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House of Wessex - King Alfred the Great

Name: King Alfred the Great
Father: Aethelwulf, King of Wessex
Mother: Osburh
Born: c.849 at Wantage, Berkshire
Married: Ealhswith of Mercia
Children: 5 children
Died: 899
Buried at: Winchester

Anglo-Saxon king 871899 who defended England against Danish invasion and founded the first English navy. He succeeded his brother Aethelred to the throne of Wessex in 871, and a new legal code came into force during his reign. He encouraged the translation of scholarly works from Latin (some he translated himself), and promoted the development of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This ensured that his deeds were recorded in history as legends and we know more about him than any other Anglo Saxon King.

Alfred was born at Wantage, historically in Berkshire by now Oxfordshire, the youngest son of Ethelwulf (d. 858), king of the West Saxons. In 870 Alfred and his brother Ethelred fought many battles against the Danes. Alfred gained a victory over the Danes at Ashdown in 871, and succeeded Ethelred as king in April 871 after a series of battles in which the Danes had been defeated. Not all his campaigns were so successful; on a number of occasions he had to resort to buying off the Danes for a brief respite. Five years of uneasy peace followed while the Danes were occupied in other parts of England. In 876 the Danes attacked again, and in 878 Alfred was forced to retire to the stronghold of Athelney. The legend of him burning the cakes probably comes from this period.

His come back and great victory at Edington in 878 secured the survival of Wessex, and the Treaty of Wedmore with the Danish king Guthrum in 886 established a boundary between the Danelaw, east of Watling Street, and the Saxons to the west. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that following his capture of London in 886 'all the English people submitted to him, except those who were in captivity to the Danes'. In some respects, therefore, Alfred could be considered the first king of England. A new landing in Kent encouraged a revolt of the East Anglian Danes, which was suppressed 88486, and after the final foreign invasion was defeated 89296, Alfred strengthened the navy to prevent fresh incursions.

During periods of peace Alfred reformed and improved his military organization. He divided his levies into two parts with one half at home and the other on active service, giving him a relief system he could call on to continue a campaign. He also began to build burhs (fortified strongpoints) throughout the kingdom to form the basis of an organized defensive system. Alfred is popularly credited as being the founder of the Royal Navy; he did build a fleet of improved ships manned by Frisians and on several occasions successfully challenged the Danes at sea.

Timeline for King Alfred the Great

871 Alfred becomes King of Wessex following the death of his brother Aethelred
872 London falls to Viking raiders
875 After persistent attacks by Vikings the monks of Lindesfarne travel through Northumbria and Galloway with the Lindesfarne Gospels.
878 Guthrum's Danish army invades Wessex, and Alfred takes refuge on the isle of Athelney. Alfred defeats Guthrum at the battle of Ethandune (Edington) in Wiltshire.
878 Treaty of Wedmore divides England into two. Guthrum accepts baptism as a Christian and agrees to leave Wessex and settle in East Anglia.
884 Alfred defeats the Danes at Rochester
885 Alfred imposes rules on South Wales
886 Alfred takes London from the Danes. Danelaw - the territory occupied by the Danes in East Anglia is recognised by Alfred
890 Guthrum dies. Alfred establishes a permanent army and navy
891 Anglo Saxon Chronicle, source of much early British History, begun
893 Asser, Bishop of Sherborne, completes his book The Life of Alfred the Great
894 Northumbrian and East Angles swear allegiance to Alfred, but promptly break the truce attacking South West England.
896 Naval victory over the Danes in the Solent
899 Alfred dies and is buried at Winchester. His son Edward becomes king.