Biography of King Æthelred of Wessex 847-871

Paternal Family Tree: Wessex

858 Death of King Æthelwulf

865 Death of King Æthelberht

871 Battle of Ashdown

871 Battle of Reading

871 Battle of Basing

871 Battle of Merton

King Æthelred of Wessex and Wulfthryth Unknown Queen Anglo Saxons were married. He the son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and Osburgh Queen Consort Wessex.

In or before 838 [his father] King Æthelwulf of Wessex and [his mother] Osburgh Queen Consort Wessex were married. She by marriage Queen Consort Wessex. He the son of Egbert King Wessex (age 64).

In 839 [his grandfather] Egbert King Wessex (age 66) died. His son [his father] King Æthelwulf of Wessex succeeded King Wessex.

Around 847 King Æthelred of Wessex was born to King Æthelwulf of Wessex and Osburgh Queen Consort Wessex.

In 856 [his father] King Æthelwulf of Wessex and [his step-mother] Judith Carolingian Queen Consort Wessex (age 12) were married. She by marriage Queen Consort Wessex. She the daughter of Charles "Bald" I King West Francia (age 32) and Ermentrude Orléans Queen Consort West Francia. He the son of Egbert King Wessex.

Death of King Æthelwulf

On 13 Jan 858 [his father] King Æthelwulf of Wessex died. His son [his brother] King Æthelbald of Wessex succeeded King Wessex.

Death of King Æthelberht

In 865 [his brother] King Æthelberht of Wessex died. His brother King Æthelred of Wessex (age 18) succeeded King Wessex. Wulfthryth Unknown Queen Anglo Saxons by marriage Queen Anglo Saxons.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 866. This year Ethered (age 19)35, brother of Ethelbert, took to the West-Saxon government; and the same year came a large heathen army into England, and fixed their winter-quarters in East-Anglia, where they were soon horsed; and the inhabitants made peace with them.

Note 35. Aetheredus,—Asser, Ethelwerd, etc. We have therefore adopted this orthography.

Assers Life of Alfred 866. 866. 21. Æthelred's Accession.50 In the year of our Lord's incarnation 866, which was the eighteenth of King Alfred's life, Æthelred (age 19), brother of King Æthelbert, undertook the government of the West Saxon realm. The same year a great fleet of heathen came to Britain from the Danube51, and wintered in the kingdom of the East Saxons, which is called in Saxon East Anglia; and there they became in the main an army of cavalry. But, to speak in nautical phrase, I will no longer commit my vessel to wave and sail, or steer my roundabout course at a distance from land through so many calamities of wars and series of years, but rather return to that which first prompted me to this task: that is to say, I think it right briefly to insert in this place the little that has come to my knowledge about the character of my revered lord Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, during the years of infancy and boyhood.

Note 50. The earlier part from the Chronicle.

Note 51. Probably meaning the mouths of the Rhine (Stevenson).

Assers Life of Alfred 868. 868. 30. The Danes at Nottingham.71 In that same year the above-named army of heathen, leaving Northumbria, invaded Mercia, and advanced to Nottingham [Map], which is called in Welsh Tigguocobauc72, but in Latin 'The House of Caves,' and wintered there that same year. Immediately on their approach, Burgred, King of the Mercians, and all the nobles of that nation, sent messengers to Æthelred (age 21)73, King of the West Saxons, and his brother [his brother] Alfred (age 19), entreating them to come and aid them in fighting against the aforesaid army. Their request was readily granted; for the brothers, as soon as promised, assembled an immense army from every part of their [realm], and, entering Mercia, came to Nottingham [Map], all eager for battle. When now the heathen, defended by the castle, refused to fight, and the Christians were unable to destroy the wall, peace was made between the Mercians and the heathen, and the two brothers, Æthelred (age 21) and Alfred, returned home with their troops.

Note 71. Largely from the Chronicle.

Note 72. 'A compound of tig (Modern Welsh tŷ, "house"), and guocobauc (Modern Welsh gogofawg), an adjective derived from gogof, "cave." ... The name ... is certainly applicable to Nottingham [Map], which has long been famous for the houses excavated out of the soft sandstone upon which it stands' (Stevenson). The word Nottingham itself, however, has not this meaning.

Note 73. Here and elsewhere in the text often spelled Æthered.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 868. This year the same army went into Mercia to Nottingham [Map], and there fixed their winter-quarters; and Burhred, king of the Mercians, with his council, besought Ethered, king of the West-Saxons (age 21), and [his brother] Alfred (age 19), his brother; that they would assist them in fighting against the army. And they went with the West-Saxon army into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there meeting the army on the works, they beset them within. But there was no heavy fight; for the Mercians made peace with the army.

Assers Life of Alfred 871. 871. 36. Battle of Reading.77 Four days afterwards, King Æthelred (age 24) and his brother [his brother] Alfred (age 22), uniting their forces and assembling an army, marched to Reading, where, on their arrival at the castle gate, they cut to pieces and overthrew the heathen whom they found outside the fortifications. But the heathen fought no less valiantly and, rushing like wolves out of every gate, waged battle with all their might. Both sides fought long and fiercely, but at last, sad to say, the Christians turned their backs, the heathen obtained the victory and held the battle-field, the aforesaid Ealdorman Æthelwulf (age 46) being among the slain.

Note 77. Chiefly from the Chronicle.

In 871 King Æthelred of Wessex (age 24) was buried at Wimborne Minster, Dorset [Map]. [his brother] King Alfred "The Great" of Wessex (age 22) succeeded King England. Æalhswith of Mercia Queen Consort of England by marriage Queen Consort England.

Battle of Ashdown

Assers Life of Alfred 871. 871. 38. Alfred begins the Attack.85 Now the Christians had determined that King Æthelred (age 24), with his men, should attack the two heathen kings, and that his brother [his brother] Alfred (age 22), with his troops, should take the chance of war against all the leaders of the heathen. Things being so arranged on both sides, the king still continued a long time in prayer, and the heathen, prepared for battle, had hastened to the field. Then Alfred (age 22), though only second in command, could no longer support the advance of the enemy, unless he either retreated or charged upon them without waiting for his brother. At length, with the rush of a wild boar, he courageously led the Christian troops against the hostile army, as he had already designed, for, although the king had not yet arrived, he relied upon God's counsel and trusted to His aid. Hence, having closed up his shield-wall in due order, he straightway advanced his standards against the foe. [At length King Æthelred (age 24), having finished the prayers in which he was engaged, came up, and, having invoked the King of the universe, entered upon the engagement.]86

Note 85. All original except final clause.

Note 86. Supplied by Stevenson from Florence of Worcester.

Assers Life of Alfred 871. 871. 37. Battle of Ashdown.80 Roused by this grief and shame, the Christians, after four days, with all their forces and much spirit advanced to battle against the aforesaid army, at a place called Ashdown81, which in Latin signifies 'Ash's82 Hill.' The heathen, forming in two divisions, arranged two shield-walls of similar size; and since they had two kings and many ealdormen, they gave the middle83 part of the army to the two kings, and the other part to all the ealdormen. The Christians, perceiving this, divided their army also into two troops, and with no less zeal formed shield-walls.84 But [his brother] Alfred (age 22), as I have been told by truthful eye-witnesses, marched up swiftly with his men to the battle-field; for King Æthelred (age 24) had remained a long time in his tent in prayer, hearing mass, and declaring that he would not depart thence alive till the priest had done, and that he was not disposed to abandon the service of God for that of men; and according to these sentiments he acted. This faith of the Christian king availed much with the Lord, as I shall show more fully in the sequel.

Note 80. Chiefly from the Chronicle.

Note 81. The Berkshire Downs (Stevenson).

Note 82. Stevenson is convinced that Æscesdun, though interpreted as 'mons fraxini,' cannot mean 'the hill of the ash,' but that Ash is here a man's name.

Note 83. Perhaps mediam is a scribal error for unam or primam (Stevenson).

Note 84. There is a note on the Germanic shield-wall in my edition of Judith (305ª), in the Belles Lettres Series.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 08 Jan 871. And about four nights after this, King Ethered (age 24) and [his brother] Alfred (age 22) his brother fought with all the army on Ashdown, and the Danes were overcome. They had two heathen kings, Bagsac and Healfden, and many earls; and they were in two divisions; in one of which were Bagsac and Healfden, the heathen kings, and in the other were the earls. King Ethered (age 24) therefore fought with the troops of the kings, and there was King Bagsac slain; and Alfred (age 24) his brother fought with the troops of the earls, and there were slain Earl Sidrac the elder, Earl Sidrac the younger, Earl Osbern, Earl Frene, and Earl Harold. They put both the troops to flight; there were many thousands of the slain, and they continued fighting till night.

Assers Life of Alfred 871. 871. 41. Æthelred's Death.92 That same year, after Easter, the aforesaid King Æthelred (age 24), having bravely, honorably, and with good repute governed his kingdom five years through many tribulations, went the way of all flesh, and was buried in Wimborne Minster [Map]93, where he awaits the coming of the Lord and the first resurrection with the just.

Note 92. Mostly from the Chronicle.

Note 93. In Dorsetshire.

Battle of Reading

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 04 Jan 871. About four nights after this, King Ethered (age 24) and [his brother] Alfred (age 22) his brother led their main army to Reading, where they fought with the enemy; and there was much slaughter on either hand, Alderman Ethelwulf (age 46) being among the skain; but the Danes kept possession of the field.

On 04 Jan 871 King Æthelred of Wessex (age 24) and [his brother] Alfred the Great's (age 22) army attacked, but were repulsed by, the Viking army at Battle of Reading at Reading, Berkshire [Map]. Æthelwulf Mercia Earldorman Berkshire (age 46) was killed.

Battle of Basing

On 22 Jan 871 King Æthelred of Wessex (age 24) was defeated by the Viking army at the Battle of Basing at Old Basing, Hampshire [Map].

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Around 22 Jan 871. Within a fortnight of this, King Ethered (age 24) and [his brother] Alfred (age 22) his brother fought with the army at Basing; and there the Danes had the victory.

Assers Life of Alfred 871. 22 Jan 871. 40. Battle of Basing.89 After90 fourteen days had elapsed King Æthelred (age 24) and his brother [his brother] Alfred (age 22) joined their forces, and marched to Basing91 to fight with the heathen. Having thus assembled, battle was joined, and they held their own for a long time, but the heathen gained the victory, and held possession of the battle-field. After this fight, another army of heathen came from beyond sea, and joined them.

Note 89. From the Chronicle.

Note 90. Before this sentence occurs the following in the Latin: Quibus cum talia præsentis vitæ dispendia alienigenis perperam quærentibus non sufficerent. This may represent a sentence in the author's draft that was intended, owing to change of construction, to be omitted (Stevenson).

Note 91. In Hampshire.

Battle of Merton

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Around 22 Mar 871. About two months after this, King Ethered (age 24) and [his brother] Alfred (age 22) his brother fought with the army at Marden. They were in two divisions; and they put them both to flight, enjoying the victory for some time during the day; and there was much slaughter on either hand; but the Danes became masters of the field; and there was slain Bishop Heahmund, with many other good men. After this fight came a vast army in the summer to Reading. And after the Easter of this year died King Ethered (age 24). He reigned five years, and his body lies at Winburn-minster [Map]. Then Alfred (age 22), his brother, the son of Ethelwulf, took to the kingdom of Wessex.

Around 22 Mar 871 Halfdan Ragnarsson defeated the Wessex army led by King Æthelred of Wessex (age 24) and [his brother] King Alfred "The Great" of Wessex (age 22) at the Battle of Merton. The location of 'Marton' is not known; suggestions include Marden, Wiltshire in Wiltshire and Winterborne St Martin, Dorset. Bishop Heahmund of Wessex was killed.

On 23 Apr 871 King Æthelred of Wessex (age 24) died possibly as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Merton which took place a month earlier.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 901. This year died [his brother] ALFRED, the son of Ethelwulf, six nights before the mass of All Saints. He was king over all the English nation, except that part that was under the power of the Danes. He held the government one year and a half less than thirty winters; and then Edward (age 27) his son took to the government. Then [his son] Prince Ethelwald, the son of his paternal uncle, rode against the towns of Winburn and of Twineham [Map], without leave of the king and his council. Then rode the king with his army; so that he encamped the same night at Badbury [Map] near Winburn; and Ethelwald remained within the town with the men that were under him, and had all the gates shut upon him, saying, that he would either there live or there die. But in the meantime he stole away in the night, and sought the army in Northumberland. The king gave orders to ride after him; but they were not able to overtake him. The Danes, however, received him as their king. They then rode after the wife that Ethelwald had taken without the king's leave, and against the command of the bishops; for she was formerly consecrated a nun. In this year also died Ethered, who was alderman of Devonshire, four weeks before King Alfred.

[his son] Æthelwold Prince Wessex was born to King Æthelred of Wessex and Wulfthryth Unknown Queen Anglo Saxons.

[his son] Æthelhelm Prince Wessex was born to King Æthelred of Wessex and Wulfthryth Unknown Queen Anglo Saxons.

Royal Ancestors of King Æthelred of Wessex 847-871

Kings Wessex: Son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex

Royal Descendants of King Æthelred of Wessex 847-871

Æthelhelm Prince Wessex x 1

Ancestors of King Æthelred of Wessex 847-871

Great x 4 Grandfather: Ingild Wessex

Great x 3 Grandfather: Eoppa Wessex

Great x 2 Grandfather: Eafa Wessex

Great x 1 Grandfather: Ealmund King of Kent

GrandFather: Egbert King Wessex

Father: King Æthelwulf of Wessex

King Æthelred of Wessex

GrandFather: Oslac

Mother: Osburgh Queen Consort Wessex