compassion, collaboration & cooperation iN transistion
King of the southern Anglo-Saxon
kingdom of Wessex and one of the
outstanding figures of English
history, as much for his social and
educational reforms as for his
military successes against the
Danes - HE is the only English
monarch known as 'the Great'.
King Alfred the Great oversees the building of a new Saxon burgh, whilst debating the writing of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles with monks. The new English Navy sits out to sea. Artist: Mark Taylor
Alfred was born in the town of Wantage
in Oxfordshire in 849, fourth or fifth
son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons.
Following the wishes of their father, the sons succeeded to the kingship in
turn. At a time when the country was under threat from Danish raids, this
was aimed at preventing a child inheriting the throne with the related problems
of weaknesses in leadership.
King Alfred's education as a child was important to his reign. He did not
have a formal education and learned to read and write only after he
became king in 871, but he did receive great instruction throughout his
life. At the age of four, Alfred went to see Pope Leo IV in Rome for
instruction. The Pope later adopted King Alfred as his spiritual son.
Most of the Pope's instruction to Alfred was concentrated on Christianity
and not the liberal arts.
This instruction was well suited for his future role as he would spend
most of his reign defending the Christian Anglo-Saxons.
In 870 AD the Danes attacked the only remaining independent kingdom of
the Anglo-Saxons - Wessex - whose forces were commanded by Alfred's
older brother, King Aethelred, and Alfred himself.
YOU will triumph in the end and your descendants will be rulers of all England
In 871 AD, Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in Berkshire.
The following year, he succeeded his brother as king. Despite his success
at Ashdown, the Danes continued to devastate Wessex and Alfred was
forced to withdraw to the Somerset marshes, where he continued guerrilla
warfare against his enemies. In 878 AD, he again defeated the Danes in the
Battle of Edington. They made peace and Guthrum, their king, was baptised
with Alfred as his sponsor. In 886 AD, Alfred negotiated a treaty with the
Danes. England was divided, with the north and the east (between the
Rivers Thames and Tees) declared to be Danish territory - later known as
the 'Danelaw'. Alfred therefore gained control of areas of West Mercia and
Kent which had been beyond the boundaries of Wessex.
Alfred built up the defences of his kingdom to ensure that it was not
threatened by the Danes again. He reorganised his army and built a series
of well-defended settlements across southern England. He also established
a navy for use against the Danish raiders who continued to harass the
As an administrator Alfred advocated justice and order and established
a code of laws and a reformed coinage. He had a strong belief in the
importance of education and learnt Latin in his late thirties. He then
arranged, and himself took part in, the translation of books from Latin
By the 890s, King Alfred's charters and coinage were referring to him as
'king of the English' - King Alfred the Great died on October 26, 899
and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester. He is the only English
monarch to be known as "the Great". He is well-deserving of this title.
He defeated the Danes and protected his people, but he also contributed
his ideas for better education and social order.
HE WAS the ONE person TRULY RESPONSIBLE for
establishing the "GREAT" in GREAT BRITAIN - but
even more so the original protagonist, and premier
example of - the curious case of " being British"
Add a Comment
© 2023 Created by Michael Grove. Powered by
The story of Good "Queen" Ethelfleda
Everyone knows of the Runcorn-Widnes railway bridge, but of the thousands who cross it, few will know that it is officially the “Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct”, because the LNWR when building the bridge discovered the foundations of her ninth century castle.
Ethelfleda’s name is also spelt Ethelflaed, Ethelfrida and Aelfred. This “Lady of the Mercians” was the daughter of Alfred the Great, of Wessex, sister of King Edwrad & wife of Ethelred, Earl of Mercia.
She was a formidable character in English history, with many Cheshire connections. Little is known about her personally, because of the shortage of documents written in the so-called “Dark Ages”, but also for another reason. Her brother, Edward the Elder, did not like his enemies to know he was dependant upon his sister to hold the North West for him.
His chroniclers therefore tended to ignore, or belittle HIS efforts - in no uncertain way than has been the case, throughout history, for the mediating influence of the feminine on the predominately patriarchal control of our masters.
Alfred the Great's grandson, Athelstan was the first king of all England. He reigned between 925 and 939 AD. A distinguished and courageous soldier, he pushed the boundaries of the kingdom to the furthest extent they had yet reached.
In 927 AD he took York from the Danes, and forced the submission
of Constantine, King of Scotland and of the northern kings. All five
of the Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute. He also
eliminated opposition in Cornwall. In 937 AD, at the Battle of
Brunanburh, Athelstan led a force drawn from Britain, and defeated
an invasion made by the king of Scotland, in alliance with the Welsh
and Danes, from Dublin.
A few pieces of very fine examples of Opus Anglicanum have survived,
including three pieces at Durham that had been placed in the coffin of
St Cuthbert, probably in the 930s, after being given by King
Athelstan; they were however made in Winchester between 909
and 916. These have been referred to as "works of breathtaking
brilliance and quality", including figures of saints, and important early
examples of the Winchester style, which were no doubt discussed by
both Alfred and Athelstan during their visits to Rome for meeting with
the Pope. Under Athelstan, law codes strengthened royal control over
his large kingdom; currency was regulated to control silver's weight
and to penalise fraudsters; buying and selling was largely confined to
the burhs, encouraging town life; and areas of settlement in the
Midlands and Danish towns were consolidated into shires. Overseas,
Athelstan built alliances by marrying off four of his half sisters to
various rulers in western Europe.
He was also a great collector of works of art and religious relics, which
he gave away to many of his followers and churches in order to gain
their support. He died in 939 AD at the height of his powers, and was
buried in Malmesbury Abbey. This was a fit burial place for him, as he
had been an ardent supporter and endower of the abbey.
Little is written of this man, who with the guidance of his grandfather
and an unbelievable depth and breadth of education - through strength
of will and negotiation, continued the work of his grandfather to
establish the code of legal civilisation which endures to this day.