Alfred’s Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age

Written by Max Adams
Review by Edward James

The title Alfred’s Britain is misleading, and the sub-title better explains the contents of the book. For sure Alfred figures prominently, but he ruled Wessex for only 28 of the 166 years covered by the book, occupying 120 of its 450 pages (excluding para-text). Also, he never ruled beyond southern England and the Midlands. For me the great virtue of this book is that it deals with parts of Britain and decades of history not well known to most readers, myself included.

Most English schoolchildren learn that Alfred saved Wessex from the Danes (not forgetting the bake-off disaster at Athelney) and that he divided England between himself and the Danelaw, but how many know how the Danelaw was won by Alfred’s three successors or what was happening in Scotland, Wales and the North?

Another distinctive feature of the book is that it supplements the written record with the latest archaeological evidence from Britain and Scandinavia. The book ends in 985 with the end of the Viking kingdom of York, which was not the end of the Viking Age, but it did mark when England became England.

Essential reading for all those interested in late Anglo-Saxon Britain.