MALE Ælfred "the Great"

King of the West Saxons, 871-899.

Ælfred appears in a charter of his father dated 855 (but with an indiction for 853) ["Ego Elfred fili regis consensi & subscripsi" Cart. Sax. 2: 62 (#467)], and appears frequently thereafter in charters of his father and brother. The West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List states that Ælfred succeeded his brother Æthelred I as king at the age of twenty-three ["þa feng Ælfred hyra broþer to rice; & þa wæes agangen his ylde .xxiii. wintra ..." Dumville (1986), 25]. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates this to 871 ["Þa feng Ælfred Æþelwulfing his broþur to Wesseaxna rice." ASC(A,E) s.a. 871]. Much of Ælfred's reign was spent fighting the Vikings. In 878, the Viking king Guthrum accepted baptism, with Ælfred as sponsor [ASC(A,E) s.a. 878]. When Ælfred died in 899 [see below], he was succeeded by his son Eadweard "the Elder".

King Ælfred left a will, which survives [Thorpe (1865), 484-492 (with modern English translation); Cart. Sax., 2: 176-180 (#553)]. In a preamble to the will, Ælfred speaks of the will of his father Æthelwulf (Aðulf) and mentions his brothers Æthelbeald and Æthelred ("... Aðulf cinge min fæder us þrim gebroðrum becwæð. Aðelbolde. & Æðerede. & me.") and his kinsman Æthelbeorht ("Æðelbyrhte cincge. uncrum mæge."). In the will itself, he left bequests to his elder son Eadweard ("Eadwearde minum yldran suna"), to his unnamed younger son ("gingran minan suna"), to his unnamed elder, middle, and youngest daughters ("And minre yldstan dehter ... & þære medemestan ... & þære gingestan"), to his brother's son Æthelm ("& Æðelme mines broþer suna") and Æthelwold ("& Æþelwolde mines broðer suna"), to his kinsman Osferth ("& Osferðe minum mæge"), to his wife (relationship not stated) Ealhswith ("& Ealhswiðe"), and to ealdorman Æthelred ("& Æþderede ealdormenn") [Thorpe (1865), 484-492].

Date of birth: ca. 848×9.
Place of birth: Wantage, co. Berks.
Asser, who is the only source for the statement that Ælfred was born at Wantage, states that he was born in 849 ["Anno Dominicae Incarnationis DCCCXLIX natus est Ælfred, Angul-Saxonum rex, in villa regia, quae dicitur Uuanating, in illa paga, quae nominatur Berrocscire ..." Asser, c. 1 (p. 1), see also pp. 154-5]. As noted above, the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List states that Ælfred was 23 years old when he became king in 871.

Date of death: 26 October 899.
Place of burial: Winchester.
Two tenth century calendars place Ælfred's death on 26 October ["VII kl. Aelfred rex obiit septenis et quoque amandus." Hampson, 1: 395, 416; see also Stevenson (1898), 71, n. 2 & n. 3], as does another from the eleventh century ["26 [Oct.] Hic obiit Ælfred rex." Lib. Vit. Hyde, 272]. The Parker manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle places his death six days before All Hallows (i.e., 26 October) in a year now labelled 901, but originally 900 ["Her gefor Ælfred Aþulfing, syx nihtum ær earla haligra mæssan; Se wæs cyning ofer eall Ongelcyn butan ðæm dæle þe under Dena on walde wæs, & he heold þæt rice oþrum healfum læs þe .xxx. wintra. & þa feng Eadweard his sunu to rice." ASC(A) s.a. 901 (orig. 900) ("Here died Alfred, Æthelwulf's offspring, six days before the Feast of All Hallows. He was king over all the English race except that part which was under Danish control, and he held that kingdom twenty-eight-and-a-half years. And then Edward, his son, succeeded to the kingdom." ASC(Eng), 91-2); ".vii. kl. Noveb." (26 Oct.) ASC(E) s.a. 901]. The Annals of St. Neots give 26 October in a year labelled 900 ["Alfredus veridicus, vir in bello per omnia strenuissimus, rex Occidentalium Saxonum nobi-lissimus, prudens vero et religiosus atque sapientissimus, hoc anno cum magno suorum dolore viam universitatis adiit, die VII kal. Novembris, anno regni sui XXIX et dimidio, anno vero aetatis suae LI, Indictione III. Qui apud Wintoniam civitatem regalem decenter et regali honore est sepultus in ecclesia Sancti Petri, Apostolorum principis." Ann. S. Neots, s.a. 900 (pp. 142-3)]. According to the chronicler Æthelweard, Ælfred died on the seventh day before All Saint's Day ["Septima namque die ante solennia sanctorum omnium obierat anax, cuius requiescit urbe in Wintonia corpus in pace." Æthelweard, 50-1]. John of Worcester places his death on 28 October 901 ["... Angul-Saxonum rex Ælfredus, piissimi regis Athulfi filius, XXIX. annis, sexque mensibus regni sui peractis, indictione quarta, mortem obiit, feria quarta, V. kal. Novembris, et Wintoniæ in Novo Monasterio sepultus, ..." John Worc., s.a. 901 (1: 116)]. The day was clearly 26 October, but there was formerly much doubt about the year, with opinions divided between 899, 900, and 901. However, the overwhelming modern consensus is that 899 is correct. Counting forward from Spring 871 for the twenty-eight and one-half years that Ælfred reigned gives late 899 for the end of his reign. Ælfred's grandson Æthelstan, who died on 27 October 939 [see the page of Eadweard the Elder], is said to have died forty years all but a day after king Ælfred died ["Her Æþelstan cyning forðferde on .vi. kl. NOV. ymbe .xl. wintra butan anre niht þæs þe Ælfred cyning forþferde" ASC(A) s.a. 941 (orig. 940); "xl" was at one time changed to "xli" and then back to "xl", see Vaughan (1954), 61], and counting back from this date gives 899 for Ælfred's date of death. Furthermore, the Parker Chronicle during this period used September as the beginning of the year [Beaven (1917), 529-30; Vaughan (1954), 64-6]. The original dating of the Parker Chronicle and the Annals of St. Neots both give 900, but the year labelled "900" according to those annals actually began in September 899 in our modern calendar. Thus, since Ælfred died in October, based on the above evidence, his date of death can be placed on 26 October 899 with confidence.

Father: Æthelwulf, d. 858, king of Wessex, 839-858.

Mother: Osburh, daughter of Oslac, pincerna.

Spouse: Ealhswith, d. 5 December 902×3, daughter of Æthelred Mucil, ealdorman of the Gaini.

Children:
Asser lists the children in order of birth ["Nati sunt ergo ei filii et filiae de supradicta coniuge sua [scilicet] Æthelflæd primogenita, post quam Eadwerd, deinde Æthelgeofu, postea Ælfthryth, deinde Æthelweard natus est, exceptis his, qui in infantia morte praeveniente praeoccupati sunt; ..." Asser, c. 75 (p. 57)]. Ælfred's will is less informative, but gives consistent information, mentioning his eldest son Eadweard, his unnamed younger son, and three unnamed daughters [Cart. Sax. 2: 176-189 (#553-#555)]. John of Worcester names the same five children ["cui regina sua Ealhswitha duos filios, Eadwardum et Ægelwardum, et tres filias Ægelfledam Merciorum dominam, Æthelgeovam sanctimonialem, et Ælfthrytham peperit." John Worc., 1: 274; also s.a. 871 (1: 88), following Asser's wording]. William of Malmesbury lists six children ["Ex Egelswitha, filia Egelredi comitis, tulit liberos, Ethelswidam, et Edwardum, qui post se regnavit; Ethelfledam, quæ nupta fuit Ethelredo comiti Merciorum; Ethelwardum, quem litteratissimum perhibent; Elfredam et Elfgifam, virgines." Wm. Malmes., Gesta Regum, c. 121 (1: 129)]. Here, Ælfgifu is the name William gives to Æthelgifu, abbess of Shaftsbury [ibid., c. 122 (1: 131)]. Æthelswith is the name that William gives to Ælfthryth, wife of Baldwin II of Flanders [ibid., c. 123 (1: 133-4)]. "Elfreda" is apparently Ælfthryth listed inadvertently a second time.

FEMALE Æthelflæd, b. say 870, d. Tamworth, 12 June 918, bur. Gloucester;
m. bef. 893, Æthelred, d. 911, bef. 13 June, subregulus (ealdorman) of the Mercians.
Æthelflæd married Æthelred before 893, the year Asser was writing ["Æthelflæd, adveniente matrimonii tempore, Eadredo, Merciorum comiti, matrimonio copulata est." Asser, c. 75 (pp. 57-8); "Ætheredo" instead of "Eadredo", John Worc., s.a. 871 (1: 88)]. Two charters, if genuine, suggest that she was married by 889 [Cart. Sax. 2: 201 (#561)] or perhaps even by 887 [Cart. Sax. 2: 167 (#547), dated 880, but indiction suggests 887]. Æthelred ruled Mercia on behalf of his father-in-law Ælfred and his brother-in-law Eadweard until his death in 911 ["Her gefor Æðered ealdormon on Mercum." ASC(A) s.a. 912 (orig. 911); ASC(C) s.a. 911 (Mercian register); ASC(E) s.a. 910; "Ipso anno Aetherædus, comes Merciorum, obiit." Ann. S. Neots, s.a. 911 (p. 145); on the date of Æthelred's death, see Angus (1938), 203-4]. His wife Æthelflæd succeeded, and maintained the alliance with her brother, dying in 918 ["Ac swiðe hrædlice þæs ðe hi þæs geworden hæfde heo gefor .xii. nihtun ær middan sumera. binnan Tamaweorþige ðy eahtoþan geare þæs ðe heo Myrcna anweald mid riht hlaforddome healdende wæs. & hyre lic lið binnan Gleawcestre on þam east portice sce. Petres cyrcean." ASC(C) s.a. 918 (Mercian register) ("But very quickly after they had done that, she departed, 12 days before midsummer, inside Tamworth, the eighth year that she held control of Mercia with rightful lordship; and her body lies inside Gloucester in the east side-chapel of St. Peter's Church." ASC(Eng), 105); "Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur." AU s.a. 917(=918); "... & þa gefor Æþelflæd his swystar æt Tameworþige .xii. nihtum ær middumsumera ..." ASC(A) s.a. 922 (orig. 921), here 4 (orig. 3) years behind the true date; on the chronology, see Angus (1938), 198-9]. On her death her daughter Ælfwynn was set aside, and Eadweard assumed direct control of Mercia [ASC(C) s.a. 919 (Mercian register)].

MALE Eadweard "the Elder", b. say ca. 872, d. 17 July 924, king of Wessex, 899-924; king of Mercia, ca. 918-924;
m. (1) Ecgwynn.
m. (2) bef. 901, Ælfflæd, d. 918,
daughter of ealdorman Æthelhelm.
m. (3) Eadgifu, d. aft. 966, daughter of Sigehelm, ealdorman of Kent.

FEMALE Æthelgifu, abbess of Shaftsbury.
["Æthelgeofu quoque monasticae vitae regulis, devota Deo virginitate, subiuncta et consecrata, divinum subiit servitium." Asser, c. 75 (p. 58); John Worc., s.a. 871 (1: 88); "Aliud quoque monasterium iuxta orientalem portam Sceftesburg, habitationi sanctimonialium habile, idem praefatus rex aedificari imperavit; in quo propriam filiam suam Æthelgeofu, devotam Deo virginem, abbatissam constituit, ..." Asser, c. 98 (p. 85); John Worc., s.a. 887 (1: 104)"] She appears in a grant by Ælfred to Shaftsbury abbey dated 871, which, if genuine, is undoubtedly misdated ["mine dochte Agelyue" Cart. Sax., 2: 148 (#531)]. William of Malmesbury calls her Ælfgifu (Elfgiva) ["Sceoftoniense etiam monasterium sanctimonialibus complevit, ubi et abbatissam filiam suam Elfgivam instituit." Wm. Malmes., Gesta Regum, c. 122 (1: 131)].

FEMALE Ælfthryth, said to have d. 7 June 929;
m.
Baldwin II, d. 918, count/marquis of Flanders, 879-918.

MALE Æthelweard, d. 16 October 922, bur. Winchester.
["Æthelweard, omnibus iunior, ludis literariae disciplinae, divino consilio et admirabili regis providentia, cum omnibus pene totius regionis nobilibus infantibus et etiam multis ignobilibus, sub diligenti magistrorum cura traditus est." Asser, c. 75 (p. 58); John Worc., s.a. 871 (1: 88); "Clito Æthelwardus, regis Eadwardi germanus, XVII. kal. Novembris defunctus, Wintoniam defertur et sepelitur." John Worc., s.a. 922 (1: 130)] Æthelweard appears as filius regis in some charters of Eadweard [Cart. Sax. 2: 241-2 (#594), 244 (#595), 247 (#596), 249 (#597), 251 (#598), 253 (#600), 257 (#602), 261 (#604), 271 (#611), 273 (#612), 275 (#613)] and frater regis in others [ibid., 2: 285 (#620), 289 (#621), 293 (#623), 295 (#624), 298 (#625), 303 (#628)]. The "Ealdereð, frater regis" who appears in a charter of ca. 901×4 is probably not an otherwise unknown son of Ælfred, but Æthelweard under a very corrupt spelling [Cart. Sax. 2: 262 (#605)].

MALEFEMALE Additional children, died in infancy.
[... exceptis his, qui in infantia morte praeveniente praeoccupati sunt; ..." Asser, c. 75 (p. 57)]

Relatives:

Osweald, filius regis, fl. 868-875.
Osweald appears as filius regis in a charter of Ælfred's brother Æthelred in 868 [Cart. Sax. 2: 135 (#520)], in a charter of Ælfred's sister queen Æthelswith of Mercia in 868 [ibid., 2: 140 (#522)], and in a charter of Ælfred dated 875 ["Ego Oswealdus filius regis" ibid., 2: 159 (#539)]. He was probably a nephew of Ælfred.

Osferth, fl. 898-934.
Osferth appears in the will of king Ælfred as a relative (mæg) ["Osferð minum mæge" Cart. Sax. 2: 178 (#553); also in Thorpe (1865), 489, with English translation]. He is evidently the Osferth who appears in charters during the period 898-909 [see Nelson (1991), 60 for a list]. He may also be the man of that name who attests charters in 926-934, during the reign of Æthelstan. (The gap from 910 to 925 would be easily explained by a general gap in the series of charters during that period.) One of these charters, from 904, calls him brother of the king (Eadweard the Elder) ["Ego Osferd frater regis." listed before the archbishop, Cart. Sax. 2: 271 (#611)]. A doubtful charter of 909 calls him propinquus of the king ["Ego Offerð propinquus regis" ibid., 2: 295 (#624)]. Nelson considers the possibility that Osferth was a son of Ælfred to be worth considering [Nelson (1991), 60-1]. A conclusive statement on his relationship does not seem possible on the slender evidence available.



Commentary

Supposed eldest son (existence doubtful):
MALE Eadmund, d. young.
[See Searle (1899), 343; Asser, p. 57, n. 6] The existence of such a son does not appear to be attested by any early source.


Bibliography

Æthelweard = A. Campbell ed., Chronicon Æthelweardi/The Chronicle of Æthelweard, (New York, 1962).

Angus (1938) = W. S. Angus, "The Chronology of the Reign of Edward the Elder", English Historical Review 53 (1938): 194-210.

Ann. S. Neots = Annals of Saint Neots, in William Henry Stevenson, ed., Asser's Life of King Alfred (new impression, Oxford, 1959), 97-145.

ASC = Charles Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles parallel, based on the earlier edition by John Earle, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1892-9). ASC(A) indicates the "A" manuscript of the chronicle, and similarly for the other manuscripts.

Asser = William Henry Stevenson, ed., Asser's Life of King Alfred (new impression, Oxford, 1959).

AU = Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill, eds., The Annals of Ulster (Dublin, 1983).

Beaven (1917) = Murray L. R. Beaven, "The Regnal Dates of Alfred, Edward the Elder, and Athelstan", English Historical Review 32 (1917): 517-531.

Cart. Sax. = Walter de Gray Birch, ed., Cartularium Saxonicum, 4 vols. (1885-99).

Dumville (1986) = David N. Dumville, "The West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List: Manuscripts and Texts", Anglia 104 (1986): 1-32.

Hampson (1841) = R. T. Hampson, Medii Ævi Kalendarium, or Dates, Charters, and Customs of the Middle Ages, 2 vols. (London, 1841).

John Worc. = Benjamin Thorpe, ed., Florentii Wigorniensis monachi chronicon ex chronicis, 2 vols., (London, 1848-9). (The work formerly attributed to Florence of Worcester is now generally attributed to John of Worcester.)

Lib. Vit. Hyde = Walter de Gray Birch, Liber Vitae: Register and Martyrology of New Minister and Hyde Abbey Winchester (London, 1892).

Nelson (1991) = Janet Nelson, "Reconstructing a Royal Family: Reflections on Alfred, From Asser, chapter 2", in Ian Wood & Niels Lund, eds., People and Places in Northern Europe 500-1600 - Essays in Honour of Peter Hayes Pawyer (Woodbridge, 1991), 47-66.

Onom. Anglo-Sax. = William George Searle, Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum (Cambridge, 1897). Spellings of Anglo-Saxon names on this page have been standardized according to this source.

Searle (1899) = William George Searle, Anglo-Saxon Bishops, Kings and Nobles (Cambridge, 1899).

Sim. Durh. = Thomas Arnold, ed., Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, 2 vols. (Rolls Series 75, 1882-5).

Stevenson (1898) = W. H. Stevenson, "The date of King Alfred's death", English Historical Review 13 (1898): 71-7.

Thorpe (1865) = Benjamin Thorpe, ed., Diplomatarium Anglicum Ævi Saxonici (London, 1865).

Vaughan (1954) = Richard Vaughan, "The Chronology of the Parker Chronicle, 890-970", English Historical Review 69 (1954): 59-66.

Wm. Malmes., Gesta Regum = William Stubbs, ed., Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachi De gestis regum Anglorum. libri quinque; Historiæ Novellæ libri tres, 2 vols. (Rolls series 90, 1887-9).


Compiled by Stewart Baldwin

First uploaded 20 June 2010.

Minor revision uploaded 25 June 2010.

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