Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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ASSER (d. 909 ), bishop and scholar .

He is known almost entirely from what he tells us of himself in his life of king Alfred . He belonged to the clerical community of S. Davids , where he was brought up and educated, being a relative of bishop Nobis , who died in 873 . In due course, he succeeded to the see and therewith acquired a reputation for scholarship, which spread beyond the borders of Wales . Thus it came about that in or around 884 Alfred , in his zeal for his own education and that of his people, enlisted him in the royal service . Asser was not easily detached from his episcopal responsibilities, but, after a delay partly due to a long illness at Caerwent on his way home, he agreed to divide his year between the court and S. Davids . Welsh politics provided one reason for his acquiescence. The see was much exposed to the attacks of the local prince , king Hyfaidd of Dyfed (d. 892 ), and it was hoped that the bishop 's friendship with Hyfaidd 's overlord, the powerful ruler of Wessex , would put an end to this trouble. Alfred found his new tutor indispensable; he heaped favours upon him, which culminated in the episcopal care of Devon and Cornwall , then part of the great diocese of Sherborne . All this is recounted in the life; it can only be added that later he became bishop of Sherborne and d. in 909 .

The life is a strange mixture of chronicle and personal memoranda, written in the stilted, rhetorical Latin of the period. It was clearly never finished; the last date mentioned is 893 , but the annals are not continued beyond 887 . Study of it has been made difficult by the burning of the one old MS. in 1731 , and the interpolations of editors, among them the notorious passage about academic disputes at Oxford , inserted by Camden to prove the antiquity of that university. All points at issue are discussed and the text established in the definitive edition by W. H. Stevenson ( Oxford , 1904 ).


  • J. E. Lloyd A History of Wales: from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest , 226-8;
  • F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (1943, 1947) , 269, 433.
  • J. W. Adamson, The Illiterate Anglo-Saxon (Cambridge, 1946)


Sir John Edward Lloyd, D.Litt., F.B.A., F.S.A. (1861-1947), Bangor

David Myrddin Lloyd, M.A., (1909-81), Aberystwyth / Scotland

Published date: 1959