Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Ethelbert

Ethelbert, born in 836, was the second son of Ethelwulf of Wessex.

He succeeded his uncle Athelstan as King of Kent some time in the early 850s.

When Ethelwulf abdicated the throne of Wessex in 855 and went on a pilgrimage to Rome with his youngest son Alfred, his eldest son Ethelbald took over as King of Wessex.

However, on Ethelwulf’s return in 856, he expected to have the Kingdom of Weessex returned to him, but Ethelbald would have none of it. So Ethelwulf retired to Kent, where Ethelbert was more amenable.

But Ethelwulf died in 858, and Ethelbert resumed his reign in Kent.

Not long after, in 860, Ethelbald died childless, and Ethelbert became King of Wessex, being crowned at Kingston-on-Thames.

Ethelbert came to an agreement with his remaining brothers, Ethelred and Alfred. The Kingdom of Kent was suppressed as a semi-independent country, and the brothers would succeed each other as Kings of Wessex, irrespective of whether there were any sons.

During Ethelbert’s reign, the Danish invasions started again in earnest. Soon after his accession, a Danish army landed on the South coast and marched as far as Winchester before being defeated by the English.

Then in 864 a mightier force appeared, led by the fearsome Ragnar Lodbrok. They attacked Northumbria and the coasts of East Anglia and Essex, and wintered on the Isle of Thanet, plundering parts of East Kent before returning to their homeland.

Ethelbert died in 865, unmarried and childless, and was buried at Sherborne Abbey. He was succeeded by his brother Ethelred.