Alfred the Great Biography

Alfred the Great was the King of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. This biography of Alfred the Great provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline

Quick Facts

Born: 849

Nationality: British

Famous: Leaders Emperors & Kings

Died At Age: 50

Also Known As: Alfred

Born in: Wantage

Famous as: King of Wessex


Spouse/Ex-: Ealhswith

father: Æthelwulf of Wessex

mother: Osburh

siblings: Æthelred of Wessex

children: Countess of Flanders, Edward the Elder, Ælfthryth, Æthelflæd, Æthelgifu, Æthelweard

Died on: October 26, 899

Founder/Co-Founder: Royal Navy

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Alfred the Great was the King of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. He was born as the fifth son of Aethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, and since he had four elder brothers, initially it seemed unlikely that Alfred would ever become the king. However, his father wished that his sons should succeed the kingship in turn as he felt that choosing just one son to inherit the throne might weaken the leadership. Intelligent and bright, Alfred displayed an interest in scholarly pursuits from a young age and also received training in military arts normal for a young man hailing from the royal family. After the death of his father, three of his brothers, Aethelbald, Aethelberht and Aethelred ruled in succession. During that era the kingdom was under threat from Danish raids and when the Danes attacked during the reign of his brother Aethelred in 870, he aided his brother in commanding the forces. Aethelred died the next year and Alfred succeeded him. After becoming the king he successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt and greatly improved the country’s military structure and legal system. He was known to be a wise and gracious king with a never-ending interest in learning and education

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Alfred was born in the year 849 in The Royal Palace, Wantage, Oxfordshire, as the youngest son of King Aethelwulf of Wessex, and the King’s first wife, Osburh.
  • As a young boy he accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Rome where he spent some time at the court of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, around 854–855.
  • He was interested in scholarly pursuits and literature from an early age, and is said to have memorized a volume of poetry in Saxon as a child. His love for learning would remain with him throughout his life.
  • At that time, the country was under threat from Danish raids. Thus the King Aethelwulf decided that his sons would succeed the kingship in turn.
  • The king died in 858 and as per his wishes, Wessex was ruled by three of his elder sons—Aethelbald, Aethelberht and Aethelred—in succession.
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Ascension & Reign
  • Alfred started receiving prominence during the reign of his third brother, Aethelred of Wessex, who ascended the throne in 865. Now he was given the title of "secundarius", a recognized successor closely associated with the reigning monarch.
  • Alfred started playing a very active role in the military campaigns in 870 when the Danes invaded his homeland. A total of nine battles were fought in the year with varying outcomes and Alfred played key roles in each of them.
  • In 871, he gained much respect fighting as a 21 year old in the Battle of Ashdown. He led his brother’s army against the Danes and defeated them. The valor and courage he displayed in spite of his young age earned him admiration from the citizens.
  • King Aethelred died in 871 and Alfred succeeded him. The Danes attacked once again even as the new king was busy in the burial of his brother and easily defeated the Saxon army.
  • King Alfred won a decisive victory at the Battle of Edington where his army faced the Great Heathen Army led by Guthrum in 878. He forced Guthrum into submission and had him baptized. Following his victory over Guthrum, Alfred brought about many reforms in his military which made it increasingly difficult for the Vikings to raid successfully.
  • The 880s was a time of relative peace with no major conflicts. He now focused on the restoration of London and in building up the defenses of his kingdom to protect it from further attacks by the Danes. He also built a series of well-defended settlements across southern England.
  • The Danes were still not ready to give up and in the autumn of 892 or 893 they attacked again. However, the efforts of the Danes were thwarted by the defensive measures Alfred had already implemented in his kingdom to protect his territories from future attacks. The Danes continued fighting for a few years before giving up struggle in 896 or 897.
Major Battles
  • Alfred is best remembered for his role in the Battle of Ashdown, in Berkshire that took place in 871. He was just a prince of 21 when he led the army of his brother, King Aethelred of Wessex, in the battle against the invading Danes and emerged victorious.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married Ealhswith in 868. Ealhswith was the daughter of a Mercian nobleman, Aethelred Mucil and Eadburh, a member of the Mercian royal family. The couple went on to have several children, of whom five survived to adulthood, including Edward the Elder, who succeeded his father as king.
  • Alfred the Great suffered from some painful illnesses throughout his life. It is believed that he either had Crohn's disease or haemorrhoidal disease. He died on 26 October 899.
  • He had a life-long love for learning and was a promoter of education. Because of this, a number of educational establishments are named in Alfred's honor which include Alfred University and Alfred State College in New York, and King Alfred's Academy, a secondary school in Wantage, Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Alfred.

See the events in life of Alfred The Great in Chronological Order

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- Alfred the Great Biography
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Last Updated
- July 24, 2017
Alfred the Great

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