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
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