The time of King Alfred. To many, indeed my own introduction to the Great man himself was to learn about a King of England who infamously burnt a humble woman’s cakes. Disguised as a soldier in his own army, fleeing the marauding Danes, he concentrated too much on planning his warfare strategy and subsequently forgot his minder’s duties. Burnt cakes and a thoroughly chastised King by one of his own subjects who had no idea she was giving a dressing down to the great King of Wessex himself.
King Alfred’s reign from 871 – 899 was a period of much change, with his subjects living through a time of war as the majority of it was spent fighting the Danes. On the White Horse Hill in Uffington, the battles between the Danish and King Alfred’s army was so fierce and so brutal that the Danish blood drowned the grass on the knoll and it is a proven fact that to this day no vegetation will grow there.
The latter half of the ninth century was in the midst of the decades when the Pagan Vikings from Scandinavia were constantly raiding the Christian British Isles. This is a topic that Denny Bradbury takes to her heart in her soon to be published novel, Borvo, where her chief protagonist is a young healer boy who still practices his healing pagan rituals at a time of critical religious change within England. In the book, as discussed here, Denny tells of how one of the King’s own subjects comes to his aid with his pagan healing at a time when the King was rejecting Paganism in favour of Christianity. Denny’s love of the county of Wessex leads her to set her novel in the period when the very first King of Wessex was appointed.
During Alfred’s reign, he pushed very hard for better education for a nation of people that were not well-educated and more importantly he helped make learning important in the lives of the people of his land. With the Danes having looted the monasteries and the churches – buildings that were the centres of education – and having burnt down many libraries, Alfred sought to promote a national educational system by establishing a Court school, and also importing internationally famous scholars to teach there. He regarded access to public education based upon a Christian foundation as the birthright of every Englishman. Under Alfred, the nation was united in fighting for their homeland and also educated to have a far clearer understanding of the rules they were living by, which Alfred did by translating the Ten Commandments under his own Law Code, despite having had no formal education. It was during this period that English became the official written language.
Through the time of his reign, Alfred defeated the Danes, protected his people and improved social order, applying all his energy to the physical task of defending his country and the mental task of improving the way the country was governed. Such a devoted ruler was he and such a positive influence upon his people that he remains the only English Sovereign ever to be given the epithet the Great which was bestowed upon him in the 17th century.
In Part II, I shall concentrate more on the differences between Paganism and Christianity and how Alfred’s battle against one to introduce the other meant a dramatic time of change. For, as Alfred himself said, “Learning makes life more rewarding and enjoyable… the worst thing of all is ignorance.”
Never a truer word was said.
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