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ALFRED THE GREAT

By the ninth century, the most powerful kingdom in England was Wessex in the southwest. Alfred became king of Wessex in 871. For the next few years, he fought off the Vikings, finally routing the main Viking army at the Battle of Ethandune in 878. By 886 Alfred (849-899) had also recaptured London from the Danes and was recognized as king of all England. By the Treaty of Wedmore, the Viking leader, Guthrum, was allowed to keep the northern half of England, called the Danelaw, but had to recognise Alfred as his overlord. The Vikings could live in the Danelaw on condition that they became Christians.

The only English king to be called 'The Great', Alfred reformed Saxon law and promoted a revival in learning, founding schools and employing scholars. He established a navy to help to defend his territory against the Danes' later attacks. He commissioned the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a history of the English people. In around 890 Alfred began to use clock candles. When a candle, which has hours marked down its length, has burnt down to a mark, it indicates that an hour has passed by.

One winter when the Danes occupied much of Wessex it is said that Alfred fled to Athelney, in Somerset. He took shelter in a hut where a housewife, not knowing who he was, asked him to watch her loaves as they baked. Alfred allowed them to burn and was scolded by the furious woman.



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