“…a particular fondness for the book of Psalms…”

whitehorsekingFrom The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great by Benjamin Merkle:

As a youth, Alfred had been naturally inclined toward book learning. In particular, the poetry of the Anglo-Saxon tongue, with its haunting cadences and kennings, had cast a spell on his mind that would hold him under its power until his last day. The little volume of poetry his mother had given him had long been a prized possession. The young prince also had a particular fondness for the book of Psalms and gave special attention to memorizing them, a task made easier by the regular recitation of Psalms in the daily church services. After the death of his mother, however, little attention was paid in the court of Alfred’s father to continuing the young boy’s studies. Thus Alfred’s education largely consisted of a patchwork of memorized poems, psalms, and stock phrases from the church service.


The translation of the Psalms was Alfred’s last project, being only one-third complete at the king’s death. These psalms, primarily the songs of King David composed throughout the king of Israel’s tumultuous reign, had always had a special place in Alfred’s heart. Having memorized many of the psalms in his youth, Alfred had used these sacred words throughout his life to embolden himself in battle, encourage himself in despondency, humble himself in his sins, and comfort himself in his forgiveness. The entire spectrum of Alfred’s personal trials and triumphs seemed to have been lived out already by the shepherd king of Israel. More than any other text, the book of Psalms had become the poetry of Alfred’s life.

“…luxuriously pavilioned far from the place of slaughter…”

whitehorsekingFrom The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great by Benjamin Merkle:

Though the king was not present for each and every military engagement fought by the Wessex troops, Alfred, until his death, regularly took his sword, shield, and spear into battle, standing shoulder to shoulder in the shieldwall with his countrymen. In the Anglo-Saxon world, combat was the duty of the ruling class; and the king, his thegns, the noblemen, and other rulers of the English people always filled the ranks of the Wessex shieldwall.

Thus, it was the landed class, not the peasants or slaves, who responded to the summons of the fyrd [the “National Guard”] and were expected to die on the battlefield. Though this system may have had its faults, when compared to modern societies where liberty has made great advances against this class system, there remains something about the Anglo-Saxon mentality that was nobler than the governing practices of modern nations. In Alfred’s day, no man could order another into combat to face a gory death in battle if he wasn’t prepared to stand next to him in that same perilous fight. The image of a king ordering his troops to battle while he sat luxuriously pavilioned far from the place of slaughter was the innovation of a much later age and inconceivable to the Anglo-Saxon mind.

the things you learn…

From a footnote in The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great by Benjamin Merkle:

At that time, more than three centuries before the time of Robin Hood, the Anglo-Saxon name of Nottingham was Snotengaham, apparently named after an earlier chieftain named Snot. Luckily for the modern-day residents of the city, the “S” was eventually dropped from the name, and so, rather than Snottingham, the city is not called Nottingham.

This would be a perfect little nugget of trivia were I teaching a junior high class. 🙂