‘England’s darling’

The Victorian cult of Alfred the Great

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.

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