|King Alfred the Great was born in 849 at Wantage in Berkshire , youngest of
five sons and one daughter of King Aethelwulf. His father and brothers died
defending their kingdom mostly from the Vikings , and he came to power in
871 at the age of 22, reigned for another 28 years, and died on the 26
October 899, and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester .|
All the brothers except Aethelstan , who died in about 850, reigned in turn
from second to last born, following the death of their father Aethelwulf
In 853 at the age of 4 Alfred was sent to Rome by his father to stay with
Pope Leo IV who treated him like the son he could never have. This
encouraged Alfred to wish to become a monk, a wish he would never fulfill.
A couple of years later his father who thought he was near to death went
to Rome taking Alfred with him, they stayed for about a year then returned
At the age of 19 in 868 he is recorded as fighting beside his brother in
Mercia against the Danes ( Vikings ).
|Their reigns were as follows
839 - 855 Aethelwulf
855 - 860 Aethelbald
860 - 866 Aethelbert
866 - 871 Aethelred I
871 - 899 Alfred the Great
In 878 a large force of Danes invaded Wessex during the winter, and defeated
the main force of the West Saxons , Alfred escaped into the marshes at
Athelney in Somerset . He learnt quite a lot from the defeat by the Danes,
firstly he fortified his own camp a practice the Vikings always adhered to.
He carried out a guerilla war for a period, and built his forces from the
Saxons of Somerset , Hampshire and Wiltshire, then in 878 came out of the
marshes and decisively defeated King Guthrum of the Danes at Edington .
After a this victory Guthrum was chased back to his base at Chippenham ,
where he was besieged for two weeks. Eventually Guthrum surrendered, and
agreed to retreat from Wessex , and also to accept baptism as a Christian.
After the defeat Guthrum, he agreed to split England down the line of
Watling Street(The old Roman road) , the Danes having much of North and
Eastern England which became known as the Danelaw.
There is a famous legend about his time in exile, see our Alfriston page.
'Alfred was hiding in the home of a peasant whose wife
was baking some griddle-cakes while Alfred was making some arrows for his
bow. Alfred was asked to look after the bread, but the bread started to
burn, Alfred was concentrating on making the arrows, or probably planning
what to do next and the bread burnt. This angered the peasant's wife, who
shouted at Alfred for his stupidity and thoughtlessness, not knowing he
was the king.'
To try to protect his kingdom, a policy of burh building began. A burh
was a defensive fortress, in which the locals were encouraged to provide
a defense force by being give free plots of land within the burhs .
These burhs were also encouraged to become centres of commerce
and local government. Along with the burhs he created the fyrd , which was
the first regular army designed to protect the kingdom. He also created
the first navy and had many ships constructed in the Danish style so that
he could engage them at sea.
In 887 during a period of relative peace he decided that it was important
to be able to read, probably because of his dependance on the monks to
translate for him. This learning period created in Alfred the desire to
see others taught, and he set up centres of learning and teaching. As
a side effect of this learning, he set up the first English code of common
law which he drew from existing literature, and was made available to all
The Vikings invaded again during 892, and set up their base at Appledore on
the edge of the Romney Marshes , this force was eventually defeated and
returned to Denmark , but not before destroying Eorpeburnan one of Alfreds
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles for the year 892AD says the following :-
In the year, the great force of 250 ships brought the Vikings from Boulogne
to the mouth of the Limen . The river mouth is in East Kent at the end of
the great wood we call Andred, the Weald. The wood is by east and west 112
miles long and thirty miles broad. The river of which we have spoken runs out
of these woods, and on the river they took their ships up to the forest four
miles from the outward mouth, and there broke into a fort; in the stronghold
there were only a few peasants staying and it was half-built. The Vikings most
likely camped at Appledore , and the fort they destroyed was probably at
On the 26 October 899 at the age of 50 Alfred died , and was buried in
the Old Minster at Winchester ending an age of Saxon precedence.