Alfred the Great 849 – 899

Alfred the Great


This timeline details the life of Alfred, known as the Great, from birth 849 to his death in 899



Born the fifth son of Aethelwulf, King of Wessex and his wife Osburh at Wantage, Berkshire
Alfred’s eldest brother, Aethelstan, died
Alfred was taken to Rome where he was confirmed by Pope Leo IV
853 (Easter)
Alfred’s sister Aethelswith married Burgred of Mercia sealing a peace between Mercia and Wessex
Alfred had returned to Wessex from Rome
Alfred’s mother, Osburh died
855 (during)
Alfred travelled to Rome with his father and they spent a year in the city. Alfred witnessed the coronation of Pope Benedict III. Alfred’s brother Aethelbald became regent of Wessex while his father was absent in Rome.
855 (1st October)
Aethelwulf of Wessex married Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of Flanders
856 (during)
Aethelwulf, King of Wessex, returned from Rome. He may have ruled jointly with Aethelbald or resumed total control himself
858 (13th January)
Aethelwulf died and was succeeded by Aethelbald
858 (during)
Aethelbald married his stepmother, Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of Flanders
860 (20th December)
Aethelbald died. He was succeeded by his brother Aethelbert (third son of Aethelwulf)
865 (Autumn)
Aethelbert died. He was succeeded by his brother Aethelred (fourth son of Aethelwulf)
866 (during)
A Viking force led by the sons of Ragnar – Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan landed in East Anglia. The local people bought them off by providing them with horses.
866 (1st November)
The Viking force led by Ivar the Boneless left East Anglia and attacked and took the city of York.
867 (during)
Osberht and Aelle of Northumbria united and attacked Viking York. However after breaching the city walls they were cut down in the narrow streets. Osberht and Aelle were both killed. Ivar the Boneless claimed victory over Northumbria and installed Egbert as puppet King.
868 (during)
The Viking force invaded Mercia and captured Nottingham. Alfred accompanied Aethelred and they marched north but by the time they arrived Burgred, King of Mercia had paid the Vikings off
868 (Autumn)
The Vikings took Nottingham in Mercia. Burgred, King of Mercia allied with Aethelred and together they lay siege to Nottingham but had to abandon the siege to get the year’s harvest in to feed people during the winter. 868 (during) Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of a Mercian noble. Shortly after the wedding Alfred began to experience stomach cramps (possibly irritable bowel syndrome) that would plague him for the rest of his life.
869 (Autumn)
The Viking force led by Ivar the Boneless entered Mercia and sacked the monastery at Peterborough killing the monks and abbot.
869 (late)
Ivar the Boneless returned to East Anglia. King Edmund of East Anglia decided to oppose the Vikings and was killed
870 (during)
Alfred’s wife Ealhswith gave birth to a daughter, Aethelflaed
870 (during)
Ivar the Boneless disappeared from records (possibly died or returned to Scandinavia)
870 (Autumn)
The Viking force now led by Halfdan attacked Wessex
870 (28th December)
Halfdan took Reading
871 (4th January)
Battle of Reading – Alfred and Aethelred attempted to lay siege to Reading but the Vikings had fortified the town with a dyke and palisade and the Saxons were defeated by the Vikings.
871 (8th January)
Battle of Ashdown Alfred and Aethelred led the army to a successful victory against the Vikings
871 (22nd January)
Battle of Basing Alfred and Aethelred suffered a defeat by the Vikings
871 (22nd March)
Battle of Meretum Alfred and Aethelred were defeated by a Viking force after a long and bloody battle
871 (15th April)
Aethelred died. He was succeeded by his brother Alfred. Aethelred’s two young sons were considered too young to take the throne.
871 (May)
Aethelred was buried at Wimborne
871 (early Summer)
A new Viking invasion of England was led by Guthrum
871 (early Summer)
Battle of Wilton – The Saxons were defeated by the Vikings
872 (during)
After suffering a year of minor defeats by the Danes, Alfred was forced to buy them off. They promised to leave Wessex alone for five years
872 (late)
An uprising in Northumbria overthrew the Viking puppet King Ecgbert. The Viking force established a new base in Lindsey and quickly suppressed the Northumbrian revolt.
873 (during)
The Viking force moved to Mercia and captured Repton
874 (Spring)
The Vikings forced King Burgred of Mercia into exile and took control of the county by installing Ceolwulf as a puppet king.
874 (during)
Alfred’s wife Ealhswith gave birth to a son, Edward
Alfred’s wife Ealhswith gave birth to a daughter, Aethelgifu
875 (late)
The Viking force attacked Wessex and took Wareham (Dorset). Alfred lay siege to Wareham but a new Viking force of around 120 ships was seen off the coast meaning success was unlikely.
876 (during)
The Vikings began dividing up Northumbria preparing to settle the land permanently
876 (early)
Alfred was concerned that the Witan would lose faith in his ability to be King and tried to get Aethelred, Archbishop of Canterbury on his side.
876 (during)
Alfred made a deal with Guthrum, leader of the Vikings, but Guthrum did not keep the deal and moved to Exeter.
876 (during)
A freak storm destroyed a large number of Guthrum’s ships giving Alfred the chance to leave Wareham and march to Exeter.
877 (during)
The Vikings began dividing up Mercia preparing to settle the land permanently
877 (during)
Alfred’s wife Ealhswith gave birth to a daughter Aelfthryth
877 (during)
Aethelred, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to the Pope complaining about Alfred’s practice of paying off the Vikings with money raised from the people and the Church. The Pope wrote to Alfred warning him of the consequences of impunging on the authority of the see of Canterbury.
877 (during)
The Vikings made further raids on Wessex taking land in Wiltshire and Hampshire
877 (August)
Guthrum left Wessex.
878 (January)
Guthrum returned with a large force and marched on Chippenham. It is likely that Alfred had lost the support of the Witan (his attempts to pay off the Vikings had not worked) and was forced to leave Wessex in fear for his life. He sought refuge in the Somerset marshes at Athelney.
878 (Spring)
Alfred burnt the cakes legend stems from this period. The legend states that Alfred was taken in and given shelter by a woman who did not recognise him. She asked him to watch some cakes for her but he was so taken up with his thoughts about how to defeat the Vikings that the cakes were burnt. The story may have some truth and Alfred and his family may well have been taken in by a peasant family who had no idea who he was. Equally likely is that the story is an allegory for Alfred’s situation. He had been so absorbed in trying to pay off the Vikings that he had not fully realised the extent to which he had lost the support of the Witan. He may even have been overthrown by a coup. Whatever the truth of the story, Alfred did not give up or exile himself. Instead he bided his time and formulated a plan to regain his place as King. There is no surviving evidence as to who was ruler of Wessex during the time Alfred spent in Athelney.
878 (Spring)
A large Viking force led by Ubba approached Contisbury Hill in North Devon where Earldorman Odda and his fyrd were inside the fort. Odda and his men surprised the Vikings by breaking out of the fort and attacking. The Vikings suffered heavy losses and Ubba was killed.
878 (after Easter)
Alfred adopted a tactic of using guerilla warfare to disrupt further progress by Guthrum. At the same time secret messengers were sent out to let the people know that Alfred was alive and safe and would return. Messengers also delivered a call for men to muster at Egbert’s stone on 4th May 878
878 (4th May)
Alfred rode to the muster point where main Wessex fyrds had mustered giving Alfred a force of around 4,000 men. Odda and the Devon fyrd were absent probably due to losses incurred by the recent battle against Ubba.
878 (4th or 5th May)
Battle of Edington Alfred defeated the Danish army and forced the Danish leader Guthrum to accept baptism and peace terms. The Treaty of Wedmore recognised Danish occupation of England north of the line from London to Chester. Guthrum was to withdraw to behind this line and be recognised as King of his own independent kingdom. Guthrum’s new Danish Kingdom in England was subject to new laws called Danelaw
878 (June)
As per the treaty agreed between Alfred and Guthrum, the Viking leader and around 30 chief Vikings were baptised
878 (Autumn)
Guthrum, who had been baptised Aethelstan, moved his people to Mercia
879 (during)
Alfred now firmly in control of Wessex, began building a number of fortified towns (burghs) to make any future Viking attack more difficult. The burghs were placed at junctions of existing trading routes to attract traders and also to encourage local people to become market gardeners and traders thus attracting a populace that would in turn provide manpower for the fyrd. The term burgher derives from this period. Wessex was soon covered with a network of public strongholds, several of which have a regular grid of streets that can still be seen today. Examples are Winchester, Chichester and Wareham. He also organised a local defence system. Alfred also spent time and money building ships to match those of the Vikings.
879 (during)
Another band of Vikings arrived in England. They sailed up the Thames and Alfred was concerned that they would join with Guthrum and mount a new attack. However, after a short while they left England and sailed to France.
879 (late)
Guthrum moved his people to East Anglia where he ruled as King Aethelstan
880 (during)
Alfred’s wife Ealhswith gave birth to a son, Aethelweard
880 (during)
Ceowulf of Mercia, the Viking puppet King died. He was replaced by Ealdorman Aethelred. Guthrum retained control of Eastern Mercia.
882 (during)
Alfred’s new navy won a naval battle against the Vikings destroying two Viking ships and forcing the surrender of two others
885 (during)
A band of Vikings arrived and attacked Rochester in Kent. The town had been fortified by Alfred in 878 and was able to hold out until Alfred arrived with the army and defeated the Vikings.
885 (during)
Alfred first met Asser of Wales who would write ‘The Life of Alfred’
886 (during)
Alfred the Great captured London. However, as London was in the Kingdom of Mercia, Alfred, put the city in the control of Ealdorman Aethelred of Mercia.
886 (during)
Alfred’s daughter, Aethelflaed , married Aethelred, Ealdorman of Mercia. A move that Alfred hoped would give him some control over Mercia and London.
886 (onwards)
Alfred began to surround himself with learned men including Asser and John the Saxon.
888 (during)
Alfred’s sister Aethelswitha died while on pilgrimage to Rome.
890 (during)
Guthrum, who had ruled East Anglia as King Aethelstan, died. The peace he had agreed with Alfred was honoured by his successor.
890 (during)
Alfred established a permanent army setting up a system where only half the army was to be on service at any one time. Those not on service could be called on as reinforcements in times of need.
891 (during)
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle was begun
892 (during)
A large Danish Viking contingent arrived in around 250 ships. They landed in Kent and a number of them took over a half completed fortified building in Appledore. At the same time another Viking force of 80 ships landed in northern Kent and made camp at Milton. Alfred stationed his army midway between the two.
893 (during)
Alfred entered into negotiations with Haesten, leader of the Viking force at Milton. A settlement was reached whereby Alfred gave Haesten money and treasures while Haesten gave Alfred hostages and swore an oath of peace.
893 (during)
Soon after swearing a peace oath Haesten took his army and laid waste to Benfleet in Essex.
893 (during)
Battle of Farnham. While Alfred had been busy trying to make peace with Haesten, the Appledore Vikings had raided towns in Hampshire and Berkshire. They were returning to Appledore with their booty but were cut off by Alfred’s son, Edward who recovered the stolen treasure and put them to flight. Edward then pursued the Vikings, caught up with them and held them under siege at Thorney.
893 (during)
While Alfred and Edward had been occupied with the Vikings in Kent and Appledore, the East Anglia Vikings had sailed to Exeter and lay siege to the city. Alfred had intended to help his son defeat the Vikings at Thorney but had to divert and go to Exeter to relieve the siege to the city. Alfred encircled the besiegers. A further group of Vikings marched west probably to relieve the siege of Exeter but they were met at Buttington by a large force led by the Ealdormen of Mercia, Somerset and Wiltshire who succeeded in putting them to flight and the Vikings returned to East Anglia. Soon afterwards the Vikings in Exeter withdrew and also returned to East Anglia.
894 (Spring)
The Vikings were forced, through hunger, to leave Thorney, they moved north to Chester but were placed under siege and forced to leave.
894 (during)
Bishop Asser wrote his Life of King Alfred.
894 (late)
The Vikings built a new fort about 20 miles north of London by the river Lea.
895 (Summer)
Alfred led an attack on the Viking fortress by the river Lea but was beaten back.
895 (Autumn)
Alfred built two new fortresses by the river Lea which meant that the Viking force further up the river were unable to get their boats out to sea.
895 (late Autumn)
On learning of Alfred’s actions the Vikings abandoned their boats on the river Lea and marched overland to Bridgenorth on the river Severn where they built a new fort. Alfred marched to Bridgenorth and lay siege to the Vikings.
896 (Summer)
The Vikings gave up their raids on English towns and returned to East Anglia and Northumbria. Wessex was finally at peace.
899 (26th October)
Alfred died. He was succeeded by his son, Edward, known as Edward The Elder.


Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2015). Alfred the Great Timeline. Available: Last Accessed December 12th, 2017


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