Britain: A Powerhouse is a story, beginning with the reign of Alfred the Great, detailing the rise of Britain as an empire earlier than expected
A long time ago, Alfred the Great transforms Wessex into the Kingdom of England in three decades. By the time of his death, England is on the way to becoming an empire.
His descendant, Athlestan I the Great, transforms England into the British Empire, a powerful state of grand proportion.
This story will travel from Alfred's reign to the present day, in the history of the British Empire.
Chapter 1: England in ShamblesEdit
In 840, England was in shambles. The Vikings, coming from Norway and Denmark, pillaged the Herpatrchy, the system of British kingdoms set up by the Anglo-Saxons four centuries prior. They ruled most of England, either indirectly through their appointment of client-kings, or directly, through the Danewald, covering most of England's eastern coast.
England at the time had less then three million people, living under several different kingdoms: the kingdoms (and grand duchies) of Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, and Sussex. Mercia and Northumbria both were ruled by the Danes, East Anglia was a Viking puppet state, and both Essex and Sussex paid tribute to the Danes. Wessex was the only independent kingdom, and in time, it would unite England, and eventually Britain, into a powerhouse empire.
At first, England seemed to become one of the Viking's many conquests (Normandy, parts of Italy, northern Germany, Denmark, Holland, Norway, southern Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland). But a new king would come. His name was Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899).
Chapter 2: Alfred the GreatEdit
Life before becoming KingEdit
Alfred the Great was born in June 849, in present day Oxford-shore, England, British Empire. He was the youngest son of Grand Duke Ethelwulf of Wessex, by his first wife, Princess Osburga of Mercia.
When he was five, his father was elevated to the rank of grand prince by the Pope (in consultation with the Vikings). Thus Alfred became grand duke-in-line to the throne, not just baron-in-line to the throne.
In 856, his father died, and his three older brothers reigned as a triumvirate, which lasted in some form until 871. In 866, Ethelred of Wessex became grand prince, and Alfred's public life started from there. In 868, the grand prince made Alfred the heir presumptive to the throne, giving him the title of secondarous, or second one.
In 868, Alfred married Ethelwalt, the woman he was in love with his entire life. She was beautiful, with "reddish hair and blueish eyes", as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded. She loved him, but she was a peasant, and Alfred had to obtain the permission of the grand prince to marry. That same year, he fought along his brother to prevent the Vikings from taking Mercia, to no avail. After this, peace remained in Wessex for two years, because the grand prince paid the Vikings gold to let alone. At the end of 870, the Vikings once again let loose, invading Wessex. The year following consisted of a series of battles and lots of events. Nine engagements were fought with diffrent outcomes, though two of these battles, their dates, and locations, are unknown. It is possible they occured in the middle of the others. In Berkshire, a sucessfull skirmish at the Battle of Engleland on 31 December 870 was followed by a crushing defeat at the siege and battle of Reading on 5 January 871 (it was also the first known record of the existence of the town of Reading); then, four days later, Grand Duke Alfred won a smashing victory at the Battle of Ashdown in Berkshire Dawns, near Compton. Alfred is particurally credited with this battle by most historians. However, on 22 January, the English were defeated at Basing and on 22 March, at Marden in Wiltshire, where Grand Prince Ethelred was killed.
Early struggles as king, defeat, and flightEdit
With the death of Prince Ethelred, Alfred became Grand Prince of Wessex and assumed the burdens of it's defense, despite the fact Ethelred had left behind two infant sons. This was in accordance in an agreement Ethelred and Alfred had made at a public assembly earlier in the year, declaring that if Ethelred died, Alfred would recieve the property that Prince Ethelred had bequeathed upon his sons in his will, including the throne, and that the sons would only recieve what Alfred wanted them to recieve. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the young age of the sons, Alfred's succession was virtually uncontested. Problems between Alfred and his nephews would arise later in his reign.
While Alfred peformed the burial cermonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the English at two battles, Wilton and Jameson, and then one during his presence, Hoswich. The defeat at Hoswich smashed hope that Alfred could drive the Danes from his land. So, in order to save further destruction, Alfred had to sign a truce with the Danes. According to Bishop Asser, Alfred's biographer (his entire book was accurate), Alfred had to give gold, servants, and weapons to the Danes, and demoblize a vast majority of his knights. The Danes, in their part, left Alfred's principality and promised not to attack any further. For the next five years, the Vikings battled and occuiped vast poritions of England, while leaving Wessex alone, despite a few raids on isolated towns. However, in 876, under their new king, Gurthrum, the Vikings slipped past the English army, attacking and occupying Wareham in Dorset. Alfred responded by surronding the town, cutting off all trade routes leading to it, and charging on the Viking outer posts, but was unable to defeat the Danes. Accordingly, he was forced again to make peace with the Danes, who swore it on the holy ring of Thor, their supreme god and also god of warriors. The peace also ordered the transfer of prisioners and hostages. The Danes broke their part of the agreement, killing their hostages and escaping to Exeter, in Devon. There, Alfred sucessfully blockaded them, forcing the Danes to submit. They had lost faith because of their beliefs that Thor was angry at them for breaking the oath, and retaliated by aiding Alfred and his men. They surrendered, and were allowed to go back to Viking Mercia, but, in January 878, executed a attack on Chippenham, a Wessex stronghold, where the grand prince and his family was staying for Chirstmas. According to Bishop Asser, "the Danes killed all the men, women, and children, not including Grand Prince-King Alfred, who was able to escape with most of his family and some loyal men". Alfred and his band had to escape into the woods, and then hide in the swamps, and after Easter, Prince Alfred constructed, working with his own men, a fortress at Athleney, in Somerset and "he continued engaging the Danes", as Asser wrote. From his fort, Asser wrote, Alfred organized a sucessfull resistance movement against the Vikings, rallying the local militias from Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire.
Alfred, when he first fled to the Somerset Marshes, was given shelter by a peasant woman, who, unaware of his identity, left him to watch some cakes she was cooking by the fire, while she got some milk from the cows. Preoccupied with the problems of his principality, Alfred accidentially let the cakes burn. When the woman returned, she got angry and beat Alfred with her cane. Upon realizing the prince's identity, she apolgized repeatedly, but Alfred explained he was the one to apologize. As this event shows, Alfred was a kind and humble man. This also shows the desperate straits he was in.
This was the low point in the history of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. All of them had fell, and only Wessex was resisting.
Counterattack and victoryEdit
On 4 May 878, Prince Alfred rode to Egbert's Stone, around Whiltshude, east of Selwood, where "he was met by the people of Somerset and Wiltshire and of that part of Hamisphire". Alfred's emergence from his marshland stronghold was part of his plan to organize and unite the fyrds of the three shires. This means not only had the prince retained the loyality of ealdormen, royal reeves, and thegns (charged with levying and organizing these forces), but also that they had maintained enough control in these localites to answer Alfred's summons to war. This also means that Alfred had a greatly organized and coordinated system of scouts and messengers. Alfred won a decisive victory in the ensuing Battle of Ethusudun, fought near Westbury, Wiltshire. He then pursued the Danes to Chippenham (now their stronghold) and blockaded them, cutting off all trade and starving them into submission. The Treaty of Wedmore was signed by Alfred and Gurthrum. It's terms were:
- The baptism and recival of Gurthrum and his 30 chief officers into Christanity; it would be by Alfred's own hand
- Gurthrum would become the adopted son of Alfred and would be circumised
- The Vikings would leave Wessex immediately
- Gurthrum would pay Alfred gold, weapons, and servants
A couple of weeks later, Gurthrum was baptised, circumised, and adopted by Alfred. King Gurthrum then paid Prince Alfred 500 ounces of gold, 5,000 weapons, and 300 manservants. In 880, the Treaty of Mercia was signed, carving Mercia in two, dividing it between Alfred and Gurthrum. By it's terms Alfred recieved the part of Mercia west of Manchester, and Gurthrum recieved the part of Mercia east of Manchester. Manchester would be divided in half, the western part going to Alfred (including Manchester's mines), the eastern part to Gurthrum (including Manchester's mints). 4,000 Manchester residents fell within Alfred's control, while 8,000 within Gurthrum's. They also made the following terms for London:
- Mercian controlled London would fall within the borders of Gurthrum's kingdom
- Prince Alfred would gain the chief monopoly on London mints and military manfacturing shops for a period of five years
- Gurthrum would gain control of navigation on the Thames River
- Alfred would become a protector of London against agression by any locals
- Gurthrum would appoint the London city government
The Treaty also carved Essex up: Gurthrum getting one-third, Alfred two-thirds.
Restoration of London, Proclamation of Kingdom of EnglandEdit
For the next few years there was peace, with the Danes being preoccupied in France. In 884, the East Anglian Danes rose up, initating another series of battles. The measures taken by Alfred to repress this uprising culminated in the taking of London in 886. Alfred regarded this as a turning point in his reign.
With this new danger, King Gurthrum had to sign the Treaty of London with Alfred, making the following terms:
- London and the Viking half of Manchester would be offically incoporated into Alfred's kingdom, as well Gurthrum's share of Essex and control of the navigation on the Thames River
- Grand Prince Alfred would become King Alfred of Angleland or England
- King Gurthrum would become Lord Gurthrum of East Anglia and King of the English Danes, paying tribute in gold, servants, and weapons to Alfred
- Gurthrum would reduce the size of the Danish armed forces by more then half
Now, King Alfred had triumphed. He called himself Alfred I of England, proclaiming all other monarchs before him the Kings of the South and West Saxons.
King Alfred refurbished London, reconstructing buildings, constructing defenses along the Thames, and laying out a new city plan. The king moved the capital of newly proclaimed England to Winchester, but spent most of his time in London, making it the main center of his court, although government operations remained in Winchester. Eventually, Athlestan the Great would make London the permenent capital.
Further Danish attacks repelledEdit
In 892, the Danes attacked again. Finding their position in Europe precarious, they crossed to England in 330 ships for two divisions. They entrenched themselves, the larger body at Appledore, Kent, and the lesser, under Hastein, at Milton, also in Kent. The invaders brought their wives and children with them, intending to colonize and conquer Wessex-England. In 893, King Alfred took a position to observe both invading forces. While he was in talks with Hastein, the Danes at Appeldore broke out and struck northwestwards. They were slaughtered by Alfred's oldest son, Edward, and were defeated in a general engagement at Fareham in Surrey. They took refuge on a island in the Hertfordshore Colne, where they were blockaded and ultamatiely forced to surrender. The force fell back in Essex, and after anoughter defeat at Benfleet, coalesced with Hastein's force in Shoebury.
Alfred was about to relieve his son at Thorney when he heard that the Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes were besieging Exeter and a unnamed stronghold on the North Devon coastline. The king hurried eastward, raising the siege at Exeter and crushing the Danes at the North Devon coast. Meanwhile, Hastein's force marched through the Thames Valley, working to join up with the Danes fighting Edward and the king. However, the three ealdormen of Mercia, Wiltshire, and Somerset met them, forcing the Danes to head to the northwest, before finally being overtaken and blockaded at Buttington. A attempt to break the English lines was destoryed. Those who escaped retreated Shoesbury. Then, after collecting reinforcements, they dashed across England and occupied the old Roman defenses at Chester.