Military Review

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great
Statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester, Hampshire

“Now not a single person is able to govern if he does not have at hand the necessary tools and means. For a king, the tool and means is a populous country, and he must have men for prayer, men for war, and men for work. Without such tools, he cannot carry out the duties assigned to him.

It was in this way, dividing the people into those who serve God, those who fight, and those who work on the land, that King Alfred of Wessex, later nicknamed “The Great,” reflected on the duties of a Christian monarch. And this division of society reflects not only social, but also political ideas, both of the king himself and his entourage.

Alfred the Great

The formation of English national consciousness, however, like any other, is always closely connected with the image of some hero, captured in historical the memory of the people. And King Alfred can rightfully be considered such a truly folk hero, who devoted all his time, energy and invested considerable material resources into the birth of the English state and became a symbol of British national identity by the end of the XNUMXth century.

The issues of the formation of any ethnic group and its national identity are always actively discussed by both domestic and foreign experts. In particular, many researchers have repeatedly addressed the problem of the formation of the English nation, which grew up on the compost of various tribes and nationalities.

Anglo-Saxon village of West Stone. Reconstruction of a XNUMXth-century village typical of Anglo-Saxon peasant villages

The difficult time in which the hero of this article lived was one of the most significant in the history of Britain, where at that time there was a process of active socio-political development of Anglo-Saxon society. In addition, from the end of the XNUMXth century, the Vikings-Scandinavians began to fall on the entire territory of the island in incessant waves, the peak of the onslaught of which became especially strong during the reign of King Alfred.

Alfred lived in that historical era, which is now known to us as the Carolingian Renaissance.* - a period of increased public interest in culture, learning and writing in Western Europe, making his reign one of the best documented in the entire Anglo-Saxon period. And it was during his reign that Wessex became the main center of state and political consolidation of the Anglo-Saxons.

There is also no doubt that the reign of Alfred was of great importance both for the direction of the development of the whole country, and for the further destinies of his descendants. After the other island kingdoms - Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia could not withstand the onslaught of the Vikings, Wessex, under the rule of King Alfred, remained the only surviving Anglo-Saxon territory.

But what was Britain like at the time of Alfred's accession to the throne?

Britain before Alfred the Great

The post-Roman history of Britain begins in the first half of the 410th century, when the Roman legions finally left the island (XNUMX) and Britain became the object of conquest and then mass settlement by various Germanic tribes, rolling in waves from continental Europe, in particular, from the Jutland peninsula and the territory Northern Germany, and known to us under the general name "Anglo-Saxons".

Map of Britain around 800. Half a century before Alfred the Great

In the relatively short period of Anglo-Saxon military invasions of Britain, the island was broken up into a large number of microscopic "kingdoms", each of which had its own "king" or "sub-king", who were really nothing more than tribal leaders.

Eventually, from this chaotic situation, seven major kingdoms were born, and smaller "kingdoms" were incorporated into these seven major kingdoms. The so-called Heptarchy*, which is translated from Greek as the seven kingdoms. However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle*, the political situation on the island was far from stable - there was a continuous series of conflicts in which various "kings" sought to seize as much land as possible and dominate their neighbors.

Already by the end of the 757th century, some Anglo-Saxon "kingdoms" had grown significantly by absorbing and incorporating other barbarian "kingdoms" - the four main kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex. In the early days, Northumbria was a great power among the other "kingdoms", after which Mercia became more and more powerful and was completely dominant in the eighth century. King Offa of Mercia (796–XNUMX), a contemporary of Charlemagne, was particularly expansionist and quickly annexed a number of small kingdoms in the east and south of the island.

At the dawn of its early history, Wessex often fought with the neighboring "kingdom" of Mercia, which continued until the reign of Egbert (769/771-839), who, as a result of long wars, nevertheless conquered Mercia and annexed their lands to his dominions.

But at this time of statehood formation, external forces began to interfere with the natural course of internal development of the Anglo-Saxon “kingdoms,” which largely changed the historical development of Britain. And it was precisely the problem of attack by pagan Vikings that became the main one for all Anglo-Saxon “kingdoms”.

Heptarchy. Map of the Anglo-Saxon "kingdoms"

Against this backdrop, the "kingdom" of Wessex was another barbarian political entity in the British Heptarchy, founded in 519 by the West Saxon chieftain Cerdic* (r. 519–540) in the Upper Thames Valley.

Wessex is one of the “kingdoms” of pre-Norman England, whose ruling dynasty eventually became the kings of all of England, and later turned the warring tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes into the modern English nation. And Alfred, later nicknamed “The Great”, started it all...


When Alfred was born (849), there were four more Anglo-Saxon "kingdoms" in Britain. By the time Alfred ascended the throne (871), the Anglo-Saxons had been in Britain for over 300 years. In time their kings adopted Christianity as part of their power and were especially proud to be associated with the mission of Augustine of Canterbury sent by Pope Gregory the Great from Rome in 597.

The father of the future legend of England was King Æthelwulf of the West Saxons (r. 839-858), which can be translated from Old English as "Noble Wolf". Æthelwulf had six children, the youngest of whom was Alfred, who was born in Oxfordshire. As the youngest child in the family and last in line to the throne, it was unlikely that Alfred (the "council of elves") would ever ascend the throne and rule his kingdom. Alfred was still a very young boy when his father died in 858, leaving Alfred's elder brothers in power over Wessex.

In describing Alfred's childhood and youth, as in many other things, Alfred's biographers rely mainly on the testimony of a court biographer, trusted and close to him, Bishop John Asser, who left his descendants with a description of him in an essay - in the “Chronicle of the deeds of Alfred the Great."

Here is how John Asser begins the description of Alfred's biography:

"In the year of the birth of our Lord, 849, in the royal estate of Vontige, located in the district known as Berkshire, so named for the forest of Burrock, in which boxwood grows in abundance, Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, was born."

In 853, King Ethelwulf went to Rome with great triumph, taking with him his youngest son, whom he loved even more than other sons, and then lived for some time at the court of the ruler of the West Frankish state and grandson of Charlemagne - Charles the Bald, where he was given an honorable reception, and there he lived for a whole year.

After the death of King Æthelwulf in 858, he was successively succeeded on the throne by his three eldest sons, the last of whom, Æthelred, died from his wounds in a battle with the Danes.*, his brother Alfred ascended the Wessex throne in 871 and began to rule as the head of the Saxon kingdom.

Head of the Saxon kingdom

John Asser, Alfred's first biographer, reports that Alfred

"proceeded to govern the whole kingdom immediately after the death of his brother, in accordance with the divine will and according to the unanimous desire of all the inhabitants of the kingdom."

In the twenty-third year of his life, immediately starting from the time the last of the older brothers died, the whole burden of state duties fell on the shoulders of the young ruler, along with the royal title.

Wessex and its dependent "kingdoms"

With the acquisition of power for the new ruler of Wessex, the first difficulties began.

About a month after his accession to the throne, young Alfred had to face the Danish army again.*, which was now in the territory of the ancestral lands of Wessex, and this all showed that the military situation in Alfred's possessions was beginning to deteriorate.

Note. John Spelman* (1594–1643), a British politician and biographer of Alfred, gives the following characterization of the Vikings tormenting England: “And from that time on, the shores of the Baltic Sea and other coastal regions spewed streams of people so abundantly, both to England and to the western part of France and Spain that all coastal lands were devastated by frequent raids by Danes, Norwegians, residents of Gotland, Swedes, Frisians and others, who in England were designated by the collective name "Dane".

The young "King" Alfred incites the Anglo-Saxons to repulse the Danish invasion. Engraving by H. Bourne based on G. F. Watts. From the book "Illustrations of English and Scottish History"

The battle between Alfred's army and the Danes who found themselves within Wessex turned out to be extremely long and bloody, his young "king" lost. But here it should be noted that the decisive role in the defeat of the Anglo-Saxon troops, apparently, was played by the numerical superiority of the Danes, which meant that the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons in this battle destroyed all Alfred's hopes for the complete expulsion of the Danes from the territory of Wessex by force. weapons.

After such a defeat, it was necessary to negotiate with the Danish invaders, and Alfred, most likely, had to pay some kind of indemnity for the respite provided to him. The sources that have come down to us say nothing about the terms of the peace agreement, but the Danes, nevertheless, agreed to leave the territory of Wessex, and in the autumn of 871 they went on a winter holiday to London.

The most difficult thing for Alfred was that this bloody massacre did not bring him any closer to irrevocable victory, and the economic and military forces of the “kingdom” were almost at their end.

In addition, the Viking raids greatly contributed to the decline of culture in his state and the increase in the financial costs of the war with the Vikings. Such a problem confronting Alfred required an immediate solution...

The solution

Taking advantage of the five-year peaceful respite with the Danes, Alfred focused all his attention on the internal affairs of the state, beginning to revive the economy, which was dying out from endless wars with the Danes, and carry out military reform, which was supposed to prepare his “kingdom” for a new and inevitable clash with the Vikings.

Alfred the Great builds the First English Fleet. National Maritime Museum, London

After such a defeat of the Anglo-Saxons by the Danes, neither Alfred nor his time is mentioned in the records of the Chronicle ... until the very year 875, until the Viking ships reappeared off the coast of Wessex. It was at this time that King Alfred took his newly built fleet, secretly built from the Vikings, out to sea to fight the enemy ships, where one of the Danish ships was captured and the rest driven off the coast. After that, the shores of Wessex ceased to be subjected to devastating Viking raids even after his death.

During the period of peaceful respite, in preparation for the upcoming war with the pagan Danes, Alfred carried out a complete reorganization of the entire military system of the state, which he had inherited from previous rulers, based on seasonal military campaigns and limited to just one general battle. Alfred's new reform adapted the army to fight a new enemy.

The result of the reform was a system of dividing the country into military districts, consisting of an extensive system of fortresses (burghs), which formed a dense line of communications for Wessex. The burgh system was intended to prevent Viking penetration into the interior of the country and was undoubtedly borrowed from Charlemagne on the continent. The construction of new fortresses and the maintenance of those previously built by Alfred was equally entrusted to all his subjects, including the nobility and clergy.

Map of burghs built by Alfred and his descendants

And the construction of the burg began with the restoration of defensive structures that remained from the old Roman fortifications. During the entire reign of Alfred, more than thirty burghs were built in Britain, located at a distance of no more than 32 kilometers from each other (day march), and if necessary, the garrisons located in the burghs could help each other and work harmoniously with mobile troops. In addition, in the event of Viking attacks, these well-fortified burgh cities provided shelter to the Anglo-Saxon rural population, who lived within a radius of 24 kilometers from each fortified city.

Engraving of the XNUMXth century depicting the walls of the burg. Norfolk, England

All the burghs built are known to us thanks to the Burghal Hidage* list, which dates back to the reign of Alfred the Great's son, Edward the Elder. After Alfred's death, further construction of the burgs was continued by his son.

Scheme of coverage of the territory of Alfred's "kingdom" by the burgs

Thus, the military reforms to strengthen the defenses of the “kingdom”, carried out by Alfred the Great and further continued by his son, became a serious response to the Scandinavian threat, ensuring the peace and prosperity of Wessex right up to the very beginning of the XNUMXth century, when the entire built system of burghs began to decline, as a result of the transformation of the burghs from fortified fortresses into trading cities.

Alfred's military reforms protected his land and his people and enhanced his reputation as a successful military leader. After his death, Alfred left a throne to his children and grandchildren much more secure and secure than he had received it from his father and brothers, so that his son and grandchildren were able in time to benefit from his achievements and subsequently became kings of all England.

Viking War

The Viking leader Guthrum (ruler of East Anglia, 880–890) refused to comply with the agreements with the Anglo-Saxons and again in 878 attacked Wessex, completely capturing the “kingdom” and subjugating most of its population, while Alfred managed to escape, where he with a small detachment took refuge in the marshy area of ​​Somerset.

With the support of local residents, Alfred continued to wage war with the Danes, making military forays and calling on the people to war, but after the Vikings marched throughout Wessex with fire and sword, dealing with poorly organized units of the Anglo-Saxons, the entire “kingdom” was gripped by horror, and no one could provide organized resistance to the invaders.

In the marshes of Somerset, Alfred, with a few of his supporters, held out all winter, making small sorties against the Danes, and in the spring, sent a call to his fird* gather at a place called Egbert's Stone. This is how Asser describes Alfred's meeting with his subjects:

“And when they saw the king, as if resurrected after so many hardships, they received him as befits, filled with great joy, and settled down there for the night. At dawn the next day the king set out and, reaching a place called Aili, camped there for one night.”

From there they went to Edington (Kent), where Alfred challenged Guthrum to battle.

Note. An interesting legend was born at a time when Alfred, hiding from Danish invaders, “partisan” in the swamps of Somerset. The legend that has come down to us tells how the persecuted king, alone, secretly made his way to his “partisan” camp and stopped to rest in a wretched peasant hut. Busy with other matters, the peasant's wife asked him to look after the bread standing in the oven, but he did not pay attention to this in time and the bread burned.

The woman, seeing this, attacked him with abuse, but Alfred, remembering the instructions of Saint Neot*, dutifully listened to all her insults, thereby earning the approval and, as it is believed, the supernatural help of St. Neot himself.

The peasant woman scolds Alfred for the burnt bread. Artist James William Edmund Doyle

In the battle with the Vikings, Alfred's fird used an old tactic known to the Roman infantry, called the "shield wall". The shields of the warriors were arranged in such a way that they created a continuous dense wall. In a fierce battle that lasted all day, Alfred's army exhausted the Danes, and they, pursued by the Anglo-Saxons, locked themselves in the fortress of Chippenham (Wiltshire), where, after two weeks of starvation, they demanded peace.

Let's return again to Alfred's biographer John Asser:

“The next morning he brought his detachment to a place called Edington. There, having built people in battle formation, the king fought bravely and stubbornly against the entire pagan army, and, by the will of above, won.
In that battle, many pagans fell, and the king pursued the retreating ones to their very fortress, striking them as they ran, after which he captured all the people who did not have time to hide, and immediately killed them, and took the horses and cattle for himself. His army camped near the fortress...”

Being a realist, Alfred realized that he would never be able to expel the Danes from the rest of England and the best he could hope for was to more firmly unite and strengthen his current possessions. Under the terms of the peace agreement known as the Treaty of Wedmore, Alfred retained his native Wessex, Kent, Sussex and part of Mercia.

Signing of the peace treaty at Wedmore

At the same time, the leader of the Danes Gutrun agreed to retreat to the territory already under their control - Northumbria, East Anglia, part of Mercia, Essex and London. Since that time, England was divided between the Danes and King Alfred, and Denlo was established on the territory controlled by the Danes.

In addition, under the terms of the agreement, the Viking leader Guthrum agreed to accept Christianity, where he was baptized in the same place, in Wedmore (Somerset), and Alfred, in order to further consolidate the agreement, became his godfather ...

Baptism of Guthrum at Wedmore

Further Viking threats were averted by ongoing reform of the military organization, for Alfred knew only too well that his victory would be completely meaningless unless he backed it up with measures to further strengthen the territory under his control.

In practice, the agreement concluded at Wedmore between the “king” of Wessex and the leader of the Danes turned out to be extremely fragile, because Guthrum was not able to completely stop new Viking raids on England. The raids continued throughout the 80s of the XNUMXth century, but these raids were local, and their scale could not be compared with the devastation brought by the combined forces of the Danes under the leadership of Guthrum.

In addition, Alfred declared himself the protector of all Christians from pagan Vikings and began the gradual liberation of nearby territories from Viking control, thereby laying the foundation for the future unity of England, which will happen already under his son Edward and grandchildren, who annexed the remaining Viking territories in the east and north. Britain, so that by the middle of the tenth century England began to be governed for the first time as a single country.

Wessex under Alfred the Great

After concluding an unstable peace with the Danes, Alfred continued to bite off small pieces of territory from them, but there is almost nothing about this in the documents that have reached us. Here is what A. G. Glebov writes in his book “Alfred the Great and England of his time”:

“In particular, if it were not for the accidental mention in the dating of one of the letters, we would never have known that in 882 the king was on a campaign near Epsom, in Surrey. Even Alfred's larger military ventures of this period are shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. For example, some lists of "Chronicles" in passing
mention Alfred's successful siege of London in 883, but say nothing about whom he besieged or what provoked the hostilities.

Alfred's administrative reforms

You can read about the internal structure of the royal court from Alfred's close associate and his most trusted confidant, Bishop John Asser, where he reports that the king, and he is already referred to as Rex Anglorum (but not Saxonum rex, as before), not only gathered educated men from all over England to the court, but also invited them from abroad, attracting them, in addition to educational activities, also to public administration. At the same time, service at the king's court becomes permanent.

At the court of King Alfred of England. Lithograph from the archive, published in 1852

Around the end of the 880s, Alfred published a long code of laws (the Book of Destiny), consisting of 120 chapters - this is exactly the age of Moses when he died, moreover, this figure (120) in the numerical symbolism of early medieval biblical interpreters meant the law . In this new code of laws Alfred brought into order the three already existing Saxon codes (Wessex, Mercian and Kentish), to which he added Ten Commandments of Moses and included the rules of life from the Code of Moses.

Coin of Alfred, King of Wessex, 880

Asser in his "Chronicle" pays special attention to the king's concern for the fairness of justice in his kingdom. Alfred, according to Asser, insisted on reviewing the contested decisions made by the royal rives* (reeve), and "carefully examined almost all the decisions that were passed in his absence anywhere in the kingdom, to determine whether they were just or unjust."

Alfred the Great's Legal Code, reprinted in the XNUMXth century

His victory over the Vikings and the expansion of the kingdom gave Alfred the feeling that he was specially destined for such a high post. With the help of advisers from other English regions, Wales and France, Alfred studied and translated from Latin into Old English some of the works that at that time were considered models for the ideal Christian monarch. Describing the personality of Alfred, the domestic researcher A. G. Glebov notes:

"This man was unshakably convinced that all his works, victories and defeats were predetermined by the Lord, and he is God's chosen one and the executor of His commands."

Science and Culture

After making peace with the Vikings and having partly put an end to the immediate need to defend his country from the Scandinavian danger and further strengthening his power, Alfred the Great was able to concentrate on more peaceful affairs in his kingdom and began to engage in cultural affairs that were not entirely characteristic of the warrior kings of the early Middle Ages. Long military clashes with the Scandinavians and their plunder of English monasteries led not only to their gradual loss of their former cultural significance, but even to a partial loss of elementary literacy.

Trying to assess the cultural state of the kingdom, Alfred wrote:

"There were few people on this side of the Humber* who could understand the service in English or translate what was written from Latin into English. And I think that behind the Humber there were not too many of them. And there were so few of them that I cannot remember a single person south of the Thames when I began to rule this kingdom.

King Alfred at the monastery school. Engraving 1894

Alfred loved knowledge and books from early childhood and always showed a genuine interest in science and education. And he once even stated: “There is nothing better in a person than knowledge, and there is nothing worse than ignorance».

As power strengthened, Alfred's associates began to become prominent and educated people of that time, not only from England, but also from continental Europe, who were attracted to the service not only by rich royal fees and promises of high government positions, but also by the king's serious plan for revival of culture and education.

And here we cannot fail to mention John Asser himself, the king’s biographer, who arrived at the king’s court from the Abbey of St. David in Wells and became Alfred’s closest confidant.

Showing great personal interest in writing texts in his native Old English, Alfred commissioned a series of translations into this language of important Latin works ("books of wisdom") and, apparently, commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in which major historical events were recorded in Old English, starting with the invasion of the Roman legions by Julius Caesar into Britain in 54 BC. e. before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons on the island, including the early ancestors of Alfred Cerdic and Kinrick in the XNUMXth century.

There is still heated debate among researchers as to whether Alfred himself translated some books into Old English or simply patronized the translators. But it is still believed that he himself translated the “Pastoral Care” of Pope Gregory I the Great, the “Philosophical Consolation” of the late Roman theologian Boethius, the “Monologues of St. Augustine” by Bishop Aurelius Augustine and the first fifty psalms of the Psalter.

Note. Already many centuries later, during the spread of Protestantism, Alfred, as a deeply religious king interested in the promotion and use of the English language, became the ideal figure for the emerging English Protestant Church. The works he translated into Old English were interpreted by Protestant adherents as evidence of the pure and true Anglo-Saxon Church even before it was corrupted by the false Catholicism introduced by the Normans.

Return of the Vikings

By 890 (the exact date is unknown), the ruler of East Anglia, the guarantor of the peace treaty at Wedmore and Alfred's godson Guthrum dies, and Hasting (Haesten), who is not inclined to comply with the terms of the Wedmore peace, becomes the new leader of the Danes.

In 893, under the leadership of Hasting, two detachments of Danes - one detachment, which arrived on 250 ships provided to them by the Franks, landed on the south coast of Wessex, the other, consisting of 80 ships, through the mouth of the Thames from neighboring Essex, invaded the kingdom of Alfred and with one swift blow took possession of the unfinished burg. It was obvious to Alfred that the new aggression of the Vikings was no longer just a new robbery raid, but a serious invasion that threatened the existence of the state itself!

At the first stage of the war, Alfred's main concern was to prevent the two Viking detachments from connecting, so he cut off the main forces of the aggressors from each other, settling on a hill in the forest between them, in a place where the location of the Danes was clearly visible and there were quite a few paths convenient for the troops to move both north and south if necessary.

It should be noted here that the military transformations carried out by Alfred in peacetime began to justify themselves in a new war with the Vikings. The combination of the burgh system with a mobile field army allowed him to put pressure on the Danes without giving them any chance to link up their forces.

Having waged hostilities with the Wessex king for a year, the Vikings were unable to gain a foothold in the lands of Wessex, so in 894 they crossed back across the Thames and began to incite the Welsh to take an armed action.

But the time convenient for an attack for the Vikings had ended, and now the Anglo-Saxons had launched a decisive offensive - Alfred’s son Edward (869/877–924) and his son-in-law, Earl (Count) of Mercia Ethelred, with a militia of Londoners, destroyed the Viking camp in Essex, where, in addition parts of the Danish army, their families were also there, capturing everything they could, including Viking ships. Hasting's family - his wife and children - were also captured by the Anglo-Saxons.

Ethelred sent Hasting's wife and children captured to King Alfred, who just at this time completely defeated the Danish fleet that attacked Exeter (modern Devonshire). Ethelred hoped that their presence at the royal court as hostages would force Hasting to make concessions, but Alfred thought differently - he returned Hasting’s family, and also gave him gifts.

After such a defeat, part of the Danish army fled to the continent, where they took up their usual business - plundering the kingdom of the Franks, and Alfred's fleet completely cleared the English Channel of Scandinavian sea robbers.

Death and burial

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports very little about the last years of the reign of Alfred the Great after his defeat of the Scandinavians. The only thing we know is that he died on October 26, 899 at the age of 50 (51?) years, of which twenty-eight and a half years he held the throne of Wessex.

Although the circumstances of his death are unknown, he suffered from some sort of nasty bowel disease throughout his life. The biographer and close associate of Alfred Asser gave a detailed description of the symptoms of the disease, which allowed modern doctors to make a possible diagnosis - he had either Crohn's disease or hemorrhoids.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us:

“This year, six days before All Saints' Day, Alfred, son of Æthelwulf, died. He was king of all the English people, except those who were under the rule of the Danes."

Some of his remains rest in peace in the city of Winchester (Hampshire), but today the exact location of his other remains is unknown, because after his death they were moved from one cathedral to another at least twice.

King Alfred's Banner at St Mary's Church, Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire

After his death in 899, he was first temporarily buried in the Old Cathedral at Winchester (built in 648), and then was first moved to the New Cathedral, which he ordered to be built shortly before his death, where he lay until the accession to the throne of William the Conqueror. After the demolition and replacement of the Anglo-Saxon abbey and the New Cathedral with a Norman cathedral, the monks were forced to move to the new Hyde Abbey, just outside the northern city walls, taking the body of Alfred and his family with them and burying them in front of the main altar.

Gatehouse at Hyde Abbey. Winchester

As the years passed, in 1536, at the height of the English Reformation, many Roman Catholic churches and monasteries in England began to be secularized* and looting, and one of these churches was Alfred's burial place at Hyde Abbey, where his burial place was disturbed for the third time. Hyde Abbey itself was dissolved in 1538, and the church was demolished and turned into a quarry, the stones from which were used in urban architecture...


In the English town of Wantage (Oxfordshire), a statue of King Alfred the Great was erected in 1877 and unveiled by the Prince and Princess of Wales to commemorate the millennium of King Alfred's decisive victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Edington (sculptor Victor Hohenlohe-Langenburg, 1833–1891 gg.).

Alfred the Great. Statue in the city of Wantage. Sculptor Viktor Hohenlohe-Langenburg

The statue itself depicts a brooding King Alfred, with the head of his battle ax lying on the ground and the handle supported by his right hand. In his left hand he holds a scroll. The statue represents Alfred as Alfred the warrior and Alfred the scientist and Lawgiver. And the image is reinforced by the inscription carved on the pedestal:

“Alfred found learning in decline and revived it; education was neglected - and resurrected it; the laws were ineffective - he gave them power; the church was in humiliation - he restored its importance; the country was subjected to the devastation of a cruel enemy - he liberated it. Alfred's name will live on as long as humanity respects its past."

Note. The statue was destroyed by vandals on New Year's Eve 2007, losing part of its right arm and an axe. After the arm and ax were recovered, the statue was vandalized again on Christmas Eve 2008, losing the ax.

The second, equally monumental bronze statue of Alfred the Great, 2,7 meters high, stands in the city of Winchester (Hampshire), at the very beginning of High Street, where Alfred rests on his shield with his left hand, and holds in his raised right hand behind the blade of the weapon in such a way that the guard* his sword is a cross.

King Alfred. Sculptor Hamo Thornycroft. 1901 Winchester

Hamo Thornycroft (William Hamo Thornycroft, 1850-1925), the sculptor of this statue, presents us with King Alfred in a romanticized image of the legendary King Arthur with a thick and curly beard, although on coins that circulated during the reign of Alfred, he is depicted as beardless. The statue is one of Winchester's most easily recognizable landmarks. The plaque at the base of the monument reads:

"This statue by Hamo Thornycroft was erected in 1901."

Tower of Alfred. Architect Henry Flitcroft. The tower was built in 1772 as a monument in honor of the end of the Seven Years' War


*Burghal Hidage. An Anglo-Saxon document containing a list of more than thirty fortified burghs, most of which were in Wessex, as well as taxes assigned to the population for their service. The Burghal Hidage describes a detailed picture of the network of burghs that Alfred the Great designed to defend his kingdom from Viking invaders.

*Fird. In Britain of the Anglo-Saxon period, a national militia, which is an army convened by the king from free landowners to protect the country's territory from external aggression. The fird consisted of a core of experienced soldiers, who were supplemented by ordinary inhabitants of the county (shire) and who had to provide themselves with weapons and provisions.

* Neot (died 877). English monk and hermit. Founder of a monastery in Cornwall. In the Catholic Church, he is canonized as a saint. He is especially known for his concern for the poor.

*Carolingian Renaissance (VIII-IX centuries). The period of cultural renaissance in Western Europe during the reign of the Frankish kings - Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald from the Carolingian dynasty. During this period, literature, art and architecture flourished, and schools, libraries and scriptoria were opened at monasteries. The concept of "Carolingian Renaissance" was coined by the French philologist Jean-Jacques Ampère in the 1830s.

*Heptarchy. The term is of Greek origin, meaning "seven kingdoms" and is used by scholars to designate the historical period between the founding of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England in the late XNUMXth century and
the destruction of most of them by the Vikings in the second half of the 1080th century. This term was first used by the medieval English historian and chronicler Henry of Huntingdon (1160–XNUMX).

*"Anglo-Saxon Chronicle". Annals of England, which is a chronologically arranged collection of brief historical records in Old English describing the history of the Anglo-Saxons, covering the period from the early settlers in 495 to 1154 (the accession of the Plantagenet dynasty). The writing of the chronicle began at the end of the ninth century under King Alfred, on the basis of Bede the Venerable's Ecclesiastical History of the People of the Angles, as well as from surviving fragments of chronicles and oral traditions.

*Are given. An ancient Germanic people who came from Scandinavia to the Jutland peninsula in the XNUMXth-XNUMXth centuries and displaced the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from there. They formed the core of modern Danes.

*John Spelman (1594–1643). English historian and politician. Known as a biographer of Alfred the Great. Author of The Life of Alfred the Great, translated into Latin and published in 1678.

*Kerdik (467–534). King of Wessex (519–534). Leader of the West Saxons, founder of the Saxon settlement in Britain and the first king of Wessex. Sailed in 495 to Britain from Jutland on five ships with his squad and sons.

*John Asser (died 909). Welsh monk and writer. Close associate of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and his first biographer. Taught Alfred Latin. Author of the work "The Life of King Alfred" (893), which covers the events from 849 to 887.

*Egbert's Stone. The Egbert Stone, in the time of Alfred the Great, was a boundary mark on the borders of three counties - Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. The stone marked the point where the three counties met. The location of Egbert's Stone, where Alfred the Great assembled his army before the Battle of Ethandun, has been the subject of debate for many years. There are several possible locations, but there is very little clear evidence and the conclusions drawn by historians are really only based on calculated guesswork. Alfred's grandfather, Egbert of Wessex (769/771–839), placed this stone to establish county boundaries. Just over the county line is King Alfred's Tower.

*Danelaw. A territory in the north-eastern part of England, where Scandinavian customs and laws, based on Danish law, prevailed, and were distinguished by a special legal and social structure inherited from the Norwegian and Danish Vikings. After the restoration of the power of the Anglo-Saxon kings over Denlaw at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, Scandinavian law was preserved and partially passed into general English practice.

*Riva (Reeve). An administrative position of a local government representative appointed by the king. In the shires of Anglo-Saxon England, such an official was called a “shire-reeve”. The word sheriff comes from this combination.

*This side of the Humber. The Humber is a river that flows into the North Sea. During the Anglo-Saxon period, the River Humber was the natural boundary separating Northumbria from the southern British kingdoms, and traditionally divided Anglo-Saxon Britain into two parts - northern and southern. By "this side of the Humber" Alfred means Southern England.

* Secularization of church property. The large-scale process of conversion of church and monastic property that took place under King Henry VIII during the English Reformation. About forty secularized lands passed into the possession of the bourgeoisie and petty nobles, thus contributing to the initial accumulation of capital.

*Garda. A design element of the sword that protects the hand from enemy blows, prevents the hand from slipping down onto the blade of the sword, and provides support for the hand during thrusting.

Kosminsky E. A. "On the question of the formation of the English nation."
Glebov A. G. "Alfred the Great and the England of His Time".
Glebov A. G. "The Controversy over the Authenticity of the 'Life of Alfred the Great' in Contemporary Anglo-American Historiography".
Zolotarev A. Yu. "The Formation of the Counties in Medieval England".
Mukhametsalimov P. R. "The Military Transformations of Alfred the Great".
Adelaide Lee Beatrice “Alfred the Great, herald of truth, creator of England. 849-899".
Lebedev G.S. Viking Age in Northern Europe.
Churchill W. "The Birth of Britain".
Justin Pollard Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England.
Patrick Wormald "Makry"ing of English Law: King Alfred to the "The Twelfth Century".

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  1. Lynx2000
    Lynx2000 6 September 2023 05: 34
    Apparently not in vain Alfred, the only king of England, nicknamed the Great.
    He carried out military reform, one might say he created the first navy,
    a new code of laws, one might say, partially united the kingdom, etc.

    Cerdic (467–534). King of Wessex (519–534). Leader of the West Saxons...

    Information about his personality and origin is reflected in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
    Some researchers consider him a Briton, half Saxon.
    However, the leader with such a formidable name was probably like Attila,
    the leader Kerdik sailed with a retinue and all "kerdYk" i.e. the end has come. wink
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 06: 37
      Quote: Lynx2000
      Some researchers consider him a Briton, half Saxon

      Actually, he came with his sons from somewhere in the north of Germany, and there were no Britons there. Although there is another opinion that his name comes from the Celtic - Ceretik ...
      1. Lynx2000
        Lynx2000 6 September 2023 07: 08
        Quote: Luminman
        Actually, he came with his sons from somewhere in the north of Germany, and there were no Britons there. Although there is another opinion that his name comes from the Celtic - Ceretik ...

        The fact of the matter is that the itinerary receipt with the name of the watercraft has not been preserved. wink
        Therefore, the legends of antiquity are interpreted differently. Well, is there any exact information that he is from the north? In addition to the Saxons, Angles, Jutes, they arrived on the island at the same time from Ireland, or am I mistaken?
        1. Luminman
          6 September 2023 07: 38
          Quote: Lynx2000
          Well, is there any exact information that he is from the north?

          Well, the Saxons originally lived on the southernmost tip of Jutland, and Kerdic arrived from there. Anyway, that's what it says in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In addition, all the kings of Wessex trace their ancestry to Cerdic, and if he was a Briton, then there would hardly have been any integration with other Saxons and Angles ...

          Quote: Lynx2000
          In addition to the Saxons, Angles, Jutes, they arrived on the island at the same time from Ireland, or am I mistaken?

          I don’t know about Ireland, but all these Jutes, Saxons and Angles were invited by the Britons to protect themselves from the Picts. Then they liked the island ... wink
      2. Kote Pan Kokhanka
        Kote Pan Kokhanka 6 September 2023 18: 38
        Definitely a great article!
        Although, due to tediousness, I will clarify a couple of points:
        . In the battle with the Vikings, Alfred's fyrd used an old tactic known to the Roman infantry, called the "shield wall".

        Roman legionnaires used the advanced flanking formation. Traditionally, it is called manipulative.
        The shield wall is a much simplified construction, mainly used by the Danes. However, it is not worth recognizing them as monopolists of this construction. The same Saxons conquered Britain standing in a phalanx with a shield in their left hand, a scramosax in their right.
        Thanks again!
  2. parusnik
    parusnik 6 September 2023 06: 35
    Alfred the Great died, being not only the king of the strong kingdom of Wessex, but also the overlord of Mercia.
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 06: 45
      Quote: parusnik
      Alfred the Great died, being not only the king of the strong kingdom of Wessex, but also the overlord of Mercia

      He was suzerain not only of Mercia, but of all England, with the exception of some Celtic lands and the Danish Denlo. Only now it’s not entirely clear with a small part of Northumbria ...
  3. Frettaskyrandi
    Frettaskyrandi 6 September 2023 08: 45
    Some of his remains rest in peace in the city of Winchester (Hampshire), but today the exact location of his other remains is unknown, because after his death they were moved from one cathedral to another at least twice.

    "Rest in Peace" can hardly be applied to the fragment of the pelvis, which today is considered as possibly belonging to either Alfred or his son Edward.

    Hyde Abbey itself was dissolved in 1538, and the church was demolished and turned into a quarry, the stones from which were used in urban architecture ...

    That's not all. In the XNUMXth century, it was decided to plant a garden at the place of Alfred's final resting place. The place for the breakdown was prepared by the prisoners of the nearest prison. During the work, all the found coffins were broken, the lead from which they were made was sold, and the bones were thrown away.
    Starting in 1860, with the growing interest in the Anglo-Saxon past, excavations began to be carried out in order to find the remains of Alfred. The fragment in the picture is currently all that can claim to be the "remains of King Alfred". They do not rest in peace yet, but are being researched by the University of Winchester.
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 09: 50
      Quote from Frettaskyrandi
      "Rest in Peace" can hardly be applied to that fragment of the pelvis, which today is considered as possibly belonging to either Alfred

      In fact, some of the remains really belong to Alfred and rest in peace. But the other bones found, including a fragment of the pelvis, are still of unknown origin and because of the poor environment where they lay for several centuries, the selected material is not entirely subject to research. I read for a long time that this issue was debatable 10 years ago, and it remains the same now. Henry VIII, with his struggle with the monasteries, created a lot of problems for scientists ... wink
  4. kor1vet1974
    kor1vet1974 6 September 2023 09: 44
    Twenty-five years of struggle, a quarter of a century of defeats and victories. And what is the result? The future of England is divided between Alfred and the Vikings. Alfred kept his Wessex intact. The western half of Mercia is ruled by Ethelred II. In 879-883, he was considered the king of Mercia, but in 883 he voluntarily lowered his status, became not a king, but an ealdorman, recognized his dependence on Alfred and, in addition, married his daughter. The northern part of Northumbria, the former Bernicia, is ruled by the lords of Bebbanburg, vassals King Alfred. Wessex, half of Mercia and half of Northumbria are subject to King Alfred. Alfred, then, fought for a quarter of a century to keep under the rule of the Angles and Saxons (Anglo-Saxons) at least something that was possible.
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 09: 53
      Quote: kor1vet1974
      Twenty-five years of struggle, a quarter of a century of defeats and victories. And what is the result?

      Well, at least some part of England was not under the Vikings. Of course, in fact, England became truly united only during the time of William the Conqueror. Then came the real order and centralized power ...
      1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
        Kote Pan Kokhanka 6 September 2023 19: 24
        Of course, in fact, England became truly united only during the time of William the Conqueror. Then came the real order and centralized power ...

        Probably give it to his grandchildren.
  5. faterdom
    faterdom 6 September 2023 13: 12
    In general, Albion is a place where, unlike other European territories, the population, and especially the elite, changed very actively and often. Therefore, the exact origin of Alfred, and even more so the legendary Arthur, is a mystery worse than Rurik's. Even the English language itself is an incredible mixture of everything from Celtic and Latin to Germanic and Scandinavian, and later French.
    Perhaps the people became British after the Hundred Years' War, under Elizabeth I, and even British in general in the XNUMXth century.
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 15: 02
      Although the English language is the product of a long development since the 5th century, there are very few Celtic borrowings there. I agree with the rest...
  6. Seal
    Seal 6 September 2023 17: 05
    Well, as always.
    Kosminsky E. A. "On the question of the formation of the English nation."
    Glebov A. G. "Alfred the Great and England of his time."
    A. Glebov «Disputes about the Authenticity of the Life of Alfred the Great in Modern Anglo-American Historiography».
    Zolotarev A. Yu. "Formation of counties in medieval England."
    Mukhametsalimov P.R. "Military transformations of Alfred the Great".
    Adelaide Lee Beatrice "Alfred the Great, Herald of Truth, Maker of England. 849-899".
    Lebedev G. S. “The Viking Age in Northern Europe.
    Churchill W. The Birth of Britain.
    Justin Pollard Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England.
    Patrick Wormald "Makry"ing of English Law: King Alfred to the "The Twelfth Crentury"

    And not a single document.
    But it would seem .. well, at least on the example of this:
    In 853, King Ethelwulf went to Rome with great triumph, taking with him his youngest son, whom he loved even more than other sons, and then lived for some time at the court of the ruler of the West Frankish state and grandson of Charlemagne - Charles the Bald, where he was given an honorable reception, and there he lived for a whole year.
    that some orders of the king should remain regarding his departure, indications of whom he leaves for himself during his absence, there should be indications of the preparation of courts, there should be some "Roman" documents in Rome stating that he arrived in Rome some king from England, there should be documents about where this king was placed and at whose expense, there should be papal financial documents about the allocation of food to the king and his retinue at the expense of the pope, there should be records in papal stationery documents that the pope received king or denied him admission, and so on, and so on, and so on. But alas, as always nothing.
    1. Luminman
      6 September 2023 18: 25
      Quote: Seal
      But alas, as always, nothing

      This is just an article, not a dissertation. And take the trouble to find the documents in the list of references that you so diligently copied ...