Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?; Ethelwulf

Ethelwulf was the son of Egbert, widely regarded as the first King of England.

He was born, probably in 795, at Aix-la-Chapelle in France, at the court of Charlemagne, where his father was living in exile.

Ethelwulf was sent by his father at the head of an army in 825 to conquer Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. This was an important part of Egbert’s expansion, and Ethelwulf was duly appointed King of Kent (which now included the other conquered territories).

When Egbert died in 839, Ethelwulf succeeded to the throne of Wessex, and was crowned at Kingston-on-Thames. He appointed his brother Athelstan King of Kent.

During Ethelwulf’s reign, the Danish raids became more of a problem, and even more so during the 850s. A raid into Devon was repulsed by the local ealdorman, and Ethelwulf defeated a Danish naval force off Sandwich, after which the Danes spent the Winter on the Isle of Thanet.

Then, with reinforcements, they sailed up the River Thames and defeated Beortwulf, the King of Mercia, but were defeated by Ethelwulf and his son Ethelbald at Ockley in Surrey.

Ethelwulf’s wife, Osburgh, the daughter of Oslac of Hampshire, died in 852. They had been married, apparently very happily, since 830, and her death left Ethelwulf devastated.

He abdicated the throne in 855, and was succeeded by his eldest son Ethelbald. His second son, Ethelbert, was already King of Kent, having succeeded his uncle Athelstan.

Ethelwulf, a very religious man, gave a tenth of his estate to the church and then went off on a pilgrimage to Rome, taking with him his youngest son Alfred.

On the way back, Ethelwulf and Alfred spent some time at the court of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, and Ethelwulf married Charles’s daughter, the 13-year-old Judith, in what must have been a political rather than a romantic union.

When they returned to Wessex, Ethelbald refused to give up the throne to his father. Ethelwulf accepted this with good grace, and retired to Sussex, where Ethelbert was happy to hand over the Kingship of Kent, for the short while until Ethelwulf died.

Ethelwulf, a brave man with high moral convictions, died in 858. He was buried at Steyning in Sussex, but his remains were later moved to Winchester Cathedral.

He had four sons, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred and Alfred, who uniquely one by one succeed him as King. He also had a daughter, Ethelswith, who married Burghred, King of Mercia, at Chippenham.