We are continuing our journey through An Island Story but learning more about the early kings of England. Chapters 16 through 20 continue King Alfred’s life and end with the famous story of King Canute and the Waves (a story that is also part of 50 Famous Tales Retold).
If you are following Ambleside Online’s schedule, these chapters are also going to bring you almost to the close of Year One. I always like to say that we’re Ambleside inspired, meaning that we use many Charlotte Mason ideas and much of the book list from Ambleside, but we don’t necessarily use it in the proscribed ways.
King Alfred in the Cowherd’s Cottage
This is the famous story of the time when Alfred was so overwhelmed by the Danish attacks that he finds himself hiding in the woods, pretending to be a simple man without the burdens of kingship as he ponders how to fight back against the Danes.
In the famous story, Alfred ends up staying at a cowherd’s home, and the cowherd’s wife thinks he’s pretty useless. One day as she goes about some other chores, she asks him to keep watch over the cakes on the fire, but he is so wrapped up in his thoughts he lets them burn. Of course, the cowherd’s wife is telling him how she really feels about him when it comes out that Alfred is her king.
This is, of course the perfect time to make Alfred cakes. This is the recipe that we used, and I thought they were delicious. All but one of my children agreed.
We also happen to be reading through 50 Famous Tales Retold right now, and so we read the story of Alfred and the Cakes out of that book and compared the two versions. Little details are changed between the versions, and it was an excellent time to explain how sometimes details are remembered differently over time and the way historians reconstruct history.
If you have 50 Famous Tales Retold, there’s another story of a vision or dream that Alfred had recorded in it, and it makes for an excellent companion for this period in Alfred’s life.
More About Alfred the Great
This chapter really just wraps up Alfred’s life. It tells more about his accomplishments.
The most notable new thing for me from this chapter is that he established the idea of trial by jury, and even that there should be 12 jurors. If you’re wanting to expand your studies into more of a Civics unit, this would be a good place to work through some lesson plans on the Jury System, such as these at Scholastic.com. We talked a little about how a jury trial works, but my younger two are too small to care, and my older two have picked up some ideas about how it works from books and movies, and I decided that now wasn’t the time I wanted to pursue it.
When we had studied Alfred the Great before, and we had made paintings of Alfred’s standards. It would have been a good place to have done the same with the Danish standards. They believed the the raven on their standard looked different based on whether they were going to have a victory or defeat.
Ethelred the Unready
This chapter discusses the last of the “boy kings” of England and takes place about 100 years after Alfred’s reign.
Ethelred attempted to pay the Danish people off and keep them from invading by instituting taxes taken up among the people and given to the Danes. As you can imagine, that just meant that the Danes started coming to England for more money every time that they needed money.
My children were actually quite delighted about that part of the story. They were pretty sure that Ethelred was a complete idiot. It’s a great time to talk about viking trickery, about how throwing money at a problem doesn’t make a problem go away, and about cowardice and standing up to bullies.
Ethelred’s story takes quite a dark turn as he turns his anger at the Danes against his own people, playing into a large bit of unhappiness that the Britons have with the Danes who are living peaceably among them. He has his people kill all the Danes living settled lives in Britain–men, women and children.
I cannot help but think about ethnic tensions, even here in the US, in current events as I read how things were so surprisingly tense and how willing the Britons were to carry out this task. As it had happened, we had just read in Who Am I? earlier in the day about a young Muslim girl living in London named Amira. Her family was a peaceable family, but her parents had to explain to Amira that some of the people in London hated Muslims because of the terrorist bombings that had occurred. This was a very good place to stop and think about that, and to compare it to the British hatred of even the peaceable Danes that they dwelt with each day, all because of some of the other Danes who were bent on conquest.
How Edmund Ironside Fought for the Crown
Following Ethelred’s murders of the peaceful Danes in his land, a Dane named Canute comes to revenge his sister’s death and to take over England. The people are happy enough with that course of action until Ethelred dies and his son Edmund Ironside desires to become king. Edmund is everything that Ethelred is not. He is honorable, courageous and has the love of the English people. (This is a great time to do a comparison chart and show how Edmund and Ethelred differ.)
Edmund and Canute end up fighting over England, and then, wearying of the fight they agree to single combat to decide the fate of England. This leads to agreement to split England into two pieces with each ruler overseeing half of England, with England being recombined whenever one of them dies. Compromise and partnership are all excellent ideas to explore here. Honor is an excellent theme for this one.
As it happens, Edmund only ends up living seven months before he dies and Canute becomes the King of England.
Canute and the Waves
This is a very special and memorable story for children, and it’s also one of the stories told in 50 Famous Stories Retold, so it’s great if you want to do a comparison.
When King Canute lectures his liege lords, there’s a great quote that you want to make a part of your children’s lives. It goes:
Do you still tell me that I have power over the waves? Oh! foolish men, do you not know that to God alone belongs such power? He alone rules earth and sky and sea and we and they alike are his subjects and must obey them.
This is one that the children repeated to their Daddy and then they shared with him how Canute never wore his crown again, but took it off and placed it on a statue of Jesus. There are many Bible verses about humility that could go with this or God’s sovereignty.
I have not worked on it yet, but I feel that some kind of artwork with the quote is going to make its way into being created into our home. I can see a canvas with waves and sequins or buttons, and the words on it. It would be a group effort. I’ll keep you guys posted if we make it.
It’s also a great place to read a story such as Matthew 8:23-27 about how even the wind and sea obey Jesus. Then, you might decide to draw pictures contrasting the wind and sea before Jesus’s commands and after. Have the children (and yourself) consider whether or not you truly obey him as the wind and sea do. It’s at best a sobering thought.
So, that’s it for this installment of ideas to go along with An Island Story. Hope you guys have a great week!!