Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Literary King...

On this day...English monarch Alfred the Great died in 899 at the approximate age of 50. The only English royal to be attributed with such an epithet, Alfred is renowned for his miltary achievements, not least the protection of his Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the Vikings. Yet what is perhaps less well known about the youngest son of Æthelwulf of Wessex, is his penchant for learning. Inspired by Charlemange, Alfred created a court school, not only to educate his own children, but also, countering the perception of aristocratic snobbery, to educate those of lesser birth who showed intellectual potential. Indeed, after only a short time, 'they were seen to be devoted and intelligent students of the liberal arts'.

If the younger generation were embarking on a process of learning, it also made sense for Alfred to cement that of the elder, and so he ensured that literacy became a requirement for those holding a position of authority, especially in religious capacities. The king chose to lead this charge on education himself, beginning a Alfredian programme of translation of books into English that he deemed 'most necessary for all men to know'. These works included Gregory the Great's 'Pastoral Care', Boethius's 'Consolation of Philosophy', St. Augustine's 'Soliloquies', and the first fifty psalms of the Psalter.

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