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Alfred the Great

Last Updated 27 July 2019

NameAlfred I, Ælfred (c. 849 – 26 October 899).
King of West-Saxons (871 – 886), King of the Anglo-Saxons (871-899).
FamilyHouse of Wessex.
Parents are Æthelwulf of Wessex and Osburga.
Married to Ealhswith (868). Their children are: Æthelflæd, Eadmund, Eadweard, Elfreda, Æthelgiva, Ælfthryth, Æthelweard.
Life878 – Battle of Edington.
> 878 – Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Sources: BBC History, Brittannica, FMG, Wikipedia.

In the green fields of southern England walked Alfred, king of Wessex. He was the first king of this name in Wessex. He was a member of the royal family and had four brothers who all perished in the war against the Vikings. Alfred lived from about 849 until 899, he became king at the age of 22 and reigned first over Wessex and later Mercia and Kent until his death.1

A Seasoned King

Alfred the Great glass window
Church window (Source: Wikipedia).

Yet, the fields of southern England will not have always been as green as one would have liked, they were probably often coloured in red blood. By the time Alfred ascended the throne, he was a seasoned warrior. He had experienced his fair share of victories and losses fighting the Norsemen who continued to press southwards ever since they started raiding the British shores. As a king, Alfred proved to be a shrewd politician as well as an excellent tactician.

He created a defence line of burhs along the borders of Wessex. In order to defend the coast lines and waterways from the longships, he established the first navy. The crucial battle was that of Edington in 878. After his victory, Alfred tried to ensure that the Danes would keep to the peace treaty and among others, let the Danish leader Guthrum convert to Christianity.2

Finding Ways to Fight the Vikings

He was most likely aware the Danes would not stay away forever. Therefore, he strategically married his daughters to create alliances between Wessex, Mercia and Kent. Sure enough, a Danish raiding party tried to conquer London, but Alfred foiled their attempt. In recognition, the kings of Mercia and Kent accepted Alfred as their overlord. The whole of southern England was united for the first time. One could say that it was the first real English kingdom.3

But his political and strategical strengths were not the only reason he eventually gained the addition ‘the Great’. Not unlike Charles the Great, Alfred recognised the importance of education. He improved and re-established monasteries as learning centres. Like the kings before him, he introduced his own legal code, albeit with apparent more general fairness and justice.4

It is not known where Alfred was buried, though it is assumed to be somewhere in Winchester where he resided most often. In 2013, archaeologists believed his remains were found in a graveyard there, and there was a press conference to herald the start of a long research project. Until date, however, it has not been confirmed that those bones actually belonged to the famous Alfred the Great.5

Learn More

Bernard Cornwell – The Saxon Stories / The Last Kingdom (2009-…)
A Clerk of Oxford – Alfred the Truly Great


  1. The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Anglo–Saxon Chronicle.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated 12 September 2011. Last Accessed 12 September 2011.  ↩
  2. Alfred the Great’. BBC | History. Last Accessed 18 November 2015.  ↩
  3. Alfred the Great (r. 871–899).’ The Royal Family. Last Updated 12 January 2016. Last Accessed 12 January 2016.  ↩
  4. The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Anglo–Saxon Chronicle.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last Updated 12 September 2011. Last Accessed 12 September 2011.  ↩
  5. Maev Kennedy, ‘Archaeologists may have found remains of Alfred the Great.’ The Guardian. Last Updated 17 January 2014.  ↩

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