King Alfred the Great and Our Common Law

Internationally, Alfred corresponded with Elias of Jerusalem. He sent ambassadors to Ireland and to Rome — and even to India.

Seeking to promote a national educational system after the Vikings had wreaked havoc by burning down so many libraries, Alfred established a Court School. With such a dearth of English scholars still alive at that time, Alfred even imported certain internationally-famous scholars to teach there. Such included Asser from Wales and John Scotus Eriugena from Ireland — as well as some from the Continent. For King Alfred regarded access to public education, on a Christian foundation, as the birthright of every Englishman.


6 E. Gibbon: The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Oxford University Press, London, 1907-14 ed., IV p. 115 & V p. 178.


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Though suffering from the great physical infirmity of epilepsy, Alfred left an enduring fame for unselfish devotion to the best interests of his people. He made collections of choice sentences from the Holy Bible and certain Church Fathers. He sent a copy of Gregory's Pastoral Theology to every diocese, for the benefit of the clergy.

Furthermore, Alfred translated fifty of the psalms into Anglo-Saxon. It is due chiefly to his influence, that the Holy Scriptures and Service Books of this period were illustrated by so many vernacular glosses in England.

Above all, Alfred put himself to school — making a series of translations for the instruction of his clergy and people. Apart from his now-lost Handbook (a common-place anthology), his earliest work was his very own Preface to the translation of the Dialogues of Gregory. That Preface, in Alfred's own Anglo-Saxon, starts as follows:

"I Alfred, endowed with royal dignity by the grace of Christ, have truly understood and often heard through the reading of holy books that the one God has given to us so much greatness of earthly things. There is the greatest need that we for a time should soften and bend our mind to divine and spiritual services, amid this earthly care…. Being confirmed in my mind through this admonition and love, I for a time study these heavenly things amid these earthly troubles."

This was soon followed by Alfred's translation of the great African St. Augustine's A.D. 386 meditative Soliloquies. At that time, the king was but thirty-three.

This was then followed by Alfred's close translation from Latin into Anglo-Saxon of the A.D. 731 Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England. For Alfred wanted the English to understand in their own tongue how Christ's Church had grown in Britain since very early times, and how England had become a Christian Nation.

Alfred was for England what Charlemagne was for France. He was a Christian ruler, legislator, and educator of his people. He is esteemed the wisest, best and greatest king that ever reigned in England.

Perhaps the most interesting of Alfred's works, is his translation of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy — the most popular philosophical manual of the early mediaeval period. Here Alfred deals very freely with the original. There is much in the work solely by King Alfred, and highly characteristic of his genius. Such includes the following oft-quoted sentence: "My will was to live worthily as long as I lived; and after my life to leave to them who would come after me, my memory in good works."

The last of Alfred's writings is one to which he gave the title Blostman or 'Blossoms' (alias Anthology). Most of the first half is based mainly on the Soliloquies of St. Augustine of Hippo. The rest is drawn from various sources, and contains much that is Alfred's own and which is highly characteristic of him.

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