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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.
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Alfred the Great (849 - 26 October 899) was one of the most venerated rulers in British history, the only one to receive the title "The Great" aside from Cnut. 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 and converted the Danes to Catholicism after defeating their king, Guthrum. 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. He was also the father of Queen Æthelflæd of Mercia.

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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, has Alfred as a major supporting character, who is fundamentally benevolent, but to the cynical, Danish-raised Warlord narrator Uhtred, comes off as Lawful Stupid on occasion - though as Uhtred matures, he gains an increasing (if grudging) respect for Alfred's political machinations and capacity for ruthlessness, recognising Alfred's constant ability to rope Uhtred back into his service. It is also notable that he is one of the few people Uhtred has genuine respect for. In the TV series adaptation The Last Kingdom he is played by David Dawson.
    "Alfred’s joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandsons and their children’s children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him."
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  • 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 100 Greatest Britons.
  • The Edge On The Sword is told from his daughter Æthelflæd's perspective and deals with him marrying her to King Aethelred of Mercia in alliance. In real life she would end up running the place after her elderly husband's death soon after.

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