(c.849-c.901)   King of Wessex (c.871-c.901)
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Alfred defended Wessex from the Danes, both those settled in the north of England as well as raiders and new invaders. He founded the first English navy winning Englands first naval engagement (defeating the Danes at the battle of Swanage). Alfred brought a legal code into operation and encouraged the translation of Latin works into English (some of which he translated himself). He was also instrumental in developing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Alfred was born at Wantage in Oxfordshire (Berkshire before the Local Government reorganisation of 1974) between 847 and 849, the youngest of five surviving children (four sone and a daughter) of Ethelwulf, King of Wessex, by his second wife, Osburh. Alfred and his brother Ethelred fought many battles against the Danes in 870. He was victorious over the Danes at Ashdown in 871, and succeeded his brother Ethelred I as king of Wessex and Mercia in April of 871, aged in his early 20s, after a series of defeats. With the Danes occupied elsewhere in England, five years of uneasy peace followed.

In 853, aged about five, the young Alfred is reputed to have been sent to Rome where he was confirmed by Pope Leo IV. The Pope is said to have "anointed him as king" which has been taken by some later writers as pre-empting his accession to the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia - which is unlikely as such an event could not have been forseen at the time as Alfred had three older surviving brothers at the time. titular royalty such as that of the under-kingdom of Kent. What is almost certain is that in 854-855, the young Alfred accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Rome and spent some time at the court of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, and the anointing as "king" was titular only and referred to a sub-kingdom such as Kent.

Ethelwulf, died in 858 and was succeeded by Alfred's eldest brothers Ethelbald (who forced his father to abdicate in 856 and died in 860) and Ethelbert (who succeeded Ethelbald on his death and died about 865 without a heir). Nothing is recorded of Alfred himself during their short reigns, and he reappears in the records after the accession of his third brother, Ethelred I in 866.

In 868 Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucill, ealdorman of the Gaini who dwelt in Lincolnshire in the area of modern Gainsborough. Ealhswith was the granddaughter of a former King of Mercia and, of the royal couple's five or six children, their daughter, Ethelfleda (d.918), who would later become queen of Mercia in her own right.

Also in 868, Alfred fought beside his brother, the King Ethelred I in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve Mercia from the pressure of the Danish attacks. Wessex itself was comparatively peaceful for nearly two years but this was to end abruptly in 870 when the first of a series of nine battles were fought between the Saxons and the Danish invaders, the dates and locations of two of which have become lost to us.

On December 31st, 870, the West Saxons met with initial success, winning a skirmish at Englefield in Berkshire but, within a week, on January 4th, 871, were severely defeated by the Danes at the Battle of Reading. Despite this, only four days later, the Saxons won a spectacular victory at the Battle of Ashdown, near Compton Beauchamp in Shrivenham Hundred. January 22nd brought a Saxon defeat at Basing in Hampshire and, on March 22 at Marton in Wiltshire. The two unidentified battles may perhaps have occured during this interval of two months.

Ethelred I died on April 23rd, 871 and, while Alfred busied himself with his brother's funeral, the Danes defeated the Saxons at a battle from which Alfred was absent and at a location now lost to us. The Saxons, this time led by Alfred, suffered another defeat in May at Wilton in Wiltshire. After the battle of Wilton, Alfred made peace with the Danes who, preoccupied in other parts of England over the next five years, left the West Saxons in peace and guarding their borders.

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In 876, the five years of fragile peace enjoyed by the West Saxons was broken as, under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes entered Poole Harbour in Dorset and took the port of Wareham. From this base and safe anchorage, they ravaged the area around the harbour and the Isle of Purbeck and, early 877, made a rapid march westwards under the pretext of talks to take Exeter. The Danes were beseiged at Exeter by Alfred and the fleet which was meant to relieve them was dispersed by a storm forcing the Danes to submit and retreat to Mercia.

An attack on Wessex by the Danes in January 878 took the Saxons by surprise. They swooped on the royal stronghold of Chippenham where Alfred had been keeping Christmas ". . . and most of the people they reduced, except the King Alfred . . ." who escaped with a small band and overran much of the kingdom. Alfred was driven into hiding at Athelney where he establised a stronghold from which to resist the invaders. The flight to Athelney in Somerset, near Bridgewater, is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. . .

And afterwards at Easter, King Alfred with a small force made a stronghold at Athelney, and he and the section of the people of Somerset which was nearest to it proceeded to fight from that stronghold against the enemy. Then in the seventh week after Easter he rode to Egbert�s Stone east of Selwood and there came to meet him all the people of Somerset and of Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire which was on the side of the sea, and they rejoiced to see him.

By early May 878, King Alfred was in a position to mount a counter-attack against the invaders; the king made his way to �Egbert�s Stone� in east Somerset near the village of Pen Selwood where he was joined by the men of Somerset, Wiltshire and part of Hampshire.

The Saxons put the Danes to flight at the battle at Edington in Wiltshire and the Vikings retreated to their stronghold at Chippenham. After a siege lasting a fortnight, the Danes surrendered and peace was made between Alfred and the Vikings who swore, by what became known as the 'Peace of Wedmore' to retreat from Wessex and Mercia as far as Watling Street into the 'Danelaw'. Three weeks later, Guthrum (d.890), leader of the Vikings, joined King Alfred at Aller near Althelney and was baptised together with twenty-nine of his chief men, sealing the agreement. A few days later Alfred honoured Guthrum and his Viking companions with gifts at Wedmore.

As a result of the agreement between King Alfred and Guthrum (later known to historians as the "Peace of Wedmore", although no documentary evidence exists of its provisions - if such ever existed), England became divided into two; the south-western half ruled by the Saxons (eastwards to Watling Street); the north-eastern half ruled by the Vikings, becoming known as the "Danelaw", where the Danish law prevailed.


Alfred's escape to Athelney generated three popular legends, all of which had become firmly established by the eleventh century;

St Cuthbert.
While Alfred and the Saxons were hiding in Athelney, they were visited by St Cuthbert disguised as a pilgrim. Despite the fugitives only possessing meagre supplies, the King ordered that their food and drink be shared with the stranger. The pilgrim mysteriously disappeared, leaving food and drink untouched, but later, moved by Alfred�s generosity, St Cuthbert appeared to him in a vision offering him advice on how to defeat the Viking invaders and promising him victory and future prosperity.

Alfred's Visit to the Danish Camp.
Alfred is said to have disguised himself as a minstrel or a harpist and left the safety of Athelney to infiltrate the Danish camp where he spent several days spying on his enemies while in their midst. On his return, the King informed his supporters of how idle the enemy were and how easy they would be defeated, raising their morale and securing the great victory of his army at Edington.

Alfred's Burning of the Cakes.
The most famous of the legends about King Alfred and the retreat to Athelney; arriving in disguise, the King sought shelter in the home of a swineherd whose wife was baking some cakes which she asked the stranger to mind for her. Pre-occupied with his situation, Alfred burnt the cakes and was scolded by the unwitting swineherd's wife.

Following the turmoil fo the Viking invasion of Wessex in 878, King Alfred embarked on a policy of fortifying Saxon towns, named 'burghs', at strategic locations to try and ensure that the events of the year could not be repeated. The fortified 'burghs' included Wareham in Dorset, Christchurch and Winchester in Hampshire, Lyng (Somerset) and Cricklade in Wiltshire.

Alfred went on to become ruler of the neighbouring Saxon kingdom of Mercia and laid the foundations for the emergence of England as a unified kingdom.

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A fresh landing in Kent encouraged a revolt amongst the East Anglian Danes which was suppressed between 884 and 886. Another invasion of Danes, the last of Alfred's reign, was defeated between 892 and 896. To prevent further invasion, Alfred strengthened the navy to intercept the Danes at sea.

Alfred was succeeded as King of Wessex by his son Edward the Elder.

To protect towns from the raids of the vikings, Alfred established them as 'burghs' - fortified places where within which the population could retreat in the face of the raids. Christchurch and Wareham in Dorset was one such burgh.

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St Swithun   (d.862)

Alfred the Great, like his father, King Aethelred of Wessex, was tutored by Swithun.

Ethelred I  

Alfred the Great fought many battles against the Danes with his elder brother, King Ethelred I and succeeded him as king of Wessex on his death in 871.

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This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
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circa 849Birth of King Alfred the Great of Wessex
858.Jan.13Death of Ethelwulf, king of Wessex and Kent
He was buried at Winchester
868Marriage of Alfred (later Alfred the Great) to Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucill, ealdorman of the Gaini
871.Jan.04Battle of Reading: Ethelred I of Wessex defeats an invading Danish army
871.Jan.08Alfred the Great defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in Berkshire but with a high cost in lives on both sides
One of eight battles in which Aflred was angaged during the year
871.Apr.23Death of king Ethelred I of Wessex, succeeded by his brother Alfred the Great
Although Alfred never united England under his rule, he is often considered the first English king
871.MayDefeat of Alfred the Great and the West Saxons by the Danes at Wilton in Wiltshire
The second defeat of the Saxons since the death of Ethelred I
876Danes occupy Exeter
877Battle of Swanage Bay; Alfred the Great wins first English naval victory against the Danes
A Danish fleet left Wareham to relieve their comrades besieged at Exeter by King Alfreds forces. Storms drove 120 of the vessels ashore off Perveril Point before the English galleys could intercept them - the earliest known shipwrecks off the Dorset Coast
878.JanDanes attack and overrun much of Wessex. Alfred the Great forced to flee to, and establish a stronghold at Athelney
878.JanGuthrum marches from Gloucester to Chippenham where Alfred the Great was over-wintering
878.MayAlfred the Great rallied Somerset and Wiltshire and defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ednington nr Chippenham, Wilts. Guthrum the Danish leader was baptized as a Christian by the Peace of Wedmore
886Alfred the Great expelled the Danes from London Alfred and Guthrum agreed a treaty defining the border of the Danelaw
888Malmesbury in Wiltshire granted a charter by King Alfred the Great
... this would make Malmesbury the oldest borough in England
893Welsh rulers provide forces for the army of Alfred the Great
899Death of Alfred the Great of Wessex. He was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder
1772Alfred�s Tower built by Henry Hoare at Stourhead to commemorate the gathering of Alfred�s supporters prior to the Battle of Edington

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Vikings Raids on the British Isles

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St Neot

One of the stories surrounding Alfred claims that he suffered from a disease which he feared might be blindness or leprosy and, while hunting at St Neot, he prayed at the church of St Gwinear for his healing from this painful illness and that it might be replaced by an illness less visible and crippling which would not render him useless to the kingdom.


The Danes who landed at Wareham took Exeter in 877 but were beseiged by Alfred and forced to yield and retreat to Mercia. Three coins are known to exist from the reign of Alfred the Great bearing the name of the city and 'AELFRED REX SAXONUM', 'Aelfred King of the Saxons'.


King Alfred made Winchester his capital a laid out the city to a grid, as had been done in Roman times. He also fortified it against raids by the Danes.


Alfred's birthplace, Wantage was a royal estate on the border of Wessex and Mercia. A statue of Alfred stands near the parish church.


Alfred�s Tower was built by Henry Hoare in 1772 to commemorate the gathering of Alfred�s supporters prior to the Battle of Edington.


Although there is no direct supporting evidence, the town claims to be the oldest borough in England having been granted a charter in 888 by King Alfred.


Pewsey was a royal possession and a statue of the king dominates the main road through the town.

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