Alfred’s Meadow commemorates the role that the River Lea had in defining the boundary between Viking Danelaw to the East and the England of King Alfred of Wessex (“Alfred the Great”) to the West.
In 879 or 880, Alfred and the Viking King Guthrum signed a treaty defining their respective territories, using the River Lea as part of the boundary:
Concerning our land boundaries: Up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then straight to Bedford, then up on the Ouse unto Watling Street.
So as you cross the many bridges within the Park that pass over the River Lea, you are walking between what used to be the boundaries of England and Danelaw.
Alfred’s Meadow is so-named to commemorate this.
Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
This is one of the few official documents that survive from Alfred's reign. Although fighting continued between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons, this treaty marks the end to a war that, as Sir Geoffrey Elton has said, seemed lost when Alfred ascended the throne.
The full text is as follows:
This is the peace that King Alfred and King Guthrum, and the witan of all the English nation, and all the people that are in East Anglia, have all ordained and with oaths confirmed, for themselves and for their descendants, as well forborn as for unborn, who reck of God's mercy or of ours.
1. Concerning our land boundaries: Up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then straight to Bedford, then up on the Ouse unto Watling Street.
2. This is next, if a man is slain, all of us, Englishman and Dane at the same amount, at eight half-marks of refined gold, except the ceorl who occupies rented land, and [the Danes'] freedmen; these also are estimated at the same amount, both at 200 shillings.
3. And if a king's servant be accused of manslaying, if he dare clear himself on oath, let him do that with 12 king's servants. If any one accuse that man who is of less degree than the king's servant, let him clear himself with 11 of his equals and with one king's servant. And so in every suit which may be more than 4 mancuses. [A money of account representing thirty pence] And if he dare not, let him pay for it threefold, as it may be valued.
4. And that every man know his warrantor in acquiring slaves and horses and oxen.
5. And we all ordained on that day that the oaths were sworn, that neither bond nor free might go to the host without leave, no more than any of them to us. But if it happen that from necessity any of them will have traffic with us or we with them, with cattle and with goods, that is to be allowed in this wise: that hostages be given in pledge of peace, and as evidence whereby it may be known that the party has a clean back.