|Alfred, King of England||Michael Powell|
|Eltruda, Queen of England||Amanda Pitt|
|Prince Edward||Michelle Harris|
|Corin, a shepherd||Geoffrey Huntingford|
|Emma, his wife||Anne-Marie Keaney|
|Spirit||Katja Vanessa Hipp|
|Dancers||Kate Elliott, Jennifer French|
|Chorus Morag Crowther, Lucy Fiennes, Wendy Guest, Annabel Molyneaux soprano; Jennifer French, Jackie Huntingford, Esther King, Vanessa Woodward alto; Anthony Bucknall, David Hackett, Geoffrey Huntingford tenor; James Goddard, Andrew Hichens, Damian Riddle bass; Laura Elliott, James Elliott, Rosa French children; Alan Allinson, Pat Smith, John Smith actors.|
The scene is set in the year 878, in "the isle of Athelney, in Somersetshire, a wild country", with a "shepherd's cot", the fabled refuge of Alfred during his wanderings of self-imposed exile and flight from the heathen Danish enemy. A simple shepherd Corin and his wife Emma wonder at the pensive fugitive who has appeared in their land, taking comfort in their poverty and honesty, far removed from the "snares of ambition" which beset the powerful (Though to a desert isle confin'd, and the duet, The shepherd's plain life). Alfred, in deep anguish at the ruined state of his people and the "red war" which afflicts his nation, prays to the Genius of Britannia's isle for protection and direction. At first he is oblivious of two further refugees who appear, a mother with her son; they hope that Calm content should revisit them to bring comfort. As the mother gently pleads for knowledge of her lost husband (Sweet valley, say where pensive lying the best of mortals leans his head) Alfred recognises the distinctive voice as that of his queen, Eltruda. The boy, Prince Edward, is overcome to meet his father safe (Why beats my heart with such devotion?) and the royal family celebrate their mutual love and joy (trio Let not those who love complain). Emma reappears, still contentedly praising the wholesomeness of the simple state (If those who live in shepherd's bower) and calls her friends to dance at the close of day (Nymphs and shepherds come away).
In the opening scene of Act II, Edith, "a nymph, is discover'd pensively reclin'd on a bank". Comfortless, she has lost her love in the wars (Love's the tyrant of the heart; O fatal love of fame!; A youth adorn'd with ev'ry art). She is observed by Emma and the Queen: moved by Edith's inconsolable suffering, Eltruda meditates on the human torment which war inflicts on all estates of mankind, and calls on Peace thou fairest child of heav'n to bring comfort.
The second scene is set by moonlight in "the cot" where the royalty are now lodged: Eltruda is watchful and eager for vengeance against the enemy (Gracious heav'n, O hear me!). Alfred is awakened by her restlessness and, praising her virtue and beauty, promises to protect her (From the dawn of early morning). Suddenly Edward brings dramatic news: twelve hundred loyal Britons are nearby, armed and awaiting royal command. For the first time, there is hope of victory and peace (As calms succeed when storms are past). An unexpected "flourish of instruments in the air" announces a supernatural visitation: the Spirit warns Alfred against despair (Hear, Alfred, hear), and his message is reinforced by the magical vision of the king's royal successors (Now all the air shall ring), demonstrating the future endurance of British civilisation and true religion. Making plans with his father for a surprise attack on the enemy, Edward begs that Vengeance, O come, inspire me! Alfred anticipates the ultimate passing of darkness (Though storms awhile the sun obscure). As preparations are made for a surprise attack on the enemy, the Spirit and his attendants sing an extended "Funeral dirge, in honour of the heroes who die in the service of their country".
Corin only realises the true identity of the fugitives at the start of the final act. With jubilation, Emma praises the union of Mars and Venus in the royal couple (Safe beneath this lowly dwelling). The queen, however, is anxious for her husband, and prays for his preservation (Ah me! What fears oppress my throbbing heart; Guardian angels, O descend). Her fears are quickly dispelled by Corin's news of Alfred's triumph; Emma's response is less elevated - she anticipates a celebratory holiday (Arise, sweet messenger of morn). A March with a Side Drum announces the return of the victorious troops and their leaders (O how glorious 'tis to see). Edward joyfully praises the reappearance of the great British values (See liberty, virtue and honour appearing). Alfred, traditionally founder of the British navy, solemnly charges his people: "Britons, proceed, the subject deep command, awe with your navies ev'ry hostile land", and all tell of the nation's glory in A grand ode in honour of Great Britain.