Recently I have been getting out more to talk about my books, and I have had a wonderful time! I cannot wait to do it more often. Many people are quick to dismiss romance but willing to listen politely as I describe my stories. It is so rewarding to watch their expressions change as they realize I have more to say than just “X has sex with Y.” Soul Lost is about a real person, King Alfred the Great of England, and his mysterious wife. While my characterizations are fictional, Alfred’s life really was a great adventure and so gave me lots of fun stuff to work with.
Disclaimer: I am not an authoritative scholar on medieval British history. If you find research that is contrary to mine, then I congratulate myself on making you interested enough in Alfred to learn more about him.
Alfred was not born a king. In fact, he was the youngest of four (some say five) brothers, so his chance at becoming the head guy was pretty small. In the 9th century, however, lifespans were not so great for a variety of reasons, including murderous invading armies and murderous invading diseases. He ruled the beginnings of a united England from 871-899, but at the time he married Elswith in 868 (the time of Soul Lost) he was still just a prince. We don’t know much about her accept that she was the daughter of the Mercian ruler so their marriage was seen as a uniting of the two kingdoms. We also know that before she entered his life, Alfred was pious to the point of being a monk, but not after. After he died she retired from life, taking up residence in an abbey until she died. Sounds like a love story to me.
Why was he great?
- He created fortifications called “burhs” to protect his people from invaders who devastated pretty much everything in their paths. Build big walls to keep out bad guys? Seems like a no-brainer, but Alfred was the first English guy to think of it.
- Alfred noticed the Vikings were great sailors and often attacked from the water. He thought building boats and hiring people to sail them might be a good idea. He was right. By the way, the British navy is now regarded as one of the greatest forces in the world. He didn’t do it, but he planted the seeds.
- Alfred prized education and was himself very well-read, thanks in no small measure to his mother’s encouragement. He had a crazy notion that maybe more people could be educated if they didn’t have to read everything in Latin, so he had the monks translate literature into “Anglish.” Educate the common person? What a great idea!
- Throwing every man they had into the constant stream of battles caused a lot of problems that other rulers didn’t consider. Alfred thought his people would be better served if he only put half the males in battle at one time and left the other half home to do things like grow food and make babies. Every so often he rotated them around so everybody (who survived) got a chance to be home.
- The Danes who invaded were a very impressive and ruthless fighting force. Alfred thought that if he made peace with them and gave them some land of their own on the English island they might let up a bit and give the English soldiers a chance to catch their breath. He created an area called Danelaw that did just that, and his people got a little peace after years of war.
- Alfred is also known for being a pretty fair guy. He codified (wrote down) his laws so that people knew clearly what they were, and then he was very just in enforcing them.
- His oldest daughter, Aethelflaed, was married to a Mercian overlord, (I still haven’t sorted that one out since her mother was the daughter of the Mercian ruler at the time she married Alfred–more research for another book),and when he died she became the ruler of Mercia. This is described by the historian Ian Walker as “one of the most unique events in early medieval history”. (Wikipedia) When Alfred died, she ruled with equal authority as her brother, Edward. And Edward sent his son to her court to be educated. A woman intelligent and powerful enough to become a ruler in her own right? What a forward thinking notion.
So we know that Alfred believed in education, fair laws, and serving the needs of his people. He raised a daughter who could be a ruler in her own right, and a son who accepted his sister’s authority. And we know that before his marriage he was monk-like, but he and his wife had five children together, and after his death she withdrew from life.
Don’t his accomplishments sound like those of a man with modern ideas? Doesn’t it sound like maybe his wife time-traveled from the 21st century to live one of the great love stories of history?