Thursday, November 8, 2018

Facts About Alfred the Great

From History Extra:
Alfred was the fifth son of King Æthelwulf (839-58), ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex – the area south of the river Thames. When he was born at Wantage in 849, it might have seemed unlikely that Alfred would ever become king, but in a period of increasing Viking attacks, his four brothers all died as young adults.

Alfred had to take over as king of Wessex in 871 in the middle of a year of nine major battles between the West Saxons and Vikings, which the former were lucky to survive. Alfred was also tested in 878 when he was forced to retreat to the marshes of Athelney (Somerset), scene of some of the legendary stories about him, including the well-known burning of the cakes.

However, Alfred came back to win a decisive victory in the same year over his Viking opponent Guthrum at Edington (Wiltshire). There were further serious Viking attacks in the 890s, but by this time Alfred had made military improvements and was better able to resist them with the help of West Mercian [an Anglo-Saxon kingdom north of Wessex] and Welsh allies.

In 868 Alfred had married Ealhswith, a descendant of the Mercian royal house, probably as part of a long-term West Saxon plan to bring the royal houses of the two provinces closer together. They had two sons and three daughters, who survived to adulthood. The middle daughter became abbess of Shaftesbury nunnery, one of two religious houses founded by Alfred. The other was at Athelney, perhaps in thanksgiving for his escape there from the Vikings.

The other two daughters entered into diplomatic marriages to the ruler of Mercia and the Count of Flanders. Little is known of Alfred’s ‘spare’, his second son, Æthelweard, but his heir, Edward, succeeded their father in 899, and continued the family success story. (Read more.)

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