Æthelwulf of Wessex: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

King of Wessex
An imaginary portrait by an unknown 18th century artist
Reign July 839 – 856
Spouse Osburga
Father Egbert
Mother Redburga
Born 795
Aachen, Germany
Died 13 January 858
Stamridge, Wessex
Burial Stanbridge Earls then the Old Minster, Winchester. Bones now in Winchester Cathedral
Æthelwulf's first tombstone, in the church porch at Steyning - the two incised crosses indicate a royal burial

Æthelwulf, also spelled Aethelwulf or Ethelwulf; Old English: Æþelwulf, means 'Noble Wolf' (c. 795 – 858) was the elder son of King Egbert of Wessex. He conquered Kent on behalf of his father in 825. Thereafter he was styled King of Kent [1] until he succeeded his father as King of Wessex in 839, whereupon he became King of Wessex, Kent, Cornwall, the West Saxons and the East Saxons.[2] He was crowned at Kingston upon Thames.


Martial career

The most notable and commonly used primary source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The chronicle refers to Æthelwulf's presence at some important battles. In the year 840 AD, he fought at Carhampton against thirty-five ship companies of Danes, whose raids had increased considerably. His most notable victory came in 851 at "Acleah", possibly Ockley in Surrey or Oakley in Berkshire. Here, Æthelwulf and his son Æthelbald fought against the heathen, and according to the chronicle it was "the greatest slaughter of heathen host ever made." Around the year 853, Æthelwulf, and his son-in-law, Burgred, King of Mercia defeated Cyngen ap Cadell of Wales and made the Welsh subject to him. The chronicle depicts more battles throughout the years, mostly against invading pirates and Danes. This was an era in European history where nations were being invaded from many different groups; there were Saracens in the south, Magyars in the east, Moors in the west, and Vikings in the north.[3] Before Æthelwulf's death, raiders had wintered over on the Isle of Sheppey, and pillaged at will in East Anglia. Over the course of the next twenty years the struggles of his sons were to be "ceaseless, heroic, and largely futile." [4]

Family life

In 839, Æthelwulf succeeded his father Egbert as King. Egbert had been a grizzled veteran who had fought for survival since his youth. Æthelwulf had a worrying style of Kingship. He had come to the throne of Wessex by inheritance. He proved to be intensely religious, cursed with little political sense, and with too many able and ambitious sons.[5] One of the first of Æthelwulf's acts as King was to split the kingdom. He gave the eastern half, that of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex to his eldest son Athelstan (not to be confused with the later Athelstan the Glorious). Æthelwulf kept the ancient, western side of Wessex (Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon) for himself. Æthelwulf and his first wife, Osburga, had five sons and a daughter. After Athelstan came Æthelbald, Æthelbert, Æthelred, and Alfred. Each of his sons succeeded to the throne. Alfred, the youngest son, has been praised as one of the greatest kings to ever reign in Britain. Æthelwulf's only daughter, Æthelswith, was married as a child to king Burgred of Mercia.

Pilgrimage to Rome, marriage, conspiracy of Æthelbald, death

Religion was always an important area in Æthelwulf's life. As early as the first year of his reign he had planned a pilgrimage to Rome. Due to the ongoing and increasing raids he felt the need to appeal to the Christian God for help against an enemy "so agile, and numerous, and profane." [5]

In 853, Æthelwulf sent his son Alfred, a child of about four years, to Rome. In 855, about a year after his wife Osburh's death, Æthelwulf followed Alfred to Rome. In Rome, he was generous with his wealth. He distributed gold to the clergy of St. Peter's, and offered them chalices of the purest gold and silver-gilt candelabra of Saxon work.[6] During the return journey in 856 he married Judith, a Frankish princess and a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne. She was about twelve years old, the daughter of Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks.

Æthelwulf's ring, depicted in Cassell's History of England, Century Edition, published circa 1902

Upon their return to England in 856 Æthelwulf met with an acute crisis. His eldest surviving son Æthelbald (Athelstan had since died) had devised a conspiracy with the Ealdorman of Somerset and the Bishop of Sherborne to oppose Æthelwulf's resumption of the kingship once he returned. Æthelwulf mustered enough support to fight a civil war, or to banish Æthelbald and his fellow conspirators. Instead Æthelwulf yielded western Wessex to his son while he himself retained central and eastern Wessex. The absence of coins in Æthelbald's name may also suggest that West Saxon coinage was in Æthelwulf's name until his death. He ruled there until his death on 13 January 858. The family quarrel, had it been allowed to continue, could have ruined the House of Egbert. Æthelwulf and his advisors deserved the adoration bestowed upon them for their restraint and tolerance.

That the king should have consented to treat with his rebellious son, to refer the compromise to a meeting of Saxon nobles, to moderate the pugnacity of his own supporters, and to resign the rule over the more important half of his dominions - all this testifies to the fact that Æthelwulf’s Christian spirit did not exhaust itself in the giving of lavish charities to the Church, but availed to reconcile him to the sacrifice of prestige and power in the cause of national peace.[7]

Æthelwulf's restoration included a special concession on behalf of Saxon queens. The West Saxons previously did not allow the queen to sit next to the king. In fact they were not referred to as a queen, but merely the "wife of the king." This restriction was lifted for Queen Judith, probably because she was a high ranking European princess.

He was buried first at Steyning and then later transferred to the Old Minster in Winchester. His bones now reside in one of several "mortuary chests" in Winchester Cathedral.

The gold ring depicted in the picture is about an inch across, richly decorated with religious symbols, and inscribed Æthelwulf Rex. It was found at Laverstock, Wiltshire, in 1780; it is believed to have been a gift from Æthelwulf to a loyal follower.


Æthelwulf married firstly Osburh Oslac, daughter of Osric. They had six children, four of whom became kings of Wessex.

Name Birth Death Notes
Æthelstan c. 829[8] c. 851-855[8] Eldest son. Defeated a Viking fleet and army at Sandwich, presumed dead in this battle.[9] Did not rule.
Æthelswith ? ? Only daughter. Married Burgred of Mercia; no issue.
Æthelbald c. 834[10] 20 December 860 Son. Married 858, Judith of Flanders, his father's widow and teenage stepmother; deemed incestuous by the church, the marriage was annulled in 860, with no issue. Ruled 856–860.
Æthelbert c. 835 865 Son. Married; two children. Ruled 860–865.
Æthelred c. 837 23 April 871 Son. Married 868, Wulfrida; two children. Ruled 865–871.
Alfred c. 849 26 October 899 Son. Married 868, to Ealhswith in Winchester; six children. Ruled 871–899.

Æthelwulf married a second time to 12 year old Judith of Flanders and had no issue.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=seek&query=S+282
  2. ^ http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=seek&query=S+293
  3. ^ Ashley, Maurice. Great Britain to 1688: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961. 34.
  4. ^ Hindley, Geoffrey. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Robinson, 2006. 186
  5. ^ a b Humble, Richard. The Saxon Kings. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980. 41.
  6. ^ Hodgkin, RH. A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford UP, 1935. 512.
  7. ^ Hodgkin, RH. A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford UP, 1935. 515.
  8. ^ a b Person and Factoid Information
  9. ^ D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (1991, 2000), pages 147–149.
  10. ^ Weir, Alison (1999), Britain's Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy, London, U.K., p. 6  


  • Ashley, Maurice. Great Britain to 1688: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1961.
  • Garmonsway, GN. Translation of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. London: JM Dent & Sons, 1953.
  • Hindley, Geoffrey. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Robinson, 2006.
  • Hodgkin, RH. A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford UP, 1935.
  • Humble, Richard. The Saxon Kings. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Wessex
Succeeded by
King of Kent


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address