“The White Horse King” by Benjamin Merkle is the first book I’ve reviewed by this author, and the first book of its kind that I have read. It is a narrative history (lots of words, not many dates) of the life and achievements of King Alfred, called The Great.
The title of the book is taken from Alfred’s first great victory at the Battle of Ashdown. Legend has Ashdown linked to Whitehorse Hill, which towers over the Berkshire downs, standing around nine hundred feet above sea level. Carved into the turf of the slope of the hill is an iconic chalk outline of a galloping white horse.
The book is eminently readable and is a page-turning tale, unusual for a history book of any kind (with the exception perhaps of Killer Angels by Michael Shaara). Alfred earned the title “Great” after a lifetime’s devotion to Jesus Christ and the people of Wessex (and eventually all of England).
The author proves in story after story of Alfred’s life, that his defensive reforms introduced in the Burghal Hideage; the revival of learning throughout Wessex; and the new standard of justice required by the domboc testified to his tremendous insight and understanding of the flaws of the Anglo-Saxon culture. He sought to correct those flaws, and was successful beyond any other king in history. The author contends that Alfred’s achievements made him more than worthy of the title “Alfred the Great.” Based on the book, I must agree.
The book should appeal to anyone who loves a good story, or who loves Anglo-Saxon history in particular.