Saturday, May 6

The Battle of the White Horse

The Christian king of Wessex, Alfred the Great, defeated the pagan Viking warlord Guthrum at the Battle of Ethandun on this day in 878. The battle not only ensured that Christianity would survive in England, it made the unification of that land possible for the first time since the departure of Roman legions in the fifth century. 

The battle was brilliantly commemorated by G.K. Chesterton in “The Ballad of the White Horse,” published in 1911, considered by many as perhaps the last of the great traditional epic poems written in the English language. 

Presciently, Chesterton concludes the poem with a mournful soliloquy by Alfred, in which the now-aged king laments that the next invasion to threaten the peace of Christendom would not come from the barbarian hoards but rather from within, by an educated elite: 

I have a vision, and I know

The heathen shall return.
They shall not come with warships,

They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,

And ink be on their hands.