King of the West-Saxons, born Wantage, Berkshire, England 849; died 899.Share
Alfred was the fifth son of Ethelwulf, or Æthelwulf, King of Wessex, and Osburh, his queen, of the royal house of the Jutes of Wight. When he was four years old, according to a story which has been repeated so frequently that it is generally accepted as true, he was sent by his father to Rome, where he was anointed king by Pope Leo IV. This, however like many other legends which have crystallized about the name of Alfred, is without foundation. Two years later, in 855, Ethelwulf went on a pilgrimage to Rome, taking Alfred with him. This visit, recorded by Asser, is accepted as authentic by modern historians.
In 858 Ethelwulf died and Wessex was governed by his sons, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, and Ethelred, successively, until 871, when Alfred came to the throne. Nothing is known of his movements during the reigns of Ethelbald and Ethelbert, but Asser, speaking of him during the reign of Ethelred, gives him the title of Secundarius. In 868 he married Ealhswith, daughter of Ethelred, surnamed the Mickle, Ealdorman of the Gainas. The West-Saxons and the Mercians were then engaged in a war against the invading Danes and Alfred took an active part in the struggle. He ascended the throne during the thickest of this conflict, but before the end of the year he succeeded in effecting a peace, probably by paying a sum of money to the invaders.
Wessex enjoyed a measure of peace for a few years, but about 875 the Danes renewed their attacks. They were repulsed then, and again in 876 and 877, on each occasion making solemn pledges of peace. In 878 came the great invasion under Guthrum. For a few months the Danes met with success, but about Easter Alfred established himself at Athelney and later marched to Brixton, gathering new forces on the way. In the battle of Ethandún (probably the present Edington, in Wiltshire) he defeated the Danes. Guthrum agreed to a peace and consented to be baptized. (Read entire post.)