King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons

History / Michael Wood

Michael Wood tells the story of King Alfred the Great and his children and grandson, arguing that they were the most important rulers in the history of England –shaping the nation itself, founding cities, establishing law and government and reviving the language and literature that still define the English today. And all this was achieved while waging a life and death struggle against the Vikings.


3 X 60 mins for BBC 4. Director/Producer: Rebecca Dobbs

BBC4 August 2013. Video download available from iTunes

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Ep 1 Alfred of Wessex

Alfred fights a desperate guerrilla war in the marshes of Somerset – burning the cakes on the way- before his decisive victory at Edington. Creating towns, trade and coinage, reviving learning and literacy, Alfred then laid the foundations of a single kingdom of ‘all the English’. Filmed on location from Reading to Rome, using original texts read in Old English, and interviews with leading scholars, Michael Wood describes a man who was ‘not just the greatest Briton, but one of the greatest rulers of any time or place’.

Ep 2 The Lady of the Mercians

Alfred’s children continue the family plan to create a kingdom of all the English. The tale begins with a savage Civil War in a bleak decade of snow and famine, culminating in an epic victory over the Vikings near Wolverhampton in 910. The key figure in this episode is Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed, the ruler of Mercia. Michael Wood recovers her story from a copy of a lost chronicle written in Mercia in her lifetime which in the film we hear read in Old English. One of the great forgotten figures in British history, Aethelflaed led armies, built fortresses, campaigned against the Vikings and was a brilliant diplomat. Her fame spread across the British Isles, beloved by her warriors and her people she was known simply as “the Lady of the Mercians’. Without her, concludes Michael Wood, ‘ England might never have happened’.

Ep 3 Aethelstan: The First King of England

Alfred’s grandson Aethelstan fulfils the family plan and creates a kingdom of all England. Michael Wood tells the tale of Aethelstan’s wars, his learning and his lawmaking. The film shows how he created a national coinage and traces the origin of the English Parliament to the king’s new assembly politics. But there’s also a dark side, with later legends that the king had his brother drowned at sea. In his last desperate struggle, Aethelstan defeated a huge invasion of Vikings and Scots in what became known as the Anglo-Saxon ‘Great War’. Michael Wood argues, Aethelstan was one of the greatest English monarchs, and with his grandfather Alfred, his father Edward and his aunt Aethelflaed, a member of our most remarkable royal family, and ‘even more than the Tudors, the most gifted and influential rulers in British history’.