Alfred’s Historia Ecclesiastica
B.A. Thesis, Universiteit Utrecht (2011)
The “English” had been punished by God through the arrival of the Vikings. The British before them, had lapsed in their faith and been sent the scourge of the Anglo-Saxons. This was the message of king Alfred at the end of the 9th century as told by Asser his biographer, and if the English were to survive and even triumph they would need the support of God. This could only come about with a wise king of course. This powerful parallel was one of the devices used to unite the “English people” against the Vikings and stress their place in a Chrisitan tradition. For the great theologian and historian Bede had portrayed the “English people” as a Christian people, heirs to a new Israel, centuries before. This paper evaluates in what manner Bede’s history was purposely used by Asser in writing his biography of one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred the Great.
So writes the early eighth century historian Bede in his preface to his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People henceforward HE) and the sentiment is echoed by Asser, bishop of Sherbourne, in the ninth century in his Life of King Alfred. That Asser, writing about a hundred and sixty years later, would refer to Bede was no coincidence. Bede’s work was well thought of by King Alfred (r. 871-899), Asser’s patron and the subject of his book. Alfred may even have found the HE important enough to have it translated into the Anglo-Saxon language.