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Alfred the Great

Episode 19 of 30

Michael Wood discusses Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and king of the Anglo-Saxons, chronicling his achievements: including writings, reflections on kingship and military skill.

The Anglo-Saxons rediscovered through portraits of thirty key figures from the era 550-1066. Michael Wood on Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and king of the Anglo-Saxons.

The Anglo Saxons are somewhat out of fashion, yet the half millennium between the creation of the English nation in around 550 and the Norman Conquest in 1066 was a formative one.

A few years back, the BBC held a Great Britons debate. In the final ten were the usual suspects; Darwin, Newton Brunel and Shakespeare. Ultimately Churchill won the people's vote and landed first place. For Churchill though, the only person he considered truly 'Great' was Alfred, the founder of the English state and ancestor of our present Queen.

Michael Wood chronicles Alfred's achievements: his writings; his reflections on kingship; his military skill; his rejuvenation of education and his legal expertise. Here are Alfred's own words about kingship.

'What I set out to do was to virtuously and justly administer the authority given to me. And I wanted to do it - so my talents and capacity might be remembered. But every natural gift in us soon withers if it is not ruled by wisdom. Without wisdom no talent can be fully realised: for to do something unwisely can hardly be accounted a skill. To be brief, I may say that it has always been my wish to live honourably, and after my death to leave to my descendents my memory in good works.'

Producer: Sarah Taylor.

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