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The Life of King Alfred
The Life of King Alfred
The Life of King Alfred
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The Life of King Alfred

Von Asser

Bewertung: 4 von 5 Sternen



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One of the most important sources of information on Alfred the Great (King of Wessex from 871 to 899) is Asser's "The Life of King Alfred". Asser was a Welsh monk who accepted a position in the court of King Alfred around 886. His work is both a translation of part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (for the years 851-887), as well as eyewitness accounts and opinions of Alfred's kingship. Although the only copy of the manuscript was destroyed by fire in 1731, transcriptions and material from other writers ensured that the work was not lost forever. As a result, we have a revealing account of battles with Viking invaders, medieval English culture, consolidation of the seven kingdoms, and Alfred's efforts to revive religion and learning. Compared to the romantic and idealized royalty of Arthurian Legend, The Life of King Alfred gives a true, detailed portrayal of the actual kings of the Middle Ages.
Erscheinungsdatum1. Jan. 2011
The Life of King Alfred
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Bewertung: 3.75 von 5 Sternen

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  • Bewertung: 3 von 5 Sternen
    The Book contains Asser's Life of the king, and selections from Alfred's own writings on philosophical subjects. This is a good source book and was fittingly translated.The life was written in 893.
  • Bewertung: 4 von 5 Sternen
    This account of the life of Alfred is significant as being the first biography of an English king. Much of it reads like an embellished version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, with repeated accounts of Viking movements and counter measures against them. But the last section is a more personal account of the King's intellectual and even medical life, and of Bishop Asser's relations towards him. Worth reading for the very rare light it sheds on the life of an Anglo Saxon ruler, justly called the Great, in light of his preventing the total Viking takeover of England at the Battle of Edington.
  • Bewertung: 4 von 5 Sternen
    Excellent book; great addition of notes and inclusion of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's entries for the years 871-899, the period of Alfred's reign.
  • Bewertung: 3 von 5 Sternen
    An almost fawning account of King Alfred's life, written by one of his courtiers. Apparently written to flatter the King, it starts out with a genealogy that goes all the way back to Adam (Alfred being descended from a son of Noah's son Shem named Bedwig) and gives a year by year account of Alfred's rule up until Alfred's 40th year of life (about the year 888), at which it abruptly ends, which leads me to believe that no doubt Alfred read it and gave his approval. So though it undoubtedly includes events that would have been known to contemporary readers, this is not a warts and all biography ( and maybe that is too much to expect.) Alfred is portrayed as a great warrior, tactician, man of God, benefactor, seeker of knowledge and wisdom, and all things good. This book is valuable as one of very few primary sources of Alfred's life available.
  • Bewertung: 4 von 5 Sternen
    This book is a valuable and fascinating resource shedding light on the life and career on King Alfred of Wessex, who became known (in my opinion deservedly so) in later centuries as ‘The Great’. In the simplest level the main body of the book is simple an account of Alfred’s reign, written by the Welsh monk, Asser.

    Admittedly, his work was bound to be partisan and designed to make Alfred look good, and the cynical may claim that this renders in unreliable. Ret there may be found insights into the source of Alfred’s greatness. More than simply a warlord fighting against the Vikings, Alfred took steps to restore learning and education. Tthe learning and application of wisdom’ seems to have been a subject close to Alfred’s heart, and though he himself did not learn to read until his later years, he seems to have established a school of sorts. Since the decline of the learning in England is lamented in the preface to the translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, this particular foundation may have been considered particularly important.

    The ‘other contemporary sources’ mentioned in the title include extracts from some of Alfred’s own translations’ of important works, including Boethius Consolation of Philosophy. There are some profound thoughts here, on life, leadership, philosophy and religion. ‘Wisdom is the highest virtue’ says Alfred’s translation of the work ‘one is caution, the second moderation the third courage and the fourth justice’. The King did take some liberties with his ‘translations’ sometimes inserting ideas of his own (one passage in the Boethius translation hints at the idea of the ‘three estates’ for instance.

    Some may challenge the notion that medieval religion was based on ‘blind faith’ with not room for rational enquiry “Therefore we must investigate God with all out might, so that we might know what He is. Although it is not within our capacity to know what He is like, we ought nevertheless to inquire with the intellectual capacity which he gives us”

    Or as in a passage from Augustune ‘He rules the Kings who have the greatest dominion on this earth, who are born and die like other men. He permits then to rule as long as He wills it’. Another translation reveals perhaps something of Alfred’s concerns, priorities and interests. Pastoral Care written by the seventh century Pope Gregory contains several short ‘chapters’, entitled respectively

    ‘Concerning the Burden of Government, and how the ruler must despise all hardships and must recoil from all sense or security’ and ‘How the administration of Government often distracts the mind of the ruler’. The latter warns against a ruler may becoming ‘puffed up’ by his achievements and his people’s praising of them. The preface speaks of how rulers of old ‘obeyed God and his messages’ and maintained not only peace but ‘morality and authority’ and home and in the places to which they extended their power, and ‘succeeded both in warfare and in wisdom’. Perhaps these were idealistic and naïve expectations, rarely met, if indeed it was possible to do so. Yet it may be tempting to think they could be relevant to any age.

    Alongside translations, there are extracts from the King’s laws, in his capacity as a lawgiver, and even a mention in the main Life of his having possibly developed a more efficient way of measuring time.

    The Life of Alfred and other Contemporary Sources is a great start for learning of Alfred, and perhaps even understanding him in spite of the separation of over a millennium. Those interested in more academic analysis could of course read more, not that it is entirely lacking here.
    The notes are quite extensive. The two editors cum translators also appear to be prominent Anglo Saxon scholars, who both worked on The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo Saxon England. Thus they are not historians out of their depth in an unfamiliar period, or enthusiastic laymen, but scholars who know their stuff, yet succeed in making it accessible- at least in my opinion.
  • Bewertung: 5 von 5 Sternen
    Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary SourcesFor the West Saxons did not allow the queen to sit beside the king, nor indeed did they allow her to be called ‘queen’, but rather ‘king's wife. The elders of the land maintain that this disputed and indeed infamous custom originated on account of a certain grasping and wicked queen of the same people, who did everything she could against her lord and the whole people, so not only did she earn hatred for herself, leading to expulsion from the queen's throne, but she also brought the same foul stigma on all the queens who came after her. For as a result of her very great wickedness, all the inhabitants of the land swore that they would never permit any king to reign over them, who during his lifetime invited the queen to sit beside him on the royal throne.King Alfred, who ruled the kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899 AD, spent the first and last years of his reign fighting against Viking invaders. In the intervening years, he spent a lot of his time and energy on improving literacy, knowledge of Latin and religious observance in his kingdom. Among other things, this book contains a biography of the king written by his friend Asser (who was one of the bishops he appointed as part of this strategy), plus introductions to some of the religious and philosophical works that were translated into Anglo-Saxon by Alfred himself. The long introduction to this book covers the run up to Alfred's reign and its aftermath, as well as his 28 years on the throne. It also includes what is known of Alfred's interactions with the Vikings and the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and puts the other documents included in the book into context. One thing I found interesting is that although the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had queens during this period, Wessex did not. After a bad experience with the wicked Queen Eadburh, a daughter of King Offa of Mercia who married King Beorhtric in 789, they dispensed with queens altogether. Kings still got married of course, but their wives were known as king's wives and were not anointed queen. They were kept very much in the background and most of their names are not known, unlike earlier queens of Wessex and contemporary queens of Mercia who were often mentioned in charters.It is a very interesting book, but took me forever to read due to being a Penguin Classics with a large notes section at the back, as I have to check every single note so I don't miss anything interesting.


The Life of King Alfred - Asser


FROM A.D. 849 TO A.D. 887.


A Book Publishing

Print ISBN 13: 978-1-4209-4041-1

Ebook ISBN 13: 978-1-4209-4176-0

This edition copyright © 2012

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IN the year of our Lord's incarnation 849, was born Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons, at the royal village of Wanating,{1} in Berkshire, which country has its name from the wood of Berroc, where the box-tree grows most abundantly. His genealogy is traced in the following order. King Alfred was the son of king Ethelwulf, who was the son of Egbert, who was the son of Elmund, was the son of Eafa, who was the son of Eoppa, who the son of Ingild. Ingild, and Ina, the famous king of the West-Saxons, were two brothers. Ina went to Rome, and there ending this life honourably, entered the heavenly kingdom, to reign there for ever with Christ. Ingild and Ina were the sons of Coenred, who was the son of Ceolwald, who was the son of Cudam, who was the son of Cuthwin, who was the son of Ceawlin, who was the son of Cynric, who was the son of Creoda, who was the son of Cerdic, who was the son of Elesa, who was the son of Gewis, from whom the Britons name all that nation Gegwis,{2} who was the son of Brond, who was the son of Beldeg, who was the son of Woden, who was the son of Frithowald, who was the son of Frealaf, who was the son of Frithuwulf, who was the son of Finn of Godwulf, who was the son of Gear, which Geat the pagans long worshipped as a god. Sedulius makes mention of him in his metrical Paschal poem, as follows:—

When gentile poets with their fictions vain,

In tragic language and bombastic strain,

To their god Geat, comic deity,

Loud praises sing, &c.

Geat was the son of Tætwa, who was the son of Beaw, who was the son of Sceldi, who was the son of Heremod, who was the son of Itermon, who was the son of Hathra, who was the son of Guala, who was the son of Bedwig, who was the son of Shem, who was the son of Noah, who was the son of Lamech, who was the son of Methusalem, who was the son of Enoch, who was the son of Malaleel, who was the son of Cainian, who was the son of Enos, who was the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam.

The mother of Alfred was named Osburga, a religious woman, noble both by birth and by nature; she was daughter of Oslac, the famous butler of king Ethelwulf, which Oslac was a Goth by nation, descended from the Goths and Jutes, of the seed, namely, of Stuf and Whitgar, two brothers and counts; who, having received possession of the Isle of Wight from their uncle, King Cerdic, and his son Cynric their cousin, slew the few British inhabitants whom they could find in that island, at a place called Gwihtgaraburgh;{3} for the other inhabitants of the island had either been slain, or escaped into exile.

In the year of our Lord's incarnation 851, which was the third after the birth of king Alfred, Ceorl, earl of Devon, fought with the men of Devon against the pagans at a place called Wicgambeorg;{4} and the Christians gained the victory; and that same year the pagans first wintered in the island called Sheppey, which means the Sheep-isle, and is situated in the river Thames between Essex and Kent, but is nearer to Kent than to Essex; it has in it a fine monastery.{5}

The same year also a great army of the pagans came with three hundred and fifty ships to the mouth of the river Thames, and sacked Dorobernia,{6} which is the city of the Cantuarians, and also the city of London, which lies on the north bank of the river Thames, on the confines of Essex and Middlesex; but yet that city belongs in truth to Essex; and they put to flight Berthwulf, king of Mercia, with all the army, which he had led out to oppose them.

After these things, the aforesaid pagan host went into Surrey, which is a district situated on the south bank of the river Thames, and to the west of Kent. And Ethelwulf, king of the West-Saxons, and his son Ethelbald, with all their army, fought a long time against them at a place called Ac-lea,{7} i.e. the Oak-plain, and there, after a lengthened battle, which was fought with much bravery on both sides, the greater part of the pagan multitude was destroyed and cut to pieces, so that we never heard of their being so defeated, either before or since, in any country, in one day; and the Christians gained an honourable victory, and were triumphant over their graves.

In the same year king Athelstan, son of king Ethelwulf, and earl Ealhere slew a large army of pagans in Kent, at a place called Sandwich, and took nine ships of their fleet; the others escaped by flight.

In the year of our Lord's incarnation 853, which was the fifth of king Alfred, Burhred king of the Mercians, sent messengers, and prayed Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons, to come and help him in reducing the midland Britons, who dwell between Mercia and the western sea, and who struggled against him most immoderately. So without delay, king Ethelwulf, having received

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