The youngest son of King Æthelwulf, he was sent in 853 to Rome, where the pope gave him the title of Roman consul. He returned to Rome with his father in 855. His adolescence was marked by ill health and deep religious devotion, both of which persisted for the rest of his life.
Little is known of him during the reigns of his older brothers Æthelbald and Æthelbert, but when Æthelred took the throne (865), Alfred became his secundarius (viceroy) and aided his brother in subsequent battles against the Danes, who then threatened to overrun all England. When the Danes began their assault on Wessex in 870, Æthelred and Alfred resisted with varying results: they won a victory at Ashdown, Berkshire; they were defeated at Basing; and they had several indecisive engagements.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.