He reorganised the army by offering the privileges of Thaneship (Knightship) to the larger freehold landowners in return for undertaking regular military service and responsibility. Available only to those who held five or more hides of land, this privilege was conditional on serving one month in three under arms.
A similar rotational pattern was applied to the recruitment system, or fyrd. Men were called to serve in the army for short periods. Not only did this provide fresh and rested soldiers, it enabled the continued production of agricultural and other produce, and so did little harm to the economy.
Aelfred introduced a series of taxes, which he administered as fairly and equitably as he was able. One particular tax became known as 'Peter's Pence', a tax of one penny on each household of which 50% went to Rome, the rest was used in the upkeep of the 'English Quarter'. This tax continued to be levied on 1st August (St. Peter's day) until the dissolution of the monasteries some 500 years later.
He built churches, restored many monasteries and convents, and founded new ones at Athelney and Shaftesbury, and the 'New Minster' in Winchester. Much larger than the 'Old Minster' but just a few steps away from it, it was to be a 'peoples church' and all citizens of Winchester had the right of free burial in it's cemetery. He also granted his wife, Ealhswith, a estate in Winchester upon which the Nunnaminster was built. He encouraged these places to become centres of learning and a light against paganism and ignorance. Aelfred brought scholars, teachers, artisans and craftsmen to Wessex from all over the country, and even further afield. Any citizen who held office was encouraged to learn to read and write, to better fulfil his duties. Those holding high office were also taught Latin.
Many books and texts were translated into Anglo Saxon, and many books were written. Perhaps the most notable was a record of important events in England since it's occupation by the English tribes, The Anglo Saxon Chronicles.
As much as half of Aelfred's revenues were expended in education and the dissemination of skills and knowledge.
Aelfred also instituted a system of written Law, which set down the Precepts that were in common use throughout the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. He drew heavily on previously recorded works of Law and also incorporated many previously 'unwritten' laws. He gave a structure to the Law, it's administration, and application. One of the most noteworthy precepts of Aelfreds law was that 'no man can give a judgement that he would be unwilling to have made against himself'.
All but the most serious of crimes were punishable by assessment according to the 'weirgild' or 'person-price'. All freemen were assessed, according to rank, at a price which reflected their value to society. Unfortunately, serfs, who were literally no more than slaves, were seen as 'chattels' and could be punished as their owner thought fit. From this 'weirgild' could be determined the fine to be paid as compensation to the wronged party, more or less on a sliding scale according to the severity of the hurt suffered. Even murder, with a few exceptions, would likely result in the relatives being paid the full weirgild appropriate to the victim’s status.
There was no set judiciary to administer the Law. Generally lawsuits and criminal proceedings were heard by the Bishops and Ealdormen, whilst Thanes and landowners could mediate in lesser matters. Questions of business or trade were determined by the Reeves in charge of the Royal Estates. Each rank in society held responsibility for the people in their charge, and were expected to act both as protector and guarantor, to both vouch for the accused and pay the weirgild if they were found guilty.
Aelfred is the ONLY monarch ever to have been given the appellation ‘The Great’. He was truly a remarkable man, and a Great King. TOP of PAGE