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the kingdoms which lie between the Tyrrhene Sea and that
gulf 8 situated between the Old Saxons and the Gauls, with
the exception of the kingdom of Armorica. 4 This Charles
was the son of King Louis, 5 who was brother of Charles,
King of the Franks, father of Judith, the aforesaid queen ;
these two brothers were sons of Louis, 6 Louis being the son
of Charlemagne, son of Pepin.

71. Death of Pope Marinus. 7 In that same year Pope
Marinus, of blessed memory, went the way. of all flesh ; it
was he who, for the love of Alfred, King of the Anglo-
Saxons, and at his request, generously freed the Saxon
Colony in Rome from all tribute and tax. He also sent to
the aforesaid king many gifts on that occasion, among
which was no small portion of the most holy and venerable
cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ hung for the salva-
tion of all mankind.

72. The Danes break their Treaty. 8 In that same year
also the army of heathen which dwelt in East Anglia dis-
gracefully broke the peace which they had concluded with
King Alfred.

73. Asser makes a New Beginning. 9 And now, to return
to that from which I digressed, lest I be compelled by my

1 There was a battle in Frisia, about December, 884, and a later one
in Saxony (Stevenson). 6 Louis the German.

2 Mainly from the Chronicle. 6 Louis the Pious.

8 The North Sea. 7 Mainly from the Chronicle.
4 Brittany. 8 From the Chronicle.

9 Based upon the preface to Eginhard's Life of Charlemagne.


long navigation to abandon the haven, of desired rest, 1 I
propose, as far as my knowledge will enable me, to speak
somewhat concerning the life, character, and just conduct,
and in no small degree concerning the deeds, of my lord
Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, after he married the
said respected wife of noble Mercian race ; and, with God's
blessing, I will despatch it concisely and briefly, as I prom-
ised, that I may not, by prolixity in relating each new
event, offend the minds of those who may be somewhat
hard to please.

74. Alfred's Maladies. 2 While his nuptials were being
honorably celebrated in Mercia, among innumerable multi-
tudes of both sexes, and after long feasts by night and by day,
he was suddenly seized, in the presence of all the people, by
instant and overwhelming pain, unknown to any physician.
No one there knew, nor even those who daily see him up
to the present time and this, sad to say, is the worst of
all, that it should have continued uninterruptedly through
the revolutions of so many years, from the twentieth to the
fortieth year of his life and more whence such a malady
arose. Many thought that it was occasioned by the favor
and fascination of the people who surrounded him ; others,
by some spite of the devil, who is ever jealous of good men ;
others, from an unusual kind of fever ; while still others
thought it was the ficus* which species of severe disease
he had had from his childhood. On a certain occasion it
had come to pass by the divine will that when he had
gone to Cornwall on a hunting expedition, and had turned
out of the road to pray in a certain church in which rests
Saint Gueriir [and now also St. Neot reposes there], 4 he
had of his own accord prostrated himself for a long time

1 See chap. 21. 2 Original. 8 Perhaps the hemorrhoids.

4 Interpolated some time between 893 and 1000 A.D.


in silent prayer since from childhood he had been a fre-
quent visitor of holy places for prayer and the giving of
alms and there he besought the mercy of the Lord that,
in his boundless clemency, Almighty God would exchange
the torments of the malady which then afflicted him for
some other lighter disease, provided that such disease
should not show itself outwardly in his body, lest he should
be useless and despised for he had great dread of leprosy
or blindness, or any such complaint as instantly makes
men useless and despised at its coming. When he had
finished his praying, he proceeded on his journey, and not
long after felt within himself that he had been divinely
healed, according to his request, of that disorder, and that
it was entirely eradicated, although he had obtained even
this complaint in the first flower of his youth by his devout
and frequent prayers and supplications to God. For if I
may be allowed to speak concisely, though in a somewhat
inverted order, of his zealous piety to God in his earliest
youth, before he married his wife, he wished to establish
his mind in God's commandments, for he perceived that he
could not abstain from carnal desires a ; and because he
saw that he should incur the anger of God if he did any-
thing contrary to His will, he used often to rise at cock-
crow and at the matin hours, and go to pray in churches
and at the relics of the saints. There he would prostrate
himself, and pray that Almighty God in His mercy would
strengthen his mind still more in the love of His service,
converting it fully to Himself by some infirmity such as he
might bear, but not such as would render him contempt-
ible and useless in worldly affairs. Now when he had

1 In Alfred's prayer at the end of his translation of Boethius, one
of the petitions is : ' Deliver me from foul lust and from all unright-


often prayed with much devotion to this effect, after an
interval of some time he incurred as a gift from God the
before-named disease of the ficus, which he bore long and
painfully for many years, even despairing of life, until he
entirely got rid of it by prayer. But, sad to say, though
it had been removed, a worse one seized him, as I have
said, at his marriage, and this incessantly tormented him,
night and day, from the twentieth to the forty -fifth year of
his life. But if ever, by God's mercy, he was relieved from
this infirmity for a single day or night, or even for the
space of one hour, yet the fear and dread of that terrible
malady never left him, but rendered him almost useless, as
he thought, in every affair, whether human or divine.

75. Alfred's Children and their Education. 1 The sons and
daughters whom he had by his wife above-mentioned were
^thelflsed, the eldest, after whom came Edward, then
^Ethelgivu, then JSlfthryth, and -finally ^Ethelward
besides those who died in childhood. The number of ... 2
jEthelflsed, when she arrived at a marriageable age, was
united to ^Ethelred, 8 Ealdorman of Mercia. ^Ethelgivu,
having dedicated her maidenhood to God, entered His serv-
ice, and submitted to the rules of the monastic life, to
which she was consecrate. ^Ethelward, the youngest, by
the divine counsel and by the admirable foresight of the
king, was intrusted to the schools of literary training,
where, with the children of almost all the nobility of the
country, and many also who were not noble, he was under
the diligent care of the teachers. Books in both languages,
namely, Latin and Saxon, were diligently read in the
school. 4 They also learned to write ; so that before they

1 Original.

2 This is the beginning of a corrupt sentence, of which nothing has
been made. 3 MS. Eadredo. * See Appendix I, p. 70.


were of an age to practise human arts, namely, hunting
and other pursuits which befit noblemen, they became
studious and clever in the liberal arts. Edward and Mlf-
thryth were always bred up in the king's court, and received
great attention from their tutors and nurses ; nay, they
continue to this day, with much love from every one, to
show humbleness, affability, and gentleness towards all,
both natives and foreigners, while remaining in complete
subjection to their father. Nor, among the other pursuits
which appertain to this life and are fit for noble youths,
are they suffered to pass their time idly and unprofitably
withoiit liberal training ; for they have carefully learned
the Psalms * and Saxon books, especially Saxon poems, and
are in the habit of making frequent use of books.

76. Alfred's Varied Pursuits. 2 In the meantime, the king,
during the wars and frequent trammels of this present
life, the invasions of the heathen, and his own daily infir-
mities of body, continued to carry on the government, and
to practise hunting in all its branches ; to teach his gold-
smiths 3 and all his artificers, his falconers, hawkers, and
dog-keepers ; to build houses, majestic and rich beyond all
custom of his predecessors, after his own new designs ; to
recite the Saxon books, and especially to learn by heart
Saxon poems, 4 and to make others learn them, he alone
never ceasing from studying most diligently to the best of
his ability. He daily attended mass and the other services
of religion ; recited certain psalms, together with prayers,
and the daily and nightly hour-service ; and frequented the
churches at night, as I have said, that he might pray in

1 See chaps. 24 and 88.

2 Original.

8 Cf . Alfred's jewel, and the book upon it by Professor Earle.
4 See chaps. 23 and 75.


secret, apart from others. He bestowed alms and largesses
both on natives and on foreigners of all countries ; was
most affable and agreeable to all ; and was skilful in the
investigation of things unknown. 1 Many Franks, Frisians, 2
Gauls, heathen, 8 Welsh, Irish, 4 and Bretons, 6 noble and
simple, submitted voluntarily to his dominion ; and all of
them, according to their worthiness, 6 he ruled, loved,
honored, and enriched with money and power, as if they
had been his own people. 7 Moreover, he was sedulous and
zealous in the habit of hearing the divine Scriptures read
by his own countrymen, or if, by any chance it so hap-
pened that any one arrived from abroad, to hear prayers
in company with foreigners. His bishops, too, and all the
clergy, his ealdormen and nobles, his personal attendants
and friends, he loved with wonderful affection. Their sons,
too, who were bred up in the royal household, were no less
dear to him than his own ; he never ceased to instruct them
in all kinds of good morals, and, among other things, him-
self to teach them literature night and day. But as if
he had no consolation in all these things, and suffered no
other annoyance either from within or without, he was so

1 Our first accounts of Arctic exploration are from his pen. For his
interest in geographical discovery see the narratives of Ohthere and
Wulfstan, in his translation of Orosius. In 897, according to the
Chronicle, he was experimenting with new war-galleys : ' They were
almost twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more.
They were swifter, steadier, and higher than the others, and were
built, not on a Frisian or Danish model, but according to his personal
notions of their utility.'

2 There were Frisians in his fleet in 897 (Chronicle).

8 Northmen ; such were Ohthere and Wulfstan (see note 1, above).

* Three such came to him in 891 (Chronicle).

6 MS. Armorici. See chap. 102.

6 Or, ' degrees ' ; cf . p. 60. 7 See chap. 101.


harassed by daily and nightly sadness that he complained
and made moan to the Lord, and to all who were admitted
to his familiarity and affection, that Almighty God had
made him ignorant of divine wisdom and of the liberal
arts ; in this emulating the pious, famous, and wealthy
Solomon, King of the Hebrews, who at the outset, despis-
ing all present glory and riches, asked wisdom of God, and
yet found both, namely, wisdom and present glory ; as it
is written, < Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteous-
ness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' l But
God, who is always the observer of the thoughts of the
inward mind, the instigator of meditations and of all good
purposes, and a plentiful aider in the formation of good
desires for He would never inspire a man to aim at the
good unless He also amply supplied that which the man
justly and properly wished to have stirred up the king's
mind from within, not from without ; as it is written, ' I
will hearken what the Lord God will say concerning me.' 2
He would avail himself of every opportunity to procure
assistants in his good designs, to aid him in his strivings
after wisdom, that he might attain to what he aimed at ;
and, like a prudent bee, 3 which, rising in summer at early
morning from her beloved cells, steers her course with
rapid flight along the uncertain paths of the air, and
descends on the manifold and varied flowers of grasses,
herbs, and shrubs, essaying that which most pleases her,
and bearing it home, he directed the eyes of his mind afar,
and sought that without which he had not within, that is,
in his own kingdom. 4

1 Matt. 6. 33. 2 pg. g5. 8.

8 Cf . chap. 88 ; Stevenson gives a number of parallels from ancient
and mediaeval authors, beginning with Lucretius (3. 9) and Seneca
(Epist. 84.3). * Cf. chap. 24.


77. Alfred's Scholarly Associates : Werfrith, Plegmund,
.ffithelstan, and Werwulf. 1 But God at that time, as some
consolation to the king's benevolence, enduring no longer
his kindly and just complaint, sent as it were certain
luminaries, namely, Werfrith, 2 Bishop of the church of
Worcester, a man well versed in divine Scripture, who, by
the king's command, was the first to interpret with clear-
ness and elegance the books of the Dialogues of Pope
Gregory and Peter, his disciple, from Latin into Saxon,
sometimes putting sense for sense ; then Plegmund, 3 a
Mercian by birth, Archbishop of the church of Canterbury,
a venerable man, endowed with wisdom; besides ^Ethel-
stan 4 and Werwulf, learned priests and clerks, 5 Mercians
by birth. These four King Alfred had called to him from
Mercia, and he exalted them with many honors and powers
in the kingdom of the West Saxons, not to speak of those
which Archbishop Plegmund and Bishop Werfrith had in
Mercia. By the teaching and wisdom of all these the king's
desire increased continually, and was gratified. Night and
day, whenever he had any leisure, he commanded such
men as these to read books to him for he never suffered
himself to be without one of them so that he came to
possess a knowledge of almost every book, though of him-
self he could not yet understand anything of books, since
he had not yet learned to read anything.

1 Original.

2 See Appendix I, p. 69. In Alfred's will he gives Werfrith (Wser-
ferth) a hundred marks.

3 See Appendix I, p. 71.

* Perhaps Bishop of Ramsbury (909 A.D.). The later MSS. of the
Chronicle say, under the year 883 : ' And in the same year Sighelm
and ^Ethelstan took to Konie the alms that King Alfred sent, and also
to India to St. Thomas' and St. Bartholomew's.'

5 Or, 'chaplains.' See p. 61, note 6.


78. Grimbald and John, the Old Saxon. 1 But since the
king's commendable avarice could not be gratified even in
this, he sent messengers beyond sea to Gaul, to procure
teachers, and invited from thence Grimbald, 2 priest and
monk, a venerable man and excellent singer, learned in
every kind of ecclesiastical discipline and in holy Scripture,
and adorned with all virtues. He also obtained from thence
John, 3 both priest and monk, a man of the keenest intellect,
learned in all branches of literature, and skilled in many
other arts. By the teaching of these men the king's mind
was greatly enlarged, and he enriched and honored them
with much power.

79. Asser's Negotiations with King Alfred. 4 At that time
I also came to Wessex, out of the furthest coasts of West-
ern Wales ; and when I had proposed to go to him through
many intervening provinces, I arrived in the country of the
South Saxons, which in Saxon is called Sussex, under the
guidance of some of that nation ; and there I first saw him
in the royal vill which is called Dene. 5 He received me
with kindness, and, among other conversation, besought me
eagerly to devote myself to his service and become his
friend, and to leave for his sake everything which I pos-
sessed on the northern and western side of the Severn,
promising he would give me more than an equivalent for
it, as in fact he did. I replied that I could not incautiously
and rashly promise such things ; for it seemed to me unjust
that I should leave those sacred places in which I had been

1 Original.

2 Probably from the monastery of St. Bertin, at St. Omer (Pas-de-
Calais). See Appendix I, p. 71, and Appendix II, pp. 75 ff.

3 Cf. chap. 94, and Appendix I, p. 71.

4 Original.

5 Perhaps Dean, near Eastbourne, in Sussex.


bred and educated, where I had received the tonsure, and
had at length been ordained, for the sake of any earthly
honor and power, unless by force and compulsion. Upon
this he said : ' If you cannot accede to this, at least grant
me half your service : spend six months with me here, and
six in Wales.' To this I replied : ' I could not easily or
rashly promise even that without the approval of my
friends.' At length, however, when I perceived that he
was really anxious for my services, though I knew not
why, I promised him that, if my life were spared, I would
return to him after six months, with such a reply as should
be. agreeable to him as well as advantageous to me and
mine. With this answer he was satisfied ; and when I had
given him a pledge to return at the appointed time, on the
fourth day we rode away from him, and returned to my
own country. After our departure, a violent fever seized
me in the city of Cserwent, 1 where I lay for twelve months
and one week, night and day, without hope of recovery.
When at the appointed time, therefore, I had not fulfilled
my promise of visiting him, he sent letters to hasten my
journey on horseback to him, and to inquire the cause of
my delay. As I was unable to ride to him, I sent a reply
to make known to him the cause of my delay, and assure
him that, if I recovered from my illness, I would fulfil what
I had promised. My disease finally left me, and accord-
ingly, by the advice and consent of all my friends, for the
benefit of that holy place and of all who dwelt therein,
I devoted myself to the king's service as I had promised, the
condition being that I should remain with him six months

1 Five miles southwest of Chepstow. ' There was an abbey there,
where a traveling ecclesiastic would be likely to stay, and it was on
the great Roman road to South Wales, by which a traveler from Wes-
sex to St. Davids would proceed ' (Stevenson).


every year, either continuously, if I could spend six months
with him at once, or alternately, three months in Wales
and three in Wessex. It was also understood that he
should in all ways be helpful to St. Davids, as far as his
power extended. 1 For my friends hoped by this means to
sustain less tribulation and harm from King Hemeid who
often plundered that monastery and the parish of St. Davids,
and sometimes expelled the bishops who ruled over it, as
he did Archbishop Nobis, my relative, and on occasion
myself, their subordinate if in any way I could secure
the notice and friendship of the king.

80. The Welsh Princes who submit to Alfred. 2 At that
time, and long before, all the countries in South Wales
belonged to King Alfred, and still belong to him. For
instance, King Hemeid, with all the inhabitants of the
region of Dyfed, 8 restrained by the violence of the six sons
of Rhodri, 4 had submitted to the dominion of the king.
Howel also, son of Eis, King of Glywyssing, 6 and Broch-
mail and Fernmail, sons of Mouric, kings of Gwent, 6 com-
pelled by the violence and tyranny of Ealdorman ^Ethelred
and of the Mercians, of their own accord sought out the same
king, 7 that they might enjoy rule and protection from him
against their enemies. Helised, also, son of Teudubr, King
of Brecknock, compelled by the violence of the same sons
of Rhodri, of his own accord sought the lordship of the

1 The MS. seems to be corrupt at this point, so that what I have
given is a loose conjectural rendering of the Latin : . . . et ilia adjuva-
retur per rudimenta Sancti Dequi in omni causa, tamen pro viribus.

2 Original.

8 Pembrokeshire and part of Carmarthenshire.

4 ' Rhodri Mawr (the Great), King of Gwyneth, who acquired the
rule of the whole of North and Mid- Wales and Cardigan' (Stevenson).

6 Old name of Glamorgan and part of Monmouthshire.

6 In Monmouthshire. 7 Alfred.


aforesaid king ; and Anarawd, son of Rhodri, with his
brothers, at length abandoning the friendship of the North-
umbrians, from whom he had received no good, but rather
harm, came into King Alfred's presence, and eagerly
sought his friendship. The king received him with honor,
adopted him as his son by confirmation from the bishop's
hand, 1 and bestowed many gifts upon him. Thus he became
subject to the king with all his people, on condition that
he should be obedient to the king's will in all respects, in
the same way as ^Ethelred and the Mercians.

81. How Alfred rewards Submission. 2 Nor was it in vain
that they all gained the friendship of the king. For those
who desired to augment their worldly power obtained power;
those who desired money gained money ; those who desired
his friendship acquired his friendship ; those who wished
more than one secured more than one. But all of them
had his love and guardianship and defense from every
quarter, so far as the king, with all his men, could defend
himself. When therefore I had come to him at the royal
vill called Leonaford, 8 I was honorably received by him,
and remained that time with him at his court eight months ;
during which I read to him whatever books he liked, of
such as he had at hand ; for this is his peculiar and most
confirmed habit, both night and day, amid all his other
occupations of mind and body, 4 either himself to read books,
or to listen to the reading of others. And when I fre-
quently had sought his permission to return, and had in no

1 See chaps. 8 and 56. 2 Original.

8 Perhaps Landlord in Wiltshire.

* In Alfred's Preface to his translation of Boethius we are told :
' [He made this translation as well as he could], considering the various
and manifold worldly cares that oft troubled him both in mind and
body.' The similarity of phrase is striking.


way been able to obtain it, at length, when I had made up
my mind by all means to demand it, he called me to him at
twilight on Christmas Eve, and gave me two letters in which
was a manifold list of all the things which were in the two
monasteries which are called in Saxon Congresbury and
Banwell 1 ; and on that same day he delivered to me those
two monasteries with everything in them, together with a
silken pallium of great value, and of incense a load for a
strong man, adding these words, that he did not give me
these trilling presents because he was unwilling hereafter
to give me greater. For in the course of time he unexpect-
edly gave me Exeter, with the whole diocese which belonged
to him in Wessex and in Cornwall, besides gifts every day
without number of every kind of worldly wealth ; these it
would be too long to enumerate here, lest it should weary
my readers. But let no one suppose that I have mentioned
these presents in this place for the sake of glory or flattery,
or to obtain greater honor ; I call God to witness that I
have not done so, but that I might certify to those who are
ignorant how profuse he was in giving. He then at once
gave me permission to ride to those two monasteries, so full
of all good things, and afterwards to return to my own.

82. The Siege of Paris. 2 In the year of our Lord's incar-
nation 886, which was the thirty-eighth of King Alfred's
life, the army so often mentioned again fled the country,
and went into that of the West Franks. Entering the
river Seine with their vessels, they sailed up it as far as the
city of Paris ; there they wintered, pitching their camp on
both sides of the river almost to the bridge, in order that
they might prevent the citizens from crossing the bridge
since the city occupies a small island in the middle of the

1 Both in Somersetshire ; these monasteries are otherwise unknown.

2 Largely from the Chronicle.


stream. They besieged the city for a whole year, but, by
the merciful favor of God, and by reason of the brave
defense of the citizens, they could not force their way inside
the walls.

83. Alfred rebuilds London. 1 In that same year Alfred,
King of the Anglo-Saxons, after the burning of cities and
massacres of the people, honorably rebuilt the city of

1 2 4 6 7

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