The early history of Ecgbeorht is extremely obscure. An obviously retrospective entry, inserted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle immediately after the notice of Ecgbeorht's death, states that he spent three years in exile among the Franks ["... & hine hęfde ęr Offa Miercna cyning & Beorhtric Wesseaxna cyning afliemed .iii. gear of Angelcynnes lande on Froncland ęr he cyning węre, & žy fultumode Beorhtric Offan žy he hęfde his dohtor him to cuene." ASC(A,E) s.a. 836(=839) ("... and earlier, before he was king, Offa, king of Mercia, and Beorhtric, king of Wessex, put him to flight from the land of the English to the land of the Franks for 3 years; and Beorhtric helped Offa because he had his daughter as his queen." ASC(Eng), 62)]. The "three" years of this notice has often been emended to "thirteen" because the marriage of Beorhtric to Offa's daughter occurred in 789 [ASC(A,E) s.a. 787(=789)], thirteen years before Ecgbeorht came to the throne. The suggestion of Henry Howorth that Ecgbeorht ruled Kent during this period is highly improbable, and is due to Howorth's mistaken attribution of coins of Ecgbeorht II of Kent (fl. 765-779) to Ecgbeorht of Wessex [Howorth (1900), 71-3; see Keary (1887), 67]. Howorth's attempt to identify Ecgbeorht of Wessex with a continental Saxon count named Ekbert is completely invalid [Howorth (1900), 73-5].
After the death of king Beorhtric, Ecgbeorht became king of the West Saxons, probably in 802, and apparently following a victory by a West Saxon army over a Mercian army on the same day ["Her Beorhtric cyning foržferde & Worr aldormon; & Ecgbryht feng to Wesseaxna rice; & žy ilcan dęge rad Ęželmund aldorman of Hwiccium ofer ęt Cynemęres forda, ža mette hine Weoxtan aldorman mid Wilsętum; Žęr wearž micel gefeoht, & žęr begen ofslęgene ža aldormen, & Wilsętan namon sige." ASC(A,E) s.a. 800(=802) ("Here King Beorhtric and Ealdorman Worr passed away. And Egbert succeeded to the kingdom of Wessex: and the same day Ealdorman Ęthelmund rode from the Hwicce across at Kempsford; then Ealdorman Weohstan met him with the Wiltshire men. There was a big battle, and both ealdormen were killed there, and the Wiltshire men took the victory." ASC(Eng), 58)]. The years given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are two years off during this period [see Theopold (1872) for the most detailed demonstration of this]. That 802 is correct for his date of accession can also be seen by counting back from his death (37 years and 7 months prior to the middle of 839 gives late 801 or early 802) ["Ša feng Ecbryht to žam rice & heold .xxxvii. wintra & .vii. monaš." West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, Dumville (1986), 24; also ASC s.a. 836 (see below)], and the Annals of St. Neots, which appear to be have a better chronology than the various versions of the Chronicle, also give 802 ["Ecgbrychtus, rex Occidentalium Saxonum, regnavit annis XXXVII. mensibus VII." Ann. S. Neots, s.a. 802 (p. 129)]. Charters exist giving supposed regnal years of Ecgbeorht, but these are of too doubtful a nature to be good evidence of the beginning date of his reign [Cart. Sax. 1: 516 (#377), 543 (#390), 545 (#391), 546 (#392), 548 (#393), 577 (#413)]. Some have attributed to Ecgbeorht a supposed charter dated 801 of an "Edbirtus rex" of Wessex ["Edbirtus rex eodem donante occidentalium Saxonum"; "Haunc cartulam reddidit Eadburth ad ęcclesiam Glastingensem." Cart. Sax. 1: 418-9 (#300)], but it seems likely that this charter is a corrupted charter of queen Eadburh, wife of king Beorhtric, who has a charter of the same date with some of the same witnesses [ibid., 390-1 (#282)]. After his accession, Ecgbeorht is next heard from in 815, when he raided Cornwall [ASC(A,E) s.a. 813(=815)], and then not again until the 820's.
In 825, Ecgbeorht emerges from obscurity as a major ruler. He defeated king Beornwulf of Mercia in battle, and an army under the command of his son Ęthelwulf, bishop Ealhstan, and ealdorman Wulfheard drove out king Baldred of Kent. Ecgbeorht then took control of the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and Essex, which were then created as an appanage and (soon thereafter?) granted to his son Ęthelwulf ["& žy ilcan geare gefeaht Ecbryht cyning & Beornwulf cyning on Ellendune, & Ecgbryht sige nam, & žęr węs micel węl geslęgen; Ža sende he Ęžlwulf his sunu of žęre fierde, & Ealhstan his bisc., & Wulfheard his aldorman to Cent micle werede, & hie Baldred žone cyning norž ofer Temese adrifon, & Cantware him to cirdon, & Sužrige, & Suž Seaxe, & East Seaxe, žy hie from his męgum ęr mid unryhte anidde węrun; & žy ilcan geare East Engla cyning, & seo žeod gesohte Ecgbryht cyning him to friže & to mund boran for Miercna ege, ..." ASC(A,E) ("And the same year King Egbert and King Beornwulf fought at Ellendun, and Egbert took the victory; and a great slaughter was made there. Then he sent his son Ęthelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan, his bishop, and Wulfheard, his ealdorman, to Kent with a great troop, and they drove Baldred the king over the Thames; 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. And, for fear of the Mercians, the same year the king and nation of the East Angles sought King Egbert as their guardian and protector; ..." ASC(Eng), 60)].
In 829, Ecgbeorht conquered Mercia from its king Wiglaf and received the submission of Northumbria ["... & žy ilcan geare geeode Ecgbryht cyning Miercna rice & al žęt be sužan Humbre węs, & he węs se eahteža cyning seže Bretwal<d>a węs; ... & se Ecgbryht lędde fierd to Dore wiž Noržanhymbre, & hie him žęr eažmedo budon & gežuęrnesse, & hie on žam tohwurfon." ASC(A) s.a. 827(=829) ("And the same year King Egbert conquered the kingdom of Mercia and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king to be 'Controller of Britain'; ... And this Egbert led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians; and there they offered him submission and concord; and on that they parted." ASC(Eng), 60); "... Brytenwealda ..." ("Wide Ruler") ASC(E) s.a. 827(=829)]. By these acts, Ecgbeorht was considered (at least by the authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle later that century) to have become the eighth "Bretwalda". The first seven had lived in the sixth and seventh centuries [Bede, Hist. Eccl., ii, 5 (1: 89-90)]. However, even though Ecgbeorht is sometimes listed as the first "king of England", he did not actually rule as such. Nevertheless, he did inaugurate the period of West Saxon supremacy, during which the kingdom of the West Saxons gradually evolved into the kingdom of England. In 830, Wiglaf again became king of Mercia ["Her eft Wilaf onfeng Miercna rices." ASC(A,E) s.a. 828(=830)]. In the same year, Ecgbeorht led an army into Wales, and received the submission of the Welsh ["& žy ilcan geare lędde Ecgbryht cyning fierd on Norž Walas, & he hie to eažmodre hersumnesse gedyde." ASC(A,E) s.a. 828(=830)]. In the 830's, the Vikings began to be a serious menace. Ecgbeorht was defeated by them in 836 [ASC(A,E) s.a. 833(=836)], but in 838 he defeated a combined force of Viking and Cornish troops [ASC(A,E) s.a. 835(=838)].
Ecgbeorht's last appearance in the charters was on 19 November 838, when he approved a charter of his son Ęthelwulf as sub-king in Kent ["Ego Ętheluulf rex Cancie terreni regni ... Cum consensu & licentia patris mei Ecgberti regis Occidentalium Saxonum ..." Cart. Sax. 1: 586#(419)]. He died in 839, probably in the middle of the year [see below under date of death], and was succeeded by his son Ęthelwulf in Wessex, while his son or grandson Ęthelstan became king of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and Essex.
Date of birth: Unknown.
Place of birth: Unknown.
Date of death: 839, prob. middle of the year.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle places Ecgbeorht's death in 836, but the chronicle's chronology is three years off at this point ["Her Ecgbryht cyning foržferde, ... & se Ecgbryht ricsode .xxxvii. wint. [&] .vii. monaž." ASC(A) s.a. 836(=839)]. The Annals of St. Neots, which appear to be free of this chronological error, place his death in 839 ["mortuo Ecgbrychto rege nobili, ..." Ann. S. Neots, s.a. 839]. As noted above, Ecgbeorht was still alive on 19 November 838. At a council of bishops at Astran in 839, Ęthelwulf is stated to be in his first year after the death of his father ["Anno ab Incarnatione Christi DCCC.XXX.VIIII., Indictione II., primo videlicet anno regni Ethelwlfi regis post obitum patris sui, ..." Haddan-Stubbs (1869-78), 3: 624; Cart. Sax. 1: 594 (#421)]. This confirms directly that Ecgbeorht died in 838 or 839. The date can be refined further by calculating back from the eighteen and a half years which is given as the length of Ęthelwulf's reign by the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ["... ža feng Ęšelwulf his sunu to & heold .xviiii. healf gear" Dumville (1986), 24; "... & he ricsode nigonteože healf gear." ASC(A) 1: 66]. Ęthelwulf died in 858 [Ann. Bertin., s.a. 858, p. 49; AU, s.a. 857 (=858)], so the beginning of his reign did not reach as early as 838, or even as early as the early part of 839. If John of Worcester is correct in placing Ęthelwulf's death on 13 January, then Ecgbeorht probably died in the middle of the year 839.
Place of death: Unknown.
Father: Ealhmund, fl.
784, king of Kent.
Ecgbeorht's ancestry is discussed in detail on the page of Ealhmund.
See the page of Ealhmund.
See the Commentary section below.
Ęthelwulf is made the son of Ecgbeorht by numerous sources, including the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List ["Ęšelwulf węs Ecgbyrhting" Dumville (1986), 24], the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [ASC s.a. 836(=839)], and Asser's life of Ęlfred ["Ęlfred rex, filius Ęthelwulfi regis, qui fuit Ecgberhti ..." Asser, c. 1 (p. 2)].
d. 858, king of Wessex, 839-856; king of Kent, ca. 825-858;
m. (1) Osburh, daughter of Oslac pincerna;
m. (2) Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of the West Franks, emperor.
Son or grandson:
Ęthelstan, fl. 839-851, king of Kent,
Essex, Surrey, Sussex.
The A, B, and C versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle appear to make Ęthelstan a son of Ęthelwulf ["... & se Ecgbryht ricsode .xxxvii. wińt [&] .vii. monaž. & feng Eželwulf Ecgbrehting to Wesseaxna rice, & he salde his suna Ęželstane Cantwara rice & East Seaxna & Sužrigea & Suž Seaxna." ASC(A) s.a. 836 (=839)], while the D, E, and F versions make Ęthelstan the "other" son of Ecgbeorht ["... & se Ecgbriht rixade .xxxvii. winter. & .vii. monšas. & feng Ęželwulf his sunu to WestSeaxna rice. and Ęšelstan his ošer sunu feng to Cantwara rice. & to Sušrigan. & to Sušseaxna rice." ASC(E) s.a. 836 (=839)]. However, Plummer believed "the real meaning of A to be identical with that of E." [ASC 2: 75] The chronicler Ęthelweard clearly states that Ęthelstan was a son of Ęthelwulf ["Porro post obitum Athulf successit in regnum Ecgbyrhti, patris sui, regnumque Cantuariorum tradidit filio suo Ethelstano, et Eastsexena et Suthsexena et Suthrię, ..." Ęthelweard, Chronicon, 30; "... de filiis Ašulfi incipiam loqui. Namque fuere numero fratres quinque: primus Ešelstanus, qui et regnum obtinuerat simul cum patre suo; secundus Ešelbald, ..." ibid., 39]. So does William of Malmesbury ["[Ethelwulfus] denique, avito West-Saxonum regno contentus, cetera quę pater subjugaverat appendicia filio Ethelstano contradidit, qui quando et quo fine defecerit incertum." Wm. Malmes. Gesta Regum, c. 108 (1: 108)] and John of Worcester ["Ecgbrihtus rex Occidentalium Saxonum obiit, ... cujus post mortem filius suus Athulfus in West-Saxonia regnare coepit, suumque filium Ęthelstanum Cantuariis, East-Saxonibus, Suthregiis, et Suth-Saxonibus regem pręfecit. John Worc. s.a. 836 (1: 69)]. On the other hand, Henry of Huntingdon states that Ęthelstan was a son of Ecgbeorht ["De regno Cantię pauca dicenda sunt: siquidem cum Egbrictus rex Westsexe, Baldredo fugato, regnum Cantię in dominio suo tenuisset, Adelstano filio suo moriens illud reliquit. Adelstano vero defuncto, ad fratrem Edelwlfum regem Westsexe regnum illud rediit, ..." Hen. Hunt. v, 31 (p. 171)]. Ęthelstan appears in charters from 839 ["Ego Aešelstan rex" Cart. Sax. 1: 598 (#426)] to 850 ["Ego Aedelstan Rex", Cart. Sax. 2: 48 (#459); "Ego Ethelwolf rex occidentalium Saxonum, seu Ethelstan rex Kanc." ibid. (#460); see also ibid., #437, #439, #442, #444, #445, #446, #449]. Only two of these give any relationship, and they both call him a son of Ęthelwulf ["... Aethelwlfo Regi pręsente atque Aethelstano filio ejus ..." Cart. Sax. 2: 23 (#445, AD844); "... Atheluulfo rege . & Athelstane filio ejus ..." ibid. 2: 26 (#446, AD844)]. Ęthelstan last appears in the records in 851 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which states that he and a certain Ealhhere fought against a Viking army in that year ["And žy ilcan geare Ęšelstan cining and Ealhere dux gefuhton on scipum. & mycelne here ofslogan ęt Sandwic. & .ix. scipu gefengon. & ža ošre geflymdon." ASC(E) s.a. 851 ("And the same year King Athelstan and Dux Ealhhere fought in ships, and struck a great raiding-army at Sandwich, and captured 9 ships and put the others to flight." ASC(Eng) 65]. Haigh, followed by Howorth, would identify Ęthelstan with the East Anglian king of that name who ruled there ca. 827 - ca. 837 and is known only from coins [Haigh (1845), 11; Howorth (1908), 255-262].
As pointed out by Stubbs, chronology would favor the version in which Ęthelstan was a son of Ecgbeorht [Wm. Malmes 2: xl, n. 2]. On the other hand, the two charters to state Ęthelstan's parentage would, if based on genuine charters, seem to give conclusive proof that he was a son of Ęthelwulf. The latter seems more likely, but it is difficult to offer a definite conclusion.
Supposed spouse: Rędburh, regis Francorum sororia.
["Anno ... regis Egbricti secundo consors ejus regina Redburga regis Francorum sororia regi consilium adhibuit, ut nullum de stirpe Britonum in Anglorum finibus toleraret." Onom. Sax., 393, citing MS Trin. Coll. Oxf. X, Chronicon rerum Anglic., 74v] If Ecgbeorht's wife was indeed a sororia (sister-in-law) of a Frankish king, then Louis the Pious would be chronologically the most likely. However, the source is late and not necessarily reliable.
Supposed daughter (doubtful): St. Eadgyth.
["... sancta Editha, sorore Athulphi regis ..." Lib. Monast. Hyde, 26]
Supposed relative: Eadbeorht Pręn, king of Kent, 796-8.
The supposed relationship is given by Henry of Huntingdon ["Tunc ergo populos Cantię, et Sudrię, et Sudsexe, et Estsexe rex Egbricht in dominium suscepit, quos prius cognatus suus Pren injuste amiserat." Hen. Hunt. iv, 29 (p. 132)]. The evident source is a passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which appears to give Ecgbeorht a less specific royal Kentish connection. This is discussed in detail on the page of Ecgbeorht's father Ealhmund, king of Kent.
Conjectured mother (very
kin of Cerdic.
After suggesting that Ecgbeorht was descended from the Kentish kings, Scharer writes: "Perhaps his mother was of Cerdic's kin, a conjecture which cannot be proved since the genealogies register descent only in the male line." [Scharer (1996), 184] Ecgbeorht's ancestry is discussed in detail on the page of Ealhmund, king of Kent.
Proposed (but false)
identification of Ecgbeorht:
Egbert, fl. 809-811, count in Saxony.
In 809, Egbert and the Saxon counts took possession of Itzehoe (Esesfelth) on the river Stör ["Est autem locus super ripam Sturiae fluminis, vocabulo Esesfelth, et occupatus est ab Egberto et comitibus Saxonicis circa Idus Martias et muniri coeptus." ARF s.a. 809 (pp. 129-130)], and in 811, Egbert was one of Charlemagne's envoys in the peace treaty with the Danes [ibid., s.a. 811 (p. 134)]. The identification of this Egbert with Ecgbeorht of Wessex was suggested by Henry Howorth [Howorth (1900), 73-5], but it cannot be accepted.
d. 802?, son of Ealhred,
king of Northumbria.
["Alhmundus, filius Alhredi regis Nothymbrorum, occiditur." John. Worc., s.a. 800 (1: 64), placed in the same year as Ecgbeorht's accession]
Supposed (half-)sister (improbable): St. Alburga, fl. ca. 800,
m. Weohstan, d. 802, ealdorman of Wiltshire.
Weohstan was killed (but his men were victorious) on the same day as the accession of Ecgbeorht (see above). An account of the foundation of the monastery of Wilton, written no earlier than the thirteenth century (it mentions Robert Grosseteste as bishop of Lincoln; he was bishop from 1235 to 1253), states that Alburga was a daughter of (the other) Ealhmund, son of king Ealhred of Northumbria, and sister through their mother of king Ecgbeorht ["Fundator priorię fuit Egbertus primus rex totius Anglię, et ipse fuit causa mutationsi nominis Britannię: sed Elburga, filia Alqmundi martyris, filii Alrudi regis Northumbrorum, et soror Egberti regis, ex parte matris, quia Egbertus fuit filius Alqmundi, filii Offę regis, de prosapia Inę, post mortem patris Alqmundi martiris, filii Alrudi regis Northumbrorum, et sui mariti Wulstani comitis de Ellendinia, id est de Wyltonia, vovit se castitati, et petiit ac desideravit de Egberto rege fratre suo, concedere ... quod concessit rex ... anno Domini DCCLXXIII." De prima Fundatione Wiltonensis Coenobii, Monast. Angl. 2: 319]. Even though the clearly false placement of king Ecgbeorht as a grandson of king Offa might be plausibly explained away as scribal corruption from the name Eafa, grandfather of Ecgbeorht in the orthodox genealogy, the account reeks of invention. The supposed successive marriage of Ecgbeorht's mother to two men named Ealhmund looks artificial, and Ecgbeorht's reign began long after 773. The possible alternate theory that Alburga was a half-sister of Ecgbeorht through the same father is not convincing in the absence of evidence.
Ęthelweard = A. Campbell ed., Chronicon Ęthelweardi/The Chronicle of Ęthelweard, (New York, 1962).
Ann. Bertin. = G. Waitz, ed., Annales Bertiniani (MGH SRG 6, Hannover, 1883).
Ann. S. Neots = Annals of Saint Neots, in William Henry Stevenson, ed., Asser's Life of King Alfred (new impression, Oxford, 1959), 97-145.
ARF = Georg Pertz & Friedrich Kurze, Annales Regni Francorum (Annals of the kingdom of the Franks), MGH SRG 6 (Hannover, 1895), a collective name commonly given to two closely related sets of annals, Annales Laurissenses Maiores and the so-called Einhardi Annales (Annals of Einhard), in parallel on alternate pages until the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 (s.a. 801).
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(Eng) = Michael Swanton, ed. & trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (London, 2000).
AU = Seįn Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill, eds., The Annals of Ulster (Dublin, 1983).
Bede, Hist. Eccl. = Charles Plummer, ed., Venerabilis Baedae, Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum, Historia Abbatum, Epistolam ad Ecgberctum una cum Historia Abbatum Auctore Anonymo, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1896).
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.
Haddan-Stubbs (1869-78) = Arthur West Haddan & William Stubbs, Councils and ecclesiastical documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols. in 4 (Oxford, 1869-78).
Haigh (1845) = Daniel Henry Haigh, An Essay on the Numismatic History of the Ancient Kingdom of the East Angles (Leeds, 1845).
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.
Howorth (1908) = Henry H. Howorth, "The Coins of Ecgbeorht and his son Athelstan", The Numismatic Chronicle 4th ser. 8 (1908): 222-265.
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).
Lib. Monast. Hyde = Edward Edwards, ed., Liber Monasterii de Hyda: a Chronicle and Chartulary of Hyde Abbey, Winchester, 455-1023 (Rolls Series 45, London, 1866).
Monast. Angl. = William Dugdale, ed., Monasticon Anglicanum, 6 vols. (new ed. by John Caley, Henry Ellis, & Bulkeley Bandniel, London, 1817-30).
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).
Stubbs (1868-71) = William Stubbs, ed. Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Houedene, 4 vols. (Rolls series 51, London, 1868-71).
Theopold (1872) = Ludwig Theopold, Kritische Untersuchungen über die Quellen zur angelsęchsischen Geschichte des achten Jahrhunderts (Inaugural Dissertation, Universität Göttingen, Lemgo, 1872).
Wm. Malmes., Gesta Regum = William Stubbs, ed., Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachi De gestis regum Anglorum. libri quinque; Historię Novellę libri tres, 2 vols. (Rolls series 90, 1887-9).
Compiled by Stewart Baldwin
First uploaded 20 June 2010.
Revision uploaded 7 December 2011 (added material on supposed sister St. Alburga).
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