Alfred, Lover of Liberty?

From King Alfred’s adaptation of Boëthius’ Consolation of Philosophy, translated in turn into Modern English (another translation here):

[Boëthius], perceiving the manifold wrongs wrought by Theodoric upon the Christian faith and upon the chief men of the Romans, began to recall the glad times and immemorial rights they had once enjoyed under the Caesars, their ancient lords. And so meditating, he began to muse and cast about within himself how he might wrest the sovereignty from the unrighteous king and restore it to them of the true faith and of righteous life. Wherefore, sending word privily to the Caesar at Constantinople, the chief city of the Greeks and the seat of their kings, because this Caesar was of the kin of the ancient lords of the Romans, he prayed him to help them back to their Christian faith and their old laws.

Here is a king, it seems, who wrote prefatory material approving of ‘wrest[ing] the sovereignty from [an] unrighteous king’ to uphold Christian faith and traditional rights. In so doing, he may be more concerned with Roman culture than with political right, trying to solidify his power by connecting his reign to the political-religious prestige of Rome, but it’s striking nevertheless to see a king pass on words that invite scrutiny of political rulers by the higher standard of God’s righteousness.


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