Alfred the Great: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Alfred the Great.

  • Alfred the Great was the King of Wessex from 871 to 899 and is credited with defending his kingdom against the Vikings. He is the only English monarch to be officially described as ‘great’.
  • Alfred was born in 849, near Oxford. His father was King Aethelwulf of Wessex. Alfred was Aethelwulf’s youngest son, and three of Alfred’s brothers (Aethelbald, Ethelbert and Ethelred) ruled Wessex before him.

  • At the age of 4 he made a pilgrimage to Rome where the Pope decreed that he would one day be king, although he was not crowned until 871.
  • In 886, he moved to London and spent time restoring the Roman walls of the city. Today, a wall plaque in the City of London commemorates this achievement.
  • In 896, he ordered the construction of ships that would be twice as long as the Viking longboats. Alfred may have been influenced by the design of Roman and Greek ships.
  • According to legend, Alfred burnt some cakes of a peasant woman, forgetting to take them out of the oven, when hiding from Vikings. Black growths on ash trees are still known as ‘King Alfred’s cakes’.

Alfred the Great

  • As well as being a great warrior, Alfred is credited with improving the English legal system, encouraging people to learn, and building a defensive system across southern England.
  • Nobody knows for sure how Alfred the Great died in 899, although he had several illnesses during his life. His remains have never been found, despite various attempts.
  • The Alfred Jewel, discovered in the 17th century, is a 6.4 cm long gold ornament. It may have been used as a pointer when reading and teaching.
  • With just a few exceptions, every English king and queen who followed Alfred the Great, including Queen Elizabeth II, is a direct descendant of him.
  • Several schools and colleges are named after Alfred the Great, as well as ships in the Royal Navy and US Navy. He has also been named as one of the 100 most important Britons.

What next? Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our Anglo-Saxon resources page.

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