Aethelwulf (sometimes spelled as Ethelwulf) was the oldest son of King Egbert of Wessex and his wife Edberga. He may have been born in Aachen, in modern Germany, the seat of the Imperial Frankish kingdom, where his parents temporarily lived in exile.
Egbert returned to Britain on the death of King Bertric of Wessex in AD 802 and seized the throne of Wessex. In 825 Egbert launched a series of attacks on Mercia and put Aethelwulf at the head of an army charged with subduing the kingdom of Kent. Aethelwuf was successful, and the subkingdoms of Surrey, Sussex, and Essex quickly submitted.
Egbert put these new territories into Aethelwulf's hands, and for 14 years he ruled as a sub-king under his father. When Egbert died in 1839 Aethelwulf took the throne and have his former territories to his own son Aethelstan.
In his personal life, Aethelwulf married Osburga, the daughter of a Kentish nobleman, and with her he had at least six children.
The Danish Threat
Aethelwulf ruled as King of Wessex from 839-856, and it was during his reign that the first major Danish invasions of England took place. The initial conflicts did not go well for Aethelwulf; he lost a sea battle to the Danes in 842, but regrouped and soundly defeated the Danes at the Battle of Aclea in 851.
The Danish threat brought Wessex and Mercia into an uneasy alliance against a common foe. In 853 King Burgred of Mercia asked for Aethelwulf's help against the Welsh, and to seal the alliance Burgred married Aethelwulf's daughter Aethelswith.
Aethelwulf was well known for his religious fervour, so perhaps it should have come as no surprise that in 855 he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, leaving Wessex in the hands of his second son Aethelbald and the southeastern kingdoms with his third son Aethelbert.
On his return trip he stayed at the Frankish court where he forged a new alliance with the Franks under King Charles the Bald, and sealed we alliance by marrying Charles's daughter Judith, then just 14 years old.
When he returned to Wessex, Aethelbald was unwilling to relinquish control of the kingdom to his father and Aethwlwulf, now an old man, had no stomach for the fight. He retired to Aethelbert's territory and lived out the last few years of his life.
He died only two years after abdicating and died in AD 858. He was buried at Steyning, in Sussex, but his body was later moved to Winchester Cathedral.
Time period(s): Saxon