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King Alfred

King Alfred

Burnt Cakes and Other Legends

David Horspool

ISBN 9780674023208

Publication date: 11/30/2006

When the BBC ran a poll in 2001 to name the greatest Briton, Alfred, a ninth-century monarch, was the only king to make the top 20. Also the only English sovereign to be called "the Great," Alfred used to be remembered as much through folklore as through his accomplishments.

Horspool sees Alfred as inextricably linked to the legends and stories that surround him, and rather than attempting to separate the myth from the "reality," he explores how both came together to provide a historical figure that was all things to all men. This book offers a vivid picture of Alfred's England, but also of the way that history is written, and how much myth has had to do with that.


  • The personal, military and religious myths around Alfred the Great are scraped off like barnacles as the West Saxon hero is pulled from the morass of pious public schoolboy attitudes and sentimental Victorian values by a cheerfully revisionist historian. Horspool goes back to original sources and reinterprets them in the context of other historical materials now available. The result is Alfred’s presentation less as a stock figure of the heritage industry than as an altogether more ambiguous and interesting character.

    —Iain Finlayson, The Times


  • David Horspool is the history editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press