« Alford, Henry Alfred the Great Alfric »

Alfred the Great

ALFRED (ÆLFRED) THE GREAT: King of the West Saxons 871-901; b. at Wantage (60 m. w. of London), Berkshire, 849; d. at Winchester, Hants, Oct. 28, 901. He was the youngest son of Ethelwulf and Osburga, and succeeded his brother Ethelred on the throne. His reign, with its recurring conflicts with the Danes, contained many vicissitudes; nevertheless, he succeeded in establishing his power, enlarged the borders of his realm, and advanced the spiritual and intellectual welfare of his people. He remodeled the political and ecclesiastical organization of his kingdom, rebuilt the churches, monasteries, and schools burnt by the Danes, and founded new ones. He invited learned men to his country and provided for them there, and through the intimate connection which he maintained with Rome he was able to procure books and form libraries. Of still greater import were his personal exertions to arouse among his countrymen a desire for knowledge and culture. He translated Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiæ and the history of Orosius. Both works are treated with great freedom, much change was necessary to adapt them to the needs of the rude Saxons, and Alfred himself did not always fully understand his text. There are many omissions and additions. The work of Orosius (an attempt to write a history of the world from a Christian standpoint) is supplemented by a geographical and ethnological review of Scandinavia and the Baltic countries from the reports of Othhere and Wulfstan. Of greater importance from a religious point of view is Alfred’s translation of the Liber pastoralis curæ of Pope Gregory I. (590-604), a book well adapted to influence the spirit of the Saxon clergy. A paraphrase of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum has been erroneously ascribed to Alfred; it may, however, have been prepared under his direction. Translations or paraphrases of the Dialogus of Gregory I. and of the “Soliloquies” of St. Augustine have also been ascribed to him. His millennary was celebrated at Winchester in 1901, and commemorative exercises were held in America also.

Bibliography: The Whole Works of King Alfred, with preliminary essay, were published in a “Jubilee Edition,” 3 vols., Oxford, 1852-53. Separate editions are: Of the Orosius, text and Latin original, ed. H. Sweet, London, 1883; of the Boethius, text and modern English, ed. W. J. Sedgefield, Oxford, 1899-1900; of the Gregory, text and translation, ed. H. Sweet, London, 1871-72; of the Bede, text and translation, ed. T. Miller, ib. 1890-98, and J. Schipper, 3 parts, Leipsic, 1897-98; of the “Soliloquies” of St. Augustine, ed. H. L. Hargrove (Yale Studies in English, No. 13), New York, 1902. For Alfred’s laws, consult Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, ed. B. Thorpe, London, 1840. The chief sources for Alfred’s life are: The De rebus gestis Ælfredi of the Welsh bishop Asser, ed. W. H. Stevenson, Oxford, 1904; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. B. Thorpe (Rolls Series, No. 23), 1861, and C. Plummer, Oxford, 1892; translations of both Asser and the Chronicle by J. A. Giles in Bohn’s Antiquarian Library, iv.; of Asser by A. S. Cook, Boston, 1906. Of the many modern lives of Alfred the following 128 may be mentioned—in German: R. Pauli, Berlin, 1851, Eng. transl., London, 1853, and J. B. Weiss, Freiburg, 1852; in English: T. Hughes, London, 1878; E. Conybeare, ib. 1900; W. Besant, The Story of King Alfred, ib. 1901; C. Plummer, Cambridge, 1902; and the volume of essays by different writers, ed. A. Bowker, London, 1899. Consult also Lappenberg, Geschichte von England, vol. i., Hamburg, 1834, Eng. transl. by B. Thorpe, ii., London, 1845; W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England, vol. i., Oxford, 1880; E. A. Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, vol. i., ib. 1880; A. Bowker, The King Alfred Millenary, London, 1902.

« Alford, Henry Alfred the Great Alfric »
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