Authors: King Alfred

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"King Alfred," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Frantzen, Allen. King Alfred (Boston, 1986).

King Alfred the Great (848-899) was king of the West Saxons. He is the only English monarch to be called "the Great." He defeated the Vikings and united the Anglo-Saxons, leaving his son and grandsons to rule over a united England. Alfred wrote the first substantial English law codes. He brought scholars to his court and translated a number of important books into Old English. Allen Frantzen writes, "So important was his contribution to English literature that he would have won literary fame even had he not already been venerated as a monarch" (KA, 1). Alfred's biography was written by a contemporary, Bishop Asser.

Alfred is likely the author of a code of law and the translator of four books: Augustine, Soliloquies; Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (see Chaucer and Elizabeth I); Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care; and the Psalms. He oversaw the translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples, Paulus Orosius'History of the World, and others.

His court at Winchester, the capital of the Anglo-Saxon state, was the center of a literary circle unequaled for centuries. Written Old English, termed a Schriftsprach, became the standard form of the written language (although spoken Old English varied from one dialect region to another). Alfred launched ambitious programs of education, of ecclesiastical reform, and of political change.

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