© 2002

The Medieval Life of King Alfred the Great

A Translation and Commentary on the Text Attributed to Asser

  • Authors

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xx
  2. Translation of the Life of King Alfred

    1. Alfred P. Smyth
      Pages 1-54
  3. Commentary

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 55-55
    2. Alfred P. Smyth
      Pages 57-91
    3. Alfred P. Smyth
      Pages 92-131
    4. Alfred P. Smyth
      Pages 132-161
    5. Alfred P. Smyth
      Pages 162-201
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 211-280

About this book


Very few King's earn the appellation 'Great'. Alfred is the only English King honoured with this name and is credited with various successes (the foundation of a navy, English education system and religious revival). His memory looms large in the English Imagination. The medieval 'Life' of King Alfred of Wessex purports to be written by Asser, a monk in the King's service. This account of one of England's best loved and most famous kings has been accepted as offering evidence on most aspects of life in early medieval England and beyond. It was used in Victorian times to create a 'Cult' of Alfred. Alfred Smyth offers a carefully annotated translation of the 'Life' together with a long commentary. He argues that the 'Life' is a forgery which has profound implications not only for our understanding of the early English and medieval past but also for the nature of biography and history. This close scholarly rendering of the text allows the reader access to the intricacies of medieval history.


England history manuscripts medieval history

About the authors

ALFRED SMYTH is Director of Research and Head of the Graduate School, Canterbury Christ Church University College. Formerly Master of Keynes College, University of Kent and Warden of St. George's House, Windsor Castle.

Bibliographic information


'Alfred Smyth's The Medieval Life of King Alfred the Great is a pathbreaking work...a sophisticated introduction and study of the entire field of Alfredian biography, ancient and modern...The Medieval Life of King Alfred the Great also serves as an excellent introduction to the text of the Life itself and to the controversies surrounding its creation and history.' - Professor Daniel Melia, University of California, Berkeley

'Alfred Smyth's new translation and commentary challenges consensus opinion at every extensive commentary relates the Life to the new and still-developing awareness of historical writing in the late Anglo-Saxon period...Smyth's text asks new questions and provides new answers, offering a more complex account of the origins of England, and of English History, than has been possible to date.' - Tom Shippey, Saint Louis University, Missouri

'...this useful for presenting a version without many of the previous editorial emendations...' - J.L. Leland, Choice

Reviews from previous book:

'Smyth's book, then, must stand as the definitive account of the reign.' - Peter Ackroyd, The Times

'This is a glorious book. It rescues a great English ruler from some of the more obtuse concepts and prejudices of our own time, and builds more carefully on ninth-century foundations than any other biography yet published.' - Eric Christiansen, The Spectator