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Alfred the Great- One Worthy of Honor

Alfred the Great- One Worthy of Honor



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Published by zelienople
editorial for the Norman Transcript by Lloyd P. Williams, Professor Emeritus, University of Oklahoma
editorial for the Norman Transcript by Lloyd P. Williams, Professor Emeritus, University of Oklahoma

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Published by: zelienople on Oct 30, 2009
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Alfred the Great: One worthy of honor
The Norman TranscriptMarch 25, 2006 12:15 am— For The TranscriptT his history of authority is an uneven story. The moral character of those who command it, their intellectualvalues and how they acquired that authority as well as how they exercise it is often a dismal chronicle.Selecting those who have used authority wisely is subjective, perhaps even an expression of prejudice. Tosome of us viewing the world from outside the shadow of American politics, four men in particular stand out -- Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Benito Juarez and Alfred of England. The first two -- father and adoptedson -- ruled with extraordinary restraint and benevolence, striving to hold the Roman Empire together in itsdays of decline. Juarez -- able, foresighted and honest -- tried to lay the foundations for rational governmentwhich Mexican predators and non-Mexican vested interests have been botching up ever since. But few if anyin history deserve honor for their integrity and prudent judgment more than Alfred, King of Wessex.Social-political conditions in England during the centuries before Alfred, subsequently given the epithet "TheGreat," were disordered and brutal, dominated by the sword. The Romans ruled England for several centuriesof the early Christian era, but when that shield was withdrawn disruptive intrusion by the Picts, Jutes, Anglesand Saxons promoted disarray. It was the Danes in the eighth century who nearly finished off the English.Struggling to survive, several of the "kingdoms" of southern England were united as the Kingdom of Wessex.It was here Alfred ruled during the last three decades of the ninth century.Alfred's successes were varied and numerous. Although more interested in peace than in war, on thebattlefield he was a courageous leader and a skilled strategist. With imagination he reorganized the army,improved morale, built fortifications at critical places to protect Wessex, and he was the first English monarchto give serious attention to building a navy.As a youth Alfred was well educated and that experience led him to a lifetime appreciation of knowledge. Heunderstood peace was a precondition to civil order, so when the intrusion of the Danes was checked, heperceptively sought to ensure continued peace through just and equitable civil administration. Withawarenessof the importance of impartial government, he reformed the laws relying heavily on the Mosaic tradition andextracted what he deemed prudent from the laws of his predecessors.Justice was one of his unwavering principles.War always impairs education, and Alfred's guerilla-like struggle with the Danes was particularly destructivein Wessex. The monasteries, long the principal centers of learning, were especially vulnerable to Danishassault. Many were lost and with them their libraries, scholars and teachers. To revive the intellectual life of his kingdom was a primary concern of Alfred. Since Latin was the language of the Church as well as of Continental literature, and since it had all but been lost in the wars, Alfred made its revival a major objective.His solution was not original, for he followed the lead of Charlemagne, who nearly a century earlier hadestablished a "court school" to promote learning in his kingdom. Alfred drew into his court the few masters of Latin and scholarship he could find among the Anglo-Saxons, and then brought others in from abroad. Fromthis cluster of talent he was able to strengthen and expand the clergy, to promote education and keep alive theskills and spirit necessary for the promotion of learning.Alfred was the inheritor of rich although sometimes contradictory tradictions.The literature pervading the intellectual life of his reign was compelling. It has roots in the Germanic tribesinvading the country as well as the imprint left by the Romans.Influences following St. Augustine's mission have been enduring. And the same forces that shaped suchstriking poetry as these lines from "The Seafarer": "This life on land is lingering death to me. Give me thegladness of God's great sea," also helped shape Alfred's interest in the navy. Forward looking and enlightened,

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