He is known as a merciful and learned man who laid emphasis on education. Finding their position in mainland Europe precarious, they crossed to England in 330 ships in two divisions. Among these was a raid in Kent, an allied kingdom in South East England, during the year 885, which was possibly the largest raid since the battles with Guthrum. There had been a system of fortifications in pre-Viking Mercia that may have been an influence. 1999 marked the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the death of Alfred the Great, and to mark this event, two international conferences were held to re-evaluate and contextualise Alfred's achievements and the developments of his reign. [137] Interest in Alfred's translation of Pastoral Care was so enduring that copies were still being made in the 11th century. The translation was undertaken at Alfred's command by Wærferth, Bishop of Worcester, with the king merely furnishing a preface. [36], While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the Saxon army in his absence at an unnamed spot and then again in his presence at Wilton in May. [146], Historian Richard Abels sees Alfred's educational and military reforms as complementary. The purpose of this expedition is debated, but Asser claims that it was for the sake of plunder. [41], A legend tells how when Alfred first fled to the Somerset Levels, he was given shelter by a peasant woman who, unaware of his identity, left him to watch some wheaten cakes she had left cooking on the fire. [101][96] Alfred's ships immediately moved to block their escape. [111], Alfred devoted considerable attention and thought to judicial matters. [63] In 888, Æthelred, the archbishop of Canterbury, also died. By the time of the Reformation, Alfred was seen as a pious Christian ruler who promoted the use of English rather than Latin, and so the translations that he commissioned were viewed as untainted by the later Roman Catholic influences of the Normans. He seized the royal estates of Wimborne, symbolically important as the place where his father was buried, and Christchurch, both in Dorset. The introduction may best be understood as Alfred's meditation upon the meaning of Christian law. In 865 Alfred was named successor to Aethelred and named military commander. Although Alfred founded monasteries at Athelney and Shaftesbury, these were the first new monastic houses in Wessex since the beginning of the eighth century. A chrisom was the face-cloth or piece of linen laid over a child's head when he or she was baptised or christened. The fame and reputation of King Alfred, one of the ablest of England's Kings, were never to diminish. [158][i], Alfred was temporarily buried at the Old Minster in Winchester with his wife Ealhswith and later, his son Edward the Elder. Support great long-form writing about British History, Culture and Travel by subscribing to the Anglotopia Print Magazine.. On the year of his death in 899 Alfred the Great was known only as Alfred… One ship escaped because Alfred's heavy ships became grounded when the tide went out. Wanting every freeborn Englishman to learn to read English, Alfred had a plan for the general education of the people and donated half of his personal income to the church and schools. [40] Alfred's emergence from his marshland stronghold was part of a carefully planned offensive that entailed raising the fyrds of three shires. The last words of it may be quoted; they form a fitting epitaph for the noblest of English kings. But death comes for us all eventually, and in Alfred's case, it came for his brothers. Ethelswitha on pilgrimage He died in October 899 AD and was buried at his capital city of Winchester. [2] Details of his life are described in a work by 9th-century Welsh scholar and bishop Asser. 22:39–40) to love your secular lord as you would love the Lord Christ himself, underscores the importance that Alfred placed upon lordship which he understood as a sacred bond instituted by God for the governance of man. The "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," the record of the English race, was inspired by Alfred. Æthelbald retained the western shires (i.e. Compilation of the … [49], In other words, Alfred succeeded to Ceolwulf's kingdom consisting of western Mercia, and Guthrum incorporated the eastern part of Mercia into an enlarged kingdom of East Anglia (henceforward known as the Danelaw). Problems with the calculation of Anglo-Saxon dates meant it was widely believed then that Alfred had died in 901, rather than 899, which is now recognised as the true date of his death, but at the time it seemed particularly apposite to many that the great Queen and her illustrious forebear had died a thousand years apart. Florence of Worcester, writing in the thirteenth century, has left us with a fitting statement on Alfred:- "Alfred the King of the Anglo-Saxons, the son of the most pious King Ethelwulf, the famous, the warlike, the victorious, th… 450-1100)-language text, Wikipedia articles incorporating a citation from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica with Wikisource reference, Wikipedia articles with BIBSYS identifiers, Wikipedia articles with CINII identifiers, Wikipedia articles with PLWABN identifiers, Wikipedia articles with SELIBR identifiers, Wikipedia articles with SNAC-ID identifiers, Wikipedia articles with SUDOC identifiers, Wikipedia articles with Trove identifiers, Wikipedia articles with WORLDCATID identifiers, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Most historians think that Osburh was the mother of all Æthelwulf's children, but some suggest that the older ones were born to an unrecorded first wife. [12][c] Their children were Æthelflæd, who married Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians; Edward the Elder, his successor as king; Æthelgifu, abbess of Shaftesbury; Ælfthryth, who married Baldwin, count of Flanders; and Æthelweard. The resulting power vacuum stirred other power-hungry warlords eager to take his place in the following years. One year later Guthrum, or Athelstan by his baptismal name, Alfred's former enemy and king of East Anglia, died and was buried in Hadleigh, Suffolk. [166][167] The bones were radiocarbon-dated but the results showed that they were from the 1300s and therefore not of Alfred. With civil war looming, the magnates of the realm met in council to form a compromise. [117], Alfred's relations with the Celtic princes in the western half of Great Britain are clearer. Learning from their experiences he was able to establish a system of taxation and defence for Wessex. [81][82], Alfred's burhs (of which 22 developed into boroughs) ranged from former Roman towns, such as Winchester, where the stone walls were repaired and ditches added, to massive earthen walls surrounded by wide ditches, probably reinforced with wooden revetments and palisades, such as at Burpham in West Sussex. It lists the hidage for each of the fortified towns contained in the document. Bishop Asser claimed that the pagans agreed to vacate the realm and made good their promise. His contemporary biographer Asser wrote that many nobles balked at the demands placed upon them even though they were for "the common needs of the kingdom". They entrenched themselves, the larger body, at Appledore, Kent and the lesser under Hastein, at Milton, also in Kent. [72][73], With these lessons in mind Alfred capitalised on the relatively peaceful years following his victory at Edington with an ambitious restructuring of Saxon defences. The Gaini were probably one of the tribal groups of the Mercians. [100] All were too damaged to row around Sussex, and two were driven against the Sussex coast (possibly at Selsey Bill). [90], The burhs were connected by a road system maintained for army use (known as herepaths). A: Alfred died on 26 October 899. The English watched as the Vikings rowed past them but they suffered so many casualties (120 dead against 62 Frisians and English) that they had difficulty putting out to sea. For 200 years, three families had fought for the West Saxon throne, and no son had followed his father as king. But after Ecgberht's reign, descent from Cerdic was no longer sufficient to make a man an ætheling. Although Asser never mentions Alfred's law code he does say that Alfred insisted that his judges be literate so that they could apply themselves "to the pursuit of wisdom". [64] Guthrum's death changed the political landscape for Alfred. [32], Alfred is not mentioned during the short reigns of his older brothers Æthelbald and Æthelberht. He had been king for over half of his life, and in those years he’d proven himself to be an energetic and inventive king. Alfred the Great captured London, allegedly after defeating a Danish garrison. But nobody knows for sure. A solemn diploma from Christ Church, Canterbury, dated 873, is so poorly constructed and written that historian Nicholas Brooks posited a scribe who was either so blind he could not read what he wrote or who knew little or no Latin. [6] This dating is adopted in the biography of Alfred by Alfred Smyth, who regards Asser's biography as fraudulent,[7] an allegation which is rejected by other historians. Some retired to Northumbria, some to East Anglia. It would be his grandson Aethelstan who would be called the first King of England. Æthelbald only survived his father by two years and Æthelberht then for the first time united Wessex and Kent into a single kingdom. Circa 880 AD, King Alfred the Great (849 - 901) with the symbols of office. [130] He recruited scholars from the Continent and from Britain to aid in the revival of Christian learning in Wessex and to provide the king personal instruction. When Ecgberht died in 839, he was succeeded by his son Æthelwulf; all subsequent West Saxon kings were descendants of Ecgberht and Æthelwulf, and were also sons of kings. [77] The Old English name for the fine due for neglecting military service was fierdwite. [78] To maintain the burhs, and to reorganise the fyrd as a standing army, Alfred expanded the tax and conscription system based on the productivity of a tenant's landholding. [178], A bronze statue of Alfred the Great stands at the eastern end of The Broadway, close to the site of Winchester's medieval East Gate. Only one made it; Alfred's ships intercepted the other two. He died at the age of 50. It was unveiled in June 1913 to commemorate the coronation of King George V.[177], A statue of Alfred the Great, situated in the Wantage market place, was sculpted by Count Gleichen, a relative of Queen Victoria, and unveiled on 14 July 1877 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. After King Æthelwulf died in 858, Wessex was ruled by three of Alfred's brothers in succession: Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred. [94][95], Alfred also tried his hand at naval design. [174] The epithet was retained by succeeding generations who admired Alfred's patriotism, success against barbarism, promotion of education, and establishment of the rule of law.[174]. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, "A History of King Alfred The Great and the Danes", "Houses of Benedictine monks: New Minster, or the Abbey of Hyde | British History Online", "Visit Winchester: King Alfred the Great", "Victorian Web: Alfred the Great - Sculpture by Sir W. Hamo Thornycroft", "Bone fragment 'could be King Alfred or son Edward, "Bones confirmed as those of Saxon Princess Eadgyth", "The Post-Mortem Adventures Of Alfred The Great", "Could these be the bones of Alfred the Great? Alfred was born in 849 CE, the son of King Aethelwulf of Wessex and his wife Osburh. It features the king as a young man, holding a shield in his left hand and an open book in his right. [135] Nonetheless the consensus remains that they were part of the Alfredian programme of translation. [11], In 868, Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of the Mercian nobleman Æthelred Mucel, ealdorman of the Gaini, and his wife Eadburh, who was of royal Mercian descent. Osburh was descended from the rulers of the Isle of Wight. Those who had no connections in England returned to the continent.[68]. A successful skirmish at the Battle of Englefield in Berkshire on 31 December 870 was followed by a severe defeat at the siege and the Battle of Reading by Ivar's brother Halfdan Ragnarsson on 5 January 871. [58] The Anglo-Saxon fleet emerged victorious, and as Huntingdon accounts, "laden with spoils". It was a well known tradition among other Germanic peoples - such as the Swedes and Franks to whom the Anglo-Saxons were closely related - to crown a successor as royal prince and military commander. [118], This revival entailed the recruitment of clerical scholars from Mercia, Wales and abroad to enhance the tenor of the court and of the episcopacy; the establishment of a court school to educate his own children, the sons of his nobles, and intellectually promising boys of lesser birth; an attempt to require literacy in those who held offices of authority; a series of translations into the vernacular of Latin works the king deemed "most necessary for all men to know";[119] the compilation of a chronicle detailing the rise of Alfred's kingdom and house, with a genealogy that stretched back to Adam, thus giving the West Saxon kings a biblical ancestry. At the end of the year, the Danes drew their ships up the River Thames and the River Lea and fortified themselves twenty miles (32 km) north of London. Alfred the Great Birthday and Date of Death. [152], Osferth was described as a relative in King Alfred's will and he attested charters in a high position until 934. He defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, becoming the dominant ruler in England. [100], In the one recorded naval engagement in 896, Alfred's new fleet of nine ships intercepted six Viking ships at the mouth of an unidentified river in the south of England. [132] Conscious of the decay of Latin literacy in his realm Alfred proposed that primary education be taught in English, with those wishing to advance to holy orders to continue their studies in Latin. [28], According to Asser, in his childhood Alfred won a beautifully decorated book of English poetry, offered as a prize by his mother to the first of her sons able to memorise it. He had four older brothers who all ruled as king before he did. Marriage of Ethelfleda. He became king in 871 and died in 899. [42], In the seventh week after Easter (4–10 May 878), around Whitsuntide, Alfred rode to Egbert's Stone east of Selwood where he was met by "all the people of Somerset and of Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire which is on this side of the sea (that is, west of Southampton Water), and they rejoiced to see him". For the next five years, the Danes occupied other parts of England. He was given the epithet "the Great" during and after the Reformation in the 16th century, and together with Danish Cnut the Great, is the only king of England to be given such a name. He had spent many years fighting the ‘Viking invasions,’ after ascending the throne. When the New Minster was demolished in 1098 to make way for a new, much larger Norman c… Accordingly, Edward the Elder was groomed to assume the crown. [10], He was the youngest of six children. Once inside the fortification, Alfred realised, the Danes enjoyed the advantage, better situated to outlast their opponents or crush them with a counter-attack because the provisions and stamina of the besieging forces waned. Historically, he is known as Alfred the Great or Ælfred Micela. Nor did his piety prevent him from expropriating strategically sited church lands, especially estates along the border with the Danelaw, and transferring them to royal thegns and officials who could better defend them against Viking attacks. The latter manuscript was severely damaged in the 18th and 19th centuries. If the Christian faith fell into ruin in his kingdom, if the clergy were too ignorant to understand the Latin words they butchered in their offices and liturgies, if the ancient monasteries and collegiate churches lay deserted out of indifference, he was answerable before God, as Josiah had been. [151], They had five or six children together, including Edward the Elder who succeeded his father as king; Æthelflæd who became lady of the Mercians; and Ælfthryth who married Baldwin II, Count of Flanders. Alfred’s keen intellectual disposition was evident in the way he chose to reform, develop and improve Anglo-Saxon society under his reign. [68], Early in 894 or 895 lack of food obliged the Danes to retire once more to Essex. The story that, in his childhood, he was sent to Ireland to be healed by Saint Modwenna may show Alfred's interest in that island. The Danes had beached half their ships and gone inland. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Æthelwulf had left jointly to his sons in his will. Three of those older siblings were boys and, hence, potential heirs to power, says the Ancient History Encyclopedia, ahead of Alfred. In 1536, many Roman Catholic churches were vandalized by the people of England spurred by disillusionment with the church during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. [122], Alfred undertook no systematic reform of ecclesiastical institutions or religious practices in Wessex. Just because you're king, and roundly lauded as Great, doesn't mean there won't be mysteries around your life and, for that matter, your death. In response to this incursion, Alfred led an Anglo-Saxon force against the Danes who, instead of engaging the army of Wessex, fled to their beached ships and sailed to another part of Britain. King Athelstan of Kent and Ealdorman Ealhhere had defeated a Viking fleet in 851 capturing nine ships and Alfred had conducted naval actions in 882. Alfred successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, and by the time of his death had become the dominant ruler in England. 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