Friday, 27 February 2015

King Alfred's Monument at Athelney

According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle King Alfred the Great hid from Danish invaders on the 'island' of Athelney for 7 weeks in 878 AD. During this time he is reputed to have built a fortress here.  This is where he is reputed to have been scolded by a swineherd's wife for allowing her cakes to burn.  He went on to defeat the Danes at Edington in Wiltshire at Easter in 878.

The Life of King Alfred, which was a biography supposedly written by a Welsh monk called Asser in 893, says that Alfred founded a monastery at Athelney in 893, to give thanks to God for the defeat of the Danish army.   Athelney is described as  ‘...surrounded by, swampy impassable and extensive marshland and ground water on every side. It cannot be reached in any way except by punts or by a causeway which has been built by protracted labour between two fortresses. A formidable fortress of elegant workmanship was set up by the command of the king at the western end of the causeway’.  However it is now thought that the Life of King Alfred was written by an unknown author in c1000, so the description may not be entirely accurate. 

A monument was erected on the hill above Athelney Farm in 1801 by John Slade of Maunsel, North Newton to commemorate Alfred's stay here.  It was repaired by Somerset County Council in 1985.  There is no public right of way to it but there is a signed permissive path.  The grid reference is ST 3432 2925.  There is space to park a few cars where the road from East Lyng to Athelney meets the River Tone.  It is a walk of about 250 metres from the farm to the monument.

An article now known as the Alfred Jewel was found in a peat bog in North Petherton in 1693.  It was given to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1718 but recently returned to the Museum of Somerset for the month of February 2015.  It is thought to be an aestel or pointer, which was used while reading manuscripts.  It has the words "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN - Alfred ordered me to be made" around the outside in gold and in the centre is a male figure dressed in green against a blue background, which is made from rock crystal and enamel.  The figure could be Jesus or King Alfred.

Further Reading: 

Athelney Abbey by Rev Thomas Hugo - Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol 43, 1897  

Why Alfred burned the Cakes: a King and his Eleven Hundred Year Afterlife by David Horspool.  Published by Profile Books in 2006

Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources: translated, with an introduction and notes by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge.  Published by Penguin in 1983

King Alfred's Monument at Athelney



  2. Such an underrated site but good it's not too popular. One of the most significant historical sites in the UK.
    No Alfred no England as we have today.