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Useful Notes / Alfred the Great

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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.

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, with occasional overlordship over the southern counties eastward to Kent). 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.

Alfred also was helpful in standardizing the laws and customs of the realm (compiling them into a law book known as the Doom Booknote ) and encouraged learning, successfully making Old English the second literary language of western Europe (only after Latin!) in his time.note  He even personally wrote commentaries on ancient literature. His small realm was to become the cornerstone of what is now England. He was also the father of Queen Æthelflæd of Mercia. He was also a scholarly monarch, translating several Latin works into Old English, including the Soliloquies of Augustine of Hippo and the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. His translations were part of an effort to make English (rather than Latin) the scholarly language of his kingdom.

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

He also kicked off the rebuilding of London, which at the point of his coronation had sit abandoned for over 400 years after the end of Roman rule of Britannia.

Alfred the Great in fiction:

  • Horrible Histories gave Alfred an endearing 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, recognizing 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."
  • Alfred is a playable character in Crusader Kings II and Crusader Kings III (at the 867 CE bookmark) as the Earl of Dorset and his brother Aethelred I's vassal. It is possible to reenact his task of defeating the Vikings and founding the Kingdom of England.
  • Alfred and his faction are one of the 10 playable ones in Thrones of Britannia: A Total War Saga. As befitting his capabilities, his faction is the recommended start for newcomers to the game/genre.
  • In Vikings, he has to deal with the invading Danes in England and reunite the Anglo-Saxons under the Wessex banner. He is portrayed by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo.
  • He ended at #14 in One Hundred 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.
  • He serves as an antagonist in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, since he is trying to defend England from the Raven Clan (including Eivor) and other Viking raiders. The end of the game reveals that he's not only the Father of the Order of the Ancients, but he's been the "Poor Fellow-Soldier of Christ," the informant who's helped Eivor find Order members to kill. That name would go on to become the Knights Templar, the Assassins' main enemy for the next thousand years.