Alfred the Great’s legend lives on, 1,100 years after his death, because he had great PR! That’s the view of a King Alfred expert who will launch Shaftesbury & District Historical Society’s autumn talks programme. Professor Barbara Yorke will explain that, similar to today’s politicians, the Anglo-Saxon king was managing his media message.
“He employed a Welsh writer called Asser who mixed observations of the real Alfred with stories about biblical and classical heroes. Alfred had the nous to see where writing was going and sponsored this work,” Barbara explained.
Alfred’s self-publicity was so powerful that the story of his burned cakes is still told today. A woman reputedly offered Alfred refuge from invading Vikings. He had promised to watch her oven whilst his host popped out but preoccupied, Alfred allowed the bread to burn. Barbara thinks this was 9th century equivalent of fake news. “There is almost certainly no truth in it,” says Barbara. “It is a story about endurance and the turning point in someone’s life when they are really down.”
Barbara will also explain the important role that Alfred has played in Shaftesbury’s history. “Shaftesbury wouldn’t be the town it is today without him,” said Barbara. “Founding a royal nunnery was a big deal. It put the place on the map and it turned Shaftesbury from a village into something special. That status continued throughout the Middle Ages until the dissolution of the monasteries,” she said.
Recently, Barbara’s talks have attracted a new generation of King Alfred fans. “He’s been featured in The Last Kingdom a historic fictional TV series based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon stories,” she explained.
Barbara’s hour-long event will include visual presentations but nobody really knows what Alfred looked like. “He liked to think of himself as big and warrior-like,” Barbara said, “but he must have had some sort of charisma too.”
Barbara’s talk will reveal more about this iconic figure and how Alfred’s actions shaped Shaftesbury and English life for centuries. It’s being held at Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7.30pm on October 3rd. It is free for Society members and £5 for non-members.