Posts Tagged ‘Alfred the Great’

Adventures in Bookland: The King of Athelney by Alfred Duggan

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Oh, goodie, I thought: a book about my favourite king by one of my favourite writers of historical fiction. At long last, I’ll get to read Alfred done right. It’s been my misfortune, and ours as a nation, that our greatest king has been ill-served by writers, film makers, indeed everyone who has tried to deal with his story as art. Perhaps the most thorough going attempt in recent times, is Bernard Cornwell’s series about Uhtred, and the spin-off BBC series The Last Kingdom, but much as I love Cornwell’s writing, I must admit I can’t stand his portrayal of Alfred. Reading it, you’re hard put to see why anyone would have followed such a pusillaminous, pious hypochondriac. So, turning to Duggan, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, they were dashed. It’s true, his Alfred is not timid or hypochondriac, but I think I can confidently say that the country was not brought back from the brink of extinction by the captain of the sixth form first XI. That is how Duggan portrays Alfred. Indeed, I could imagine his Alfred slaying Danes while singing the hymn of a minor public school; something like this.

On boys on, we’re in the game of life boys,
We’ll fight it with the heartiest good will.
We’ll fight for every inch,
Not a thing will make us flinch
And we’ll play up for the honour of the school.

So, I’ve still yet to read an adequate, let alone a good, portrayal of Alfred, our greatest king. If you know of one, please tell, I’d love to read it.

In Search of Alfred the Great – out now in paperback

Saturday, October 17th, 2015
In Search of Alfred the Great

In Search of Alfred the Great

If you thought £20 was a bit much to pay for the hardback edition of In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend (and although it has lots of pictures and diagrams and some lovely words, that is quite a lot of money) then now is the time to click on the link – for the lovely people at Amberley Publishing have just released it in paperback. So, sit back and discover just why Alfred is the only king of England to be called ‘great’.

The Cover for In Search of Alfred the Great

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Here it is! The final version of the cover for In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend (and my first hardcover book – I’m a real writer now!).

In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend

In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend

What do you think?

Lucky Seven book excerpt

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Matthew Harffy tagged me last Monday to do this book challenge called Lucky Seven. Here’s his Lucky Seven post from last week.

The rules are simple enough.

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Post on your blog the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
Tag 7 other people to do the same

I’ve not had the chance to tag seven other people, and I don’t think I actually know seven other writers, so I’ll let the challenge come to a discreet stop here.

In Search of Alfred the Great

In Search of Alfred the Great

My latest book is In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend, with Dr Katie Tucker; a non-fiction biography of our greatest king. Here’s the seven lines:

Of all the battles Alfred fought, we have the most information about the Battle of Ashdown, which suggests that it loomed large in the king’s own memories. Alfred was still young, in his early twenties, and Ashdown was remarkable in a number of ways: for its victory (and Anglo-Saxon victories were rare indeed at this time), for it being the first time where Alfred clearly takes command and plays a crucial role in the battle, and for the toll it took on the high command of the Great Heathen Army.

Book review: Alfred the Great by David Sturdy

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014
Alfred the Great by David Sturdy

Alfred the Great by David Sturdy

There are quite a few books on Alfred the Great around, and I’ve read most of them, so it’s unusual to find one that adds anything new – David Sturdy’s does. He does so by, first, providing a fresh translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around which he weaves the story of Alfred and Wessex, and then through a forensic examination and interrogation of the charters that survive from the 9th century. This proves particularly fruitful, as the gradual movement of magnates and priests up the rigid hierarchy of signatories tells the reader much of the political and social system of the time. It also allows Sturdy to reconstruct, in more detail that one would expect, the lives of some of these individuals, presenting Bishop Werferth, for instance, as tutor to the young Alfred. The emphasis on the charters also provides a greater understanding of the actual workings of Alfred’s Wessex than other books I have read; the imagination is fired by the image of the magnates of the land lining up to place their hands, as witnesses, upon the charter document lying upon the altar, whether of a great church or a hastily erected field chapel set up on campaign. The book is further enlivened by Sturdy’s waspish comments on the judgements of other historians. All in all, while I wouldn’t recommend this as the first, or even the second, book to read on Alfred, it is excellent for shedding new light on the subject for a reader who already knows a good deal about the king.

Book review: Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources

Saturday, March 1st, 2014
Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

The Dark Ages were dark not for reason of savagery (although they were), or for ignorance (there were remarkable instances of learning amid the fighting), but for obscurity: after the legions’ withdrawal in AD 410, history… stops. For a century or so there is virtually nothing. The fifth century – the time of warfare between Britons, Angles and Saxons, the time of Arthur (if he existed) – is almost blank. The sixth and, more, the seventh centuries emerge a little into the light, with most of the illumination coming from Bede’s extraordinary – truly extraordinary in the context – Ecclesiastical History of the English People. And that very history might have permanently brought English history back from the silence of archaeology, for the Christian Church required men and women who could read and write to carry out its services, if not for the irruption of another group of raiders and invaders, very like the Angles and the Saxons: the Vikings.

The fact that history does not go completely silent again is due in no small part to the works contained in this crucial book: the biography of Alfred the Great, by Asser, and extracts from some of the works the king himself commissioned and, in some cases, translated. For Alfred, almost uniquely among war chiefs, saw fighting as the lesser part of the task of kingship. What he set his mind and his kingdom to was nothing less than cultural renewal, a re-establishment of the learning that had swiftly become the hallmark of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, only to decline to almost nothing before the ferocity of the Viking attack. This wonderful edition contains Asser’s contemporary biography of Alfred (the only such document we have from the period), and extremely valuable, and thorough, editorial notes on every text from noted scholars Michel Lapidge and Simon Keynes; the notes on the provenance and work that went into each text by generations of scholars are particularly valuable. An indispensable book for anyone interested in the Anglo-Saxon period.

And Another Book Too!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Alfred planning the capture of the Danish fleet

Alfred planning the capture of the Danish fleet

On the never rains but it pours principle, to add to the contracts for the next two volumes of The Northumbrian Thrones, signed yesterday, I’ve also just put my signature to a contract with Amberley Publishing to write a biography of Alfred the Great! This is particularly exciting because I’ll be writing the book with Dr Katie Tucker, the osteoarchaeologist at the centre of the research efforts to locate and identify Alfred’s remains, as shown in the recent BBC2 programme, The Search for Alfred the Great (it’s no longer on iPlayer, but a search on YouTube might just find the whole programme).

Statue of Alfred in Wantage, his birthplace

Statue of Alfred in Wantage, his birthplace