MALE Ealhmund

King of Kent, fl. 784.

Ealhmund appears in a charter of 784, donating land in Sheldwick, co. Kent to abbot Hwitred and the monastery of Reculver ["Anno dominicæ incarnationis .DCC.LXXXIIII. Ego Ealmundus rex Canciæ ..." Cart. Sax. 1: 337 (#243)]. Two manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mention him, but in late hands ["To þysan timan rixode Ealhmund cing innon Cent." ASC(A) s.a. 784 (late hand); "Hic tunc temporis fuit in Cantia rex Ealhmundus. Þes Ealhmund cing was Egberhts fæder. Egberht was Aðulfes fæder." ASC(F) s.a. 784 (late hand)]. As noted by Plummer, it is possible that the notes in the Chronicle are taken from the charter [ASC 2: 71]. Ealhmund is given the title of "subregulus" by John of Worcester ["Ecgbertus, filius Alhmundi subreguli ..." John Worc., 1: 273].

Date of birth: Unknown.
Place of birth:
Unknown.

Date of death: After 784.
Place of death: Unknown.
It seems unlikely that he was the princeps Ealhmund who attested a charter of Beorhtric of Wessex in 801 [Cart. Sax. 1: 391 (#282)].

Possible father: Eaba/Eafa.
Mother: Unknown.
Ealhmund's parentage is discussed below in the Commentary section.

Spouse: Unknown.
The sources are silent on Ealhmund's wife, but see the Commentary section for a conjecture which has been offered.

Child:

MALE Ecgbeorht, d. 839, king of Wessex, 802-39.
["Æðelwulf wæs Ecgbyrhting, Ecbyrht Ealhmunding, Ealhmund Eabing, Eaba Iopping, ..." Dumville (1986), 24; ASC(F) s.a. 784 (see above)]



Commentary

The orthodox West Saxon genealogy

During the reign of Ælfred the Great at the latest, a genealogy was composed tracing his father Æthelwulf back to Cerdic, legendary first king of the West Saxons, and further to Adam. The fabricated nature of the pre-Cerdic part of the pedigree was demonstrated by Sisam [Sisam (1953), 158-165]. An outline of the pedigree from Ecgbeorht to Cerdic is given here as it appears in several sources: the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List ["Ecbyrht Ealhmunding, Ealhmund Eabing, Eaba Iopping, Ioppa Ingilding, Ingild Cenreding, ..., Cenred Ceolwalding, Ceolwald Cuðwulfing, Cuðwulf Cuðwining, Cuðwine Cel<in>ing, Cel<in> Cynricing, Cynric [Creoding, Creoda] Cerdicing ..." Dumville (1986), 24-5; cf. ASC(A), preface (1: 4), which includes a version omitting Creoda], the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 855 ["Ecgbryht Ealhmunding, Ealhmund Eafing, Eafa Eopping, Eoppa Ingilding; Ingild wæs Ines broþur West Seaxna cyninges, ... & hie wæron Cenredes suna, Cenred wæs Ceolwalding, Ceolwald Cuþaing, Cuþa Cuþwining, Cuþ<wine> Ceaulining, Ceawlin Cynricing, Cynric Cerdicing, ..." ASC(A) s.a. 855], Asser's Life of Ælfred ["... qui fuit Ecgberhti; qui fuit Ealhmundi; qui fuit Eafa; qui fuit Eoppa; qui fuit Ingild; Ingild et Ine, ... qui fuerunt filii Coenred; qui fuit Ceoluuald; qui fuit Cudam; qui fuit Cuthwine; qui fuit Ceaulin; qui fuit Cynric; qui fuit Creoda; qui fuit Cerdic, ..." Asser, c. 1 (p. 2)], Æthelweard ["Igitur præfatus rex fuit filius Ecgbryhti regis, cuius auus Ealhmund, proauus Eafa, atauus Eoppa, abauus Ingild, Ines frater, Occidentalium Anglorum regis, qui Romæ finierat uitam, traxeruntque supra dicti reges a Cenred rege originem. Cenred fuit filius Ceoluuald. Auus quippe eius Cuthuuine, proauus / Ceaulin, atauus Cynric, abauus Cerdic" Æthelweard, Chronicon, 32-3], John of Worcester ["... qui fuit Ecgberhti, qui fuit Ealhmundi, qui fuit Eafæ, qui fuit Eoppa, qui fuit Ingels. Ingels et Ine, ... qui fuerunt filii Coenred, qui fuit Ceolwald, qui fuit Cutha, qui fuit Cuthwine, qui fuit Ceaulin, qui fuit Cynric, qui fuit Creoda, qui fuit Cerdic, ..." John Worc., s.a. 849 (1: 70-1)], and William of Malmesbury ["Egbirhtus Elmundi; Elmundus Eafæ; Eafa Eoppæ; Eoppa Ingildi fratris Inæ regis, qui ambo filii fuere Chenredi; Chenredus Chelwaldi; Chelwaldus Cudæ; Cuda Cudwini; Cudwinus Cheaulini; Cheaulinus Chinrici; Chinricus Cherdicii, qui fuit primus rex West-Saxonum; ..." Wm. Malmes., Gesta Regum, c. 116 (1: 120-1)]. The most notable disagreement between the versions is the absence or presence of Creoda between Cerdic and Cynric. Also significant is the omission of Cuthwulf/Cutha by Æthelweard. The Genealogical Regnal List gives the long form Cuthwulf compared to the short form Cutha of the other versions. Two apparently early genealogies from the Anglian Collection which start with Ine agree with the list in giving the long form Cuthwulf ["Ine Cenreding, Cenred Ceolwalding, Ceolwald Cuþwulfing, Cuþwulf Cuþwining, Cuþwine Celing, Celin Cynricing, Cynric Creoding, Creoda Cerdicing, ..." Ms. CCCC 183, 67r, Dumville (1976), 34; similarly (with spelling variants) in Ms. Tiberius B. v, 1:23r, col. 2, ibid., 37]. However, a genealogy of Ine which appears in the Chronicle agrees with Æthelweard in omitting Cuthwulf/Cutha altogether ["Þonne was se Ine Cenreding, Cenred Ceolwalding, Ceolwald was Cynegilses broþur, & þa wæron Cuþwines suna Ceaulininges, Ceaulin Cynricing, Cynric Cerdicing." ASC(A) s.a. 688]. For convenience, the above sources are compared in the following table.

Gen. Reg. List ASC(A) s.a. 855 Asser Æthelweard John Worc. Wm. Malmes. Anglian Gen. ASC(A) s.a. 688
Cerdic Cerdic Cerdic Cerdic Cerdic Cherdicus Cerdic Cerdic
Creoda   Creoda   Creoda   Creoda  
Cynric Cynric Cynric Cynric Cynric Chinricus Cynric Cynric
Cel<in> Ceawlin Ceaulin Ceaulin Ceaulin Cheaulinus Celin Ceaulin
Cuðwine Cuþwine Cuthwine Cuthwine Cuthwine Cudwinus Cuþwine Cuþwine
Cuðwulf Cuþa Cudam   Cutha Cuda Cuþwulf  
Ceolwald Ceolwald Ceoluuald Ceoluuald Ceolwald Chelwaldus Ceolwald Ceolwald
Cenred Cenred Coenred Cenred Coenred Chenredus Cenred Cenred
Ingild Ingild Ingild Ingild Ingels Ingildus [Ine] [Ine]
Ioppa Eoppa Eoppa Eoppa Eoppa Eoppa    
Eaba Eafa Eafa Eafa Eafa Eafa    
Ealhmund Ealhmund Ealhmund Ealhmund Ealhmund Elmundus    
Ecbyrht Ecgbryht Ecgberht Ecgbyrht Ecgberht Egbirhtus    

This genealogy back to Cerdic has often been accepted as reliable. However, there are problems with accepting the genealogy at face value. First and foremost is the fact that none of the links between Ecgbeorht and Cerdic is verified in contemporary sources. Thus, it seems impossible to confirm the genealogy in any realistic sense. Second, and related to this, there is the fact that for eight generations the supposed ancestors of Ecgbeorht fail to appear on the standard list of West Saxon kings, Ceawlin being the most recent king on the list who appears as an ancestor of Ecgbeorht, nine generations back. However, this problem is mitigated to a significant extent by the appearance of king Ine of Wessex as a brother of Ingild, the supposed great-great-grandfather of Ecgbeorht. Ine's father Coenred, who appears as king of Wessex confirming two South Saxon charters (but is not on the king list), and is called a subregulus by John of Worcester, seems to be a well enough documented individual, even if no contemporary source confirms that he had a son named Ingild [Cart. Sax. 1: 113 (#78), 211 (#144); John Worc., 1: 272]. Third, the genealogical sources on the early dynasty of Wessex are extremely contradictory, and seem impossible to reconcile [see, e.g., Plummer, in ASC 2: 1-2; Kirby (1965)]. In particular, no confidence at all can be placed in the generations prior to Ceawlin, and as noted above, the genealogies do not even agree on the number of generations between Ceawlin and Ine.

Ealhmund of Kent and Ecgbeorht of Wessex

The orthodox West Saxon genealogy, as indicated above, states that Ecgbeorht of Wessex was the son of an Ealhmund. It has commonly been concluded that the Ealhmund who was father of Ecgbeorht was the same person as king Ealhmund of Kent, who appears in the charter of 784 (see above), but the identification does not appear in any early source, and it has not been accepted by some. For example, Barbara Yorke stated that it was doubtful that Ealhmund of Kent should be identified with the same-named father of Ecgbeorht of Wessex [Yorke (1983), 13]. Nevertheless, even though the explicit attribution of Ealhmund of Kent as Ecgbeorht's father does not appear until some late additions to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ["Hic tunc temporis fuit in Cantia rex Ealhmundus. Þes Ealhmund cing was Egberhts fæder. Egberht was Aðulfes fæder." ASC(F) s.a. 784 (late hand); "(filius Ealhmundi regis)" ASC(F) s.a. 800 (in reference to Ecgbeorht)], there are good reasons for believing that Ecgbeorht had Kentish connections, which seem to confirm these late traditions that Ecgbeorht of Wessex was a son of Ealhmund of Kent.

Direct evidence that Ecgbeorht had at least one relative who had previously reigned in Kent is provided by an entry of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year "823" (actually 825, because of the two year dislocation of this part of the chronicle) ["... & Cantware him to cirdon, & Suþrige, & Suþ Seaxe, & East Seaxe, þy hie from his mægum ær mid unryhte anidde wæren; ..." ASC(A) s.a. 823 (=825) (and similarly in other manuscripts of the ASC) (Translation: "... and the inhabitants of Kent turned to him - and the Surrey men and South Saxons and East Saxons - because earlier they were wrongly forced away from his relatives." ASC(Eng.), 60)]. Although Surrey, Sussex, and Essex are also mentioned, the statement appears to be primarily concerned with Kent, the main subject of the sentence. A similar statement appears in John of Worcester's history, no doubt based on a version of the Chronicle ["Posthæc Cantuarienses, Suthregienses, Australes Saxones, Orientales Saxones, sponte se regi dederunt Ecgbrihto; ex cujus propinquorum manibus prius extorti, extraneorum regum ditioni per aliquot annorum curricula inviti sunt subacti." John Worc., s.a. 823 (1: 66)]. The most interesting additional detail occurs in the account of Henry of Huntingdon, who calls "Pren" (evidently Eadbeorht Præn, see below) the "cognatus" (relative) of Ecgbeorht ["Tunc ergo populos Cantiæ, et Sudriæ, et Sudsexe, et Estsexe rex Egbricht in dominium suscepit, quos prius cognatus suus Pren injuste amiserat." Hen. Hunt. iv, 29 (p. 132)]. It is not clear that Henry had additional information that Ecgbeorht and Eadbeorht Præn were related. He could have just assumed that the chronicle entry of "823" was referring to the dethronement of Eadbeorht. John Earle had a radically different suggestion for the translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 823(=825) ["... and the Kentish men threw off their allegiance to him [Baldred], as did Surrey, Sussex, and Essex, on the ground that they had originally been unjustly subdued by his family." ASC (Earle), 298-9]. This can only be right if the Latin chroniclers mistranslated the passage, and it does not seem to have been accepted by any later authors. Thus, the evidence that Ecgbeorht of Wessex was a son of Ealhmund of Kent is good.

The parentage of Ealhmund

The most obvious parentage for Ealhmund would be to accept the orthodox genealogy as it stands:

Possible father: Eaba/Eafa, grandnephew of Ine, king of Wessex.

Eaba does not appear in any source outside the West Saxon genealogy, and that is one reason for the doubt that has sometimes been expressed regarding the name. Assuming that this was the correct name of Ealhmund's father, no dates or places are known for him, beyond what might be naturally guessed for the father of a king who was reigning in Kent in 784. It would help to know when the genealogy was written, but all we know is that it existed in written form by the end of the ninth century. The spelling "Eaba" in some manuscripts (as opposed to the later "Eafa") has led to the suggestion that this part of the genealogy has an early (perhaps even eighth century) origin, but Sisam pointed out an example where b for f occurs in a name in a charter of 873 [Sisam (1953), 153-4; see Cart. Sax. 2: 153-5 (#536), where "Liaba" is written for the name "Leofa"], so a late ninth century composition of the genealogy is not ruled out. Nevertheless, the chances would seem good that the name of Ecgbeorht's grandfather is correctly given in the genealogy.

Although the orthodox genealogy traces Ecgbeorht and Ealhmund from the West Saxon dynasty of Cerdic, connections with the Kentish royal dynasty have also been suggested. In addition to the fact that Ealhmund ruled as king of Kent, and the apparent Kentish connections of Ecgbeorht noted above, it has also been noted that name of Ecgbeorht had been borne by two Kentish kings, Ecgbeorht I (664-673) and Ecgbeorht II (fl. 765-779) [see Searle (1899), 263, 266]. Also, one of the grandsons of Ecgbeorht of Wessex was named Æthelbeorht, a name which was also borne by more than one Kentish king. Both the Kentish dynasty and the dynasty of Ecgbeorht's descendants gave most of their members names beginning with vowels.

One possibility is that Ealhmund married a member of the Kentish dynasty:

Conjectured wife (very uncertain): NN, daughter of Æthelbeorht II, king of Kent.

This conjecture was made by David H. Kelley [as noted in Wagner (1975), 53]. However, even if the general idea is correct, there is no reason to insist on this specific link. A connection to the Kentish dynasty could just as easily come through the mother of Ealhmund, or via a daughter of some other Kentish king. There were quite a few kings who ruled in Kent during this unsettled era (sometimes more than one at the same time), usually of obscure lineage who may not have been related to the "main" dynasty of Kentish kings which claimed descent from the legendary Hengest and was descended from Æthelbeorht I (d. 616), the earliest known Christian Anglo-Saxon king. Thus, Ealhmund may have been a West Saxon adventurer unrelated to the Kentish royal family who just happened to briefly obtain a throne for himself.

In contradiction to this scenario, some authors have suggested that Ecgbeorht and Ealhmund were patrilineally related to the Kentish dynasty, and that the West Saxon genealogy was a complete fabrication:

Conjectured father (very uncertain): NN, member of the Kentish dynasty.
[Howorth (1900), 67; Scharer (1996), 184]
Conjectured wife (very speculative): NN, kin of Cerdic.
[Scharer (1996), 184]

This scenario was argued by Henry Howorth, who implied that the orthodox genealogy had been fabricated in the time of Ælfred the Great by Ælfred's biographer Asser [Howorth (1900), 67]. Anton Scharer has also suggested that Ecgbeorht was descended from the Kentish kings, and that he was perhaps descended from the line of Cerdic only through his mother [Scharer (1996), 184]. Both authors mention the annal of 823, and the onomastic evidence of the name Ecgbeorht, in support of the theory. Neither attempts to conjecture the exact nature of the hypothesized link to the Kentish kings.

While a connection to Kentish dynasty through a female line is consistent with the orthodox genealogy, any suggestion that Ecgbeorht was a patrilineal descendant of the Kentish dynasty necessarily implies that the orthodox genealogy is false. That in turn would suggest that a true Kentish genealogy was suppressed in favor of a false West Saxon one, and we should then ask about the motives and timing of such a fabrication. Obviously, there could be political motives for fabricating a genealogy. However, Howorth's statement that "Asser had to construct a story which should do due honour to the predecessors of his patron, ..." [Howorth (1900), 67] runs into problems if we consider what would be lost by giving up the Kentish descent. The Kentish dynasty had a descent in the direct male line from king Æthelbeorht I of Kent (d. 616). the first known Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity, whose descent in turn was said to derive from Hengest, the legendary first Anglo-Saxon invader of England. Would Ælfred really have abandoned such an illustrious descent if it were true? He had been preceded on the throne of Wessex by his grandfather, his father, and three brothers. During his time, only the very oldest would have remembered a time when someone other than a close relative of Ælfred had sat on the throne of Wessex. Both before and after his reign, there is no evidence for a challenge for the throne that came from outside of close relatives who would have had the same claim to the throne, and the claim of his family to rule Wessex seems to have been secure. By Ælfred's time, the dynasty was clearly looking beyond Wessex toward the day when they might rule all of England. For this reason, it is difficult to believe that in the late ninth century they would have set aside a supposedly genuine descent from the first Anglo-Saxon invader and first Christian king in favor of a less impressive and supposedly false West Saxon claim. Here, we make the obvious assumption that, all else being equal, a true claim would be strongly preferred to a false one.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to be certain. There may have been some sort of unknown political pressure in the late ninth century which demanded that Ælfred bolster a specifically West Saxon claim to the throne. However, the existence of such pressure seems much more plausible during the reign of Ecgbeorht. His immediate ancestors did not occupy the throne of Wessex, and if there was any pressure to supply a genealogical claim, it was more likely to come during his time than later. However, if the pedigree was composed during his time, his immediate ancestors would presumably have been well known, and the information would be more likely to be accurate.

Another possibility can be suggested. Does the pedigree of Ecgbeorht hide a female name?:

Conjectured mother (existence speculative): Eabe, daughter of Eoppa.

I first developed this hypothesis when my initial search for people named Eaba/Eafa in the Anglo-Saxon charters turned up only female candidates [Baldwin (2003); "Æbbæ abbatissæ ... Eabbæ abbatissæ" Cart. Sax. 1: 122 (#86); "Eabbe abbatissæ" ibid., 1: 140 (#96); "Eafe abbatissa" ibid., 2: 151 (#535)]. The theory is that it is possible that Ecgbeorht had a patrilineal descent from the kings of Kent and yet the orthodox genealogy might be approximately true, in that a female descent is hidden by a supposedly male one. For another likely female descent that was hidden in a similar way, see Alex Woolf's very probable suggestion that Coenwulf of Mercia was a descendant of Coenwealh of Wessex [Woolf (1998), 151-2, 166]. If such a genealogy was composed during the time of Ecgbeorht, it could have become set in stone by the time of Ælfred. This hypothesis is only one possibility among many.

Among Ealhmund's possible Kentish relations, one is named as a relative of Ecgbeorht in a relatively early source:

Possible relative: Eadbeorht Præn, king of Kent, 796-8.
Eadbeorht Præn became king of Kent in 796 ["... & Eadbryht onfeng rice on Cent. þam was oþer noma nemned Præn." ASC(A) s.a. 794 (=796) (Translation: "And Eadberht, who was by another name named Præn, succeeded to the kingdom of Kent" ASC(Eng), 56)], and was deposed and mutilated by Coenwulf of Mercia in 798 ["Her Ceolwulf Miercna cyning oferhergeade Cantware oþ Mersc, & gefengun Praen hiera cyning, & gebundenne hine on Mierce Leddon." ASC(A) s.a. 796 (=798) (Translation: "Here Ceolwulf, king of Mercia, ravaged over the inhabitants of Kent as far as the Marsh, and [they] captured Præn, their king, and led him bound into Mercia" ASC(Eng), 56 (here, the Mercian king's name is mistakenly given as Ceolwulf); "... ge feng <Eadberht> Præn heora cing. & gebundene lædde on Myrce & let him pytan ut his eagan. & ceorfan of his handa." ASC(F) s.a. 796 (=798) (Translation: "... and captured Eadberht Præn, their king, and led him bound into Mercia and had his eyes put out and his hands cut off." ASC(Eng), 56)]. John of Worcester makes Eadbeorht Præn a son of king Wihtred of Kent (d. 725) and brother of Æthelbeorht II (d. 762) [John Worc., 1: 248, 260], but this connection seems chronologically improbable. Henry of Huntingdon calls "Pren" (evidently Eadbeorht) the "cognatus" (relative) of Ecgbeorht of Wessex ["Tunc ergo populos Cantiæ, et Sudriæ, et Sudsexe, et Estsexe rex Egbricht in dominium suscepit, quos prius cognatus suus Pren injuste amiserat." Hen. Hunt. iv, 29 (p. 132)].


Bibliography

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.

ASC (Earle) = John Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles parallel (Oxford, 1865).

ASC(Eng) = Michael Swanton, ed. & trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (London, 2000).

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

Baldwin (2003) = Stewart Baldwin, "A note on the ancestry of Ecgberht of Wessex", The American Genealogist 78 (2003): 130-7.

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

Dumville (1976) = David N. Dumville, "The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and regnal lists", Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976): 23-50.

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

Hen. Hunt. = Thomas Arnold, ed., Henrici Archidiaconi Huntendunensis Historia Anglorum. The History of the English, by Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon (Rolls Series 74, London, 1879).

Howorth (1900) = Henry H. Howorth, "Ecgberht, king of the West Saxons and the Kent men, and his coins", The Numismatic Chronicle 3rd. ser. 20 (1900): 66-87.

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.)

Keary (1887) = Charles Francis Keary (& Reginald Stuart Poole, ed.), A Catalogue of English Coins in the British Museum. Anglo-Saxon Series, vol. 1 (London, 1887).

Kirby (1965) = D. P. Kirby, "Problems of Early West Saxon History", English Historical Review 80 (1965): 10-29.

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.

Scharer (1996) = Anton Scharer, "The writing of history at King Alfred's court", Early Medieval Europe 5.2 (1996): 177-206.

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

Sisam (1953) = K. Sisam, "Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies", Proceedings of the British Academy 39 (1953): 287-348, reprinted in E. G. Stanley, ed., British Academy Papers on Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1990), 145-204. (Citations are given from the latter.)

Wagner (1975) = Anthony Wagner, Pedigree and Progress (London & Chichester, 1975).

Woolf (1998) = Alex Woolf, "Pictish matriliny reconsidered", Innes Review 49 (1998): 147-167.

Yorke (1983) = Barbara A. E. Yorke, "Joint Kingship in Kent c. 560 to 785", Archæologia Cantiana 99 (1983): 1-19.


Compiled by Stewart Baldwin

First uploaded 20 June 2010.

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