The Great Legacy of Alfred the Great: How One King Transformed England

Alfred the Great was King of the West Saxons from 871 to 886 King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886

Alfred the Great was born in 849 AD, he became the renowned King of Wessex and although he was not expected to become King because of his older brothers who were ahead of him in line to the throne, he was certainly trained to be a King and was an excellent warrior and an expert in the art of warfare.

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“Alfred the Great was not only a great warrior but also a visionary king who transformed England through his education and social reforms.”

Dr. Simon Keynes, Professor of Anglo-Saxon History at the University of Cambridge and author of “Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources.”

Alfred the Great had two older brothers that would be in a position to succeed him and he was too young to be proclaimed king when his father died in the year 855.

King Æthelred Dies & Alfred is King

Alfred the Great was involved in many battles against the Viking armies that constantly invaded England, he won some of these battles fighting alongside his brothers but also lost others, his brother King Æthelred who was the King at that time was wounded in a battle against the Vikings and later died.

Viking Raiders

This event led to Alfred becoming king and eventually the undisputed ruler of England, unfortunately for Alfred, this was not a particularly good time to become king as the great Viking armies were taking over the country and English forces were struggling to hold back the Norse invaders.

Pagan Vikings
Pagan Vikings

Alfred the Great faces the reinforced Viking Army

Alfred The Greats’ brother Æthelred died In 871, Viking reinforcements were arriving in England from Denmark to bolster the Viking army at this time and it was a period of relentless invasions by the Vikings who arrived inland on their longboats.

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Alfred in his weakened position of being a newly crowned king lost many of the initial skirmishes that took place, although he tried hard he was unable to hold back this continual bombardment.

Alfred the Great was forced to come to an agreement with the Vikings not to attack Wessex again in return for a large sum of money.

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Alfred the Great – Divine Intervention

Although ‘Alfred the Great’ paid off the Vikings they continued to attack and there were several close shaves for Alfred the Great in which he was almost defeated several times by the invading Viking armies.

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“Alfred the Great is a towering figure in English history, revered for his military achievements, political acumen, and dedication to learning and scholarship.”

Dr. Richard Abels, Professor Emeritus of History at the United States Naval Academy and author of “Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England.”

The Viking leader Guthrum invaded Wessex in 876 and on this occasion Alfred great was saved by divine intervention, as a fleet of Viking ships was almost entirely destroyed by a devastating storm in the North Sea.

Viking Gods Thor Thunder

Alfred the Great  – Athelney Marshes

In 878 Alfred the great was caught by surprise at the end of the Christmas festivities by another invading Viking army, he was forced to flee and hide in the Athelney marshes, this was a major embarrassment for the English king.

“Alfred the Great was not just a warrior king, but a diplomat, a lawgiver, and a patron of learning, whose legacy continues to shape English identity and culture today.”

Dr. Eleanor Parker, Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Brasenose College, University of Oxford and author of “Dragon Lords and Warrior Women of Anglo-Saxon England.”

However, it was this humiliation that transformed Alfred the great and made him into the great future leader that he was to become. During this difficult time in the marshes, Alfred the Great worked hard trying to gather strong support and made himself much stronger.

Alfred the Great and the Resistance

This was the time when “Alfred the Great” formed a resistance force of troops at an Edbert’s Stone, amazingly 4000 people came and it was now Alfred the Great who would have the momentum against the Viking leader Guthrum, it was now Alfred’s the Greats turn to surprise the Vikings.

Viking leader Guthrum
Viking leader Guthrum

Alfred the Great soon launched a surprise attack against the Viking armies who were overwhelmed by the strength of Anglo-Saxon fighters at Edington.

Anglo Saxon Warriors

Alfred the Great Defeats Guthrum

Guthrum was surrounded and was forced to accept Christian baptism under a peace settlement that had been drafted. Alfred the Great had now captured Wessex and Western Murcia, the Vikings were left with the Eastern part of Murcia and East Anglia.

Guthrum and Alfred the Great came to an agreement in which Guthrum would not attack Wessex again but Alfred had to accept that the Vikings would be permanent settlers in England.

Plans to divide the lands between them were created and boundaries established that they could not break. Alfred’s land would be to the west of Wessex and Vikings’ land would be to the East.

Danelaw Map

“Alfred the Great was a true hero of his age, whose leadership and vision saved England from the brink of collapse and laid the foundations for a unified nation.”

Dr. Ryan Lavelle, Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Winchester and author of “Alfred’s Wars: Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age.”

Alfred the Great Reinforces his Army

Alfred the Great used this period of peace to reinforce his army by providing better training and better fighting equipment to his troops.

Alfred the Great also built up his naval fleet of ships and created fortified towns across Britain, this helped him keep Wessex safe from any future attacks from the Vikings.

The Viking parts of England now had Danish laws and customs which became commonly known as Danelaw.

Anglo Saxon Warrior Wearing Anglo Saxon Armour

Alfred the Great Leader

Alfred the Great had a grand vision of a united England of Anglo-Saxons, other leaders began to see the strength of Alfred the Great and bought into his vision.

Anglo Saxon Warfare

Alfred the Great had managed to break down the barriers between competing Anglo-Saxon tribes, the name Angelcynn was also introduced by Alfred the Great which means “the English”. Alfred The Great is widely regarded as the greatest Anglo-Saxon King.

5 Great Books about the Legacy of Alfred the Great

“Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources” edited by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge
This book provides a comprehensive look at the life and legacy of Alfred the Great, drawing on contemporary sources to give a detailed picture of the man and his impact on history.

“Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England” by Justin Pollard
This biography explores the life of Alfred the Great, his military victories, his cultural and educational reforms, and his impact on the development of England as a nation.

“Alfred the Great: The King and His England” by Eleanor Shipley Duckett
This book examines the reign of Alfred the Great in its historical context, discussing his achievements as a warrior, lawmaker, and cultural patron, and exploring his impact on the English language and literature.

“Alfred the Great and Viking Wars” by Paul Hill
This book focuses on Alfred’s military campaigns against the Vikings and the strategies he used to defend his kingdom and ultimately defeat his enemies. It also looks at the broader historical context of the Viking invasions and their impact on England.

“The Age of Alfred: Britain in the Dark Ages” by David Sturdy
This book provides a broader historical overview of the period in which Alfred the Great lived, exploring the social, economic, and political changes that were taking place in Britain during the Dark Ages, and highlighting Alfred’s role in shaping the course of English history.