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What Disease Does Alfred Have On Vikings Season 6, Part 2?

After following the age of the Vikings from its earliest days through some of its most impactful moments in European history, the series Vikings has finally come to an end. The show was marked by constant conflict between the Norse and the kings of the British Isles, whose lands were under near constant siege after Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) first raided an English monastery in the year 793, an era known to Vikings fans as "Season 1, Episode 2."

The final conflict between the Norse and English we see play out on the series is between Ragnar's son Ivar the Boneless (Alex H√łgh Andersen) and King Alfred of Wessex (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). While the two men were portrayed as having a fleeting acquaintanceship as children, in the finale of season 6B, they meet on the battlefield, with only one walking away.

The series draws many contrasts between the leadership of Ivar and Alfred, but it also highlights one fascinating quality that both men shared. On the show, Ivar's nickname is the result of a condition that appears to be osteogenesis imperfecta, better known as brittle bone disease. Alfred is also shown to suffer from a mystery illness that recurs to plague him throughout his life. Both characters are inspired by real historical figures, and in the case of Alfred, there are many clues from his actual life that point to what disease he may have been living with.

Alfred's history of illness on Vikings

Like many of the characters in the final season of Vikings, the show has been following Alfred since he was a child. Viewers first met him in season 3 as the infant son of Athelstan (George Blagden) and Princess Judith (Jennie Jacques). By season 5, he had grown into a young man vying for the throne of Wessex. During this time, we see him not just fighting political enemies, but also bouts of a serious illness that incapacitates him on multiple occasions.

The character was absent from the show for the first half of season 6, but in the final batch of episodes he returned, and so did his illness. In the season 6B episode "It's Only Magic," Alfred is weakened to the point that he collapses and falls off his horse. He remains unconscious in bed and when he wakes, he holds his stomach, which is presumably where his pain is radiating from.

Because we're still talking about the 9th century, the series doesn't provide any clues beyond his chronic symptoms for what was making Alfred ill. However, theories have been proposed about exactly what disease the actual Alfred the Great was living with.

What history tells us about the real King Alfred's health

Although Vikings takes many historic liberties with its subjects, its portrayal of Alfred as suffering from an illness that followed him throughout his life is accurate. In an article by G. Craig in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine titled "Alfred the Great: a diagnosis," a history of the king's ailments is described thanks to the work of a contemporaneous bishop named Asser. According to Asser, beginning at a young age, the king suffered from ficus, which Craig explains was a word often used to describe what we would today call hemorrhoids.

Asser also wrote that the king experienced a notable flare up of symptoms during his own wedding feast, which would have occurred when the king was 19 years old or so. From then on, Alfred was said to suffer from extreme, but likely intermittent, periods of illness. According to Craig, Elias III of Jerusalem, the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church at the time, sent Alfred several remedies specifically for "constipation, diarrhea, pain in the spleen and internal tenderness."

While Craig acknowledges that historic records can only go so far to diagnose a long dead king's medical issues, they do draw the conclusion that based on the information known about Alfred's chronic health issues, he was most likely living with Crohn's disease.

What is Crohn's disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Crohn's disease is marked by a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. We still don't know exactly what causes the condition, but it may be the result of an overactive immune system. Symptoms of Crohn's include digestive issues such as diarrhea and bloody stool, as well as other physical problems like cramping and abdominal pain, fever, and general weakness.

These symptoms usually come on earlier in life, as, according to the Mayo Clinic, most cases are diagnosed before the age of 30. While people living with Crohn's may experience symptoms over a long period of time, there are often periods of remission.

When comparing what we know about Crohn's today with the reported illness that Alfred the Great suffered from, it's not hard to see why Craig and others suspect the king may have been living with Crohn's. Not only do many of his symptoms line up, but the onset of his illness also matches, as does the fact that Alfred likely enjoyed periods where he didn't experience symptoms..

A last important clue lies in Alfred's lineage. It's not known exactly why people develop Crohn's, but there is evidence to suggest that those who have relatives with the disease are more likely to develop it themselves. King Eadred, a grandson of Alfred, ruled England in the mid 10th century. Like his grandfather, he suffered from an illness of the stomach, which he is presumed to have died of when he was in his early 30s (via Historic UK).

We'll never know for sure what illness Alfred the Great, or his fictional counterpart on Vikings, suffered from. However, given the evidence at hand, it appears that Crohn's disease is the most likely culprit.