Yes, what about the cakes?

Are schoolchildren still taught about King Alfred burning the cakes? Why was this ever thought to be a staple of history lessons for eight-year-olds, anyway? And was it even true?

The relevance here is that, if King Alfred did burn some cakes, it was in Somerset that it happened. In 878 AD. Probably just before Easter. And the tale is first found written in Latin in an Anglo-Saxon Life of St Neot (of St Neot’s in Huntingdonshire). And this is the bit:

Est locus in ultimis Anglorum Brittannie partibus ad occidentem situs cui nomen lingua Saxonum est Ethelingaige – quod apud nos sonat ‘clitonum insula’ – immensis salis paludibus circumcirca septus, quantula in medio planicie retentus. Ibi ex inesperato rex Æluredus exul intercidit solus. Vt post tamen comperit, cuiusdam tuguriolum ignoti prospiciens subulci, apud illum diuertit; quietis hospicium petiit; accepit; ut hospis et pauper atque subditus et minimis contentus per dies aliquot cohabitauit. Cum patientia tamen ex Dei iusti iudicio talia sibi fieri pensans, eius misericordiam sui famuli Neoti interuentu manebat. Ab ipso enim conceperat memori quod pectore credens tenebat: ‘Quem,’ namque inquit apostolus, ‘Dominus diligit, castigat; flagellat autem omnem filium quem recipit.’ [Hbr. XII.6] Ad hoc viri iusti Iob miram ante oculos cotidie prefigebat patientie fidentiam. Fortuitu ergo quadam contigit die, subulco ad solita suum pascua gregem de more ducente, regem solum, cum subulci coniuge domi remansisse. Que viri sollicita aduentu sui, telesine marito Veneris solidam ad coquendum commiserat farinam; ruricolaribus autem – ut apud rusticas mos est – aliis intenta negotiis, dum panes Vulcano requirit altera ex parte ardere conspicit. Mox indignata regi ignoto ‘Heus, homo’, inquit,

‘urere quos cernis panes girare moraris                                                                                                    cum nimium gaudes hos manducare calientes?’

At ille tam depressis contumeliatus conuiciis, supernis ista reputans pensis, muliercule optemperans lacessitus iurgiis, non modo panes girauit uerum seruauit dum apparatos de more reddidit.

And there is the story of Alfred and the Cakes. Which I shall return to.

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