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Website by eddie at houseofed@tiscali.co.uk

...told by the Ilchester Museum

Alfred The Great

Ilchester in the ninth century

Ilchester was an established fortified community in the Kingdom of Wessex when Alfred came to the throne. He was the youngest of five sons and succeeded to the throne in 871 on the death of his last brother Aethelred. He had spent most of his life fighting in the armies of his brothers against the invaders and as a 21-year-old was a battle veteran.


In 878 the Danes captured Chippenham and used it as a base from which to devastate Wessex. With only his royal bodyguard, a small army of thegns (king's followers) and Aethelnoth the Earldorman of Somerset as his ally, Alfred withdrew into the Somerset tidal marshes.


It was during this time that Alfred, preoccupied with the defence of his kingdom, allegedly burnt the cakes he had been set to watch.


Alfred decided to adopt the Danes' tactics by building a fortified base at Athelney in the Somerset marshes and summoning a mobile army of men from across his kingdom to pursue guerrilla warfare against the Danes. In May 878 Alfred defeated the Danes at Edington in Wiltshire and turned the tide in Wessex's battle for survival.


The Danes remained a threat and Alfred reorganised the defences of Wessex realising that efficient defence and economic prosperity went hand in hand.

He organised his army on a rota basis so that he could raise troops to deal with raiders whilst still enabling his thegns and peasants to tend their farms. Then he began to strengthen his kingdom by using existing fortified settlements such as Ilchester and building new so that no one was more than twenty miles from a refuge. Settlers were given plots and in return manned the defences in time of war. Alfred built a navy of fast ships giving Wessex defence in depth against invaders.


Alfred was very scholarly and appreciated the value of literacy, encouraging the translation from Latin into Anglo-Saxon of books he felt beneficial. He was also a Patron of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, a history of the English from the point of view of Wessex.


He established a legal code collecting together laws from earlier kings and other kingdoms, adding his own administrative regulations to form a body of Anglo-Saxon law.


By stopping the Danes advance and consolidating his territorial gains Alfred started the process of the ultimate unification of Anglo-Saxon England, spreading from the Kingdom of Wessex.


Alfred died in 899 aged fifty years and was buried in Winchester.  For his valiant defence of his kingdom and farsighted reforms, Alfred alone of all English monarchs is known as 'the Great'.

warfare against the Danes. In May 878 Alfred defeated the Danes at Edington in Wiltshire and turned the tide in Wessex's battle for survival.


The Danes remained a threat and Alfred reorganised the defences of Wessex realising that efficient defence and economic prosperity went hand in hand.

He organised his army on a rota basis so that he could raise troops to deal with raiders whilst still enabling his thegns and peasants to tend their farms. Then he began to strengthen his kingdom by using existing fortified settlements such as Ilchester and building new so that no one was more than twenty miles from a refuge. Settlers were given plots and in return manned the defences in time of war. Alfred built a navy of fast ships giving Wessex defence in depth against invaders.


Alfred was very scholarly and appreciated the value of literacy, encouraging the translation from Latin into Anglo-Saxon of books he felt beneficial. He was also a Patron of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, a history of the English from the point of view of Wessex.


He established a legal code collecting together laws from earlier kings and other kingdoms, adding his own administrative regulations to form a body of Anglo-Saxon law.


By stopping the Danes advance and consolidating his territorial gains Alfred started the process of the ultimate unification of Anglo-Saxon England, spreading from the Kingdom of Wessex.


Alfred died in 899 aged fifty years and was buried in Winchester.  For his valiant defence of his kingdom and farsighted reforms, Alfred alone of all English monarchs is known as 'the Great'.


English from the point of view of Wessex.


He established a legal code collecting together laws from earlier kings and other kingdoms, adding his own administrative regulations to form a body of Anglo-Saxon law.


By stopping the Danes advance and consolidating his territorial gains Alfred started the process of the ultimate unification of Anglo-Saxon England, spreading from the Kingdom of Wessex.


Alfred died in 899 aged fifty years and was buried in Winchester.  For his valiant defence of his kingdom and farsighted reforms, Alfred alone of all English monarchs is known as 'the Great'.