Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/168

This page has been validated.

truth no need for it. Alexander, Charles, William, needed it to mark them off from many smaller bearers of their several names; Ælfred practically has his name to himself. It is a name which has always been in use without ever being very common, but it has never been borne by any one who could possibly be confounded with the West-Saxon king. In the West-Saxon kingly house it is never found before him and only once after him, nor has it been borne by any king of the enlarged English kingdom. In his own age the single male Ælf-name in the family stands out in a marked way among the Æthels and Eads. Ælfred is Ælf-red, the rede of the elves; it can hardly be needful to point out the mistake of those who fancied that its meaning was all-peace. Nor can it be necessary to distinguish the name Ælf-red from the utterly distinct name Ealh-frith, borne by a Northumbrian king who, owing to a likeness in the corrupt Latin forms of the two names, has been sometimes confounded with the great West-Saxon (see Sir T. D. Hardy's note, Will. Malm. Gest. Regg. ii. 123). The cognate names are Ælfwine, Ælfthryth, Ælfgifu, and others of the same class. Unlike so many of the Old-English names which are purely insular, it seems to have had, like Ecgberht and a few others, a slight currency on the continent (see Norman Conquest, i. 779), perhaps owing to some kindred Lombard form, as in the case of some other English names.

Ælfred was the fifth and youngest son of Æthelwulf, king of the West-Saxons, and of his wife Osburh, daughter of his cupbearer Oslac, of the old kingly house of the Jutes of Wight (Asser). He was born at Wantage in Berkshire in 849. In 853 he was sent to Rome by his father, where the pope, Leo IV, took him to his ‘bishopson’ and hallowed him to king. It seems impossible to gainsay this last statement of Asser and the Chronicles, strange as it is; and it may help to explain some things that follow. If we literally follow the words of Asser, we must believe that the child was brought back, and that he went again with his father two years later, when Æthelwulf made his own pilgrimage to Rome in 855. But it is perhaps easier to suppose that he stayed at Rome for three years and came back with his father in 856. He was Æthelwulf's best-beloved son, and his hallowing at Rome, an act so contrary to all English precedent and English law, no doubt helped with other causes to set the elder sons of Æthelwulf against their father. On his way home Æthelwulf married and brought back with him Judith, the young daughter of Charles the Bald, king of the West-Franks, and afterwards emperor. And we are driven, however unwillingly, to suppose that Osburh, the mother of Æthelwulf's children, was put away to make room for her (see Wright, Biographia Britannica Literaria, Anglo-Saxon Period, p. 385), a step which, among the Franks at least, would be in no way wonderful. In no other way can we understand the well-known story told by Asser, how Ælfred's mother showed him and his brothers a book of poems with a beautiful initial letter, and promised to give it to the one who should first learn to read it. Ælfred found a master, and was soon able to read. This story is placed in Ælfred's twelfth year, about 861, when the mention of his brothers is in any case a difficulty. But in no case could we put the story before the return of Æthelwulf in 856. It follows therefore that Osburh must have outlived her husband's second marriage. The notion that by Ælfred's mother is meant, not his own mother, but the Frankish girl, younger than some of his brothers, whom their father had put in her place, is too wild to be discussed.

Whatever may have been designed by Ælfred's childish hallowing at Rome, no attempt was made to set him up as the immediate successor of his father. And when Æthelwulf tried to fix the succession beforehand, by a will confirmed by the Witan, Ælfred was put in the line of succession after those of his brothers who were put in the line of succession at all. We hear nothing of him directly during the reigns of his brothers Æthelbald and Æthelberht; but on the accession of Æthelred in 866 he at once comes into prominence. During Æthelred's reign Asser gives Ælfred the title of secundarius—possibly equivalent to subregulus—but he seems rather to look on him as a general helper to his brother than as the local under-king of any particular land. He also (871) implies that he had held that title during the time of his elder brothers. This is very puzzling, and might almost seem to suggest that something of special kingship, beyond the common kingliness of the kin, was held to attach to Ælfred from the Roman hallowing. Anyhow, under Æthelred, Ælfred, young as he still was, was clearly the second man in the kingdom. In 868 he married Ealhswith, daughter of Æthelred surnamed the Mickle, ealdorman of the Gainas (a people whose name survives in Gainsborough), and his wife Eadburh. In 869 he shared the expedition of his brother to Nottingham for the relief of their brother-in-law Burhred, king of the Mercians, against the Danes who had settled in Northumber-