Alfred the Great acted as his own spy, visiting Danish camps
disguised as a
minstrel. In those days wandering minstrels were welcome everywhere.
were not fighting men, and their harp was their passport. Alfred had
many of their ballads in his youth, and could vary his programme
tricks and simple conjuring.
While Alfred's little army slowly began to gather at Athelney, the
set out to penetrate the camp of Guthrum, the commander of the
These had settled down for the winter at Chippenham: thither Alfred
went. He noticed at once that discipline was slack: the Danes had
of conquerors, and their security precautions were casual. They
well, on the proceeds of raids on neighbouring regions. There they
women as well as food and drink, and a life of ease had made them
Alfred stayed in the camp a week before he returned to Athelney. The
there assembled was trivial compared with the Danish horde. But
deduced that the Danes were no longer fit for prolonged battle : and
commissariat had no organization, but depended on irregular raids.
So, faced with the Danish advance, Alfred did not risk open battle
the enemy. He was constantly on the move, drawing the Danes after
patrols halted the raiding parties: hunger assailed the Danish army.
began a long series of skirmishes--and within a month the Danes had
The episode could reasonably serve as a unique epic of royal