Généalogie and Heritage

Source: A History of England Before the Norman Conquest


Type Value
Title A History of England Before the Norman Conquest






Page -393-

This blow seems to have been fatal to the Mercian supremacy, which fell at once. Ecgbert sent forth without delay an army com¬ manded by his eldest son Aethelwulf, Wulfheard, his ealdorman, and Eahlstan of Sherborne, the first fighting bishop in English his¬ tory. This force was directed on Kent, while the king himself, no doubt, kept the defeated Mercians in play on the Thames. The expedition w£is completely successful...
...It seems that Kent, at least, joyfully accepted liberation from the Mercians; Archbishop Wulfred, who had so long been oppressed by Coenwulf, led the whole people to accept the new overlord. To indulge the national feeling Ecgbert named his son Aethelwulf sub-king of Kent, where he ruled under his father, apparently with success, from 825 to 839.

Page -412-
...Ecgbert was far superior as a fighting man to any of his Carlo- vingian contemporaries, and even his pious son Aethelwulf compares favourably with Charles the Bald or Charles the Fat. The English expeditions of the Vikings from 834 to 865 were pressed far less vigorously than their Continental expeditions

Page -419-


Ecgbert’s death was followed by a rearrangement of his king¬ doms. His eldest son Aethelwulf, who had been leigning hitherto as sub-king in Kent, moved on to rule over Wessex, as suzerain over the whole of the realms which had obeyed his father. But Kent,and with it Essex, Sussex and Surrey, was handed on to Ecgbert’s younger son Aethelstan, who had hitherto been sub-king in East Anglia. The evidence of coins seems to make it probable that Aethelstan gave up his former holding to an Aethelweard, whom no chronicle mentions.^ But since he owned a name common in the royal house of Wessex — it was home afterwards by three princes,^ one of whom was the well-known chronicler — we may guess that he was the son or other close kinsman of Aethelstan, and that the hegemony of Aethelwulf was duly recognised in East Anglia. In Mercia Beorhtwulf ® had just succeeded Wiglaf, while in Northum¬ bria the long-lived but obscure Eanred had still one year to live.

We know much more of Aethelwulf than of his father, but apparently he was far less worth knowing. He was a man who would never have won the suzerainty over England for himself, but he was just strong enough to maintain it, when it had been left him by hisstrong-handed parent. Though not destitute of fighting power, and full of a laudable sense of his duty to his kingdom, he had the faults of a conscientious man. He was pious even to excess, he was an over-indulgent father, and he lacked apparently that capacity for righteous resentment which forms a necessaiy part of the mental equipment of a gi*eat king, if not of a good Chi-istian. His character, no less than his career, bears a singular resemblance to that of the unlucky Emperor Lewis, his elder contemporary across the Channel. Like him Aethelwulf was a worthy man who fell upon evil days, and owed part of his troubles to his own deficiencies. Both suffered not only from the plague of the Viking invasions, but from unruly sons and disloyal subjects, whom a stronger hand might have tamed by the use of proper severity in the first instance. It is a curious coincidence that the later misfortunes of each were due in

Page -420-
a large measure to an unwise second marriage, made in late middle age. Not less similar was their exaggerated meekness and long- suffering, due to a deep religious sense of their own unworthiness, which placed them at a grave disadvantage when they were dealing with kinsmen, or still more with churchmen, who were troubled with no such scruples. For Aethelwulf, like Lewis, felt himself helpless before a prelate who attacked him on his weak side, and he was cursed with such a one in Ealhstan, the fighting bishop of Sherborne. This able but turbulent priest, if he was the first of his rank in England to lead an army against the Danes, was also the first to lead a rebellion against his lawful sovereign. Fortunately for Aethelwulf the type wtis yet rai’e on this side of the Channel : a better-remembered bishop of the virtuous type was Swithun of Win¬ chester, who is said to have been Aethelwulf s instructor in his youth and his minister in middle age.^ We have sadly inadequate informa¬ tion about this saint, who must have been a man of mark if we may judge from the popularity which his name enjoyed for many a century after. But his biographies are of late date, and consist of little more than a sti'ing of miracles.

The accession of Aethelwulf was almost coincident with a sudden redoubling of the vigour of the Danish attacks on England...