Monday, May 9, 2011

How "Great" can he be if I've never heard of him?

Since I've recently reviewed books on the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks, I might as well throw in a book about the ancient... um, English? Maybe Anglo Saxons is a better name and they're only half as ancient as the others - late 800s AD. The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great by Benjamin R. Merkle is fairly short and easy to read, and a very interesting history as well.

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the GreatAlfred was the fifth son of Æthelwulf, King of Wessex (and the only son whose name didn't begin with "Æ"). And since he was the fifth son it was unlikely he would ever become king, but as the youngest he was highly favored by his father and mother (aren't the youngest always?!?), and raised to appreciate things such as literature. He went on two pilgrimages to Rome before he was 10 years old (yeah, the youngest get to do everything, don't they), and saw his father's unusual generosity to the poor on the second trip (perhaps the result of an old man who realizes he is soon to meet his Maker). Such experiences made him more appreciative of learning and caring for the people, but this was a time when the Vikings were raiding and pillaging the countryside, so he also grew up with an understanding of warfare. This combination made him into a truly "Great" king (after all his older brothers had been killed or died) who set in motion the eventual expulsion of the foreign invaders and uniting of the Anglo Saxon territories, as well as a cultural renaissance and spread of learning among his people.

Since I can imagine that some of my ancestors were probably on both sides of the conflicts described in the book (English and Danish) I found the story somewhat personal, but I was also impressed by the societal reforms Alfred instituted, making it a great insight into that part of history. Mr. Merkle is a professor of Theology and writes for a religious magazine (and Thomas Nelson Publishers is known mostly for their religious books) so there is a frequent attention given to religion in the book, but it helps to put some of Alfred's actions and beliefs into a context that made sense. It doesn't have quite the scholarly feel and there were a few things I wish had been better explained, but it does make it easier to read and follow and made me want to learn more on this period in history. (I received this book from Amazon Vine.)

No comments:

Post a Comment