Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
MORE ABOUT ALFRED THE GREAT
 SOON, Alfred was joined in his hiding-place in Somerset by
his wife and children and a few of his nobles. They chose a
hill which rose above the surrounding marshes for their
camp, and there Alfred and his nobles worked like common
men, building a strong fort. Because of this, the place was
called Athelney, which means the Isle of Nobles.
While Alfred worked on the Isle of Nobles, he sent
messengers secretly among his people, telling them where he
was. Soon a small but faithful band gathered round him.
Then, one day, some of Alfred's friends suddenly attacked
the Danes, won a victory, and seized the great Danish banner
called the Raven.
The Danes were very sad at the loss of this banner, for they
believed it to be a magic one. They said that when they were
going to win a battle the Raven would spread its wings as if
to fly, but when they were going to lose, the Raven drooped
its wings in sorrow. Now that their precious banner had been
taken, they were always afraid of losing.
This victory cheered the English very much, and when the
people heard of it, more and more of them gathered round
Alfred now began to feel that the time for striking a blow
had come. But first he wanted to find out exactly how many
Danes there were and what plans they had.
 So he dressed
himself like a minstrel or singer, and taking his harp, he
went to the Danish camp. There he began to play upon his
harp and to sing the songs he had learned when he was a boy.
The Danes were a fierce, wild people, yet they loved music
and poetry. They were delighted with Alfred's songs, and he
was allowed to wander through the camp wherever he liked.
Alfred stayed in the Danish camp for several days, singing
his songs and playing sweet music, and all the time watching
and listening. He found out how many Danes there were, and
where the camp was strong and where it was weak. He listened
to the king as he talked to his captains and, when he had
found out everything he could, he slipped quietly away and
went back to the Isle of Nobles.
The Danes were sorry when they found that the gentle
minstrel had gone. And little did they think that it was the
great and brave King Alfred who had been singing and playing
Alfred now knew that his army was strong enough to fight the
Danes. So he left his fort on the Isle of Nobles and boldly
marched against them. A battle was fought in which the Danes
were defeated, and from that time onwards Alfred was
victorious. The dark days were over. The power of the Danes
was crushed. Their king, Guthorm, submitted to Alfred, and
even became a Christian. When he was baptized, Alfred stood
as godfather to him, and changed his name from Guthorm to
the English name of Æthelstan.
Then Alfred made a peace with the Danes, called the peace of
Wedmore. And although the Danes did not leave England, they
did not fight any more, and they left Wessex and kept within
the land which was given to
 them in the north. Afterwards,
this part was called the Danelagh or Daneland.
And not it was, in the time of peace, that Alfred began to
do great things for his people, the things by which he
earned his name of Alfred the Great. He collected the laws
and wrote them out so that people could understand them. He
did away with the laws which he thought were bad, and made
others. One law he made was, that a man who had done wrong
could not be punished unless twelve men agreed that he
really had been wicked, and ought to be punished. This was
called trial by jury, and means trial by those who have
promised to do justly. Our word jury comes from a Latin word
which means to promise or swear.
It was a very good law, for sometimes if a man hated another
man he would say he had done something wicked in order to
have him punished. But when twelve men had to agree about
it, it was not easy to have an innocent person unjustly
Alfred was much loved. He made good laws, and the people
kept them. They kept them so well, that it is said that
golden chains and bracelets might be hung upon the hedges
and no one would touch them.
King Alfred was fond of reading and learning, and he tried
to make his people fond of learning too. In those days the
monasteries were the chief places to which people went to
learn. But the Danes had destroyed nearly all the
monasteries, so Alfred began to build them again, and he
also founded schools. Then, as nearly all the books which
were worth reading were written in Latin, he translated into
English several of the best he had read. He did this because
he saw how much more difficult it was for people to learn to
read when they had to do so in a foreign language.
"ALFRED FOUND MUCH PLEASURE IN READING."
 Alfred built more great ships, and sent people into far
countries to bring back news of them to England. He
encouraged the English to make all kinds of things, in order
to trade with these far-off countries. In fact, during all
his life Alfred was thinking only of his people and of what
was best for them.
You will wonder how he found time to do all these things,
and indeed it is wonderful, especially in those days when
there were no clocks to strike the hours and remind people
how time was flying.
Yet Alfred divided the day into three parts: eight hours for
work, eight hours for study, and eight hours for rest. He
invented a kind of clock for himself. He had great candles
made which were marked off into parts, each part burning for
an hour. A man watched the candle and, when the flame burned
down to the mark, he went to the King, and said, "O king,
another hour has fled."
Alfred was good, and wise and kind. There never was a better
king in England. He had to fight many battles, and war is
terrible and cruel, but he did not fight for love of
conquering, as other kings did. He fought only to save his
country and his people.
We never hear of him doing one unjust or unkind act.
He was truthful and fearless in
everything. It is no wonder, then, that we call him Alfred
the Great, Alfred the Truthteller, England's Darling.