Alfred the Great Paperback – 29 Jun 2006
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'This is the story of England's birth, a great story and beautifully told' (Bernard Cornwell)
'A boisterous portrait of the only English king to earn the epithet 'Great'' (Bettany Hughes, The Times)
A delicious historical treat (Stephen Fry)
'Fascinating' (Sunday Telegraph)
'Compelling .. impressive in coveying the outlook of the ninth-century man' (Daily Telegraph)
'Lucid and gripping' (Mail on Sunday)
'Pollard writes with a historian's accuracy and sensitivity to context' (Sunday Herald)
'Pollard's admiration and enthusiasm for his subject helps to bring this distant figure to life' (Tablet)
'Pollard gives us a readable narrative, enhanced by a strong visual sense of place and he takes trouble over the Continental background to insular events' (Times Literary Supplement)
In an era darkened by the terror of the Viking invasions, England's first and greatest king was a beacon of light.See all Product description
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Alfred the Great is always fascinating and, in places, utterly riveting. It changed my notion (admittedly based on my ignorance of history) that the time in between the Romans leaving and the Norman invasion was chaotic and lawless. But one of many things that struck me about this time was the mix of culture and barbarity. How did Churches flourish, how did people get time to make splendid jewellery and write books against this persistent background of violence? How could a Pope hundreds of miles away exert so much influence on our history here, especially when Rome wasn't exactly the powerhouse it had been.
As for Alfred - I was impressed by all his achievements and felt saddened that in general we in the UK don't know more about him. But he could equally be called Alfred the Lucky. If Guthrum's fleet hadn't been wrecked in a storm and if Alfred hadn't just managed to escape the Viking fleet off the Anglian coast, our history might now be much different.
The author begins his opus in the present at the site of Burrow Mump in Somerset - a location of significance to our legendary King - and from there he winds back the clock to the famous myth of the burnt cakes. Through the smoke and mirrors of popular legend, he then clears the way to telling the history of the only English King to have been honoured with the epithet of 'the Great'. This great Anglo-Saxon saga reads like an epic tale of yore, of a King betrayed and driven into hiding in his own Kingdom like an outlaw, only to rise from the ashes of defeat to become the enlightened and inspired leader of all englishmen. The story has it all: a privileged childhood, adventures in a foreign court, family division, a deadly foe, battles, terrifying adversity and ultimate triumph against inconceivable odds.
Justin Pollard writes with an engaging style that sustains the interest and carries the narrative along in way that is very easy to read. He cicites and uses sources along the way without getting bogged down with dry academia and I felt that some of the admiration he felt for Alfred shines through the prose, which lends personality to the telling of the story. Alfred was, by no means, the perfect King but it was in his darkest hours that he proved his strength of character and in his latter years (and in hindsight) that he proved himself to be a true visionary.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to have lived for a time in Winchester, Alfred's ancient capital of Wessex. Everywhere there, history surrounds you. Next time I find myself looking up at His magnificent statue that stands at the bottom of the Broadway, I shall feel just a little bit closer to understanding the incredible life of our most famous King.