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KING ALFRED, HIS LIFE AND WORK.

The following essay was written by Wm. W Bridgroan (Form 111. A, Otago Boys' High School) for tho junior essay competition of tho Navy League (Otago Branch): — A thousand years have passed away, but there is one conspicuous character of our early history whose name still lives in popular memory, whose laws still govern our great Empire, and round whoso historical career has gathered a vast mass of legend— Alfred, King of the West Saxons. In the year 849 Alfred the Great was born at Wantage, in Berkshire. His mother, Osburh, the wife of Aethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, was descended from the Royal house of the Jules, in the Islo of Wight. The sarliest event which history records in the life of Alfred is his visit to Rome in 853, when Pops Leo IV. anointed him King and adopted him as his spiritual son, and Saxon Alfred was proclaimed the future King of Saxon Anglia. Two years later Alfred, in company with his father, paid a second visit to Rome, and on their return the

elderly Aethelwulf was married to Judith, the young daughter of Charles the Bald, King of Ui2 Franks. One of tho many beautiful traditions which have been attributed to Alfred relates how he and his brothers wero gathered round their mother Osburh, who promised that to the first one who succeeded in reading and repeating the words written in a beautiful illumined missal which rested on her knees sbo would give the book as a just reward of his labors. Straightway Alfred found a tutor, and before* long liis untiring efforts were crowned with success. His v task was accomplished, and recompense received. Soon

after the accession of Aethelbert (860). the fierce Northmen, whose path was marked by pillage and slaughter, swept across tho mighty oceAn. On through the fertile fields, over tho sunny hills and dales of East Anglia tho pagans pressed. Villages and homesteads were laid low, but still shadowed by the wings of the raven, that bird of i!l-omcu —the Danish hordes came on. In the year 868, when AetV.elred had succeeded to the Throne of Wessex, Alfred married Enhlswith, the daughter of Aethel-

red tho Mickle, Alderman of the Gainas in Lincolnshire, and his wife Eadburh, of the Royal house of the Mercians." On the day of his marriage Alfred was afflicted with a strange disease, from which he frequently suffered. The year 869 was peacefully spent, by the Danish invaders in Deira, with their

headquarters at York; but the following year was one filled with sorrow and with

glory for Christian England. It witnessed the utter destruction of another Saxon kingdom, tho addition of one worthy English nams to the calender of saints—Edmund, King of the East Anglian*—several to the roll of our immortal heroes, and a wholo people to the glorious list of those who have died sword in hand and steadfast to the last for faith and fatherland. In this great " j-ear of battles" the principal engagements were tho Battle of Ashdown, in which the I English wore victorious, and the Battles of ! Basing and Marion, in which they wero uhij mately defeated. [ One day a messenger burst into Alfred's 'chamber with the cry "The King is dead! 'King Acthehvd Ts dead!" Alfred started, up. His brother had been killed in battle, and it se?med to fhe young Prince as if the mantle of hij youth had fallen from his shoulders, and he stood forth a man. ready at any time tn respond to bis country's call. And so, in lhe year 871, Alfred the Great succeedel to the Throne of Wessex—Alfredus Rex! Human'y speaking, the fate of Kngland and of Western Europe hung on fhe hrart and brain and arm of a young man of two-nnd-iweniv years. That, under God, ho proved himself equal to his high task is what has justly earned for him the title of "Grcaf." Tn the same year the storm burst. In "ib<s Battls of Will on, in the heart of ?tVws, the Danes were put to flieh: ;• but ■'. yet retained posscss : on of the field of battle. Three yeirs later Burhred, Kimr of Morcia, fled to Rome, and left his kinsdom to the. Danes; but the effect of this abd'eation was j counteracted by a vcrv notable event in | English hisiory—the defeat of seven Viking i ships by Alfred in 875. his first engagement | with the Danes at sea. I

j Subsequently, tho invaders having been [ compel! Ed to surrender at Exete-r, suddenly returned in force under Outhrum, the Past Anslian King, and swooped down on Chippenham, a Royal villi on the Avon, where Alfred was then residing. The King fled in disguise, and with a few of his followers sought refuge at Aihclncy, deep in tho marshes of Somerset. With reference to bis retirement, tho chroniclers of his life toll a story which has formed a subject for picture and for poem. The wife of his humble host, a neatherd, set him to watch sone cakes, but in his absenco of mind he allowed them to burn. She scolded him soundly—fomc say struck him—saying that, lazy as ho was in turning them, he would be "active enough in eating them. Imagine her amazement and chagrin when, a few minutes later, she disccv red the identity of her guest! Having visited the Danish camp in the disguise of a harper. Alfred observed tho carelessness of the Danes, and resolved to strike the decisive blow at once. Stealing from the camp, he called his friends together i-i Selwood Forest. The summons was joyfully received. Tho people rose as one man, the gre:tt. earldormen and thanes rallied round their Kins, rnd. like the Israelite* of old ag-onst the hea'hen, went forth to battle. The Knelish and the D.-m»s met at the feof of F.dingkm (Ethandune), a hill in Wiltshire, and Alfred was victorious. He laid siege fo the Dani=h camp, and in 14 days compelhd fJuihrum to rnpi'ulnte.

I Then followed the T city of Wrdmore i (878). The Danes solemnly vowed to leave We=sex. Guthnun and many of his followers ncrrced fo become rhrisl'ans, and the chief himself was baptised by tho name of Act heist an. For the next few years Alfred rested in compaiativ: p-pce, but in 812 the final storm burst on England. The Danes, led by Hastings, crossed over from France, but in 894 Acthrlrcd, Alfred's son-in-law, defeated them with great slaughter at Bultington. ' The following year, the Danes bavins been driven from Ihe:'r strongho'd at Chester, re- | turned to Es c ex, where Alfred and Aethelrcd ir.fl'cterj a crushing defeat on them. ! Tho remainder of Alfred's reign was spentin peace, and he enjoyed flic whole-hearted Ir.vc, gratitude, and veneration of his sub- : jc-etfs. At the comnarntively early age of 52 j the call came to him to quit these shadows for th? "life where all things are mnde .clear," and on October 26. 901, he entered ; into "the undiscovred country from whose bourn no traveller returns.'' Life's race well run. Life's work well done, Life's victory won, Now cometh rest. Alfred the Great devoted the years of peace fo those measures which tended toi wards tho improvement of his people. His i Court was the home of many distinguish! d I scholars. .To the King himself we owe I several translations among which are tlio Psalms, 'JEsop's Fables,' "Die History of Orosius,' Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History,'' and several other famous wo-ks. He founded schools, established monasteries, and occupied himself with great zeal in literary pursuit? and in (he advancement of education. Alfred also framed a code of laws, which ho executed with such stern impartiality that crime became tare. Indeed, so great was the respect for his name that it became a common saying that golden ornaments might bo hung up by tho roadside and no robber would daro to touch them. The division of the land ; nto counties, hundreds, and tithings or tenths enabled him to hold all parts of the country under strict control: and we can trace to his wisdom the practical appli- \ cation of many principles of modern British law.

Alfred was no le"-- mindful of the defence of his kin-rdom. He rebuilt London, constructed stron? castles both inland and in the shore, where an enemy could bp«t I'C withstood, and organised a militia system, thus preparing himself for any subsequent j invasion. But of still greater consequence j was the part he, playrd as the founder of | the English Navy. The "wooden walls of i England " in the times of Alf'fd have Riven place to the great battle-cruisers and Dread- ; noughts of modern times. I All wo have of freedom, all we use or 1 know— ' This our fathers bought for us long and I long ago. |

>oiwiUi£tanding the incessant pain with which his body was racked, ho never allowed his labors for the civilisation and (be true glory of his country to be interrupted. Warlike and vigilant and victorious, J.-amed and illustrious, provident and liberal, courteous and upright, patient and devout, merciful and lor giving—such was the glorious reputation of Alfred the Great.

! The popular tradition? which for ages have ! attributed to Alfred so many Ensrlisli inslitu- ' lions are without adequate evidence. They bear eloquent testimony, however, to what i is a solid fact: that England, as a nation. • as a maritime people, with representative : institution?, with a parani'junl system of : common law, with a strong cemra! Government in the interests of the people, with great educational institutions, with a national literature and history, dates from thn , impulse given by the Hero-King of Wessex.

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Bibliographic details

KING ALFRED, HIS LIFE AND WORK., Issue 15675, 14 December 1914

Word Count
1,609

KING ALFRED, HIS LIFE AND WORK. Issue 15675, 14 December 1914

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