Alfred the Great

By Barbara Yorke

Published by The History Press (2015)

Why is Alfred the Great? A simple answer is that he has been seen as a man who saved England, invented English identity and pioneered English as a written language. He is the first Englishman for whom a biography survives so that we know more about Alfred and his ideals than we do for most people who lived over a thousand years ago.

A slightly longer answer would say that things are a bit more complicated, and that one reason Alfred seems to be so ‘great’ was that he made sure we were told that he was. To get the measure of Alfred we need to look at what he actually managed to achieve. Can we resurrect the ‘real’ King Alfred? There may be limits, but even if we have to part company with some of the Victorian adulation, we are still left with a pretty impressive and surprising person.

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