King Alfred the Great can, in many ways, be considered one of the greatest rulers of England. His defeat of the Danes, unification of England, many successful reforms and insistence upon the restoration of ecclesiastical culture are the result of his superior leadership and command. The epithet, "The Great," attached to his name by writers of the sixteenth century and given to no other English king is another reflection of the kind of ruler he was.1 A twelfth century writer notes the prestige that was given to Alfred when he wrote,
He reigned for twenty and eight years; there are few such men living: for he was wise and a good warrior; he knew well how to curb his enemies; there was not a better scholar than he, for he had learned in his infancy. He caused an English book to be written of deeds, and laws, of battles in the land, and of the kings who made war; and he caused many books to be written, which the learned men often went to read.
May God and the kind lady Saint Mary have mercy on his soul!2
Born the fourth son of King Ethelwulf and his wife, Osburgh in 849 AD at Wantage in Berkshire, Alfred was brought up in a time of constant war. The various kingdoms of England had been at war for a long time. England had previously consisted of seven kingdoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex. At the time of Alfred's birth, England was made up of four separate kingdoms, Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex. Alfred's grandfather, King Egbert, had conquered Kent, Sussex and Wessex, expanding the territory of Wessex.3 Alfred's family was one who was involved in politics and war for quite some time. King Alfred was involved...