Book 2, Chapter 4, 857 AD to 878 AD – Fresh Troubles with the Danes
Within a mouth of succeeding to the throne, Alfred had again to take the field against the Danes, a large body of who had advanced as far as Wilton. In the obstinate conflict which ensued the latter suffered greatly, but remained upon the field of battle until they deemed it prudent to open negotiations with Alfred to be allowed to retire out of Wessex without further molestation. This was agreed to as a matter of Policy, and for three years Alfred was left alone, the Danes turning their attention to agriculture, in the midland, northern, and eastern districts of which they had possession.
The record of the king’s doings during this brief interval of peace is very scanty, but it is to this period must be referred the only story told to his detriment, either as a man or as a monarch. Much controversy has been waged upon this subject, some writers, unwilling to admit the slightest blemish in the character of their hero, declaring that he was absolutely sans peur et sans reproche, and rejecting with indignation every tale to his discredit, while others condemn him as censurable not only in his public conduct at this time, but also in his private life.
The allegation rests mainly upon what was written in the thirteenth century, by John of Wallingford, though how far he may be taken as an authority is a matter of dispute. Lingard remarks upon it,” the scandal of Wallingford may be dismissed with the contempt which it perhaps deserves, ” and at the same time he observes,” At the commencement of his reign there was much in his conduct to reprehend.” Asser, (who, it must again be remembered, wrote during the life time of Alfred) speaking of the distresses into which he fell shortly after this time, says, ” We believe that this trouble did not happen to the king without being deserved by him, because in the early part of his reign, whilst he was yet young, and influenced by a youthful mind, whenever the men of his kingdom and his subjects came to him for the purpose of seeking his aid in their necessities, or whenever they who were opposed by the more powerful implored his assistance and advocacy, he would neither listen to them nor afford them any redress, but treated them as though they were altogether worthless.
Asser adds that “Saint Neot, who was then living, and was a kinsman of Alfred, grieved over the king’s conduct in his inmost heart, and foretold, with prophetic sagacity, that he should, in consequence of it, fall into the greatest adversity, but that Alfred took little notice of the rebuke of this good man, and paid no heed to words which the issue proved to be perfectly true.”
This is one of the many matters which must be suffered to remain in the region of a long past obscurity. Sufficient is it to observe that the rhetorical embellishments with which the character of Alfred has been drawn are due rather to fancy then to sober history. It is not wise to claim such a beatification for any man, however great or excellent, as to exhibit him rather as personifying all the moral virtues and as having attained to the ideal of perfection, than as possessed of some of those peculiarities, which, though not always defects or vices, yet belong, more or less, to every human being. It is a disadvantage to be known to posterity by general commendation, instead of by discriminating analysis of character and by a faithful representation of the shifting kaleidoscope of human actions.
Chapter 4, Reign of Ethelbald
Chapter 4, Destruction of Croyland Abbey
Chapter 4, Alfred the Great
Chapter 4, Fresh Troubles with the Danes
Re-Appearance of Alfred
Chapter 4, Treaty between him and Guthrun
Categories: Book 2