Horspool, David 1971-
Horspool, David 1971-
Home—London, England. Office— Times Literary Supplement,, Times House, 1 Pennington St., London E98 1BS, England.
Writer, editor, and historian. Times Literary Supplement, London, England, history editor.
Why Alfred Burned the Cakes: 1,100 Years of Myth and History, Profile (London, England), 2006, published as King Alfred: Burnt Cakes and Other Legends, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
David Horspool is a writer, historian, and history editor for the prestigious Times Literary Supplement. In his book King Alfred: Burnt Cakes and Other Legends, published in England as Why Alfred Burned the Cakes: 1,100 Years of Myth and History, Horspool carefully examines the evolution of the many legends surrounding the Saxon king Alfred the Great. Alfred played a pivotal role in the early history of Great Britain. He was a lawmaker, scholar, and warrior who successfully thwarted early Viking raids on England and helped bring together the many lands of England into a single unified kingdom. For all his actual accomplishments, much of Alfred's reputation was gradually invented in the hundreds of years since his death. Horspool looks at these legends about Alfred, how they came to be, and what they say about both the historical king and the individuals who helped perpetuate the myths surrounding him. In doing so, Horspool also recounts the great king's life as an authentic historical figure.
According to the famous legend of the burnt cakes, Alfred was traveling anonymously and hiding from his enemies when he was given shelter by a peasant woman. The woman gave the disguised king the task of watching some cakes on the stove to ensure they were cooked properly. Distracted by his troubles and unfamiliar with cooking, Alfred accidentally let the cakes burn. The angry peasant woman vented her ire at him, never knowing that the man she had scolded was actually her king. Horspool notes that this event probably never happened, and in his book, he considers the origins of this story and others, and why such a tale would develop around such a figure as Alfred. It is not Horspool's goal to "discredit the cult of Alfred as unhistorical," but is instead to "look at why the myths surrounding him came into being," commented Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the Financial Times. Along the way, Horspool also looks at how the formation of such stories, even centuries later, allows following generations their own way of interacting with mighty figures of history. Booklist critic George Cohen called Horspool's book a "compelling narrative of England in Alfred's time" as well as the "stories and legends surrounding him." Guardian reviewer Kathryn Hughes labeled the work "crucial reading for anyone who is interested in how history gets put together."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August 1, 2006, George Cohen, review of King Alfred: Burnt Cakes and Other Legends, p. 32.
Financial Times, May 6, 2006, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, review of Why Alfred Burned the Cakes: 1,100 Years of Myth and History, p. 33.
Guardian (London, England), June 3, 2006, Kathryn Hughes, "Not Great at Cakes," review of Why Alfred Burned the Cakes.
Times Literary Supplement, June 23, 2006, "Or Was It Toast?," review of Why Alfred Burned the Cakes, p. 24.
Profile Books Home Page,http://www.profilebooks.co.uk/ (June 14, 2007), biography of David Horspool.