How Great was Alfred?

In uniting the peoples of Wessex and Mercia, the celebrated king left an ideological legacy of lasting importance.

Alfred the Great’s statue in Wantage, by Count Gleichen, 1877.
Alfred the Great’s statue in Wantage, by Count Gleichen, 1877. Peter Sykes/Alamy.

The best way to get people excited about a nation’s founding father is, of course, to make him the subject of a musical. In August 1740 Frederick, Prince of Wales, son and heir apparent of George II, staged a specially written masque at Cliveden, his country seat in Buckinghamshire. Titled simply Alfred, it was a celebration of the career of Alfred the Great, the ninth-century king of Wessex, famous for battling the Vikings and burning the cakes. It is now almost entirely forgotten, apart from a catchy closing number in praise of its hero’s naval prowess, known as Rule, Britannia!

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