Written by Vladimir Moss



The ninth century was a very low point in the history of the Western Orthodox Church. The century had begun in spectacular fashion: on Christmas Day, 800 Charlemagne, who ruled a vast territory comprising most of Western Europe, had been anointed “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo III. So was this the rebirth of Christian Rome in the West?

It was not to be. Refused recognition by the Eastern Roman Empire, and plagued by heresy (the Filioque, rejection of the Seventh Ecumenical Council), as well as by Viking and Saracen invaders, the empire began to disintegrate soon after Charlemagne’s death. By the early tenth century a new social and political system, feudalism, had established itself in France, and would soon be established also in Germany and Italy, while the papacy was plunged into an abyss of immorality, “the pornocracy of Marozia”.

However, by the end of the ninth century one nation in the West was recovering and even building the foundations of a truly Orthodox kingdom that was to survive and flourish until its violent overthrow in 1066: England. This was the achievement largely of one man and his ecclesiastical advisors: King Alfred the Great. Let us look at the main stages of his extraordinary life.


The Roman Consul

Alfred was born in 849, the fifth son of King Aethelwulf of Wessex, one of the traditional “heptarchy”, or seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons. [1] Wessex comprised most of southern England south of the Thames (but not including London), and its capital was the old Roman town of Winchester. A very pious man, King Aethelwulf gave one tenth of his dominions to the Church and made several pilgrimages to Rome.

On one of them, in the year 853, he took his youngest son Alfred, together with Alfred’s tutor, St. Swithun, Bishop of Winchester. “At this time,” writes Alfred’s earliest biographer, his friend the Welsh Bishop Asser, “the lord Pope Leo [IV] was ruling the apostolic see. He anointed the child Alfred as king, ordaining him properly, received him as an adoptive son and confirmed him.”[2] This extraordinary event could be dismissed as fiction – and has been so dismissed by many historians – if it were not confirmed by a letter written in the same year by the Pope himself to King Aethelwulf: “We have now graciously received your son Alfred, whom you were anxious to send at this time to the threshold of the Holy Apostles, and we have decorated him, as a spiritual son, with the dignity of the belt and vestments of the consulate, as is customary with Roman consuls, because he gave himself into our hands.”[3]

Roman consul? This was surely an archaism – although in 754 Pope Stephen IV had given the title of patricius to Pippin, King of the Franks, as a sign that the Franks, and not the Byzantines, were now his secular protectors. Adoption as his spiritual son and godson? It was possible. Anointing to the kingdom? This was unusual but a certain precedent existed for it in that both Charlemagne and King Offa of Mercia had had their sons associated with themselves in the kingship by Pope Hadrian. But the honour accorded to Alfred seems to have been greater than that – and more surprising in that Alfred had four older brothers who would be expected to ascend the throne before him!

The only explanation of the Pope’s extraordinary action, according to the twelfth-century writer Aelred of Rievaulx, was that Pope Leo was a prophet and foresaw the future greatness of Alfred.[4] Certainly, if the pope foresaw Alfred’s greatness, it made sense for him to tie his destiny as close as possible with the city of Rome and the papacy. For that same prophetic gift would have told him that the Carolingian empire with which the papacy was officially linked would soon collapse, and so the future of Roman Christian civilization depended on reviving the already close links between the papacy and “the land of the angels”, as Pope Gregory I had called England.[5]


The Wild Boar

On his return from a second pilgrimage to Rome with Alfred, in 856, King Aethelwulf found that his eldest son, Aethelbald, had seized the kingdom and divided it between himself and his brother Aethelbert. However, in 860 Aethelbald died, and Aethelbert reunited the kingdom under his single rule. But in the same year the Vikings sacked Winchester and St. Swithun, the protector of the kingdom and Alfred’s tutor, died. In 865 Aethelbert also died, and Aethelred came to the throne. He had to face a renewed threat from the Vikings, who in 866 conquered the northern kingdom of Northumbria, which was divided by civil war between two English kings. The Danes conquered the Northumbrian capital of York, killed both kings in a particularly cruel manner and then installed a puppet-king of English nationality in their place. In 869, supplemented by reinforcements from overseas, in 869 the Danes assembled their greatest army yet and invaded East Anglia, conquering it after a bitter and bloody struggle against the Holy Martyr-King Edmund.

The next year the Vikings crossed the Thames and defeated King Aethelred and his brother Prince Alfred at Reading. However, on January 8, 871 the two brothers met the Vikings at Ashdown and won a famous victory – the first major setback for the Vikings in England. The manner of the victory was significant. Prince Alfred and his men took up position blocking the Viking advance. However, King Aethelred would not join him at first because he was attending the Divine Liturgy in his tent, and said that he would not fight until the liturgy was completed. Alfred had no choice but to begin the battle without his brother and when he was not yet in position. He charged uphill at the pagans “like a wild boar”. They retreated, and when King Aethelred joined his brother the retreat turned into a rout. The Vikings lost thousands of men, and were driven all the way back to their camp at Reading.[6]

However, on March 22 another battle took place at Meretun at which King Aethelred was severely wounded. On St. George’s day, April 23, 871, he died, and at the tender age of twenty-one, after the deaths of all four of his brothers, Alfred was king of Wessex. As the holy pope had foreseen, he was now in the position of a Roman consul, commanding the last significant army standing in the way of the complete triumph of the pagan Vikings over Christian England.

But things did not go well at first. In his first battle as king Alfred lost to the Vikings at Wilton. Four years of peace ensued, during which the Vikings consolidated their control over northern and central England, placing puppet kings in Northumbria and Mercia (Central England). In 874, King Burhred of Mercia fled to Rome with his wife, Alfred’s sister, and died there as a monk.

Sometimes King Alfred would visit his spiritual father, St. Neot, asking for his blessing. There is some evidence that the king was in conflict with Archbishop Aethelred of Canterbury at this time - there exists a letter dated to 877 from the archbishop to Pope John VIII complaining about the king. It may be in this connection that St. Neot severely criticised the king for his proud harshness, bringing before him the humility of David as an example, and pointing out that Saul, who had been placed at the head of the tribes of Israel when he was small in his own eyes, was later condemned for his pride. Then he prophesied that the barbarians would invade the land and triumph by God’s permission, and he would be the only one to escape, wandering as a fugitive over the land. “O King,” he said, “you will suffer much in this life; no man can say how much you will suffer. But now, beloved child, hear me if you are willing, and turn your heart to my counsel. Forsake your wickedness; redeem your sins by almsgiving, and wipe them out through tears.” And he urged him, when he would see his words fulfilled, not to despair, but to act like a man and strengthen his heart. For through his intercessions he had obtained from God that Alfred would again be restored to his former prosperity, so long as he ceased from doing evil and repented of his sins. And he further urged him to send gifts to the Pope, beseeching him to give freedom to the English School in Rome. This good deed would help him in his troubles. Alfred then sent the Pope as he had been advised, and obtained his request, together with several holy relics and a portion of the True Cross.

In 876, the Vikings resumed their offensive. Their new leader Guthrum rode from Cambridge to Wareham, deep inside Alfred’s kingdom. A Viking fleet was very near, and the combination of the army in Wareham and the fleet at sea presented a mortal threat to King Alfred. By God’s Providence the fleet was completely destroyed in a storm. However, being unable to defeat the land army under Guthrum, Alfred was forced to make peace with him. According to the agreement, Guthrum was supposed to leave Wessex, but instead, under cover of night, he established himself within the Roman walls of the city of Exeter. Alfred pursued him, and the two sides again made peace, exchanging hostages. On July 31 St. Neot died, and almost immediately, in August, Guthrum retreated north of the Thames into Viking-dominated territory at Gloucester. The threat had passed – for the time being…


The Guerilla King

King Alfred celebrated Christmas, 877 at his royal villa at Chippenham in Wiltshire. On Twelfth Night, January 6, traditionally the climax of the festivities, Guthrum made a sudden surprise attack on Alfred and forced him to flee to the west. After Pascha (March 23), Alfred and a few men arrived at a small island surrounded by marshes called Athelney, near Glastonbury, the place where St. Joseph of Arimathaea had first preached the Gospel in apostolic times. The island was 9,500 square metres in size – the full extent of Orthodox England controlled by the king at this, the lowest point in English Orthodox history.

Although the main sources for Alfred’s reign – Bishop Asser’s Life and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – make no direct mention of this, there is strong evidence that Alfred was betrayed - perhaps by his nephew Aethelwold, who joined the Danes after his death[7], more probably by the ealdorman (provincial governor) of Wiltshire, Wulfhere[8]. Guthrum and the English traitors probably planned either to kill Alfred or force him to flee abroad, making way for an English puppet-king for Wessex on the model of the puppet-kings already installed in Northumbria and Mercia. But Alfred refused to flee the country as his brother-in-law King Burhred of Mercia had done – and this decision probably saved English Orthodox civilization. For as long as Alfred was alive no puppet-king could be installed in Wessex and the Vikings’ position remained precarious.

However, his situation was still desperate. Alfred, writes Bishop Asser, “had nothing to live on except what he could forage by frequent raids, either secretly or even openly, from the Vikings as well as from the Christians who had submitted to the Vikings’ authority.”[9] One day, the king was asked for alms by a poor beggar. He gave him some of the little he possessed. That night, the beggar appeared to him in a dream and revealed that he was the famous St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (the greatest of the English saints, whose incorrupt relics were at that moment being carried by monks around the North of England to escape the marauding Vikings). He then told the king that God would now have mercy on England after the great suffering she had undergone because of her sins, and that Alfred himself would regain his kingdom. As a sign of the truth of his words, the saint said, the next morning Alfred’s fishermen would bring in an enormous catch of fish, which would be the more miraculous because of the extreme coldness of the weather. When Alfred awoke, he discovered that his mother had had exactly the same vision; and at the same time his men came in to announce that they had made an enormous catch of fish. Soon the rest of the vision was fulfilled…[10]

Encouraged by this, the king decided on some daring reconnaissance work. With one faithful follower, he gained admittance to the Danish camp as a singing actor, and there was able to find out everything he needed to know before returning to Athelney.[11] Then, as winter turned into spring, Alfred was joined by Ealdorman Aethelnoth of Somerset and a small force.

It was in this period that St. Neot appeared to the king in his misery one night, and told him that he would triumph over the enemy in the seventh week after Pascha, and that the Danish King Guthrum and his nobles would be baptized. And so, in the seventh week after Pascha Alfred rode to a secret meeting place called Egbert’s stone, and there, writes Bishop Asser, “all the inhabitants of Somerset and Wiltshire and all the inhabitants of Hampshire – those who had not sailed overseas for fear of the Vikings – joined up with him. When they saw they king,… they were filled with immense joy.”[12] Then, on the night before the battle of Edington, in the village of Iley, St. Neot again appeared to the king. He looked like an angel, his hair white as snow, his garments glistening and fragrant. “Arise quickly,” he said, “and prepare for victory. When you came here, I was with you, I helped you. So now you and your men go out to battle tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you, the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, Who gives victory to kings. And I will go before you to the battle, and your enemies shall fall by your arm before my eyes, and you will smite them with the edge of the sword.”[13]

The next morning, during the battle, an invisible hand seized Alfred’s standard and waved the English on. The Danes were so overwhelmed that they agreed to leave Wessex forever, while Guthrum and thirty of his leading men agreed to be baptized. This time the Danes kept their promises, Alfred received his greatest enemy from the baptismal font, and for twelve days the Danes remained with Alfred and enjoyed his very generous hospitality.[14] Guthrum and his men then moved to East Anglia and settled there permanently.

In 885 a Viking fleet appeared on the Thames. Alfred saw this as a violation of his agreement with Guthrum and seized London from the Vikings. Then, according to Asser. And “all the Angles and Saxons – those who had formerly been scattered everywhere and were not in captivity with the Vikings – turned willingly to Alfred and submitted to his lordship.”[15]

Seizing the opportunity, Alfred now drew up a permanent treaty with King Guthrum. The English and Danish kings divided England between them: most of the north and east became the “Danelaw”, the administration of the Danes, while the English kept the south and the west (except Cornwall, which was a Celtic kingdom). Soon the Danish settlers in England were becoming Orthodox Christians in large numbers. Thus in East Anglia, early in the tenth century, the Christianized Danes were issuing coins commemorating the Martyr-King Edmund, whom they themselves had killed only a few years before! Again, by the middle of the tenth century the son of a warrior in the Great Army, St. Odo, had become archbishop of Canterbury, while later in the century another Dane, Osketyl, became archbishop of York. The foundation of this remarkable reconciliation of the two warring races in Christ was laid by the courage, generosity and statesmanship of King Alfred…


The All-EnglishKingdom

King Alfred was even greater in peace than he was in war. Determined that he should never again be caught out and outmanoeuvred by the rapid strikes of the Danes, he made three important innovations in the sphere of military organization that proved to be very important when war with the Vikings resumed in the 890s. Although the Vikings were not decisively defeated then, they gave up their attempts to conquer England for another one hundred years.

Alfred’s first innovation was the building of a fleet in order to meet and destroy the marauding pagans before they ever set foot on English soil. Alfred even ordered the construction of a long-ship according to his own design.[16] This was the first permanent fleet that any British ruler had constructed since the fourth-century Romans, who had built a fleet to protect the island against – the pagan Anglo-Saxons. Secondly, he went part of the way to creating a standing army, “dividing his army in two, so that always half its men were at home, half out on service, except for those men who were to garrison the burhs”.[17]

The burhs, or new towns, were Alfred’s third and most original innovation: he constructed, or reconstructed, thirty of them at equal intervals throughout Wessex so that no Englishman working in the fields was more than twenty miles from a burh, to which he could flee in time of Viking invasion. The burhs were laid out in rectilinear street plans designed to facilitate the movement of soldiers. They were protected by massive earthworks, and Alfred appointed 27,000 soldiers to man their walls at intervals of 5.5 metres. The towns were also designed as centres of trade, so the predominantly rural civilization of Anglo-Saxon England was soon acquiring an urban “middle class”.

The only real city in England before this had been London, which was now relocated within the walls of the old Roman town by Alfred and subjected to extensive reconstruction. This Romanizing tendency was also revealed in the coins he minted in London, which, as Hindley points out, “show ‘design elements deliberately and carefully copied’ from Roman models”.[18] In his London coins Alfred calls himself “king of the English” rather than “king of Wessex”; and, sensitive to the Londoners’ feelings, he appointed a Mercian, not a Wessex man, as ealdorman of the city.

Alfred’s policy towards London was a part of his wider policy of abolishing the regional differences and rivalries among the Anglo-Saxons and creating a genuinely all-English kingdom. Conscious that the divisions among the Anglo-Saxons had been at least partly to blame for their near-conquest by the Vikings, he deliberately tried to promote Englishmen from north of the Thames, especially in Church appointments. He was also very generous towards the Celts, who had only recently returned from a century-long schism from the Orthodox Church because of their hatred of the English. Thus the Celtic Bishop Asser moved to England as Bishop of Sherborne and became his main counsellor and biographer, and by the end of his reign all the South Welsh kingdoms had submitted freely to his rule.[19]

This policy of national reconciliation and unification was continued by Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, who annexed Danish (Eastern) Mercia, and his grandson, Athelstan, who absorbed Cornwall, North Wales and much of Northern England. These gains were not always made without war, but the battles were against Celts and Vikings, not against other Englishmen. Thus in 937, at the battle of Brunanburgh in north-west England – “the great, lamentable and horrible battle”, as The Annals of Ulster described it – King Athelstan completely routed a formidable coalition between Olaf, the Viking king of Dublin, and Constantine, the king of the Scots, after which he appropriated to himself the Byzantine titles of basileus and curagulus of the whole of Britain…[20]


The Lover of Wisdom

An important aspect of Alfred’s unification policy was his codification of law. His Lawbook of 893 acknowledges his debt to the law-codes of earlier kings of Wessex, Kent and Mercia, and he seems to have intended it to cover, not only Wessex, but also Kent and English (Western) Mercia.[21] Alfred himself travelled round the kingdom checking on the activities of his judges, and if he discovered that they had committed some injustice he imposed on them an original penance – further education. Bishop Asser recounts his words: “’I am astonished at this arrogance of yours, since through God’s authority and my own you have enjoyed the office and status of wise men, yet you have neglected the study and application of wisdom. For that reason I command you either to relinquish immediately the offices of worldly power that you possess, or else to apply yourselves much more attentively to the pursuit of wisdom.’ Having heard these words, the ealdormen and reeves were terrified and chastened as if by the greatest of punishments, and they strove with every effort to apply themselves to learning what is just…”[22]

Alfred’s attitude to wisdom was both mystical and intensely practical. The most famous relic of his reign, the Alfred Jewel, portrays a figure in cloisonné enamel that has been interpreted to represent the Wisdom of God.[23] Again, when Alfred translated Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, he recast the work as a dialogue between the inquirer’s mind and Wisdom personified. And he added passages of his own composition which revealed both his devotion to wisdom as the key virtue, and his own conception of kingship. For example: “Look, Wisdom, you know that desire for and possession of earthly power never pleased me overmuch, and that I did not unduly desire this earthly rule, but that nevertheless I wished for tools and resources for the task that I was commanded to accomplish, which was that I should virtuously and worthily guide and direct the authority which was entrusted to me. You know of course that no one can make known any skill, nor direct and guide any authority, without tools and resources; a man cannot work on any enterprise without resources. In the case of the king, the resources and tools with which to rule are that he have his land fully manned: he must have praying me, fighting men and working men. You know also that without these tools no king may make his ability known. Another aspect of his resources is that he must have the means of support for his tools, the three classes of men. These, then, are their means of support: land to live on, gifts, weapons, food, ale, clothing, and whatever else is necessary for each of the three classes of men. Without these things he cannot maintain the tools, nor without the tools can he accomplish any of the things he was commanded to do. Accordingly, I sought the resources with which to exercise the authority, in order that my skills and power would not be forgotten and concealed: because every skill and every authority is soon obsolete and passed over, if it is without wisdom; because no man may bring to bear any skill without wisdom…”[24]


“From the cradle onwards,” wrote Bishop Asser, “in spite of all the demands of the present life, it has been the desire for wisdom, more than anything else, together with the nobility of his birth, which have characterized the nature of his noble mind.”[25] But the bishop criticized his parents for not teaching the young Alfred to read until he was twelve. Nevertheless, he was a good listener, and memorized English poems recited by others. And then one day his mother his mother offered to give a beautifully embroidered book of English poetry to whichever of her five sons would learn it fastest. Alfred won the contest…[26]

Having defeated the Danes, King Alfred not only indulged his passion for book learning, but decided to educate the whole of his kingdom. He lamented that England, which had once been famed for her literary culture (especially Northumbria, the home of the Venerable Bede and of Alcuin, Charlemagne’s “minister of education”), was now largely illiterate in Latin as a result of the Viking devastations. So he invited the last few learned men of the land to his court, and together with them and foreign imports such as the Frankish St. Grimbald, who founded a monastery in Winchester, he began an astonishingly ambitious programme of translation and copying.

Alfred himself did not at first know Latin, but having learned “by divine inspiration”, according to Asser, both to read Latin and translate it into English “on one and the same day”[27], he set about translating the following books which he judged to be “the most necessary for all men to know”: St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, St. Augustine’s Soliloquies and the first fifty psalms of David. Moreover, several other works, including St. Gregory’s Dialogues and the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History were translated by others at his initiative. In addition, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and an Old English Martyrology containing the lives of about two hundred saints were probably started in King Alfred’s reign. Nor did King Alfred neglect the physical well-being of his subjects: a book containing cures for eighty-eight illnesses (listed in order from head to foot) was composed in his reign, and Alfred sent the second part of this work to Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem (together with alms for the Church of Jerusalem and “the monks of India”). And in addition to all this, the king founded a school for his sons and the sons of other prominent men in his own palace.

Alfred sent his translations, together with prefaces written by himself, to the leading bishops of his kingdom, asking them to make further copies. In this way a strong vernacular tradition of sacred and secular literature grew up in England which continued to flourish into the tenth and eleventh centuries.[28] This Anglo-Saxon vernacular tradition was unique in Western Europe in the Orthodox period, but was destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church after the Norman conquest of England.


Alfred the Man

King Alfred’s astonishingly broad range of achievements was accomplished in the face of enormous difficulties: enemies from without, inertia from within his kingdom, and extremely painful illnesses. As a youth, Alfred prayed to God for an illness that would help him suppress his carnal desires, and contracted piles. Later, during a visit to the shrine of St. Guerir (or Gwinear?) of Cornwall, he asked God to replace the piles with a less severe illness that would not be outwardly visible. The piles disappeared, and then on his wedding day, in 868, he was suddenly struck by a new and mysterious illness which lasted until his forty-fifth year. “And if at any time through God’s mercy,” writes Bishop Asser, “that illness abated for the space of a day or a night or even of an hour, his fear and horror of that accursed pain would never desert him, but rendered him virtually useless – as it seemed to him – for heavenly and worldly affairs.”[29]

In spite of all this, continues the bishop, the king “did not refrain from directing the government of the kingdom; pursuing all manner of hunting; giving instruction to all his goldsmiths and craftsmen as well as to his falconers, hawk-trainers and dog-keepers; making to his own design wonderful and precious new treasures which far surpassed any tradition of his predecessors; reading aloud from books in English and above all learning English poems by heart; issuing orders to his followers: all these things he did himself with great application to the best of his abilities. He was also in the invariable habit of listening daily to divine services and the Liturgy, and of participating in certain psalms and prayers and in the day-time and night-time offices, and, at night-time,.. of going (without his household knowing) to various churches in order to pray. He similarly applied himself attentively to charity and distribution of alms to the native population and to foreign visitors of all races, showing immense and incomparable kindness and generosity to all men, as well as to the investigation of things unknown. Wherefore many Franks, Frisians, Gauls, Vikings, Welshmen, Irishmen and Bretons subjected themselves willingly to his lordship, nobles and commoners alike; and, as befitted his royal status, he ruled, loved, honoured and enriched them all with wealth and authority, just as he did his own people. He was also in the habit of listening eagerly and attentively to Holy Scripture being read out by his own countrymen, or even, if the situation should somehow arise, of listening to these lessons in the company of foreigners. With wonderful affection he cherished his bishops and the entire clergy, his ealdormen and nobles, his officials as well as all his associates. Nor, in the midst of other affairs, did he cease from personally giving, by day and night, instruction to all in virtuous behaviour and tutelage in literacy to their sons, who were being brought up in the royal household and whom he loved no less than his own children.”[30]

Perhaps the only field in which King Alfred fell behind the achievements of other kings was in the founding of monasteries: he founded only two, a men’s monastery at Athelney, and a women’s monastery at Shaftesbury, whose first abbess was his daughter Aethelgifu. However, by his educational work, which was directed above all for the benefit of the Church, he made possible the great monastic revival of the tenth century. And if a man can be judged by his descendants, then he must be judged very highly; for his descendants in the tenth and eleventh centuries comprise one of the most distinguished dynasties in Orthodox history, with several canonized saints (the nuns Elgiva, Edburga and Edith, and Kings Edward the Martyr and Edward the Confessor).



King Alfred reposed in peace on October 26, 899.

In Western Orthodox history, only King Alfred and Charlemagne among rulers have been accorded the title “the Great”. But Alfred deserves the title much more than the heretical Charlemagne. Thoroughly Orthodox in faith (the Filioque found no place in English churches in his reign), Alfred accomplished more, in more directions, and in the face of greater difficulties, than any other ruler of the so-called “Dark Ages”. Unlike Charlemagne, he did not quarrel with the Orthodox Church in the East, but asked for the prayers of the Eastern Patriarchs. And if his kingdom was smaller and humbler than Charlemagne’s, it lasted longer and produced more fruit… He saved English Orthodox civilization for another two hundred years.

So why, ask some contemporary English Orthodox, has Alfred never been counted among the saints? Perhaps because it is not known that his relics (which have recently been found in Winchester) were incorrupt, nor that he worked miracles after his death. And yet his life was itself a continuous miracle, combining the courage and humility of David with the wisdom and justice of Solomon…

In any case, we can agree with his descendant, the tenth-century chronicler Aethelweard, who described him as “the unshakeable pillar of the western people, a man full of justice, vigorous in warfare, learned in speech, above all instructed in Divine learning… Now, O reader, say ‘O Christ our Redeemer, save his soul!”[31]


Vladimir Moss.

January 7/20, 2011.

[1] The usual count is: Northumbria, Deira, Mercia, Wessex, Sussex, Kent and East Anglia. At different times, however, other small kingdoms appeared and disappeared, such as Surrey, Essex, Lindsey and the Hwicce. By the ninth century only Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex and East Anglia were truly independent.

[2] Bishop Asser, Life of King Alfred, 8.

[3] Nevertheless, this letter is considered by some to be a papist forgery. See William Hunt, The EnglishChurch from its Foundation to the Norman Conquest (597-1066), London: Macmillan, 1912, p. 278; Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, Alfred the Great, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983, p. 232, note 19.

[4] Justin Pollard, Alfred the Great, London: John Murray, 2006, p. 63.

[5] Alfred, too, seems to have been conscious of these links. As Geoffrey Hindley writes, “he ascended the throne conscious that the aura of a Roman authority was bout him and he consciously prepared to defend the Christian Roman legacy in his kingdom of Wessex against the pagan invaders.” (A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons, London: Robinson, 2006, p. 210).

[6] Bishop Asser, Life of King Alfred, 37-38.

[7] Michael Wood, In Search of the Dark Ages, London: Penguin, 1994, p. 106.

[8] Pollard, op. cit., pp. 166-167.

[9] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 53.

[10] William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, 121.

[11] William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, 121.

[12] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 55.

[13] Eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon Homily translated in Whitaker, The Life of Saint Neot, 1809.

[14] Bishop Asser, Life of King Alfred, 56.

[15] Bishop Asser, Life of King Alfred, 83.

[16] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 896.

[17] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 893.

[18] Hindley, op. cit., p. 210.

[19] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 80.

[20] Wood, op. cit., p. 138.

[21] Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Clarendon, 1971, p. 276.

[22] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 106.

[23] Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 205.

[24] Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 132-133.

[25] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 22.

[26] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 23.

[27] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 86.

[28] In about the year 1000, Abbot Aelfric, who himself wrote many homilies in Anglo-Saxon, referred to “the books which King Alfred wisely translated from Latin into English, which are obtainable” (in Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 45).

[29] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 74; Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 255-256.

[30] Asser, Life of King Alfred, 76.

[31] Aethelweard, in Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 191.

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