King Alfred: An Eleventh Centenary

Timothy Wilson Smith describes how, in the year 878, Alfred witnessed the conversion to Christianity of the Danish warlord Guthrum, and helped to found the English nation.

A straggling High Street, a few shops, some fine buildings - one of them a pub - and one of the most beautiful church towers in Somerset are scarcely enough to distinguish Wedmore from many villages that nestle into the sides of the Mendips. Historically it has had just one moment of glory. For twelve days in 878 King Alfred of Wessex entertained the Danish warlord Guthrum, after his guest had been christened.

Asser tells how ‘after seven weeks Guthrum, King of the pagans, with thirty men chosen from the army, came to Alfred at a place called Aller, near Athelney, and there king Alfred, receiving him as his son by adoption, raised him up from the holy laver of baptism on the eighth day, at a royal villa named Wedmore, where the holy chrism was poured upon him.

After his baptism he remained twelve nights with the King, who, with all his nobles, gave him many fine houses’.1 The event was more memorable than the feasters knew; and midsummer 1978 is an appropriate moment to recall that eleven hundred years ago Alfred and Guthrum made possible the creation of an English nation with a distinctly English culture.

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