King Æthelbald of Wessex or Ethelbald (Old English Æþelbald) (means roughly 'Noble Bold') was King of Wessex from 856 to 860. He was the second of the five sons of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and Osburga..
In 850, he received the rank of Ealdorman. In 855 he became regent of Wessex while his father, Æthelwulf, visited Rome, his elder brother Æthelstan having died in around 851. His brother Æthelbert was left in charge of Kent.
Æthelwulf returned a year later, having taken as his second wife, the Carolingian King Charles the Bald's thirteen-year-old daughter Judith. According to Asser, during Æthelwulf's absence there may have been a plot hatched to prevent the king's return either by Æthelbald, or by Ealhstan, Bishop of Sherborne and Eanwulf, Ealdorman of Somerset, or by all three. It is probable that Æthelbald was involved in such a plot due to hearing about his father's marriage to Judith. The marriage to a Frankish princess who had her own royal lineage could have produced heirs more throne-worthy than Æthelbald's.
To avoid a civil war, Æthelwulf allowed Æthelbald to continue to rule Wessex itself while he retained Kent and the other eastern parts of the kingdom. The absence of any coins in Æthelbald's name during this period suggests the coinage continued to be in Æthelwulf's name until his death. After Æthelwulf's death, Æthelbald became sole king of the West Saxons, with his younger brother becoming king of Kent.
He was crowned at Kingston upon Thames and later made himself unpopular with the church by marrying Judith, his father's young widow. The relationship was deemed incestuous and in direct contravention of church law. Her outraged father, Charles the Bald, intervened and forced his daughter into a nunnery. She later eloped with Baldwin, Count of Flanders, making her the ancestress of another Queen of England, Matilda of Flanders, the consort of England's first Norman King, William the Conqueror.
Despite all this, Æthelbald was a popular king. He died at Sherborne in Dorset on 20 December 860, aged around 26 or 27, after a four-year reign. He was greatly mourned by his people, although Bishop Asser describes him as being 'headstrong and arbitrary'. However, Asser's opinion demonstrates bias because of Æthelbald's uncanonical marriage..
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