British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors, Brits at their, English country scene

Blog Home | All Posts

A note from King Alfred

Alfred was a warrior. Clearly he did not believe his duties as a warrior-king conflicted with his duties as a Christian: He would not murder, and he would not kill if he could help it, but he would not allow his people to be killed, either.

Alfred had a refreshingly matter-of-fact belief in the importance of virtue and rational thought. He translated Boethius, a Roman statesman of the 5th century who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while awaiting execution. Alfred inserted the following note in his translation:

You know of course that no one can make known any skill, nor direct and guide any authority, without tools and resources; a man cannot work on any enterprise without resources. In the case of the king, the resources and tools with which to rule are that he have his land fully manned: he must have praying men, fighting men and working men. You also know that without these tools no king may make his ability known. Another aspect of his resources is that he must have the means of support for his tools, the three classes of men.

These, then are their means of support: land to live on, gifts, weapons, food, ale, clothing, and whatever else is necessary for each of the three classes of men. Without these things he cannot maintain the tools, nor without the tools can he accomplish any of the things he was commanded to do.

Accordingly, I sought the resources with which to exercise the authority, in order that my skills and power would not be forgotten and concealed: because every skill and every authority is soon obsolete and passed over if it is without wisdom; because no man may bring to bear any skill without wisdom. For whatever is done unthinkingly, cannot be reckoned a skill. To speak briefly: I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, and to leave after my life, to the men who should come after me, the memory of me in good works. (From Alfred's translation of Boethius, Chapter XVII, Keynes & Lapidge, pp 132-33.)