Athelwulf of Wessex

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Athelwulf
King of Wessex
An imaginary portrait by an unknown 18th century artist
An imaginary portrait by an unknown 18th century artist
Reign July, 839 - 856
Spouse Osburga
Judith a/k/a Judith of the Franks.
Father Egbert
Mother Redburga
Born {{circa}795}}
Aachen (now part of Germany)
Died 13 January 858
Stamridge, Wessex
Burial Stanbridge Earls then the Old Minster, Winchester. Bones now in Winchester Cathedral

Athelwulf, also spelled Æthelwulf or Ethelwulf (c. 795–858) was a West Saxon nobleman. He conquered the territories of Kent, Sussex and Essex for his father in 825. That same year he was appointed the king of Kent. In 839 he succeeded his father as King of Wessex.


Early career[change | change source]

Athelwulf was born c. 795. He was the oldest son of King Egbert of Wessex and his Frankish wife Redburga. He may have been born in Francia (France) while his father was in exile there.[1] In 824 his father sent him at the head of an army into Kent.[2] There Athelwulf drove Baldred, the Mercian puppet king, out of Kent.[2] His father appointed Athelwulf King of Kent which included Essex, Surrey and Sussex. Athelwulf ruled as a sub-king of Wessex.[2]

King of Wessex[change | change source]

Athelwulf succeeded his father to the throne of Wessex in 839.[a][4] His father Egbert had done everything he could so that his son would be king after him. He appointed Aethelwulf his sub-king; ruler of the subordinate kingdom of Kent.[1] This gave Athelwulf experience that made him the leading candidate for king after his father.[1] In turn, Athelwulf did the same for his sons to insure they would follow him to the throne.[1] One of the first things he did as king was to appoint his son Athelstan, King of Kent.[5]

Under Athelwulf's rule the ealdormen, the most important leaders after the king, became very important. In the 840s when viking raids became more frequent it was his ealdormen who led various local armies against the invaders.[1] In 851 there were three large raids in southern England. The largest had over three hundred ships.[1] They attacked at a place called Acleah in Surrey. Athelwolf and his son Athelbald met the Danes (vikings) in battle and defeated them. After this victory Athelwulf was considered the leading Anglo-Saxon king in England.[6] In 852 Burghred of Mercia, a vassal king, asked for Athelwulf's help against Wales.[7] Athelwulf did help and together they defeated Cyngen ap Cadell. Shortly afterward his daughter, Athelswith, became Burgred's wife and queen.[6] By early 854 Athelwulf's wife, Osburgh, died.[7] His eldest son Athelstan died about this same time.[8]

In 855 Athelwulf went on a pilgrimage to Rome.[6] He took his youngest son Alfred with him. He left the kingdom in the care of Athelbald, his second son.[6] After spending a year in Rome he traveled to the court of Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks. There he spent the summer and fall of 856. In October 856 he wed the king's young daughter, Judith.[6] She could not have been any older than thirteen at the time.[6] The marriage was at best a diplomatic alliance. Both men were suffering from Viking attacks, and formed a common alliance.[6] Charles insisted that his daughter be consecrated queen.[b][10] When Athelwulf returned to Wessex there was opposition to his remaining king. To avoid a civil war he agreed to take the sub-kingship of Kent, held by Ethelbald. He let Ethelbald become king of Wessex.[6] Athelwulf died in 858 as the King of Kent.[7] Ethelbald took his father's young wife Judith as his own wife, apparently without a major scandal.[6]

Family[change | change source]

Athelwulf married Osburh, daughter of Oslac, Athelwulf's butler.[c][12] Together they had:

  • Ethelstan ( 851), King of Kent.[13]
  • Ethelbald ( 860), King of Kent, King of Wessex.[13]
  • Ethelbert ( 866), King of Wessex.[13]
  • Ethelred ( 871), King of Wessex.[13]
  • Alfred (849–899), King of Wessex, King of the Anglo-Saxons.[13]
  • Ethelswith ( 888), 'Lady of Mercia', married Burghred, King of Mercia, at his death she ruled as Queen in her own right.[13]
  • Judith, married Eticho, Count in Ammergau & Breisgau.[13]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. This was an unusual situation in Wessex. Up to this time kings could not pass the kingdom to their sons or designated heirs. The king was selected from among the most eligible chiefs or he became king by conquest.[1] Wessex, like other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had a witan or witenagemot.[1] This was a group of leading nobles, bishops, ealdormen and thanes who advised the king and who also selected the next king.[3]
  2. Charles wanted his daughter's position safeguarded in England. Up to this time in Wessex they did not allow queens. The king's wife was just that, the king's wife.[9] In Wessex there were old superstitions regarding the evil of having a queen.[9] But his new wife was accepted by his people.[9]
  3. 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.[11]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New york: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 316
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 231
  3. The New International Encyclopædia, Volume 20, eds. Daniel Coit Gilman; Harry Thurston Peck; Frank Moore Colby (New York: Dodd, Mead and company, 1909), pp. 604-05
  4. Roger Collins, Early Medieval Europe, 300–1000, Second Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), p. 195
  5. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 236
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 245
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New york: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 317
  8. Eleanor Shipley Duckett, Alfred the Great: The King and His England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 36
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), p. 10
  10. Jennifer Ward, Women in England in the Middle Ages (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), p. 120
  11. Laurence Marcellus Larson, The King's Household in England Before the Norman Conquest, Thesis (Ph. D.), University of Wisconsin (1902), p. 127
  12. Asser's Life of King Alfred, Trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926), p. 3
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 78

Other websites[change | change source]