Historical Resources
Alfred in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

This abridged version presents high-points from Alfred's life. The struggle for survival began in Alfred's childhood, as his father, Ethelwulf, and his leading men made battle with the invading Danes. Circumstances were desperate, as each of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms—Northumbria, Anglia, Mercia—fell, leaving Alfred's Wessex as the last remaining Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

Included in this narrative are the following events:

Alfred's father (Ethelwulf) relinquishes
a tenth of his kingdom to the Church


The fall of East Anglia and the execution of King Edmund

The fall of Mercia and the flight of King Burghred

The Danes swear a false oath to Alfred

Guthrum's assault and Alfred's victory


A.D. 837. This year Alderman Wulfherd fought at Hamton with
thirty-three pirates, and after great slaughter obtained the
victory, but he died the same year. Alderman Ethelhelm also,
with the men of Dorsetshire, fought with the Danish army in
Portland-isle, and for a good while put them to flight; but in
the end the Danes became masters of the field, and slew the
alderman.

A.D. 838. This year Alderman Herbert was slain by the heathens,
and many men with him, among the Marshlanders. The same year,
afterwards, in Lindsey, East-Anglia, and Kent, were many men
slain by the army.

A.D. 839. This year there was great slaughter in London,
Canterbury, and Rochester.

A.D. 840. This year King Ethelwulf fought at Charmouth with
thirty-five ship's-crews, and the Danes remained masters of the
place. The Emperor Louis died this year.

A.D. 845. This year Alderman Eanwulf, with the men of
Somersetshire, and Bishop Ealstan, and Alderman Osric, with the
men of Dorsetshire, fought at the mouth of the Parret with the
Danish army; and there, after making a great slaughter, obtained
the victory.

A.D. 851. This year Alderman Ceorl, with the men of Devonshire,
fought the heathen army at Wemburg, and after making great
slaughter obtained the victory. The same year King Athelstan and
Alderman Elchere fought in their ships, and slew a large army at
Sandwich in Kent, taking nine ships and dispersing the rest. The
heathens now for the first time remained over winter in the Isle
of Thanet. The same year came three hundred and fifty ships into
the mouth of the Thames; the crew of which went upon land, and
stormed Canterbury and London; putting to flight Bertulf, king of
the Mercians, with his army; and then marched southward over the
Thames into Surrey. Here Ethelwulf and his son Ethelbald, at the
head of the West-Saxon army, fought with them at Ockley, and made
the greatest slaughter of the heathen army that we have ever
heard reported to this present day.

A.D. 853. This year Burhred, King of Mercia, with his council,
besought King Ethelwulf to assist him to subdue North-Wales. He
did so; and with an army marched over Mercia into North-Wales,
and made all the inhabitants subject to him. The same year King
Ethelwulf sent his son Alfred to Rome; and Leo, who was then
pope, consecrated him king, and adopted him as his spiritual son.
The same year also Elchere with the men of Kent, and Huda with
the men of Surrey, fought in the Isle of Thanet with the heathen
army, and soon obtained the victory; but there were many men
slain and drowned on either hand, and both the aldermen killed.
Burhred, the Mercian king, about this time received in marriage
the daughter of Ethelwulf, king of the West-Saxons.

A.D. 854. This year the heathen men for the first time
remained over winter in the Isle of Shepey. The same year King
Ethelwulf registered a TENTH of his land over all his kingdom for
the honour of God and for his own everlasting salvation. The
same year also he went to Rome with great pomp, and was resident
there a twelvemonth. Then he returned homeward; and Charles,
king of the Franks, gave him his daughter, whose name was Judith,
to be his queen.

A.D. 865. This year sat the heathen army in the isle of Thanet,
and made peace with the men of Kent, who promised money
therewith; but under the security of peace, and the promise of
money, the army in the night stole up the country, and overran
all Kent eastward.

A.D. 866. This year Ethered, brother of Ethelbert, took to
the West-Saxon government; and the same year came a large heathen
army into England, and fixed their winter-quarters in East-
Anglia, where they were soon horsed.

A.D. 867. This year the army went from the East-Angles over the
mouth of the Humber to the Northumbrians, as far as York. And
there was much dissension in that nation among themselves; they
had deposed their king Osbert, and had admitted Aella, who had no
natural claim. Late in the year, however, they returned to their
allegiance, and they were now fighting against the common enemy;
having collected a vast force, with which they fought the army at
York; and breaking open the town, some of them entered in. Then
was there an immense slaughter of the Northumbrians, some within
and some without; and both the kings were slain on the spot. The
survivors made peace with the army.

A.D. 868. This year the same army went into Mercia to
Nottingham, and there fixed their winter-quarters; and Burhred,
king of the Mercians, with his council, besought Ethered, king of
the West-Saxons, and Alfred, his brother; that they would assist
them in fighting against the army. And they went with the West-
Saxon army into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there meeting
the army on the works, they beset them within. But there was no
heavy fight; for the Mercians made peace with the army.

A.D. 870. This year the army rode over Mercia into East-Anglia,
and there fixed their winter-quarters at Thetford. And in the
winter King Edmund fought with them; but the Danes gained the
victory, and slew the king; whereupon they overran all that land,
and destroyed all the monasteries to which they came. The names
of the leaders who slew the king were Hingwar and Hubba. At the
same time came they to Medhamsted, burning and breaking, and
slaying abbot and monks, and all that they there found. They
made such havoc there, that a monastery, which was before full
rich, was now reduced to nothing.

A.D. 871. This year came the army to Reading in Wessex; and in
the course of three nights after rode two earls up, who were met
by Alderman Ethelwulf at Englefield; where he fought with them,
and obtained the victory. There one of them was slain, whose
name was Sidrac. About four nights after this, King Ethered and
Alfred his brother led their main army to Reading, where they
fought with the enemy; and there was much slaughter on either
hand, Alderman Ethelwulf being among the skain; but the Danes
kept possession of the field. And about four nights after this,
King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought with all the army on
Ashdown, and the Danes were overcome. They had two heathen
kings, Bagsac and Healfden, and many earls. They
put both the troops to flight; there were many thousands of the
slain, and they continued fighting till night. Within a
fortnight of this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought
with the army at Basing; and there the Danes had the victory.
About two months after this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother
fought with the army at Marden. They were in two divisions; and
they put them both to flight, enjoying the victory for some time
during the day; and there was much slaughter on either hand; but
the Danes became masters of the field. After this fight came a vast
army in the summer to Reading. And after the Easter of this year
died King Ethered. He reigned five years, and his body lies at
Winburn-minster. Then Alfred, his brother, the son of Ethelwulf,
took to the kingdom of Wessex. And within a month of this, King
Alfred fought against all the Army with a small force at Wilton,
and long pursued them during the day; but the Danes got
possession of the field. This year were nine general battles
fought with the army in the kingdom south of the Thames; besides
those skirmishes, in which Alfred the king's brother, and every
single alderman, and the thanes of the king, oft rode against
them; which were accounted nothing. This year also were slain
nine earls, and one king; and the same year the West-Saxons made
peace with the army.

A.D. 872. This year went the army to London from Reading, and
there chose their winter-quarters. Then the Mercians made peace
with the army.

A.D. 873. This year went the army against the Northumbrians, and
fixed their winter-quarters at Torksey in Lindsey. And the
Mercians again made peace with the army.

A.D. 874. This year went the army from Lindsey to Repton, and
there took up their winter-quarters, drove the king, Burhred,
over sea, when he had reigned about two and twenty winters, and
subdued all that land. He then went to Rome, and there remained
to the end of his life. And his body lies in the church of
Sancta Maria, in the school of the English nation. And the same
year they gave Ceolwulf, an unwise king's thane, the Mercian
kingdom to hold; and he swore oaths to them, and gave hostages,
that it should be ready for them on whatever day they would have
it; and he would be ready with himself, and with all those that
would remain with him, at the service of the army.

A.D. 875. This year went the army from Repton; and Healfden
advanced with some of the army against the Northumbrians, and
fixed his winter-quarters by the river Tine. The army then
subdued that land, and oft invaded the Picts and the
Strathclydwallians. Meanwhile the three kings, Guthrum, Oskytel,
and Anwind, went from Repton to Cambridge with a vast army, and
sat there one year.

A.D. 876. And in this same year the army of the Danes in
England swore oaths to King Alfred upon the holy ring, which
before they would not do to any nation; and they delivered to the
king hostages from among the most distinguished men of the army,
that they would speedily depart from his kingdom; and that by
night they broke.

A.D. 877. This year came the Danish army into Exeter from
Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a
great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty
ships at Swanwich. Meanwhile King Alfred with his army rode
after the cavalry as far as Exeter; but he could not overtake
them before their arrival in the fortress, where they could not
be come at. There they gave him as many hostages as he required,
swearing with solemn oaths to observe the strictest amity. In
the harvest the army entered Mercia; some of which they divided
among them, and some they gave to Ceolwulf.

A.D. 878. This year about mid-winter, after twelfth-night, the
Danish army stole out to Chippenham, and rode over the land of
the West-Saxons; where they settled, and drove many of the people
over sea; and of the rest the greatest part they rode down, and
subdued to their will—all but Alfred the king. He, with a
little band, uneasily sought the woods and fastnesses of the
moors. And in the winter of this same year the brother of
Ingwar and Healfden landed in Wessex, in Devonshire, with three
and twenty ships, and there was he slain, and eight hundred men
with him, and forty of his army. There also was taken the war-
flag, which they called the Raven. In the Easter of this year
King Alfred with his little force raised a work at Athelney; from
which he assailed the army, assisted by that part of
Somersetshire which was nighest to it. Then, in the seventh week
after Easter, he rode to Brixton by the eastern side of Selwood;
and there came out to meet him all the people of
Somersersetshire, and Wiltshire, and that part of Hampshire which
is on this side of the sea; and they rejoiced to see him. Then
within one night he went from this retreat to Hey; and within one
night after he proceeded to Heddington; and there fought with all
the army, and put them to flight, riding after them as far as the
fortress, where he remained a fortnight. Then the army gave him
hostages with many oaths, that they would go out of his kingdom.
They told him also, that their king would receive baptism. And
they acted accordingly; for in the course of three weeks after,
King Guthrum, attended by some thirty of the worthiest men that
were in the army, came to him at Aller, which is near Athelney,
and there the king became his sponsor in baptism; and his
crisom-leasing was at Wedmor. He was there twelve nights with
the king, who honoured him and his attendants with many presents.