Ethelwulf (DNB00)

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ETHELWULF, ÆTHELWULF, ADELWLF, or ATHULF (d. 858), king of the West-Saxons and Kentishmen, the son of Ecgberht, is said to have been sent by his father to be brought up at Winchester by Swithun, afterwards bishop of that see (Florence, i. 68), to have received subdeacon's orders there (Vita S. Swithuni), and even, according to one legend, to have been bishop of Winchester (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 737); it is probable that he was educated at Winchester, but this is all that can be said. After the battle of Ellandune in 825 his father sent him with Ealhstan, bishop of Sherborne, and the ealdorman Wulfheard, to gain him the kingdom of Kent. The West-Saxons chased Baldred [q. v.] across the Thames; Kent, Surrey, and Sussex submitted to Ecgberht, and probably in 828 he committed these countries to Æthelwulf, who certainly had a share in the kingship in that year (Kemble, Codex Dipl. p. 223). In 838 he joined with his father in the compact the kings made with Archbishop Ceolnoth at Kingston, and in the compact with the church of Winchester, if that ever took place, and either the same or the next year confirmed the Canterbury agreement at a witenagemot at Wilton, over which he presided alone, though there is some reason to doubt whether Ecgberht was then dead (Eccles. Documents, iii. 617–20; for some of these events see more fully under Egbert). He succeeded to the kingship of Wessex on the death of his father in 839, a date arrived at by adding the length of Ecgberht's reign to the date of his accession, 802, while in a charter of 839 Æthelwulf declares that year to be the first after his father's death (Kemble, Codex Dipl. p. 240, i. 321; the chronology of the Chronicle is incorrect at this period). He was married to Osburh, daughter of Oslac, the royal cup-bearer, a descendant of the ancient princely line of the Jutes of Wight, and gave his eldest son, Æthelstan, charge of the Kentish kingdom with the title of king, putting him in the position that he had held during the later years of his father's life (ib. p. 241; A.-S. Chron. sub an. 836). At the time of his accession the English were much troubled about a vision that a priest declared he had seen concerning the neglect of Sunday. Æthelwulf took the matter to heart as much as his people, determined to make a pilgrimage to Rome, and sent an embassy to the emperor Lewis, asking that he might pass through his dominions (Annales Bertiniani, sub an. 839). His journey, however, was put off. According to William of Malmesbury Æthelwulf was slothful, loved quiet, and was only stirred to active exertion by the influence of his ministers Swithun and Ealhstan, Swithun giving him advice on ecclesiastical and Ealhstan on secular matters, the one managing the treasury, the other the army (Gesta Regum, ii. sec. 108). While this description is no doubt somewhat coloured by the legend of the king's admission to clerical orders, there is probably some truth in it. Æthelwulf seems only occasionally to have taken a personal part in resisting the invasions of the Danes; he was roused now and again to great and successful efforts, and then returned to his usual quiet life, and left the work of meeting the constantly repeated attacks to the leaders of local forces. He was extremely religious, and his religion was not more enlightened than that of his people generally, and he was lavish in his gifts to the church. There is reason to believe that a portion of his subjects grew dissatisfied with his rule; he lacked the power or the energy necessary to preserve the unity of his kingdom, and he declined to wage war against rebellion. (For a wholly different view of Æthelwulf's character see Conquest of England, p. 73. Mr. Green is mistaken in attributing Swithun's influence to the fact that he was ‘bishop of the royal city of Winchester;’ he did not become bishop until 852, and his promotion to the see was therefore rather a consequence of his ministerial importance than the cause of it.).

In the first year of the reign the Danes landed at Southampton, and were defeated by the ealdorman Wulfheard, one of Ecgberht's most trusted officers, who evidently met the invaders with the forces of his shire. On the other hand, another party of invaders defeated the Dorset men at Portland, and slew their ealdorman. During the next year Lindsey, East Anglia, and Kent suffered severely. Then successful raids were made on London, Canterbury, and Rochester. Meanwhile Æthelwulf appears personally to have remained inactive until, perhaps in 842 (A.-S. Chron. an. 840), he met the crews of thirty-five ships at Charmouth and was defeated. During the next nine years all that is known of Æthelwulf seems to be that he made sundry grants, and the history of the reign is a blank save for the notice of a brilliant victory gained over the invaders at the mouth of the Parret by the fyrds of Somerset and Dorset, under the command of the ealdormen of the two shires and of Bishop Ealhstan. In 851 the invaders were defeated in the west by the ealdorman of Devonshire. More serious invasions were, however, made the same year on the east coast. When the Danish fleet came off Sandwich, King Æthelstan and the ealdorman of Kent put out to sea and gained a naval victory, taking ten prizes and putting the rest of the ships to flight. Nevertheless the Danes for the first time wintered in Thanet. Meanwhile a fleet of three (or two, Asser) hundred and fifty ships, coming probably from the viking settlements that had lately been formed on the islands between the mouths of the Scheldt and the Meuse, sailed into the mouth of the Thames; the crews landed, took Canterbury and London by storm, put the Mercian king Beorhtwulf to flight, and crossed the Thames into Surrey. Roused by the danger that threatened him, Æthelwulf and his second son, Æthelbald, gathered a large force, met the invaders at Ockley, and after a stubborn fight completely routed them, slaying a larger number of them than had ever before fallen in England (A.-S. Chron.; Asser). Æthelstan, the king's eldest son, probably died in the following year, and his third son, Æthelberht, was made king in his place (Kemble, Codex Dipl. p. 269), the kingship of Wessex being destined for Æthelbald. The invasions of the Northmen encouraged the Welsh to rise against their conquerors, and in 853 Burhred [q. v.] of Mercia, the successor of Beorhtwulf, sent to his West-Saxon overlord to come and help him against them. Æthelwulf accordingly marched into Wales and brought the Welsh to submission. On his return from this expedition he gave his daughter Æthelswith (ib. p. 278) in marriage to Burhred at Chippenham. This marriage was a step towards the extinction of the existence of Mercia as a separate kingdom. Ecgberht had conquered Mercia, deposed its king, and restored him as an under-king to himself, and now Æthelwulf governed it by his son-in-law as king. A further step in the same direction was taken by Ælfred when he married his daughter Æthelflæd [see Ethelfleda] to the Mercian ealdorman. In this year also he sent his youngest and best loved son Alfred, or Ælfred [q. v.], to Rome to Leo IV. Although the victory of Ockley checked the invasions of the pirates, they still held Thanet, and a vigorous attempt that was made by the forces of Kent and Surrey to dislodge them ended in failure. Still the country was, on the whole, at peace, and Æthelwulf determined to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Before he set out he made a grant, or a series of grants, which used to be considered the origin of tithes in England. The whole subject has been critically examined by Kemble (Saxons in England, ii. 481–90), and Haddan and Bishop Stubbs (Eccles. Documents, iii. 636–48). It will therefore be enough to say here that this donation ‘had nothing to do with tithe’ (Const. Hist. i. 228), that the payment of tithe was ordered by law in 787, and that the effect of Æthelwulf's charters, as far as anything can be made out of them and out of the notices of historians, was to free a tenth part of the folc-lands, whether held by ecclesiastics or laymen, from all burdens save the three called the trinoda necessitas, which fell on all land, and to give a tenth part of his own land to various thegns and religious houses (Kemble). The grants he made, or at least is said to have made, were very large, and, whatever they conveyed, Æthelwulf seems to have adopted the measure of the tenth as one that appeared suitable for benefactions. His donation, of course, ‘affected Wessex only’ (Haddan and Stubbs). His grants were made for the good of his own soul and the souls of his ancestors (Asser). He left England probably early in 855, and proceeded to the court of Charles the Bald, king of the West-Franks. The Frankish king had, equally with Æthelwulf, to contend with Scandinavian invaders; but the intercourse between the English and the Franks was already so frequent that it seems going too far to imagine that Æthelwulf's visit and subsequent marriage suggest the formation of ‘a common plan of operations,’ or show that his policy ‘was in advance of his age’ (Green). Charles received him with much honour, and conducted him in kingly state through his dominions (Ann. Bertin.) At Rome he is said to have been received by Leo IV, who died 17 July. His visit no doubt really belongs to the pontificate of Benedict III. He made a large number of offerings of pure gold of great weight and magnificence (Anastasius), rebuilt the English school or hospital for English pilgrims, and perhaps promised a yearly payment to the holy see, which is said to have been the origin of Peter's pence (Gesta Regum, i. 152). After staying a year in Rome he returned to France, and in July 856 betrothed himself to Judith, the daughter of Charles. The marriage took place on 1 Oct. at Verberie on the Oise, though, as the bride's parents were married on 14 Dec. 842 (Nithard, iv. c. 6), she could not have been more than thirteen; and there is reason to believe that Æthelwulf's English wife, Osburh, was still living [see under Ælfred]. Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, married them, and after the marriage placed a crown upon the bride's head and blessed her as queen, though it was contrary to West-Saxon custom that the king's wife should be crowned or be called queen (Ann. Bertin. sub an. 856), a custom which King Ælfred told Asser was to be traced to the general abhorrence of the crimes of Eadburh, queen of Beorhtric [q. v.] The form used for the marriage and coronation of Judith is still extant (Capitularia C. Calvi, Bouquet, vii. 620). Æthelwulf then returned to England with his bride, but according to Asser's story found Wessex in revolt. During his absence his son Æthelbald, Bishop Ealhstan, and Eanwulf, ealdorman of Somerset, conspired to keep him out of the land, and held a meeting of their adherents in the forest of Selwood. The marriage with Judith, which was probably considered as likely to lead to a change in the succession to the injury of Æthelbald and the other West-Saxon æthelings, was the primary cause of the conspiracy, though the king is said to have given other causes of offence. Æthelwulf was joyfully received in Kent, and the Kentishmen urged him to let them do battle with his son. He shrank from such a war, and at a meeting of the witan gave up the kingdom of the West-Saxons to Æthelbald, and kept only the under-kingdom of Kent for himself. In this kingdom he set his queen Judith beside him on a royal throne without exciting any anger. Neither the ‘Chronicle’ nor Æthelweard mentions this revolt; Florence of Worcester copies it from Asser, and it must therefore stand on Asser's authority, which seems indisputable. Æthelwulf lived for two years, or perhaps two years and a half, after he returned from France (two years A.-S. Chron. sub an. 855; Asser), and it is certain that in the period of five years assigned in the ‘Chronicle’ as the duration of Æthelbald's reign two years and a half must belong to the time during which his father was alive. This would not, however, have any decisive bearing on the story of the partition of the kingdom. Before Æthelwulf died he made a will with the consent of the witan, perhaps at the witenagemot which gave Wessex to his son. The kingdom of Wessex was to go first to Æthelbald, and Kent to his next brother Æthelberht, and on Æthelbald's death he was to be succeeded in Wessex, not by Æthelberht, who was to remain in Kent, but by the younger Æthelred. The king also disposed of his property among his sons, his daughter, and his kinsmen, charging every ten hides with the support of a poor man, and ordering that a yearly payment of three hundred mancuses should be made to the pope. He died in 858 (Ann. Bertin.), on 13 Jan. (Florence) or (according to the Lambeth MS.) 13 June, after a reign of eighteen years and a half (A.-S. Chron.), which, reckoning from the middle of 839, would agree with the earlier date, while the statement of the length of Æthelbald's reign would imply the later (Eccles. Documents, iii. 612). He was buried at Winchester.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron.; Florence of Worcester; Asser, Mon. Hist. Brit.; Henry of Huntingdon, Mon. Hist. Brit.; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Gesta Pontificum (Rolls Ser.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Haddan and Stubbs's Councils and Eccles. Documents, vol. iii.; Annales Bertiniani, Prudentius, SS. Rerum Germ., Waitz, 1883; Nithard, SS. Rerum Germ., Pertz; Capitula Croli Calvi, Bouquet, vii. 621; Anastasius, Bibliothec. de Vitis Roman. Pontiff., Rerum Ital. Scriptt. iii. 251; Kemble's Saxons in England, ii. 481 sq.; Green's Conquest of England.]

W. H.