Discover 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.

Born 845
Parents Aethelwulf of Wessex & Osburh
Married Wulfrida
Children 2, Aethelhelm & Aethelwold
Died 23 April 871, Witchampton, Dorset (26), buried at Wimborne Minster

Reign 866 – 871 (5)
Crowned 866, Kingston upon Thames (21)
Predecessor Aethelbert (brother)
Successor Alfred (brother)
House Wessex

Events of King Aethelred I’s Life

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.

Interesting Facts About King Aethelred I

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Fought by King Aethelred I

Skirmish at Nottingham
In 867, stalemate, the Saxons were unable to free the town of Vikings.

Battle of Englefield
In 870, victory for Wessex, with Ealdorman Aethelwulf of Berkshire defeating a Viking raiding party.

Battle of Reading
In 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
In 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
In 871, defeat for Wessex against the Danish army.

Battle of Meretun
In 871, defeat for Wessex, and Aethelred was seriously wounded.

FAQs About the King

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 to the King

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

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