Posted by: Democratic Thinker | May 31, 2011

Weekly Story: Alfred Watches the Loaves

Weekly Story

Young Alfred—brought down by his own overweening, and fleeing for his life—learns a lesson in humility and equality.

Þæt is nu hraðost to secganne, þæt ic wilnode weorðfullice to libbanne þa hwile þe ic lifede, and æfter minum life þæm monnum to læfanne þe æfter me wæren min gemyndig on godum weorcum.—I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, and to leave after my life, to the men who should come after me, the memory of me in good works.


Alfred Watches the Loaves.


The following account is from a Latin life of St. Neot, which still exists in manuscript, and is of great antiquity.

ALFRED, a fugitive, and exiled from his people, came by chance and entered the house of a poor herdsman, and there remained some days concealed, poor and unknown.

It happened that, on the Sabbath day, the herdsman, as usual, led his cattle to their accustomed pastures, and the king remained alone in the cottage with the man’s wife. She, as necessity required, placed a few loaves, which some call loudas, on a pan, with fire underneath, to be baked for her husband’s repast and her own, on his return.

While she was necessarily busied, like peasants, on other offices, she went anxious to the fire, and found the bread burning on the other side. She immediately assailed the king with reproaches. ‘Why, man! do you sit thinking there, and are too proud to turn the bread? Whatever be your family, with your manners and sloth, what trust can be put in you hereafter? If you were even a nobleman, you will be glad to eat the bread which you neglect to attend to.’

The king, though stung by her upbraidings, yet heard her with patience and mildness, and, roused by her scolding, took care to bake her bread thereafter as she wished.

—Jacob Abbott, History of King Alfred of England, 1849.