The British Monarchy-Minor Kings of Wessex
Ethelbald, Ethelbert and Ethelred I
King Ethelwulf of Wessex had a number of sons who also became kings following his death.
King Ethelbald was the second of five sons born to King Ethelwulf. Ethelbald is believed to have been born in 834.
In 850, Ethelbald received the rank of Ealdorman. Five years later, Ethelbald was made King of the West Saxons by his father, while Ethelwulf went to Rome.
Ethelwulf returned a year later, having married Judith, the daughter of the King of France. According to primary sources left by Bishop Asser, one of Ethelwulf’s critics, a plot was hatched, either by Ethelbald, the Bishop of Sherbourne, the Ealdorman of Somerset, or all three to prevent the King’s return. It is believed that the plot, along with Ethelbald’s involvement, came about upon hearing of his father’s marriage. Ethelwulf’s marriage to Judith would provide him with children who would then have a much stronger claim to the throne, than Ethelbald or any of his brothers. In order to prevent a bloody civil war, Ethelwulf allowed Ethelbald to retain control of western Wessex.
Ethelbald was crowned king at Kingston-Upon-Thames, following the death of his father. He made himself unpopular when he chose to marry Ethelwulf’s 16 year old widow. The relationship was deemed incestuous by the Church. Her father, King Charles of France, forced her into a convent. She eventually eloped and married Count Baldwin of Flanders. Among her descendants was Matilda of Flanders, the consort of William the Conqueror.
In spite of this, Ethelbald proved to be a popular king and drew many favourable comparisons to King Egbert, his grandfather. Unfortunately, Ethelbald’s reign was short, lasting just four years. He is believed to have died at the age of 27.
Following King Ethelbald’s death the crown passed to his younger brother, Ethelbert.
The third son of King Ethelwulf, Ethelbert is thought to have been born in the year 835. In 855, Ethelbert was made King of Kent, ruling Kent as a sub-king, while Ethelwulf went to Rome. Ethelbert became King following the death of Ethelbald in 860.
Like his father and his older brother, Ethelbert was crowned King at Kingston-Upon-Thames. His reign was marked by continuing Viking raids on the English coast, including Kent and Northumbria. One of the most significant developments of these raids was the merging of Wessex and its south-eastern vassal states into a single kingdom. Equally unheard of was a charter issued during the first year of Ethelbert’s reign that contained a full complement of both Saxon and Kentish signatures. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ethelbert’s kingdom was stable and peaceful on the inside, but continually threatened by Vikings on the outside.
Following his death in 866, Ethelbert was buried next to Ethelbald. At the time of his death, Ethelbert had two children. Aldhelm was killed by Vikings during the reign of his uncle, Alfred the Great, while his second son Ethelweard was murdered following an unsuccessful attempt to claim the crown in 899.
Following the death of Ethelbert, Ethelred I became King of Wessex.
King Ethelred I
Ethelred was the fourth son of Ethelwulf and the older brother of Alfred the Great. Ethelred ascended to the throne in 865, following the death of King Ethelbert.
Ethelred proved to be unable to control the increasing frequency of Viking attacks on the English coast. He was badly defeated at the Battle of Reading in January, 871. Even though he was able to reform his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown, Ethelred was defeated again at the Battle of Basing. He died of wounds received in combat on April 23, 871.
Following his death, Ethelred was popularly regarded as a saint, even though he was never officially recognized as such. After the death of Ethelred I, Alfred the Great became King of Wessex.
Weir, Alison (1999), Britain’s Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy, London, U.K., p. 6
Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingship in Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: Seaby, 1990. pp. 148–158 & p. 133, table 15.
Asser, John; Simon Keynes, Michael Lapidge (1983). Alfred the Great. Penguin Classics.
Oman, Charles W. C. (1910). England before the Norman Conquest. Methuen.
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