. The Danes this time brought their wives and children with them, thoughly a meaningful step toward taking over and settling the land. Alfred, in 893 or 894, took up ground from whence he could see both the Danish settlings. While he was in moots with Haesten, the Danes at Appledore broke out and struck northwestward. They were overtaken by Alfred's eldest son, Edward, and were overcome in wholesale fighting at Farnham in Surrey. Bound to seek haven on an island in the Hertfordshire Colne, they were hemmed in and in the end made to yield. The fighters fell back on Essex and, after undergoing the hardships brought by an other loss at Benfleet, banded together with Haesten's fighters at Shoebury. Alfred had been on the way to help his son at Thorney when he heard that the Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes were threatening Exeter and an unnamed stronghold on the North Devon seaboard. Alfred, at once, set forth westward, halting the Viking threat to Exeter. The other stronghold and its folk's lot is not known. Midwhile, the band under Haesten set out and headed along the Thames Dale, by hap hoping to help their kinfolk in the west. But they were met by warbands, thousands strong, led by Mercia, Wiltshire and Somerset's three great aldermen, and made to flee to the northwest, being in the end overtaken and holed up at Buttington. Some think that this to be Buttington Tump or Knap at the Wye Ea's mouth, others Buttington near to Welshpool. A strike to break through English fighting lines was pushed back. Those who got away from Buttington fled to Shoebury. Then, after gathering together more fighters, they made their way hastily across England and took over the falling down, sometime Romish walled town, Chester. The English did not dare to overcome them there in winter, but went about stopping them from gathering food and wares, from the neighborhood. Early in 894 (or 895), with food short, the Danes pull back once more to Essex. At the year's end and early in 895 (or 896), the Danes drew their ships up the Thames and Lea and built a stronghold some twenty miles to London's north. A head on strike upon the Danish lines broke down, but more late in the year, Alfred saw a means of hindering Danish ships brooking the Thames. It quickly dawned on the Danes that they had been outwitted. They struck out northwestward and wintered at Bridgenorth. The next year, 896 (or 897), they allayed the fight. Some went to Northumbria, others to East Anglia. Those who had no ties in England withdrew to Europe. The bitter fighting, through long and bloodish years, was over.
New ways[edit | edit source]
After withstanding the Danish threat, Alfred put his mind to the building of a bigger and stronger fleet, partly to quell the strikes against, and the laying in shend of towns along Wessex' shores by Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes, and to halt others from landing bent on takeover. This is not, as often said, the English fleet's beginning. There had been an more early fight at sea under Alfred, and there was one fought under Æþelwulf in 851, and more early ones, in about 833 and 840. The Anglo-saxon Tales, however, does acknowledge Alfred with building a new kind of ship, built following his thoughts, outlines and draft and said to be, "swifter, steadier and also faster than the others." However, these new ships do not seem to have been a great step forward, for we hear of them grounding in fighting and sinking in a storm. Nevertheless, Alfred is looked upon as the father of both the British, and Ameriksland Fleets.
Alfred's halved "The Fyrd", his main warbody, "so that there was always half at home and half out" (Anglosaxon Tales). The work needed for setting up and running a warready, mainstrong warband in two shifts, with one feeding the other, must have been truly great. The manifold makeup which Alfred's kingdom had reached by 892 is shown in a fairly trustworthy deed which sets out stewards, such as a thesaurius, cellararius and pincerna — wealthsteward, foodkeeper and butler. Notwithstanding the anger and irk which Alfred must have felt in 893, when one fighting band, which had "fulfilled their callup (stemn)", allayed besetting a Viking Danish band straight as Alfred was moving in to take over from them, though this setup seems to have worked quite well on the whole. One weakness before Alfred's kingship in warding off threats from foes had been the want of a standing fyrd, strongholds were mostly left unmanned, making it very easy for the Vikings to quickly take up gainful steads from which to make war against the kingdom. Alfred greatly raised the awareness of the need to be ready for war, by building strengthened boroughs throughout Wessex.
Through the careful steps undertaken while digging at least four of these steads (at Wareham, Cricklade, Lydford and Wallingford), it has been shown every time that the earth and stone mounds of Alfred's boroughs, found by the diggers, were the town's firstline against threat from foe. The things that had to be done for their upkeep, and for warding off foes from these and many other boroughs, with full-time fighting bands needed, are further set out in written deeds, yet with us today, and in deeds about the day-to-day running known as the Burghal Hidage. Going back to a time, at least, within twenty years before Alfred's death, if not indeed from his kingship time, it almost truly casts us back to the time of Alfred's kingship and his folkdom running ways. When looking at the deeds, side by side, of the town layouts for the towns Wallingford and Wareham with that of Winchester, it shows that their layouts were the same, thus giving truth to the belief that these new settled boroughs were also built as living and ware-buying and selling naves (hearts), as well as a haven from fear and threat when harrying and harm was at hand.
Thereafter, the English dwellers and its wealth were drawn into such towns where there was great more freehood from Danish Viking threat, but also easimore for geldraising by the King. Alfred is thus acknowledged with taking meaningful steps toward putting the folkdom on a new path, above all, in those shires harried by the Danes. Even if one does not believe that Alfred was the main strength behind shaping the "Burghal Hidage", what is true is that, in the towns and hamlets in Mercia overthrown by Alfred from the Vikings, the shire setup seems now to have been brought into being for the first time. This is most like what gave rise to the belief that Alfred was the founder, or shaper, of shires, hundreds and tithings. Alfred's care for the law and the smooth running of the kingdoom is shown both in writings and in folklore; and he is held dear under the name "Keeper of the Needish". Of the undertakings of the Witangemot, we do not hear much under Alfred. He was always sharply aware of, and willing to acknowledge its rightness, but both the haps of the time and his strength of mind would have thrown the might of the folkdoom into his hands. The lawmaking of Alfred most like belongs to the more late days of his kingship, after the worry and strain of Viking threats had lessened. He also gave much time and thought to the handling of kingdoms' wealth, though almost nothing is known of his work in this field.
Law: Alfred’s Dooms Book[edit | edit source]
Alfred's most abiding work was his Book of Laws sometimes called Deemings, or Book of Dooms. Sir Winston Churchill believed that Alfred blended the Law of Moses; Celtish Law, and old laws of the Anglesaxish before they became followers of Christ. And lately, Dr. F.N. Lee has looked at the side by side kinship between Alfred’s laws and Laws of Moses. Earlier, Thomas Jefferson reached the belief after looking back through the eretide of English everyday law: "The folk law came into being long before the Anglesaxish became followers of Christ, at a time when they had not yet heard his name or even knew that such a man as Christ had lived".
Dealings with other lands[edit | edit source]
Asser speaks most highly of Alfred's dealings with leaders of other lands, but little hard and fast knowledge is readily at hand. His yearning to learn about overseas lands is strong, shown by the insets he put in his Anglo-Saxon overbringing of Orosius' work. Also known is a body of writings between Alfred and Elias III, Jerusalem's Patriarch and, indeed, it is most like that stewards were sent by Alfred to India. His dealings reached as far as Baghdad. and its Holy Leader. Further, the sending of alms bearers to Rome to meet with the Holy Father were often undertaken. Around 890, Wulfstan of Haithabu undertook a wayfaring from Haithabu on Jutland along the Baltish Sea to the Prussian goodsmongering town of Truso. Alfred earnestly sought feedback from him of knowledge gained during his time in these northward and eastward lands of Europe.
Much more is known of Alfred's dealings with the Celtish athelings in the western half of Britain. Almost from the start of his kingship, writes Asser, the southern Welsh athelings, fearing being overthrown by foes from North Wales and Mercia, took the time to make themselves well known to Alfred. Later the North Welsh kingship followed their lead, and the latter dealed with the English in the driving out of the Danes in 893 (or 894). That Alfred sent alms to Irish as well as to minsters or monkhouses in Europe may be taken to be true on Asser's say-so. The tale of the calling upon of Alfred by the three holy wayfarers "Scots" (they were Irish) in 891 can also be held to be true. The tale that he himself in his childhood was sent to Ireland to be healed by the Holyman Modwenna, though steeped in the dim mists of folklore, may show Alfred's keenness to know more about that island.
Mindtill, Learning, the Church[edit | edit source]
Truly little is known of the church under Alfred. The Danish raids had been ever boonless, leaving fallen and forsaken many minsters, and though Alfred set up two or three new minsters and drew monks from overseas to England, monkhoodship did not quicken greatly during his kingship. The Danish raids also had a harmful bearing on learning, with the slayings of monks, leading to Latin's waning among churchmen: the foreword to Alfred's overbringing of Pope Gregory 1's "Care of Souls" (Pastoral Care) into Old English bears a wonderfully written, if not even handed, witness to this.
Alfred set up a house of learning, following the way of Charlemagne. To this end, he brought men like Grimbald and John the Saxon from Europe and Asser from South Wales. Not only did the King see to his own learning, he also made a set of overbringings for the teaching of churchmen and the wider folkhoard, most of these writings are still are with us today. These belong to the latemore time of his kingship most like to the last four years, of which the Anglo-Saxon tales have little to say. Beside the lost "Handbook" (Encheiridion,) which seems to have been nothing more than a book on everyday things kept by the king, the earliest work to be put into Old English was the (Dialogues) Talks of Gregory, a book greatly liked by many in the Middle Eldth. Although this was not undertaken by Alfred, the overbringing being done by his good friend Werferth, Bishop of Worcester, the king only writing a foreword. The next work to be undertaken was Gregory's "Care of Souls," (Pastoral Care) in the main for the good of, and to help teachers in the churchwicks. In this, Alfred stays almost wholly true to Gregory's writing; but the inlead is one of the most mindawakening writings of the kingship, or indeed of English eretide. The next two works taken in hand were eretide books, the "Allworld Eretide by Orosius" and Bede's "Church Eretide of the English". The bookcraft's rightness to firstness should be given to the Orosius, but this has given rise to much talk and thought. In the Orosius, Alfred, by leaving out some things and putting in many others, almost makes Orosius' first writing a new work; in Bede's work, the writer’s writing is followed almost to it fullness, although some less pithy and unenthralling things are left out. Of late, some have wondered, indeed are wavering in their belief whether Alfred truly is the overbringer of Bede's work. But for the wonderers, as yet their qualms can not be found to be so.
Alfred's overbringing into the Anglo-Saxon tongue of the wisdomseeking work “The Soothing of the One True Goodness“ or in Nowtide English “The Consolation of Philosophy” by Boethius’ was the most read handbook of its kind in the Middle Eldth. Here again Alfred deals very freely with Boethius’ writing and though the late Dr. G. Schepss showed that many of the things later found in the writing go back not to Alfred himself, but were taken from the other books and sets of writing to spell out or unlock meanings in Boethius' work, still there is much in the handbook which is wholly Alfred's and bears witness to his great mind. It is in this handbook that Alfred’s says: "My will was to live worthily as long as I lived, and after my life to leave to them that should come after, thoughts of me in good works." The book has come down to us in two handwritten deeds only. In one of these, the writing is free flowing or unscopish, in the other, some is free flowing and some first-same-stave verse. The latter handwritten work was badly burnt in the 18th and 19th hundreds, and on whether Alfred was the verse’s writer there has been much mooting and offset thought; but probable it also is by Alfred. Indeed, he says in the foreleaf that he first wrote the work in freeflow, and then brooked it as the framework for his "Leeths of Boethius," his bookcraft masterwork. He spent a great deal of time working on these books, which he tells us he little by little wrote through the many mindharrowing times of his kingship to freshen his mind. Of the crafting of the work as a whole there has never been any waverings as to Arthur's nibship.
Alfred's last work is one to which he gave the name Blostman, that is, in Nowtide English: Anthology. The first half is found muchly upon Saint Augustine of Hippo's Selftalks, the other half is drawn from sundry works, and has much that is Alfred's own and is so much so him. Its last words may be brought to mind; for they make a fitting tombstone tale for the most highminded English king. "Therefore he seems to me a truly unwise man, and truly wretched, who will not further his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made free from misunderstanding."
The "Saxon Tales" and "Saxon Martyrs" of which there are now only few screeds left, are believed to be Alfred's brainchilds. An unscopish writing of the first fifty Psalms has also deemed to be his work; and, though not beyond dwere, is very probable to be so. Also Alfred comes back to us through time in the film 'The Owl and the Nightingale,' where his wisdom and skill with folksayings is witnessed. Further, 'The Saws of Alfred,' which we still have with us today in a thirteenth hundreds' handwritten deed has sayings that very most likely have their beginnings, at least, in some way with the king.
"The Alfred Gem", or in Nowtide English, "The Alfred Jewel", found in Somerset in 1693, has long been thought to have belonged to Alfred for the Old English writing on it "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN" (Alfred Had Me Made.) Some think that it is a reading rod, though its brookness is unknown, but it does come from the days of Alfred's kingship, and is maybe but one of many that were around at that time. The writing does nothing to help us lay out the riddle of whose likeness is on it, long believed by many to be that of God or Christ.
Alfred has Eastern Church sainthood and is upon as a great of the Anglish Church, with a holy day of 26 October, and may often be found shown in hued-glass windows in the Anglish churches. Also, Alfred Higher Learning Hall was named after him; his likeness, carved in stone, is in the middle of its grounds.
Kindred[edit | edit source]
In 868, Alfred became wed to Ealhswith, daughter of Ealdorman, the Gaini (who is also known as Aethelred Mucill), who was from the Gainsborough landbit in Lincolnshire. She seems to have been the granddaughter on his mother's side of a King of Mercia. They had five or six children together, among them Edward the Elder, who followed his father as king, Ethelfleda, who would become Queen of Mercia in her own right, and Ælfthryth who wed Baldwin II the Earl of Flanders. His mother was Osburga daughter of Oslac of the Islet of Wight, Head Butler of England. Asser, in his Vita Alfredi holds firmly to the belief that this shows his bloodline from the Jutes of the Islet of Wight. This is unlikely as Bede tells us that they were all slaughtered by the Saxon under Caedwalla. However in a wending way, Alfred could still follow his bloodline back through the House of Wessex itself, from the Kentish King Wihtredof, whose mother was the sister of the last Island King, Arwald.
|Eþelfleda||918||Wed 889, Eald of Mercia d 910; had offspring.|
|Edward||870||17 July 924||Wed (1) Ecgwynn, (2) Ælfflæd, (3) 919 Edgiva|
|Æþelgiva||Abbess of Shaftesbury|
|Ælfþryþ||929||Wed Baldwin, Earl of Flanders; had offspring|
|Æþelwærd||16 October 922||-|
Death, Burying and Bequest[edit | edit source]
Alfred died on 26 October. The year may not have been 901 as set out in the Anglo-Saxon Tales. How he died is unknown, although it is believed that he put up, throughout his life, with bodily woe and a wretched illness- most likely Crohn's Sickness, which seems to have been handed down to his grandson king Edred. He was buried firstly in the Old Minster at Winchester, then his body was shifted to the New Minster (maybe built mainly to house his body). When the New Minster was built at Hyde, a little north of the town, in 1110, the monks also went there along with Alfred's body. His grave was seemingly unearthed during the building of a new lagstead in 1788 and the bones strewn and lost. However, bones found at a stead nearby in the 1860s were also said to be Alfred's and later buried in Hyde churchyard. Further diggings in 1999 gave up what is believed to be his buriels, that of his wife Eahlswith, and that of their son Edward the Elder but almost hardly any bones.
Alfred Stone-Likeness - Wantage[edit | edit source]
The marmstone carving off Alfred the Great, at the Wantage's cheapstowe, was carved by Earl Gleichen, a bysib off Queen Victoria, and first shown to the world on 14 July 1877 by the Atheling and Lady Atheling off Wales, who more late became Edward VII and his wife. The marmstone carving was needloose broken on New Year's Eve 2007, losing some off its right arm.