King Alfred is considered by many to be the wisest and greatest king. As King of the West Saxons, Alfred (849 – 901) unified his people and constructed a victory against the Danes in 878 at Ethandum. Alfred led his people to civilization: founded schools, rebuilt cities, developed a code of laws, and set to right the justice system. Alfred was marked by his desire for learning. He commissioned the translation of the Latin works of Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History“; Orosius’s “History of the World“; Beothius’s “Consolations of Philosophy“; and Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” into the West Saxon dialect. He also directed the writing of “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.”
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides the reader with a history of Britain from the earliest times to 1154. The clerics who compiled the history chose the most important events of the years. The book is arranged chronologically. Most recorded events have connections to church affairs. The work records the life of the West Saxons, while speaking of personages of rank and the customs of the day. It is written in the West Saxon dialect.
According to History of English Literature: Part I – Early Saxon Through Milton ( page 23), “Harold II was the son of the powerful Earl Godwin, the real power in England during the preceding reign. Harold’s worthless brother Tosty leagued with King Harold of Norway (a descendant of Canute) to wrest England from its chosen ruler. At the time when William of Normandy was sailing for England. King Harold of England was forced to march into York to put down Tosty’s rebellion. At Stanfordbridge, he won a complete victory over Tosty and Harold of Norway.
“‘Meantime, Earl William (of Normandy came up from Normandy into Pevensey on the eve of St. Michael’s mass and soon constructed a castle at the port of Hastings. This was then told to King Harold; and he gathered a large force (marched two hundred miles in five days), and came to meet him at the estuary of Appledore. And there was a great slaughter made on either side.’ King Harold was slain…. William’s relationship to the House of Wessex and Edward’s promise that William should succeed him were less vlid claims than the strength of his army and his powerful position in European affairs. Edgar Atheling, the English claimant to the throne, promptly submitted: ‘On midwinter’s day Archbishop Alfred hallowed him to king at Westminster … and also swore him that he would so well govern this nation as any king before him did…. Nevertheless, he laid heavy tribute upon the men … wrought castles widely through this country, and harassed the miserable people.'”
The Domesday Book (1085) highlighted William the Conqueror’s thoroughness. It is the only survey of people of medieval England. It was another 800 years before the English people attempted another such survey. The Little Domesday book covers Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, while Great Domesday covers the remainder of England and Wales. No survey of London, Winchester and Durham was made for they were tax deferred areas. Cumberland and Westmoreland are not included for they had yet to be brought under control.
The King’s men went into every shire to determine the number of units of hides (rural acreage) and what land belonged to the King. Also, the stock found upon the land was counted for tax purposes.