In Search of the Dark Ages (1980): S01E04 – In Search of Alfred the Great


In Search of the Dark Ages is a BBC television documentary series, written and presented by historian Michael Wood, first shown between 1979 and 1981.

It comprises eight short films across two series, each focusing on a particular character from the history of England prior to the Norman Conquest, a period popularly known as the Dark Ages. It is also the title of a book written by Wood to support the series, that was first published in 1981.


Wood begins in the Churchill War Rooms with the story of England’s desperate struggle against the Vikings. Travelling along The Ridgeway he describes the Battle of Ashdown which helped Alfred gain the kingship. Later, at Hamwic, Wessex’s major port, the Danes devastated trade and the local economy, before moving on to Wareham, Exeter, and Gloucester. After the ambush at Chippenham, his kingdom reached its nadir in the nearby marshes of Athelney (near where the Alfred Jewel was later discovered). He risked all at the Battle of Edington, and established stability via the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum. At Wareham, Winchester, London, and Lyng, Wood then discusses how Alfred re-engineered an “upsurge in urban life”. At the Bodleian Library he reviews Alfred’s second great revolution, that of literacy.

In Search of the Dark Ages Series

You can find a full overview and index of In Search of the Dark Ages here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Released Date: 14 March 1980.
  • Running time: 35-45minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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