This book provides a broad account of the nineteenth-century cult of King Alfred. It reveals the rich cultural interest of the corpus of texts as a whole. The book redresses a misleading modern emphasis on Arthur and the Victorians, and addresses a genuine gap in the current literature on nineteenth-century medievalism. The book focuses on what was probably the apex of Victorian Alfredianism. It provides the background to this event both in terms of the wider cultural movements and in the sense of the Alfredian tradition which the nineteenth century inherited. The intersection of the cult of Alfred with nineteenth-century British politics is considered in the book, which focuses upon the role that Alfredianism played in debate about the future of the monarchy. The book speculates how the Saxon king was enlisted to vindicate and ennoble those institutions of which Victorian Britain was most proud - notably its navy, law-code, constitution and empire. It examines the conceptions of ninth-century Wessex as a time of immense cultural change - the mirror-image of the nineteenth century - and reviews Victorian appropriations of Alfred's reign as a prestigious starting point for myths of national progress. The book further focuses upon more domestic narratives - the use of Alfred, by Victorian authors, to exemplify moral values, and the rewriting of his life as a parable of error and redemption. Finally, the crucial question of Alfred's decline in fame is addressed in the book, which surveys the diminished interest in the Saxon king after 1901.
and Stuart Brookes have noted, if the Burghal Hidage reflects stages in the changes to defensive mechanisms in the West Saxon kingdom, it may be able to detect a shift from frontier to defence in depth, for example.
A militarised society in ninth-centuryWessex?
It is when we come to assess the militarised nature of West Saxon society by the end of the ninth century that we may be able to perceive something significant. David Pratt has emphasised the
The Dunsoete Agreement and daily life in the Welsh borderlands
with the benefit of hindsight.
The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain looks like a military conquest
when viewed from the perspective of ninth-centuryWessex, where the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was likely begun, or eighth-century Northumbria,
where Bede wrote his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. But for those in
the region inhabited by both Welsh and Anglo-Saxons for several centuries
Writing the Welsh borderlands
– the western territories of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the
eastern portions of the northern Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys
that began in late ninth-centuryWessex before spreading elsewhere a century later. Archaeology shows that byrig grew in population and diversity in the late tenth century, with the evidence of imported pottery indicating growing cosmopolitan tastes of the inhabitants. 26
For a poem inundated by the sands of the desert and the waves of the sea, Exodus engages frequently in meditations on various permutations of the urban landscape. Taken individually, many of these instances may not appear remarkable, but, as a whole, they bear witness
the influence of an Anglo-Saxon
Christian culture: the de-deified Germanic gods feature in genealogies
which privilege biblical history and myth over these same displaced
gods. The inclusion of Sceaf in the genealogies is traceable to
ninth-centuryWessex, and such an extension should be expected at a time
when the West Saxon monarchy was in the ascendant. It would seem that
Sceaf, probably a figure
married Judith, daughter of Charles, king of the Franks, incurring great disgrace
from all who heard of it.49
Both marriages to Judith met with censure during the late nineteenth century.
In part, this perhaps simply reflects the currents of anti-French feeling that
existed in popular British culture at the time – certainly, the Anglo-Saxonist
J.A. Giles postulated that Æthelwulf’s union with Judith must have met with
resentment in ninth-centuryWessex, because in marrying a French woman
he had ‘lightly esteemed all the women of England’.50 The
nineteenth century – the slave trade was banned in the British
Empire in 1807, but it was 1865 before it was abolished in the Southern
states of America, and its spectre hovered for the rest of the century in the
use of anti-slavery rhetoric by campaigners for women’s rights.24 References
to slaves in Alfred’s laws clearly caused discomfort among many British
Alfred and Victorian progress
writers who wished to hail him as a champion of freedom. The children’s
writer Jesse Page was clearly anxious to extenuate the existence of slavery in