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King Alfred (or more properly Ælfred) is the only English king ever to receive the title "The Great" which epithet he earned for his stalwart resistance to the Danes, his wise government, his law-making, and his revival of English arts and culture and education. He was the first King of Wessex to be called "King of England". Reign: 871-899.
House of Wessex
He was of the royal English dynasty called House of Wessex, a family originating in the southwest corner of England and gradually increasing in power and prestige. The House became rulers of all the country with the reign of Alfred the Great in 871 and they lasting until Edmund Ironside in 1016. This period of the English monarchy is known as the Saxon period.
Rome pilgrimage 853
Young Alfred probably never expected to be king, being the fifth son of King Athelwulf of Wessex, and he even had three brothers precede him to the kingship.
Young Alfred made two trips to Rome, first in 853 and again in 855, where his father sought the blessings of the pope (Pope Leo IV (847-855)))and the Christian church in his ongoing battles against the pagan Danes. Legend has it that during one of these visits, the pope anointed him to be a great ruler. During these trips he spent some time with the court of Charles the Bald (823-877) and learned much about the grandeur of Charles's grandfather, Charlemagne (747-814).
After his father's death in 858, young Alfred started getting much military training in the armies of his brothers ( Athelbald (858-860), Athelbert (860-865) and Athelred (865-861) in their ongoing battles against the Danes (Norsemen, Vikings, etc).
In the mid 860's a Danish 'Great Army' under Ivar the Boneless invaded eastern England and occupied Northumbria. At first their attention was directed northwards against Mercia and Northumbria and they made many conquests there.
In 871, the Danes turned their attention towards Wessex and the armies of Alfred and his brother Æthelred of Wessex (c847-871), and thus began the great "Year of Battles". During the course of these battles Athelred died and Alfred became King. By this time Alfred was a highly experienced military leader.
After a major battle at Wilton in May 871, a peace was made between Wessex and the Danes, who turned their attention back northward. They returned to do battle in the late 870s under Guthrum and again in the 890s under Haesten.
But as he grew older and wiser, Alfred adopted more cautious tactics and stronger defences for holding back the Danes. He would besiege their fortifications, conduct guerrilla warfare on their transports, and build up the local militia in each shire.
Most famously, Alfred built a fleet of warships and is traditionally regarded as the father of the English Navy. (He is also called the father of the American navy, which named itsfirst revolutionary warship, USS Alfred, for him.)
From Treaty of 889, setting the border between English and Danelaw:
"This is the peace which King Alfred and King Guthrum...have agreed on...First concerning our boundaries: up the Thames, and then up the Lea, and along the Lea to its source, then in a straight line to Bedford, then up the Ouse to the Watling Street."
|Offspring of Æthelwulf of Wessex and Osburga (-bef856)|
|Æthelstan of Kent (-c852)||830 England, United Kingdom (Wessex)||852 England, United Kingdom (Wessex)|| |
|Æthelswith of Wessex (c838-888)||838 England, United Kingdom (Wessex)||888 Pavia, Italy|| Burgred of Mercia (c825-874)|
|Æthelbald of Wessex (-860)||833 Wessex||20 December 860 Sherborne, Dorsetshire, England|| Judith (844-870)|
|Æthelberht of Wessex (-865)||836 Wessex||865 England|| |
|Æthelred of Wessex (c847-871)||847 Wessex||23 April 871 Wessex|| Wulfthryth of Wessex (c840-)|
|Alfred the Great (849-899)||23 April 849 Wantage, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom||26 October 899 Winchester, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom|| Ealhswith (c852-905)|
Marriage and family
In 868, Alfred married Ealhswith (c852-905), daughter of a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucil, Ealdorman of the Gaini. The Gaini were probably one of the tribal groups of the Mercians. Ealhswith's mother, Eadburh, was a member of the Mercian royal family.
They had five or six children together, including Edward the Elder (c870-924), who succeeded his father as king, Æthelflæd (c872-918), who became Lady (ruler) of the Mercians in her own right, and Ælfthryth of Wessex (c872-929), who married Baldwin II the Count of Flanders. In 2008 the skeleton of Queen Eadgyth, granddaughter of Alfred the Great, was found in Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany. It was confirmed in 2010 that these remains belong to her — one of the earliest members of the English royal family.
Osferth was described as a relative in King Alfred's will and he attested charters in a high position until 934. A charter of King Edward's reign described him as the king's brother, "mistakenly" according to Keynes and Lapidge; however, in the view of Janet Nelson, he probably was an illegitimate son of King Alfred.
- Æthelflæd (c872-918) - Married c 886, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians d. 911; had children
- Edward the Elder (c870-924) - succeeded his father as King of England, ruling from 899 to 924.
- Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury (?-?) - Abbess of Shaftesbury
- Ælfthryth of Wessex (c872-929) - Married and had children
- Æthelwærd (c880-922) - Married Baldwin II d. 918, Count of Flanders; had children
|Offspring of Alfred the Great and Ealhswith (c852-905)|
|Edward the Elder (c870-924)||870||17 July 924|| Ecgwynn (c875-)|
Eadgifu of Kent (c902-968)
|Æthelflæd (c872-918)||872 Wessex||12 June 918 Tamford, Staffordshire, England|| Æthelred of Mercia (c855-911)|
|Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury (?-?)|| |
|Ælfthryth of Wessex (c872-929)||872 England, United Kingdom (Wessex)||7 June 929|| Baldwin II of Flanders (c865-918)|
|Æthelwærd (c880-922)||880 Wessex||921 Wessex|
- See also List of English monarchs