Alfred, The Great

, the youngest son of Æthelwolf king of the West Saxons, was born in the year 849, at Wannating, or Wanading, which is supposed to be Wantage in Berkshire. Æthelwolf, having a great regard for religion, and being extremely devoted to the see of Rome, sent Alfred to that city at five years of age; where pope Leo IV. adopted and anointed him, as some think, with a regal unction, though others are of opinion he was only confirmed.*

*

There are many reasons why the anointing Alfred to be king is scrupled, (See —Leland, p. 145.) 1. He was his father’s younger son, and had three, at least, if not four brethren between him and the crown. 2. He was but five years old, and therefore it is unlikely his father should intend him for a vice-­king. 3. Such an unction could have had no other consequence than that of making him obnoxious to his brethren, But, notwithstanding these objections, many authors speak of Alfred’s journey to Rome, and of his unction. Asser bishop of Sherborne, who was intimate with king Alfred, in the memoirs he wrote of that prince, has these words: (De rebus gestis Alfred, p. 7.) “The same year king Æthelwolf sent his son Alfred to Rome, attended by many of the nobility and persons of the lower rank. Leo IV. then possessed the apostolic see, who appointed the said infant Alfred as a king, confirmed him, and adopted him as his own son.” Æthelred, a monk of the royal family, who lived very near these times, says, (Chronic, lib. iii. fol. 478.) that after Leo had consecrated him king, he, from that act, styled him his son, as bishops, at the time of confirmation, are wont to call those little ones their children. Robert of Gloucester says, (Chronicle, p. 264.) that he was crowned king, and anointed. Sir Henry Speltnan, after mentioning some authorities, concludes that he was anointed king. (Life of Alfred, p. 20.) Alford, the Jesuit, alleges he was both anointed king, and confirmed, by pope Leo; and that in respect to this last ceremony the pope was his god-father. Annal. tom. iii. p. 66.

Soon after his return, his father, being in the decline of life, and going to visit the holy see, took his favourite son with him; where he had an opportunity of seeing and hearing many things, which made snch strong impressions on him, as remained during his whole life, Æthelwolf had five sons, and a daughter; of whom Æthelstan, the eldest, was king of Kent in his father’s life-time, and died before him. Æthelbald, the second son, raised a rebellion against his father, when he returned from Rome; who, to avoid any effusion of blood, consented to divide his dominions with him. Æthelwolf did not long survive this; but, before his death, he, by a full and distinct | testamerit, endeavoured to settle all the claims of his children. By this will Æthelbalcl and Æthelbert had his kingdoms divided betwixt them; and he left his private estate, with all the money in his coffers, to his younger sons Æthelred and Alfred. Æthelwolf died in the year 858, and was succeeded by Æthelbald, who reigned but two years and a half. On his demise JLthelbert seized the crown, which he held for five years, and died in the year 866. He was succeeded by his brother Æthelred; who, while he was a private man, had solemnly promised Alfred to do him that justice which had been denied by the two former kings, by giving him what his father had bequeathed him. On his accession Alfred demanded a performance of his promise; but the king excused himself on account of the troublesome times, and assured him that at his death he would leave him all. Alfred having given proofs of his courage in the former king’s reign, Æthelred would never part with him, but employed him as his first minister and general of his armies.

In the year 866 a great fleet of the Danes, under the command of Hinguar and Hubba, sons of Lodbroch, a Danish king, invaded England: in the year 871 they marched to Reading in Berkshire, where they received a considerable reinforcement, and took that town and castle. jSLthelred and his brother Alfred came with an army to Reading a week after it was taken: he divided his forces into two bodies, one of which he assigned to Alfred, and the other he kept under his own command. Alfred rashly engaged the Danish army, which being very numerous, he would probably have been totally defeated, had not the king come to his assistance with a fresh body of troops; this changed the fortune of the day so far, that the Danes were defeated, and lost great numbers of their men. Soon after, however, the Danes attacked and routed the two brothers at Merden, near the Devizes. In this engagement Æthelred received a wound, of which he died, after having reigned five years.

Upon his death, Alfred succeeded to the crown, agreeably to the will of king Æthelwolf and the appointment of Æthelred.*

*

Before JEthelred came to the crown, there bad been a treaty between him and Alfred, concerning their respective states; and JEthelred, in pretence of divers of the nobility, acknowledging Alfred’s right to certain demesnes left him by his father, which were then, as it appears, withheld from him, promised

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in a solemn manner, if ever he came to beking, be would not only permit Alfred to enjoy quietly the lands bequeathed to him, but likewise give him a share of all the territories which they should gain from the enemy. But when the crown fell to Æthelred, being required to perform his agreement, he refused, alleging, he could not divide his dominions, but would leave them entire to Alfred, if he should survive. Alfred, though kept from his right, gave his brother all the assistance in his power; and, upon his death, was desired by the archhishop, nobles, and commons of West Saxony, to take the government upon himself, which he accordingly did, and was crowned at Winchester. Spelmau, p. 44.

This happened in the year 871, and the 22d | of Alfred’s age. He had scarce time to attend the funeral of his brother, when he was obliged to fight for the crown he had so lately received. He engaged the Danish army at Wilton, and at the beginning of the battle had the advantage; but, in the pursuit, the Danes, discovering his weakness, rallied, and drove him out of the field. Soon after a treaty was concluded; but the Danes paid little regard to it, roaming up and down the country, and pillaging wherever they came. They at last put an end to the kingdom of Mercia, and obliged Burrhed, the king, not only to quit his dominions, but the island. Alfred fitted out a fleet to guard the coasts; and a squadron of five Danish ships approaching the coast, one of them was taken. A considerable army of Danes, however, having contrived to land, marched as far as Grantbndge, and quartered in that neighbourhood. Next summer they advanced to Werham: here Alfred met them witn all the forces he could raise; but not finding himself strong enough to engage them, he concluded a peace, and the Danes swore never more to invade his dominions; but in a little time they broke their faith;*
*

All the ancient historians agree in charging the Danes with numerous acts of perfidy. Their want of faith seems to have been the effect of their barbarism, from making it their constant practice to burn and destroy whatever they could not carry away. By this means they were quickly straitened in their quarters; and thus, being obliged to shift them often, they soon found themselves in such a situation, as to have no means of subsisting without obtaining it by force from those with whom they had lately made peace. To this was owing the wretched condition in which this whole island then was, all its best towns, many of its finest monasteries, and the far greatest parts of its villages, being but so many heaps of ruins. The want of cultivation also produced dreadful famines; and these, as usual, were followed with consuming plagues, as we read in Asserius and other ancient writers.

for being on the road to Mercia, they met a body of English horse, advancing in a peaceable manner, under the faith of the treaty: of them they slew the greater part, and soon -after surprised Exeter. The king immediately marched against them with what forces he could collect, and besieged them in that city. While things were in this situation, his majesty’s fleet, having engaged a numerous one of the enemy, sunk many and dispersed the rest, which, | attempting to gain some of the English ports, were driven on the coasts, and all miserably perished. This so terrified the Danes, that they were again obliged to sue for peace, and give hostages. However, in 877, having obtained newaids, they came in such numbers into Wiltshire, that the Saxons, giving themselves up to despair, would not make head against them; many fled out of the kingdom, not a few submitted, and the rest retired every man to the place where he could be best concealed. In this distress, Alfred, conceiving himself no longer a king, laid aside all marks of royalty, and took shelter in the house of one who kept his cattle.*
*

While he remained in this retreat, a little adventure happened, of which most of our histories take notice. The good woman of the house, having one day made some cakes, put them before the fire to toast, and seeing Alfred sitting by, trimming his bow and arrows, she thought he would of course take care of the bread; but he, intent on what he was about, let the cakes burn; which so provoked the woman, that she rated him roundly, telling him he would eat them fast enough, and ought therefore to have looked after their toasting. Aszer, p. 30.

He retired afterwards to the isle of Æthelingey in Somersetshire, where he built a fort for the security of himself, his family, and the few faithful servants who repaired thither to him. When he had been about a year in, this retreat, having been informed that some of his subjects had routed a great army of the Danes, killed their chiefs, and taken their magical standard

This (says sir John Spelman) was a banner with the image of a raven magically wrought by the three sisters of Hiuguar and liubba, on purpose for their expedition, in revenge of their father Lodebroch’s murder, made, they say, almost in an instant, being by them at once begun and finished in a noontide, and believed by the Danes to have carried great fatality with it, for which, it was highly esteemed by them. It is pretended, that being carried in battle, towards good success it would always seem to clap its wings, and make as if it would fly; but towards the approach of mishap, it would hang down and not move.” Life of Alfred, p. 61,

he issued his letters, giving notice where he was, and inviting his nobility to come and consult with him. Before they came to a final determination, Alfred, putting on the habit of a harper, went into the enemy’s camp; where, without suspicion, he was everywhere admitted, and had the honour to play before their princes. Having thereby acquired an exact knowledge of their situation, he returned in great secrecy to his nobility, whom he ordered to their respective homes, there to draw together each man as great a force as he could; and upon a day appointed there was to be a general rendezvous at the great wood, called Selwood, in Wiltshire. This affair was transacted so secretly and expeditiously, that in a little time the king, at the head of an army, approached the Danes before they had the least intelligence of his design. | Alfred, taking advantage of the surprise and terror they were in, fell upon them, and totally defeated them at Æthendune, now Eddington. Those who escaped fled to a neighbouring castle, where they were soon besieged, and obliged to surrender at discretion. Alfred granted them better terms than they could have expected: he agreed to give up the whole kingdom of the East-Angles to such as would embrace the Christian religion; on condition that they should oblige the rest of their countrymen to quit the island, and, as much as it was in their power, prevent the lauding of any more foreigners. For the performance thereof he took hostages; and when, in pursuance of the treaty, Guthruna, the Danish captain, came with thirty of his chief officers to be baptized, Alfred answered for him, at the font, and gave him the name of Athelstan; and certain laws were drawn up betwixt the king and Guthrum, for the regulation and government of the Danes settled in, England. In 884-, a fresh number of Danes landed in Kent, and laid siege to Rochester; but, the king coming to the relief of that city, they were obliged to abandon their design. Alfred’s success was now complete, chiefly owing to his fleet, an advantage of his own creating. Having secured the sea coasts, he fortified the rest of the kingdom with castles and wailed towns; and he besieged and recovered from the Danes the city of London, which he resolved to repair and keep as a frontier.*
*

The Danes had possessed themselves of London in the time of his father, and had held it till now as a convenient place for them to land at, and fortify themselves in; neither was it taken from them but by a close siege, However, when it came into the king’s bands, it was in a miserable condition, scarce habitable, and all its fortifications ruined. The king, moved by the importance of the place, and the desire of strengthening his frontier against the Danes, restored it to its ancient splendor. And observing that, through the confusion of the times, many, both Saxons and Danes, lived in a loose disorderly manner, without owning any government, he offered them now a cornfortable establishment, if they would submit, and become his subjects. This proposition was better received than he expected; for multitudes, growing weary of a vagabond life, joyfully accepted the offer. Chron. Sax. p. 88.

After some years respite, Alfred was again called into the field; as a body of Danes, being worsted in the west of France, appeared with a fleet of 250 sail on the coast of Kent, and having landed, fixed themselves at Appletree. Shortly after, another fleet of eighty vessels coming up the Thames, the men landed, and built a fort at Middleton. Before Alfred marched against the enemy, he obliged the Danes, settled in Northumberland and Essex, to give him | hostages for their good behaviour. He then moved towards the invaders, and pitched his camp between their armies, to prevent their junction. A great body, however, moved off to Essex; and, crossing the river, came to Farnham in Surrey, where they were defeated by the king’s forces. Meanwhile the Danes settled in Northumberland, in breach of treaty, and notwithstanding the hostages given, equipped two fleets; and, after plundering the northern and southern coasts, sailed to Exeter, and besieged it. The king, as soon as he received intelligence, marched against them; but, before he reached Exeter, they had got possession of it. He kept them, however, blocked up on all sides, and reduced them at last to such extremities, that they were obliged to eat their horses, and were even ready to devour each other. Being at length rendered desperate, they made a general sally on the besiegers, but were defeated, though with great loss on the king’s side. The remainder of this body of Danes fled into Essex, to the fort they had built there, and to their ships. Before Alfred had time to recruit himself, another Danish leader, whose name was Laf, came with a great army out of Northumberland, and destroyed all before him, marching on to the city of Werheal in the west, which is supposed to be Chester, where they remained the rest of that year. The year following they invaded North Wales; and, after having plundered and destroyed every thing, they divided, one body returning to Northumberland, another into the territories of the east Angles; from whence they proceeded to Essex, and took possession of a small island called Meresig. Here they did not long remain; for having parted, some sailed up the river Thames, and others up the Lea-road; where drawing up their ships, they built a fort not far from London, which proved a great check upon the citizens, who went in a body and attacked it, but were repulsed with great loss. At harvest-time the king himself was obliged to encamp with a body of troops in the neighbourhood of the city, in order to cover the reapers from the excursions of the Danes. As he was one day riding by the side of the river Lea, after some observation, he began to think that the Danish ships might be laid quite dry; which he attempted, and so succeeded therein, that the Danes deserted their fort and ships, and marched away to the banks of the Severn, where they buikt a fort, and wintered at a | place called Quatbrig .*

*

The king’s contrivance is thought to have produced the meadow between Hertford and Bow; for at Hertford was the Danes’ fort, and from thence they made frequent excursions on the inhabitants of London. Dugdale’s Hist. of Imbanking, p. 14. Authors are not agreed as to the method the king pursued, in laying dry the Danish ships; Dugdale supposes that he did it by straitening the channel; but Henry of Huntingdon alleges, that he cut several canals, which exhausted its water. Flor. Wigorn.Hen.Huntingd.hist.lib.v.p.351.

Such of the Danish ships as could be got off, the Londoners carried into their own road; the rest they burnt and destroyed. The Danes in a little time began again to invade the territories of the West Saxons both by land and sea; but they did more mischief as pirates than as robbers, for, having built long and largeships, they became masters at sea, and depopulated all the coast. Alfred built some large gallies, and sent them to cruize on the coasts of the Isle of Wight and Devonshire, the sea thereabouts being greatly infested by six piratical vessels, which were all taken or destroyed except one: and such of the Danes as landed when their ships ran ashore, were taken prisoners, and brought before the king at Winchester, who sentenced them to be hanged as piratical murderers and enemies to mankind.

Alfred enjoyed a profound peace during the three last years of his reign, which he chiefly employed in establishing and regulating his government for the security of himself and his successors, as well as for the ease and benefit of his subjects in general. Before his reign, though there were many kings who took the title, yet none could properly be called monarch of the English nation; for notwithstanding there was always, after the time of Egbert, a prince who held a kind of pre-eminence over the rest, yet he had no dominion over their subjects, as Alfred had in the latter part of his reign; for to him all parts of England, not in the possession of the Danes, submitted, which was greatly owing to the fame of his wisdom and mildness of his government. He is said to have drawn up an excellent system of laws, which are mentioned in the Mirror of Justice, published by Andrew Home, in the reign of Edward I. as also a collection of Judgments; and, if we may credit Harding’s chronicle ,

King Alurede the laws of Troye and Brute,

Laws Moluntynes and Mercians congregate,

With Danish lawes, that were well coustitute,

And Gieekishe also, well made and approbate,

In Fnglishe tongue he did them all translate,

Which yet bee called the laws of Alurede,

At Westmynster remembred yit indede.

Harding’s Chron. fol. 3. k.

they were used in Westminster-hall | in the reign of Henry IV. In the chronicle said to be written by John Brompton, we meet some laws ascribed to king Alfred. They are in number 51; and before them is a preface, wherein the king recites many things concerning the excellency and use of laws. In the close he says, he collected from the laws of his ancestor king Ina, such as seemed to him most reasonable; and having communicated them to the learned men of his kingdom, he, with their assent, published them to be the rule of his people’s actions. These laws borrowed from king Ina were, if we believe himself, many of them taken from the British constitutions; and those, if credit is to be given to their authors, were excerpts from the Greek and Trojan laws. Although there remain but few laws which can be positively ascribed to Alfred, yet his biographers inform us, that to him we owe many of those advantages which render our constitution so dear and valuable, and that to him we are indebted for trial by jury;*
*

This is inferred from a law of Alfred, which obliged one of the king’s thanes to purge himself by twelve of his peers; as the purgation of another thane was by eleven of his peers and ne of the king’s thanes. He is also said to have devised the holding men to good behaviour by obliging them to put in sureties; as also the calling a voucher to prove a property in goods at the time of sale. Spelman’s life of Alfred, p. 106, 107. Spelman’s Posthumous Works, p. 52; and Life of Alfred, p. 107.

and if we rely on sir John Spelman’s conjecture, his institutions were the foundation of what is called the common law, so styled either on account of its being the common law of all the Saxons, or because it was common both to Saxons and Danes 1. It is said also, but this is a disputed point, that he was the first who divided the kingdom into shires; what is ascribed to him is not a bare division of the country, but the settling a new form of judicature; for, after having divided his dominions into shires, he subdivided each shire into three parts, called tythings, which though now grown out of date, yet there are some remains of this ancient division in the ridings of Yorkshire, the laths of Kent, and the three parts of Lincolnshire. Each tything was divided into hundreds or wapentukes, and these again into tythings or dwellings of ten householders each of these householders stood engaged to the king, as a pledge for the good behaviour of his family, and all the ten were mutually pledges for each other; so that if any one of the tything was suspected of an offence, if the headboroughs or chiefs of the tything would | not be security for him, he was imprisoned; and if he made his escape, the ty thing and hundred were fined to the king. Each shire was under the government of an earl, under whom was the reive, his deputy, since, from; ji cs, called shire-reive, or sheriff .1
1

Selden, Analect, lib. ii. cap. 5.

Alfred also framed a book called the Book of Winchester, and which contained a survey of the kingdom; and of which the Doomsday book, still preserved in the exchequer, is no more than a second edition.2
2

Leg. Edv. in præf. et cap. 8.

In the management of affairs of state, after the custom of his ancestors the kings of the West Saxons, he made use of the great council of the kingdom, consisting of bishops, earls, the king’s aldermen, and his chief thanes or barons. These, in the first part of his reign, he convoked as occasion served; but when things were better settled, he made a law, that, twice in the year at least, an assembly or parliament should be held at London, there to provide for the well-governing of the commonwealth; from which ordinance his successors varied a little, holding such assemblies not in any place certain, but wherever they resided, at Christmas, Easter, or Whitsuntide. As to extraordinary affairs, or emergencies, which would not admit of calling great councils, the king acted therein by the advice of those bishops, earls, and officers in the army, who happened to be about his person. He was certainly a great and warlike prince; and though the nation could never boast of a greater soldier, yet he never willingly made war, or refused peace when desired. He secured his coasts by guardships, making the navy his peculiar care; and he covered his frontiers by castles well fortified, which before his time the Saxons had never raised. In other affairs he was no less active and industrious; he repaired the cities demolished by the Danes; he erected new ones, and adorned and embellished such as were in a decayed condition .*

*

He is thought to have been the founder of Shaftesbury for William of Malmesbury informs us, there was dug out of ruins a stone with this inscription: Anno dominicæ incarnationis 880 Aifredus rex fecit hanc urbem regni sni 8. “In the year 880, being the eighth of his reign, king Alfred founded this city.” De Gest. Pont. Angl. p. 231. He is also said to have been the founder of Middleton and Balford, in Kent; of the Devizes, in Wiltshire; and of Ælfreton, in Derbyshire. He restored and rebuilt Malmesbury, which had been burnt and destroyed by the Danes; and there is a coin which seems to intimate, that he did as much for the city of Norwich. —Hearne’s notes on Spelman, p. 164; Speed’s Chronicle, p. 384.

It is affirmed that one sixth part of his revenues | was applied to the payment of his workmen’s wages, wha had besides meat and drink at the king’s expence. In respect to religious foundations, as Alfred was remarkable for his piety, so he excelled most of his predecessors in this particular; for, besides re-edifying and restoring almost every monastery in his dominions, which the poverty of the times or the fury of the Danes had brought to ruin, he built many, and improved more, besides other acts of munificence towards the church .*
*

He demolished the castle which he had built in the isle of Athelney, and with the materials restored an ancient monastery, which he adorned and beautified. When he had finished it, being at a loss far persons to reside therein, he sent for an abbot from Saxony, and invited several monks from France; and to make up the number, he added also several English youths. (Will. Malmsb. lib. ii.) The next religious house he founded was a nunnery, in the town of Shaftesbtiry, at the east gate thereof: this he filled with nuns, all of noble descent, and he made his daughter Ætheleeot their abbess. (R. Higd. Polychr. 257.) In conjunction with his queen Ælfwith, he founded a nunnery at Winchester; and a little before his death he designed and laid the foundation of a new monastery, called The new monastery, in the same city. He confirmed the grant made by Guthrum king of Northumberland to the bishopric of Durham, of all the country between the Tine and Tise. He likewise granted much to the abbey of Glastonbury; and sent to the cathedral church of Sherburn several precious stones, brought to him from the Indies. The abbey of Winton was at first for an abbess and twelve nuns; he increased their number to twenty-six, on the account of a victory he obtained over the Danes near that place. —Leland, Collect, vol. II. p. 195.

He is said by some to have founded the university of Oxford; yet this matter is warmly disputed, and has employed several learned pens; but Anthony Wood has insisted upon it: so much, however, is certain, that Alfred settled and restored that university, endowed it with revenues, and placed in it famous professors .

The schools erected by Alfred at Oxford, were the Great Hall, the Lesser Hall, and the Little Hall. In the Great Hall was taught divinity only, and on this foundation there were twenty-six scholars; in the Lesser Hall they taught logic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, and on this foundation there were also twenty -six scholars; in the Little Hall there was nothing taught but grammar; however there were twenty-six scholars also entertained here. The first divinity professors were St. Neotus and St. Grimbald. At the request of the former, it is said. Alfred erected these schools; and the latter he sent for from abroad to preside in them. The first reader in logic, music, and arithmetic, was John, a monk of St. David’s; the reader in geometry and astronomy was another monk of the same name, who was companion to St. Grimbald; Asser the monk read in grammar and rhetoric. As to the time in which these schools were founded, it is not easily determined; very probably they were not all built at once, but by degrees, as the king’s finances would allow. Alfred is universally acknowledged the founder of University college at Oxford, and there is still a very ancient picture of this prince in the master’s apartments; there is also a very old bust of hiui in the refectory in Brazen-nose college. Ingulph. Hist. p. 27; Annal. Wiut. A. D. 886.

Though he had always a very numerous court, and took particular pleasure in seeing his nobility about him, yet he found out a method of doing this
| without prejudice to the public. He formed three different households, each under a separate lord chamberlain: and these waited in their turns, a month every quarter; so that during the year, each of the king’s servants was four months at court, and eight at home.

In private life, Alfred was the most amiable man in his dominions; of so equal a temper, that after he had once taken the crown, he never suffered any sadness or unbecoming gaiety to enter his mind; but appeared always of a palm, yet cheerful disposition, familiar to his friends, just, even to his enemies, kind and tender to all. He was a remarkable oeconomist of his time; and Asserius has given us an account of the method he took for dividing and keeping an account of it. He caused six wax-candles to b made, each of twelve inches long, and of as many ounces weight on the candies the inches were regularly marked; and having found that one of them burnt just four hours, he committed them to the care of the keepers of his chapel, who from time to time gave him notice how the hours went; but as in windy weather the candles wer wasted by the impression of the air on the flame, to remedy this inconvenience he invented lanthorns, there being then no glass in his dominions .*

*

Asser. Men.de gest. reg. Amg. p. 45.

When Alfred came to the crown, learning was at a very low ebb in his kingdom f; but by his example and encouragement, he used his utmost endeavours to excite a love for letters amongst his subjects. He himself was a scholar; and had he not been illustrious as a king, would have been famous as an author .

Alfred is said to have been twelve years old before he could read his mother-tongue, and then he was allured to it by the queen. She bad a book of Saxon poems, bautifu!ly adorned,

When we consider the

This appears from his letter to bishop Wulfsig, prefixed to his translation of St. Gregory’s Pastoral. In this letter he tells the bishop, “that both the clergy and laity of the English were formerly bred to letters, and made great improvements in the valuable parts of learning; that, by the advantage of such a learned education, the precepts of religion and loyalty were not well observed, the state flourished, and the government was fauious for its conduct in foreign countries. And with refard to the clergy, they were particular I v eminent for their instructions, for acting up to their character, and discUargiug all the pans of their function; so that strangers used to come hither, for learning, discipline, and improve­ ment. But now the case is miserably altered, and we bare need of travelling to learn what we used to teach; in short, knowledge is so entirely lost among the English, that there are very few on this side the Humber, who can either translate a piece of Latin, or so much as understand their common prayers in their mother-tongue: there were so few who could do this, that I do remember one on the south side of the Thames, when I came to the crown.” Præf. Alfredi regis, published in Mr. Wise’s edition of Asserius Menevensis, Oxon. 1722, p. 87.

| qualifications of this prince, and the ’many virtues he possessed, we need noj; wonder that he died universally lamented, which happened after a reign of above 28 years, and on the 28th of October, A. D. 900, as some writers inform us; though there is a disagreement in this | particular, even amongst our best historians. He was buried in the cathedral of Winchester; but the canons of that church pretending they were disturbed by his ghost, his son and successor Edward caused his body to be removed to the new monastery, which was left unfinished at his death. Here it remained till the dissolution of monasteries, when Dr. Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester, caused the bones of all our Saxon kings to be collected and put into chests of lead, with inscriptions upon each of them, shewing whose bones they contained; these chests he took care to have placed on the top of a wall of exquisite workmanship, built by him to inclose the presbytery of the cathedral. Here they remained undisturbed until the cathedral was pillaged by the parliamentary soldiers, under sir William Waller, during the rebellion in 1642, when the chests were thrown down, and most of their contents dispersed.

The preceding account of this illustrious prince, taken from various authorities, exhibits altogether so pleasing a picture of Alfred, that we have not interrupted it by any of those objections which more modern research has discovered. For all the facts of Alfred’s history we are completely at the mercy of the monkish writers; and as we can have little now to disprove their assertions, most historians have implicitly followed their engaging narrative. In some respects, however, there is reason to question their authenticity. There is, in the first place, much reason to believe that the trial by jury is of older date than the time of Alfred: and secondly, there is still more reason to question the assertions in the note p. 448, respecting his having founded the university of Oxford. In addition to other objections which have been made to this origin of the university, we may now refer the reader to a work in which the question seems to be decided beyond all future controversy. The work we allude to is, “The Life of St. Neot, the oldest of all the brothers of king Alfred,” by the late John Whitaker, B. D. 1809. In section II. of this life, it is very clearly demonstrated that Alfred could not possibly have founded any university in Oxford, which was without the kingdom of West-Saxony in his days; and that the only university, or rather school, which he founded, was at Winchester. As to the broad assertion in the preceding note, that “Alfred is universally acknowledged the founder of University college, Oxford;” this | is so far from being the case, that the historian of that college, Mr. Smith, a member of it, has clearly proved that Alfred had no hand whatever in it, and that the real founder was William of Durham. 1

1

Biog. Brit, with the authorities quoted there. Archneologia. See Index. Milner’s History of Winchester, vol. I. p. 126. Aster’s Life, by Wise. Spdaaan’s ditto, &r. &c.