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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Alfred The Great

Alfred the Great was born at Wantage, Berkshire, in 849 AD, the fifth son of the West Saxon King Ethelwulf.

His real name was Aelfred meaning "Elf Counsel." (The "Great" was bestowed upon him in the 17th century).

As a young boy, despite not being able to read, he seems to have been a child of singular attractiveness and promise. It is said he desired to own a particular manuscript of Anglo Saxon poems. Alfred managed to borrow it and he promptly gave the manuscript to someone else who read it to him. The young Prince had a natural retentive memory and he repeated the whole thing ad verbatim to his Mother, who gave him the book.

When Alfred learnt to read at the age of twelve, he fell in love with books. He learnt off by heart, the daily services of the church, Psalms and prayers.

Alfred spent most of his time wandering between his 29 burhs. He would spend a few days in each, the king and his retinue being fed and entertained by the locals.

Alfred was clean-shaven, barrel chinned, rather ordinary looking but with a kindly countenance. A weathered & tanned face, it was tanned by the smoke from the central hearths in the places he stayed-an early form of self-tanner.

Three of Alfred's brothers, Ethelbald, Ethelbert and Ethelred became King of Wessex before him but all died young leaving Alfred to become king in 871 AD.

As a king, Alfred gained a reputation as a patron of education. He ordered as an anti Viking strategy, that all Wessex youth should be taught to read in English and later in Latin. He believed this would make his subjects holy and wise and stop the Viking raids which were divine punishment for sin.

Throughout his reign Alfred attempted to encourage his people to live by the Word of God. To help with this he had many Churches and Monasteries, which had been destroyed by the Vikings, rebuilt and the Gospels and many Psalms translated from Latin into English.

Alfred promulgated the first laws in more than a century in England, and rewrote them in common speech. It was said that the king instilled throughout England such respect for the law that it was commonly said that in his day one might leave precious jewels hanging on a roadside bush & no one would venture to take them.

Alfred's laws were the first to make no distinction between the English and Welsh people.

Under the laws of Alfred anyone caught fighting in the presence of a bishop had to pay 100 shillings in compensation. The fine rose to 150 shillings if an archbishop was present.

Alfred was the first king of the Western Saxons to refer to himself as "King of the English."

King Alfred's statue at Winchester. Hamo Thornycroft's bronze statue erected in 1899.. By Odejea,


Alfred was the first Englishman to provide horses for his troops.

He was the only English ruler to resist Danish invasions successfully. Alfred's successes against the Vikings can be attributed to his revamped Army, the newly founded Navy and the fortified towns. He reorganized military service so that half the home guard were farming and the other half were in the field against invaders.

A keen scientist, in an Anglo Saxon sort of way, Alfred invented a Candle Clock, which was a candle that was marked to tell the time. He used it to divide his day into equal portions of royal duties, study and prayer and rest.

Doing a period of peace between 887-92, Alfred learnt Latin. He then set out with the help of scholars from Mercia to translate The Anglo-Saxon equivalent of best-sellers. They were the first prose to be written in old English, previously all literature had been written in Latin. These included. They included, Bede's History of the English People, Boethus' Consolation of Philosophy, and was working on Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care when he died.

Alfred died on October 26, 899. It is unclear what he died of but Crohn’s disease or hemorrhoids seem the most likely.

He was buried, with his wife and son, in a Winchester monastery that was closed during the Reformation. Alfred's resting-place remains a mystery but his bones are believed to have been moved as much as four times since he died. In 2014 a pelvic bone was found that may have been his.

The legend of King Alfred burning a villager’s cakes when in disguise dates only from the 12th century, some 300 years after he lived.

A Victorian portrayal of the 12th-century legend of Alfred burning the cakes

Source Daily Express

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