King Alfred the Great and Our Common Law

There were nine major engagements, some ending in victories and some in defeats. In 871, his brother King Aethelred died — and the youthful Alfred was called upon to assume all the burdens of 'sole king' — at the very tender age of only twenty-three.

After a tenuous temporary peace lasting some five years, the Danes broke through to the far southwest — and even managed to seize Exeter. But Alfred blockaded them, until they had to withdraw to Mercia (immediately north of Alfred's domain in Southwest England).

Then, in 878 the Danes swooped upon Chippenham — where Alfred had been observing Christmas. State the Saxon Chronicles: "Most of the people they reduced, except King Alfred…. He and his little band made his way…by wood and swamp…. After Easter, he…made a fort at Athelney — and from that fort kept fighting against the foe."

While once in hiding, in anonymous disguise, Alfred was over-preoccupied with military strategy. It is during this time that he is alleged to have neglected to keep his eye, as he had undertaken to do, on some cakes being baked in a kitchen. Rebuked for his neglect by the kitchen-maid, King Alfred humbly apologized to her.

Yet all throughout that whole time, he was organizing for victory against the Danes. This is evidenced by another well-known story. He once disguised himself as a blind harpist. As such, he entered the camp of the Vikings — though really in order to reconnoitre it.

In 878, Alfred's armies in Somersetshire and Wiltshire and Hampshire clashed against the Danes. At Edington, the English won a decisive victory. The Danes submitted, and by the Treaty of Wedmore their King Guthrum and about thirty of his Chiefs had to accept                                               

5 Art. Alfred, or Aelfred (in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica, New York, 14th ed., 1929, 1:588f); & art. Alfred the Great (in Encyclopedia Americana, American, New York,1951, I:380).


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Christian baptism or to go back to Pagan Scandinavia. This was part of the surrender terms successfully proposed by the Christian King Alfred.

Both Western England, and indeed also Western Europe itself, had now been saved from the danger of being annexed by Pagan Scandinavians. In this, Alfred had played perhaps the key role.

In the year 896, Alfred cut off the Danish ships twenty miles from London. They now withdrew — some to Northumbria, and others back to Europe. Alfred was still only 47.

After the final dispersion of the Vikings, Alfred strengthened the Royal Navy. He himself designed its ships. He did so partly to repress the ravages of the Danes in Northumbria and East-Anglia against his own coast's in Southwest England. He did this also — partly to prevent the landing of fresh hordes of Vikings from Scandinavia.

Alfred then also established the Shire system in those parts of the English Midlands which he acquired. In that sense, Alfred there implemented the Shires, Hundreds and Tithings. Naturally, he inherited this idea from the earlier Christian Monarchs of Southwest England (such as King Ina). Yet Alfred re-inforced it especially from his own reading and massive study of Holy Scripture (Exodus 18:12-21f & Deuteronomy 1:13-16 etc.).

Like a second Moses, Alfred was personally involved in the administration of justice (Ex. 18:12-26). He was particularly concerned about the poor (James 1:27). He cooperated with his Witenagemot or Parliament; respected its rights; and even strengthened its power. Even the sceptical historian Gibbon claimed:6 "The wise Alfred adopted as an indispensible duty the extreme rigour of the Mosaic institutions." That he did, tempering it with the grace of the Gospel — through 'the golden rule' in the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic injunctions at the Synod of Jerusalem. See Matthew 7:12 and Acts 15:19-29 & 16:4-5.

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