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Queen Ealhswith.png
Queen consort of Wessex
Tenure23 April 871 – 26 October 899
Died5 December 902
SpouseAlfred, King of Wessex
FatherÆthelred Mucel

Ealhswith or Ealswitha (died 5 December 902) was the wife of King Alfred the Great. Her father was a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucel, Ealdorman of the Gaini, which is thought to be an old Mercian tribal group. Her mother was Eadburh, a member of the Mercian royal family, and according to the historian Richard Abels she was a descendant of King Cenwulf of Mercia.[1] The genealogist and medieval studies scholar, Ford Mommaerts-Browne, however, suggests that Eadburh was a grandchild of Ceolwulf, through his daughter, Ælfflæd.[2][3][4] Ealhswith is commemorated as a saint in the Christian East and the West on 20 July.[5]


She was married to Alfred in 868 at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. His elder brother Æthelred was then king, and Alfred was regarded as heir apparent.[6][7] The Danes occupied the Mercian town of Nottingham in that year, and the marriage was probably connected with an alliance between Wessex and Mercia.[8] Alfred became king on his brother's death in 871. Ealhswith is very obscure in contemporary sources. She did not witness any known charters, and Asser did not even mention her name in his life of King Alfred. In accordance with ninth century West Saxon custom, she was not given the title of queen. According to King Alfred, this was because of the infamous conduct of a former queen of Wessex called Eadburh, who had inadvertently poisoned her husband when trying to poison another.[9]

Alfred left his wife three important symbolic estates in his will, Edington in Wiltshire, the site of one important victory over the Vikings, Lambourn in Berkshire, which was near another, and Wantage, his birthplace. These were all part of his bookland, and they stayed in royal possession after her death.[7]

It was probably after Alfred's death in 899 that Ealhswith founded the convent of St Mary's Abbey, Winchester, known as the Nunnaminster. She died on 5 December 902, and was buried in her son Edward's new Benedictine abbey, the New Minster, Winchester. She is commemorated in two early tenth century manuscripts as "the true and dear lady of the English".[7]

Ealhswith had a brother called Æthelwulf,[7] who was ealdorman of western and possibly central Mercia under his niece's husband, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, in the 890s.[10] He died in 901.[11]


Alfred and Ealhswith had five children who survived to adulthood.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keynes & Lapidge, Asser, pp. 77; 240–41; Abels, Alfred the Great, p. 121
  2. ^ Mommaerts-Browne, T S M (2005). "Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy: Tracing Lineages" (PDF). Foundations. 6: 404–413 – via Foundation for Medieval Genealogy.
  3. ^ Kirby, D.P. (1992). The Earliest English Kings. London: Routledge. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-415-09086-5.
  4. ^ Both Abels and Mommaerts-Browne base their claims on the assertion made by the Welsh monk and bishop, Asser, that Eadburh was a member of the Mercian royal line. D. P. Kirby goes further in claiming that Asser himself mentions Eadburh's kinship with Ceonwulf. Mommaerts-Browne, nonetheless, disagrees in observing that Ceonwulf's son, Cynehelm died young, and that his daughter, Cwoenthryth, was a nun, therefore Eadburh's descent from him seems unlikely. Alternatively, he suggests a connection to Coenwulf's brother, Ceolwulf, placing Eadburh as a daughter of Ælfflæd and Wigmund.
  5. ^ http://catholicsaints.info/saint-elswith, http://www.antiochian.org/node/19095
  6. ^ Keynes & Lapidge, Asser, p. 77
  7. ^ a b c d e Costambeys, Ealhswith
  8. ^ Williams, Ealhswith
  9. ^ Keynes & Lapidge Asser, pp. 71–72, 235–236
  10. ^ Hart, "Athelstan Half-king", p. 116
  11. ^ Æthelwulf 21 at Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by Consort of the King of Wessex
Succeeded by