Alfred the Great and the tale of the burnt cakes
This is the story of King Alfred the Great of England and how he managed to ruin the baking of one of his poor followers by not paying attention to the fire.
The story of King Alfred the Great
Ask any English person, over a "Certain" age what they know about Alfred the Great and they will probably reply, "he burnt the cakes", Perhaps the baby boomers will know what I mean whilst modern day children will probably say "it's not true", totally destroying their parents illusions!
The story that we learnt at school goes as follows:
King Alfred was sheltering from heavy wind and rain in the cottage of a poor herdsman and his family. The woman of the house had made some cakes to feed her family and put them on the fire to cook. Alfred was asked to watch the cakes whilst she busied herself making up a place for him to sleep the night.
The worry of a nation
Alfred was a worried man. He had opponents in the North and East of the country and was fighting battles on several fronts. The King was deep in thought and whilst thinking he methodically cleaned and repaired his weapons. As the cakes cooked , the smell of tasty cakes started to change to a distinct burning smell. The herdsman's wife came running in to find the cakes so badly burnt that they were inedible. The King sat through this drama in complete ignorance of what was happenning.The wife, not knowing that her visitor was the King started to berate him at the top of her voice. The King then realised that the family would go hungry that night and took his criticism meekly and apologised to the herdsman's wife.
Where did the story originate?
Where did The the story originate?The story was first mentioned in writing in the twelth century. The "Life of St. Neot's" contains reference to the story but it is believed that St. Neot may have been King Alfred's half brother and it may have been in his interest to show these humble qualities in his brother's character. The story is mentioned again during Tudor times. Queen Elizabeth I senior prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, put the story into his edited version of Asser's "Life of Alfred". The story has subsequently been copied into other historical works.
One thing that could be gleaned from this story is that Alfred was forced to live with his people, whilst travelling, in poor conditions rather than the comfortable court presence that we may have imagined.