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King Alfred Burns the Cakes, Somerset

Alfred was the Saxon king of Wessex in the 9th century, when the Danes were at their most aggressive, pushing further and further west and seizing the land of their Saxon rivals.
After the loss of one battle Alfred, cut off from his surviving soldiers, was forced to flee into the marshy Somerset levels, hiding his identity in case of betrayal - the Danes would pay a traitor well for his head.
In Athelney the ragged and exhausted king, hungry and dispirited, sought shelter and sustenance in the hut of a poor peasant, a swineherd or woodcutter. Out of charity or perhaps fear of the warrior figure the couple let him stay, and fed him. After two or three days the king was well enough recovered to consider his next moves - how to gather his armies again? how to beat the Danes in battle ? how to drive them from his kingdom?
As Alfred contemplated his situation the woman of the place asked him to watch some griddle cakes on the fire while she went about her other work. Lost in thought the king forgot such mundane tasks, and let the cakes burn. When the peasant woman returned to the hearth and noticed this she scolded the king, and in some versions of the tale even hit him with a stick. Alfred was both amused and instructed by the episode - though he may also have gone hungry that night - as it showed him the need to stay alert to the immediate, and the incongruity of the poor woman scolding a king appealed to his sense of the ridiculous.
Sadly the tale is more likely to be fiction than fact, though it loses none of its power for all that.

2 Responses to King Alfred Burns the Cakes

From Larry Williams on 2nd April 2012
It is instructive and amusing to see that the times have not changed that much between the sexes. Men are still men, women are still women and, in some fashion, we're still burning the cakes and getting scolded for it. "Well, sweetie, how many times are you going to ask me to watch the cakes only to have them burn? Really, it seems YOU are the one unable to learn." :o)

From louis forster on 26th March 2010
Maybe prophetically, in a history class at school we enacted the incident of the burnt cakes, I played the woodcutter and the girl who played the woodcutters wife did eventually become my wife and the mother to our three daughters.

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