The Alfred Jewel

late ninth-century

Gallery 35 Ancient Rome and Dark Age Europe


No other artefact surviving from the Anglo-Saxon era embodies so many rich resonances as the Alfred Jewel. It is a matchless piece of goldsmith's work by a master-craftsman operating under the patronage of the West Saxon court. The Jewel represents the pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon technological achievement, while the name of the monarch which it proclaims places it among the most precious of royal relics. (The Prince of Wales, when shown the Jewel a few years ago, was caused to wonder why it did not form part of the Crown Jewels, and indeed it would be entirely at home in those august surroundings).

The Jewel came to light in 1693, ploughed up in a field at North Petherton, Somerset. Even its find-spot contributes to its interest, since North Petherton is only a few miles from Athelney Abbey, the stronghold in the marshes from which Alfred launched his counter-attack on elements of the Great Army of the Danes. This attack ultimately led to his crucial victory at Edington in 878. The Ashmolean's registers record its presentation in 1718 to the Museum, where it has formed one of the principal treasures of the collection ever since.