Alfred of Wessex: a study in accidental greatness
Maureen Elizabeth Searing
Master’s Thesis, San Jose State University, 2009
Abstract: This thesis examines the application of the epithet “great” to King Alfred of Wessex (r. 871–899). It sets a standard for greatness within the context of early medieval Christian kingship, applies it to Alfred, and then compares Alfred to Charlemagne and Charles the Bald. It traces the development of the cult of Alfred from his own lifetime to the early twentieth century. It examines the mythical achievements of Alfred and how they developed, then summarizes his actual accomplishments, and compares them to the standard for greatness developed in the thesis.
The thesis concludes that within the relatively narrow confines of Anglo-Saxon England, Alfred deserves the epithet “great.” Alfred envisioned a secure, Christian, and educated Wessex during his reign, then instituted a series of reforms to achieve his goals. He left a stronger Wessex to his successors, well on the way to a united England.