Alfred the Great

Then, in the same year, passed from the world the magnanimous Alfred, king of the Saxons, unshakeable pillar of the people of the west, a man full of justice, active in war, learned in speech, and, above all, instructed in divine learning. His body rests in peace in the city of Winchester. Now say, reader,"O Christ our Redeemer, save his soul".

Of all the kings and queens who have ruled Great Britain, there is only one who bears the title "the Great" He was born in the kingdom of Wessex around 849 at a time when the Danes had overrun the kingdoms which are now eastern and middle England. In 871 the Danes turned towards Wessex in search of new conquests and Alfred's elder brother King Ethelred marched to meet them at Reading. Athelred insisted on completing lengthy prayers before giving battle so Alfred impatiently took charge and gathering his personal warband around him, charged forward and smashed into the Viking army. Alfred fought "like a wild boar" and although outnumbered was already beating the Danes off when his brother the King arrived to complete the route.

Later that same year Ethelred died and Alfred was crowned King. The Vikings returned with a huge army in 878 and after a surprise attack on the royal stronghold they overran the whole of Wessex and Alfred was forced into hiding on the Isle of Athelney on the Somerset marshes. From here he carried out a gorilla war against the Vikings and even, it is said spied on them himself while disguised as a wandering minstrel. Later that same year he secretly gathered together the levies of Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. He marched towards the Viking army at Chippenham and after a long day fighting the Saxons won a decisive victory at the battle of Edington. The remnants of the Viking army were pursued to Chippenham and forced to surrender. Alfred later retook London from another Viking army and re-fortified its old Roman walls. Alfred set about reorganising his forces and ordered the building of hundreds of "burhs" which were in effect fortified towns and originated what was to become the Royal Navy.

His successes are not confined to only military victories. Alfred extended the use of the English language, encouraged learning, stressed the importance of widespread literacy, courted intellectuals, wrote books and translated Latin. Alfred's legacy is that he laid down the foundations of what was to become the English nation. Under first his son and then his grandson the great ideal that he left to his people would become reality. For this he truly deserves his title "the Great".

"Alfred found learning dead and he restored it. Education neglected and he revived it. The laws powerless and he gave them force. The church debased and he raised it. The land ravaged by a fearful enemy from which he delivered it. Alfred’s name will live as long as mankind shall respect the past".

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