The Prince and the Pauper – Chapter Nineteen – Historical Tidbit

Chapter 19 mentions a specific historical figure. But in typical Mark Twain fashion, he gives virtually no explanation about who the figure is. He just assumes all the readers understand his allusion. So let’s explore it today! The Historical Tidbit is about….

KING ALFRED

Keep reading or watch the video below to learn about this semi-famous king.

In Chapter 19, Edward is found hiding in a barn by two little girls. They bring him into their home and their mother feels bad and feeds him. She also becomes obsessed with finding out who he is and where he comes from. Eventually she comes to the conclusion that he is a cook, and therefore asks him to look after the food for her for a while. The following quote shows Edward’s reaction to this request.

“‘Another English king had a commission like to this, in a bygone time—it is nothing against my dignity to undertake an office which the great Alfred stooped to assume. But I will try to better serve my trust than he; for he let the cakes burn.’” (p. 122)

Who was King Alfred?

  • “Alfred the Great”, King of Wessex
  • Born in 849 AD
  • King from 871 to 899
  • Defended against a Danish Viking invasion

King Alfred and the Cakes

As the story goes, during the Viking invasion, Alfred was on the run. He hid in a peasant woman’s house (the wife of a herdsman/swineherd). She didn’t recognize that he was the king. While she is cooking some cakes (small loaves of bread) in the embers of the fire, she asks Alfred to watch them while she goes to grab something. While he is in charge of the food he gets distracted (or in some versions falls asleep). The woman returns and scolds him for failing at the task, again obviously not realizing that he was the king.

Is the story true?

Most likely, this story is made up. The earliest written examples of the story wasn’t around until 300 years after the actual event supposedly would have happened. Some people question whether or not the story is just a legend, because they claim there is no lesson behind the story. What would be the point in telling this made-up tale if there wasn’t a moral to it? Other critics claim that the story is inaccurate because they weren’t actually cakes that burned, they were loaves. In any case, the story was probably passed down by word-of-mouth for many years, and probably changed from the original, if it even happened at all.

Is the story true?

Most homes at this time didn’t have ovens, so people relied on bakers to make their bread and other baked goods. However, in the countryside some people did not have the luxury of a baker nearby. So instead, they would bake their own cakes in their fires. Since equipment like cast iron skillets were expensive, people would just bake their cakes right on the embers of the fire. The end goal was for the outside of the cake to be scorched, but the inside to be warm and fluffy. Clearly Alfred did not achieve the desired outcome for his cakes.


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References

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/King-Alfred-the-Cakes/

https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/10/25/king-alfred-burns-the-cakes/

https://freedomtoteach.collins.co.uk/king-alfreds-cakes-legend-or-fact/


https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-03/uol-wsk030907.php

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