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HE who would put the "Great" into GREAT BRITAIN

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

to Anglo-Saxon.

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.


establishing the "GREAT" in GREAT BRITAIN - but 

even more so the original protagonist, and premier

example of the curious case of " being British"


Views: 148

Comment by Michael Grove on August 22, 2013 at 7:45

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.

Comment by Michael Grove on October 8, 2013 at 7:29



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.


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