‘The most perfect character in history’
Alfred and Victorian morality
in ‘England’s darling’
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King Alfred was enthusiastically drawn upon in the nineteenth century as a model scholar for the people. The development of Alfred's role from regnal to moral exemplar may have owed something to the growth of publishing for children during the nineteenth century. The generosity of the impoverished king to the disguised saint proved a popular subject for Victorian visual artists. In his 1900 history Alfred to Victoria, George Eayrs claimed that Alfred and his line 'must be acknowledged the strongest of the several strains which have combined to produce that distinctive type, the Englishman'. The nineteenth-century fascination with Alfred's youthful vices contrasts starkly with eighteenth-century authors' apparent embarrassment about the subject. In Joseph Cottle's 1801 Alfred: An Epic Poem we seem to see the turning point between the dominant eighteenth-century tendency to depict Alfred as a wooing lover, and the burgeoning nineteenth-century desire to portray him as the ideal husband.

‘England’s darling’

The Victorian cult of Alfred the Great

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