Æthelred of Wessex

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Æthelred - MS Royal 14 B VI.jpg
Æthelred as depicted in the early-fourteenth-century Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England
King of Wessex
Reign 865–871
Predecessor Æthelberht
Successor Alfred
Born c. 847
Wessex, England
Died 23 April 871
Burial Wimborne Minster, Dorset
Consort Wulfthryth
Issue Oswald?
House House of Wessex
Father Æthelwulf, King of Wessex
Mother Osburga
Charter S 338 of King Æthelred dated 867

Æthelred I (Old English: Æþelræd, sometimes rendered as Ethelred, "noble counsel"; c. 847[1] – 871) was King of Wessex from 865 to 871. He was the fourth son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. He succeeded his brother, Æthelberht (Ethelbert), as King of Wessex and Kent in 865.[2][3]

Early life

Coin of King Æthelred

In 853 his younger brother Alfred went to Rome, and according to contemporary references in the Liber Vitae of San Salvatore, Brescia, Æthelred accompanied him.[4] He first witnessed his father's charters as an Ætheling in 854, and kept this title until he succeeded to the throne in 865. He may have acted as an underking as early as 862, and in 862 and 863 he issued charters as King of the West Saxons. This must have been as deputy or in the absence of his elder brother, King Æthelberht, as there is no record of conflict between them and he continued to witness his brother's charters as a king's son in 864.[5][6]


In the same year as Æthelred's succession as king, a great Viking army arrived in England, and within five years they had destroyed two of the principal English kingdoms, Northumbria and East Anglia. In 868 Æthelred's brother-in-law, Burgred king of Mercia, appealed to him for help against the Vikings. Æthelred and his brother, the future Alfred the Great, led a West Saxon army to Nottingham, but there was no decisive battle, and Burgred bought off the Vikings.[5] In 874 the Vikings defeated Burgred and drove him into exile.[7]

In 870 the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex, and on 4 January 871 at the Battle of Reading, Æthelred suffered a heavy defeat.[8] Although he was able to re-form his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown,[9] he suffered further defeats on 22 January at Basing,[10] and 22 March at Meretun.

In about 867, Æthelred effectively established a common currency between Wessex and Mercia by adopting the Mercian type of lunette penny, and coins minted exclusively at London and Canterbury then circulated in the two kingdoms.[11]

Æthelred died shortly after Easter (15 April) 871,[12] and is buried at Wimborne Minster in Dorset.[13] He was succeeded by his younger brother, Alfred the Great.


Æthelred's wife was probably called Wulfthryth. A charter of 868 refers to Wulfthryth regina (queen). It was rare in ninth century Wessex for the king's wife to be given the title queen, and it is only definitely known to have been given to Æthelwulf's second wife, Judith of Flanders.[14] Historians Barbara Yorke[15] and Pauline Stafford,[16] and the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England,[17] treat the charter as showing that Wulfthryth was Æthelred's queen. She might have been the daughter[18] or sister of Ealdorman Wulfhere of Wiltshire, who forfeited his lands charged with deserting King Alfred for the Danes in about 878.[19][20] However, Sean Miller in his Oxford Online DNB article on Æthelred does not mention her.[5] Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge in the notes to their 1983 edition of Asser's Life of King Alfred the Great refer to a "mysterious 'Wulfthryth regina'",[21] but Keynes stated in 1994 that she was "presumably the wife of King Æthelred".[22]

Æthelred had two known sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold.[lower-alpha 1] Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder after Alfred's death in 899. Æthelred's descendants include the tenth-century historian, Æthelweard, and Æthelnoth, an eleventh-century Archbishop of Canterbury.

See also


  1. He possibly had a third son, Oswald or Osweald, who witnessed two charters in 868 as a king's son, and one more during Alfred's reign in 875 with the same title.[23] In his will, Alfred left property to a relative, Osferth, whose relationship to Alfred is unknown, and Keynes and Lapidge suggest that he might have been a grandson of Æthelred by Oswald.[24]


  1. According to Sean Miller's DNB article on Æthelred, he was probably a year or so older than Alfred
  2. Johnson, pp. 49.
  3. "Alfred the Great (849 AD – 899 AD)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Janet L. Nelson, Æthelwulf, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Sean Miller, Æthelred I, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  6. Abels, p. 50
  7. S. E. Kelly, Burgred, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  8. Chisholm, p. 290.
  9. Lyon, pp. 20.
  10. Stephen, pp. 890.
  11. Geoffrey Hindley, A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons, Robinson, London, 2006, p. 206
  12. Keynes & Lapidge, p. 80
  13. Stephen, pp. 27.
  14. Keynes & Lapidge, pp. 71, 235
  15. Barbara Yorke, Edward as Ætheling, in N. J. Higham & D. H. Hill eds., Edward the Elder, p. 31
  16. Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma & Queen Edith, Blackwell, 1997, p. 324
  17. Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, Wulfthryth 2
  18. Foot, p. xv
  19. Kirby, p. 177
  20. Janet Nelson (1986). ""A king across the sea": Alfred in continental perspective". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 36: 55.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Keynes & Lapidge, p. 235
  22. Keynes, "West Saxon Charters", p. 1130, n. 4
  23. Dumville p. 11
  24. Keynes & Lapidge, p. 322, n. 79


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Æthelred of Wessex
Born: c. 847 Died: 23 April 871
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Wessex
Succeeded by
Alfred the Great
King of Kent
Family information
Egbert of Wessex Æthelwulf Æthelred of Wessex
Oslac Osburh