Have you always wondered how Alfred the Great earned his ‘great’ title? Here we explore the legacy of the leader who was ahead of his time.
In 2021, we celebrate the reign of Alfred the Great 1,150 years after his accession in 871. The fact that Alfred’s name is still known is testament to both his character and his conduct as he was a far-sighted, empathetic and educated monarch. The foundations of the monarchy we know today were in part laid by this English king who also has a surprising connection to The Royal Mint’s own history.
Today, The Royal Mint is one of the oldest organisations in the world. Although our exact moment of origin is obscured by the mists of time, we know that Alfred the Great was part of our early story. One of the most remarkable artefacts in The Royal Mint Museum’s collection is the Monogram Penny, a coin traditionally believed to have been struck at a mint established in London by Alfred the Great and marked with where it was struck – ‘LVNDONIA’ for London. Although more recent academic thought questions some aspects of this, the coin is symbolic of the beginnings of The Royal Mint. Along with this the Monogram Penny carries a portrait of Alfred the Great that may be regarded as crudely rendered but it carefully captures a sense of personality.
In c. 848, when Alfred was born, England was an unsettled, unconnected land. Made up of small kingdoms, the country was under Viking attack and they had already defeated several of the kings that stood in their path. Wessex was in peril and when its king, Aethelred I, died in 871, Alfred took the throne. By 878, Alfred’s strategic mind brought an end to the Viking threat to Wessex thanks to his diplomacy and his drive for unity, which resulted in the Treaty of Wedmore and peace in the kingdom.
Learning was Alfred’s passion and his love of learning helped to somewhat correct the damage caused by years of unrest. With a more stable kingdom, Alfred shared his passion for education with many of his subjects, arranging for books to be translated from Latin into Old English. It is fitting that as we celebrate the reign of Alfred the Great, the coin struck in his honour has a design inspired by the Alfred Jewel. This masterpiece of rock crystal set over gold enamelling is a treasure of royal history and is thought to have been used as a pointer to help a reader follow lines of text – just as Alfred the Great brought the people of England closer to literacy and the benefits of education.
The £5 coin struck for this royal celebration is available as a gold Proof, silver Proof Piedfort, silver Proof and Brilliant Uncirculated edition. Each coin is accompanied by packaging that reveals a timeline of Alfred the Great’s life.