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Title: The Alfred Jewel - An Historical Essay
Author: Earle, John
Language: English
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                           The Alfred Jewel

                               J. EARLE

                          Henry Frowde, M.A.
                Publisher to the University of Oxford
                   London, Edinburgh, and New York


              FRONT                                 BACK


              RIGHT                                 LEFT

                      THE JEWEL IN FOUR ASPECTS

                          The Alfred Jewel:

                         An Historical Essay


                       John Earle, M.A., LL.D.
               Rector of Swanswick, Prebendary of Wells
  Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon in the University of Oxford

                      With Illustrations and Map

                       At the Clarendon Press

                   Printed at the Clarendon Press
                        By Horace Hart, M.A.
                      Printer to the University


It is full fifty years since I began to contemplate the Alfred
Jewel with a wonder and curiosity which became a habit. At length,
in the latter half of that period, the vague attitude of enquiry
began to point in a definite direction, and to exhibit susceptibility
of development suggesting promise of possible discovery. Prompted
by such anticipations, I one day ventured to express a wish to the
Principal of Hertford College that he would exercise his well-known
graphic talent upon the Alfred Jewel, and make some enlarged drawings
of it suitable for a Public Lecture. The result was that he gave
me a beautiful set of coloured drawings of the Jewel in various
aspects admirably calculated for exhibition in the Lecture Room.
Thus equipped, I was able to make the subject more intelligible and
more attractive, and I lectured upon it the oftener. As it has not
been my wont to write my lectures out in full, it was all the more
necessary for me on every new occasion to make a fresh study of the
Jewel. In this recurring process new lights rose at wide intervals of
time, and drew me on to devote more thought to the object and to the
times associated with it; and I found more than I had looked for in
the design, and more (I think) than I should have found, but for the
generous aid so readily extended to me by Dr. Boyd.

It was after such a lecture delivered in May, 1899, that I had the
great and unexpected pleasure of a proposal from the Delegates of the
Press to make a book of it. I was able to accept this proposal without
misgiving, because I was satisfied that I had a solid interpretation
to offer—one which had been slowly matured and scrupulously tested by
every means in my power. All the old theories had come to nothing:
there was not one of them that could be seriously advocated as resting
upon evidence either in history or in common sense and the natural
reason of things. In saying so much as this, I am only accounting for
my readiness to accept the task, and not by any means prejudging the
general verdict upon the validity of my argument. In this argument I
seek to establish the intimate relation of the Jewel with the history
and the mind and the person of Alfred of Wessex, not indeed as a
scientifically demonstrated fact, but as a well-founded and abundantly
supported probability. I have no desire that this conclusion should be
admitted without a complete and rigid scrutiny.

In the carrying out of this undertaking I have received welcome and
much-needed help from many quarters. The subject is one that calls
for illustration by maps and drawings and I desire to express my
sincere acknowledgements to Mr. Alfred A. Clarke of Wells for his four
drawings, among which I will particularly mention his characteristic
landscape of the Isle of Athelney.

The map of Athelney and the lands adjacent is very ingeniously devised
for exhibiting the contrast between the low level of the moorland
and the contours of the rising country around; it is expressive and
intelligible at a glance: and for this excellent illustration my
acknowledgements are due to Mr. Bernhard V. Darbishire.

My hearty thanks are due to Mr. Charles H. Read of the British Museum
for the ample information he kindly afforded me concerning the gold
rings of the Saxon period which are in his department. Also for the
permission which he gave (as Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries)
to transfer to these pages their engraving from the Book of Kells, and
also their three figures of the gold ring of queen Æthelswith.

To those gentlemen of Somerset who have aided me with local
information and hospitality and personal guidance, I have good cause
to be always grateful. Major Barrett, junior, of Moredon, the owner
of the Isle of Athelney, took me over the ground in a manner that is
very agreeable to remember, and caused me to see the historical sites
of his country with every advantage. It was under his auspices that I
first realized the full import of Alfred’s fort at Borough Bridge, and
what a speaking object-lesson it certainly is. I had seen it in 1856,
but I had not adequately appreciated it.

From Mr. Cely Trevelian of Midelney Place I learnt much that was
useful to me concerning the history and present conditions of the
moorlands of Somerset. He was my hospitable friend and companion over
the country on either side of the Parrett in the circle of Langport,
and from that to Borough Bridge. Under his guidance I revisited
Aller (pronounced Oller), and renewed acquaintance with its sacred
associations, after an interval of forty-four years. In 1856 I was
conducted by an old Oriel friend who was my host, the Rev. James
Coleman, then Curate of the parish in which Athelney is situated; he
subsequently became Vicar of Cheddar and Prebendary of Wells. When I
entered upon the present work, after so long an interval, it was with
Mr. Coleman that I began to make enquiries for local information.

To Sir Alexander Acland Hood I am indebted for genealogical and
topographical information, and particularly for some new light on
the history of the Jewel, now for the first time made public. The
statement in the manuscript of Mr. Thomas Palmer, which is preserved
at Fairfield, that the Jewel was ‘dug up,’ is a new item in the
circumstances of the discovery, to which I attach important evidential

I have also to thank Sir Cuthbert Slade of Maunsel, for his courtesy
in answering my enquiries, genealogical and territorial, concerning
the Slade family.

On Mr. C. F. Bell, the Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, I
chiefly depended for help in that part of my subject where I was most
wanting, namely in the technicalities of ancient art, and especially
concerning enamels.

To my friend Dr. Shadwell my obligations are not the less but the
greater for that they are somewhat indefinable. He has read through
the proofs, and has given me valuable suggestions, and he has always
been ready to help when I needed advice.

For me this trinket has assumed the proportions of a serious
historical problem, and its investigation has been rewarded with
new light in many directions, and I do not think I shall regret the
time spent upon it, even though my conclusions should hereafter be
modified or even refuted. I hold that, apart from the conclusions, the
investigation itself was worth the while, but when I say this I am
not to be understood as admitting that I have little confidence in my

In putting forth this Essay, I desire to convince the reader only
as fully as I am convinced myself, that is to say, with a conviction
which makes no claim to finality, but lies open to correction in case
of new light or better use of old data; yet which nevertheless, in the
mean time and for the main issues of the enquiry, reaches a degree of
probability whereby all doubt and uncertainty is practically excluded.

                                                                J. E.

                          TABLE OF CONTENTS

                              CHAPTER I
  DESCRIPTION OF THE ALFRED JEWEL                                   1–9

    The place of its deposit                                          1
    Structural details of the Jewel                                   2
    The name of Alfred upon it                                        4
    Question what this name imports                               _id._
    Other persons bearing this name                                   5
    The perfection of the Jewel suggested doubt                       7
    The firm judgement of Dr. George Hickes                           8
    Nevertheless, the question must be kept in view
      throughout this Essay                                           9

                              CHAPTER II

  THE EPIGRAPH OR LEGEND                                          10–21

    The forms of the lettering                                       10
    The Syntax of the Sentence:                                      12
      (1) as to collocation                                          13
      (2) usage of words                                          _id._
      (3) flexional construction                                     15
      (4) active and passive structure                               16
    Other time-indications in the Epigraph                           17
    Quotation from Alfred’s Prologue to his _Pastoralis_             19
    Similarity between the Prologue and the Epigraph                 21

                             CHAPTER III


    The Epoch of the Discovery—The Royal Society                     22
    The persons who first were conversant with the new-found
      object—Colonel Nathaniel Palmer                                23
    Dr. Hans Sloane—The British Museum                               24
    Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford                           _id._
    First published notice of the Jewel—Dr. William
      Musgrave                                                       25
    Hickes’s _Thesaurus_                                          _id._
    Variety of opinions about the Jewel                           _id._
    Francis Wise—Samuel Pegge                                        27
    Mr. Philip Duncan                                                28
    St. Neot and St. Cuthbert                                        29
    Abortiveness of these attempts                                   30

                              CHAPTER IV

  BISHOP CLIFFORD’S THEORY                                        31–43

    Bishop Clifford                                                  31
    The handle of a choirmaster’s wand                               32
    Identical with the ‘æstel’?                                      34
    Given by Alfred to Athelney Abbey and there kept
      to Henry VIII’s time                                           35
    This theory inapplicable to the Jewel                            37
    But perhaps applicable to the ‘æstel’                            41
    Theory of sceptre-tip                                            42

                              CHAPTER V

  A JEWEL IN THE CROWN                                            44–50

    Form convenient for erection in the helmet                       44
    Transforms the helmet into a Coronet                             45
    The minor jewel from Minster Lovel                               46
    Dr. Wilson and Dr. Griffiths                                     48
    Quotations from Beowulf and Laȝamon                              49
    The Crown of Queen Victoria                                      50

                              CHAPTER VI

  THE BOAR’S HEAD                                                 51–60

    Diversity of opinion about the animal’s head                     51
    Testimony undesigned                                             52
    The wild boar in the helmet                                   _id._
    Quotations from the _Beowulf_                                53 ff.
    The Boar’s Head at Queen’s College, Oxford                       57
    Religious origin of the Boar’s Head as a Crest                   59

                             CHAPTER VII


    Our Chief Problem is ‘A figure hard to characterize’             61
    Division of this Chapter                                         62
    Enamelling as an artistic industry                            _id._
    Enamel _cloisonnée_                                              63
    Chief extant specimens according to M. Labarte               64 ff.
    The Enamelled Ouche of Mr. Roach Smith                           68
    Enamel _champlevée_                                           _id._
    Obscurity of the history of enamelling                           69
    Philostratus                                                     70
    Enamelled horse-gear                                             71
    The Symbolism of the _icuncula_ and its Source                   74
    The _Book of Kells_                                           76 f.
    Relations of Alfred with Irish travellers                        78
    The Tufa                                                         79
    Evidence for the Enamel’s being an insular product               80
    Allegorical engraving on the back-plate                          81
    Dualistic theory of Sir Francis Palgrave                         83
    The brothers John and Philip Duncan                              84
    Unity of thought in the Jewel                                    86
    Alfred’s Epilogue to his _Pastoralis_                        87 ff.
    Summary of this Chapter                                          90

                             CHAPTER VIII

  ALFRED IN SOMERSET BEYOND PEDRIDA                              92–132

    The central episode of Alfred’s career                           92
    Suddenness of the surprize at Chippenham                         94
    Apprehension of attack on north coast of Wealcyn                 95
    Alhstan, bishop of Sherborne                                     96
    Meditations of king Alfred                                    _id._
    Danish invasion of Wessex                                        97
    Placable temper of the West Welsh                                98
    Hostility of the ‘North Welsh’                                _id._
    Alfred’s disguise                                             99 f.
    The Jewel must be buried                                        100
    Selwood                                                         101
    Story of Denewulf                                             _id._
    Hingston Down                                                   102
    The Danes in Exeter                                           _id._
    The Danes at Cynwit                                             103
    The political import of Pedrida                              104 f.
    Selwoodshire                                                    105
    The Transpedridan dialect                                       106
    The Devonian ‘u’                                                107
    The Pixies                                                      108
    Somerset in Alfred’s day                                        109
    Subsidence of the land                                       110 f.
    Elm-trees                                                       112
    Red Deer                                                        113
    Leland’s _Itinerary_                                            115
    Etymology of ‘Pedrida’                                          117
    British policy of Wessex                                   _id._ f.
    Aldhelm’s letter to Gerontius                                   119
    His little church at Bradford-on-Avon                           120
    Associations of Glastonbury                               _id._ ff.
    Asser’s _Life of Alfred_                                        124
    The Fort at Athelney                                            128
    Brixton Deveril                                                 129
    The buried Jewel not recovered                                  130
    The Peiwar Kotal (1878)                                         131
    ‘What follows is like a dream’                                  132

                              CHAPTER IX

  NEWTON PARK AND FAIRFIELD HOUSE                               133–145

    ‘Newton Park’                                                   133
    Ælfric, archbishop of Canterbury                                134
    The Forest of North Petherton                                 _id._
    Three co-heiresses                                              135
    The Perambulation of the Forests                              _id._
    Gefferey Chaucer                                                136
    The improvements of Sir Thomas Wrothe                           137
    A surmise about the Manor of Newton                             138
    Petherton Park                                                  139
    The parish of Stogursey                                       _id._
    Fairfield House                                                 140
    ‘Always a Vernai at Fairfield’                                  142
    The Palmer family                                             _id._
    Nathaniel Palmer                                                144
    Thomas Palmer                                                 _id._
    Two co-heiresses                                                145

                              CHAPTER X

  GOLD RINGS CONTEMPORANEOUS                                    146–156

    The Enamelled Ouche of Mr. Roach Smith                          146
    The Ring of Alhstan                                             147
    The place of its discovery                                      148
    The Ring of Alfred’s father                                     149
    The place and manner of its discovery                           150
    The Ring of Alfred’s sister                                     151
    The manner of its discovery                                     153
    The Ring of Æthred                                              154
    Runes intermixed with Roman lettering                           155
    The artist bears a Saxon name                                   156

                              CHAPTER XI

  SOME CLOSING REFLECTIONS                                      157–174

    Fine workmanship no longer an objection                         157
    Early cumulation of evidence                                    158
    Evidence added since                                          _id._
    Rejected theories                                               159
    The Cynehelm theory                                           _id._
    The unity of the work makes for Alfred of Wessex                160
    Outline of the Symbolism                                      _id._
    My surprize at the latent meanings                              161
    The fondness of king Alfred for imagery                   _id._ ff.
    The Simile of the Waggon                                        163
    The Jewel illustrated by the Writings of king Alfred            165
    The Jewel probably records a Crisis                             166
    At what Epoch designed?                                       _id._
    Double process of investigation                                 167
    Date of Alfred’s return from Rome                            170 f.
    The nature of Probable Evidence                             172 ff.
    Conclusions from the above data                                 174


  APPENDIX A. The First published Notice of the Alfred Jewel
      (to pp. 25 and 144)                                           175

  APPENDIX B. St. Neot and St. Cuthbert (to pp. 29 and 74)          177

  APPENDIX C. The Two-sceptered Figure in the _Book of Kells_
      (to p. 78)                                                    181

  APPENDIX D. The British Origin of the Enamelled Figure
      (to p. 91)                                                    184

  APPENDIX E. Athelney Abbey (to p. 115)                            189

  APPENDIX F. North Newton Church (to p. 139)                       192

  APPENDIX G. The Presentation of the Alfred Jewel to the
      University of Oxford (to pp. 140 and 145)                     194

                        LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
  The Alfred Jewel in four aspects, with separate Figure of
      Enamel                                             _Frontispiece_
  The Inscription on the Jewel                                        1
  The Minster Lovel Jewel                                 _to face_  47
  Illumination from the _Book of Kells_                         ”    77
  The Isle of Athelney                                          ”    92
  Fairfield House                                                   141
  Inscription on the Ring of Æthelwulf                              149
  The Ring of Æthelwulf                                             150
  The Ring of Queen Æthelswith, the bezil                           151
  Inscription within the Ring of Queen Æthelswith                   152
  The Ring of Queen Æthelswith showing niello                       153
  Inscription on Æðred’s Ring                                       154
  The Jewel, Front and Back                               _to face_ 174
  Sculptured Bosses found at Athelney Abbey                    189, 191
  Tower of North Newton Church                            _to face_ 192
  Map of the Isle of Athelney                                  _At end_

                           THE ALFRED JEWEL

                              CHAPTER I


The subject of this Essay is preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, which
has been its home for a period of time now approaching two hundred
years. It is there installed under glass in such a manner that every
side of it is plainly exhibited to the eye of the visitor. It bears an
inscription in conspicuous lettering which sets forth that by Alfred’s
order it was made, and this is the ground upon which it is known as


The Alfred Jewel has been compared to a battledore, not untruly
for the matter of shape; but the wide diversity of size makes the
comparison seem incongruous. The extreme length of the Jewel is a very
small fraction under two inches and a half; its greatest width is just
one inch and a fifth; its thickness barely half an inch.

It contains a sitting Figure enamelled on a plate of gold which is
protected in front by a slab of rock crystal, and at the back by
a gold plate engraved; the whole enshrined in a golden frame of
delicately executed filigree work. The picture is visible through the
rock crystal, making the obverse of the Jewel; while the reverse is
formed by the gold plate which is at the back of the enamelled plate.
Upon this gold plate is engraved an allegorical design. Both these
surfaces (obverse and reverse) are flat, but in every other part of
the Jewel the surface is rounded.

The rounded contours may be likened to those of a pigeon’s egg. If we
imagine a longitudinal section of a pigeon’s egg, the engraved plate
at the back of the picture will correspond to the plane of the egg’s
diameter. From this plane, if we measure three-quarters of an inch in
the girth of the egg, and then take another section parallel to the
gold plate at the back, we obtain the front surface of the crystal,
through which the Enamel is visible.

The effect of this arrangement is, that the sides all round the Jewel
are curved and sloping, and that the obverse is of more contracted
area than the reverse, and also that the measurement of the sloping
side exceeds that of the thickness. The head of the sitting Figure
occupies the broad end of the oval section; the smaller end is
prolonged, and is fashioned like the head of a wild boar on the
obverse, but the reverse of this head is flat and covered with
fish-like scales.

The snout is projected in the form of a socket adapted to receive a
peg or stem; athwart this socket is a cross-pin, having a head at
one of its ends, while the other end is riveted. This indicates that
the Jewel was furnished with a stem which has perished, and which,
therefore, was not metallic, but of some organic material, perhaps
walrus ivory. Around the sloping sides runs a legend:

                     ✠ AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN
                        _Alfred me ordered make_

and this legend starts from the narrowest point of the oval, beginning
on the right-hand side and running round to the corresponding point
on the left, so that it encircles the oval completely, running in the
contrary direction to that with which we are familiar in our coins,
which are read from left to right, as indeed were also the coins of
the ninth century.

Some have doubted whether the owner of the Jewel was the famous
Alfred of Wessex. It has been urged that the name of ÆLFRED in the
Epigraph is not of itself adequate proof of the fact, and it must be
admitted that this is literally true. And it is not superfluous to
point out the inconsequence of such reasoning, for it has actually
been advanced in serious argument. Samuel Pegge, an antiquary
of repute, wrote in _Archæologia_ ii as if there had been but
one eminent person of the name of Alfred:—‘There is no doubt but
this κϵιµήλιον was once the property of the great King Ælfred,
notwithstanding the goodness of the work which has been an objection
to its authenticity; for the king’s name is expressly mentioned in
the inscription.’ There were many persons of that name in the course
of the Saxon period, and the name was not confined to men born
after his time, for there were persons of this name who were men of
mark among his contemporaries, one of whom (to say the least) was
certainly his senior.

When Swithun died, in 862 (in Alfred’s fourteenth year), his successor
in the See of Winchester was named ÆLFRED.

A contemporary of position and intelligence and of great wealth was
that ÆLFRED who redeemed from heathen hands a noble volume of the
Gospels, and conveyed it by a solemn deed of gift in his own name and
that of his wife to the brotherhood of Christ Church, Canterbury[1].
That volume is the _Codex Aureus_, which is now in the Royal Library
at Stockholm. The Will of this Alfred, who in the course of that
document styles himself ‘Elfred dux,’ is one of the most precious
relics of Saxon antiquity[2].

A few years after the king’s death, the Chronicle records, in 906, the
death of an Alfred, who was Reeve of Bath.

It has been argued that with such facts before us the ownership of
the Alfred Jewel must be a matter of uncertainty, for we only know
that it was ordered by a person of the name of Alfred. Such arguments
may sometimes be heard from persons whose opinions are entitled to
respect, but I am not aware that any one has undertaken to reason
out and maintain this view in a published writing. And perhaps if
we attend well to the whole of the evidence, we shall see no cause
to marvel at the unanimity of authors in accepting this Jewel as a
personal possession of king Alfred’s, and (in some measure, diversely
estimated) as a product of his own artistic design.

It is not the name by itself, but this name taken in connexion with
the richness and costliness of the work, with the thoughtful ingenuity
of its device and composition, and with the symbolic meanings which
must be assigned to certain parts of the structure;—such evidences as
these, again combined with certain external evidences, namely, the
locality in which the Jewel was found, and any affinities apparent
in the above data with the career or exploits of the king, or with
his character and tastes,—when the ownership is questioned, we find
ourselves face to face with an accumulation of evidence varying in
quality and requiring to be judged by the delicate and sensitive
standard of probability. In presence of such a problem we should
not neglect the impressions and expressed opinions of persons whose
instincts have been cultivated in the sphere of such probabilities.

George Hickes, in 1705, mentions some doubting critics, whose
difficulty lay in the beauty and perfection of the work. They could
not understand how such artistic work could proceed from Anglo-Saxon
artists in the ninth century. But for himself, he added, the mere
sight of the Jewel had been enough, and that from his first view of it
he had never doubted that it was a personal possession of the great
king Alfred[3].

When an elaborate piece of workmanship like the Alfred Jewel is
presented to the experienced mind and practised eye of a man like
Hickes, the evidence is rapidly, almost unconsciously, sifted, and
the probabilities converge to a focus, so as to produce a conviction
which seems like a simple apprehension of the senses. I welcome
Hickes’s expression of confidence as a confirmation of that which I
have experienced myself. But while I am entirely free from uncertainty
I quite recognize the reasonableness of the doubt, and I know that
(logically speaking) the uncertainty is there. And I know also that
many of my readers will entertain it and will look more or less
dubiously upon the assumption of certainty in this matter. And,
indeed, there is a certain advantage in having to reckon with this
sceptical attitude of mind, insomuch as the presence of doubt has a
stimulating effect in furnishing the discourse with a determinate aim
and direction. It will set me on the alert, that I may not miss any
incidental chance of a reflection tending to assure those who would
be gratified to think that we do indeed possess a relic intimately
associated with the person, and with the mind, of ALFRED, KING OF

  [1] This remarkable document begins thus:—✠ In nomine domini nostri
  Ihesu Christi. Ic ÆLFRED aldormon and Werburg min gefera begetan
  ðas béc æt hæðnum herge mid uncre clæne feó ðæt ðoune wæs mid clæne
  golde, and ðæt wit deodan for Godes lufan and for uncre saule
  ðearf ond forðon ðe wit noldan ðæt ðas halgan beoc lencg in ðære
  hæðenesse wunaden. ‘✠ In the name of our Lord Jesu Christ. I Alfred
  alderman and Werburg my consort purchased these books at a heathen
  host with our clean money, that is to say with clean gold; and that
  we two did for God’s love and for the benefit of our souls, and
  for that we would not that these holy books should longer lie in
  hethenesse.’ Birch, _Cartularium Saxonicum_, No. 634.

  [2] Kemble, _Codex Diplomaticus_, No. 317; Birch, _Cartularium
  Saxonicum_, No. 558; Earle, _Land Charters_, p. 152.

  [3] ‘Quoad opificium autem, tam elegans quidem id est et perfectum,
  ut eius antiquitatem in dubium vocandi doctis nonnullis occasionem
  dederit, etsi _Ælfredi_ regis hoc olim fuisse peculium, ex quo
  primum vidi, nunquam dubitavi.’ _Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium
  Thesaurus_, vol. i, p. 144.

                              CHAPTER II

                        THE EPIGRAPH OR LEGEND

We must now consider and see what we can learn from the Epigraph. This
was the cue whereby Hickes introduced the Jewel into the argument of
his _Dissertatio Epistolaris_, and there gave us the cream of the
discussions which had been developed in the space of twelve years from
the discovery. Observing that in a Saxon inscription which Dr. Hans
Sloane had communicated to the _Philosophical Transactions_ (No. 247)
only two letters of Anglo-Saxon form occurred, the C and the G, he
proceeded to describe and discuss the Jewel in all the points of view
which up to that time had occupied the attention of the curious. The
forms to which he adverted were the angular C and G, which however are
rather Epigraphic than Saxonic forms. These square letters occur (as
Mr. Falconer Madan informs me) in the inscriptions of the sixth and
seventh centuries in Gaul, Spain, and Britain. Hickes added that all
the other letters of the Epigraph were in ordinary Roman characters[4]:

                      AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN

In fact there was only one place where a distinctly Saxon character
might have come in, namely in the place of the W, which instead of the
Runic Wên (ƿ) is composed of two Roman V’s. There is no place for
the Runic Thorn (þ).

He had been pursuing an argument, of which the aim was to show that
from the time of Alfred the characteristic features of Anglo-Saxon
writing were less used, being superseded by Gallic or Italic forms.
He attributes the change to the teachers which the king had drawn
from Gaul. That such a change was taking place in Alfred’s time is
quite manifest, but its beginnings were further back; the taste for
Frankish fashions having been introduced by his grandfather Ecgberht,
who had passed years of exile at the Court of Charlemagne. Doubtless
the movement grew under the influence of Alfred, who not only had
visited Rome, but in all probability had resided there for some years.

If now passing from the alphabetic characters we consider the syntax
of this sentence, we shall find that it varies so widely from our
habits of speech at the present time as to furnish something like
a measure of the intervening period, and as it were to render some
account of the lapse of a thousand years. Let us begin by translating
the sentence verbally with the minimum of change, retaining the
selfsame words in their modern guise. On this plan the sentence will
run thus: ‘Alfred me hight work;’ where the baldness of the diction
exhibits roughly the gulf there is between this Epigraph and our
present usage. Each word is English, but the sentence is far from
being so. This great contrast is the result of a combination of
causes, and it may be resolved into four chief movements which have
slowly operated during the long interval.

(1) A change has taken place in the collocation of words in forming
a sentence. The governed pronoun stands in a place where it is now
inadmissible: the present habit of the language requires that the
pronoun ‘me’ should come in after its governing verb. If we make this
change, we shall see that the sentence will become a trifle more like
English, thus: ‘Alfred hight work me.’

(2) Another movement is that which in process of time takes place
in the usage of words. There is a fashion in the choice of words
for the clothing of our ideas, and that fashion changes sometimes
capriciously and fitfully, but for the most part so slowly
and gradually that it takes an era of time to make the change
conspicuous. Words are liable to this kind of alteration in various
degrees, and this inequality of change is observable even in a
sentence of four words. The verb HEHT, _hight_, has undergone so
great a change of sense that to the general reader it is apt to be
unintelligible[5]. But while this verb has altered greatly, the verb
‘work’ has altered little. Still, it has altered, and it is no longer
the right word for its place.

The remaining two words have in usage undergone no change at all. The
pronoun MEC has suffered alteration in form by dropping a consonant,
but it is absolutely unchanged in its application. Indeed, it may
be stated as a general law, that pronouns as a class are among the
slowest of words to admit semantic change.

Nevertheless there is a group of words which are still more
unchangeable in signification, and these are the Proper Nouns.
External changes of form they do admit, but not the internal change
of sense. The name ÆLFRED is the form prevalent on the coinage of
his reign, but there are variations, thus: ÆLFRED, ÆLBRED, ELFRED,
ELFERED; and there is the form ALFRED, which has become established in
modern English in consequence of the fact that our earliest popular
histories of the king were derived from Latin books, in which language
his name was commonly spelt ALFREDUS. But whatever changes may pass
over the visible representation of the word, there is no alteration
possible in the relation between this word and the memory of that
royal person whose proper name it was.

If now we remove the words that have suffered a semantic change, and
substitute those which at the present time seem most natural, the
sentence will take this form: ‘Alfred ordered make me;’ and thus it
approaches another step towards the present manner of our speech.

(3) The third movement to be noticed is that from the flexional to
the phrasal method of syntax. The word GEWYRCAN is a flexional verb,
the last syllable, -AN, being the sign of the infinitive mood, and
indicating the syntactical function of that word in the sentence. By
slow degrees this method of syntax fell out of use, and another way
came up of expressing the same function. Instead of the syllable -AN
at the end of the verb, a little word, ‘to,’ was set before the verb,
with the same effect of expressing the infinitive mood. If now we
add this change to the other modifications of our sentence, we shall
bring it considerably nearer to current speech, thus: ‘Alfred ordered
to make me.’ But still it wants something to reduce it into the shape
which we can recognize as modern English.

(4) The fourth and last change which we must note in the habits of our
speech is the great extension of the passive verb, and particularly
in the infinitive mood. Many infinitive phrases which were once cast
in the Active have been changed to the Passive, and a lingering
survival of the active formula may be observed to have a peculiar and
exceptional air. We feel this in the phrase, ‘The reason is not far to
seek.’ A more familiar example may be seen on the boards of the house
agents. Some of these boards say ‘House to let,’ while others prefer
‘House to be let,’—the one is homely and native English, the other is
modish and reminds us of the schoolmaster. The same authority will
guide us to bring our Legend up to date, and stamp our version with
the mint of the nineteenth century, thus: ‘Alfred ordered me to be

In the above analysis it has been necessary to depart in some
measure from the course of nature by exhibiting in succession a group
of changes which are due to processes more or less simultaneous.
This accumulation of gradual changes furnishes a measure, partly
scientific, partly sentimental, of the wide interval that separates
us from the time when this Epigraph was curiously woven in golden
filigree by the lucky artist who executed the design of the ingenious

But the Epigraph has time-indications which are closer and more
definite. There are features which, besides telling of the lapse of
time, do also in some sense indicate the point of time; features in
virtue of which this Legend may be said to suggest proximately its own
date. The two words ‘MEC HEHT’ are archaic forms, the one of which is
never, and the other rarely, found in the prose of the tenth century;
indeed they were both archaic in the ninth. MEC had given place to
ME, and (though less absolutely) HEHT to HÊT; but the older forms
were still at the service of the poet, and Epigraphy has some share
in poetic privilege. Indeed it would seem that in the time of Alfred
MEC was consciously used as an archaic curiosity. There is a gold ring
which I take to be contemporaneous with our Jewel, and it bears an
English inscription in which MEC occurs twice. It will be described

It would be too much to say that the forms MEC HEHT convey a definite
date, but they certainly fit well with the time of Alfred, and (but
for that vague licence of Epigraphy) they might even be said to
suggest the ninth century as the latest probable date of a work with
which they are identified.

It is worthy of notice that HEHT occurs in another piece of Alfred’s
inditing, which I will introduce here not only for the sake of the old
reduplicative verb, but also because the passage is germane to the
argument, and imports an illustration of a comprehensive kind. The
king prefixed to his version of Gregory’s _Pastoral Care_ a preface
in prose and a prologue in verse. The prose preface was about the
main purpose of his work; the poetical prologue dealt with literary
matters, the authority of his text, the history of his copy, the
manner of his own literary operation. It is this poetical and literary
Prologue which I here quote:

  Þis ærendgewrit                     This Epistle
      Agustinus                           Augustine
  ofer sealtne sæ                     over salt sea
      suan brohte                         brought from the south
  ieg-buendum,                        to us island-dwellers,
      swa hit ær fore                     just as it erst
  adihtode                            indited had been
      drihtnes cempa                      by Christ’s doughty champion
  Rome papa.                          the pontiff of Rome.
      Ryhtspell monig                     Much rightful discourse
  Gregorius gleawmôd                  did Gregory’s glowing wit
      gind wôd                            give forth apace
  ðurh sefan snyttro,                 with skilful soul,
      searoðonca hord.                    a hoard of studious thought.

  Forðæm he monncynnes                Wherefore he of mankind
      mæst gestriende                     converted the most
  rodra wearde:                       to the Ruler of heaven:
      Romwara betest,                     he of Romans the best,
  monna môdwelegost,                  of men the most mind-rich,
      mærðum gefrægost.                   and widest admired.

  Siððan min on Englisc               At length into English
      Ælfred kyning                       Alfred the king
  awende worda gehwelc,               every word of me wended,
      and me his writerum                 and me to his writers
  sende suð and norð;                 south and north he did send;
      heht him swelcra ma                 more ordered of such
  brengan bi ðære bisene,             by the copy to bring,
      ðæt he his biscepum                 that he to his bishops
  sendan meahte:                      might be able to send:
      forðæm hi his sume ðorften,         for some of them needed it,
  ða ðe Lædenspræce                   such as of Latin
      læste cûðon.                        very little did know.

In the last six lines of this little poem a new attitude is taken up;
the book itself becomes the speaker, and sets forth how ÆLFRED was
the translator, how he ordered (HEHT) more copies of his translation
to be made, and for what purpose. In mentioning purpose, the prologue
communicates something beyond the Legend, which leaves the purpose and
signification of the design shrouded in symbolism. But for the rest,
if we analyze these six lines, we shall find the heart and core of
them to be essentially identical with the Legend on the Jewel—

                      AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN

  [4] ‘Saxonici ductus duas tantum literas habet, C et G.’
  _Thesaurus_, vol. i, p. 142.

  [5] This is briefly explained in my _English Philology_, § 270.

  [6] Chapter x.

                             CHAPTER III


The finding of the Alfred Jewel chanced upon a remarkable time in the
intellectual life of the English nation. It was the time of Dryden,
Defoe, Swift, Christopher Wren, Bentley, Lord Somers, Sir Isaac
Newton, Addison. In literature the coming man was Alexander Pope.

The cardinal event of that period was the institution of the Royal
Society in 1660, the year of the Restoration. The most conspicuous
bent of the intellectual world was in the direction of physical
science, and ‘the great work of interpreting nature was performed
by the English of that age as it had never before been performed in
any age by any nation[7].’ This was the period in which a national
Observatory was established at Greenwich (1676). To this period belong
the chemical discoveries of Boyle, the botanical researches of Sloane,
and the classifications of Ray. In every department of knowledge
enquiry was roused, and with it the genius of theory, whose movements
were sometimes hasty and erratic. But this tendency was gradually
counteracted by the deepening conviction that sound knowledge must
be based on careful observation, and the need of museums began to
be recognized. The Ashmolean Museum was built by the University of
Oxford, in 1683, to receive Elias Ashmole’s collection of curiosities,
the formation of which had originated with the Tradescants. The
architect was Sir Christopher Wren. Altogether it was a time of new
ideas and new institutions.

When the Jewel was found, in 1693, it fell into the hands of persons
who belonged both socially and intellectually to the foremost ranks.
The first recorded owner was Colonel Nathaniel Palmer, of Fairfield
House, in the region of the Quantocks. Of this house and this family
some particulars will be related in the ninth chapter.

The first notice of the Jewel was published by Dr. Hans Sloane,
a Fellow of the Royal Society, eminent as physician, natural
philosopher, and antiquarian. He was elected Secretary of that Society
in 1693, the year in which the Jewel was found. Whether by reason of
the new cloud of political and religious trouble which brooded over
the land in the latter years of James II, or from whatever cause, so
it was that the _Philosophical Transactions_ had been suspended for
the past six years, and they were resuscitated by the new Secretary,
who was himself an active contributor. This remarkable man lived to a
great age, and when he died, in 1752, in his ninety-second year, his
museum was bought by the Government, and this purchase was the origin
of the British Museum; for until the middle of the eighteenth century
the idea of a national library and museum had never been entertained
in England.

The same Act of Parliament (26 Geo. II) which directed the purchase
of the Sloane museum also directed the purchase of the Harleian
collection of manuscripts which had been made by Robert Harley, first
Earl of Oxford, whose name is also memorable in the study of the
Alfred Jewel; for it was from an engraving furnished by Robert Harley,
and made from a drawing of his own, that the first of the three
figures in Hickes’s _Dissertatio Epistolaris_ was printed.

The first published notice of the Jewel appeared in the _Philosophical
Transactions_ (No. 247 in 1698), and it was contributed by Dr. William
Musgrave, Fellow of New College, physician in London, and an active
member of the Royal Society, and author (1709) of _Antiquitates
Britanno-Belgicæ_. He also contributed to Hickes’s _Thesaurus_ the
second and third figures of the Jewel which are there engraved[8].

These were the eminent persons who prepared the material for the
elaborate account which Hickes (1705) gave of the Alfred Jewel in the
first volume of his _Thesaurus_. For the minutiæ of the description he
was particularly indebted to Harley and Musgrave, who appear to have
been occasional visitors at Fairfield House.

The first impression which prevailed as to its design and use was
that it might be an amulet. This was Dr. Musgrave’s first opinion.
But afterwards he followed Hickes in supposing it was a pendant to a
chain or collar of state, and Hickes even says (but here he must be
simply repeating the expressions of his informants) that the cross-pin
in the socket seems adapted to such a use.

The boar’s snout is developed into a tubular ending which furnishes
a socket with a cross-pin, manifestly asking a peg or (as artisans
speak) a stert; and when this observation was maturely appreciated,
it generated two inferences: (1) that there was no provision for
attachment answering to the above theory; and (2) that in the position
imagined, the picture would hang upside down.

These criticisms opened the way for new observations and new
conjectures. The antiquary Hearne interpreted the Jewel as if it
were designed to be fixed at the extremity of a roller on which a
manuscript was rolled, as a suitable ornament for some ceremonious
presentation. But this hypothesis neglected the fact that the Jewel is
made with an obverse and a reverse, a front and a back, which renders
it quite unfit for such a position as Hearne had assigned to it.

By Francis Wise and Samuel Pegge, chief antiquarians of the eighteenth
century, it was imagined that our Jewel might have adorned the top of
a stilus or ancient pen for writing upon a waxen tablet. In refutation
of this theory it sufficed to observe how awkward and unwieldy an
ornament it would prove to the penman.

Nevertheless, this idea had a career, winning a momentary plausibility
from the assumption that Alfred’s ‘æstel’ was a stylus. In
_Archæologia_ ii there is a letter signed ‘S. Pegge,’ from which I
extract the following:—

‘It is not certainly known to what use this valuable curiosity ...
might be put: but among other conjectures Mr. Wise imagines, and
very probably, it might have been the handle of a stylus. And if
one should say it was one of those styli which the king sent along
with his translation of Gregory’s _Pastoral_, it would be no great
absurdity.... It may here be alleged that the king sent his present
to the cathedral churches: but, with submission, this does not imply
that he might not also send the like to the two monasteries of his
own foundation, this of Athelney and the other at Shaftesbury; it is
most probable he would send a book and a stylus to both those places,
and if he did, this jewel in my opinion bids fair to be the handle or
upper part of the stylus which was presented by him to the House of
Athelney where it was found.’

Collinson, the historian of Somersetshire (1791), in a passage to
be quoted below (chapter ix), designates it an amulet, and this was
probably the way in which it was usually regarded in the eighteenth
century. To this Pegge (in the article cited above) objected as
follows: ‘Dr. Musgrave once thought it might be an Amulet, but Alfred
never ran (that we know of) into such vanities.’

Passing now to the nineteenth century, Mr. Philip Duncan, in his
Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum, advanced the theory that it might
have been mounted on the top of a staff (after the manner of a Roman
eagle), and that it was carried into battle as a standard to animate
the courage of warriors. This exquisite bijou, of materials so brittle
as enamel and crystal, cased in a delicate web of golden filigree,
looks strangely inappropriate for the fury of battle and the
interchange of hard knocks.

And indeed this theory was never suggested to its author by the reason
or probability of the thing, but by certain texts which at that time
were in better esteem than they are now, especially the hagiography of
St. Neot, wherein it was said of this saint that he went before the
king in war, carrying a palm and guiding him to victory, to all which
the palm-bearing figure in the Enamel seemed to correspond. And this
also explains why that figure was supposed to represent St. Neot.

In like manner, Hickes was carried away by a passage in pseudo-Ingulph
to abandon his first and best interpretation of the enamelled Figure,
and to adopt the idea that it may have been intended to represent St.

All these speculations on the design and use of the Jewel are
unsatisfactory and, considering the eminence and ability of the
propounders, strangely poor in the craft of interpretation. If this
surprizes us in an age when the minds of men were so much awakened, we
should remember that the new movement was chiefly in the direction of
physical science, and that little progress had as yet been made in the
analysis of human history and the science of historical criticism.

From these abortive attempts at interpretation, we gather that this
singularly elaborate phenomenon of a Jewel had the effect of setting
curiosity and imagination awork in the minds of those who contemplated
it, and that some theory, however precipitate, became a sort of
necessity. To this category must be added a more recent conjecture,
which, as it proceeded from a highly honoured source, as it was
persistently and circumstantially argued out, and as it has been
widely accepted, demands a chapter by itself.

  [7] Macaulay, _History_, c. iii.

  [8] Appendix A.

  [9] Appendix B.

                              CHAPTER IV

                     BISHOP CLIFFORD’S THEORY[10]

The theories about the Alfred Jewel which have been noticed hitherto,
belong to the crude attempts at interpretation which were evoked
by the surprize of the strange discovery in the last decade of the
seventeenth century. We come now to a new theory which was broached in
our own time by Bishop Clifford, in his Inaugural Address as President
of the Somersetshire Archæological Society in 1877, when the Annual
Meeting of that Society was held at Bridgwater.

This theory demands a fuller attention than any of the foregoing,
first, because it bears manifest tokens of maturer thought, but
further, because there is much curious material woven into its fabric,
which gives it independent value. If only for the single fact that
it introduces a new explanation of the problematic ‘æstel,’ it ought
to quicken the interest of every reader. It will be better on all
accounts that the ideas of the author be presented in his own words:

  Amongst the articles of church furniture used in the middle ages,
  frequent mention is made of ‘Baculi Cantorum,’ or choir staves.
  In the year 1222 there were eight such staves in the treasury of
  Salisbury Cathedral. ‘The staves at Canterbury Cathedral (writes Dr.
  Rock, _Church of our Fathers_, vol. ii) were as rich as they were
  curious, in the year 1315.’ He gives a list of them, and among them
  are ‘IV baculi de cornu, cum capitibus eburneis’—four staves of horn
  with ivory handles; others were adorned with gold and silver and
  precious stones. The use of these staves was to enable the Cantor or
  master of the choir to point out to the singers and to the readers
  their places in the book, and so prevent the manuscripts and their
  illuminations being soiled by the touch of fingers. When the lessons
  were read, the choirmaster not only pointed out the spot where
  the lesson commenced, but handed, if necessary, the staff to the
  lector, that he might use it to guide his eye along the lines in
  reading. This precaution was not only observed with regard to those
  beautifully illuminated volumes used for the church services, but
  was equally, if not more so, required in the case of books which were
  intended for the use of the general public. Most readers required
  to use their fingers to assist their eyes in following the lines,
  a practice which, if allowed, would not only soil the manuscripts,
  but in course of time obliterate them. Therefore when books were
  intended for public use it was customary to place by them a small
  staff or pointer for the use of the reader, even as in modern days
  a paper-knife forms one of the ordinary articles of furniture on a
  library table. In many instances these little staves or pointers were
  inserted in the binding of the books themselves, something after the
  fashion in which pencils are inserted in modern pocket-books.

  I may seem to be widely departing from Alfred and from Athelney, but
  you will soon perceive the pertinency of these remarks. Alfred, as
  you know, did much to encourage learning amongst his subjects, and he
  was especially anxious that useful works should be translated into
  English, and copies of them be arranged in public places, where all
  might gain access to them and read them.

  To encourage this good and noble work by his example he became
  himself an author. And he thus describes, in the preface which he
  wrote to the book he translated, the steps he took to start what I
  may call the first public reading in England:—‘When I reflected,’
  he says, ‘how the knowledge of the Latin tongue had fallen away
  throughout England, though many still knew how to read English
  writing, I began in the midst of divers and manifold affairs of this
  kingdom to turn into English this book (of St. Gregory the Great)
  which in Latin is named _Pastoralis_, and in English, _The Herdsman’s
  Book_; sometimes word for word, and sometimes sense for sense, even
  as I had been taught by Plegmund my Archbishop, and Asser my Bishop,
  and Grimbald my Mass-Priest, and John my Mass-Priest. After I had
  learned of them how I might best understand it, I turned it into
  English. And I will send a copy to every bishop’s see in my kingdom,
  and in each book there is an aestel (i.e. a staff) of (the value
  of) 50 mancusses; and I command, in God’s name, that no man take
  the staff from the book, nor the book from the minster, seeing that
  we know not how long there shall be such learned bishops, as now,
  thank God, there be. Therefore I command that these remain always in
  their places, unless the bishop have them with him either to lend
  somewhere, or to have other copies made from them.’

  Here, then, we have the explanation of Alfred’s gem. It is the handle
  of a book-staff or pointer which, like those at Canterbury, and
  elsewhere, was made of horn (which has perished), the handle itself
  being of precious and durable materials. The inscription on it bears
  witness that it was made by Alfred’s order, ‘Aelfred had me worked;’
  and this circumstance, taken in conjunction with the costliness of
  its material and the beauty of its execution, makes it in the highest
  degree probable that it is one of those aestels which Alfred says
  were worked by his order, and inserted in the presentation copies of
  his translation of _The Herdsman’s Book_, and which were valued at
  50 mancusses, or (taking the value of the mancus at 7_s._ 6_d._) £18
  15_s._, a large sum for those days.

  But if so, how came this gem to be found in this neighbourhood?
  Alfred presented one to each bishop’s see in his kingdom, and
  there was no bishop’s see in those days in these parts nearer than
  Sherborne, in Dorsetshire. You will have remarked that Alfred in his
  preface mentions four persons who assisted him in translating the
  book: Plegmund, Archbishop of Canterbury; Asser, Bishop of Sherborne;
  the Priest Grimbald, who presided over the school which Alfred had
  founded for the training of the English youth; and the Priest John,
  who was placed by Alfred as abbot over the monastery which he founded
  at Athelney. Copies of the book, each having a book-staff, were sent
  to Plegmund and Asser, for they both were bishops. Can there be any
  reasonable doubt that this mark of attention was equally observed in
  the case of the other two collaborators? More especially as Grimbald
  was at the head of Alfred’s school, and it was in order to promote
  English reading that Alfred had undertaken the translation of the
  book, and John, though not a bishop, was abbot over the monastery
  which Alfred himself had built in gratitude to God for the victory he
  had gained. A copy of the book, with the costly aestel in it, was no
  doubt sent by Alfred to his friend John, at Athelney, as well as to
  the other three collaborators. The book and the staff were, agreeably
  to Alfred’s order, preserved in the minster, till, in the days of
  trouble, (probably at the dissolution of the monastery,) both were
  hidden out of sight, and for that purpose buried in the grounds of
  some neighbouring friend at Newton Park, in the hopes of recovering
  them in better days. As time passed on, the secret of the place
  where they were hidden died with the man who had hidden them; and
  when after many years chance revealed the place of the deposit, the
  book itself and the perishable portion of the staff had rotted away,
  leaving only the gold and crystal handle, with the words, ‘Aelfred
  had me worked,’ to tell the tale. This I believe to be the true
  history of Alfred’s gem.

  When I visited the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, in the month of July,
  I was shown by the courteous Curator, by the side of Alfred’s jewel,
  a smaller specimen of ancient goldsmith’s work which was dug up a few
  years ago at Minster Lovel, in Oxfordshire, on the site of an ancient
  abbey. It is smaller than Alfred’s gem, but, like the latter, it is
  evidently the handle of a reading-staff. The handle of Alfred’s staff
  was made of a size that might be conveniently grasped in the hand;
  the one from Minster Lovel was intended to be held between the finger
  and thumb. It is smaller and less costly, but the workmanship of the
  gold is so like the larger one of Alfred as almost to suggest its
  being the work of the same man.

Thus Bp. Clifford would fain persuade us to see in our Jewel the
costly handle of a pointing stave. This satisfies the requirement of
the socket and rivet, which is a fit provision for the insertion of a
fine stave. The only question at this point that could be raised in
opposition is, whether the socket is not too small to admit a stave of
useful thickness for the purpose contemplated. And as the author of
this theory has applied it equally to the Minster Lovel jewel, this
objection gains in force, as the rod that could be inserted in that
little jewel would be of very doubtful service as a pointer.

But when we consider the common elements in the design and workmanship
of these two jewels, we are compelled to reject the theory that they
were intended as handles to pointers. And first of the design. Both
of these jewels have an obverse and a reverse, which in such an
instrument would not only be unnecessary and unmeaning, but absolutely
inconvenient and detrimental. Both of them are obviously designed to
gratify the eye; as objects to be displayed in positions which they
are to adorn and beautify. The Alfred Jewel contains the picture of
a man in enamel, framed in golden filigree, glazed with crystal, and
backed with a plate of gold curiously engraved; the whole composition
plainly dictates which side is to be foremost and which end is to be
uppermost when it is fixed in the position for which it is intended.
Bp. Clifford’s theory cannot be accommodated to these conditions.

So much for the design: now as to the materials and workmanship. In
both of these jewels the outer surface is filigree work of very fine
texture; can it be imagined that this agrees with the suggested use
of a handle to a choirmaster’s wand, whether we consider the implied
defacement of the finest goldsmith’s work, or the galling friction to
the musician’s hand?

But besides appropriateness of design and workmanship, there is yet
another condition to be satisfied, and one which this theory can
only meet by means of a roundabout and arbitrary hypothesis. Any
interpretation of the Jewel, to be satisfactory, must harmonize
naturally and spontaneously with the Alfredian associations of the
spot on which it was found. Bp. Clifford has felt this, and he has
employed an elaborate machinery to meet it. The place of the find is
one that naturally suggests direct and immediate connexion with the
goings and comings of the king himself, for it lies near the centre
of that region in which he spent some months of acute effort in the
most critical juncture of his diversified and adventurous life. If our
interpretation harmonize with the associations which are linked to the
spot, and through the spot to the Jewel, probability is strengthened
while the interest is heightened; but what possibility is there of
bringing these associations to bear upon a costly book-pointer? If
anything so extravagant existed, it might be preserved in the treasury
of the minster or in the book-room of the cloister; but it could have
no place about the person of a fugitive king and a struggling warrior.
Accordingly the author of this theory is compelled to detach the
interpretation from the personal history of the king, and to rest his
solution of the problem upon a highly speculative assumption combined
with the chances and vicissitudes of a later age.

The author of this theory has to face the inevitable question—On the
supposition that the Alfred Jewel is the handle of a book-pointer, how
do you account for its being found in the neighbourhood of Athelney?
In preparing to answer this question, he fetches a wide compass,
enclosing in his sweep the literary achievements of the king, and
seven centuries of the after-time. He begins by recalling Alfred’s
acknowledgements to Plegmund, Asser, Grimbald, and John, for their
help in his translation of Gregory’s _Pastoral Care_, and he recites
the king’s statement that he would send a copy of the translation to
each bishop’s see, and with each book an ‘æstel’ worth 50 mancusses.
It is an essential part of his theory that the ‘æstel’ was a
book-pointer with a costly handle, and moreover that the Alfred Jewel
was one of these handles. But there was no bishop’s see at or near
Athelney, the nearest being at Sherborne: how then did this relic find
its way to Newton Park by Athelney? The answer is that John the Priest
became abbot of Alfred’s foundation at Athelney, and that there can be
no reasonable doubt that Alfred gave the book and ‘æstel’ not only to
Plegmund and Asser, but that he also extended his bounty to Grimbald
and John, his two other collaborators[11]. So the Alfred Jewel
having thus arrived at Athelney as the handle of a book-pointer, was
religiously preserved there until the time of Henry VIII, when it was
buried to await better times, and in the course of nature forgotten.
My objection to this is not that it is imaginative, but that it is ill
suited to its purpose, because it is needlessly cumbrous, and because
the Jewel can be traced to Athelney by a much simpler and more obvious

But while I find it impossible to admit Bp. Clifford’s theory as an
interpretation of the Alfred Jewel, seeing that this relic absolutely
refuses to be classed with the decorated handles of the _baculi
cantorum_, I must add that the question of the ‘æstel’ stands apart.
I am by no means prepared to maintain that the explanation of that
problem which I have recently offered in _Alfred the Great_ is
preferable to Bp. Clifford’s. There is a close affinity between the
two explanations; they both rest upon a common basis in the ancient
gloss: ‘_Indicatorium_, æstel.’ I interpreted the _indicatorium_ to be
a light slab, much like a flat ruler, which was to be brought to bear
across the page so as to guide the reader’s eye, and perhaps furnish
a rest for his fingers. The Latin term would fit a pointer as well as
a flat ruler, and perhaps better. It may therefore well be that in
the endeavour to interpret the Jewel, Bp. Clifford has incidentally
explained that problematical object which king Alfred sent as a
fitting accompaniment with each of the presentation copies of his
version of Gregory’s _Pastoral Care_. The remark that the pointer
might be fitted to the volume by an arrangement like that now in
common use for attaching a pencil to a notebook must, I think, be felt
to add a certain persuasive concreteness to his suggestion. Only then,
if the ‘æstel’ was a book-pointer with a costly handle, that handle
was certainly not fashioned after the manner of the Alfred Jewel, or
of its natural associate the minor jewel of Minster Lovel—it was not
fashioned with obverse and reverse.

A subsequent interpretation by Llewellynn Jewitt, F.S.A., appeared in
the _Reliquary_ for October, 1879, vol. xx, p. 66:—‘Many, and very
curious as well as various, have been the conjectures as to the use
or origin of this remarkable jewel, and of the figure intended to be
represented upon it, but it is not worth while to here repeat them.
The probability, to my mind, is that it simply formed the head of a
sceptre, and that just possibly it might have been ultimately given by
Alfred to the head of the monastery founded by himself, to be used
as a pastoral staff or staff of office, as was the crosier in later
days. The design and the workmanship are of exquisite beauty, and in
all respects the jewel is unsurpassed by any other existing example of
Anglo-Saxon art.’ Again, this interpretation, like that of Hearne and
others, appears to be excluded by the formation of the Jewel with a
front and a back.

By the rejection of so many hypotheses the field of choice is
narrowed, and our path should be so much the clearer to find the true
design and use of the Alfred Jewel.

  [10] William Joseph Hugh Clifford, second son of the seventh Baron
  Clifford of Chudleigh, was the Roman Catholic bishop of Clifton
  from 1857 to 1888. He was a member of the Somerset Archæological
  and Natural History Society, and for many years a constant
  attendant at the yearly meetings. In 1877 he was President of the
  Society. His obituary, by Canon Holmes, is in vol. xxxix of the
  Society’s Proceedings.

  [11] This machinery for bringing the _baculus cantoris_ to Athelney
  was first employed in the interest of the stylus theory. See S.
  Pegge in _Archæologia_ ii, quoted above in chapter iii.

                              CHAPTER V

                         A JEWEL IN THE CROWN

The Alfred Jewel is so made as to require a small stem or ‘stert’ for
its fixture when in use. It tapers off to a socket, which is adapted
to receive a small stem, and it is only when erected on such a stem
that the Figure in enamel will appear in a natural position. How can
we accommodate it with such a function as will correspond to these
indications of design? Evidently not on the top of a standard-bearer’s
pole, nor on the top of a stilus, nor at the butt-end of a
music-master’s wand. It is moreover evident that the stem was a
permanent fixture in the socket, for although the socket is now empty,
this is due to the perishing of the stem, as appears from the fact
that the cross-pin is riveted. The stem was therefore not metallic,
but of some hard organic substance, perhaps walrus ivory. Our problem
then is to discover a place in which this Jewel, permanently furnished
with such a stem, could be so erected as to discharge some appropriate
function. That function can hardly be other than personal decoration,
and the place in which it might be erected is the helmet of the

I imagine then that a hollow bead ran round the king’s helmet, along
the rim next the forehead, and that over the very centre of the brow
there was a round orifice in the upper slope of the bead, fitted to
receive the ivory stem of the Jewel, and that when fixed in this
position it would have minor jewels similarly fixed on either side,
but that this one would be the central piece and the richest jewel in
the crown or coronet. For this magnificent Jewel would have the effect
of converting the helmet into a crown, transforming the most vital
piece of defensive armour into the chief of royal insignia for public
occasions of state.

That the rudiment of the crown was derived from the helmet, at least
among our people, seems to be indicated by the Anglo-Saxon word that
preceded ‘crown,’ namely, CYNE-HELM, which means Regal Helmet. This
word is the only English representative of the idea before the Romanic
word was domesticated among us. The term ‘crown’ made its entrance
after the Norman Conquest, at first in its original Latin form CORONA,
as may be seen in the contemporary _Chronicle of Peterborough_. Thus
we read under the date 1085: Her se cyng bær his CORONA and heold his
hired on Winceastre to þam Eastran, ‘This year the king wore his Crown
and held his Court at Winchester for the Eastertide.’ But the native
word was not quickly superseded. In the next annal, 1086, we are
informed that the king wore his Crown three times every year:—‘þriwa
he bær his CYNE-HELM ælce geare.’


The explanation now offered of the use and function of the Alfred
Jewel is confirmed by comparison with a minor jewel in the same glass
case, which for its illustrative value has been placed by the Keeper
of the Ashmolean Museum near the Alfred Jewel. In workmanship it is
so similar that it might well be (as Bp. Clifford said) from the
hand of the same maker. In design it is as much alike as it is
possible for a simple and rudimentary pattern to resemble one that
is highly elaborate and developed. No one can doubt that these two
objects are fully analogous to each other, and that the service for
which they were intended was of the same nature. This minor jewel
has, like the Alfred Jewel, an obverse and a reverse; the obverse
presents a Cross in opaque enamel _cloisonnée_; the reverse has a
gold plate, not engraved—as in the greater work—but equally with it
suggestive of the back of a framed picture which is to lean against
a vertical surface of some kind. As in the other, the area of the
obverse is more contracted than the reverse, and the sloping sides
are covered with a delicate filigree of gold. Lastly, this also has
its projecting socket, with a cross-pin in its place riveted. It is
in all respects adapted to be either the front and central jewel of a
minor coronet, or else a lateral and subordinate jewel in the circlet
whose front place was filled by a superior piece such as the Alfred

This minor jewel was found at Minster Lovel in Oxfordshire about the
middle of the present century. The finder brought it to a jeweller
in Oxford, who, apprehending that the object was one of more than
ordinary curiosity, carried it to Dr. Wilson, then President of
Trinity College, an eminent archæologist, and the man who of all men
in Oxford at that time was the most capable of estimating a find of
this nature[12]. The interest which he took in it was shared with Dr.
Griffiths, who was afterwards Warden of Wadham College, and (whether
by one or both) it was presented to the Ashmolean Museum. The date of
this event does not appear to be recorded, but I suppose it must have
happened in the fifties.

That gold ornaments were proper for the helmet, we gather from a
passage in the _Beowulf_, a poem which is now, I think, among critics
of proved competency, allowed to belong to the eighth century. When
Beowulf, after slaying the Dragon, lies fatally wounded, he puts off
the chief pieces of his armour with the insignia of royalty, and
bestows them upon Wiglaf, his faithful Thane and the natural heir to
his throne. In the poetic description we perceive that the insignia
are largely blended with the body-armour, and that the helmet is
characterized by its golden decoration:

         2810                                 2810

  Dyde him of healse                  Ungearing his neck
      hring gyldenne                      of the golden ring
  þióden þrîst-hŷdig                  the courageous Captain
      þegne gesealde,                     on his Thane conferred it,
  geongum gâr-wigan;                  on the gallant youth;
      gold-fâhne helm,                    the gold-prankt helm also,
  beáh ond byrnan;                    the collar and the byrnie;
      hêt hine brûcan well.               saying: ‘Brook them well!’

It would be easy to collect examples from later romances, but I will
add only one, taken from Laȝamon’s description (A.D. 1200) of
king Arthur putting his armour on:

  Helm he set on hafde                Helm he set on head,
      hæh of stele:                       high of steel:
  þær on wes moni ȝimston,            thereon was many a gem-stone
      al mid golde bigon.                 all encircled with gold[13].

The position which I have imagined for the Alfred Jewel would
represent the cumulative effect of the two chief and central gems in
the Crown of Queen VICTORIA, namely, the great Sapphire of
Charles II and the great Ruby of Edward the Black Prince[14].

  [12] Speaking of the archæologists in Oxford fifty years ago, I am
  not forgetting, indeed I could not forget, John Henry Parker, C.B.,
  the guide and teacher of his time in much antiquarian knowledge of
  great value to the historian; more especially in whatever concerned
  ecclesiastical or domestic architecture. He was for many years
  Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.

  [13] Laȝamon’s _Brut_, ed. Madden, vol. ii, p. 464.

  [14] _The English Regalia_, by Cyril Davenport, p. 51.

                              CHAPTER VI

                           THE BOAR’S HEAD

There is a feature in the Alfred Jewel which appears to support the
theory propounded in the last chapter. I mean the Boar’s Head, which
is so wrought into the composition of the piece as to represent a
subordinate, or even a servile, relation to the saintly Figure which
is seen through the window of crystal.

About the creature indicated by this head there has been some
diversity of opinion. It has been spoken of as the head of a serpent,
of a fish, of a dolphin, and strangest of all, it has been called the
head of a griffin. Of these notions the last is the one that has been
oftenest repeated, and yet it is the most absurd. No doubt the griffin
has been variously described, nevertheless it is generally agreed that
the head of this fabulous animal is either that of an eagle or that
of a lion.

Many years ago, as I happened, in company with Dr. Liddon, to be
passing the entrance of the Ashmolean Museum—the old original building
by the Sheldonian Theatre—I asked him whether he had ever seen the
Alfred Jewel. He had not, and he manifested some alacrity and we went
in. It was naturally my part to act the showman, and I did it with
a will, which was quickened by an interested motive. I set forth
all my best exegesis of every part, except one—I left the animal’s
head unnoticed. The old doubt about the nature of this head had been
recently revived, and I lay in wait for testimony undesigned. I had
the satisfaction of hearing my companion remark interrogatively, ‘That
appears to be a boar’s head?’

Between the wild boar and the helmet there existed a close and
recognized association, as is well attested by the _Beowulf_, which
is our chief voice from the heroic age of Teutonic antiquity. In the
course of that poem there are no less than five passages in which
this habitual association of ideas stands out prominently. The first
passage is where Beowulf and his companions have reached the Danish
coast and stepped ashore and parleyed with the coast-warden, and
obtained his approval of their visit and his offer of guidance to
Hrothgar’s Court. As they set forth on their march inland, the poet
notices the play of the sunlight glancing from the boar-figures on
their helmets:

          301                                  301

  Gewiton him þâ fêran                Forth on the march they fared
      —flota stille bâd,                  —the floater reposing,
  seomode on sæ̂le,                   wearing on her cable,
      sîd-fæðmed scip,                    the wide-bosomed ship,
  on ancre fæst.                      at anchor fast.
      Eoferlic scionon                    Boar-figures shone
  ofer hleor-bergan;                  over the cheek-plates;
      gehroden golde                      as chequered with gold
  fâh and fŷr-heard                   defiant and fire-hard
      ferh wearde heold.                  the farrow kept ward.

The second passage occurs in the course of the Lay of Hnæf, which is
inserted among the festivities that follow Beowulf’s success against
Grendel, as being sung by the minstrel in Hrothgar’s hall. In the
story of the Lay there is a fight, and that is followed by the burning
of the dead, and here the poet notices the arms which are consumed
with their owners. In the short quotation which follows, the coat of
mail is called a sark, and the helmet is indicated by its crest, which
was a boar of hard iron plated with gold:

       1111                                   1111

  æt þæm âde wæs                      At the place of the pile
      êð-gesŷne                           was plain to behold
  swât-fâh syrce,                     the sark blood-stained,
      swîn eal-gylden,                    the gilded swine-crest,
  eofer îren-heard.                   the boar of hard iron.

The third passage presents us with an incidental description of the
terrors of a hand-to-hand fight between armed champions, and it
pictures a trial of strength between the tough steel of the flashing
sword and the hard iron of the boar on the helmet:

        1286                                  1286

  þonne heoru bunden                  When the hafted halberd
      hamere geþuren,                     hammer-toughened,
  sweord swâte fâh,                   the sword battle-spotted,
      swîn ofer helme                     at the swine on the helmet
  ecgum dyhtig                        with urgent edge
      andweard scîreð.                    smites importunate.

The first success of Beowulf having left an avenger alive, it becomes
necessary for the hero, in pursuance of his pledged war against the
monster brood, to dive all-armed to the bottom of an awful mere. In
our fourth quotation he is seen arming himself and preparing to plunge
into the abyss; the main pieces of his armour are described, and of
his helmet it is said as follows:—

          1449                                1449

  ac se hwîta helm                    But the burnished helmet
      hafelan werede,                     his head to protect,
  se þe mere-grundas                  in the murky mere
      mengan scolde,                      was now to be merged,
  sêcan sund-gebland                  in the swirl of the swimmer
      since geweorðad,                    all its sumptuous array,
  befangen frea-wrasnum               fringed with lordly filigree
      swa hine fyrn-dagum                 as in far-away days
  worhte wæpna-smið,                  by weapon-smith ’twas wrought,
      wundrum teode                       and wondrously dight,
  besette swîn-lîcum                  beset with figures swine-like
      þæ̂t hine siððan nô                 that on it ever since
  brond nê beado-mêcas                no brand or blade of war
      bîtan ne meahton.                   had any power to bite.

These closing lines recall the remarkable passage of Tacitus, where
he says that the Æstii (Esthonians) venerate the mother of the gods,
and that they wear figures of the wild boar as the emblem of her
cult, and that this observance alone suffices without arms offensive
or defensive to make her votary feel secure even in the midst of

The mother of the gods may be identified, or at least proximately
equated, with FRIGE, the consort of Woden, whose name survives in
the sixth day of the week, Friday; FRIGE-DÆG. A survival of her cult
is seen in the festive ceremony of the Boar’s Head, which is kept up
in Queen’s College, Oxford, adding a mystic incident to the mirth of

  Caput apri defero,
  Reddens laudes Domino.
  The boar’s head in hand bring I,
  With garlands gay and rosemary.

Our fifth example occurs in a passage eminently characteristic of the
heroic age, when the institutions of monarchy rested upon the personal
devotion of the thane to the king. This relation is one of great
historical consequence; it was to grow into the later institution
of knighthood; it had been matured by that immemorial tradition of
sacred confidence and fidelity between the war-chief and his companion
in arms, which is signalized by Tacitus in words familiar to the
modern historian. The passage which I am about to quote exhibits this
devotion in concrete act. Beowulf, the hero of the poem, has returned
successful from his adventure, and he is fulfilling his first duty by
rendering a report to Hygelac his king. His speech is closing with
mention of rich guerdon he had received from the king whom he had
delivered, namely, Hrothgar, son of Halfdan; and then he produces the
noblest of these prizes as a dutiful offering to his lord. This scene
constitutes a frame to our last instance of the boar-figure as the
most signal feature in a warrior’s headgear:

            2145                              2145

  “Swa se þeod kyning                 “So in fair customs lived
      þeawum lyfde;                       the imperial king;
  nealles ic þam leanum               nor of fitting guerdon I
      forloren hæfde,                     was aught forlorn,
  mægnes mêde—                        of meed for service—
      ac he me mâdmas geaf,               yea, mighty things he gave,
  sunu Healfdenes,                    did Halfdan’s son,
      on minne sylfes dôm;                myself withal to please;
  þâ ic þê, beorn-cyning,             which I to thee, brave prince,
      bringan wylle,                      by choice do bring,
  êstum geŷwan.                       in willing homage.
      Gên is eall æt þê                   All my wealth proceeds
  lissa gelong:                       of thy good lordship:
      ic lŷt hafo                         nor is my lot to have
  heafod-mâga,                        kinsman of chief account,
      nefne Hygelâc þec!”                 king Hygelac, but thee!”

  Hêt þa in beran                     Then bade he in to bear
      eafor heafod-segn,                  the wild-boar crest,
  heaðo-steapne helm,                 the helm in fight so high,
      hâre byrnan,                        the hoary mail-coat gray,
  gûð-sweord geatolic—                the sword seigneurial—
      gyd æfter wræc:                     and he said withal:

  “Mê þis hilde-sceorp                “To me this battle-harness
      Hrôðgâr sealde,                     Hrothgar gave,
  snotra fengel...”                   the sapient monarch” &c.

In the evidence above given we see indications that this traditional
choice of the wild boar for a crest was of high antiquity, and had
its origin in a religious sentiment, and our fourth passage (1449
ff.) certainly conveys the idea that the armourer who wrought at the
furniture of the helmet did so with a mind still under the spell of
the old persuasion that a mystic sanction clung to the figure of the
wild boar, and qualified it for its time-honoured post as guardian of
the warrior’s head.

In the Alfred Jewel the Boar’s Head appears to discharge a double
function: one subservient, as affording a base or pedestal to the
frame of the sacred effigy; the other servile, as a socket for the
shaft whereby the elaborate and composite design is to be fixed in its
destined place.

  [15] ‘Matrem deûm venerantur. Insigne superstitionis formas aprorum
  gestant: id pro armis omnique tutelâ securum deæ cultorem etiam
  inter hostes præstat.’ _Germania_, 45.

                             CHAPTER VII


But the vital problem of the Alfred Jewel is in the enamelled
Figure. Of its meaning there have been guesses and suggestions, some
reasonable, some wild; M. Labarte could only say, ‘it represents a
figure hard to characterize.’ This Figure is manifestly of a religious
character, and it is the centre and focus of the whole. All the other
parts are relative and subordinate to this, and the entire Jewel is in
fact a setting and a shrine for this sacred object. We must endeavour
to ascertain its intention and significance, but before attempting
this interpretation we must consider the Enamel as a work of art.

For this venerable relic, even if regarded only in its material aspect
as an ingenious mechanical product, and as a specimen of a once
flourishing art, is rare and curious to so high a degree as to confer
rank upon any Museum (however otherwise rich) that is so fortunate as
to possess it.

Behind the Enamel, in the position of a backboard to a picture-frame,
is a separate gold plate bearing a significant device which is
certainly intended as a counterpart to the Figure of the obverse.
From the relation observable between these two representations we may
gather a constructive inference. Thus we have three subjects for our
consideration in the present chapter, and it will be convenient to
give to each of them a separate section by itself. Accordingly, the
plan of this chapter will be as follows:—I. The Enamel as an artistic
product; II. The inward signification of the enamelled Figure, and of
the Engraving at the back of it; III. A Constructive Inference.



Of enamels we may say that they are a sort of paintings or
embroideries;—only not made with liquid pigments nor with variegated
threads, but with molten glass diversely tinted by means of metallic
oxides[16]. On the one hand they are the precursors of our painted
windows, and on the other they are the parents of the famous works of
the artists of Limoges. Of this artistic industry the Alfred Jewel
preserves a specimen of the rarest kind. It belongs to the type which
is designated _cloisonnée_, because the outlines of the design have
first been made by little slender barriers of gold which serve as
fences between the colours. Into the compartments so enclosed the
material of the enamel is deposited in the form of a vitreous paste,
that is, glass ground to a fine powder, and mixed with the colouring
material and moistened. So prepared, the work is passed into an oven,
with a heat to melt the glass, but not the metal plate upon which
the design has been laid. If the process is successful, the work is
substantially achieved when it comes out of the oven, and nothing
remains to be done but the dressing and finishing of the surface. Of
this _cloisonnée_ type M. Labarte, in enumerating nine examples, as
being the chief works of this kind now extant, gives to all of them
the title ‘Byzantine.’

_The chief extant Monuments in Byzantine Enamel Cloisonnée, according
                           to Labarte._

  1. The celebrated crown of gold, which goes by the name of the Iron
  Crown, is the oldest extant jewel that is enriched with enamel. It
  was given to the cathedral at Monza by Theodelinda, the Lombard
  queen, who died in 625[17].

  2. The enamels in the altar of St. Ambrose of Milan, executed in 835,
  must have been executed by Greek artists, who were numerous in Italy
  at that time. It is to be noted that the flesh tints are rendered by
  opaque white.

  3. The enamels in the cross called the Cross of Lothaire in the
  treasury of the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle, which we hold to be
  Byzantine work.

  4. “A jewel preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. It was
  discovered in 1696 (_sic_), near the Abbey of Athelney, in which
  Alfred the Great took refuge when he was defeated by the Danes in
  878. Mr. Albert Way has given a description of it, with engravings
  of front and back, and in section (_The Archæological Journal_, vol.
  ii, p. 164). The inscription AELFRED MEC HEHT GEVYRCAN (_Alfred
  ordonna que je fusse fait_) which stands in the thickness of the
  piece, is thought to leave small room for doubt as to the origin
  which is attributed to it. The enamel of the obverse is executed
  by the process of _cloisonnage_; it represents a figure hard to
  characterize (_il reproduit une figure dont il est difficile de
  déterminer le caractère_). The flesh portions are in whitish enamel;
  the colours employed in the drapery are pale green and ruddy brown
  semi-transparent; the ground is blue. The jewel terminates in the
  head of an animal, in golden filigree, with all the characteristics
  of the oriental style.

  “Admitting that the inscription may apply to Alfred the Great,
  this jewel would not by itself be sufficient to prove that the art
  of enamelling was practised in England in the ninth century. The
  inscription might have been engraved after the king had purchased it
  (possibly) of a merchant from the East.”

  5. The enamels which environ the gold crown preserved in the treasury
  of St. Mark’s, at Venice. We see there a bust of the Emperor Leo the
  Philosopher (886–911), who was probably the donor of this votive
  crown, which was made to be suspended over an altar.

  6. The enamels on a chalice in the same treasury; it appears by the
  inscription to have been executed for an emperor who died in 944.

  7. The enamels on the reliquary of Limburg. This magnificent piece
  was executed before 976.

  8. The enamels upon eight gold plates which were found at Nyitra,
  in Hungary. Seven of them are in the Museum at Pesth. These eight
  plates unite to form a crown, one in front and one at back, and three
  on either side. Each has its enamelled picture. The front piece has
  a portrait of Constantinus Monomachus (1042). The pieces to right
  and left of this represent the Empresses Theodora and Zoe; the next
  two on either side represent actresses; the third on either side
  contains an allegorical figure of a woman, the one being Humility,
  with hands crossed in front, the other Truth, bearing a cross. The
  eighth, which is the hindmost, is circular, and represents St.

  9. The enamels which decorate the royal crown of Hungary, which was
  sent as a present to Geysa I, king of Hungary, who died in 1077.

In this list the famous ‘iron’ crown of Monza holds the first place,
being, in fact, an ample golden fillet richly decorated with enamels,
and containing within it a narrow hoop of iron, which is reputed to
have been made of a nail from the Cross.

The fourth place in this catalogue is assigned by M. Labarte to the
Alfred Jewel, and by this classification it is referred to a Byzantine
source. But as it is plain from the matter as well as the manner of
his description that his acquaintance with the Jewel is second-hand,
we pass over this local element, while we accept his classification so
far as it refers to structural affinities.

In the spring of 1839, during some excavations in Thames Street,
was discovered a fibula which happily passed straightway into the
hands of Mr. Roach Smith, and he wrote a memoir upon it which may
be seen in the _Archæologia_ for 1840, accompanied with a splendid
illustration in colour and gold. It contains a bust in cloison-work
enamel, and invites comparison with our Jewel more than any of those
in the above list, probably more than any other extant specimen. It
is now in the British Museum. Both the figure and the filigree are
of superior workmanship to the Alfred Jewel, as if it were a later
and more refined product of the same school. A French critic calls it
Byzantine, and assigns it to the eleventh century[19].

So far about other extant specimens of enamel _cloisonnée_. This
species of enamel rises like an island out of the broad level of the
enamel _champlevée_, in which the plate was prepared for the vitreous
deposit by scooping the pattern upon it. To this common method belong
the older and more rudimentary enamels of the British horse-gear,
correctly described by Philostratus, who will be quoted below. To
this belong also the late enamels, for which during the thirteenth
century Limoges was famous.

The history of the art of enamelling is very imperfectly known, and
the paucity of extant specimens makes the investigation the more
difficult. The canvas upon which these pictures were laid consisted of
plates of the precious metals, the smaller works being laid upon gold
or silver, the larger on copper. As a natural consequence it happened
that as soon as they were antiquated or had served their turn, they
were lightly cast into the melting-pot, save where they were protected
by some peculiar veneration.

Hence it has come to pass that a favourite art of the Dark and Middle
Ages, which we have reason to believe was for centuries very prolific
(until it was superseded by the increased vigour of painting and
sculpture in the fourteenth century), is now represented by a few
specimens only, and its history is hard to retrace. I shall make no
attempt to supply this want, and shall only rehearse a few interesting
facts which the present investigation has brought to my knowledge.
Origins I leave to specialists: but this I may say, that such evidence
as the present enquiry has brought within the circle of my observation
seems to suggest a Keltic source for the Enamel in our Jewel.

The earliest mention of enamel to which we can confidently point
is found in the book of Philostratus entitled _Pictures_ (Icones,
Εἰκόνες). This author was a Greek rhetorician and connoisseur in
Art, who came to Rome (A.D. 200) in the reign of Severus, attracted
by the Court of Julia Domna, who (in the words of Gibbon) was the
patroness of every art and the friend of every man of genius. In his
_Icones_ he makes pictures the text of his elegant and fashionable
discourse. Whether his pictures were real or imaginary is a matter of
no consequence to our present purpose. The picture in which we are
interested is one that represents a Meet for a Boar-hunt. The writer
comments upon the well-equipped company, the horses and their riders,
in the splendour of their get-up for the sport, drawing special
attention to the curiosity and costliness of their horse-trappings.
Their bits are silvern, and their head-stalls are decorated with gold
and enamelled colours. For the production of these colours it is
said that ‘the barbarians who dwell in the ocean do smelt them upon
heated copper, and that in cooling they do set and harden and keep the

It has been questioned who are meant by the barbarians in the ocean.
Modern French writers have generally applied it to the Gauls; but
Olearius, the editor of Philostratus (1709), understood the Keltic
peoples; and certainly the expression appears more applicable to the
British Isles than to Gaul. Moreover, it is in Britain, and not in
Gaul, that enamelled horse-trappings have been found. Some of these
may be seen in the Ashmolean, and more in the British Museum.

‘The antiquities discovered at Stanwick in Yorkshire, Polden Hill in
Somersetshire, Saham Toney in Norfolk, Westhall in Suffolk, and at
Middleby in Annandale, Scotland, which are all of Celtic workmanship,
consist principally of bits and portions of horse-furniture of various
kinds which have preserved, in many cases, the enamel with which they
were decorated[21].’

The Romans or Romanized populations continued the practice of this
art, and from the evidence of the finds that occur from time to time
it appears probable that some of the finest specimens were made in
Britain. A large flat plate, representing an altar, which was found
in London and is now in the British Museum, has all the appearance
of being unfinished. A curious cup, which was found at Rudge in
Wiltshire, has round it the names of five of the towns on the Roman
Wall. And this specimen appears, by peculiarities of workmanship, to
be nearly related to the beautiful vase which was found in a tumulus
on the Bartlow Hills, in Essex, where it seems to have been deposited
after the time of Hadrian. And if the Saxon invasions of the fifth
and sixth centuries did, as it is thought, obliterate all traces of
this art in the other parts of the west, this could only have had the
effect of making the practice of it peculiar to Ireland; and the
Irish were not a stay-at-home race, neither did they hide their gifts
from other people.

There is a Keltic aspect in the enamelled designs which was remarked
by Franks, and which may have accompanied the tradition of this art
even when it passed out of Keltic hands[22].

In short, all the indications which this enquiry has brought to my
notice concerning the technical history of our Enamel do seem to
localize it in the British Isles. At a later stage of this chapter
we shall be met by evidence of a different kind, tending in the same


                         THE BACK OF IT

About the signification of this Figure the conjectures have been
diverse, but they have all agreed in recognizing the two sceptres as
the characterizing attribute. Hickes, in his first interpretation,
thought that the _icuncula_ represented the glorified Saviour with a
lily sceptre in either hand, denoting his twofold realm of heaven and
earth: or else the pontiff of Rome as his vicegerent wielding both
the temporal and the spiritual power. Afterwards, however, when he
had read in pseudo-Ingulph the story of St. Cuthbert’s appearance to
Alfred, and had contemplated in the Lichfield Book the figure of St.
Luke (seemingly, but not really two-sceptered), he was moved to think
that the _icuncula_ represented a saint, and was, perhaps, meant for
St. Cuthbert[23].

I think Hickes was right in his first interpretation, and especially
in the second member of his alternative, wherein he referred it to the
pope. In the ninth century the thought of Christ was easily blended
with that of his vicegerent upon earth: and it is plain that the
Figure is arrayed in precisely those insignia which best represent the
dominant thought of the papacy at that epoch. The two sceptres aptly
symbolize the claim and aspiration of the Western hierarchy during
those very years which Alfred spent in Rome.

Leo IV, the pontiff who welcomed the princely boy to Rome, had
already, as the organizer of victory over the Saracens, done much to
prepare the exaltation of the Roman See. Many causes conspired to
the same result. This was just the moment when the famous Decretals
were ready to start upon their triumphant career. A first display of
their working was seen in 858, when the novel solemnity of coronation
was added to the consecration of Nicholas I. And, as I apprehend the
course of events, this falls within the period of Alfred’s sojourn at

Not long after this the surprizing spectacle was seen of the pope on
horseback, and the emperor on foot walking by his side and holding his
bridle as he rode. This pontiff gave commands to kings and ruled over
them as lord of the whole world; and he actually realized his ambition
of making all secular power subject to the papacy.

He claimed the subjection of all national churches to the bishop of
Rome. He decreed, in 866, that no archbishop might be enthroned or
might consecrate the eucharist, until he had received the _pallium_
from the Roman pontiff.

There was much in the conditions of the time and in his own experience
to cause Alfred to view these things wholly on their favourable side.
The enamelled head is probably not meant for a portrait of Leo IV or
any particular pope, but we can hardly be mistaken if we interpret it
as a symbolical figure to represent the papal authority as the vicar
and vicegerent of Christ.

And if this be a true solution of the problematical _icuncula_, there
is yet something more which we naturally desire to know. We naturally
inquire about the composition of the symbol, of what elements is it
made up, and from what source did the suggestion come?


In the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, is preserved a very famous
book, known as the _Book of Kells_, a monument of Irish learning and
art in that period when Ireland most justly earned the glorious title
of ‘Insula Sanctorum.’ One of the full-page illuminations which adorn
that book represents a scene of the Temptation, in which Jesus is on
the pinnacle and Satan is near. Such is the action represented:
but besides the action the same picture conveys also a reflection
or comment upon the action. Lower down, and more in the body of the
building, there is a window at which is seen a majestic personage
holding a sceptre in either hand, which leans and rests on either
shoulder. At first sight the effect is quaint, bizarre, and puzzling;
but a little attention makes all plain. It becomes clear that a
contrast is intended between the humiliation and the triumph of the
Christ; and perhaps also, by the association of ideas which the last
two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel have made familiar, to suggest the
duty (zealously discharged by the early Irish Church) of missionary
devotion. No one who has given time and thought to this picture can
doubt that the two-sceptered figure is Christ. Here is no question
of the pontiff of Rome. In the seventh century, to which the _Book
of Kells_ is assigned, the papal claims were not admitted, much less
glorified, by those of the Scotian rite. Therefore the interpretation
of that Irish picture is quite simple, and it represents the glorified
Christ inhabiting his temple and looking out over his Church as Lord
of heaven and earth[24].

Though we know only of a single extant copy of this picture, we may
confidently assume that among the manifold activities of the monks and
hermits and missionaries and pilgrims from Ireland it was multiplied
and disseminated. It is (I think) impossible to compare our Figure
of the ninth century with that of the seventh, without coming to the
conclusion that the one is a descendant of the other. We need not be
incredulous about the chance of Alfred’s being acquainted with Irish
iconography. The narrative in the Chronicle (Ā. 891) of three
Irish exiles who found their way to king Alfred, reflects a valuable
light on his kindly relations with the learned and pious from the
sister island. This connexion was neither new nor immature. When they
found themselves ashore on the coast of Cornwall they set out ‘at
once’—such is the effect of SONA—for king Alfred[25].

Moreover, the Irish picture furnishes a welcome light upon an obscure
detail of our enamelled Figure. How are the heads of the sceptres to
be explained? Some have taken them for palms, and others for lilies,
but the Irish drawing shows them rather as plumes. And this finds
support in a singular passage of Bede’s _Ecclesiastical History_.
Speaking of Oswald the Bretwalda, Bede describes him as a prince who
carefully upheld his imperial dignity, insomuch that, not only when
he rode through his provinces did his standard go before him, but
even when he walked forth in the streets he was always preceded by
an apparitor bearing the Tufa, which (he adds) was in the vernacular
called Tuuf. We learn from Du Cange that the Tufa was a wand with a
head of plumes, and this is what we see in the sceptres of the Irish
drawing. Sir Francis Palgrave divined that the Saxon Bretwaldadom had
inherited this emblem of authority from the provincial dignitaries of
the empire.

From these data the natural conclusion is that the Figure in this
Jewel was derived from an Irish, and not from an Oriental, nor from
any continental source. It was taken from an Irish symbolical drawing
of Christ triumphant and reigning over his Church, and it was adapted
by the king in a sense which his experience had made real and concrete
and practical. As Chaucer was called ‘grand translateur,’ so we may
call Alfred a grand adapter. Whoever has been drawn in to study both
Alfred and Dante may have observed this in common to the two, that
what they borrow they transfigure, their touch imparts to it the
colour of their mind. King Alfred in early youth was tied by every
thread of religious conviction and political interest and personal
sentiment to the See of Rome, and he meant this Jewel to enshrine
the frontispiece of his profession and the ensign of his creed
ecclesiastical, political, and personal.

At the close of the former section I said that the conclusion there
arrived at would be confirmed by another kind of evidence in the
sequel. Up to that point the argument had run upon the technical
aspects of our enamelled Figure, and these had seemed to indicate the
British Isles as its native region. Since that stage our argument has
turned upon the conception and pedigree of the device; and here again
we find that an insular rather than a foreign source is indicated.
Further evidence, pointing in the same direction, will be advanced
before the close of the present chapter[26].

                  *       *       *       *       *

At the back of this Enamel there is a gold plate which serves the
same purpose as a backboard to a picture, and it is secured by an
overlapping undulating border of gold. In the Minster Lovel jewel this
member consists of a blank gold plate, but in the Alfred Jewel this
surface is occupied with an engraving which is certainly allegorical.
At first sight it seems to be no more than a decorated pattern made
upon the idea of a tree with branches and blossoms and fruit[27]. But
upon closer inspection this tree appears to be a sword with its point
buried in a human heart, and when this is discovered it becomes plain
that the branches and blossoms must be allegorical.

A sword with its point planted in a human heart may mean compunction
for sin and mortification of the natural man; it may also mean
resignation in adversity to the overruling providence of God. Such a
disposition of mind is productive of flowers and fruit, that is, of
conduct which is beautiful and profitable, and (on great occasions)
of action which is heroic. This mode of symbolical expression may be
seen in the figure of St. Luke in St. Chad’s Book at Lichfield. The
Evangelist holds in his right hand a pen, the feathery part of which
branches out into flowers and fruit, to signify the fruitful nature of
the writings of St. Luke[28].

These are the obvious meanings of such a symbolical device, and this
being so, it plainly results that the Figure and its back-plate are
united by correlation of thought. The enamelled Figure is the symbol
of religion in its ecclesiastical and political aspect; the engraved
plate represents the inward disposition of the heart, the root and
fount of personal religion. The former is of the nature of a public
profession, and as such is openly displayed to view; the latter is
reserved, out of sight, facing the wall.


                       A CONSTRUCTIVE INFERENCE

And this raises a consideration to which I invite careful attention.
These two pictures, the one enamelled, the other engraved, are
complementary the one to the other; they are two parts of one design,
and as such they combine to declare the unity of thought which
locks together the composition and fabric of this Jewel into one
constructive whole. And this observation, once verified and clearly
apprehended, must henceforth exclude the theory of Sir Francis
Palgrave which explained this Jewel as being derived from two diverse
sources in the following manner:—

‘Alfred’s Jewel, in the mechanical workmanship of the metallic
portion, offers a close resemblance to the Icelandic ornaments, now
made in the island, where the mode has probably continued by usage
from the most remote periods. The enamel within, on the other hand,
resembles some ornaments of the Carlovingian era now existing on the
continent, which have been generally considered as Oriental. The head
at the extremity of the ornament is extremely like what is found in
those architectural ornaments usually called Saxon, e. g. the porch of
St. Margaret’s at York. Whether St. Neot be the personage represented
in the enamel I rather doubt; and I think it possible that the enamel
itself was brought from the continent, and that the setting only was
made in England. This would reconcile the two styles of workmanship;
the metallic portion is unquestionably Anglo-Saxon, the enamel may be
supposed to be from another country. But altogether it is one of the
most curious relics of the kind; and no one, taking all the points of
evidence together, can reasonably doubt but that it did belong to king

This is copied from the Ashmolean Catalogue, 1836 (p. 138), the work
of Mr. Philip Duncan, or rather perhaps of the two brothers, John and
Philip Duncan, both Fellows of New College, and successively Keepers
of the Ashmolean Museum, men famous in their generation for their
zeal in promoting all that was good and generous and beautiful; and
graced, both of them, with a strong and manly beauty worthy to support
the nobility of their character and set it forth to the best advantage.

I take the above to be an extract from a letter to one of the brothers
in answer to enquiries addressed to Sir Francis Palgrave, asking
his opinion about the Jewel, and especially whether he thought the
evidence warranted the conclusion that it had really belonged to the
great king of Wessex. The answer has a peculiar value, because of
the firm judgement it supplies upon the main problem. The deliberate
opinion of the most competent authority of the time upon this point
is of permanent value. Of a different nature is the other part of his
answer, in which he embarked upon a bold antiquarian diagnosis, and
broached his dualistic theory. This solution was accepted at the time
as furnishing a solid basis for the interpretation of the Jewel, and
it has held its ground ever since.

This new hypothesis gave satisfaction on three grounds: first, in
that it accounted for the quaintness of the Figure as being probably
Byzantine or Oriental; secondly, in that it lightened the burden of
credit demanded for our insular jewellers of the ninth century; and
thirdly, because it squared so well with the accredited fact that
Alfred did receive presents from foreign potentates. On all these
grounds the dual hypothesis of Sir Francis Palgrave gave general
satisfaction and seemed to be absolutely final.

For myself, I adopted it as the pivot of my interpretation, and as
such I used it in the last lecture I gave on the subject, which was
in May, 1899. But now at length, by the wider and more searching
investigation which has been required in the preparation of this
Essay, I have satisfied myself that all the parts of this composite
work are bound together by a unity of thought which manifests the
effort of a single mind.

All available testimony indicates that this was none other than the
mind of king Alfred. In support of this broad assertion I will here
bring forward a new illustration from the original writings of the
king. When he had translated the _Pastoral Care_ he furnished it with
a prologue and an epilogue, both in verse: the prologue is given
above, in the second of these chapters; the epilogue is quoted here.
It illustrates his love of figure and symbol, and his aptness for the
development of a train of allegorical thought:

  Ðis is nu se wæterscipe             This is now the watering
      ðe us wereda God                    which the world’s Creator
  to frofre gehêt                     for refreshment promised
      fold buendum.                       us who till the field.
  He cwæð ðæt he wolde                He said it was his will
      ðæt on worulde forð                 that in the world
  of ðæm innoðum                      out of the inward soul
      â libbendu wætru fleowen            waters aye enduring flow
  ðe wel ón hine gelifden under       of loyal believers under heaven.
      Is hit lytel tweo                   There is little doubt
  ðæt ðæs wæterscipes                 that of this watering
      welsprynge is                       the well-spring is
  on hefonrice;                       in the heavenly kingdom;
      ðæt is Halig Gast.                  for it is the Holy Ghost.
  Ðonan hine hlodan                   From that fountain fetched it
      halge and gecorene,                 faithful men elect,
  siððan hine gierdon                 and at length ’twas guided
      ða ðe Gode herdon                   by hearers of God
  ðurh halgan bêc                     through holy books
      hider on eorðan                     hither on earth
  geond manna môd                     men’s minds to pervade
      missenlice.                         in manners diverse.

  Sume hine weriað on gewitlocan      Some warily keep in memory’s
      wisdomes stream welerum             wisdom’s stream with closed
          gehæftað                            lips
  ðæt he on unnyt                     so that it fruitlessly
      ût ne to fleoweð:                   flows not away:
  ac se wæl wunað                     but the brooklet bideth
      ón weres breostum                   in the man’s breast
  ðurh Dryhtnes giefe                 through divine grace
      diop and stille.                    deep and still.
  Sume hine lætað                     Some let it at large
      ofer landscare                      over the land
  riðum torinnan.                     in rillets wide-running.
      Nis ðæt rædlic ðing,                Good rede is it not
  gif swa hlutor wæter                if water so lucid
      hlud and undiop                     run shallow and loud
  tofloweð æfter foldum               flowing free over fields
      oð hit to fenne werð.               and turning to fen.

  Ac hladað iow nu drincan            But draw now for your drinking
      nu iow Dryhten                      now that your Lord
  geaf ðæt iow Gregorius              Gregorius to you gave,
      gegiered hafað                      and he hath guided
  to durum iowrum                     to your doors
      Dryhtnes welle.                     the spring divine.
  Fylle nu his fætels,                Fill each man now his vessel,
      se ðe fæstne heder                  if sound it be,
  kylle brohte:                       the pail he brought:
      cume eft hræðe.                     come back for more anon.
  Gif her ðegna hwelc                 If any lording here
      ðyrelne kylle                       a leaky pail
  brohte to ðys burnan,               brought to this burn,
      bête hine georne,                   make boot with zealous fear,
  ðylæs he forsceade                  lest he should spill
      scirost wætra,                      the sparkling water,
  oððe him lifes drync                or of life’s drink
      forloren weorðe.                    depart forlorn.

The diction of alliterative poetry has fallen out of use, and
consequently this illustration must labour under the disadvantage of
being in a form unfamiliar to the general reader. Nevertheless, with
a little attention, the essential point will become plain. The royal
translator had been refreshed and invigorated with the lucid stream
of Gregory’s discourse, and at the moment of parting with a beloved
task he sought to relieve his full-fraught soul with a grateful
burst of eulogy. Out of all the topics that were appropriate to the
occasion he chose the perennial water of life promised at the well of
Samaria, and upon this noble theme he expatiated with a fertility of
invention which makes it the easier for us to attribute to him the
rich symbolism of the Alfred Jewel.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now to gather up the results of this chapter. We have found more
than one reason to think that our Enamel was an insular, and not a
continental product. This conclusion was reached by two different
paths, first when we were tracing the technical history of the
fabrication, and again when we were seeking the spiritual meaning of
the design; by these two widely different lines of evidence we were
led severally and independently to infer a British rather than a
foreign origin for the Figure[29].

This inference was further confirmed by a third evidential process,
arising out of the sympathy of meaning which appears to unite the
enamelled Figure with the engraved device upon its back-plate. This
led us to question the long-established doctrine of duality of origin
which rested upon the authority of Sir Francis Palgrave, and to infer
that the whole composition of the Jewel had been projected and devised
by a single mind.

Finally, we found reason to think that all these features harmonized
well with the mind and character of a person with whose name the Jewel
is already connected by the Epigraph; and if anything was yet wanting
to complete the identification of that person, it seems to be supplied
by certain traces of inward affinity between the symbolism of the
Jewel and that of the epilogue to the translation of the _Pastoral
Care_, one of the surest monuments of the mind of king ALFRED.

  [16] For the etymology: _enamel_ is a compound of the simple
  _amel_, which is now obsolete. This was an anglicized form of
  French _émail_, which in Old French was _esmal_, whose cognates
  were Provençal _esmalt_, Spanish and Portuguese _esmalte_, Italian
  _smalto_ (used by Dante), which, in medieval Latin, was _smaltum_.
  The source is Old High German *_smaltjan_, our verb _to smelt_,
  i.e. to fuse by heat (New English Dictionary, v. AMEL).

  [17] It is figured in the _Dictionary of Christian Antiquities_, v.

  [18] These eight plates have been reproduced by M. de Linas in his
  _Histoire du Travail à l’Exposition universelle de 1867_, p. 125.

  [19] _Notice des Émaux, &c., du Musée du Louvre_, par M. de
  Laborde, 1857, p. 99.

  [20] Philostratus, _Icones_, i. 28:—the horsemen are described
  as—ἀργυροχάλινοι καὶ στικτοὶ καὶ χρυσοῖ τὰ φάλαρα. Ταῦτά φασι τὰ
  χρώματα τοὺς ἐν ὠκεανῷ βαρβάρους ἐγχεῖν τῷ χαλκῷ διαπύρῳ, τὰ δὲ
  συνίστασθαι καὶ λιθοῦσθαι, καὶ σώζειν ἃ ἐγράφη.

  [21] Augustus W. Franks, ‘Vitreous Art,’ p. 14 in _Art Treasures of
  the United Kingdom_, a book which was brought out in connexion with
  the Manchester Exhibition of 1857.

  [22] Mr. Arthur Evans recognizes a Keltic physiognomy in the eyes
  of the _icuncula_; but for me the eyes are as if they were not,
  being so much sunk out of their place, that through infirmity of
  sight I am unable to verify them.

  [23] Appendix B.

  [24] Appendix C.

  [25] And þa comon hi ymb vii niht to londe on Cornwalum, and foron
  þa sona to Ælfrede cyninge.

  [26] For the Irish illumination above referred to I have relied
  upon _Facsimiles of Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and
  Irish Manuscripts_. By J. O. Westwood. London, 1868. Plate XI.

  [27] ‘The back, or reverse, is a plate of gold lying immediately
  upon the back of the miniature, and this is beautifully worked
  in foliage.’ Llewellynn Jewitt, F.S.A., in the _Reliquary_ for
  October, 1878: vol. xx, p. 66.

  [28] Here I follow the old copy of this drawing in Hickes’s
  _Thesaurus_ (1705) facing p. viij.

  [29] Appendix D.

                             CHAPTER VIII


When we have described the form and symbolism of the Alfred Jewel,
and reviewed the various interpretations which it has evoked, and
when we have moreover analyzed its design and considered each several
feature, we have not as yet exhausted the matter of our theme. An
important part of the problem remains to be discussed, and that
is the place of its discovery, the how and the why of its deposit
there, and the possibility of light to be derived from the historical
associations of the locality. It was found near the Isle of Athelney.
This looks like a piece of circumstantial evidence tending to
identify the Alfred named in the Epigraph, and to associate
the Jewel with the chief and central episode in the career of our
national hero. The momentous crisis which is thus reflected in the
Jewel seems to open a wider view, and to demand some enlargement of
this Essay, so as to embrace a glimpse of that eventful story.

[Illustration: THE ISLE OF ATHELNEY.]

Of all this we now, after the lapse of a thousand years, speak as
men who know the sequel, and (because we do know the sequel) it is
the harder for us to appreciate the intensity of that crisis. We are
helped by the occurrence of an opportune discovery. Just when our
nation was beginning to be ripe for historical reflection and capable
of entering into the struggles of our remote forefathers, there was
‘dug up’ in the locality where Alfred took refuge in the year 878, a
personal ornament bearing his name in impressive characters. It is to
us now as if the king himself had but recently passed that way under
such stress of circumstances as constrained him to hide his royal
insignia, and as if we somehow by this chance were brought nearer to
the burden of his lot, and were made sharers not only in the fruits
of his triumph, but also in the toil and the joy of his achievement.

                  *       *       *       *       *

By the sudden surprize with which the Danes had broken the peace and
come upon him at Chippenham in the dead of winter, they had almost
fulfilled their design and taken him captive. But he had fled, and
they had Wessex at will, and were proceeding to divide and occupy the
land. The king, with a few companions, had escaped into Selwood, and
thence by wood and by fen, like hunted creatures, they eluded pursuit,
but were never secure until they had passed beyond Pedrida.

What were his reflections on finding himself suddenly an outcast in
the winter, a fugitive in the wild? He had experienced hair-breadth
escapes, but none like this! He had trusted Guthrum’s oath, had
thought him in earnest this time! And even now he was loth to charge
this last perfidy upon him. No! this trick was not his, it came from
those buccaneers in the Severn Sea. Mad at the defeat of last summer’s
combined scheme, which they had come from far north to support, they
had forced Guthrum’s hand, and compelled him to join them in this
winter raid. And they would not stop there! Finding that he had
given them the slip, they would certainly be down upon some part of
the coast of Somerset or of Devon, and preparations must be made to
receive them. Odda will surely be stirring: he is safe to be on the
alert! I must find out what he is doing, and we must work on a plan;
he in Devon, and I in Somerset!

It was now twelve years since he had come to the front, and had taken
his stand by the side of his brother Æthered. The moment when he had
begun to share in public affairs had coincided with a great change in
the situation. That was the time when the invaders acquired a footing
in East Anglia: they made there a centre of operations from which they
went out and to which they came in—it had become the head quarters
of an invading host which manifested a settled design of conquest.
Previously the incursions of the Northmen had been desultory, but from
that time they had become methodical. This change had coincided with
the death of Æthelbriht in 866, and the accession of Æthered. In
the following year had died Alhstan, that vigilant patriot, the old
warlike bishop of Sherborne.

Æthered and I were the two youngest of the family, and our relations
had been peculiarly close. Before we were united by public cares, we
had been partners in our private concerns. Our several estates had
been kept in one and worked in common, under agreed conditions, so
that they had remained undivided. Our names had been coupled together
by the common voice of the nation. The style was ever thus:—ÆÞERED

Oh what a fearful time it was for ANGELCYNN, that five years of
Æthered’s reign! Northumbria, that old imperial kingdom, was crushed;
Mercia reduced to make a peace with the heathen, which was the best
we could effect by marching in force to Nottingham to support Burgred
and Æthelswith! And, worst of all, the East Angles defeated in battle,
the good king Edmund slain (he fought like a hero, and died like a
martyr); the land conquered, possessed, and turned from an Anglian
into a Danish kingdom!

It was our turn next. All was at length ripe for the subjugation of
Wessex, and on this aim they brought all their strength to bear. We
made a gallant stand at Ashdown against overwhelming odds; we slew
their kings and jarls, and made their practised braves fly before
the rustic militia of Ecgberht. Eight pitched battles in that year,
besides smaller fights without number. But Æthered died at Easter.
Rightly the people revere him as a saint. So I was left to continue
the struggle single-handed.

Since then they have established themselves in the possession of
London, and they have banished Burgred and set up for king in Mercia
a tool of their own; also Halfdan has abolished the kingdom of
Northumbria and partitioned the land. And amidst all this, what a
destruction of religious houses, seats of piety and learning and
education—Lindisfarne, Wearmouth, Jarrow, York, Ripon, Bardney, Ely,
Crowland, Medeshamstead, and many others.

They have destroyed the powers of Northumbria and Mercia; but there
they had a point in their favour which is against them here. The Welsh
at the back of those nations were always ready to co-operate with
the invader, but that is not so here in the west. The Cornish have
never made common cause with the heathen since the battle of Hingston
Down, in which that coalition was quashed by Ecgberht. And we have a
still better guarantee in the constant policy of Wessex ever since the
days of Ina and Aldhelm. The territorial quarrel was then appeased,
and the religious difference too. The West Welsh were conquered, but
they were never wantonly humiliated, no man was ejected from his own.
They appreciated the respect and even honour that was shown to their
favourite church of Glastonbury. Therefore I have good hope of the
support of the men of Somerset.

True, we have to count upon the hostility of the Welsh on the opposite
shore of the Severn Sea, where the Danish fleets find harbour and
all friendly countenance. Still, that is not quite the same thing
as having an active enemy behind your back upon the same stretch of
territory. Here in this west country the people differ only in degrees
of allegiance, none are actively hostile. This is the weak point in
the position of the invaders. This is the one little bit of advantage
that still remains to us. I must improve it to the utmost!

But first of all we must provide against a sudden descent on the
coast. For the last two years events have succeeded one another at a
quickened pace: surprize on surprize! There, under the opposite coast,
lies a heathen fleet, ready to be down upon us without notice! The
coast-wardens must be kept up to the mark, and I not to be seen in it!

The mobility of these troopers defies calculation! How unexpected and
startling was that occupation of Wareham last autumn! How daringly
defiant of gods and men that breach of their most sacred oath! When by
that perjury they had lulled our mistrust, they made a sudden rush for
Exeter! Perfidy is part of their tactics. How wonderful, how divinely
providential, that storm off Swanage, which wrecked the perfidious
plan! And now, not to be baulked, they pounce upon Chippenham in time
of truce and in mid-winter, thinking to capture me! How great in war
is the unexpected! Without perfidy, I too must learn to meditate
surprize; I must contrive how to distract their calculations, and
strike where least expected.

With some such a strain of thought as this (if I have followed him
aright) now ruminated the undaunted king, in whom thought was the
spring of action. Moreover, he reasoned thus with himself: ‘So long
as winter lasts, they cannot follow me with the host by the way that
I have come, but if they learn my whereabouts, they may easily find
adventurers who would undertake to kill me. Wherefore I must not make
myself too freely known, but proceed cautiously, and make proof of men
before I trust myself to them. To most I must appear like some mounted
yeoman hunter who follows the high deer that abound in the forests
about these hills. And as for this sacred toy, this personal enigma,
this Jewel of ceremony, which many eyes have beheld, I must no longer
carry it about me, lest peradventure it make me known unawares. I will
bury it in some convenient spot!’

                  *       *       *       *       *

The western boundary of Wessex had for centuries been the Great Wood
of which the ancient name still survives as a specific element in the
historic designation of Frome Selwood.

This great wood was also called Wealwudu, a very natural and
appropriate name, because it had long been the barrier between the
Saxon and the Welsh populations. Here lies the most fitting scene for
the story of Denewulf. In the time when the king was a fugitive, he
found this man keeping swine in the forest, and he discovered in him
a great natural capacity and aptness for good, and after his return
to power he educated Denewulf, and made him bishop of Winchester.
This story does not run on all fours, because according to the best
authorities Denewulf became bishop of Winchester in 879, and if he was
keeping swine in 878, being already of mature age, it smacks rather
of hagiology than of history. But it may be that the marvel has been
enhanced in transmission; or if we choose the lowest estimate and call
it mere fiction, still it is worth while observing what manner of
stories were invented about king Alfred.

Behind this barrier the Danes had never been able to get a footing.
As if aware how greatly this was needed for the success of their
designs upon Wessex, they had made several attempts. Two great efforts
which imply this aim were made at the end of the reign of Ecgberht.
The force of thirty-five ships which that king repelled at Charmouth,
on the coast of Dorset, seems to indicate something more than merely a
plundering incursion.

In 835, a great naval armament (_micel sciphere_) came to the Cornish
coast and were joined by the West Welsh, and they gathered in force
at Hingston Down, where they probably intended to fortify themselves;
when Ecgberht appeared with an army, and dispersed them.

The next recorded attempt of the kind was in the year 845, in the
reign of Æthelwulf, when the Wicengas entered the mouth of the Parret,
and were met by the posse comitatus of the two shires, Somerset and
Dorset, under their two ealdormen, and Alhstan the warlike bishop of

Only in the very last year (877) their land-force had, by a perfidious
surprize, seized Exeter, acting in concert with a fleet of one
hundred and twenty ships, which were to sail up the Exe and co-operate
with them—but they were wrecked in a storm off Swanage[30]. This
disaster, combined with the promptitude of the king in assault, had
compelled them to capitulate, and had dislodged them from Exeter.

Of the same nature and motive was the attempt of this spring on the
coast of Devon at a place which Asser calls Cynwit, with a force of
twenty-three ships, which were wintering on the opposite coast of the
Severn Sea. The repulse was complete and the blow decisive, but the
name of the English leader is not given by the contemporary annalist.
A hundred and twenty years later, Ethelwerd calls him Odda the
ealdorman of Devonshire. The reticence of the Chronicle suggests that
this achievement was conducted by Alfred while he was keeping in the
background, lest the place of his retreat should become known.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Gradually and by the spontaneous action of natural causes, the western
barrier of the Saxon was moved from the line of Selwood to the fenland
of Pedrida. This barrier was deeper bedded in the soil, was harder
to pass, and has left behind it memories more indelible. The first
explicit notice of this virtual transfer of the western boundary meets
us seventeen years later than the epoch with which we are now engaged,
and it may be worth while to go so far out of our way in order the
better to realize the import of Pedrida.

In the last decade of Alfred’s reign, when he was in the agony of that
supreme crisis which tested the value of his institutions, a great
muster of force was called for, and the extent of the contributing
area is sketched by the annalist as matter of amazement. ‘There
gathered Æthered aldorman and Æthelm aldorman and Æthelnoth aldorman,
and the king’s Thanes who were then at home in the fortifications,
from every garrison east of Pedrida (whether west of Selwood or
east), likewise also north of Thames and west of Severn:—moreover some
part of the Welsh nation[31].’

Here we mark the startling novelty that the Welsh in 894 are seen
aiding the Saxon against the Dane; and we can hardly forgo a passing
cry of wonder and pleasure at this signal token of the imperial
success of Alfred’s policy. But our present concern is with the
recognition of Pedrida as the westernmost limit of Wessex proper
instead of Selwood, and the implication that the change was recent.
We see that Selwoodshire (as the intervening district was popularly
called) was by 894 quite assimilated and included in the military
administration of Wessex, but that beyond Pedrida some other rule was
operative at that time. Such a fact reflects back an illustrative
light upon the year 878, and helps us to estimate the situation of
Alfred when he was in Somerset beyond Pedrida.

The political division here indicated has left traces which may
still be recognized, particularly in the dialect and in folk-lore. Of
the dialect we have a remarkable monument in Mr. Elworthy’s works,
_The Dialect of West Somerset_, and his _West Somerset Word-Book_.
Especially to be noted is the ‘u’ of the West Country, which is
radically one with the Welsh ‘u’ and with the French ‘u,’ while at
the same time it has a very distinct local character of its own.
Every Englishman who is conversant with the French language knows how
hard it is to acquire the utterance of the French ‘u’ after the age
of infancy. A like strangeness is experienced by English people born
east of Pedrida, when they attempt to reproduce the western ‘u.’ In
fact, this vowel-sound is Keltic; it is a legacy from our British

Not that this British ‘u’ is absolutely confined to the western
promontory: it may be occasionally heard in other parts of the country
by a cultivated and observant ear. Mr. Mayhew once told me that he had
heard it in the Corn Market at Oxford. But though not confined to the
lands west of Pedrida, it is in a peculiar manner concentrated there.
It is chiefly in Devonshire that this peculiar vowel has wakened wider
attention, but this is simply because that county has been the most
frequented as a place of holiday resort.

The so-called Devonian ‘u’ and its contiguous sounds have been
described many times from first to last, but it has been mostly
in that perfunctory vein which contents the summer tourist. It is
rare to catch such a plain and solid illustration as the following,
which is quoted from the preface to Mr. Elworthy’s _West Somerset
Word-Book_:—‘I was a passive listener at Brandon’s while a bonnet was
being discussed, and when making the payment ventured to remark to the
young lady, “You must have been a long time in London.” “Oh yes, ten
years; but why do you ask?” “Only for information,” said I. “And did
you come straight from Teignmouth?” With much surprise at my supposing
she came from Devonshire, she said at length that she was a native
of Newton Abbott. I could not pretend to define the precise quality
of her _two_, but it was only in that one word that I recognized her

If the vocabulary of this dialect were minutely examined by a
competent Welsh scholar, some British words might be detected. Among
those which would deserve early attention are _plum_ (soft, as a bed),
_pilm_ or _pillum_ (dust), _welt_ (to beat, thrash).

Another local characteristic of the West Welsh promontory is this,
that it is the peculiar haunt of a race of whimsical or mischievous
sprites called Piskies or Pixies. In South Devon and Cornwall any one
whose conduct is strange and unaccountable is said to be pisky-led.
This is a branch of the numerous kindred of that versatile Puck, whose
memory is kept fresh by the Midsummer Night’s Dream. In an Anglo-Saxon
perambulation of land at Weston by Bath, we meet with a Pucan Wyl,
Puck’s Well[32]. The _English Dialect Dictionary_ preserves the name
of Aw-Puck for Will-o’-the-Wisp or _ignis fatuus_, a compound which
imports that he is the most dangerous of the species. This name was
current in Worcestershire, but is now obsolete[33].

These are the more obvious extant traces of the long isolation of
the trans-Pedridan world: others there are which have attracted
inquiry, such as peculiar customs, implements, songs and song-tunes,
which latter have been investigated by Dr. Bussell and the Rev. S.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The Somerset to which Alfred retired was widely unlike the Somerset
of to-day. In this respect three points may be taken: (1) Differences
in the distribution of land and water; (2) differences in the trees
and woods and game; (3) differences in the political aspect of the

1. West Somerset was separated from East Somerset by wide inland
waters: the beds of the Brue and Parret were lakes in the winter, and
only passable in summer to those who knew the ground. Pedrida was
regarded as a natural limit, like the sea itself, dividing nations;
it was spoken of in like phraseology. Thus we read in 658 how Cenwalh
warred against the Welsh and drave them even unto Pedrida[34]; and,
in 682, how Centwine drave the Bret-Welsh even unto the sea[35].

The cause of that expanse of water and large area of fenland happened
far back beyond historical chronology, and we can only date it by
using the geological method of reckoning time. Far back in the
sub-glacial era a subsidence of the land took place which affected
the coast of Somerset and North Devon. Proof of this is found in a
submarine forest extending along the south coast of the Severn Sea,
which has long been known. ‘That portion of it visible at Porlock
was described in 1839 by Sir Henry de la Beche, and more recently by
Mr. Godwin Austen in an essay read before the Geological Society in

Subsequently the Rev. H. H. Winwood and Professor Boyd Dawkins
verified the discovery by a thorough examination of the forest-bed.
Near Minehead the forest consists of oak, ash, alder, and hazel,
which grew on a blue clay. An ancient growth of oak, ash, and yew is
found everywhere underneath the peat or alluvium in the Somersetshire
levels. Throughout this wide area the trees were destroyed by the
growth of peat, or by the deposits of the floods, except at a few
isolated spots, which stand at a higher level than usual, in the
great flat extending between the Polden Hills and the Quantocks.
One of these oases, a little distance to the west of Middlezoy, is
termed the Oaks, because those trees form a marked contrast to the
prevailing elms and willows of the district. In the neighbouring
ditches, that gradually cut into peat, and then into silt, prostrate
oaks are very abundant[37].

Subsidence of the land at a remote geological period was the cause of
the impassable state of these levels in the time of king Alfred, and
the modern system of drainage which was carried out at a later date
has been the cause of the improved condition which we see now, and
which has made the Vale of Taunton Dean proverbial as the Garden of

2. In Alfred’s time the eye was greeted by a variety of trees which
are not observable now. The elm predominates all over the plain. I
asked the occupier of Athelney Farm about the trees on his land, and
he said there was hardly anything but elm. Of other kinds he had
only two ash-trees and one beech; ‘but (he added) we find bog-oak
in the moors, and it makes good gate-posts.’ The elms have driven
out both oak and ash, and whatever other sorts they touched in their
‘wrastling’ progress. These sombre grenadiers dress up their lines so
close as to leave little room for other trees. They suck the fruitful
soil more than any other tree, and they repay their costly nurture
with timber of inferior value. Introduced by the Romans to serve as
stakes and props in the culture of the vine, they have overrun the
land like the imported rabbits in some of our colonies. In Alfred’s
day these hungry aliens had not yet usurped the field, and there
was still room for the display of the rich variety of nature—oak,
ash, beech, fir, maple, yew, sycamore, hornbeam, holly, poplar,
aspen, alder, hazel, wych-elm, apple, cherry, juniper, elder, willow,
mountain ash, spindle-tree, buckthorn, hawthorn, wild plum, wild pear,
service-tree, &c. But now, the fair places of the field are encumbered
by the tall cousins of the nettle, and the most diversified of English
counties is muffled with a monotonous shroud of outlandish and weedy

In the animal world, likewise, the lapse of a thousand years has
brought change. In the pastures the most frequent animal is the cow,
and only on rare occasions, as we view the moors from some elevated
‘tump,’ have we the chance to see a little company of antlered deer
careering over the open plain, clearing the rhines with an airy bound.
In Alfred’s time too, cow-keeping was a stock industry, and we read of
the king as entertained _incognito_ by one of his own cowherds (_apud
quendam suum vaccarium_).

But the proportion of wild to domesticated animals was far greater
then than it is now. The whole stretch of country from Pedrida to the
end of Exmoor, fifty miles long and twenty miles wide, was then almost
a continuous forest, abounding with game of all kinds, but especially
with red deer, which still continues, though in diminished numbers.
This noble creature is thus described by Bewick:—

‘THE STAG OR RED DEER. This is the most beautiful animal of
the deer kind. The elegance of his form, the lightness of his motions,
the flexibility of his limbs, his bold, branching horns, which are
annually renewed, his grandeur, strength, and swiftness, give him a
decided pre-eminence over every other inhabitant of the forest[38].’

The red deer still lives and breeds along the southern coast of the
Severn Sea, and this is I believe the only part of Great Britain in
which this right royal animal still ranges at large in all the freedom
of nature. I am informed by my friend Mr. Townshend that in Ireland
they are kept as an ornament in some gentlemen’s parks, but that in a
free state of nature they survive only in the mountains of Killarney.

Here it will be useful to read Leland’s notes of travel across the
lowlands of Somerset, especially as they touch some places with which
we are concerned. (I quote from the Proceedings of the Somersetshire
Archæological and Natural History Society, No. xxxiii, ‘Leland in
Somersetshire, 1540–1542.’)

  ‘Thens to _Cury-Malet_ a 3. Miles, wher is a Parke longging to
  _Chambernoun_ of Devonshire.

  I left this Parke a litle on the lift Hand, and sone after cam over a
  great Brook, that resith West South West, and rennith East North East
  into Ivel a 2. Miles above _Michelborow_ by Estimation.

  (Here I cam from the Hilly Ground to the Low and Marschy Ground of

  Thens to _North Cury_ stille by low Ground aboute a 2. Miles or more.
  The Chirch of _Welles_ hath fair Landes here.

  And hereabout is _Stoke Gregory_, wher the Chirch of _Welles_ hath

  Thens about a Mile to the Ripe of _Thone_ Ryver, by the which I
  passed by the space of half a Mile, and then I went over _Thone_ by a
  Wood Bridge.

  Athelney lyith half a Mile lower on _Thon_, and ther is a Bridge
  of Wood to entre thabbay[39], and beneth that almost at the very
  Confluence of _Thone_ and _Ivel_ is another Wood Bridge over _Thone_.

  _Thonetoun_ alias _Tawntoun_ is a 5. Miles by South West from

  Ther is a great Bridge on _Thone_ at _Basford_ a Mile lower then

  From this Bridge by _Athelney_ I rode by a low Marsch Ground a 2.
  Miles to _Pedertun Park_.

  Here at _Pederton_ the soyle Westward and South West rysith agayn and
  ys not fenny.

  There ys a great Numbre of Dere longging to this Park, yet hath it
  almost no other Enclosure but Dikes to let the Catelle of the Commune
  to cum yn.

  The Dere trippe over these Dikes and feede al about the Fennes, and
  resort to the Park agayn. There is a praty Lodge moted yn the Parke.

  There cummith a praty Broke thorough the Park, and half a Mile beneth
  the Park it goith ynto _Ivel_.

  This Brooke is caullid _Peder_, and risith West South West yn the
  Hylles aboute a 2. Myles of. First it cummith by _Noth Pedreton_, a
  praty uplandisch Toun, wher is a fair Chirch, the Personage whereof
  was impropriate to _Mynchin bocland_.

  Then it touchith on _South Pederton_, in the which Paroch the Parke
  standith, and so to the Ryver of _Ivel_.

  From the Lodge in _Pederton_ Parke to Northpedertun a Mile.

  From _Northpedertun_ to _Bridgewater_ 2. Miles. The way or I cam ynto
  _Bridgwater_ was caused with Stone more then half a Myle.’

Here we may observe that Leland appears to know of no river Parret; to
him it was ‘Ivel.’ It would be curious to learn when and how a minor
tributary gave its name of Parret to the lower waters of the Ivel.
It may be surmised that Pedrida was never the name of a river, but of
a belt of country, and that it may have meant ‘the passage or ford
of the Peder,’ Leland’s ‘praty broke.’ The name seems to contain the
Welsh _rhyd_, a ford. At first it may have denoted the ford of the
Peder, and then by natural extension it may have come to designate the
whole fenland of the lower Ivel.

3. Racial differences were still seen and felt. The West Welsh had
been conquered, and were now living in peaceful subjection, and
forming an outlying part of the kingdom of Wessex; but still they were
imperfectly assimilated.

The old internecine quarrel between the races had in this western land
been hushed and calmed; and on no other border were the British living
and mingling with their conquerors on such amicable terms. There was
a very great difference between the disposition of the West Welsh
towards the Saxon and that of the ‘North Welsh’ on the opposite coast
of the Severn Sea.

These pacific relations were not of recent date; they appear as a
deliberate policy in the reign of Ina before the end of the seventh
century, and even earlier indications of this tendency may be gleaned
which carry us back two hundred years behind the reign of Alfred.

When in 665, Wina[40], bishop of Winchester, consecrated Ceadda (St.
Chad), he had with him two British bishops as his assistants. These
two bishops must have belonged to the West Welsh. Further, there is
reason to believe that Ceadwalla, though descended from Cerdic, and
king of Wessex, was half a Briton. Again: the legendary tales about
Ina’s legislation which are embodied in the so-called Laws of Edward
the Confessor, however unhistorical, have possibly a traditional value
as characterizing the attitude of Wessex towards her British subjects
in the seventh and eighth centuries. In this apocryphal text it is
said that by Ina’s enactment ‘the British were declared politically
equal with the English, and that as he himself had set the example of
a Welsh marriage, so he would that connubium between the two races
should be legally recognized.’ These are distorted reminiscences of
the historical fact that Ina maintained a conciliatory policy towards
the conquered British, and in this course he was well supported
or perhaps guided by Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, who in 704 was
requested by a synod to write a letter to Gerontius (Geraint), king of
Damnonia, and exhort him and his people to conformity with Catholic
usage in the time of keeping the Easter festival. The letter was
sent, and it is still extant. It is addressed, in respectful and
courteous language—‘To the most glorious prince, swaying the sceptre
of the Western realm, whom I, the searcher of the heart is my witness,
do embrace with brotherly charity—to king Geraint and to all God’s
priests dwelling in Damnonia, Aldhelm, &c.[41]’

And when, shortly afterwards, Hædde, bishop of Winchester, died, and
the moment had arrived for the long-contemplated division of the vast
diocese of Wessex, Aldhelm became bishop ‘to the west of the wood,’
over a province which (as Ethelwerd tells us) was commonly called
Selwoodshire. Aldhelm died in 709 upon one of his episcopal journeys,
at the village of Doulting on the western brow of Mendip, between
Wells and Frome. His memory has been locally revived in the present
century by the discovery of a small Saxon church in Bradford-on-Avon,
which has been identified by competent judges with the _ecclesiola_
which William of Malmesbury says that Aldhelm built in that place.
To him was probably due the preservation of the British monastery at
Glastonbury and its endowment by king Ina.

That spot was dear to the British patriot as the mysterious sojourn of
their hero, who in due time was to return and revive the ancient glory
of the British name. The extant books in which this legend is recorded
are later than the time of Alfred, but the romance itself is of the
sixth century. Our oldest English form of it is of about A.D.

                        THE PASSING OF ARTHUR

                (From Laȝamon’s _Brut_, line 28,582.)

  Arthur wes forwunded                Arthur was wounded
  wunderliche swithe.                 very dangerously.
  Ther to him com a cnaue,            There to him came a youth
  the wes of his cunne;               who was of his kin;
  he wes Cadores sune,                he was son of Cador,
  the eorles of Cornwaile.            the earl of Cornwall.
  Constantin hehte the cnaue;         Constantine hight the youth;
  he wes than kinge deore.            to the king he was dear.
  Arthur him lokede on,               Arthur looked upon him,
  ther he lai on folden,              where he lay on the ground,
  and thas word seide,                and these words said,
  mid sorhfulle heorte:               with sorrowful heart:
  Constantin thu art wilcume,         Constantine thou art welcome,
  thu weore Cadores sune;             thou wert Cador’s son;
  ich the bitache here,               I here commit to thee,
  mine kineriche:                     my kingdom:
    *     *     *                       *     *     *
  And ich wulle uaren to Aualun,      And I will fare to Avalon,
  to uairest alre maidene;            to the fairest of all maidens;
  to Argante there quene,             to Argante the queen,
  aluen swithe sceone:                elf exceeding sheen;
  and heo scal mine wunden            and she shall my wounds
  makien alle isunde;                 make all sound;
  al hal me makien,                   all whole me make,
  mid haleweiȝe drenchen.             with healing drinks.
  And seothe ich cumen wulle          And sith return I will
  to mine kineriche:                  to my kingdom:
  and wunien mid Brutten,             and dwell with Britons,
  mid muchelere wunne.                with much delight.

    Æfne than worden,                   Even with these words,
  ther com of se wenden,              lo came from sea wending,
  that wes an sceort bat lithen,      that was a short boat sailing,
  sceouen mid vthen:                  driving with the waves:
  and twa wimmen therinne,            and two women therein,
  wunderliche idihte:                 of wondrous aspect:
  and heo nomen Arthur anan,          and they took Arthur anon,
  and aneouste hine uereden,          and straight him bore away,
  and softe hine adun leiden,         and softly down him laid,
  and forth gunnen hine lithen.       and forth with him to sea
                                      they gan to move away.

    Tha wes hit iwurthen,               Then was it come to pass,
  that Merlin seide whilen:           what Merlin said whilome:
  that weore unimete care,            that there should be much
                                            curious care
  of Arthures forth fare.             when Arthur out of life should

    Bruttes ileueth ȝete,               Britons believe yet,
  that he beo on liue,                that he be alive,
  and wunnie in Aualun,               and dwelling in Avalon,
  mid fairest alre aluen:             with the fairest of all elves;
  and lokieth euere Bruttes ȝete,     still look the Britons for the day
  whan Arthur cume lithen.            of Arthur’s coming o’er the sea.

All this history was known to Alfred and went to swell the stream
of his meditations, which tended to assure him that he had a fresh
and promising field before him, and to mature in him the purpose of
exerting himself to win the hearty attachment of this well-affected
but still half alien population.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Between Twelfth Day and Easter Day of the year 878 there were barely
eleven weeks, for Easter fell early that year, namely on March 23. Of
Alfred’s doings in that interval we have no information, except in
so far as it seems to be indicated that the affair of Cynwit was not
conducted without his intervention. And we may add the traditional
story of the cakes, a story which probably dates from Alfred’s day,
as we have reasonably good evidence that it was current in the tenth
century. Nor may we omit his espial of the Danish camp in minstrel
guise, a legend which, though not found in early authorities, yet
does claim some credit from the book in which it is narrated, namely
the _Book of Hyde_—a book in which we might expect to find some early
traditions of New Minster, one of king Alfred’s foundations.

But while we desire to make the most of these items, it must be
admitted that they constitute an inadequate furniture for eleven
weeks of Alfred’s time in the most intense crisis of his life. At any
other point in Alfred’s career, the silence of so many weeks might
not provoke remark, but at this moment it makes a sensible void. If,
however, we rightly apprehend the situation of the fugitive king,
his hopes and his fears, his aims and his resources, we may (in the
light of the great result) indulge a sober imagination without fear of
considerable error.

Among the pieces of genuine tradition which seem to greet the explorer
in Asser’s _Life_, there is perhaps none on which we may more
confidently lean than a certain fragment in the paragraph beginning
‘Interea tamen rex[42].’

The drift of this context is that with all his wars and frequent
interruptions, Alfred ruled his kingdom, and ‘practised every
branch of the craft of venery; directed his goldsmiths and all his
artificers; did moreover instruct the falconers and hawk-catchers and
dog-trainers; and by his own novel engineering constructed buildings
beyond all former wont, statelier and more costly; had Saxon books
read to him, and commanded others to learn Saxon poems by heart, &c.’

In this passage I seem to recognize a true historic note; and I think
that in this picture of the range of his powers, and the roll of his
accomplishments, his vast activity and versatility, we have some
genuine reminiscences of the personality of Alfred. In the emphasis
here laid on hunting, we may recognize the king who, some years
later, sent a present of wolfhounds to the archbishop of Rheims, and
such dogs, too, that their quality and breed was accentuated by the
receiver in his grateful acknowledgement[43]. And when to this we add
that he could make and sing a song, could tell a good tale, could
make choice of men and win their confidence, we need little aid from
imagination to perceive how this mysterious visitor might captivate
the British hearts of all Somerset like one man, and perhaps set them
wondering whether it could be their own ideal king Arthur come back to
them again.

During nearly three months of that eventful year his aim was to
cultivate closer relations with the people of that outlying territory,
desiring that they might become attached to him with sentiments of
loyalty and friendship. To devote himself to this undertaking was at
once his duty, his interest, and his delight. For such an achievement
as this he had advantages both natural and acquired. Apart from war,
there is nothing like hunting for making comrades, if a man have a
genial soul and be himself a mighty hunter. Alfred _was_ a mighty
hunter and a genial soul, and close at hand there was one of the
finest hunting-grounds in the world.

Immediately from the Pedridan swamp the ground began to rise to north
and north-west towards a run of hilly and woodland country forty miles
long, and from ten to twenty miles broad; a country which remains
singular to this day for its natural breed of red deer and its chase
of the great game. This royal sport survives on Exmoor and in the
Quantocks, and there are Minehead people who can tell you that they
have seen the stag-hunt scamper through their main street in full cry.

At the entrance of this country, at a point which is conveniently
situated for uniting activity inland with a constant observation of
the line of Pedrida, is a village which is now called North Newton,
with which Petherton Park had been so long and closely linked that it
went by the popular name of Newton Park. I am led by a number of small
indications to infer that this is the place where Alfred had his chief
residence during those early months of the year 878.

When Easter came, his action began to be overt; he dropped personal
disguise, and stood forth as ÆLFRED CYNING. ‘When Easter came, king
Alfred, with a small force, constructed a fort at Athelney, and out
of that fort was warring against the invading host, he and the men of
Somerset, that portion of them which was nighest[44].’ This is the
action of a commander who has made sure of his following, and is now
beginning his operations against the enemy. He fortifies himself on
the east side of the bridge, where a conical hill offers an opportune
position; and from that basis he opens a guerilla warfare with the
invaders. He does not show his hand: he rather wants to be thought
weak. This naturally draws away from head quarters more and more of
the hostile force, who think that they shall presently deal a last
blow to the Saxon resistance. And so with a petty and apparently
futile display of military force, he continues to amuse and distract
the enemy for the next six weeks.

The impression made on the mind of the people by these events is
traceable in two names: Athelney, which now represents Æthelinga Eig,
the island of princes; and Borough Bridge, which means the bridge
at the fortification. The fort which Alfred made in 878 is well
preserved, the entrenchments occupying the summit of a conical hill
near the east end of the bridge which spans the Parret, after its
junction with the Tone.

How the king had employed the unrecorded months is manifest in
the result. His muster-roll at Brixton Deveril, in the words of a
contemporary, is brief yet eloquent: ‘Then in the seventh week after
Easter he rode to Ecgbrihtes Stân, on the eastern side of Selwood, and
to meet him at that place came the men of Somerset, all of them, and
the Wiltshire men, and of Hampshire the part that was on the hither
side of the sea; and of him fain they were.’ This passage of the
_Saxon Chronicle_ seems to render a satisfactory account of the manner
in which the king had employed his time from Epiphany to Easter in the
year 878.

Absorbed in this supreme effort, where his all was at stake, he may
well have found no time for recovering his buried Jewel, and he may
never have revisited the spot until his marks were all obliterated.

From the land beyond Pedrida, which had hitherto counted to the crown
of Wessex only as a recent territorial acquisition, now started up
around the fugitive king an army of devoted warriors, who resolutely
threw their weight into the scale, and rescued the dynasty of their

Such was the nature of the force which Alfred now with a swelling
heart perceived to be entirely at his disposal, and he buckled to the
task of employing them to the best advantage. From the entrenched hill
by Borough Bridge he prosecuted the war against the Danes, whose basis
was at Chippenham, and this he continued for six weeks. This he could
do with a small force, as he had great advantages of position. Between
him and the foe lay the fenny channel of the Brue, which he and his
people were expert in crossing. So it was comparatively easy for him
to harass them and retire to his fort.

This kind of warfare, continued for six weeks, must have had the
designed effect of drawing off from the strength of the foe in
Wiltshire, and causing them to concentrate their attention upon this
feigned line of attack. For all this was only to amuse and distract
the enemy, and so to facilitate the execution of a very different
project, which the king was preparing. What was passing in Alfred’s
mind may (in all essentials) be read in Lord Roberts’s narrative of
his preparations for attacking the Afghans, when they were entrenched
on the Peiwar Kotal in December, 1878[45]. By making display of
reconnoitring parties and other preparations as for a front attack,
carrying this on to the extent of raising batteries and mounting guns,
till he had caused the enemy to make counter dispositions accordingly,
he with the utmost secrecy by a circuitous night march made a flank
attack, taking them unprepared, and promptly dislodged them from an
apparently impregnable position. So Alfred, while waging the six
weeks’ war, had his trusty messengers abroad all through Wiltshire and
Hampshire, preparing for the tryst at Ecgbrihtes Stân.

Well may we exclaim with Sir Walter Besant—‘What follows is like a
dream!’ Yea, verily, like a dream in its sudden transformation of
the whole face and prospect of things, and equally unaccountable
too; for no attempt to explain it by natural causes will ever match
the stupendous result. It is not in order to dispel an illusion that
we seek to trace the plan and the process—the illusion cannot be
dispelled. No, rather it is in order to penetrate further into the
action of a life that has kindled our admiration. Of that life we have
a mirror in the enthusiasm with which his presence had fired the Welsh
of Somerset beyond Pedrida. It is surely no mere accident that in the
memorandum of that resolute force which mustered for his restoration,
the first item should be—SUMORSÆTE ALLE.

  [30] Among promising fields of exercise in exploring the bed
  of the sea, there is the coast from Swanage Bay round to St.
  Aldhelm’s Head, which might yield some durable relics from the
  loot of ancient monasteries. And if Alfred really did purchase
  the evacuation of Wareham in 877, ‘pecuniam dando,’ as Ethelwerd
  has it, the very coins may still be there, and in a good state of

  [31] Þa gegaderode Æþered ealdormon and Æþelm ealdorman and Æþelnoþ
  ealdorman, and þa cinges þegnas þe þa æt ham æt þæm geweorcum
  wæron, of alcre byrig be eastan Pedredan, ge be westan Sealwuda ge
  be eastan; ge eac be norþan Temese, and be westan Sæfern, ge eac
  sum dæl þæs Norð Weal cynnes. _Sax. Chron._, Ā. 894.

  [32] Kemble, _Codex Diplomaticus_, vol. iii, p. 423; Birch,
  _Cartularium Saxonicum_, No. 814.

  [33] _The English Dialect Dictionary._ Edited by Joseph Wright,
  M.A., Ph.D., Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology in the
  University of Oxford.

  [34] 658. Her Cenwalh gefeaht æt Peonnum wiþ Walas and hie
  gefliemde oþ Pedridan.

  [35] 682. On þissum geare Centwine gefliemde Bret Wealas oþ sæ.

  [36] Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archæological and Natural
  History Society, vol. xviii.

  [37] From an Address by Professor Boyd Dawkins in the Proceedings
  of the Somersetshire Archæological and Natural History Society for
  the year 1872.

  [38] _A General History of Quadrupeds. The Figures engraved on
  Wood by Thomas Bewick_, 1820, p. 135. In Taunton Castle, which
  is the home and museum of the Somersetshire Archæological and
  Natural History Society, the form and beauty of the red deer may be
  contemplated in a fine specimen which is set up in the great hall,
  the very hall of the Bloody Assize.

  [39] Appendix E.

  [40] The West Saxon form of this name was Wine, but I write it
  Wina, as also I adopt the Latin form Ina, in place of the genuine
  Ine, lest the English reader should allow it to pass through his
  mind in the shape of a monosyllable. The Anglian forms of these
  names (in Bede) are Ini and Wini.

  [41] ‘Domino gloriosissimo occidentalis regni sceptra gubernanti,
  quem ego, ut mihi scrutator cordis et rerum testis est, fraterna
  caritate amplector, Gerontio Regi simulque cunctis Dei sacerdotibus
  per Domnoniam conversantibus, Althelmus, &c.’ Haddan and Stubbs,
  _Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain
  and Ireland_, vol. iii, p. 268.

  [42] In the edition by F. Wise (1722) it is on p. 48; in _Monumenta
  Historica Britannica_, p. 486.

  [43] This letter is printed in the edition of Asser by F. Wise,
  p. 123; and the most important parts are given in English by Mr.
  Conybeare, _Alfred in the Chroniclers_, p. 218.

  [44] And þæs on Eastron worhte Ælfred cyning, litle werede, geweorc
  æt Æþelinga eigge, and of þam geweorce was winnende wiþ þone here,
  and Sumursætna se dæl se þær niehst wæs. _Sax. Chron._, Ā. 878.

  [45] _Forty-one Years in India_, chap. xlvi.

                              CHAPTER IX


From the date of its discovery in 1693 down to the present time, the
name of ‘Newton Park’ has been associated with the Alfred Jewel as
designating the property on which it was found. In our day, however,
this name is no longer recognized in the neighbourhood, and indeed it
is apt to be misleading. For this title is now current in Somerset in
another sense, namely, as denoting the seat of Earl Temple at Newton
St. Loe, near Bath. Still the honorific appellation of ‘Newton Park,’
for the estate on which the Jewel was discovered, will be found to
rest upon historic antecedents, which are full of interest, and not
devoid of suggestiveness for the purpose of our present investigation.

The extant mention of this Newton carries us back a good space behind
the Norman Conquest. The Will of Ælfric, archbishop of Canterbury, who
died in 1006, affords evidence that he was a landowner in Newton. It
is not generally possible to identify a place by a name which became
so common, but the coupling of it in Abp. Ælfric’s Will with the name
of Fiddington, removes all uncertainty. The passage in the Will (which
is cast in the third person) runs thus: ‘And the land in the West
Country at Fiddington and at Newton he bequeathed to his sisters and
their children[46].’

In the forest laws, which grew up after the Conquest, we find that the
custody of the royal forest of North Petherton was a serjeanty, which
was attached to the Manor of Newton and caused it to be distinguished
by the name of Newton Forester. When this Manor was granted by King
John to William de Wrotham, it was declared that he held it by the
service of being the king’s forester in the counties of Somerset,
Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall. As he does not appear to have exercised
his office beyond the county of Somerset, this territorial definition
suggests that some vague prerogative had attached to Newton Manor at
an earlier time.

In the third generation from the above grant this Manor passed with
an heiress into the hands of William de Placetis. A generation later
it was divided between three co-heiresses, Sabina, Evelina, and
Emma. Then arose a question about the office of Forester, and it
was found that it appertained to a particular messuage and meadow,
and that these were included within the portion of Sabina, so she
was declared Forester in fee of the forests of Exmoor, Neroche,
Selwood, and Mendip, likewise custodian of the warren of Somerton;
and these offices she discharged by deputy. In her time (26 Edw. I)
occurred the Perambulation of the forests of the county, in pursuance
of the Charter of the Forests which had been granted by Henry III.
The forests were to be reduced to their ancient and lawful bounds,
according to their limits at the accession of Henry I. The annual
value of the lands then disafforested was more than a hundred times
as great as that of the legal forest of North Petherton.

In the time of Edward III the Manor of Newton with its rights
and appurtenances belonged to Roger, earl of Mortimer, in whose
descendants and in the dukes of York it continued to the time of
Edward IV, when it came to the Crown, and then the Manor was quoted
as Newton Regis. During this period the powers of Forester were
delegated, and some interesting names occur in the list of deputies:

  14 Ric. II. Richard Brettle and Gefferey Chaucer, esqrs., by the
  appointment of the earl of March.

  21 Ric. II. Gefferey Chaucer, by Alienor, countess of March.

  4 Hen. V. Thomas Chaucer, by Edward, earl of March.

  8 Hen. VI. William Wrothe and Thomas Attemore.

  12 Hen. VI. William Wrothe.

  29 Hen. VI. Sir William Bonville and Richard Luttrell, by the duke of

  14 Edw. IV. Sir Giles D’Aubeny, for life.

  23 Hen. VII. Robert Wrothe, for thirty years.

Soon after the expiration of which term Sir Thomas Wrothe, son and
heir of the last-named Robert, purchased of Edward VI the fee of
Petherton Park and the Manor of Newton Regis. The office of Forester
had now fallen into decay and the ancient glory had departed, and
the transfer of this property appears to have been governed by
the ordinary considerations. In the time of Queen Elizabeth the
descendants of Sir Thomas pulled down the park house, and carried the
materials to a lodge called the Broad Lodge, which (said Collinson in
1791) ‘the late Sir Thomas Wrothe improved to a handsome dwelling.
The whole park[47] is now converted into farms.’ The improvements of
Sir Thomas Wrothe, here mentioned, have a probable connexion with our

Such is the remarkable history of the Manor which has been at
different times known as Newton Forester, Newton Placey, Newton Regis,
and Newton Wrothe; and this history ministers occasion for a surmise
that the distinction which attended this Manor may have had its roots
considerably further back, inasmuch as the extant records do not offer
an adequate account of that peculiar prerogative which made it so
famous and so dignified.

I venture to suggest that the beginnings of this place, which has
been so eminent, and which is now known by the comparatively obscure
name of North Newton, may have been connected with the retreat of
the king to Athelney, that this may have been a spot of his own
selection. It is reached from Athelney by simply following the rise of
the ground, it is well placed for keeping an eye on the Parret, the
side from which a surprize was most to be apprehended, and it was the
approach to the fine hunting-fields of Quantock and Exmoor. What more
natural than that he should take a liking to the place and judge it
convenient for a hunting-lodge? And I venture to throw out a surmise
for consideration. May it not be that the prefix ‘New’ was set by the
king himself, who gave the name of New Minster to his foundation at

The name of Newton properly belonged only to the Manor, but as the
lordship of this Manor was long coupled with the custody of Petherton
Park, and as the two were habitually associated in men’s minds, the
latter came to be spoken of as ‘Newton Park,’ and this title is simply
a colloquial variation and equivalent for Petherton Park. The correct
name of Petherton Park is constantly used by Leland in the extract
from his _Itinerary_ which is given in the previous chapter. So that
when the Alfred Jewel is said to have been found in Newton Park, this
is only a popular way of saying that it was found in Petherton Park.
The discovery occurred in the time of Sir Thomas Wrothe, who was also
the enlarger of the mansion, and it is a probable inference that it
was found in the excavations which were required for this work[49].

                  *       *       *       *       *

The scene now shifts from Newton to the neighbouring parish of
Stogursey or, as modern research has taught us to write it, Stoke
Courcy. In this parish is Fairfield House, a handsome Elizabethan
mansion in which the Alfred Jewel was preserved for a quarter of a
century, from the time of its discovery in 1693, until it was given to
the University of Oxford in 1718[50].

About the time of Henry II the lands of ‘Ferfelle’ were severed from
those of Honibere, and erected into a separate estate.

By-and-by the name slid into a new form, conveying a new idea. The
new name into which it merged is one that has been freely propagated
both at home and in the colonies, with pleasing associations of soft
and gently undulating landscape suggestive of homely scenery and a
sheltered situation. Very different is the connotation of the name
in its documentary form. In ‘Ferfelle’ we can see only some outlying
‘remoter fell,’ such as would be little visited save for uses of
summer pasture. In Collinson’s picture of the mansion, which is here
reproduced, while the foreground seems to justify the modern name,
the hills and hanging woods at the back of the house seem to bear out
the more primitive signification of an outlying mountain fell. And
probably this was also the idea which originally gave name to the
well-known mountain in Westmoreland over Grasmere.

[Illustration: FAIRFIELD HOUSE.]

After a succession of owners of various names this new estate came
(14 Edw. I) into the possession of William de Vernai, who had married
the sole daughter and heiress of the previous proprietor. For nearly
three hundred years there was always a Vernai at Fairfield. In 12 Edw.
IV the Vernai of that day (the fourth of the name of William) had a
licence to build a wall and seven round towers about his mansion-house
at Fairfield, and to enclose two hundred acres of ground for a park.
‘The tomb in the Vernais isle in the fine old Priory church of Stoke
Courcy, with an image of an armed man lying thereon, belongs to this
William Vernai’ (Collinson).

Fairfield had come into the family of Vernai by an heiress, and at
length it passed in the same manner to the family of Palmer. Hugh de
Vernai left one only daughter, and she was called Elizabeth, after
the great queen, who was her godmother. On the death of her father
her wardship was granted to Sir Thomas Palmer, of Parham, in the
county of Sussex, Knt.; to whose only son, William, she was afterwards
married. Soon after this marriage, Sir Thomas Palmer pulled down the
old house, and began the present mansion, which was completed by his
grandson (also Sir Thomas Palmer, Knt.), who inherited Fairfield in
1587. This proprietor was not a keeper at home. In 1595 he was with
Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins in the expedition to Porto
Rico, and afterwards commanded a ship at the taking of Cadiz, where he
was knighted. He was one of the most considerable persons in the Court
of Queen Elizabeth; but on the accession of King James he resolved to
spend the remainder of his days beyond the seas, and accordingly, in
the year 1605, he went with the earl of Nottingham into Spain, where,
as he was providing a settlement for his family at Valladolid, he died
of the small-pox, and was there buried.

William Palmer, his son and heir, was a man of learning, and chose
to live in London, and he was, in the time of Charles I, fined a
thousand pounds by the Star Chamber for disobedience to the king’s
proclamation, which required all persons of estate to reside and keep
hospitality at their country houses.

His brother Peregrine, who succeeded him, went as a volunteer to the
Palatinate wars, and was afterwards an officer in the Swedish army.
As soon as the royal standard was set up he repaired to Nottingham,
and faithfully served King Charles in the commissions of major,
lieutenant-colonel, and colonel of horse, being present at the battles
of Edgehill, Marston Moor, Cropredy Bridge, and Naseby. He died in
1684, having married Anne, the daughter of Nathaniel Stevens, in
the county of Gloucester, Esq., and he was succeeded in the estate
by his eldest surviving son, Nathaniel, who is reported in the
_Philosophical Transactions_ as the possessor of the Alfred Jewel in
the year 1698[51]. He served in several parliaments for the boroughs
of Minehead and Bridgwater, and for the county of Somerset. The first
recorded possessor of the Alfred Jewel died in 1717. He was succeeded
by his son Thomas, who resided at Fairfield, where he lived a studious
life, investigating the antiquities of his country. His manuscript is
preserved at Fairfield, and it was a valuable source of information to
Collinson, the historian of Somerset. It is from this source we learn
that the Jewel was ‘dug up,’ an expression which seems to justify the
inference that it was not accidentally lost, but purposely buried[52].
It was he who, in 1718, gave the Alfred Jewel to the University of

He married a daughter of Sir Thomas Wrothe of Petherton Park, who
died in 1721, leaving two daughters co-heiresses. The elder of these
was married to Sir Hugh Acland, of Columb-John in the county of
Devon, Bart., and the younger to Mr. Thomas Palmer, who died without
issue. He was succeeded by his brother Peregrine, who represented the
University of Oxford in several parliaments, and died in 1762, the
last survivor of his name and family. He left his estate to Arthur
Acland, Esq., his next of kin, from whom it has descended to Sir
Alexander Acland Hood, Baronet, the present owner of the Fairfield

  [46] And ðe land be westan at Fittingtúne and at Niwantúne
  he becwæð his sweostrum and heora bearnum. Kemble, _Codex
  Diplomaticus_, p. 719; Thorpe, _Diplomatarium_, p. 549; Earle,
  _Land Charters_, p. 223.

  [47] ‘In this park was found the curious amulet of king Alfred,
  mentioned in vol. i, p. 87.’ Collinson, _History of Somerset_, vol.
  iii, p. 62.

  [48] In Kemble’s _Codex Diplomaticus_, No. 320, there is a late
  and meagre abstract of a grant of land by king Alfred ‘in loco qui
  dicitur Norðniwtune.’ Kemble puts this place in Wiltshire, but why
  may it not be the North Newton by Athelney? The orthography of the
  name would be not that of the original grant, but of the abridger’s
  time. Appendix F.

  [49] I am indebted for this suggestion to Sir Alexander Acland Hood.

  [50] To be quite exact, its lodging for the first five years is
  matter of inference from the fact that in 1698 it is described
  as being at Fairfield, without any indication of a change of
  ownership. One transfer however there must have been. The place
  of discovery made it the property of Sir Thomas Wrothe; and as
  Nathaniel Palmer was his mother’s brother, it is easy to understand
  the gift of the nephew to his uncle, who may have been a man of
  antiquarian tastes. We can also understand the desire of Nathaniel
  Palmer that this precious relic should go to Oxford, as he, with
  many others of his family, had been educated at the University, of
  which Alfred was the reputed founder. Appendix G.

  [51] Appendix A.

  [52] Appendix G.

                              CHAPTER X

                      GOLD RINGS CONTEMPORANEOUS

The earliest recorded doubt as to the identity of the ÆLFRED of the
Jewel with Alfred of Wessex was grounded upon the high artistic
quality of the work[53]. It may therefore be illustrative if we advert
to some other specimens of English jewellery belonging to those early
times. One such has already been quoted above (p. 68), namely, the
‘enamelled ouche’ of Mr. Roach Smith, which is now in the British
Museum. This is a piece of great beauty and high technical skill; and
it has every appearance of belonging to these times, but there is
nothing to fix its date more definitely. Happily, there are specimens
of English jewellery of the ninth century which exclude this doubt. We
have no less than three inscribed gold rings which certainly belonged
to eminent contemporaries of Alfred, and two of them to members of his
family circle; insomuch that we may say, with some confidence, that
these two must have been familiar objects to his eye.

                    OF SHERBORNE FROM 824 TO 867.

In chronological order the first of these three rings is one that
bears the name of ALHSTAN. It was found in the year 1753 at Llysfaen,
in the county of Carnarvon. It was figured and described in the
_Archæologia_, iv. 47, by Mr. Pegge, whose letter is dated July
6, 1771. He identified the name with Ealhstan or Ealchstan, the
warlike bishop of Sherborne. It may seem strange that the bishop of
Sherborne’s ring should be found in Carnarvonshire; but the _Saxon
Chronicle_ suggests a simple and natural explanation. In the year
853 Æthelwulf, king of Wessex, was petitioned by the king and Witan
of Mercia to aid them in the subjugation of the Welsh, who were in
rebellion. Consequently, Æthelwulf marched with an army into Wales,
and restored the imperial authority of Mercia.

This operation (which was part of the defence of the country against
the Danes, whom the Welsh of Cambria were prone to support) would
naturally have been conducted with the advice and under the management
of Alhstan[54]. The name Llysfaen (‘Stone Court’) fitly describes
the rocky enclosure in which the ring was found, and in which we may
suppose that the final negotiations were conducted. Preoccupation
of mind in momentous business makes it easy to imagine how the old
war-chief of Æthelwulf might have lost his ring. Among the selfsame
rocks of Llysfaen, and near the spot where the Alhstan ring was
discovered, another ring was shortly afterwards found, containing a
greater weight of gold, but of comparatively rude workmanship, and not

The Alhstan ring now belongs to the Waterton Collection, which is
preserved in the South Kensington Museum. It is of that type (not
uncommon in Roman rings) which suggests derival from a string of
beads. The lettering occupies four circular compartments, which
alternating with four lozenge-shaped compartments, constitute the
hoop of the ring. Pegge saw the dragon of Wessex in the grotesque
animals which occupy the lozenge-shaped compartments. The characters
are beautiful Roman capitals of Anglo-Saxon type, except the N, which
is represented by the Rune ᚾ. Besides the _Archæologia_, the ring is
figured in _Art Treasures of the United Kingdom_, a monumental book
which was published in connexion with the Manchester Exhibition of

                     KING OF WESSEX (836–855).

[Illustration: ✠ EꞱHELVVLF ℞]

The second of the three rings is inscribed in the above form with the
name of Alfred’s father, king Ethelwulf, for whom it was evidently
made. It is in the form of a bishop’s mitre, with only one peak.


In 1781, March 22, Lord Radnor brought this find before the Society
of Antiquaries. It had been found in the summer of 1780 in a field in
the parish of Laverstoke, near Salisbury. According to the finder’s
story, it was brought to the surface by the pressure of a cart-wheel,
and it lay exposed on the edge of the rut. Mr. Howell, a silversmith
in Salisbury, gave the man thirty-four shillings for the value of the
gold, and Lord Radnor bought it of Mr. Howell. It still shows the
effect of hard pressure, being almost flattened. It was figured in the
_Archæologia_, vii. 421, and repeatedly since. It is preserved in the
British Museum.



In the two rings already described, the names of Alhstan and Æthelwulf
belong to the fabric of the rings, as the name of Ælfred belongs to
the fabric of the Jewel. But it is different in the ring of queen

This ring swells out into a dilated bezil, on the cop of which is
an _Agnus Dei_, beautifully engraved in relief, with a background
of niello. The interior of this bezil (which would be in contact
with the wearer’s finger) was a fair gold surface when the ring was
finished and put out of hand by the goldsmith. Subsequently, the name
of Æthelswith has been incised upon that surface with the fine point
of a graving tool, somewhat in this form: ✠ EAÐEL[Symbol: reversed
Z]VIÐ REG[Symbol: elongated N]A, where the [Symbol: elongated N] is a
monogram for IN, so that the inscription reads ✠ ÆTHELSWITH REGINA.

The incision is so slight and so fresh that it is manifest the ring
had no considerable wear after it was done[55].


Æthelswith was the daughter of Æthelwulf and sister of Alfred, and
consort of Burgred, king of Mercia, who was driven out by the Danes
in 874, and retired to Rome, where he died. Æthelswith died in 888 at
Pavia, apparently on pilgrimage. The annal recording it runs thus:
‘888. This year the alms of the West Saxons and of king Alfred were
conducted to Rome by “Beocca ealdorman.” And queen Æthelswith, who was
king Alfred’s sister, died, and was buried at Pavia[56].’

This fine nielloed ring was found near Aberford in Yorkshire, in or
about the year 1870. It was first observed by a ploughman at the point
of his ploughshare. He brought it to his master, who, thinking it
brass, attached it to his dog’s collar, where it hung until some one
assured him it was gold, whereupon he carried it to a silversmith at
York, and exchanged it for spoons. From this dealer it was purchased
by Canon Greenwell of Durham, from whom it passed into the possession
of Sir Wollaston Franks, and ultimately by his bequest came to the
British Museum.


When we consider how very small is the whole number of extant gold
rings (whether inscribed or not) that date from the Saxon period, it
must strike us as a very remarkable circumstance that we are able
to produce three such examples, all within the period of Alfred’s
life, and two of them belonging to such near relations that we may
naturally suppose they were familiar objects to his eye.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And there is a fourth ring, of which we cannot assert that it belongs
to this very select group, but which certainly must be assigned to the
same general period, and claims association with the three. It is a
simple hoop of gold, a good quarter of an inch wide, having its outer
surface covered with the following engraved inscription nielloed[57]:

[Illustration: ÆÐRED MEC AH EANRED MEC AGROF: that is, _Æðred me owns,
Eanred me engraved_.]

Hickes described this ring in his _Thesaurus_ (Preface, pp. viij and
xiij) with a good figure: but in the interpretation he read the last
word as AGROFT, taking an idle mark like an inverted T as part of the
word; whereas it is there only to fill out the space. In the lettering
there are five Runes: namely, the Æ in ÆÐRED, the N in EANRED, and the
A, G, and F in AGROF. This is the ring which was alluded to above (p.
17), in connexion with the archaic pronoun MEC, which occurs twice on

In 1705, when this ring was described by Hickes, it was in the
possession of Dr. Hans Sloane: it is now in the British Museum.

The forms ‘Æthred’ and ‘Æthered’ are colloquial abbreviations of
‘Æthelred,’ which was the name of that one among the brothers of
Alfred, with whom his relations were closest. But the frequency of the
name forbids us to assert that this ring was made for king Æthelred.
The names ‘Æthelwulf’ and ‘Æthelswith’ are in themselves exceptional,
and when combined with the royal title are absolutely identifying:
the name ‘Alhstan,’ combined with the peculiar aspect of the ring and
the circumstances of its discovery, not much less so; but the name
‘ÆTHRED,’ though forcibly aided by the noble aspect of the ring, only
enables us to assert a degree of probability which every one must
determine for himself.

Everything in the appearance of these rings declares them to be the
work of Saxon artists, and on the ÆÐRED ring the artist bears a good
Saxon name. Such specimens must finally dissipate any lingering relics
of the old prejudice, that the work of the Alfred Jewel is too good to
have been produced in the England of the ninth century. We may rest
assured that the excellence of the workmanship carries with it no
presumption against its being English work of the time of king ALFRED.

  [53] See above, p. 7.

  [54] Alhstan had accompanied Ecgberht on his famous expedition into
  Cornwall in 825, and we find him with the forces of Somerset and
  Dorset in 845 to oppose the Danes at the mouth of Pedrida. See Mr.
  Plummer’s note to _Sax. Chron._, Ā. 823.

  [55] But the edges of the ring show (as Franks pointed out) traces
  of long wear. He goes on to say: ‘The engraving, moreover, scarcely
  looks like the work of a goldsmith. I would therefore suggest,
  that the Queen had probably offered this ring at some shrine, and
  the priests connected with the shrine had engraved her name within
  the ring, to record the royal giver.’ _Proc. Soc. Antiq._, 2nd
  Series, vol. vi, p. 307.

  [56] 888. Her lædde Beocca ealdorman West Sea na ælmessan and
  Ælfredes cyninges to Rome. ⁊ Æþelswiþ cuen, sio wæs Ælfredes
  sweostor cyninges, forþferde, ⁊ hire lic liþ æt Pafian.

  [57] Professor Stephens of Copenhagen, _Runic Monuments_, Part II,
  p. 463, dated it ‘about A.D. 700–800’: but in this estimate he has
  been guided (I think) not by anything in the artistic design or
  execution, but simply by the large proportion of Runes in the mixed
  lettering, a criterion of very doubtful value.

                              CHAPTER XI

                       SOME CLOSING REFLECTIONS

Among the various criticisms which have been elicited by the Alfred
Jewel during the two hundred and seven years which have elapsed since
its discovery in the year 1693, the opinion that the name it bears
is that of the king has not met with more than one definite and
formulated objection. This objection, if it had prevailed, would have
excluded the production of such a work in king Alfred’s time, as a
thing impossible. But the question thus raised has evoked evidence of
so overpowering a nature as not only to neutralize the objection, but
also to increase the balance of probability in favour of the opinion
that the person named on the Jewel is Alfred of Wessex.

The name, combined with the costliness and the strongly marked
individuality of the work, draws the mind naturally to think of the
most remarkable person who bore that name; but, in addition, we have
to consider that it was found in the neighbourhood of the very spot
which is most closely associated with the career of the selfsame
person. In these obvious prima facie elements of the case, there is an
accumulation of probability, which fully justified Hickes in saying
that from his first sight of the Jewel he had never doubted its having
been a personal possession of king Alfred’s[58].

To this central and primary body of evidence other instances of
probability have been added in the course of the present Essay. The
investigation of the Epigraph led us to the conclusion that the
diction answered well to the time of king Alfred’s life, and also that
it bore some resemblance to an analogous piece of his admitted writing.

Our examination of theories concerning the design and use of the Jewel
resulted in the conclusion that the suggestions hitherto advanced were
inadmissible, and of no other value than as narrowing the field of
conjecture. We at least know a number of things that have appeared
plausible in their time, and are now no more to be thought of; namely,
an amulet, a pendant to a collar of state, a decorated umbilicus, the
head of a stilus, a military standard, the handle of a book-pointer,
the tip of a sceptre.

Our review of the abortiveness of early speculations concerning the
design and use of the Jewel drove us by a process of elimination
to seek a place for it in the helmet. In favour of this new theory
historical evidence has been adduced, such as has not been offered
in support of any other explanation. Unless this theory is approved,
both the Alfred Jewel and the minor jewel from Minster Lovel remain
without explanation. There is not so much as a theory in the field. On
the other hand, if this new theory is judged to be right, or to have
high probability, then this circumstance makes strongly in favour of
the identification of the Jewel with king Alfred. For it points to a
warrior, a helmet-wearer, and to a person of commanding position.

One of the effects of the present investigation upon myself has been
to convince me (in the face of what I counted a settled opinion) that
the enamelled Figure is a product of these islands; and that it is not
necessary for us to look abroad towards Byzantium, or further east,
for a satisfactory account of it. This unity again is in favour of
identification with Alfred of Wessex, whose conspicuous interest in
jewellers’ work is asserted by a well-sustained tradition.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The symbolism of the Jewel appears to contain an allegorical
representation of the designer’s position, both inherited and chosen,
both national and personal. His religious standing is pictured in the
Figure and its back-plate; and the ancient religion of his nation in
the boar’s head, once dominant, now under foot, forming a pedestal
for the Head of the Church. And to this I will add the surmise, that
perhaps the scales or waves on the small triangular space in the
reverse signify that his country is an island in the ocean.

I am not without apprehension that these explanations may strike some
readers as too minute and too far-fetched, and that I may be charged
with bringing out of the Jewel more than is in it. I will therefore
endeavour to anticipate this charge with a few apologetic words. And
first of all, I think it well to state that I did not set out with
any idea of discovering latent meanings in the Jewel. When first I
discoursed upon it, I contented myself with exhibiting drawings of
the object, narrating the story of the discovery, explaining the
inscription, and rehearsing the opinions which had been put forward
concerning such a remarkable find. This furnished material to fill
an hour, and to satisfy an audience. Whatever I have added to the
traditional exegesis has broken in upon me from time to time at wide
intervals, causing me on such occasions more surprize and pleasure
than I can hope to impart to my readers.

For those who would test the symbolism of the Jewel, there is an
obvious preliminary question. Is there any reason to think that Alfred
had an aptitude and a fondness for allegory? This question has been
to me a valuable guide in observations on the extant writings of the
king. It would be easy to show, by examples drawn from his writings,
that he had a marked fondness for imagery and parable, that his
habit of mind inclined to all figures of analogy and similitude. It
was not a previous knowledge of these in the writings that led me to
look for them in the Jewel, but reversely. I am not aware that any one
had called attention to this characteristic in the writings: I do not
think I apprehended it from any other source than the Jewel itself. In
regard to this particular feature, the Jewel has (for me) thrown light
on the writings, and these again have reflected illustration back upon
the Jewel. I hope this explanation may make it easier for some to
think that the imagery of the Jewel is a strong indication that Alfred
of Wessex was the designer.

It was with this aim that, in chapter vii, I quoted the poetical
Epilogue to Alfred’s _Pastoralis_, and with the same aim I now proceed
to quote a long-drawn simile in prose, which the king inserted into
his translation of Boethius’ _De Consolatione Philosophiæ_. It is in
the fourth book, where the discussion is about Providence and Fate[59].

In the abstract and implicit manner natural to the sage of a mature
and over-blown culture, Boethius had illustrated the relation between
Providence and Fate by the relation between the centre of the circle
and its circumference. This analogy is stated in mathematical fashion.
A series of concentric circles offer points of external contact more
numerous in some and less numerous in others, according as their
circumference is nearer or further from the common centre, but the
centre itself is unaffected by such chances; it remains always the
same, one and indivisible. The stable centre is Divine Providence;
by the various contact of the circumferences with external things is
represented the vicissitude of Fate or Fortune.

This refined similitude was translated by king Alfred, out of the
diamond-cut succinct Latin of Boethius, into the homely speech of his
own people, by means of a concrete figure that was familiar to every
son of the soil.

  Accordingly some things in this world are subject to Fate, some are
  no whit subject thereto: but Fate, and all the things subject to
  it, are in subjection to Divine Providence. Concerning this I can
  rehearse unto thee a similitude, whereby thou mayest the better
  understand, which men be subject to Fate, and which be not. All this
  moving and revolving creation revolves upon God, who is immovable,
  unchangeable, and one: and he wieldeth all creatures just as he at
  the first had ordained, and still doth ordain.

  As on a waggon’s axle the wheels revolve and the axle standeth still
  and beareth the whole waggon and governs all the motion; while the
  wheel turns about, and the nave next to the axle moves more steadily
  and more securely than the fellies do: in such a manner that the
  axle is the highest good, which we call God, and the happiest men
  move nighest to God, even as the nave moveth nighest to the axle,
  and the middling sort are just like the spokes; forasmuch as every
  spoke hath one end fast in the nave and the other end in the felly.
  So it is with men of the middling sort; at one time he thinks in his
  mind about this earthly life, at another time about the heavenly;
  like a man looking with one eye to heaven and with the other to
  earth. Just as the spokes have one end sticking in the felly and the
  other in the nave, while the middle of the spoke is equally near to
  both, even so are the middling men in the middle of the spoke, and
  the better men nearer to the nave, and the meaner men nearer to the
  fellies: they are, however, in connexion with the nave, and the nave
  with the axle. So now, the fellies though they are attached to the
  spokes, yet are they altogether rolling upon the earth; so are the
  meanest connected with the middling and the middling with the best
  and the best with God. Though the meanest men all direct their love
  to this world, yet can they not rest thereon, nor be of any account,
  unless they be in some measure associated with God, any more than
  the wheel’s fellies can be in progress, unless they be attached to
  the spokes and the spokes to the axle. The fellies are the farthest
  from the axle; therefore they move the most unevenly. The nave moves
  next to the axle; and that is why it has the surest motion. So do
  the happiest men: as they set their love nearer to God, and more
  resolutely contemn these earthly things, so are they more free from
  care, and less they reck how Fate may chance to turn, or what it
  may bring. In like manner the nave is continually so sure, jolt the
  fellies on whatso they may jolt; and this even though the nave is
  somewhat apart from the axle. By this figure thou mayest understand
  that as the waggon is much more durably sound, the less it is parted
  from the axle; so are those men the freest of all from care (whether
  about anxieties of this life or of the next) who are fast in God: but
  in whatever degree they are asunder from God, in the same degree are
  they worried and harassed, both in mind and in body.

This prose simile is unquestioned as an original piece of king
Alfred’s authorship, and so is also the poetical epilogue to his
_Pastoralis_, which was quoted above in the seventh chapter. Can
any one doubt that his mind was exuberantly fertile in allegorical
thought, and shall it be judged a thing improbable that in his
imaginative youth, having recently passed through a very grand and
rude transition of experience, he should have strained the plasticity
of a favourite craft to body forth the symbolic expression of thoughts
too deep for common speech?

As the course of investigation into the variety and unity of this
composite Jewel brings it more and more home to the creative mind of
Alfred, the conviction rises that this work represents no passing
freak of artistic fancy, nor the fond elaboration of some fascinating
idea (as in a sonnet); but rather that we have before us the
thoughtful record of a period of life and a phase of some duration,
containing serious reflections by one who had reached a higher stage
of observation, a stage commanding a wider outlook. Of some such
a crisis as this the Alfred Jewel appears to be the pictorial and
symbolic monument.

And if this impression is sound, it ought to help us to some further
conclusions. We ought with this help to be able to form some estimate
of the period in which this Jewel was designed. However we may lament
the poverty of detailed incident in the life of Alfred, we are not
ignorant of its main divisions. And we are now in a position to ask—To
which of these divisions does this carefully elaborated design most
naturally belong?

In seeking materials for the answer to this question, I will first
consider the probabilities of the case, which are suggested by the
course of public events: and then, secondly, I will come to the
indications which are personal to Alfred himself. This plan may tend
to clearness, though it be not feasible to keep the two aspects quite

For a basis to this enquiry, we must take the year 878, as being that
in which the Jewel disappeared. This is now an established point in
our argument. To this we were led both by history and by tradition:
and it is only by keeping as close as possible to these that we can
shun the proclivities of arbitrary hypothesis.

1. Taking then the year 878 as that in which Alfred saw the Jewel
for the last time, how far back must we recede to come to the most
probable time for his inventing it? Our first step must be to skip
the seven years since his accession in 871. A glimpse at the events
of that period may suffice to assure us that the constant pressure of
sterner duties would have left him in no mood to amuse himself with
enamel and filigree. And even if for the sake of winter relaxation he
had done so, I think he would not have designated himself as plain
Ælfred, when he was king. During his reign his constant style was
ÆLFRED CYNING, and it would have been quite easy to have
added the letter R to his name, as his father did when he ordered the
fashion of his ring. For these reasons (among others), I think the
Jewel was made before 871.

We may still recede another long step, and say that the date we seek
was probably before 866. That is the year in which Alfred began to
share the burden of reigning without the title, the year in which
the common danger entered upon a new and more menacing phase, as the
heathen invasion began to be more systematically conducted. Wessex was
not indeed attacked until the last of these five years, but the whole
period must have been passed in apprehension and intense preparation.
Accordingly, this process of reasoning back from the year 878 by the
light of public events brings us to the result that the design and
execution of the Jewel is probably to be dated before A.D.
866, that is to say, it must belong to the reign of king Æthelberht.

2. Coming now to the second process, we have to consider at what
time it appears likely that Alfred might have been in the mood for
such a work as this, and also in circumstances (as to his immediate
surroundings) favourable for artistic and allegorical meditation.
When does it appear likely that he had leisure for thinking out these
details, while at the same time his mind was exercised with the themes
represented in the Jewel? It was certainly subsequent to his return
from Rome; not immediately, but after an interval, when the first
agitation of his mind had subsided, and he had become reconciled to
his lot.

For we cannot doubt that when he returned from Rome to England, and
witnessed the state of his country—the danger and the depression—he
must have experienced a great revulsion of feeling, a strong outburst
of regret for the long and happy time that he had been enjoying
abroad. His passionate yearning for Rome and his friends there must
have amounted to something like a violent fit of home-sickness. All
this it was his duty to live down; and to do so he had to look the
facts in the face, and take their measure and their bearing, and
ascertain their relation to his path of duty, and interpret his
position by the light of a religious conscience. Some earnest and
ardent minds would find solace and strength in writing poetry, and
perhaps Alfred did so. If this Jewel is not the equivalent of such a
poem it is nearly akin to it. In constructive art there certainly is a
solace of a healing kind, and the Jewel before us answers remarkably
to the situation. It is in many particulars like the outcome of such a
mood. And if such a mood is likely to have followed the return of the
young prince to England, it concerns us to form some opinion about the
probable date of that event.

It is asserted in the bilingual Chronicle (F) that Alfred returned to
England on the occasion of his father’s death, which took place in
January, 858; but the statement is discredited by considerations which
Mr. Plummer has given in his notes to the _Saxon Chronicle_ (vol.
ii, p. 80). Two years later, in 860, his eldest brother, Æthelbald,
king of Wessex, died; and this event occasioned a definite call for
his return. The three brothers, Æthelbald, Æthered, and Ælfred, held
lands in common which were given by their father to these three sons,
in such a way that the whole was to come to the latest survivor. This
property would now pass to the two brothers, Æthered and Ælfred;
and for the sanction of this transfer it was necessary that the
parties should appear before the Witan. This transaction is related
in Alfred’s Will. The two brothers agreed that their joint property
should be held in trust by Æthelbriht, the new king, and that he
should farm it for the benefit of his younger brothers, a trust which
he fully discharged.

At the death of Æthelbriht and the accession of Æthered in 866, the
heathen invasion began to assume a more alarming form; but the reign
of Æthelbriht had been a quiet time, at least for Wessex. This period
(860 to 866), from Alfred’s thirteenth to his eighteenth year, would
be a time of leisure, and he would be at the age of youthful reverie,
and his mind would be stimulated by reports that would reach his ear
of the savagery of the heathen raids in neighbour and kindred nations
contrasted with the humanities of Christianity, while his memory
would contrast the learned culture of Rome with the ignorance of his
own people. These appear to be apt conditions for exercising the mind
of a serious prince with such thoughts as we find symbolized in the
Alfred Jewel.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In collecting evidence for the argument of this Essay, I have been
solicitous to omit nothing that seemed to make for the credit of a
Jewel, concerning which I am persuaded in my own mind that it bears
the authentic signature of Alfred of Wessex. I hope that this aim
has not betrayed me into the use of any arguments which are of no
validity. And if any reader’s opinion should be against me on this
point, I would ask him to consider that in the region of probability
all men do not judge exactly alike: one may think a particular fact
or tradition of no argumentative value, while another may hesitate to
exclude it. And even if any such instance were disallowed and ruled to
be of no weight, still it cannot invalidate the rest.

Morally, it may damage the effect of the whole, because it may
prejudice the mind of the reader; but logically, it leaves the
argumentative effect of the rest where it was before. Such being
the case, I have leaned toward comprehension as being the more
useful course; and if I have erred I hope I may claim the reader’s
indulgence, on the ground of being faithful to the view which I had of
the task before me.

In this scientific age, there are more persons who can appreciate a
train of exact serial reasoning than of those who can do justice to a
combination of probabilities. It is not very rare to find disputants
capable of testing a mathematical demonstration, who if they had to
examine a probable argument might dismiss it with the proverbial
maxim, which says that no chain is stronger than its weakest link.

There are arguments which are like a chain, and to them the maxim
applies: one weak link vitiates the conclusion. Such are the
demonstrations in Euclid. But the argument which runs through this
book is not of that kind, rather it resembles a bundle, and to such
the maxim does not apply. It cannot be said, for example, that no
faggot is stronger than its weakest stick. And this is the simile
which applies to the evidence in probable reasoning. It is not
linked, but massed.

When Gulliver awoke on the shore of Liliput and found that he was
fastened to the ground, the threads which bound him were severally
slight, but the total effect was irresistible. Analogous thereto was
the combined effect of many partial and inconclusive arguments on the
mind of Sir Francis Palgrave, when he testified that ‘no one, taking
all the points of evidence together, can reasonably doubt but that it
did belong to king Alfred[60].’

This conclusion may now be somewhat amplified. I trust we are now in
a position to say with reasonable confidence, that not only did this
Jewel belong to Alfred of Wessex, having been made by his order; but
further, that it was his work, having been made after his design; and
further again, that the design referred to, and was based upon, his
own position; and, moreover, that the Jewel was a production of his
youth, of the period after his return from Rome, and before he assumed
a share in public affairs by the side of his brother Æthelred.

  [58] See above, p. 8.

  [59] The Anglo-Saxon text may be found in Cardale’s edition (1829),
  p. 338, and in the recent edition by Mr. Sedgefield, p. 129.

  [60] See above, p. 84.

[Illustration: THE JEWEL, FRONT AND BACK.]

                              APPENDIX A


                           (pp. 25 and 144)

The following is an Article in the _Philosophical Transactions_ of the
Royal Society of London, vol. xx, No. 247, page 441:—

_Part of a Letter from Dr. Musgrave, Fellow of the College of
    Physicians and R. S., to Dr. Sloane; concerning a Piece of
    Antiquity lately found in Somersetshire._

  I enclose, to you, the Figure (see Fig. 4) of a curious piece
  of Antiquity, lately found near Ashelney in Somersetshire; the
  Place where King Alfred built, as Milton affirms, a Fortress: But
  according to William of Malmsbury, a Monastery; in Memory (as some
  have thought) of his Deliverance, obscure Retreat to that Place, and
  Concealment in it, from the Danes.

  The Substance is in the Possession of Col. P. of Fairfield in the
  same County; by whose Permission, I had the Sight of it. ’Tis of the
  same Length and Breadth with the Figure: the Work very fine; so as to
  make some Men question its true Age: But in all probability, it did
  belong to that great King, it is so well represented in the Figure,
  that a short Description will suffice.

  The Edge is thin, as far as the Letters. The Letters are on a Plane
  rising obliquely. All within the inner Pyramidal Line is on a Plane
  equi-distant from the Reverse. The Representation (in that upper
  Plane) seems to be of some Person in a Chair. It is in Enamel,
  cover’d over with a Crystal; which is secured in its place by the
  little Leaves coming over its Edges. In the Reverse are Flowers
  engraved. The whole piece may be of the Weight of Three Guineas. The
  Chrystal and Enamel excepted, it is all of pure Gold.

  This, perhaps, was an Amulet of King Alfred’s.

    EXON, _Dec. 10, 1698_.

                              APPENDIX B

                      ST. NEOT AND ST. CUTHBERT

                           (pp. 29 and 74)

Among the tentative interpretations of the enamelled Figure both of
these saints have at different times been put forward, as was only
natural, since they both hold a place in the current narratives of
king Alfred’s life. But it is well to observe that their several
relations to the stream of tradition are neither equal nor alike.
The first is found united with that stream in the tenth century,
that is to say, at the highest point which has been reached in the
investigation of these episodes. As to what is told of St. Neot,
however unlikely, it cannot be pronounced impossible that it may have
had some original right to the place which it holds. The second is a
transparent fraud, introduced in the twelfth century by wrong-headed
zeal. A few details will make this clear.

The oldest source for the life of St. Neot is an Anglo-Saxon
homily of that well-known type which sprang out of the monastic
revival associated with the names of Odo and Æthelwold and Dunstan.
Conspicuous examples of this type are the Lives of St. Edmund, King
and Martyr, and of St. Swithun.

At this epoch the relics of St. Neot (by a traffic too intricate for
us to unravel) were removed from their natural resting-place at St.
Neots in Cornwall, where the man had lived and died, to enrich a new
foundation in Huntingdonshire, where influential persons were planting
a new monastery, which became a second St. Neots. We may pretty
safely assume that this event, which happened about 984, gave rise
to the biography, in which the relations of St. Neot to Alfred form
the distinguishing feature. Of this writing only a late and somewhat
interpolated copy has reached our times.

The modern historian will not hesitate to say of St. Cuthbert that his
relations to Alfred are wholly fictitious; but he cannot undertake to
say the same of St. Neot. Nevertheless, they are equally out of the
question so far as regards the _icuncula_. The idea that the Figure
might be St. Neot is excluded by the homily, which places the death of
St. Neot shortly before the troubles of Alfred, and the accepted date
is 877. According to the most probable chronology we have been able to
make out for the Jewel, it was fabricated before 866.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The legendary connexion of St. Cuthbert with Alfred dates from the
twelfth century, and is apparently due to Simeon the historian, who
was a monk of the monastery of Durham, and who, when about thirty-five
years old, witnessed the impressive ceremonial of the translation of
the great saint of the North Country, which took place in 1104.

When he compiled his narrative of the reign of king Alfred, he
sacrificed facts of history to the fame of the saint. Omitting
genuine details which he had at hand, he subjected the capital events
of Alfred’s life to the patronage of St. Cuthbert. Thus he begins:
‘In the year 877 the nefarious host quitted Exeter and came to
Chippenham and wintered there. King Alfred in those days endured great
tribulations and lived an unsettled life. Being encouraged with an
explicit oracle by St. Cuthbert, king Alfred fought against the Danes,
at the time and in the place which the saint had directed, and gained
the victory, and from that time forward he was terrible and invincible
to his enemies. The manner in which he vanquished his foes is related
as followeth.’

In such a manner was this figment introduced into the page of history,
where it long continued in good repute. Hickes was so much swayed by
it, that he relinquished his first interpretation of the _icuncula_ in
favour of St. Cuthbert.

If the connexion of Alfred with St. Neot is (as it may well be) of a
mythical nature, or even an invention of the biographer, he did but
use the licence which was then accorded to the panegyrist; and it is
very different from that abuse of the authority of the historian which
introduced St. Cuthbert into the narrative of the deeds of Alfred.

                              APPENDIX C


                               (p. 78)

I am indebted to Miss Swann for the following extract from Professor
Westwood’s _Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish Art_ (p.

  The drawing representing (as I apprehend) the Temptation of the
  Saviour occurs on fol. 202 v., and is copied in my Plate XI.

  Here the bust of the Saviour is represented at the summit of an
  elaborately ornamented conical design, which I suppose represents a
  ‘pinnacle of the temple’ rather than the ‘exceeding high mountain.’

  The head of the Saviour is surrounded by a cruciferous nimbus, like
  that of the Virgin in the above-described drawing, and He appears to
  hold a roll in His left hand.

  Two very rudely designed angels hover above His head, and two others
  occupy the upper angles of the picture, the interstices of the latter
  being filled in with foliage and branches springing from vases; that
  on the right hand being in an unusual position.

  The strangely emaciated black figure of the Tempter (destitute of
  tail, but with hoof-like feet), and the crowd of heads at the side
  and bottom of the design, as also the bust within a frame holding two
  rosette-bearing rods, merit particular notice.

My interpretation of the Irish Figure was made solely from a study of
the picture itself, without suggestion from any quarter. I had great
difficulty in making up my mind whether the meaning were a personage
at a window in the building, or whether it were simply a framed
picture exhibited in front of the building. I was not then aware of
Professor Westwood’s description, which takes the latter view. It is
obvious that this view gives to the representation the nature of a
reflection or comment more pointedly than the view which I have taken
in the text.

I will here add another quotation from Professor Westwood, in which
he describes and characterizes the _Book of Kells_: ‘It is the most
astonishing book of the Four Gospels which exists in the world, and
it is in Trinity College, Dublin, where it was placed along with
the books of Archbishop Usher, after his death in 1656, where it has
since remained, and where I trust it will ever remain, as the glory of
Ireland’ (_The Book of Kells: a Lecture_, &c., p. 6).

For a partial illustration of the contents of this Appendix, see the
illustration facing p. 77.

                              APPENDIX D


                               (p. 91)

I am greatly indebted to my friend Mr. C. F. Bell, the Assistant
Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, for the following observations upon
the technical characteristics of early _cloisonnée_ enamels. These
observations are very germane to, and indeed were partly occasioned
by, the questions which surround the Enamel in the Alfred Jewel.

  Setting aside the reliquary at Poitiers, which, if it could really
  justify its claim to having been a gift of Justinian II to St.
  Radigund, would be by far the oldest piece of Byzantine enamel
  work in existence, as well as all such specimens as have no
  inscriptions or documentary evidence to indicate their age, there
  exist, apparently, only two enamelled objects of supposed Byzantine
  workmanship that can be maintained to be older than the Alfred Jewel.
  These are the iron crown of Monza and the golden altar of Saint
  Ambrose at Milan.

  With regard to the first, apart from the controversy as to whether it
  truly was amongst the jewels given to the cathedral by Theodolinda,
  there seems to be some uncertainty as to whether there is any
  _cloisonnée_ enamel about the crown at all. Du Sommerard, who was
  allowed to make a drawing of it which is reproduced in his _Arts
  au Moyen Age_ (Album, série x, pl. 14), speaks of incrustations
  of jewels, but makes no mention of enamel. His carefully coloured
  illustration shows the plaques described by Labarte (_Arts
  Industriels_, i. 312), but the emerald-green ground that figures in
  the description is not indicated. Du Sommerard’s plate fails in one
  or two other particulars to tally with Labarte’s description; and
  as the latter speaks of his difficulty in obtaining a sight of the
  crown, it is possible that he mistook in this instance, as he appears
  to have done in the case of the Limburg reliquary, what M. Molinier
  (_Trésor de Saint Marc de Venise_, p. 48) calls _la verroterie
  cloisonnée_—that is, presumably, glass mosaic inlaid in golden
  cells—for _cloisonnée_ enamel. At any rate, some fresh opinion is
  surely needed to establish the iron crown as a monument of this class
  of enamel work.

  To turn to the altar of Saint Ambrose. It was made in 838; and
  Labarte admits that the Latin inscriptions upon it, and the Latin
  name of its artist, proclaim the Italian origin of the greater part
  of the work. But the enamels which form a comparatively unimportant
  part of the decoration ‘doivent,’ he says, ‘avoir été exécutés par
  un des artistes grecs qui travaillaient en grand nombre en Italie
  à cette époque. On remarquera que les carnations des figures sont
  rendues en émail blanc opaque’ (_Histoire des Arts Industriels_,
  iii. 10). Of these enamels the most striking appear to be eight
  small, circular medallions upon the doors at the back of the altar.
  These medallions do not form an integral portion of the work, but are
  affixed, in the manner of jewels, to the framework of the silver-gilt
  bas-reliefs, and may in fact be amongst those very English enamels
  whose discovery upon the early shrines in continental churches and
  museums Mr. Starkie Gardner predicts (_Catalogue of European Enamels
  exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club_, 1897, p. ix). Each
  represents a diademed head seen in full face, a palm branch, or
  perhaps a wing, appearing above each shoulder against a translucent
  green background. In motive they thus present an extraordinarily
  close parallel to the Alfred Jewel (Du Sommerard, _Arts au Moyen
  Age_, Album, série ix, planches 18 and 19).

  The earliest enamels of incontestably Byzantine origin, which can be
  dated with accuracy by documentary evidence, seem to go no further
  back than the beginning of the tenth century. It cannot, however, be
  said that these works, with those of closely subsequent periods, have
  the appearance of being the productions of the school in its infancy
  and early development. Very considerable technical accomplishment
  is shown in the manipulation of the extremely narrow gold cloisons,
  disposed for the most part in straight or slightly curved lines, and
  filling even the spaces of the drapery with closely laid chevrons or
  parallel stripes; while the innumerable minute cells thus formed are
  filled with homogeneous, brilliant, many-hued enamels. A warm tone of
  pink is invariably used to represent flesh.

  An impressive object, possessing certain characteristics in common
  with the Jewel and other supposed Celtic-Saxon enamels, is the eagle
  fibula found at Mainz, and now in the museum there. The present
  setting of the enamelled eagle has been supposed to be Frankish,
  of the latter part of the tenth or earlier years of the eleventh
  century, and the eight small enamelled jewels inserted in the border
  confirm this view, as they closely resemble the jewels incrusted upon
  the frame of the Crucifixion plaque in the Reiche-Capelle at Munich,
  which has usually been attributed to that age (Von Hefner-Alteneck,
  _Trachten des christlichen Mittelalters_; Schlumberger, _Nicephorus
  Phocas_). The figure of the eagle, presumably, consisted originally
  of five plaques, one representing the head, another the tail, two
  others the outspread wings, and a fifth the body of the bird. This
  last is missing, its place having been supplied, apparently at
  the time the setting was made, by a plaque of engraved gold. This
  circumstance seems in favour of the idea that the enamels are of
  foreign workmanship, and earlier than the setting.

  The cloisons of neither the eagle nor the Roach Smith ouche are as
  narrow as those employed by the Byzantine enamellers, although they
  are at most only half the width of those made use of in the Alfred
  Jewel. The doubling of the cloisons into loops, not commonly seen in
  Byzantine work but remarkable in the Jewel, is also noticeable in
  the eagle. Amongst the five colours employed in the eagle are the
  dark, translucent green, and the yellow, considered by Mr. Gardner
  as characteristic of Celtic-Saxon enamels, and also the opaque white
  such as is used for the flesh tint in the Jewel and the ouche, and,
  as Labarte particularly remarks, in the closely analogous heads upon
  the altar of Saint Ambrose.

  Of all these monuments the enamel of the Alfred Jewel is at once the
  coarsest and most primitive in execution. Having been protected by
  the rock-crystal pane, its surface is presumably in much the same
  state as when it left the maker’s hands. It was, evidently, when it
  came out of the furnace, extremely uneven and rough, and had to be
  subjected to a grinding process, traces of which are still apparent.
  The gold cloisons are dull with minute scratches, and where two ran
  close together they have become one confused, ragged line. Both the
  eagle and the ouche, although exposed for long periods to the direct
  action of the soil, preserve a far higher degree of polish.

  Yet the rough workmanship by itself cannot, it must be remembered,
  be held to preclude the Byzantine origin of this enamel, since, as
  there is not known to exist a single indisputably dated work of
  the Byzantine school in its primitive stages, it is impossible to
  assert that this school was not, during the lifetime of king Alfred,
  producing work as rude in execution as the Jewel. It may be that
  such a specimen will some day make its appearance, and determine
  the Eastern origin of this enamel and all cognate works. It is also
  possible that the discovery of an undoubtedly Irish example may place
  above all dispute the contention that it is of Celtic-Saxon origin,
  and finally justify the absorption into the same class of the ouche,
  the eagle, the eight medallions upon the altar of Saint Ambrose, nay,
  even of the crown of Theodolinda itself.

                              APPENDIX E

                            ATHELNEY ABBEY

                               (p. 115)


The Abbey of Athelney was founded by king Alfred, in pious gratitude
for mercies received. There are no remains now visible on its site.
The materials have doubtless passed into the neighbouring farm
buildings. The spot is marked by a monumental pillar, which was
erected in 1801 by the then proprietor of the land, with an historical
inscription, which is not too inaccurate for the time in which it was
composed. It runs thus:

  King Ælfred the Great, in the year of our Lord 879, having been
  defeated by the Danes, fled for refuge to the forest of Athelney,
  where he lay concealed from his enemies for the space of a whole
  year. He soon after regained possession of the throne; and in
  grateful remembrance of the protection he had received, under the
  favour of Heaven, he erected a monastery on this spot, and endowed it
  with all the lands contained in the Isle of Athelney. To perpetuate
  the memory of so remarkable an incident in the life of that
  illustrious prince, this edifice was founded by John Slade, Esq., of
  Maunsel, the proprietor of Athelney, and lord of the manor of North
  Petherton, A.D. 1801.

The present representative of this gentleman is his
great-great-grandson, Sir Cuthbert Slade of Maunsel, Bart., lord of
the Manor of North Petherton.

The Abbey of Athelney never attained to any considerable wealth or
importance; but a sculptured boss, which was found on the site, and
which is here figured in two aspects, after drawings by Mr. Alfred A.
Clarke of Wells, seems to indicate some costly architecture among the
abbey buildings in the fourteenth century.


                              APPENDIX F

                         NORTH NEWTON CHURCH

                               (p. 139)

The church of North Newton has features suggestive of ancient
celebrity, but the dates which are historically known, do not mount so
high as might have been expected. The tower, which is the oldest part,
and to which the high antiquity of a thousand years has been popularly
attributed, speaks by its architecture, which is here represented.
The earliest known date connected with the fabric is 1292, in which
year the foundation stone of the elder chapel was laid by Richard
de Barfleur, called also Richard de Plesseto. This being a chantry
chapel, the endowment was taken away in 1548, and the fabric decayed.
In the time of Charles I, Sir Thomas Wrothe built a new chapel and
provided a stipend for the minister, which still continues. The
Parable Door, the Oak Screen, and the Pulpit are evidently of the same
period, and were probably given by the same benefactor.


The village of North Newton, originally a chapelry, was separated
from the mother parish of North Petherton, and formed into an
ecclesiastical parish on the twenty-third day of March, 1880. It is
situated two miles north of Durston Station (Great Western Railway),
four and a half south-west of Bridgwater, and seven north-east of
Taunton. These particulars are taken from a little book entitled _The
Church and Parish of St. Peter’s, North Newton_, by the Rev. L. H.
King, M.A., Vicar; to whom I am also personally indebted for some
interesting local information.

                              APPENDIX G


                          (pp. 140 and 145.)

I have been favoured by Sir Alexander Acland Hood with the following
extract from the Manuscript of Mr. Thomas Palmer, which is preserved
in Fairfield House:—


  ‘The Park and Manor of Newenton belonged to the King at the time of
  the general survey, and probably this is the Petherton where king
  John held his court. The House was on the north side of the Park,
  where there is now a tenement called Parker’s Field. At this place
  a remarkable piece of antiquity was dug up in the year 1693, which
  is, by Dr. Hickes and other antiquaries, adjudged to have been of the
  age of King Alfred, the letters being such as were introduced by this
  King in imitation of the Roman Alphabet, and never used before or

  ‘Doctor Hickes interprets this inscription to be “Alfred ordered me
  to be made”; and supposes the enamelled figure to be the picture of
  St. Cuthbert, the tutelar saint of that King. The whole is of gold,
  over the enamel is a piece of rock crystal, half an inch thick: the
  gold rim is cut through to form the letters of the inscription. This
  is now among the antiquities of the University of Oxford.’

The Keeper of the Archives (Mr. Bayne of Christ Church) has kindly
made search at my request, and he writes: ‘I have gone carefully
through the Convocation Register for 1718, and can find no reference
to the Jewel, nor to Mr. Palmer who died 6 March, 1735.’

The Register of Benefactions of the Ashmolean Museum has a paragraph
in Latin, which however gives no information on this point.

The most interesting piece I have found on this point is in
Collinson’s _History of Somerset_ (1791), vol. i, p. 87, where he is
speaking of Athelney Abbey: it is as follows:—

  Some allusion to the vision of St. Cuthbert above-mentioned is
  supposed to have been intended by a little curious amulet of enamel
  and gold, richly ornamented, that was found in 1693 in Newton Park,
  at some distance northward from the abbey. On one side of it is a
  rude figure of a person sitting crowned, and holding in each hand a
  sceptre surmounted by a lily, which Dr. Hickes and other antiquaries
  have imagined to be designed for St. Cuthbert. The other side is
  filled by a large flower, and round the edge is the following legend:
  AELFRED MEC HEIT GEVVRCAN; that is, _Alfred ordered me to be made_.
  This piece of antiquity is now in the museum at Oxford, accompanied
  with the accounts of doctors Hickes and Musgrave, and the following
  memorandum: “Nov. 16, 1718, Tho. Palmer, esq; of Fairfield in
  Somersetshire, put this ancient picture of St. Cuthbert, made by
  order of king Alfred, into my hands to bee conveyed to y^r Bodlean
  Library in Oxford, where his father Nat. Palmer, esq; lately dead,
  desired it might be placed and preserved.

                                                     “Geo. Clark.”

[Illustration: ATHELNEY.]

Transcriber’s Notes:

  - Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).
  - Blank pages have been removed.
  - Silently corrected typographical errors.
  - Spelling and hyphenation variations made consistent except in

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