The founding king of England encouraged an open, outward-looking country

Full marks to Tom Ash. Earlier this week he nailed an historic parallel for Brexit. That was Henry VIII and the reformation.

However, those who favour an open, outward-looking UK, can claim an older, greater precedent than the Brexit-like Henry VIII, who broke with Europe basically because he couldn’t perform in bed sufficiently to produce enough healthy sons. (OK, there’s a bit of historic licence there and I’m being a bit (a lot?) cheeky – apologies – and I also apologise to the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish that this is all about England).

King Alfred and his family established England as a country from amongst the wreckage of the Vikings and several disparate kingdoms. He laid the foundations of our boroughs, shires, parliament, navy, coinage and justice. But as historian Michael Wood observes in the excellent BBC 4 series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, he encouraged an open, outward-looking, peaceful nation. As a boy he visited Rome twice and met Pope Leo. These were visits which greatly influenced his thinking. He self-taught himself Latin. He beat the Danes in battle at Ashdown, but made peace with them and sponsored the baptism of Guthrum, his Danish arch-enemy.

So, OK, allow Brexiteers to think that they have a champion in the shape of a selfish, destructive king in search of Viagra – Henry VIII. In fact, us remainers, and others who want a outward-looking, open, peaceful nation can cite an earlier and more impressive standard-bearer in the shape of King Alfred the Great, the founder of England.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Well “founder” is a bit strong (that was his grandson) but saviour of what was to become England would be accurate.

  • David Evershed 6th Oct '16 - 6:28pm

    Leaving the EU customs union will enable the UK to be more outward looking and form free trade deals with non EU countries, which has not been possible in partnership with the protectionist countries of the EU.

    From a trading perspective, those who wish for a more outward looking, internationalist UK should welcome leaving the EU.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Oct '16 - 8:20pm

    David Evershed: “Free trade deals” are a misnomer, the words of spin-doctors.
    Think of the “omni-shambles” budget which tried to remove anomalies from Cornish pasties, etc. Now magnify it a thousand-fold or more.
    Arbroath kippers currently have to be smoked in Arbroath, which is accepted by law across the whole of the EU. After Brexit the UK government could enforce the equivalent across the whole of the UK.
    Champagne comes from northern France, although English wines win in blind tastings. So, after Brexit we could have English champagne, or ‘methode champenois’, to the consternation of the French, unless we negotiate otherwise.

  • I really don’t get the point of these historical parallels. Was being part of the Holy Roman empire really a good thing, was it really a peaceful organisation and was it not only outward looking when trying to extend its power? It’s not really doing the pro EU case a great deal of good. Sure, Henry the VIII was an unpleasant man, but Rome was not exactly great either. To me only wider thing you can learn from history is that nothing last forever and everything changes.

  • Psi,
    AlLfred did a LOT more than just save it, he built it’s foundation with education law etc, He made English the official language and London it’s capitol.

  • As a North Yorkshire descendant of Danish Viking immigrants in 900 frozen to death AD, I deeply resent King Alfred’s insular aggression towards my kinsfolk with their superior boat building and navigational skills. Add to that his inability to even qualify for Bake Off with a predilection for burning cakes and he strikes me as a pretty useless sort southern softy.

    He couldn’t even play cricket properly !!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Oct '16 - 12:10am


    I note he beat the Danes at the battle of Ashdown, was he an early Liberal Democrat dissenter in our party or one of the early opponents ?!

    As a man steeped in the west country , it may interest you to know , in your inclusion of Cornwall amongst the nations rather than regions, the territory is already claimed, it is mine !

    There was once , as you know, a king for each of several regional areas. Much of the west country , including Devon , Cornwall and Dorset , was known as Dumnonia. One of the Kings was Cherin, the Misplaced King of Dumnonia! Look it up , I now inform you in that terrain , I shall come one day to reclaim what is mine and my family’s !

  • As Psi said, it was King Alfred’s grandson who united Britain – first capturing the Danish North at York, then on on 12 July 927 accepting the fealty of the Scottish and Welsh Kings, thus for the first time putting the whole of Britain under single rule – a rule cemented by The Battle of Brunanburh in 934. This was Æthelstan, ‘Rex totius Britanniae’.

    So if Scotland eventually decides that its place in Europe is more important than staying in the UK, Brexit and most of the Conservative Party are at danger of throwing away almost 1100 years of British history. Tories they are, conservative they are not.

  • clive english 7th Oct '16 - 2:13pm

    what has the Holy Roman Empire, got to do with the schism with the Vatican. Quite simply nothing. a little historical knowledge is a dangerous thing it seems.

  • Simon Banks 7th Oct '16 - 6:23pm

    I go for Oliver Cromwell any day – Liberal on penal policy (he abolished the death penalty for minor thefts, an act promptly reversed by the restored monarchy), he reformed the constitution and he implemented cuts to an over-powerful centralised state (well, the king of it).

  • “He beat the Danes in battle at Ashdown, but made peace with them and sponsored the baptism of Guthrum, his Danish arch-enemy”

    Yes but Guthrum kept East Anglia!!!

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