King Alfred the Great reigned in England from 871-899. The title "great" was given to him because of his great leadership over the land and the people he served. This great leadership was shown most through his resistance to the Danes (Vikings) as they invaded the northwest portion of England trying to conquer the Anglo-Saxons in the 800's.
Alfred was born to his father, Aethelwulf, King of Wessex and his queen, Osburga, in 849 in Wantage, Berkshire, England. He was born of the royal house of the Jutes of Wight. He was the fourth son born and had one younger sister. He became king only after each of his older brothers had ruled for some time.
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King Alfred's education as a child was important to his reign. He did not have a formal education and learned to read and write only after he became king in 871, but he did receive great instruction throughout his life. At the age of four, Alfred went to see Pope Leo IV in Rome for instruction. The Pope later adopted King Alfred as his spiritual son. Most of the Pope's instruction to Alfred was concentrated on Christianity and not the liberal arts. This instruction was well suited for his future role as he would spend most of his reign defending the Christian Anglo-Saxons.
In the year 871, Alfred undertook the government of the kingdom after his brother, Aethelrod, had ruled in peace for about five years. After taking over the land, King Alfred was faced with some military choices. He was already somewhat experienced in battle because he had led several campaigns against the invading Danes. Alfred did not want to go into battle, so he kept the peace by paying tribute to the Danes for four years. The next year, 876, when the Danes came to collect their tribute, they did not leave the land. Instead they stayed and lived off of Alfred's people for the next two years. By 878 Alfred was fed up with supporting the Danes in his land, so he attacked them and won, forcing them to comply to his terms and pay tribute to him. The Danes, however, still had power in many other places. In 886 Alfred decided to attack London, a Danish-held city. He hoped to diminish the lands ruled under the Dane law since he thought of them as heathens. He succeeded in capturing it and making the West Saxons quite powerful. It is said that at this point Alfred earned the title of "King of England" because of his great success. In late 892, the Danes decided to make a violent return. Alfred was taken off guard, but, with a new tactic at sea, was able to defeat the Danes once again.
Although Alfred's greatest achievement during his reign was the defeat of the Danes, he also had other accomplishments. He pushed for better education and helped make learning important in the lives of the people of his land. This was necessary during his reign because education had declined due to the fact that the Danes were looting the monasteries and churches which were the center of education. Alfred believed that learning "makes life more rewarding and enjoyable;...the worst thing of all is ignorance" (Alfred University). He also kept the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and established a code of law based on the teachings of the Bible. This helped maintain social order.
King Alfred the Great died on October 26, 899 and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester. He is the only English monarch to be known as "the Great". He is well-deserving of this title. He defeated the Danes and protected his people, but he also contributed his ideas for better education and social order.
Illustration: Statue of Alfred the Great by William Underhill at Alfred University. http://www.alfred.edu/glance/html/statue_of_king_alfred.html
Alfred University. <firstname.lastname@example.org>. "Why Are We Called Alfred?" In "Alfred University: About Us" <http://www.alfred.edu/glance/html/king_alfred.html>
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Asser, Bishop of Sherborne. "The Life of King Alfred" <http://sunsite.berkley.edu/OMAC/KingAlfred/part1.html>
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Bruce, Alex. "Alfred's Military Achievements" In "Matheliende" <http://parallel.park.uga.edu/~abruce/mathi3.html>
Keifer, James E. "Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 26 October 899" In "Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past" <http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/60.html>
Roberts, Ken. <email@example.com>. "King Alfred the Great" <http://www.mirror.org/people/ken.roberts/king.alfred.html>
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Text copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.