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New research on Alfred the Great

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Republished from The Conversation

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Aerial view of the Burghal Hidage site of Wallingford with the Thames in partial flood. Outline of the Saxon ramparts and ‘Alfredian’ streetplan is clear. Image courtesy of the Environmental Agency, Author provided

By Stuart Brookes

Senior Research Associate in Archaeology, UCL

The Last Kingdom – BBC’s historical drama set in the time of Alfred the Great’s war with the Vikings – has returned to our screens for a second series. While most attention will continue to focus on the fictional hero Uhtred, his story is played out against a political background where the main protagonist is the brooding and bookish mastermind Alfred the Great, vividly portrayed in the series by David Dawson.

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Alfred the Great, Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex

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by Susan Abernethy (thefreelancehistorywriter.com)

Alfred the Great.  Image in the public domain

“Therefore a man never attains virtue and excellence through his power; rather he attains power and authority through his virtue… Study wisdom, therefore, and when you have learned it, do not neglect it, for I say to you without hesitation that you can attain authority through wisdom”. Alfred the Great

On October 26, 899, Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, died. From the moment Alfred became King, Wessex was in a desperate struggle against the “heathen army”. Alfred managed to turn the Vikings away and set up conditions on the island for the unification of England. His great victory in 878 at Edington allowed for a period of relative calm so Alfred could begin a program of far reaching reform. He transformed the defense of the realm, rebuilt his naval fleet, and overhauled the law codes. Most importantly, he started a curriculum of education which he personally participated in. The Vikings came back in 892, putting Alfred’s new defenses on trial and were repulsed in 896 allowing Alfred to resume his reforms.

The most likely date and birthplace for Alfred was in 849 in Wantage. His father was King Aethelwulf of Wessex and his mother was Osburh. He had three older brothers and a sister. At the time of his birth, the likelihood of him becoming king was remote. Alfred was a favorite of his parents. Alfred spent most of his childhood at court in the care of his parents and his tutors. Although he had tutors, he laments in his biography to Asser that he didn’t learn to read English until he was older and he didn’t learn Latin until he was a grown man. When he was four, his father sent him on a trip to Rome. Pope Leo IV had an investiture ceremony where he made Alfred a consul (official of Rome).

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