World History

Alfred the Great | Biography, History, Born, Reign, & Facts

Early Life of Alfred

Alfred was born in Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in southwest England. Alfred’s father, Aethelwulf, was King of Wessex, and Alfred was raised as a prince. However, since he had four older brothers, it was doubtful whether he would ever become king.

Alfred was a smart kid, he loved studying and memorizing poetry. As a child, he traveled to Rome, where he met the Pope. The Pope appointed Alfred Honorary Consul in Rome.

When Alfred’s father died in 858, his younger brother Aetebald became king. Over the next few years, each of the brothers died until his last older brother, Æthelred, ascended the throne as king.

Alfred the Great Overview:

Occupation King of Wessex
Children Edward the Elder, Æthelflæd, Æthelweard, Ælfthryth, Countess of Flanders, Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury
Born 849 in Wantage, England
Died 899 in Winchester, England
Reign 871 – 899
Best known for Establishing peace with the Vikings and building the Kingdom of England

Biography of Alfred the Great

Fighting the Vikings

For most of Alfred’s life, the Vikings were invading England. By 870 the Vikings had conquered all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms except Wessex. Alfred became his brother’s lieutenant. He led the Wessex army to a great victory at the Battle of Ashdown.

Becoming King

In 871, the Vikings continued their attacks. Alfred’s brother Æthelred died in battle and Alfred became king. In the years that followed, Alfred fought the Vikings. He believed that after many battles, some kind of peace had finally been achieved.

In 878, the Danish king Gastrum launched a surprise attack against Alfred and his army. Alfred managed to escape, but only a few men left him. He fled to Athelny, where he planned a counterattack. Many of the Wessex men were weary of constant Viking raids and attacks. They gathered around Alfred of Athelny, and soon the king again had a mighty army at his disposal.

Burning of the Cakes Legend

Legend tells the story of Alfred’s escape from the Vikings. At one point he took refuge in the house of an old peasant woman who did not know he was the king. When the farmer’s wife had to go out to look after the animals, she was baking cakes. She asked Alfred to take care of the cake. Alfred was so preoccupied with the war that he forgot to take care of the cake, causing it to burn. When the farmer’s wife returned, she scolded him for not paying due attention to the cake.

Peace with the Vikings

Alfred leads a new army and launches a counterattack against the Vikings. He defeated King Guthrum and recaptured his home of Chippenham. He then encouraged the Vikings to convert to Christianity and signed a peace treaty allowing the Vikings to remain in eastern Britain. The Viking land was called Danelaw.

Ruling as King

Alfred was a great leader in combat, but he might have been an even better leader in peacetime. With peace being made with the Vikings, Alfred set out to rebuild his kingdom.

The English education system almost disappeared because it was so focused on fighting the Vikings. Alfred knew that education was important, so he founded schools and rebuilt monasteries. He translated several classical works from Latin into English himself.

Alfred also carried out other reforms and improvements in the kingdom, such as building forts throughout the country, building a powerful navy, and sending talented European scholars and craftsmen across the Channel to England. He also enacted the National Code.

Death Of Alfred

Alfred died in his 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward. His grandson Æthelstan would be called the first King of England.

Interesting Facts about Alfred the Great

Alfred was a very brave and great leader, but physically he was a sickly and frail man. He battled illness most of his life.

He is the only British ruler to be called ‘great’.

Alfred divided his army into his two groups. One group remained at home with their families, while the other defended the border from Viking raids.

Alfred was marked “King of England” on the coin.

Alfred he conquered London in 886 and rebuilt most of the city.

Legend has it that Alfred disguised himself as a bard and sneaked into a Viking camp to spy.