Useful Notes: Alfred The Great

A Victorian Image of Alfred in Winchester

A sea-folk blinder than the sea
Broke all about his land,
But Alfred up against them bare
And gripped the ground and grasped the air,
Staggered, and strove to stand...

He broke them with a broken sword
A little towards the sea,
And for one hour of panting peace,
Ringed with a roar that would not cease,
With golden crown and girded fleece
Made laws under a tree.

Alfred the Great was one of the most venerated rulers in British history, the only one to receive the title "The Great." He was born the fifth son of Aethulwulf, king of the obscure, semi-civilized Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex (roughly, southwestern England from about Berkshire to Devon). He took the throne after the death of his father and brothers. During his reign, he held off the Viking invaders. He also was helpful in standardizing the laws and customs of the realm and encouraged learning. He even personally wrote commentaries on ancient literature. His small realm was to become the cornerstone of what is now Great Britain.

And what's he remembered for? Burning some cakes. Typical...

Alfred the Great in fiction:

  • Horrible Histories gave Alfred an adorkable portrayal, showing him recite his awful poetry and becoming homeless, making the listener feel sorry for him being a hopeless cook who didn't watch an old woman's cakes.
  • Thomas Arne wrote an opera about the man which had been commissioned by Frederick, Prince of Wales. While not particularly famous, the finale of the opera is a charming little ditty called Rule Britannia.
  • G. K. Chesterton featured Alfred as the hero of his long narrative poem, The Ballad of the White Horse.
  • The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, set during the Danish Invasions, shows Alfred as a major supporting character, who is fundamentally benevolent, but to the cynical, Danish-raised Warlord narrator, comes off as Lawful Stupid on occasion. It is notable, however, that he is one of the few said protagonist (grudgingly) has genuine respect for.
  • Alfred is a playable character in Crusader Kings as the King of Wessex and it is possible to reenact his task of defeating the vikings and found the Kingdom of England.
  • He ended at #14 in One Hundred Greatest Britons.