Sunday, June 15, 2008
A Little Inspiration...
There is, no doubt, plenty of gloomy news out there, but from time to time it's good to re-nourish our spirits on the feats and deeds of our ancestors.
It can not only serve to remind us of what we are fighting for, but inspire us to keep fighting for it...
Alfred The Great was the fifth son of Ethelwulf. According to his biographer, the Welsh monk Asser, "with shame be it spoken, by the unworthy neglect of his parents and nurses, he remained illiterate even till he was twelve years old or more; but, he listened with serious attention to the Saxon poems which he often heard recited, and easily retained them in his docile memory. He was a zealous practiser of hunting in all its branches, and hunted with great assiduity and success; for skill and good fortune in this art, as in all others, are among the gifts of God, as we also have often witnessed."
Alfred reigned from 871-899 and was the first king to be called "King of the Anglo-Saxons", as it was under his rule that England took a more united identity in the face of near constant Viking invasion.
In early 878, the Danes led by King Guthrum seized Chippenham in Wiltshire in a lightning strike and used it as a secure base from which to devastate Wessex. Local people either surrendered or escaped (Hampshire people fled to the Isle of Wight), and the West Saxons were reduced to hit and run attacks seizing provisions when they could.
With only his royal bodyguard, a small army of thegns (the king's followers) and Aethelnoth earldorman of Somerset as his ally, Alfred withdrew to the Somerset tidal marshes in which he had probably hunted as a youth.
A resourceful fighter, Alfred reassessed his strategy and adopted the Danes' tactics by building a fortified base at Athelney in the Somerset marshes and summoning a mobile army of men from Wiltshire, Somerset and part of Hampshire to pursue guerrilla warfare against the Danes. In May 878, Alfred's army defeated the Danes at the battle of Edington.
Alfred started a building programme of well-defended settlements across southern England. These were fortified market places ('borough' comes from the Old English burh, meaning fortress); by deliberate royal planning, settlers received plots and in return manned the defences in times of war. (Such plots in London under Alfred's rule in the 880s shaped the streetplan which still exists today between Cheapside and the Thames.)
The Royal Navy can trace it's roots back to Alfred The Great as well.
At almost forty, Alfred took it upon himself to learn Latin and began translating Latin Texts into Anglo-Saxon (old, OLD English) in a bid to encourage and spread general knowledge about the realm. These included Philosophical, Religious and Historical works.
He also played no small part in the construction of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Despite suffering from an as yet unidentified ailment all his adult life, Alfred defended his Kingdom, rebuilt what invaders continually tore down, encouraged learning and education (which he himself never ceased throughout his life) codified laws, constructed new towns to defend his kingdom, oversaw the construction of England's first Navy, inspired the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (which served to encourage English patriotism) and became the one and only English King to receive, "The Great" attached to his name.
For more on Alfred, you can buy Asser's 'Life of King Alfred' here.
Also, for an overview of Anglo-Saxon literature, 'The Anglo-Saxon World; An Anthology' is an excellent little book. It has, along with an exert from Asser's Life of King Alfred, an assortment of Anglo-Saxon poems, elegies (including The Wanderer, The Seafarer and The Ruin), laws, riddles, Christian poems and exhortation and a complete translation of Beowulf.... among other things.