Athelbald of Wessex

King of Wessex

Athelbald, also spelled Æthelbald or Ethelbald (c. 834–860) was a West Saxon nobleman. In 856 he was King of Wessex while his father was in Rome. When Athelwulf returned, Athelbald refused to step down. To avoid a civil war, Athelwulf gave his son the kingdom of Wessex and became sub-king of Kent.

King of Wessex
Reign856/858 - 20 December 860
Died20 December 860



Athelbald was the second of the five sons of King Athelwulf of Wessex and Osburga.[2] She was the daughter of Oslac, Athelwulf's butler.[a][4] He was born about 832. He is recording fighting alongside his father in 851 in the battle at Acleah.[5] There the Vikings who had just defeated Berhtwulf of Mercia near London and when they moved into Surrey they were met and defeated by the West Saxons.[5] In 855 his father Athelwulf went on a pilgrimage to Rome.[6] He left the kingdom in the care of Athelbald.[6] After spending a year in Rome and spending time at court of Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks, Athelwulf returned. But he had wed the king's young daughter, Judith.[6] She could not have been any older than thirteen at the time.[6] The Frankish king Charles had insisted that his daughter be consecrated queen.[b][8] When Athelwulf returned to Wessex with his new Queen, Athelbald objected to his father remaining king. To avoid a civil war Athelwulf agreed to take the sub-kingship of Kent. He let Ethelbald retain his position as king of Wessex.[6] Athelwulf died in 858 as the King of Kent.[9] Athelbald then took his father's young wife Judith as his own wife, apparently without a major scandal.[6]

Despite his marriage to his step-mother Judith, he had no children. He was succeeded by his brother Athelbert of Wessex.[10]

  1. The office of chief butler in an Anglo-Saxon royal household is most likely his title here. He would be a nobleman who held the honorary office of butler.[3]
  2. Charles wanted his daughter's position safeguarded in England. Up to this time in Wessex they did not allow queens. The king's wife was just that, the king's wife.[7] In Wessex there were old superstitions regarding the evil of having a queen.[7] But his new wife was accepted by his people.[7]


  2. Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 78
  3. Laurence Marcellus Larson, The King's Household in England Before the Norman Conquest, Thesis (Ph. D.), University of Wisconsin (1902), p. 127
  4. Asser's Life of King Alfred, Trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926), p. 3
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jim Bradbury, The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 141
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 245
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), p. 10
  8. Jennifer Ward, Women in England in the Middle Ages (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), p. 120
  9. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New york: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 317
  10. Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingship in Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: Seaby, 1990. ISBN 0-415-16639-X, pp. 148–158 & p. 133, table 15. Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingship in Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: Seaby, 1990), p. 148

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