Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great” as Want to Read:
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  512 ratings  ·  110 reviews
The unlikely king who saved England.

Down swept the Vikings from the frigid North. Across the English coastlands and countryside they raided, torched, murdered, and destroyed all in their path. Farmers, monks, and soldiers all fell bloody under the Viking sword, hammer, and axe.

Then, when the hour was most desperate, came an unlikely hero. King Alfred rallied the battered a
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Thomas Nelson
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The White Horse King, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The White Horse King

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  512 ratings  ·  110 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: england, biography
4 and half stars
I went on a little diversion and what a lovely diversion it was.Loved the Anglo-Saxon culture,the battle scenes and of course the story of Alfred himself.Unfortunately, not too much on his childhood is given but I would definitely say his later story made up for it.Who could not like a king that repeatedly fought vikings and won?I can't say I enjoyed the writing but I did however like the battle descriptions and that kept me turning pages at first.But as Alfred's personality was
Aug 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is the first piece of English history that I have read from this time period...the 800s AD. This is the time of the Anglo-Saxons, people that had their origins in the Germanic Tribes of northern Europe that traversed the English Channel and ruled England in the years following the decline of the Roman Empire. At this time Great Britain was divided into many small kingdoms, e.g., Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, etc. These kingdoms were ruled by Anglo-Saxon nobles, though over time ...more
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-ages, history
It's hard to know what to say about a person like Alfred the Great without getting long-winded. I think I will just say that through the reading I have done so far, power-hungry kings are a dime a dozen. The kings that are humble, caring, and view themselves as a servant of the people, are much more rare. Alfred is one of the latter. His is one of those stories that inspire the phrase “truth is better than fiction”.

Some reviewers have complained that this book is ‘unscholarly’, a claim I find ir
Anna Mussmann
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent biography. Merkle’s book is a "fun read" rather than a scholarly one, and he repeatedly derides the “serious scholars” determined not to accept anything tainted by myth or heroism. Serious scholars are important too, but Merkle has a point--sometimes historical figures really are best remembered as heroes.

The book is strengthened by the author’s delight in telling a good story, as well as by his sympathetic willingness to recognize the huge impact of Alfred’s Christian faith on his
Rex Fuller
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It’s not possible to know if we would speak English, have common law, or even worship a Christian God without Alfred, the only British monarch to be called “the Great.” But the likelihood is we wouldn’t. For, at the end of the 9th century he saved Anglo-Saxon Britain from the Vikings. Just how he did it is a story well worth reading and probably important enough to hold in memory. It is extremely well told in this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Why aren't books like this read in high school?!? Instead of memorizing the primary exports of countries that didn't exist twenty years ago and probably won't again in another twenty, we could be learning the stories of people who really made an impact on the course of history. Published in 2009, this relatively new book is very engagingly written, very comprehensively researched, and is a pleasure to read. The portrait of Alfred that emerges, chapter by chapter, just keeps getting more interest ...more
David Bruyn
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful, warm and readable history of one of the greatest kings ever. Alfred was a true Hezekiah in his time, combining military might, religious devotion and cultural production to produce the strongest Anglo-Saxon period in England's history. ...more
Aug 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a fine, literary introduction to the life of Alfred the Great. At just over 200 pages, the general reader is easily transported to the Old English world, where the line between Norse paganism and the Christianity of Alfred and others was a genuine battlefront.

Merkle, a college professor from Idaho, writes a biography here that is more literary than historical. The level of writing is appropriate for the teen and above audience. People familiar with the fictional stories of Old England,
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tnbrb
I really enjoyed this book. The format is very easy to read and comfortable to hold. There are side notes where a little more history or clarification of a term is helpful. I found this more interesting than just footnotes at the bottom of a page. The story is well told and clear, in spite of describing a time and culture very different and new to me.

The story is a good one. The history of Christianity in England, the invasions of the Vikings, and the efforts of the people to fight the Vikings i
5 stars. This is one of my favorite biographies and historical books. Ben Merkle has amazing talent, and creates a real, living, breathing Alfred, heroic and flawed. I loved the thrilling, realistic battle accounts and the beautiful imagery. the prince book is beautiful and definitely worth purchasing! I love the White Horse dividers and the front. The synopsis is beautiful and masterly done.
Personally, I am not bothered by gore, but if you are sensitive to it, you might want to skip some scenes
Blair Hodgkinson
A great survey of the reign of Alfred the Great, showing him as warrior, pragmatist, strategist, administrator, schemer (what successful royal wasn't?), education advocate and Christian. Much here is made of Alfred's piety and the manner in which it influenced him to institute a mass overhaul of education in his country, though I think he may also have been motivated by a desire to make better governors of his ruling class. This is a very pleasant, well-written introductory survey. ...more
Jared Mcnabb
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pretty good. A play by play of Alfred’s life, which was well written, and a lot of fun. Some things seemed to be passed over- some get a passing glance (like his chronic poor health). But overall a fun introduction to Alfred the Great.
Elliot Gates
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
A well written narrative on the life of one of England's most important men.

Prior to reading I was aware of the domestic reforms Alfred pushed through Wessex and assumed that was what gave him the monicker of 'The Great'.

However now i've come to understand that his cultural revival of the Angl0-Saxon language, and the reinvigoration of Christian values contributed just as prominently; if not more-so.

Alfred was a juxtaposition of conservatism and radicalism, and this is reflected in many of his r
Nov 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Full disclaimer: I do not normally read non-fiction nor am I qualified to judge any research or facts in the book. I'm just here to provide input on my own reading experience.

Author Benjamin Merkle recounts the life of Alfred, born the fifth son and never expected to rule. Upon the deaths of his elder brothers he becomes King of Wessex in the 9C as the Saxons battle the constant raids of the Danish Vikings. Tired of paying Danegeld (a form of ransom) to the Vikings, Alfred strengthens his citie
Segan Friend
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
A great story badly told. Some excruciating mangling of the english language but it’s main failing is it’s very light on facts and heavy on supposition. The author just seems to draw certain conclusions as they fit his narrative. A good case in point would be the title of the book, as far as I’m aware Alfred was never known as the White Horse King. His banner that he fought under wasn’t a white horse it was the wyvern of Wessex. As far as I can tell he has given Alfred this title because in the ...more
Richard West
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
Kind of short, but a very concise and interesting history of the only English king to ever be called "The Great." Those who are looking for a more thorough, comprehensive look at Alfred will probably be better off ignoring this volume. However, for those who want to know something about him, what he did, why he's called "The Great" and so, this will suffice.

Extremely readable, it reads fast and like a novel (translation: it doesn't get bogged down in fine details such as the size of Alfred's bed
Ellen Christian
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit that ancient history is my thing. Ancient history full of Viking battles and warriors on horses with spears is even better! This is the story of the life of Alfred the Great who was the king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. The White Horse King is the story of how Alfred the Great defends Wessex against the Viking invasion. The story is full of rampaging Vikings and fierce battles fought by men wielding battle axes and spears. This book was really hard to put ...more
Jason Twombly
Dec 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: british
The end result of reading, "The White Horse King" is that I have discovered a new hero, King Alfred the Great. A King of the mid to late 800's, Alfred defends, restores, and rebuilds the broken kingdoms of England. Responsible for repairing roadways and legal codes, King Alfred also initiated a remarkable literary revival.

Perhaps the Braveheart of England, the King proves to be a valiant warrior protecting his subjects from the fierce Vikings. Equal to his valor is his charity. Extending mercy
Donald Scarinci
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The revival of literacy, the construction of fortified towns across Wessex within one days journey of each other and the rebirth of christianity in Anglo Saxon England earn Alfred the right to be called "Great." The concept of one England from the king who hid from the Danes in the marshes of England rather than to flee to the European continent as the Kings of other defeated English kingdoms have done comes from Alfred. He led his troops, translated latin texts and prayed to God for his people. ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books, of any genre, I’ve ever read! Ben Merkle is a superb writer and storyteller. The White Horse King reads like a novel with twists and turns and all manner of excitement. I’ve always had a soft spot for King Alfred but this superb in-depth history of his extraordinary life truly made it all come alive for me. What a magnificent book! I just can’t say enough good about it. The only downside is that it didn’t go on for another 250 pages...I was truly sad to come to the end of ...more
Richard R., Martin
I enjoyed The Last Kingdom TV series on BBC America and was pleased to find how closely the series followed the history as presented in The White Horse King. The book is easy to read and for the most part moves quickly. Not a stodgy history book.
Gayla Bassham
I can't go higher than two stars for this book, I'm afraid, and that is after I award a bonus star for piquing my interest in Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great is a truly fascinating person. Since I read this book I have sought out two more biographies of him, which I've thoroughly enjoyed. But this is not a good book. At the most basic level, it lacks citations for many assertions, which I found tremendously frustrating. How does he know that "the songs Alfred heard in the mead hall as a boy in
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-on-kindle
On my wall is a poster of the lineage of the kings and queens of England. So often I’ve looked at the names “at the beginning” and wondered about the people represented by the little icons and the b. and d. dates. Being a student of 17th century British history, I understand the difficulties of trying to get a reader to understand the state of “the world” during previous times. The farther you go back, of course, the more difficult this becomes. So I was thrilled by this accessible and interesti ...more
Juan Gallardo Ivanovic
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Waes hael Ælfred angelcynn cyninga!
This is a must read for all people interested in King Alfred The Great. From being the most improbable heir to the greatest leader of Britain prior to Queen Victoria, Alfred’s life is tale about perseverance and vision that endured time and it is the main reason that England is today is like that and not Daneland.
Despite being the last on the line for Wessex Kingship, circumstances pushed Alfred to lead the kingdom and even that failure was about to bring Wess
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this book makes a perfect introductory read. It definitely gave me a good sense of why Alfred earned the title of "the Great" and it gave me a taste for reading more about him.

There are a few minor flaws: I think in the very last paragraph the author writes something along the lines of "Alfred had his foibles" - I'm sure he did, but the book did not mention them. Oops. Also, the obsession with the white horse. Also: "astonished".

But I can definitely recommend this to people who know next
Catherine Mason
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
A fairly short and easy to read book telling the life and achievements of Alfred The Great for the non-academic. A lot of the interest has been sparked by the show The Last Kingdom, which although I enjoy watching, treats Alfred unfairly and ridiculously assigns all his achievements to a fictional character. I think a bit of editing might have been in order as the author belabored his points on occasion. It was nice to get the story without having to read a long and possibly boring academic book ...more
Benjamin Phillips
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-books
Alfred the Great was a hero. Modern historians don’t believe in heroes and have recently tried their hand at some good old-fashioned iconoclasm. Ben Merkle, on the other hand, believes in heroes like Alfred and in this book tried to introduce him to a new generation.
Because of it’s mildly hagiographical bent, there are some historical imprecisions. But it is written to a very general audience and that should be expected. To such an audience, Merkle provides an excellent portrait of a wide and vi
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british-history
Very entertaining read, very good introduction to the life and reign of Alfred the Great. It also sheds great light on the darkest of the "Dark Ages". Admittedly, we know that they weren't really the "Dark" Ages, but still some periods were darker than others. Merkle describes the battle of king Alfred against the Vikings (Danes) as a battle for the Christianization of Europe. We desperately need to be inspired for this vision again today. ...more
Andrew Lewis
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved how hard core the author & history describes Alfred in battle: a bloodthirsty beast/wild boar (not how he’s depicted in the Netflix show ‘The Last Kingdom’) also really enjoyed how easily readable the book is, given how much detail there is in it. I also liked how Alfred is described as a devoutly religious Christian, but is still kicking the vikings butt with savagery and mercy when appropriate. Makes me want to read more about Anglo-Saxon history.
« previous 1 3 4 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
One On My SHort List 2 3 Apr 26, 2018 08:37AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Edward the Confessor
  • Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
  • Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
  • The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok
  • The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great
  • Æthelstan: The First King of England
  • The Norman Conquest
  • Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
  • Henry I: The Father of His People
  • The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown
  • A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages
  • Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors (The History of England, #1)
  • A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
  • Conan the Buccaneer (Conan, #6)
  • The Penguin History of the World
  • The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece
  • Sparta: Fall of a Warrior Nation
See similar books…
Dr. Benjamin Merkle is the President of New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He holds a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies and an M.St. in Jewish Studies from Oxford University, England, a Master’s degree in English Literature, and a B.S. in Education (Secondary Education-Chemistry, with a minor in History) both from the University of Idaho. He also studied theology at Greyfriars Hall from 1998 to ...more

Related Articles

New year! New books! New this month: Scandal rocks an elite British boarding school in The Divines. A dark secret spans several...
90 likes · 37 comments
“very soon, for two reasons. First, the Wessex fyrd could only be kept in the field for a short period. Soon their supplies would dwindle, and the need for the men of Wessex to return to their fields and shops would begin to sap away the strength of the Saxon shieldwall. Second, Alfred had a very ominous foreboding about Guthrum’s strategy. The Danish king had clearly chosen a position easily reached from the sea and well connected to the waterways of Wessex. Why would he choose what was clearly a naval base when he had come with land forces? Wareham was the perfect stronghold for a ship army. But where were the ships? Alfred knew that at any moment swarms of Viking longboats were likely to arrive, bringing thousands of Danish warriors, doubling or tripling Guthrum’s army and killing any possibility the men of Wessex had of repelling this attack. Guthrum must be driven from Warehem immediately. Alfred’s desperation showed in the approach he finally chose. Once more, he paid the danegeld. Of course this wasn’t the sort of tactic that could work over any extended period of time, but it was enough to extract Guthrum and his troop from Wareham. It should also be pointed out that, as disastrous as paying the danegeld had been for East Anglia and Mercia, Alfred’s previous payment had been temporarily successful. It had seemed to buy a few years of peace. Alfred clearly felt uneasy about this payment and made two extra demands as he negotiated the Viking withdrawal. First, the two armies exchanged hostages. A selection of Wessex men were taken into captivity by Guthrum, and Alfred chose an assortment of the most distinguished Danish noblemen to remain with him. These hostages were to ensure that the two kings honored their pledges to one another. If Guthrum failed to keep his end of the peace bargain, then Alfred would be free to exact his revenge on the Viking hostages, and vice versa. Second, Alfred insisted” 0 likes
“Some accounts describe a thick mist that swallowed the ships and led them blindly to be dashed on the treacherous shores. In that one calamitous storm, 120 ships of the Viking fleet sank. Assuming that each of these ships was manned by an average of thirty men, this would have cost the Vikings thirty-six hundred men—a catastrophic loss. For” 0 likes
More quotes…