You’ve heard of the 300 defending the “Hot Gates” (Thermopylae)? Well, with apologies to Longfellow, “Listen my children and you shall hear of the 100 men who saved all we hold dear.”  You may have also heard or seen the movie Darkest Hour about Churchill, the advent of the Battle of Britain and all that, but the “darkest hour” for the Anglo-Saxon race was not May-June 1940; it was January 878….

By that time, all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms save Wessex had fallen to Viking hordes under Ivar the Boneless and later Guthrum. As the King of Wessex celebrated the twelve days of Christmas at his lair in Chippenham, the Vikings launched a surprise winter attack. Only the king and 100 guardsmen sworn before God to protect his life lived to escape to the marshes of Somerset. This king and his 100 were all that was left of organized Anglo-Saxon resistance.

The Vikings had to find and kill this king, or risk further resistance organizing around him.  “Hit squads” were sent into the wilds of Somerset… None came out alive. The 100 guardians of the king had hunted in these fens since boyhood, and it was but childs-play to to track the invaders, gain their heading, then head them off for an ambush. Their preferred weapon was that of the hunter and the common man – the famed English longbow, albeit tipped with a head that could pierce chain mail.

Spring came. The king and his 100 came out of the wilds, rallying to their side not just nobility or professional soldiers, but EVERYBODY – all able-bodied Anglo-Saxon men throughout the countryside. Now it was their turn to lay siege to the Vikings penned up in Chippenham, running low on winter supplies. When the fort fell, were the Vikings slaughtered to a man as was the custom of the day? No, they were allowed to depart in peace, upon Guthrum’s conversion to Christ.

That was only the beginning. This king built mutually supporting strongholds no more than twenty miles apart, garrisoned by rotating militia, thus creating England’s borough system. The seeds of the Royal Navy were planted as he commissioned ships to intercept raiders before they could land. He translated for common consumption classical works from Latin to Anglo-Saxon, established schools for even “a good many of those of lesser birth.” He codified Anglo-Saxon law, and began that work with a translation of the Ten Commandments, parts of the Book of Exodus, and verses from the Book of Acts. He would give books, and not mere material wealth, to those for whom he cared.

As to his motivation, let him for himself speak:

“My will was to live worthily as long as I lived, and after my life to leave to them that should come after, my memory in good works.”

We are those who came after, as we enjoy the fruits of liberty innate to English-speaking countries; for this king was Alfred, and he alone, among more than a thousand years of English monarchs, is called “the Great.


Pick up Silver and Lead, the thrilling new historical novella by David Churchill Barrow and MaryLu Barrow, now available on Amazon from Liberty Island.