Kings of England


Alfred the Great,

king of England, was the youngest son of Ethelwolf, king of the West Saxons, and was born at Wantage, Berks, in 849. He was sent to Rome when five years old, and three years later went again with his father and stayed a year. On the death of his brother Ethelred, Alfred succeeded to the throne of England, 871, in his 22nd year, at a time when his kingdom was a prey to domestic dissensions, and to the invasions of the Danes, whom he engaged at Wilton and in several other battles during the first year of his reign, but was forced to conclude a treaty on disadvantageous terms. The Danes, however, continued to over-run the country, and conquered Mercia and Northumbria. Alfred defeated them at sea, in 875, again made peace with them in the following year, and in 877 recovered Exeter from them. Soon afterwards he retired to the island of Athelney, and there received information that one of his chiefs had obtained a great victory over the Danes, and taken their magical standard.

Alfred is said to have disguised himself as a harper, entered the Danish camp, and gained a knowledge of the state of the enemy. Quitting his retreat he besieged the Danes at Ethandune (Edington) in 878, and completely defeated them. Yet the terms of peace included the cession to them of a large part of the kingdom, and prepared the way for the enterprise of Canute. The king Guthrun and his followers professed themselves Christians, and were baptized. Alfred now put his kingdom into a state of defence, increased his navy, and brought London into a flourishing state; but after a rest of some years, an immense number of Northmen, under the leadership of Hasting, landed in Kent, and fortified themselves at Appledore and Milton; they were, however, defeated by Alfred at Farnham, Bemfleet, and Buttington. Thus he secured the peace of his dominions, and struck terror into his enemies, after 56 battles by sea and land, in all of which he was personally engaged.

But the warlike exploits of Alfred formed, perhaps, the least of the services he rendered his country. He was so exact in his government, that robbery was unheard of. His great council, consisting of bishops, earls, aldermen, and thanes, was called together twice a year in London, Oxford, or Gloucester, for the better government of the realm. The state of learning in his time was so low, that, from the Thames to the Humber, scarcely a man could be found who understood the service of the Church, or could translate a sentence of Latin into English. To remedy this evil, he invited men of learning from all quarters, and placed them at the head of schools in various parts of his kingdom. The laws published by Alfred were chiefly selections from those previously existing, those of Ethelbert, Ina, and Offa.

Alfred himself wrote several works, and translated others from the Latin, particularly the General History of Orosius, and Boëthius's 'Consolations of Philosophy.' He divided the twenty-four hours into three equal parts, one devoted to the service of God, another to public affairs, and the third to rest and refreshment; his revenue, also, was divided into two equal moieties, one dedicated to sacred, the other to civil uses. To Alfred, England is indebted for the foundation of her fleet. To crown his great public character, Alfred is described as one of the most amiable men in private life; of a temper serene and cheerful, affable, kind, and not averse to society, or to innocent recreation ; he was also personally well-favoured, possessing a handsome and vigorous form, and a dignified and engaging aspect. Died October, 901, and was buried at Winchester. We conclude our notice of this great man in the words of Sir James Mackintosh:

'Although it be an infirmity of every nation to ascribe their institutions to the contrivance of a man rather than to the slow action of time and circumstances, yet the selection of Alfred by the English people, as the founder of all that was dear to them, is surely the strongest proof of the deep impression left on the minds of all of his transcendant wisdom and virtue.'

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king of England, was the eldest son of Edward the Elder, on whose death in 925 he succeeded to the throne. In the following year, on the death of Sihtric, king of Northumbria, who had married Athelstan's sister, he seized his kingdom, and the other kings in the island made peace with him. The great event of his reign was the battle of Brunanburg, at which he won a complete victory over Anlaf son of Sihtric, and the Anglo-Danes with their allies the Northmen, the Scots, and the Welsh. This battle was fought in 937. Athelstan acquired great influence abroad, and his alliance was sought by several European sovereigns. He ruled wisely, added to the laws left by his grandfather Alfred, and favoured trade, education, and religion. Died unmarried, 940.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson ©1996.

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