King Alfred’s vision of One England in The White Horse King
As the Vikings conquered most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the British Islands circa 800 AD, only Wessex survived. It’s king, Alfred, fled his capital to take refuge in a swamp and regroup his surviving troops. Perhaps there, in that swap, Alfred conceived one, united England.
While Alfred’s vision took another hundred years or so to realize, it was his courage and his vision of one England that forged a nation. Alfred is the only King of England ever to be called, “Great.” If you only want to read one book about this early period of the history of England, Benjamin Merkle’s book is the one book to choose.
His depiction of Alfred the Great is both informative and well-written. It does not get bogged down in the academic squabbling about this rather obscure period of English History. Instead, the book moves with the dexterity of the best modern histories that the reading public has come to enjoy so much. The title, “White Horse King” aptly describes why Alfred is so deserving of the moniker “Great.”
Alfred, the fifth son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons, rose to the throne in 871. As a proven battle veteran, Alfred could do what his predecessors had not — he drove out the Vikings and reunited the weary kingdoms of Britain. The concept of one England is one of the greatest legacies of the king who hid from the Danes in the marshes of England rather than to flee to the European continent as the kings of other defeated English kingdoms had done.
Under Alfred the Great’s leadership, Britain established the foundation for its later success. Alfred was the first king of England who had a vision of one nation. He believed that education and literacy were important and sought to reverse the decay of Latin. To safeguard Britain from future invasions, he created the system of burhs for defending against the Vikings, which later became “counties” in America. Alfred also codified the existing common law and provided a structure for Henry II to later use when he revised the court system, which became the basis for our judicial system.
The revival of literacy, the construction of fortified towns across Wessex, and the rebirth of Christianity in Anglo Saxon England earn Alfred the right to be called “Great.” He led his troops, translated Latin texts and prayed to God for his people. His is every bit the leader as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. His life should be studied as a lesson in how to lead and govern people.
At the very least, the “White Horse King” is a must read for anyone who is interested in early British history. Merkle writes so passionately that you often forget that you are reading historical non-fiction. The book is available on Amazon.com for Kindle and in paperback. For those who are interested in learning more about the history of Alfred the Great, his defense of Wessex is the subject of “The Last Kingdom” TV series on Netflix.