Æthelwulf of Wessex
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Depiction of Æthelwulf from the Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings, a late-13th-century manuscript in the British Library.
|King of Wessex|
Judith of Flanders
|Issue||Æthelstan of Wessex
Æthelswith, Queen of Mercia
Æthelbald, King of Wessex
Æthelberht, King of Wessex
Æthelred, King of Wessex
Alfred, King of Wessex
|House||House of Wessex|
|Father||Egbert, King of Wessex|
Imperial Frankish Court in Aachen
|Died||13 January 858
|Burial||Steyning then the Old Minster, Winchester. Remains now in Winchester Cathedral|
Æthelwulf, also spelled Aethelwulf or Ethelwulf; Old English: Æþelwulf, meaning "Noble Wolf", was King of Wessex from 839 until his death in 858. He was the only known child of King Egbert of Wessex. He conquered the kingdom of Kent on behalf of his father in 825, and was sometime later made King of Kent  as a sub-king to Egbert. He succeeded his father as King of Wessex on Egbert's death in 839, at which time his kingdom stretched from the county of Kent in the east to Devon in the west. At the same time his eldest son Æthelstan became sub-king of Kent as a subordinate ruler.
Historians give conflicting assessments of Æthelwulf. According to Richard Humble, 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. To Frank Stenton, "Æthelwulf seems to have been a religious and unambitious man, for whom engagement in war and politics was an unwelcome consequence of rank." However, Janet Nelson thought that his reign has been under-appreciated in modern scholarship, and that he laid the foundations for Alfred's success, finding new as well as traditional answers, and coping more effectively with Scandinavian attacks than most contemporary rulers. In Simon Keynes's view, "it was he, more than any other, who secured the political fortune of his people in the 9th century, and who opened up channels of communication which led through the Frankish realms and across the Alps to Rome."
The most notable and commonly used primary source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which refers to Æthelwulf's presence at some important battles. In 843, he fought unsuccessfully at Carhampton against 35 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 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 when nations were being invaded by many different groups; there were Saracens in the south, Magyars in the east, Moors in the west, and Vikings in the north. Before Æthelwulf's death, raiders had wintered on the Isle of Sheppey and pillaged at will in East Anglia. Over the course of the next 20 years the struggles of his sons were to be "ceaseless, heroic, and largely futile."
Æthelwulf and his first wife, Osburh, had five sons, Æthelstan, Æthelbald, Æthelbert, Æthelred, and Alfred. Each of his sons, with the exception of Æthelstan, succeeded to the throne. 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 part of Æthelwulf's life. As early as the first year of his reign he 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."
In 853, Æthelwulf sent his son Alfred, a child of about four years, to Rome. In 855, about a year after the death of his wife Osburga, Æthelwulf followed Alfred to Rome, where 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. During the return journey in 856 he married Judith, a Frankish princess and a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne. She was about 12 years old, the daughter of Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks.
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 on his return. While Æthelwulf was able to muster enough support to fight a civil war or to banish Æthelbald and his fellow conspirators, he instead chose to yield western Wessex to his son, while he himself retained central and eastern Wessex. The absence of coins in Æthelbald's name suggests that West Saxon coinage was in Æthelwulf's name until his death. He ruled there until his death on 13 January 858.
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.
The restoration of Æthelwulf 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 referred to not as a queen but merely as the "wife of the king." This restriction was lifted for Queen Judith, probably because she was a high-ranking European princess.
Æthelwulf was first married to Osburh, daughter of Oslac. They had six children, four of whom became kings of Wessex.
|Æthelstan||c. 852||Eldest son. Did not rule.|
|Æthelswith||888||Only daughter. Married Burgred of Mercia.|
|Æthelbald||20 December 860||Son. Married 858, Judith of Flanders, his father's widow. Ruled 858–860.|
|Æthelbert||865||Son. Ruled 860–865.|
|Æthelred||c. 848||23 April 871||Son. Married. Two known children. Ruled 865–871.|
|Alfred||c. 849||26 October 899||Son. Married 868, Ealhswith. Six known children. Ruled 871–899.|
- House of Wessex family tree
- List of monarchs of Kent
- List of monarchs of Wessex
- Burial places of British royalty
- Nelson 2004.
- "S 282". Anglo-saxons.net. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- Humble, Richard. The Saxon Kings. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980. 41.
- Stenton 1971, p. 245.
- Keynes 2003, p. xxxiii.
- Ashley, Maurice. Great Britain to 1688: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961. 34.
- Hindley, Geoffrey. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Robinson, 2006. 186
- Depicted in Cassell's History of England, Century Edition, published circa 1902. The ring was found at Laverstock, Wiltshire, in 1780, and is believed to have been a gift from Æthelwulf to a loyal follower.
- Hodgkin, RH. A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford UP, 1935. 512.
- Hodgkin, RH. A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford UP, 1935. 515.
- Stenton 1971, p. 236 n.
- Williams 1991, p. 49.
- Miller 2004.
- Ashley, Maurice (1961). Great Britain to 1688: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
- Hindley, Geoffrey (2006). The Anglo-Saxons. London: Robinson.
- Hodgkin, R.H. (1935). A History of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Oxford University Press.
- Humble, Richard (1980). The Saxon Kings. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
- Keynes, Simon (2003). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 830850 Introduction to book by Peter Hunter Blair
- Miller, Sean (2004). "Æthelred I (d. 871), king of the West Saxons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8913. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Nelson, Janet L. (2004). "Æthelwulf (d. 858), king of the West Saxons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8921. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Stenton, Frank M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.
- Williams, Ann (1991). "Athelstan king of Kent d. c. 852". In Williams, Ann; Smyth, Alfred P.; Kirby, D. P. A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain. London, UK: Seaby. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-85264-047-7.
|King of Wessex