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Alfred The Great: The Genius That Fuels Us

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Alfred the Great: The Genius that Fuels Us

Favio Mora

November 29, 2004

History 204

Prof. Berto

Favio Mora November 29, 2004


Alfred the Great was a man of many achievements and ruled during what is known as one of the most inspiring periods of English history. He overcame many difficulties that affected both himself and his kingdom with his view of society as a whole. His vision of intelligence throughout his kingdom contributed to the prosperity of both his country as well as fellow countrymen. He proved that education brings about mental, social and spiritual advances to one's life. In hindsight, in the ninth century Alfred laid out some very clear initiatives that now provide the bedrock for today's collegiate goals and social aspirations. This paper will analyze his life as it affected his inspiring movements towards social and governmental structure via education, literacy and law.

Alfred belongs to a very selective sect of medieval rulers who have been attached as "the Greats." He does however; hold a distinction with the others, as he was not deliberately called a Great until many centuries after his death. (44) This can be said mostly because his achievements were honored in hindsight, as most powerful innovators usually are.

Alfred came to this earth in 849 at Wantage in Berkshire. His father was King Ethelwulf and was the grandson of King Egbert. He was part of a large family, which consisted of four senior brothers as well as one senior sister. Being the youngest child, he became the favorite child of the family. (13) Psychologists today say that the youngest child of the family will most likely be more people oriented. Which might explain in part Alfred's generosity to his people. He traveled a lot mainly because solely the royal court, which consisted of his parents and many tutors, was raising him. It is here where we get first glimpses of Alfred's pursuit of education. Young Alfred had already shown regrets to the fact that he did not have a tutor to teach him Latin as well as the liberal arts. Nevertheless, he was able to learn many fables and poems by heart, which is how he earned his books from his mother. Even though he was not able to read, his tutors would read the books, written in Old English, out loud for him to ultimately recite to his mother, who would hence, allow him to keep the book. (75) He learned many prayers and poems as a young child and always carried his favorite excerpts with him.

After the age of twelve he started to become restless with his ignorance of letters and words. He believed he should continue learning but yet there were no teachers to teach him. Or better said they had already taught him all they knew. This restlessness continued even after he was promoted King. He would moan and whine to the Almighty God as to why he had lacked him the knowledge of the liberal arts. He would beg the Lord daily to give him the chance to learn more about this subject that was close to his heart. (92)

God apparently heard his cries and prayers for the people to have a more knowledgeable king. The Ð''Almighty God' sent four wise men as they were called or luminaries to aid this royal intention. Werferth, the bishop of Worcester, who thoroughly knew holy writings in Latin. Plegmund, archbishop of Canterbury, who was born as a Mercian and was "filled with knowledge." And finally Ethelstan and Werwulf, who were both priests and chaplains and fully learned men. Once summoned and arrived, these four men were given the utmost honor and given many entitlements within the kingdom. (93)

It was at this time that Alfred truly received the knowledge that made him "the greatest Englishmen to have ever lived." (debatable) Contrary to the past, King Alfred was quite satisfied with the amount of knowledge these men possessed. His desire to learn only amplified as Werferth first started to translate thoroughly the Dialogues between Pope Gregory and his disciple Peter from Latin into the English language. King Alfred ordered Werferth to translate "sense for sense" to make sure that his out loud readings in English were contingent with the Latin phrases.

All the wise men including Asser, who had his own time tutoring the King were fully delighted with a King with the aspiration and ambition to learn more and more. This was not heard of back then, as Kings would learn during their youth and then merely find learning to be an unnecessary priority. On the contrary Alfred believed he should build on a "modest foundation" of knowledge to further his achievements as King. It should be noted that he would learn as much as he could during every opportunity he had, considering he had received the throne at a most difficult time.

The death of his brother Ethelred left him the throne in 871 at the young age of 21. He was known as a great warrior even at such ripe age but yet he always had ambition to become more of a social reformer. One of his biggest historical achievements as a leader was at the Battle of Edington. The Danes had been defeated at Ashdown but the Saxons were still forced to negotiate and pay a form a tribute after losing later battles. Alfred however refused to surrender and gathered men from Somerset and Wiltshire to ultimately defeat the Danes once more in the legendary Battle of Edington. Furthermore, Guthrum, the king of the Danes, was baptized with Alfred as his sponsor. (85) By 886, Alfred had freed London from Danish occupation and formed a treaty Guthrum and the East Anglians. He created the Ð''Danelaw" as it was to be later called, which divided England and declared the East as Danish territory where Danes and the English were treated equal. This goes to show the generosity and compassion Alfred had for people in general. After claiming Guthurm as his adoptive son, he stayed with him for an extra twelve days to teach him his beliefs for a better society and for the first time acknowledged that their should be a better code of law for all citizens to follow. Furthermore, treasures were given to him and his men.

To truly understand how King Alfred thought of justice and law, one must first learn about his practices with the established justice system. He would sit at all the judicial hearings he was able to attend, as to benefit both the people and the state. He did this mostly because there were many disagreements at assemblies where a just judgment simply seemed impossible to achieve. When this would happen both parties would look onto him to provide the just word for the matter. King



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