King Aethelred I of Wessex

King Aethelred (Æthelred or ‘Noble Council’) was the third eldest surviving son of Aethelwulf, and King of Wessex from 866-871. Aethelred’s reign was dogged by Viking battles against the ‘Great Heathen Army’, that would ultimately lead to his death in 871. Aethelred played a major role in the defence of Wessex, despite history overshadowing him with his younger brother, Alfred.

Facts about King Aethelred

  • Born. c.845.
  • Parents. Aethelwulf of Wessex and Osburh.
  • Married. Wulfrida.
  • Children. 2, Aethelhelm and Aethelwold.
  • Acceded. January 866.
  • Crowned. 866, Kingston upon Thames.
  • Reign. 5 years.
  • Died. 23 April 871 at Witchampton, Dorset, aged c.26. Buried at Wimborne Minster.
  • Successor. Alfred, brother of Aethelred.

5 things you may not know about King Aethelred

  1. Shared Rule. Before Aethelred became king in 862, he was given the honorary role of co-king of Wessex, with his older brother, Aethelbert taking the primary role.
  2. Mercia. With England struggling against the Viking armies, Burghred of Mercia requested help from his brother-in-law, Aethelred (he had married Aethelred’s sister, Aethelswith). In an unprecedented move, Wessex responded to Mercia’s call, and supported them against the Vikings at Nottingham.
  3. Reading. Halfdan Ragnarsson, one of the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, sailed up the Thames and settled in Reading. This provided a good base for further raiding. King Aethelred and his brother Alfred, lay siege to the base, but were defeated and retreated west.
  4. Ashdown. Aethelred and Alfred took on the Danes at Ashdown, dividing their forces into two. This lead to a rare victory. However, Alfred was nearly overrun, as Aethelred wanted to finish his prayers before he joined the battle.
  5. Battle Wound. Aethelred’s final battle came at Meretun. Another fleet of Vikings has joined the battle, and the Saxons were defeated. Aethelred was seriously wounded, and died a month later.

Battles and Skirmishes

  • Skirmish at Nottingham. 867. Stalemate, the Saxons were unable to free the town of Vikings.
  • Battle of Englefield. 870. Victory for Wessex, with Ealdorman Aethelwulf of Berkshire defeating a Viking raiding party.
  • Battle of Reading. 871. Defeat for Wessex, as they were unable to siege the base at Reading. Aethelred and Alfred only escaped because they knew the local terrain. They forded the River Lodden at Twyford, and made their way to Whistley Green.
  • Battle of Ashdown. 871. Victory for Wessex, as they divide their forces into two. Aethelred insisted on finishing his prayers first, which nearly caused problems for Alfred, who had already begun the fight near a small thorn tree.
  • Battle of Basing. 871. Defeat for Wessex.
  • Battle of Meretun. 871. Defeat for Wessex, and Aethelred was seriously wounded.

Timeline for King Aethelred

– 845 –
Aethelred is born, to Aethelwulf of Wessex and Osburh.
– 853 –
Aethelred’s sister, Aethelswith, marries Burghred of Mercia. Wessex and Mercia join forces against the Welsh.
– 855 –
Aethelred’s older brothers are left in control of Wessex, while their father goes on a pilgrimage to Rome.
– 862 –
Aethelred is given an honorary role of co-ruler of Wessex.
– 866 –
Aethelred becomes King Aethelred I of Wessex. York is attacked by Vikings and becomes Jorvik.
– 867 –
Wessex comes to the aid of Mercia at Nottingham.
– 868 –
Aethelred marries Wulfrida. Their son Aethelhelm is born in the same year.
– 869 –
King Edmund of East Anglia is horrifically murdered by the Vikings. Aethelred and Wulfrida have their second son, Aethelwold.
– 870 –
Halfdan Ragnarsson and his Vikings attack Wessex.
– 871 –
Aethelred and Alfred are defeated at the Battle of Reading. They are then victorious at the Battle of Ashdown. But are defeated at the Battle of Basing and again at the Battle of Meretun.
King Aethelred dies from his wounds near Witchampton, Dorset, and is buried at Wimborne Minster. Alfred succeeds as king, as Aethelred’s sons were too young for these troubled times.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was King Aethelred? He was the Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex from 866-871. Son of King Aethelwulf and older brother to Alfred the Great.
Where is King Aethelred buried? He died at Witchampton, and was buried nearby at Wimborne Minster.
Who led the Great Heathen Army? The Great Heathen Army of 864/5 was led by Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless.

Related Video

Video from the Vikings series showing Aethelred. There are some historical inaccuracies, but it is still entertaining.

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