Friday, 8 March 2013

Men of Yore: King Alfred (The Great)

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form.  Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards.  We, as men, are the frontiersmen/the vanguard, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

It is also partly intended to show images, be they paintings, statues or photographs of the countenances of men of yore.  Because, quite frankly, many men wear the countenances of women these days: smiling, smirking, cooing, rolling their eyes, looking smug etc.  It's a sign of the times, and by showing some images of men from the past, I hope to show some modern men why looking surly, frowning and giving hard-ball stares at people is something to do, something to practise.

King Alfred (from a statue in Winchester built in 1899)

Alfred the Great (Old English: Ælfrēd, Ælfrǣd
, "elf counsel"; 849 – 26 October 899) was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.

Alfred successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, and by the time of his death had become the dominant ruler in England.[1] He is the only English monarch to be accorded the epithet "the Great".[2][3] Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself "King of the Anglo-Saxons". Details of his life are described in a work by the 10th century Welsh scholar and bishop Asser. Alfred was a learned and merciful man who encouraged education and improved his kingdom's legal system and military structure.
Bishop Asser tells the story of how as a child Alfred won a prize of a volume of poetry in English, offered by his mother to the first of her children able to memorise it. Legend also has it that the young Alfred spent time in Ireland seeking healing. Alfred was troubled by health problems throughout his life.  Alfred was troubled by health problems throughout his life. It is thought that he may have suffered from Crohn's disease.  Evidence suggests he was not physically strong, and though not lacking in courage, he was more noted for his intellect than a warlike character.
Reconstituted Fyrd
Over the last two decades of his reign, Alfred undertook a radical reorganisation of the military institutions of his kingdom, strengthened the West Saxon economy through a policy of monetary reform and urban planning and strove to win divine favour by resurrecting the literary glories of earlier generations of Anglo-Saxons. Alfred pursued these ambitious programmes to fulfill, as he saw it, his responsibility as king.

Legal Reform:
In the late 880s or early 890s, Alfred issued a long domboc or law code, consisting of his "own" laws followed by a code issued by his late seventh-century predecessor King Ine of Wessex. Together these laws are arranged into 120 chapters. In his introduction, Alfred explains that he gathered together the laws he found in many "synod-books" and "ordered to be written many of the ones that our forefathers observed—those that pleased me; and many of the ones that did not please me, I rejected with the advice of my councillors, and commanded them to be observed in a different way."

Appearance and Character:
Asser, in his Life of King Alfred, wrote of him, "He was loved by his father and mother, and even by all the people, above all his brothers, and was educated altogether at the court of the king. As he advanced through the years of infancy and youth, his form appeared more comely than that of his brothers; in look, in speech, and in manners he was more graceful than they. His noble nature implanted in him from his cradle a love of wisdom above all things; but, with shame be it spoken, by the unworthy neglect of his parents and nurses, he remained illiterate even till he was twelve years old or more; but, he listened with serious attention to the Saxon poems which he often heard recited, and easily retained them in his docile memory. He was a zealous practiser of hunting in all its branches, and hunted with great assiduity and success; for skill and good fortune in this art, as in all others, are among the gifts of God, as we also have often witnessed.

Though lacking in physical strength he still outperformed his adversaries in the matter of warfare (re-organising the army and constructing impressive defensive works).  He also created a new legal system ex nihlo which shows true creativity, as well as taking responsibility/accountability for the laws that he made, i.e. he didn’t defer to any higher power or authority; and that is a true mark of a man: taking responsibility for ones actions and thoughts.

Check out some of the other entries from the 'Men of Yore' series:


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