'England's darling'

The Victorian cult of Alfred the Great

By Joanne Parker

'England's darling'


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-7357-1
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: May 2014
  • BIC Category: History, United Kingdom, Great Britain, European history, PSYCHOLOGY / Creative Ability, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Society & social sciences / History of ideas, Humanities / British & Irish history, Modern History


For much of the nineteenth century, King Alfred was as important as King Arthur in the British popular imagination. A pervasive cult of the King developed which included the erection of at least four public statues, the completion of more than twenty-five paintings, and the publication of over a hundred texts, by authors ranging from Wordsworth to minor women writers. By 1852, J.A. Froude could describe Alfred's life as 'the favourite story in English nurseries'; in 1901, a national holiday marked the thousandth anniversary of his death, organised by a committee including Edward Burne Jones, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hughes.

The book examines the ways in which Alfred was rewritten by nineteenth-century authors and artists, and asks how beliefs about the Saxon king's reign and achievements related to nineteenth-century ideals about leadership, law, religion, commerce, education and the Empire. The book concludes by addressing the most interesting enigma in Alfred's reception history: why is the king no longer 'England's darling'?

A fascinating study that will be enjoyed by scholars of history, cultural history, literature and art history.


1. The day of a thousand years: Alfred and the Victorian mania for commemoration
2. Medievalism, Anglo-Saxonism, and the nineteenth century
3. Turning a king into a hero: nine hundred years of pre-Victorian reinvention
4. The hero as king: Alfred and nineteenth-century politics
5. 'The root and spring of everything we love in church and state': Alfred and Victorian progress
6. 'The most perfect character in history': Alfred and Victorian morality
7. 'Never to be confused with King Arthur': Alfred after Victoria


Joanne Parker is Senior Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Exeter

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