Alfred the Great: a diagnosis

Alfred the Great: a diagnosis

Craig, G.

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Volume 84, May (1991)


King Alfred, ‘England’s Darling’ (849 – 900) suffered from a painful illness for much of his life, the nature of which has been the source of some speculation among Anglo-Saxonists. We are fortunate to have a contemporary record of the king’s symptoms as recorded by Asser, King Alfred’s Welsh bishop and admirer. The study of Asser’s work, ‘The Life of King Alfred’, has fuelled many
guesses as to the nature of the sovereign’s illness. The suggestions that have been made cover a wide range of ailments: neuritis, epilepsy, a sexually transmitted disease associated with homosexuality, some sort of psychosomatic illness and so on. A rather coloured picture of an over sensitive youth morbidly preoccupied with his health emerges from these speculations, which are normally accompanied by the familiar disclaimer: “The truth will never be known”. I do not think such pessimism is warranted.


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