King Alfred the Great and Our Common Law

In 1892, the famous German Church Historian Rev. Professor Dr.J.H. Kurtz1 called King Alfred the greatest and noblest of all the monarchs England has ever had. King Alfred ruled from 871 to 901 A.D. He applied all the energy of his mind to the difficult problems of government; to the emancipation of his Christian country by driving out the Pagan Danish invaders and robbers; and then to improving the internal condition of the land.

Alfred is perhaps best of all remembered for his famous Law Code. According to the celebrated former British Statesman and Historian Sir Winston Churchill,2 the roots of King Alfred's Book of Laws or Dooms (alias his "Deemings") came forth from the (as then already long-established) laws of Kent, Mercia and Wessex. All these attempted to blend the Mosaic Code with the Christian principles of Celto-Brythonic Law and old Germanic customs.

Churchill adds that the laws of Alfred, continually amplified by his successors, grew into that body of Customary Law which was administered [as the ‘Common Law’] by the Shire and the Hundred Courts. Cf. Exodus 18:21f. That, under the name of the ‘Laws of St. Edward’ [the ‘Confessor’] — as the A.D. 1042f last Anglo-Saxon Christian King of England — the Norman kings undertook to respect, after their 1066f invasion and conquest of England and hegemony over Britain. Out of that, with much dexterity by feudal lawyers, the Common Law emerged (which was re-confirmed by Magna Carta in 1215).

The life and times of King Alfred the Great

Alfred's father was King Ethelwulf, who ruled over the south west of England. He traced his own genealogy all the way back to Noah.3 Professor Warren W. Lehman records4 that King Alfred himself boldly traced his own ancestry — via the Scythians, to Japheth — and thus right back through the latter's father Noah to Adam. See: First Chronicles 1:1-6 cf. Jeremiah 51:27f & Colossians 3:11.

Alfred was born in A.D. 849, at Wantage in Berkshire. This was in the very midst of the decades when the pagan Vikings from Scandinavia were constantly raiding the Christian British Isles in general and even Christian England itself — destroying                                               

1 J.H. Kurtz: Church History, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1892, I pp. 541f. 2 Sir. W. Churchill: The Island Race, Corgi, London, 1964, II, p. 219. 3 R. Holinshed: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1586), AMS Press, New York, 1965 rep., I pp. 662f. 4 W.W. Lehman: The First English Law, in Journal of Legal History, Cass, London, May 1985, p. 29 n. 19.

KING ALFRED THE GREAT AND OUR COMMON LAW

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churches and their libraries on a huge scale. Though only the fourth son of King Ethelwulf, Alfred showed much Christian dedication and religiosity even when but five years old. His father died in 858, when Alfred was only nine.

Young Alfred could recite many Anglo-Saxon poems by heart even before he was twelve. Only at that age did he learn to read. He entered upon his own public career at the age of seventeen. It was then that he first started to deliver England from the Danes.5

In 868, when twenty years old, Prince Alfred married the daughter of an Ealdorman or Elder-man. This shows the non-snobbish and mobile nature of the Anglo-British society in England, before the later Norman Conquest from 1066 onwards (which was finally to be reversed by Magna Carta in 1215).

Alfred was then attacked by a grievous illness — apparently a serious form of epilepsy. It lasted for at least the next twenty years. Nevertheless, from 870 onward, Alfred still waged many battles against the Danes.

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