Alfred the Great: The Most Perfect Man in History?
History Today, Volume: 49 Issue: 10 (1999)
King Alfred of Wessex (r.871-99) is probably the best known of all Anglo-Saxon rulers, even if the first thing to come into many people’s minds in connection with him is something to do with burnt confectionery. This year sees the 1100th anniversary of his death on October 26th, 899, at the age of about fifty. The occasion is being marked with conferences and exhibitions in Winchester, Southampton and London, but the scale of celebrations will be modest compared with those which commemorated his millenary, and culminated in the unveiling by Lord Rosebery of his statue in Winchester.
Alfred’s reputation still stands high with historians, though few would now want to follow Edward Freeman in claiming him as ‘the most perfect character in history’ (The History of the Norman Conquest of England, 5 volumes, 1867-79). Alfred is someone who has had greatness thrust upon him. How and why did he acquire his glowing reputation, and how does it stand up today?