King Aethelwulf (Æthelwulf or “Noble Wolf”) was the son of Egbert, and King of Wessex from 839-858. Before becoming king, his father had sent him to conquer Kent, Sussex and Essex, and in doing so, he became king of Kent. Then in 839, he succeeded his father as king of Wessex too. Aethelwulf looked for alliances over conquest, and allied with Mercia against the many Viking invasions. A pious and generous man, he decided to give the church one tenth of his lands to receive God’s favour, in the face of the attacking pagans. But, after returning from Rome, he would discover his kingdom lost, and reputation tarnished.
Facts about King Aethelwulf
- Born. 795, Aachen, Germany.
- Parents. Egbert of Wessex and Redburh of Francia.
- Married. Osburh, daughter of Oslac of Hampshire. Then Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of the Franks.
- Children. 6, Aethelstan, Aethelswith, Aethelbald, Aethelbert, Aethelred, Alfred.
- Acceded. July 839.
- Crowned. 839.
- Reign. 19 years.
- Died. 13 January 858 at Steyning, Sussex, aged c.63. Buried in Winchester.
- Successor. Aethelbald, son of Aethelwulf.
10 things you may not know about King Aethelwulf
- Birth. Aethelwulf was born in Aachen in Germany. His father, Egbert, was exiled to Frankia and spent time at the court of Charlemagne. Aachen was the preferred residence of Charlemagne, and this is where Egbert met Aethelwulf’s mother, Redburh.
- Kent. Aethelwulf was appointed king of Kent by his father, once he had removed the existing ruler, Baldred. He later followed suit, and passed the title down to his first son, Aethelstan, when he became king of Wessex.
- Succession. Aethelwulf was the first son to succeed his father in over a century.
- Early Navy. Before his son Alfred had created the first navy, Aethelwulf had already established a competent fleet of ships. These were used to defend the coast against the Vikings.
- Huge Victory. The Vikings sailed 300 ships up the Thames in 851, and defeated the Mercians. But when they attacked Wessex, Aethelwulf and his son Aethelbald defeated them at Aclea (Ockley, Surrey), in what was the largest Danish defeat in history until the 880s.
- Pilgrimage. In 853, King Aethelwulf sent his son, Alfred, on a pilgrimage to Rome. Two years later, he followed and spent a year as a guest of Pope Benedict. Aethelwulf handed his sons, Aethelbald and Aethelbert, control of his kingdom, while he was away.
- Church Land. Aethelwulf wanted the favour of God, and decided to give a tenth of his lands to the church. This riled a number of his subjects, who were keen for land grants.
- Wives. Aethelwulf married twice. His first wife, Osburh, gave birth to his children, but died in October 856. Then, while Aethelwulf was passing through Frankia, he married 16 year old Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald. This helped form a military alliance, in the face of the Viking invasions. Aethelwulf bestowed the title of Queen to Judith, alerting his son’s to inheritance concerns.
- Family Feud. Aethelwulf’s son, Aethelbald, refused to allow his father back into his new kingdom. He must have feared his father’s new marriage had broken their agreements. Aethelbert, on the other hand, allowed his father into his share of the kingdom, but only as a sub-king.
- Reputation. The king has a rather weak reputation, particularly for losing his kingdom to his sons. He is eclipsed by both his father, Egbert and his youngest son, Alfred.
Battles and Skirmishes
- Skirmish at Southampton. 840. Victory for Ealdorman Wulfheard against the Vikings.
- Skirmish at Portland. 840. Defeat for the Dorset levies.
- Battle of Carhampton. 843. Defeated by the Vikings.
- Skirmish at the Mouth of the Parrett. 848. Naval victory for the Somerset and Dorset forces.
- Skirmish off Sandwich. 850. Naval victory for Aethelstan.
- Battle of Aclea. 851. Major victory against a large Viking fleet of 300 ships.
Timeline for King Aethelwulf
– 795 –
Aethelwulf is born in Aachen, Germany, to Egbert of Wessex and Redburh of Francia.
– 825 –
Aethelwulf’s father, Egbert, defeats the Beornwulf of Mercia. Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex submit to Wessex.
– 839 –
Aethelwulf succeeds his father in Wessex and becomes king.
– 843 –
King Aethelwulf is defeated by Vikings at the Battle of Carhampton.
– 851 –
King Aethelwulf is victorious at the Battle of Aclea.
– 855 –
King Aethelwulf travels to Rome, and remains as a guest of the Pope for a year.
– 856 –
King Aethelwulf marries Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald in Frankia.
Aethelbald controls Wessex and refuses entry for Aethelwulf.
– 858 –
King Aethelwulf dies at Steyning, Sussex.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was King Aethelwulf? He was the Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex from 839-858. Son of King Egbert and Father of Alfred the Great.
Was King Aethelwulf real? Yes he was.
How did King Aethelwulf die? The cause of his death is not recorded.
Did King Aethelwulf die from a bee sting? It is unlikely, but not impossible. However, his cause of death is not recorded.
What happened to King Aethelwulf? He eventually lost his kingdom to his son, Aethelbald, and died soon after.