October 26th 899: Alfred the Great dies
On this day in 899, Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, died in Winchester aged 50. Born in Wantage in 849, Alfred was the son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. During this period, the country was plauged by the threat of Viking raids, with the Danes capturing York in 867 and defeating all major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms bar Alfred’s Wessex. Prior to ascending to the throne, Alfred proved his military skill in victories against Danish forces. Alfred succeeded his brother as king in 871, and continued to wage war against invading Danes, despite being forced to retreat into the marshes of Somerset. In 878, in the wake of another victory for Alfred’s forces, the Danes accepted peace, and Alfred later negotiated a treaty dividing England and establishing the Danelaw territory in the north and east. Alfred thus successfully preserved Wessex, and expanded his own kingdom by gaining control of West Mercia and Kent. The treaty did not inaugurate total peace, however, and Alfred still had to contend with the threat of Danish attacks, leading him to reorganise Wessex’s defenses and establish a navy. Alfred is also renowned for his reforms of the justice system and education, especially in his efforts to boost literacy by translating important books from Latin to Anglo-Saxon. Upon his death in 899, Alfred was buried at his capital city of Winchester. His succesors continued Alfred’s efforts to liberate and unite Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, paving the way for the future unity of England. Alfred has the distinction of being the only English king refered to as ‘the Great’, a title earned through his reforms and his defense of the country against Vikings.