Athelred of Wessex

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Athelred
King of Wessex
Ethelred coin.gif
Silver penny of Æthelred
Reign 866–871
Died 871
Father Athelwulf
Mother Osburga

Athelred or Æthelred (c. 837c. 871) was King of Wessex from 865 to 871. He succeeded his brother Ethelbert at the time of the invasion of England by the Great Heathen Army. He was the first of the four sons of Athelwulf not to rule as under-king before he became king of Wessex.


Career[change | change source]

Athelred was the fourth son of King Athelwulf and his wife Osburga.[a][2] She was the daughter of Oslac, Athelwulf's butler.[b] While his father was in Rome and France, 855-856, his oldest brother Athelstan had died.[4] Prior to his death two years later Athelwulf left a will.[5] in that will the two eldest sons, Ethelbald and Ethelbert should have the kingdom.[c] When Ethelbald died in 860, Ethelbert became the king of Wessex.[7] But their father's will had made no provision for Athelred and Alfred, the two youngest sons, to be kings.[5] Possibly for that reason Ethelbert did not appoint his brother Athelred King of Kent.[6] He consolidated everything into the single kingdom of Wessex. In 865 Vikings raided into Kent and the men of Kent agreed to pay them ransom.[8] But the vikings ravaged the eastern part of Kent despite the pending treaty.[8]

King of Wessex[change | change source]

Athelred had not expected to reign, but when his brother Ethelbert died in 866, Athelred became the king of Wessex.[6] This was just after the arrival of the Great Heathen Army[d] in East Anglia.[12] For a time they were more interested in Northumbria. They gained control of York and moved south into Mercia then made their winter camp in Nottingham.[12]

It was at this time his younger brother Alfred was given the title of Secundarius (Latin for secondary). This meant he was appointed as heir to the throne.[13] In 868 Burgred, the King of Mercia, asked King Ethelred and Alfred for their help against the Danes (Vikings).[12] When the Danes saw the combined English army against them they asked for peace.[14] The Vikings withdrew to York where they managed a completely defeat.[14] The next year, 871, the great Viking army grew much larger. They moved on Reading.[e] Ethelred with his brother Alfred arrived with their army to meet the new threat.[16] In the battle that followed, the Battle of Reading, both sides suffered many casualties. Athelred's army was defeated.[16] Four days later the two armies met again at the Battle of Ashdown. This time the West Saxons won the victory and the Vikings retreated to Reading.[16] Two weeks later Athelred and Alfred led the West Saxons against the Danes at Basing where the Danes won.[16] Two months passed without any fighting between them.[17] The next battle was at a place called Merantun. After a day long battle which the English were winning, the Danes were able to regain their lost ground.[17] Just after mid-April in 871, Athelred died.[17] He was buried at Wimborne Minster.[16] He was succeeded by his younger brother Alfred.[18]

Family[change | change source]

His wife's name is not known (see note a below). He had two sons:

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Wives of the kings of Wessex were not usually given the title Queen. They were simply the king's wife. They were given so little political notice they were almost anonymous. This is why even the names of many aren't known.[1]
  2. The office of chief butler in an Anglo-Saxon royal household is most likely his title here. He would be a nobleman who held the honorary office of butler.[3]
  3. Meaning Ethelbald would rule Wessex as king. His brother and heir Ethelbert would rule as under-king. Wessex was the western part of the kingdom, Wessex proper. The under-king ruled the eastern part as the king of Kent, which included Sussex and Essex.[6])
  4. The first Viking raids that affected southern Britain were at Sheppey in 835.[9] In the next thirty years there were at least a dozen more raids.[9] Up to this point these were small raids by individual bands of Vikings. They looted and plundered, then left. But this changed in 865 with what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called the Great Heathen Army.[10] This was large coordinated army who wanted to obtain all the profit they could.[11] Over the next thirteen years they defeated and destroyed all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms except Wessex.[10]
  5. Reading in Berkshire was a royal residence of the King of Wessex.[15]

References[change | change source]

  1. Pauline Stafford, 'The King's Wife in Wessex 800-1066', Past & Present, No. 91 (May, 1981), p. 3
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 78
  3. Laurence Marcellus Larson, The King's Household in England Before the Norman Conquest, Thesis (Ph. D.), University of Wisconsin (1902), p. 127
  4. Eleanor Shipley Duckett, Alfred the Great: The King and His England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 36
  5. 5.0 5.1 Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), pp. 13-14
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New york: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 318
  7. John Allen Giles, The Life and Times of Alfred the Great (London, G. Bell, 1848), pp. 69-70
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, ed. & trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), p. 151
  9. 9.0 9.1 Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 243
  10. 10.0 10.1 Richard Abels, 'Alfred the Great, the micel hœđeb here and the viking threat', Alfred the Great: Papers from the Eleventh-centenary Conferences, ed. Timothy Reuter (Burlington, VT; Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), p. 266
  11. Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 246
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, Second Edition (London; New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 173
  13. R. H. Hodgkin, A History of the Anglo-Saxons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), p. 242
  14. 14.0 14.1 The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, ed. & trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), p. 152
  15. Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), p. 24
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, ed. & trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), p. 153
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 249
  18. Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), p. 29

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