View previous topic | View next topic

Alfred the not-so-great

Page 1 of 1

Curious Danny
207075.  Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:24 am Reply with quote

Time to shatter some myths.

For example, who was the first ruler to pay Danegeld to the vikings?

Forfeits
Ethelred the Unready

Guess who? It was Alfred who paid the vikings to leave him alone while he was building up an army to expand his territory. It was only when he ran out of money that he broke out and reclaimed half of England for the Saxons.

Alfred, hero of the Saxons, great warrior, over-exaggerated to the extreme.

Basically all our knowledge of Alfred come from history books Alfred commisioned so they were biased, to say the least. Asser the monk, died 909, wrote the main account of his life. It is full of myths such as:

Alfred disguised himself as a minstrel and spied on the vikings at their camp at the battle of Edington
In reality, this story first appears 500 years after Alfred's death and even if he had, a strange man asking question in a viking camp would almost certainly be excecuted!

Alfred was visited by the ghost of St. Cuthbert who helped him defeat the vikings

Asser said it was St. Neot who appeared. But he lived in the south, the same area Neot hailed from. The Cuthbert story was written by a northern monk, the same area Cuthbert came from!

Alfred invented the navy to attack the vikings in their cramped, vunerable long boats

The truth is that his father and grandfather had both attacked the vikings at sea as early as 851.

Alfred hid in a forester's house when fighting the vikings and allowed the wife's cakes to burn. When she complained, he didn't answer back, he just apologised.

A complete lie. It is first told 400 years after Alfred's death later and 400 years after that, it is slipped in with Asser's stories by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Alfred's randson Athelstan was a real great. He was the first king of all England and the welsh, scots, irish and vikings all submitted to him after he creamed them at a bloody battle at Brunanburh, something Alfred never managed!

 
samivel
207083.  Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:34 am Reply with quote

Curious Danny wrote:
Asser the monk, died 909, wrote the main account of his life. It is full of myths such as:

Alfred disguised himself as a minstrel and spied on the vikings at their camp at the battle of Edington
In reality, this story first appears 500 years after Alfred's death


Then how can it appear in Asser's book?

 
Curious Danny
207566.  Thu Sep 06, 2007 11:40 am Reply with quote

It didn't. It is another myth of Alfred that just didn't come from Asser.

 
96aelw
207575.  Thu Sep 06, 2007 12:33 pm Reply with quote

I think you've over stated the case somewhat, there. Some of the myths, like the burning the cakes one, are indeed utterly mythical, but their untruth is hardly to Alfred's detriment. He also wasn't the first to cough up Danegeld, which was being paid well before he ever came to the throne. And paying for peace while you build up your army seems to me a perfectly reasonable strategy in any case.

As to only breaking out to reclaim half of England for the Saxons when he ran out of money, which juncture were you here referring to? I can't tally it with any particular incident offhand. I would also point out in passing that "England" is a rather anachronistic concept to be using in reference to this period, and that the unified "Saxons" your wording implied were, in fact, several distinct and entirely separate nations.

The navy, I will grant you, is a claim that has been pushed further than the evidence allows. Alfred himself, as well as the earlier rulers you cite, attacked the Vikings at sea before his supposed founding of the navy in 896, of which little is securely known anyway. He was somethig of an innovator in the naval sphere, though, credited by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with the design of the new ships he had built then, although how many of these there were and how successful there were is unclear. But his role in the foundation of large numbers of fortified towns is equally an achievement of which not enough is probably made in terms of popular perceptions of the man.

Athelstan was indeed a very successful king, but he was starting from a rather stronger position than Alfred had, a stronger position that he owed to the achievements of his father and aunt and grandfather.

He also managed a number of non-military achievements, if they are allowed to count for anything; various translations into Old English, possibly the foundation of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, establishment of a court school, legal reform.

Alfred the Bloody Marvellous to you, mate.

 
Curious Danny
207594.  Thu Sep 06, 2007 3:07 pm Reply with quote

96aelw, the reason i mention Alfred paying Danegeld as Ethelred the Unready has been denounced for centuries for paying the vikings to leave him alone. History, as it has been shown, is rather hard on him.
Alfred sought to have more control and "Saxon" has no meaning really. It was used by the britons to describe anyone who invaded after the Romans left. And by the 800s, the so-called saxons were calling themselves "Anglisc". Ang-land=England!
Alfred's life was recorded in history books which were biased, you have to admit.
Alfred was indeed a good king but he didn't vanquish the vikings like Athelstan the Glorious as he became to be known. Athelstan, arguably, gave the "Anglisc" more land and freedom from attack than Alf did.


Last edited by Curious Danny on Fri Sep 07, 2007 9:25 am; edited 1 time in total

 
JonathanF
207604.  Thu Sep 06, 2007 4:13 pm Reply with quote

I'd have to agree. The OP does smack rather of revisionism for the sake of it, cherry picking the overstated or obviously legendary aspects of his rule/life and minimising his very tangible achievements (the burhs as you say).

 
96aelw
207613.  Thu Sep 06, 2007 5:39 pm Reply with quote

Curious Danny wrote:
96aelw, the reason i mention Alfred paying Danegeld as Ethelred the Unready has been denounced for centuries for paying the vikings to leave him alone. History, as it has been shown, is rather hard on him.


Oh, quite, and a perfectly reasonable point it was, but you did, in the course of making it, say that Alfred was the first monarch to pay Danegeld, which he wasn't. I thought this worth correcting, that's all. Equally, I think Ethelred's reputation might more helpfully be reassessed by examining the circumstances in which he payed Danegeld and how reasonable those decisions were than by retaining the idea that paying Danegeld is always a sign of a bad king and tarring Alfred with the same brush, which, while I suspect it isn't what you intended to do, was the impression I, at least, got from your original remarks.

Quote:
Alfred sought to have more control and "Saxon" has no meaning really. It was used by the britons to describe anyone who invaded after the Romans left. And by the 800s, the so-called saxons were calling themselves "Anglisc". Ang-land=England!


Not quite, I fear. The Angles were, originally, the natives of Angeln in what is now north Germany, and it is from them that the word England comes (as well as East Anglia). The Saxons were another tribe, for want of a better word, from another bit of north Germany who came over at the same time. The two terms thus are comtemporary with each other; Anglian is not a later identity. Ignoring for the minute various controversies about the extent to which differing Anglian and Saxon identities in England reflected separate origins in Angelen and Saxony and how many immigrants there were anyway, the cultural similarities felt by the non-Viking, non-British kingdoms doesnt add up to England existing as a political concept in the 9th century in anything other than a very hazy sense, really, but that may just be me being picky.

Quote:
Alfred's life was recorded in history books which were biased, you have to admit.


I admit that happily, but in the absence of any substantial unbiased sources, one has to do the best with what's there, and one can't simply write off his entire reputation because Asser knew which side his bread was buttered.

Quote:
Alfred was indeed a good king but he didn't vanquish the vikings like Athelstan the Glorious as he became to be known. Athelstan, arguably, gave the "Anglisc" more land and freedom from attack than Alf did.[/b]


He did vanquish them, you know. Battle of Edington, 878. That's got to count as some kind of vanquishing in anyone's book. Athelstan did achieve a lot, but his achievements came on the back of Alfred's (and Edward the Elder's, and Ethelfleda's), and, in any case, comparisons are, I think, invidious. Just comparing how much land each won doesn't take into account the circumstances in which they each had to operate. Each got a lot done from the differing positions in which they found themselves, Alfred starting from a position of less strength and ending up in a position of less strength.

Incidentally, rumours suggesting any link between my lifelong enthusiasm for this particular monarch and my sharing a Christian name with him should be dismissed out of hand.

I still have the Ladybird book about him I was given when I was 5.

 
Curious Danny
207782.  Fri Sep 07, 2007 9:31 am Reply with quote

I admit Alfred, i thought Alfred the great was the first to pay danegeld but i am obviously in the wrong.
Saxon may have been a tribe but was originally used by the britons to mean any old german invader.
Alfred knew, like Galen, the importance of image.
I just like Athelstan better than Alfred.

 

Page 1 of 1

All times are GMT - 5 Hours


Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group