Ælfred Æþeling (English: Alfred the Noble) (c. 1005–1036) was one of the eight sons of the English king Æthelred the Unready. He and his brother Edward the Confessor were sons of Æthelred's second wife Emma of Normandy. King Canute became their stepfather when he married Æthelred's widow. Alfred and his brother were caught up in the power struggles at the start and end of Canute's reign.
Siege of London
In 1013, during the siege of London by the Danes, Æthelred and his family took refuge in Normandy. Æthelred regained the throne in 1014 and died in 1016. England was conquered by Canute of Denmark later that year, and Alfred and Edward returned to the court of their uncle, Duke Robert of Normandy. There is some evidence of a plan on the part of Duke Robert to invade England on his nephews' behalf.
Return to England
In 1035, Canute died, and during the uncertainty that followed, the heirs of the former Anglo-Saxon rulers attempted to restore the House of Wessex to the throne of England. Alfred Ætheling landed on the coast of Sussex with a Norman mercenary body guard and attempted to make his way to London. However he was betrayed, captured by Earl Godwin of Wessex, and blinded; he died soon afterwards.
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there is an account of this fateful encounter:
|“||As Alfred and his men approached the town of Guildford in Surrey, thirty miles south-west of London, they were met by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex, who professed loyalty to the young prince and procured lodgings for him and his men in the town. The next morning, Godwin said to Alfred: "I will safely and securely conduct you to London, where the great men of the kingdom are awaiting your coming, that they may raise you to the throne." This he said in spite of the fact that the throne was already occupied by the son of Knud, Harold Harefoot, and he was actually in league with King Harold to lure the young prince to his death. Then the earl led the prince and his men over the hill of Guildown, which is to the west of Guildford, on the road to Winchester, not London. Perhaps the prince had insisted on continuing his journey to his original destination, his mother’s court in Winchester, in any case, Godwin repeated his tempting offer; showing the prince the magnificent panorama from the hill both to the north and to the south, he said: "Look around on the right hand and on the left, and behold what a realm will be subject to your dominion." Alfred then gave thanks to God and promised that if he should ever be crowned king, he would institute such laws as would be pleasing and acceptable to God and men. At that moment, however, he was seized and bound together with all his men. Nine tenths of them were then murdered. And since the remaining tenth was still so numerous, they, too, were decimated. Alfred was tied to a horse and then conveyed by boat to the monastery of Ely. As the boat reached land, his eyes were put out. For a while he was looked after by the monks, who were fond of him, but soon after he died, probably on February 5, 1036.||”|
When Harthacnut succeeded his half-brother Harold, he prosecuted Earl Godwin and Lyfing, Bishop of Worcester and Crediton, for the crime against his half-brother; the Bishop lost his see for a while and Godwin gave the king a warship carrying eighty fighting men as appeasement and swore that he had not wanted the prince blinded and that whatever he had done was in obedience to King Harold. Tradition holds that like Harthacnut, Edward the Confessor considered Godwin guilty.
The House of Wessex was restored through the accession of Alfred's brother Edward in 1042. Alfred's death was one of the main reasons for the mistrust and resentment shown by many members of Anglo-Saxon society, and particularly from Edward himself, towards Earl Godwin and his sons.
In 1929 the remains of 223 soldiers, whom excavators identified as Normans based on their stature, prominent skulls and slender leg bones, were found on the prominent hillside immediately west of Guildford's centre. They were bound and had been executed. The grave has been dated to c. 1040. Some bore skulls placed between their legs and one skeleton in particular had a neck vertebra sliced by a sword. A coin of Edward the Confessor, Alfred's brother, dating to 1043 – seven years after the mass slaying – was found at the site. An uncultivated sacred site, a small section of the burial ground dated back to the 6th century with more than 20 pagan burials including many women and children, with knives, spears, urns and striking amber beads placed alongside various bodies. In charge of the excavations were Colonel O. H. North and archaeologist A. W. G. Lowther. The later Chronicle suggests that they were the vanguard of Prince Alfred, of whom nine out of ten were killed.
- David Crouch, The Normans: The History of a Dynasty, (Hambledon Continuum, 2002), 51.
- Stenton, F.M. Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Clarendon, 1943, 3rd ed. 1971, p. 409.
- Britain (Narrative 1000-1300), Steven Isaac, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, Vol.1, Ed. Clifford Rogers, (Oxford University Press, 2010), 209.
- Stenton, pp. 422-23.
- Stenton, p. 421.
- "Anglo Saxon burial site in Guildford likely to include gruesome skeletons of Prince Alfred's massacred troops" 22 October 2015 Surrey Advertiser group of newspapers
- Guildford: Guildown Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Exploring Surrey's Past.