King Alfred the Great

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King Alfred the Great

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  • 1. KING ALFREDTHE GREAT The Reformer KingBy Dr. Peter Hammond

2. KING ALFREDTHE GREAT The Reformer KingBy Dr. Peter Hammond 3. King Alfred ofWessex spentmost of his lifefighting againstthe invadingDanes and he isthe only king inEnglish history to be known asThe Great. 4. His reign has beenrecognised as one of the mostimportant turningpoints in English political andecclesiasticalhistory. 5. He lived through tumultuous times and is recognisedas one of the mostintelligent, devout,industrious and effective of allmedieval monarchs. 6. Alfred was both soldier and scholar, lawmakerand educator, author and Reformer. 7. Alfred was born the fourth son of Aethelwulf and Osburh at Wantage in849. His mother taught him a love for knowledge, and at a young age heresponded to her challenge that whichever one of her children firstlearned to read a beautifully illuminated Saxon book of poetry shouldhave it for his own. Alfred dedicated himself to the task and won theprize. 8. This was characteristicof his entire lifes lovefor literature, hunger for knowledge andpassion foradvancing English literature. As the fourth son ofthe king, it was not expected that Alfred would ever come to rule, however, the death of his brother,Aethelred, in battle against the Danes,propelled Alfred to the throne. 9. For most of Alfreds 30 yearsreign he was a soldier king wholed his people in a desperatewar for survival. Alfred personally commandedin 54 pitched battles, frequently fighting against overwhelmingodds. In just the first five monthsof 870 Alfred fought 9 pitched battles against the DanishVikings.Alfred was defeated at Reading, and a few days later turned thisdefeat into victory at Ashdown. 10. The Battle of Ashdown inJanuary 874 was criticallyimportant. As WinstonChurchill describes it: If the West Saxons hadbeen beaten allEngland wouldhave sunk into heathen anarchy. 11. Since they werevictorious the hope still burned for acivilized Christianexistence in this Island. This was the first time theinvaders had been beaten in thefield. 12. There was an inconclusive battle at Basing, followed by a defeat atMarton. It was at this battle that his brother, Athelred, died and Alfredsucceeded to the throne. Shortly after this he fought the Danes to astandstill at Wilton, but the result of the battle was indecisive. Alfred and the men of Wessex had proven too stubborn a foe for easy subjugation so then resistance secured five uneasy years of peace in which to consolidate. 13. In the uneasy peace that followed, Alfred reoganised his army and started to rebuild his realm which had suffered under the merciless ravages of the Danish Vikings. 14. Many towns andvillages were raidedand plundered, Londonhad fallen to the Danes, and Northumbria andEast Anglia were firmly under Danish control. 15. Alfred realisedthat it was vital to create a navy toeffectively defend England from theseafaring Danes. To be safe in an island it was necessary tocommand the sea. 16. For building upthe EnglishNavy from very smallbeginnings,Alfred has justlybeen called:The Father ofthe English Navy. 17. Alfred also instilled a great respect for lawand order in hiskingdom and it was saidthat a traveler might hang a valuable jewelon a bush by theroadside and nobody would dare touch it. 18. Alfred broughtscholars fromEurope in order to help educate his people. He was determined togive his nation astable system oflaws based upon Gods Law. 19. He blended Mosaic law with theSermon on the Mountand Germanic customs.Alfreds Dooms beganwith theTen Commandments, the Laws of Moses,the Golden Rule of Christ, and otherBiblical principles. 20. In 876 the Danes launched a surprise offensive, seized Wareham, besieged and took Exeter, and rounding by sea landed in Devon, then besieged Kenwith Castle. 21. When they captured Kenwith they put all the inhabitants tothe sword. Alfred was defeated at the battle of Chippenham, and forced to retreat. Wessex seemed to be in dangerof falling under the shadow of Odins bird (the great raven which the Danes took as their symbol). 22. Alfreds defeated forces withdrew to the Isle of Athelney, amidst theforests and marshes of Somerset. It was here that the well-known eventof Alfred burning the housewifes cakes took place. Seeking shelterwhile on the move, Alfred was asked by his host to watch her cakeswhich were being baked. Absorbed in thought, planning his strategies tocounter attack the Danes, Alfred failed to notice the blackened cakes hewas meant to be watching and was berated by the irate housewife whenshe returned. 23. After reorganising his forces,Alfred surprised the Danes afterforce marching his soldiers at up to 40 miles a day. The Battle of Edington, in Wiltshire, was adecisive victory for Alfred. The area is still known as Slaughterford. 24. On the hillside above this decisivebattlefield is a great white horse, which Alfred had cut out tocommemorate this major victory. 25. Alfred also forcedKing Guthrum ofthe Danes, alongwith 30 of his earls, to be baptised as Christians. These were the first Viking converts toChristianity. 26. The Danes withdrewfrom Alfreds territory until 884 when theyattempted another invasion. This time Alfredgained a swift victory,seizing London in 885and fortifying it strongly. 27. Thereafter, Alfred received the submission of the leaders ofthe Angles and the Saxons and from several princes of Wales. At this point, Alfred became in fact the first king over all of England. 28. In 892 a large invasion of Danes was met in battle. Alfred defeated the invaders at Farnham in 893.Again at Thorney and Benfleet, he out-maneuvered and out-fought them. Then, hearing of a second Danish army besieging Exeter, he force marched his army and drove out the besiegers. 29. At this point, his newly formed English Navyattacked the galleys of theinvading Danes at sea and defeated them. 30. As a large army of Danes marched up the Thames valley, numerousfierce battles ensued. The Danish garrison at Chester was besieged andforced to retreat in 894. To prevent the Danes re-supplying their forcesAlfred obstructed the Thames River, forcing them to withdraw. By 896he had driven the invaders out of his kingdom. 31. Through virtue and valor, tactics andtenacity, Alfred had fought the Viking invadersto a standstill and turned them back out of hiscountry. He succeeded in uniting the fragmented dominions of England against acommon foe.His Christian courage was an inspiration to all. 32. Eldward the ElderAlfred enjoyed over 32 years in marriage to Ealhswith of the royal family of Mercia. They raised three daughters and two sons. 33. (His son Edward and daughter Elhelfleda(The Lady of the Mercians) together defeated the Danesand liberated all England.) 34. Now, having rescued his countryfrom invasion, he set to workreforming the laws, customs and culture of his people. He personally translated many Latin works into Anglo-Saxon so that the English people couldread them. Amongst his many translation projects were Bedes Ecclesiastical History, Orosius Universal History, GregorysPastoral Theology, Aesops Fables, Boethius Consolation ofPhilosophy, and the Psalms ofDavid. Alfred was also the authorof many original titles, including abook against unjust judges. 35. Alfred desired that every Englishman learn to read, and so he devised aplan for the general education of the people. He donated half of hispersonal income to church schools. Alfred taught that for a kingdom to be effective, it needed men of prayer, men of war and men of work.Alfred insisted that his nobles learn to read, and learn the great history and heritage of Christendom. 36. King Alfred wrote: Local government ought to besynonymous with local Christian virtue, otherwise it becomes local tyranny, local corruption and local iniquity. 37. Alfred founded two monasteries and numerous schools. His charitieswere numerous. He received and cared for foreigners and strangers in hiscourt and allocated 1/8th of his revenue to the poor and needy. 38. He instituted a system of fortified posts (burgs) and established anational militia (the fyrd) ensuring that the common people were armed,trained and organised for local defence. He enlarged and improved theEnglish fleet. 39. He also entrenchedand enforced the Law of God as theCommon Law ofEngland. 40. Historians have noted thatwhile the world has had otherexamples of kings who have been great generals or great magistrates, no othersovereign did more inbattle, in rule making, informing and developingthe literature andeducation of theirpeople, as well asworking for the spiritual benefit of both subjectsand enemies. 41. Winston Churchill marvels that Alfredshould have wished to convert these savage foes This sublimepower to rise above the wholeforce of circumstances, toremain unbiased by the extremesof victory or defeat, to persevere in the teeth of disaster, to greetreturning fortune with a cooleye, to have faith in men afterrepeated betrayals, raises Alfredfar above the turmoil of barbaric wars to his pinnacleof deathless Victory. 42. Edmund Burke wrote of Alfred:One cannot help being amazed thata prince who lived in such turbulent times, who commanded personallyin 54 pitched battles, who had sodisordered a province to regulate, who was not only a legislator but a judge, and who was continuallysuperintending his armies, hisnavies, the traffic of his kingdom,his revenues and the conduct of allhis officers, could have bestowed somuch of his time on religiousexercises and speculativeknowledge, but the exertion of allhis faculties and virtues seems to have given mutual strengthto all of them. 43. King Alfred stands out as the modelking, the perfect knight, adedicated Christian, a Protestantbefore Protestantism, soldier andscholar, rule maker and educator,author and Reformer.He successfully fought againstspiritual decay within the