Lesson 3 on Kings and Queens of England and Scotland. This is rather a long one so please bear with it as it is very interesting. The first king that I actually know anything about and then come a few more that I've not heard of before. I truly belief that this king really was great.
ALFRED (also spelt with an AE dipthong) Known as ALFRED THE GREAT
Born: 849 at Wantage.
Succeeded as King of Wessex 871 at the age of 22. Was declared King of the Saxons and King of the English. Recognised as overlord of Wales in 893.
Younger brother of his predecessor Ethelred, being the fifth son of King Ethelwulf and the grandson of King Egbert.
Married: 868 to Ealswyth who survived him and died about 902.
Children: Ethelflaed, EADWARD, Ethelgeofu, Elfthryth, Ethelweard.
Died: 28 October 899 aged 50, having reigned 28 years. Buried at Winchester.
Profile: A clean chaven, barrel chinned, deeply lined perhaps almost tortured facem neither senile nor conventionally "wise' or great. He was never called Alfred the Great in his lifetime, and the bearded statue of him in Wantage, Berkshire, has the face of a local Victorian.
Alfred's brother and brother-in-arms Ethelred, had two surviving children when he died but it was a time for active, experienced leadership, and they were not even considered as possible successors. It is interesting, however to see how powerful connections had their advantages even so many years ago. One of the boys, Ethelhelm, became Archbishop o Canterbury, and the other, Ethelwald, was King of York and indeed tried to take Alfred's throne. However their uncle's immediate problem was to beat off the Danes from their assault on Wessex. His ultimate achievement, which followed in part from the weakened position of the Mercians and Northumbrians against the Danes, was that when the fragmented English kingdoms collapsed before the foreign assault, Alfred had something to put in its place. The concept of England as a nation hardened into a reality, for under assault it had developed an identity of its own. Alfred was never crowned King of all England, a title which he has sometimes been given retrospectively. That would have been a presumptuous claim, although he well earned his title King of the Saxons, and did style himself on some of his coins as King of the English. His son and successor, Edward the Elder took the title King ot the English but the realm was limited, and only Alfred's grandson Ethelstan brought in Northumbria.
Alfred, as a warrior king with an urgent objective, fought nine battles against the Danes in the first year of his reign and won himself a breathing space. He did not, however, reorganise the defense of Wessex with conspicuous brilliance. Though a mature 22 years of age and a hardened commander , he was a late developer intellectually and a most tortured man psychologically. He was troubled by what are nowadays interpreted as psychosomatic illnesses - afflictions reflecting mental unease - and on his wedding day he became mysteriously and incapably sick, a circumstance which modern psychiatrists inevitably seize with glee. Alfred is one of the most fascinating characters in history and a dramatist of perception could do him the justice of resurrection in the same sense that we now know Sir Thomas More, as "a man for all seasons'.
A quick impression presents Alfred as a combination of the pious imperial dreamer with the shrewd. long term strategy, defensive general. A deeper analysis suggests a man intolerably teased by ambition and humility, with many of his actions being little more than compulsive reactions to the desperate pressure of events. Yet he was also a man able to give practical shape to a serene vision of a new land, advancing under thoughtful laws, adequate security, and a new concept of philosophy and education and culture to meet and appreciate a wider world.
Alfred dissolved the insularity of Saxon England in a secular and cultural sense which was far more influential than the formal concept of the universality of the Christian Church. Two youthful sojourns in Rome, where the Pope robed the boy as a consul and sponsored him as a future leader, and a further stay at the court of the King of the Franks, gave him a lasting vision of the spaciousness of the world and the richness of life that arose from contact with it. Yet he was always afflicted by a self-doubt that physically incapacitated him at many crises, and by self-depreciation based on the fact that, like every king's son of his time, was was illiterate - until he conquered this disadvantage towards the end of his life.
For the first seven years of his reign Alfred continued his undistinguished skirmishing with the Danes to try to hold his territory as he had established during his initial year of vigorous campaigning. In January 878 the Danes made an unconventional winter blitzkreig, and Wessex was completely over-run. Over the next four months Alfred deployed his underground resistance from his base in the Somerset marches, and by superb organisation welded the men of Somerset. Wiltshire and Hampshire into an army which decisively defeated the Danes in the pitched battle at Edington, Wiltshire.
With impressive statesmanship he consolidated this victory. He insisted that the defeated King Guthrum of the Danes should receive baptism into Christianity - probably with less consideration for the welfare of Guthrum's soul than for the well-being of the inhabitants of Danish-occupied Mercia and Northumbria who would undergo less harassment in their nature culture if Christianity was a recognised religion. He then drastically conscripted the manpower of Wessex, so that it was efficiently organised as a defense arm and an agricultural workforce, the men taking turns at these complementary duties. He built a chain of fortified towns which would remain as urban strongholds in future invasions, so that Wessex could never be entirely blotted out as it had been in 878, also he built a navy as a new reserve against the sea-power of the Danes.
In the uneasy, but generally effective, conditions of peace which followed these imaginative defense measures, Alfred established a much needed judicial system by introducing a new code of laws painstakingly worked out from the best contemporary foreign practice. Then, having learned to read at the age of 38, and having much that he wanted to say to his people in the old English language, Alfred began a cult of broad education which aimed at giving the English a soul, and a sense of corporate history. This resulted in shaping for them an identity which has its hold today. His reign was an example of how a sense of vision could be used by a monarch
Please excuse any typing errors I may have made. I have to wear one pair of specs to read from the book and a second pair to read what I've typed on here.