Alfred’s Carolingian contemporaries
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Alfred almost certainly met at least one Carolingian king, and maybe two. The one he met was Charles the Bald, the one he maybe met was Louis II of Italy. The occasion was Alfred’s second journey to Rome and back in 855-56. Though he had already visited Rome in 853 when sent to the pope by his father King Æthelwulf, and may have visited Carolingian royal courts en route, there is no direct evidence to that effect. Simon Keynes has recently highlighted the implications of certain Anglo-Saxon names in the Brescia Liber Vitae. We can be reasonably sure of the reality of Alfred’s second visit to Rome in the company of his father – a journey well documented, as far as Æthelwulf is concerned, in both West Frankish and Roman sources.4 Brescia is not too far from Pavia, Louis II’s capital, and it seems very likely that a royal pilgrim and his familia
would have stopped to visit. As for Charles the Bald, Æthelwulf spent well over two months in his company before marrying his daughter, Judith, on 1 October 856. Alfred at some point must surely have been presented to this prestigious new kinsman. What impression, if any, did these Carolingians leave on a six-or seven-year-old? ‘Kings seated on high seats … girt about with a great company of thegns decked with belts and gold-hilted swords and wargear of many kinds … ’: could those images of ‘unrighteous kings’ be the grown man’s recollection of real live Carolingians?5 Frankly, we have no idea of what those childhood experiences meant to Alfred. Louis II and Charles the Bald may have repelled as well as attracted an imaginative little boy, and left a lasting memory, if not model, of royal wealth and power. Were the royal residences at Verberie, or Pavia, only Cheddar, or Winchester, writ large?6 Or were Carolingian and Cerdicing courts qualitatively different? I shall return to these questions towards the end of this paper.