King Alfred the Great was the ruler of most of England during the latter part of the 9th century. He originally ascended to the throne of the powerful kingdom of Wessex in 871 at a time when Viking raids were diminishing Anglo-Saxon power in England.
Alfred was able to not only thwart many Viking raids successfully and repel them decisively for a time, he also reorganised Anglo-Saxon military efforts and helped forge a stronger Anglo-Saxon identity.
He was known as a patron of education and arts, promoting the learning of English and Latin among Anglo-Saxon nobles. Although originally a Wessex king, Alfred had effectively become the most powerful of Anglo-Saxon kings in England by the time of his death in 899.
Alfred and the Vikings
At the time of his ascension to the Wessex throne, Alfred’s kingdom was besieged by the Danes who launched frequent raiding attacks into territories of Wessex.
Alfred initially tried to halt these attacks by confronting the Danes but couldn’t secure a decisive victory. He instead had to sue for peace with Danes in 871.
In 878, another confrontation with Danish Vikings led Alfred to launch a highly successful resistance using bands of local militias. This was a time when Wessex alone of all Anglo-Saxon kingdoms stood free from direct Danish influence.
Victory against the Vikings
Although Alfred initially failed to secure significant victories against the Danes, his fortune changed from 878 onwards. Later in the same year, Alfred marshaled his forces and decisively defeated the Danes at a battle, besieged their strongholds and forced them into submission.
As part of a treaty that Alfred signed with the Danes in 880, he was able to retain control of western Mercia as well as the city of London. In subsequent years, Alfred had to contend with smaller Viking raids, most of which he successfully repelled.
Alfred and Anglo-Saxon Military
By the time Vikings began raids on England, Anglo-Saxon military largely relied on more rudimentary tactics compared to the attackers. Alfred sought to change this by turning Anglo-Saxon warriors into a more mobile army with frequent fortifications around his kingdom to support the army.
Another significant move by him was to have a fleet of nearly a dozen ships built. These were oared ships which could carry a large number of troops although they weren’t agile enough to manoeuvre quickly in a battle. Nevertheless, Alfred’s navy was able to block several Danish raids and defeat many others.
Alfred and Education
Alfred was a great patron of education and throughout his reign, persuaded his noblemen, the clergy and the population at large to attain education in English language. To this end, he established a court school where he had many notable works of Latin translated into English.
The court school was also the place where sons of Anglo-Saxon nobility were educated. A significant thing about Alfred’s educational program was that it extended beyond the nobility and sought to educate all free-born young men in his kingdom.
It was largely thanks to his efforts that many popular Latin works of the time were translated and became available in English.