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King Alfred’s Jewel

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, Royalty, Ships on Friday, 29 July 2011

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This edited article about historic treasures originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

King Alfred's Jewel, picture, image, illustration

King Alfred’s Jewel, a statue of Alfred and the longship he designed. Pictures by Dan Escott

The jewel illustrated on this page, which bears the Anglo-Saxon inscription, “Alfred had me made”, was found near Athelney Abbey in Somerset, and can be seen in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

The Alfred referred to is almost certainly King Alfred the Great who, from 871 to 901, ruled the kingdom of Wessex, which was situated south of the River Thames in England. In 871, the Danes had already overrun the rest of England, and at first Alfred’s army was defeated too, but the Danes were finally driven out of Wessex in 878.

Fourteen years later the invaders appeared once again. But by then Alfred was sufficiently prepared to resist them, with Anglo-Saxons from all over England now recognising him as their leader.

Alfred had managed to develop a system whereby most of his followers were trained to fight. He had also built a fleet of large ships, which would, he hoped, defeat the Danish longships at sea. His third plan of defence was to build many fortresses throughout his lands, each one to protect the country around it.

In spite of all this, it was four years before Alfred’s armies finally drove out the Danes in 896. So soundly did he beat his enemy that, from this time until he died, in 901, Alfred’s kingdom was left in peace.

About a thousand years after his death, a statue of King Alfred was erected in Winchester, where he is thought to have been buried. There is another statue of him at his birthplace, Wantage, in Berkshire.

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