King Alfred, born in Wantage Oxford in 849, was King of Wessex from 871 to 899. He was the only English King to be given status of ‘The Great’
In May 878 AD Alfred rode to ‘Egbert’s Stone’ east of Selwood, where he was met by "all the people of Somerset and of Wiltshire and of that part of Hampshire which is on this side of the sea and they rejoiced to see him" (Anglo – Saxon Chronicle)
And together they defeated an invading Danish army who occupied most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
Artist Impression of Alfred burning the cakesLegend has it , that it was during this period King Alfred was given shelter by a peasant woman on the Somerset Levels and Moors. Unaware of his identity she left him to watch some cakes she had left cooking on the fire. Preoccupied with the problems of his kingdom, Alfred accidentally let the cakes burn and when she returned Alfred was taken to task by the woman. When realising the king's identity, the woman apologised profusely, but Alfred insisted that he was the one who needed to apologise.
It was around this location in Somerset that a gold Amulet was found. The Amulet was inscribed with the Saxon words ‘Alfred had me made’ and was a jewel which is thought to be the head of a pointer used to assist reading.
Or could the jewel have been on top of a cooking utensil and commissioned by Alfred as an apology gift for burning the cakes? - who knows!
To give thanks for his victory, King Alfred founded a monastery at Athelney (Athelney Abbey) that flourished in the medieval period. The name ‘Athelney’ means ‘island of the princes’. However in 1539 during the reign of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries in England, the Abby was reduced to rubble and given a value of £80!
Alfred was a learned man, who actively encouraged Education. One of the most important documents to come down from the Middle Ages was the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and these were compiled on his instruction. During his reign he improved the Legal system and Military structure.
Alfred promoted education throughout his kingdom and also built a series of forts to protect against Viking raiders. The forts in Somerset were at Watchet, Lyng, Axbridge and Langport to protect against Viking attacks from the sea and up the rivers.
‘All the Somerset people’ can be proud of their ancestral involvement in defeating the Danish Vikings with ‘The Great’ king at their lead!