Æthelwulf of Wessex

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Æthelwulf, also spelled Aethelwulf or Ethelwulf; Old English: Æþelwulf, meaning 'Noble Wolf', was King of Wessex from 839 to 856. He is the only son who can indisputably be accredited to King Egbert of Wessex. He conquered the kingdom of Kent on behalf of his father in 825, and was sometime later made King of Kent [1] as a sub-king to Egbert. He succeeded his father as King of Wessex on Egbert's death in 839: his kingdom then stretched from the county of Kent in the east to Devon in the west. At the same time his eldest son or younger brother Æthelstan became sub-king of Kent as a subordinate ruler.

Historians give conflicting assessments of Æthelwulf. According to Richard Humble, Æthelwulf had a worrying style of Kingship. He had come to the throne of Wessex by inheritance. He proved to be intensely religious, cursed with little political sense, and with too many able and ambitious sons.[2] To Frank Stenton "Æthelwulf seems to have been a religious and unambitious man, for whom engagement in war and politics was an unwelcome consequence of rank."[3] However Janet Nelson thought that his reign has been under-appreciated in modern scholarship, and that he laid the foundations for Alfred's success, finding new as well as traditional answers, and coping more effectively with Scandinavian attacks than most contemporary rulers.[4]

Contents

Martial career

The most notable and commonly used primary source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The chronicle refers to Æthelwulf's presence at some important battles. In the year 840 AD, he fought at Carhampton against thirty-five ship companies of Danes, whose raids had increased considerably. His most notable victory came in 851 at "Acleah", possibly Ockley in Surrey or Oakley in Berkshire. Here, Æthelwulf and his son Æthelbald fought against the heathen, and according to the chronicle it was "the greatest slaughter of heathen host ever made." Around the year 853, Æthelwulf, and his son-in-law, Burgred, King of Mercia defeated Cyngen ap Cadell of Wales and made the Welsh subject to him. The chronicle depicts more battles throughout the years, mostly against invading pirates and Danes. This was an era in European history where nations were being invaded from many different groups; there were Saracens in the south, Magyars in the east, Moors in the west, and Vikings in the north.[5] Before Æthelwulf's death, raiders had wintered over on the Isle of Sheppey, and pillaged at will in East Anglia. Over the course of the next twenty years the struggles of his sons were to be "ceaseless, heroic, and largely futile." [6]

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