26th October 899. Burnt Cakes.

‘If history was taught in stories it wouldn’t be forgotten’: Rudyard Kipling.

It was Asser’s History of Alfred and later Archbishop Parker in 1574 who ‘gave oxygen’ to the Burnt Cakes story of King Alfred who died Today in 899.(1)

Looking more deeply into the story, is it symbolic of the mind of the guerrilla fighter, Alfred, taken in by a peasant woman, in the Somerset Levels,  being on other things, concerned that he had taken his eye of Wessex against the Danes; did it show humility in his castigation by the woman?


Romantic, probably Victorian, vision of Alfred and the cakes.

Back in January 878 the Vikings under Guthrum surprised Alfred at Chippenham, forcing him to flee to the swamp and alder infested Athelney (Isle of Princes) where he built a fort.(2)

This refuge was a long narrow island of hard geology in the now Parrett Valley between Burrowbridge  and East Lyng on Sedgemoor.

Later Alfred attacked  Guthrum in May 878 at Edington resulting in victory and the Treaty of Wedmore which let Guthrum retain the territory to the east of the present Watling Street whilst Alfred retained Wessex. where according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he was acknowledged as king.

To give thanks to God for his victory Alfred had a Benedictine monastery built in 888 at Athelney to be dissolved in 1539, being acquired by Lady Audley. Nothing exists now above ground.

Getty Images Pewsey

Getty Images. Alfred at Pewsey, Wilts.

Winchester by Hamo Thornycroft.

Statue at Winchester by Hamo Thornycroft. Wikipedia.com.









A late-Victorian bronze statue of Alfred was unveiled in 1899 is situated in Winchester, (which he made his capital).

A small marble statue exists in Pewsey, where ‘Alfred was once chief landowner in this vale’. It was erected in 1913 to commemorate the coronation of George V.


The Alfred Jewel in Ashmolean Museum. Inscribed, in Old English: Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan. (Alfred ordered me to be made).

Alfred the hero of the Victorian Age is still remembered in legend and fact, but also in the 9thc ‘Alfred Jewel’ discovered in 1693 at North Petherton 6 miles from Athelney, a monument to Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.

(1) The Legend didn’t arise until 100 years after his death.

The dating of Alfred’s death according to historian, Keith Feiling.

Dating is a complex issue and has changed over the centuries, especially in 1752 when we changed to the Gregorian Calendar, which is explained in other Posts.

(2) On 6.1.878.




bbc.co.uk/local/hampshire/King Alfred Burns the Cakes.

historytoday.com. Barbara Yorke. Alfred. Iss. 49. 10.11.1999.


Victorian Cult of Alfred. Joanne Parker.2007.


history-uk.com/history of England/Pic of Alfred and Cakes.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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