King Alfred

BriefHistory

King Alfred

 

Alfred was born in Wantage a royal residence in 849. His father was King Ethelwulf and his mother was Osburga, Alfred was the youngest son with four brothers. At the age of five he was sent to Rome by himself with obvious attenders, and later on in childhood went again to Rome with his father, on return his father found he had been deposed by his son Ethelbald, Ethelwulf excepted this situation not wanting division with Viking raids.

 

As a child he won a prize of a volume of poetry when he was able to memorize it before his brothers and sister. The volume was given to him by his mother.

 

By 866, Alfred was second to his brother Ethelred after the passing of Ethelbald and Ethelbert. The two brothers worked together fighting side by side against the Vikings who had been a constant threat during his life. In 868, he married Ealhswith the daughter of an Ealderman of the Gain in Lindisfarne in Mercia. He was fighting with his brother in Mercia against the Vikings who were paid to leave Wessex alone, this lasted until 870 when the Vikings returned the following year 871 when nine battles were fought some were battles of victories Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs to defeat at Basing. Ethelred was slain at the Battle of Merton April, Alfred was crowned King soon after, although he was defeated twice once when he was not there and later the Battle of Wilton in May when peace was made which lasted for five years, unfortunately he did not build up a defence in this period, so in 876 when a new Danish leader emerged called Guthrum, Wessex was not prepared through Alfred’s slackness and so the Danes were able to penetrate Wessex and attack Wareham. Alfred did come to an agreement, with the exchange of hostages, but this whole thing was a feint as Guthrum murdered the hostages, then moved to Exeter. Alfred then besieged the town luckily a relief force in the form of a Danish fleet was virtually destroyed off Swanage by a great storm. Again Guthrum submitted but this time they withdrew to Mercia, north from Chippenham, where Alfred celebrated Christmas with his court, on the twelfth night/wassail night 878 celebrating with the Witan, was Guthrum attacked or was he invited by some of the Witan to become King of Wessex? Alfred escaped with his guards and attendants to hide at the Isle of Athelney in the Somerset levels, here Alfred gathered his strength and made it known that he was still around to the rest of Wessex, here he allegedly burnt the cakes left in his charge by a swineherds wife, maybe a parable of Alfred letting the Kingdom burn by doing nothing in the five years since the last Viking attacks.

After the spectacular victory by the Devonshire fyrd under Ealderman Odda over the Danes who had landed from Wales to attack Alfred from behind at the Countisbury Hill fort, East from what is now Lynemouth in March, this allowed Alfred to leave Athelney to meet the fyrds of Wiltshire, Somerset and part of Hampshire at the Ecgbert stone in Wiltshire where they left together from Iley oak near Longbridge Deverell on the morning of the Battle of Ethandun (Edington) Wiltshire where once again the Wessex army defeated Guthrum in a spectacular victory and had to submit from his stronghold of Chippenham which was under siege. Guthrum and 30 of his chief men were later baptized at the Church in Aller, Somerset in the faith of Englisc Orthodoxy, Alfred became Guthrum`s Godparent who took the name of Athelstan, this was concluded with twelve days of feasting at Wedmore, Somerset and later with the Wedmore treaty where the Danelaw was created, a line from London to the Mersey, along Watling Street where on the east of this the Danes governed themselves. Alfred reorganized the defence of Wessex by building and reorganizing existing towns into Burghs (defensive towns), being 20 miles (32 km) from each other, a days marching distance for a relief force, also local people could take refuge within them. This defence proved itself time and time again during the rest of his reign and very importantly the Kingdom became strong again because of this. The Danes tried to invade Wessex over the years, but Alfred and later with his son Edward who was to become Edward ‘the Elder’ were able to defeat them to the point in 897 when the Danes finally left mainly for Europe. In this time Alfred had a ship designed which was faster and bigger than the Viking Longship, which was effective in fighting the Danes at sea, this being the seed for the later Royal Navy both here and the USA. Burghs with their organization could also be taxed, as the Burgh would need a certain number of men to defend it, plus the same number who would work on the fields, these two forces rotated with each other, it was built on Hidage, the area of land needed to support a family, so the size of a Burgh depended on the number of hidages the land could support, this went on to Hundreds (hidages) a sub division of a Shire.

Alfred created a legal code, Mosaic Law, Celtic law and old Anglo-Saxon Heathen customs, for officials to act on these laws they needed to be able to read and write, because of the devastation brought by the Viking raids, so Alfred needed to rebuild churches and monasteries for learning and the spiritual need of the people which united Wessex. Alfred was a very religious and pious man who divided his time into two, one for administration of the Kingdom, whilst the other for spiritual matters of the church, he acquired the services of a Welsh bishop Asser who became Alfred’s autobiographer, also many others came over from Ireland and Europe to help Alfred in his quest to build up the church and government (we must remember the Celtic church is another name for the Orthodox church). He gave alms to Rome regularly and had contact with the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Alfred’s main aim was to secure Wessex and Englisc Mercia, taking back London from the Danes, having contact with Athelstan (formerly Guthrum) and the Welsh. Alfred started the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, translated Gregory ‘Pastoral Care’ and the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ by Beothus amongst other things. Alfred and Ealswith had five children, Ethelfleda, Edward ‘The Elder’, Athelgiva, Alfthryth and Athelward. Alfred passed away on the 26th October 899, age 50, he had suffered for most of his life with an unpleasant illness possibly Crohn’s disease, he was eventually reburied from the Minster at Winchester to Hyde Abbey, Winchester.
This was eventually lost after the desolution by Henry VIII when the Abbey was destroyed, but in the 90’s it was rediscovered by an archaeological dig which was looking for it, now we have the chancel of the Abbey created as a garden (under the care of Hyde Abbey friends), where three empty tombs were found (desecrated in the 18th century), they have now been covered each with a simple grave stone with a simple cross. Ealswith, the mother of England, Alfred, the founder of England and Edward ‘the Elder’, the creator of England.