Wantage, England„THE GREAT‟ King Alfred of Wessex Jessica Atkins ENG 122
It is unmistakable that Alfred was “great.” Russ Foster observed, “At his death Wessex, which now included London, was twice as large as the kingdom he had inherited” (2). It is assumed when a king is called “great” is because he has enormous strength. What kind of strength is observed for a king that dreamed of uniting all English speaking citizens into one kingdom while he created a larger one? Alfred‟s ideas for Wessex were radical for his era because of the Viking raids in Great Britain. Alfred‟s obvious strength was his brutal military. This is a common judgment for a “great king.” However, Alfred‟s intelligence persevered, which is Alfred‟s trueA rare High Medieval image of Alfred, 13th century strength that titled him “great.”
WHO WAS ALFRED „THE GREAT‟? Alfred „The Great‟ was born in 849 and was the fifth son to KingAethelwulf. King Aethelwulf created a rotation of kingship amongst his sons.The British Monarchy comments, “At their fathers behest and by mutualagreement, Alfreds elder brothers succeeded to the kingship in turn, ratherthan endanger the kingdom by passing it to under-age children” (BritishMonarchy). Alfred‟s older brother King Aethelred dies from battle woundsseveral days after the battle of Ashdown, and at the age of 21 Alfred becomesking of Wessex. Alfred rules for 19 years until his death in 899. King Alfred had a dream of uniting all English speaking citizens intoone kingdom. Alfred had to overcome his sinful indulgences once he wascrowned King while maintaining his authority over his lords. During hisreign, he was constantly threatened by Vikings plundering his lands andstealing from the Church and Saxon citizens. Alfred was forced to waragainst the Vikings making his dream of uniting all English speaking countriesseemingly out of reach, and his endeavors created the ground work of themaking of England making him Alfred „The Great.‟
Battle at Ashdown 871Wessex had an undeniable strong military thatwould eventually secure Wessex from the DanishVikings. King Alfred was not a stranger to theVikings before his kingship. Alfred‟s experiencewith battle against the Vikings was before his reign. Wessex VikingsOne of the most important battles Alfred had partin was at Ashdown in 871. The Vikings had thehigh ground of the hill, while the Saxons had toclimb uphill during the battle. During this battle,Alfred‟s brother Ethelred was still king. KingEthelred put Alfred as the commander of thearmy. While Ethelred was in prayer at the site ofAshdown Alfred had to make a decision whetherto somehow suspend the Vikings threat orprogress the army in an uphill battle until Ethelredhad finished his prayers. The Vikings descendeddownhill and made the decision for Alfred, he hadto advance his army to attack. Asser recalls,“There fell in that battle king Bagsac, earl Sidracthe elder, and earl Sidrac the younger, earl Osborn,earl Frene, and earl Harold; and the whole paganarmy pursued its flight, not only until night butuntil the next day, even until they reached thestronghold from which they had sallied” (Asser). By Richard Doyle www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/doyle/2.html
GUTHRUM ASSAULTS WESSEX In the winter of 878 was a test of Alfred‟s strength. Guthrum, a Danish Viking, brought his army to Wiltshire where Alfred assembled his witan for a Christmas celebration. Guthrum attacked at night and seized Wiltshire, making Alfred an outlaw and drove him to the marches of Athelney. The Saxon citizens either surrendered or escaped. Alfred needed a new tactic to gain Wessex back under his control. While he was in the marshes in Athelney he had constructed a “fortified base” and assessed his allies (British Monarchy). Ealdorman Aethelnoth of Somerset, men from Wiltshire and Hampshire were still his allies. Alfred created a guerilla type resistance and gathered around 4,000 troops to his aid. In May of 878, Alfred gathered his allied troops in Edington at Egberts Stone and fought Guthrum. Asser, in his biography of King Alfred stated, “Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory, made great slaughter among them, and pursued them to their fortress[…] After fourteen days the pagans were brought to the extreme depths of despair by hunger, cold and fear, and they sought peace” (Asser). The Saxons were victorious and Alfred regained control of his kingdom. The victory at Edington was a turning point for Wessex. Guthrum surrendered and had a Christian baptism, making Alfred his Godfather. Alfred gave Guthrum the kingdom of East Anglia. According to Dr. Nye, a History professor at Front Range Community College, Alfred gave Guthrum East Anglia because Alfred did not have the capacity to govern East Anglia. This created the Wedmore Treaty which was an alliance between King Alfred of Wessex and Guthrum of East Anglia. Russ Foster states, “The resulting victory at Edington proved the most decisive encounter of his reign (2).
Alfred the Great plots the capture of the Danish fleet. King Alfred used another strategy to strengthen his military, which was creating ships and a navy. This tactic was an important detail that was overlooked until 875. The Vikings had long slender ships that were very fast on the sea. They would dress their boats with scary creatures on the ships mast to scare their enemies watching them from land. Their ships enabled them to plunder lands and escape quickly. According to Dr. Nye, Alfred built ships similar to the Vikings but used a design created by the Romans. The ships that Alfred built allowed his navy military to keep no further attacks by sea from the Vikings, and making it harder towww.lore-and-saga.co.uk/html/viking_ships.html raid, plunder and attack Wessex.
www.old-print.com/mas_assets/full/N3181912106A.jpg“He gave orders to his sailors to prevent them from obtaining any supplies by sea; and his sailors wereencountered by a fleet of a hundred and twenty ships full of armed soldiers, who were come to helptheir countrymen. As soon as the king’s men knew that they were fitted with pagan soldiers, theyleaped to their arms, and bravely attacked those barbaric tribes; but the pagan, who had now for almosta month been tossed and almost wrecked among the waves of the sea, fought vainly against them;their bands were discomfited in a moment, and all were sunk and drowned in the sea” (Asser 16).
KING ALFRED ONCE WROTE: “for every good gift and every power soon grows old and is no more heard of, if Wisdom be not in them. Without Wisdom no faculty can be fully brought out, for whatsoever is done unwisely can never be accounted as skill.” (Historical Royal Speeches)
IT IS CLEAR ALFRED WAS STRONG ENOUGH TO LEAD HIS MILITARY AND CREATE A STRONGER WESSEX, WHILEDESPERATELY COMFORTING HIS DISEASE WITH PRAYER. HIS WISDOM HOWEVER, PULLS HIS COUNTRY OUT OF DANISHRULE AND EXPANDS HIS KINGDOM. HIS FATHER AETHELWULF SENT HIM TO ROME WHEN HE WAS FIVE. WHILE HE WASIN ROME, HE LEARNED THE ART OF WAR AND PRAYER. MOST INTERESTINGLY HE WAS NOT TAUGHT HOW TO READ ORWRITE AS A CHILD. HIS EDUCATION CONSISTED OF CLERGY RECITING PSALMS AND ALFRED MEMORIZED THEM. HISEDUCATION AT HOME ALSO CONSISTED OF MEMORIZATION. RUSS FOSTER STATES, “THE BEST-KNOWN STORY OFALFREDS EARLY LIFE INVOLVES A BOOK OF POETRY BELONGING TO HIS MOTHER. SHE PROMISED IT TO WHICHEVEROF HER SONS COULD RECITE IT FIRST. THE YOUNGEST, ALFRED, WON THE PRIZE” (3). AS A CHILD ALFRED WAS THIRSTYFOR KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD. ALTHOUGH ALFRED DID NOT LEARN TO READ AND WRITE AS A CHILD, HE EVENTUALLY LEARNED AS ANADULT. WHILE HE WAS LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE HE WAS ALSO TAUGHT TO READ,WRITE AND SPEAK LATIN. By Richard Hook www.magnoliabox.com/art/199514/King_Alfred_was_a_keen_scholar
A STATUE OF ALFRED WAS ERECTED IN WANTAGE, ENGLAND.THE PLAQUE OF THE STATUE CHARACTERIZES ALFRED:“Alfred found learning dead, and 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 fearful enemy, from which he delivered it. Alfred‟s name shall live as long as mankind respects the past.” (qtd. In Searing 1)
Some people may say this is an exaggeration of King Alfred. However, this is a perfectexample of his strengths that titled him “great.” His physical strength in body and ofhis military as well as his intelligence created a strong base of what is now England.His dreams of uniting all English speaking peoples not under Danish rule was in reachby the time of his death in 899. For a king to be “great” he needs to have the qualitiesof physical and mental strength. Alfred proved through his battles and treaties withthe Vikings he had physical strength. Alfred‟s wisdom started with a dream and hebettered himself and his citizens and delivered Wessex from the eminent threat ofViking raids, which illustrates Alfred‟s greatest strength was his intelligence.
WORKS CITED• "Alfred The Great (r. 871-899)." The Official Website of the British Monarchy. The Royal Household, n.d. Web. 23 June 2012.• "Alfred the Great." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 July 2012. Web. 27 July 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_the_Great>.• Asser, Bishop Of Sherborne., Dorothy Whitelock, and W. H. Stevenson. Life of King Alfred. Oxf.: n.p., 1904. Print.• "Battle of Ashdown." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 July 2012. Web. 27 July 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ashdown>.• Doyle, Richard. Victorianweb. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2012.• Hook, Richard. "King Alfred Was a Keen Scholar." Magnoliabox. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2012.• Nye, Bruce. "King Alfred of Wessex." Personal interview. 26 June 2012.• Of Wessex, King Alfred. "HISTORIC ROYAL SPEECHES AND WRITINGS ALFRED „THE GREAT‟." The British Monarchy Web Site. British Government, n.d. Web. 23 June 2012.• "Old Print." N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2012. <www.old-print.com>.• Russ, Foster. ""Alfred The Great."" History Review 70 (2011): 47. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 15 June 2012.• Searing, Maureen Elizabeth. "Alfred of Wessex a Study in Accidental Greatness." Masters Theses (2009): 1-105. Web. 23 June 2012.• "Viking Ships." Lore and Saga. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2012.