MALE Oslac

"Pincerna" of king Æthelwulf, 9th century.

All that is known of Oslac appears in the work of Asser (and sources depending on him), who, identifying Oslac as the maternal grandfather of Ælfred, assigns Oslac an ancestry that is clearly quite mythical ["Mater quoque eiusdem Osburh nominabatur, religiosa nimium femina, nobilis ingenio, nobilis et genere; quae erat filia Oslac, famosi pincernae Æthelwulfi regis. Qui Oslac Gothus erat natione; ortus enim erat de Gothis et Iutis, de semine scilicet Stuf et Wihtgar, duorum fratrum et etiam comitum, qui, accepta potestate Uuectae insulae ab avunculo suo Cerdic rege et Cynric filio suo, consobrino eorum, paucos Britones eiusdem insulae accolas, quos in ea invenire potuerunt, in loco, qui dicitur Guuihtgaraburhg, occiderunt. Ceteri enim accolae eiusdem insulae ante aut occisi erant aut exules aufugerant." Asser, c. 2 (p. 4)]. He is otherwise unknown, unless he was the same man as the Oslac who appears as a witness in a charter of king Æthelbert in 858 ["Ego Oslac consentio & subscribo" Cart. Sax. 2: 101 (#496)]. If this is Æthelwulf's father-in-law, he must have been fairly old when he signed the charter. Asser's description of Oslac as a "Goth" is unusual, but of uncertain significance. Stevenson suggested that Asser was identifying the Goths and the Jutes, and gave other examples in which the Goths and Jutes had been confused [Stevenson, notes to Asser, 166-170]. Keynes and Lapidge state that "Asser is probably trying to convey the information that Oslac was ultimately of Danish extraction." [Nelson (1991), 51, citing Keynes-Lapidge, 230 n. 8 (the latter not seen by me)]. Nelson expands on this, stating that "if Asser tells his readers that Alfred's maternal grandfather Oslac was of Scandinavian origin, he is presumably making Oslac's grandson more acceptable to local and contemporary Scandinavians." [Nelson (1991), 52]. Another possibility is that the supposed descent from Stuf and Wihtgar means that Oslac came from the Isle of Wight. In the will of Ælfred [Thorpe (1865), 484-492 (with modern English translation); Cart. Sax., 2: 176-180 (#553)], land in the Isle of Wight was bequeathed to his youngest son (Eaderingtune, identified as Arreton, Isle of Wight) and youngest daughter (Welig, identified as Wellow, Isle of Wight) [Nelson (1991), 49, who cites Keynes-Lapidge (1983) 175, 177, 319, 321 for the identifications (the latter not seen by me)].

Date of birth: Unknown.
Place of birth:

Date of death: Unknown.
Place of death: Unknown.

Father: Unknown.
For his supposed ancestry, see the Commentary section.

Mother: Unknown.

Spouse: Unknown.

Known child:

FEMALE Osburh;
Æthelwulf, d. 858, king of Wessex.


.Supposed ancestors (mythical):
Stuf and Wihtgar, supposedly 6th century.
[Asser, see above] There is no good reason to believe that Stuf and Wihtgar ever existed. However, the story that Oslac was descended from them is unlikely to be an outright invention of Asser, so it is probable that in the ninth century the family of Oslac was claiming descent from Stuf and Wihtgar.

Names beginning with Os- and Oslac's family

As has been noted on a number of occasions, Oslac and his daughter Osburh had the same leading-name element ("prototheme") "Os-". Since it is well known that there was a strong tendency for the same leading-name element to reoccur in families, and since the prototheme "Os-" occurs twice among relatives of the royal family who were also apparently related to Osburh (Osweald and Osferth below), this has led to conjectures that various individuals whore bore the "Os-" prototheme were related to the family of Oslac. In particular, much speculation along these lines appears in Janet Nelson's article "Reconstructing a Royal Family" [Nelson (1991)], generally qualified by various degrees of uncertainty, but it is hard to tell whether the author really expects most of her hypothesized relationships to be true, or whether she is just mentioning various possibilities. In some cases where bearers of "Os-" names are mentioned, it is unclear if the author is claiming them as relatives of Oslac (since the suggestion that they were related is not explicitly made, but the reason for mentioning them is otherwise unclear) [e.g., ibid., 56 n. 50, 58-9]. Indeed, there were so many individuals with "Os-" names that there is no reason to expect that they were all related. Given the lack of evidence, it would be foolish to deny the possibility that any of the following individuals were related to Oslac, but for some of them, it also seems rash to insist that they were.

Conjectured ancestor (claimed ancestor of Oslac's descendant Eadgyth):
Osweald, d. 642, king of Northumbria.
Hrotsvith of Gandersheim indicates that Eadgyth (Edith), first wife of Otto the Great, was a descendant of a king Osweald, probably Osweald of Bernicia (d. 642), but does not give any line of descent ["Germen sanctorum quam producebat avorum; / Hanc tradunt ergo natam de stirpe beata / Oswaldi regis, laudem cuius canit orbis, / Se quia subdiderat morti pro nomine Christi." Gesta Oddonis, lines 94-97, MGH SS 4: 321]. Eadgyth was a daughter of Eadweard the Elder, son of Ælfred the Great, son of Osburh, daughter of Oslac. Hrotsvith does not indicate through which parent Eadgyth's supposed descent from Osweald comes, and it has been suggested that this descent came through Eadgyth's mother Ælflæd [Dümmler (1876), 11; Hlawitschka (2006), 86]. However, based on the common presence of the "Os-" leading name, Nelson would link Hrotsvith's claim with Ælfred's maternal kin, and states that "it could well be that a claim like Hrotsvitha's was already being made and exploited by Alfred's entourage." [Nelson (1991), 52-3]. If so, no such claim was being made by Ælfred's biographer Asser, who instead mentions the mythical connection to Stuf and Wihtgar. Since this claim might have been through Eadgyth's mother, and involved an alleged descent which was 300 years distant, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Conjectured relatives (evidence weak):
Oswulf, fl. 805×10, ealdorman of East Kent;
m. Beornthryth.
[Cart. Sax. 1: 459-60 (#330); ibid., 2: 22-5 (#445); Sawyer (1968), #1188, #1439]
Osmod, d. 836, ealdorman (Kent?).
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death of an ealdorman Osmod in 836 ["... & Dudda & Osmod tuegen aldormen forþferdon." ASC(A,E) s.a. 833(=836)]. Two doubtful charters in which an "Osmod dux" appears as witness would suggest that Osmod was an ealdorman of Kent [Cart. Sax. 1: 551 (#395), 574 (#411); Sawyer (1968), #270, #271]. Nelson suggests that "Oslac may have been related to an important Kentish noble family in which the Os- leading-name appears in the late eighth and early ninth centuries." [Nelson (1991), 56] Nelson stated that if the Osmod who died in 836 "is the Osmod attesting in S.270, 271, he probably belonged to the Kentish family documented in S.1188, 1439" [ibid., 56 n. 49], but there does not seem to be any direct evidence linking Oswulf and Osmod, or either of them with Oslac. Nelson suggests that the linkage of Oslac's ancestors with the Isle of Wight may have been encouraged by Bede's comment that the Kentishmen and the men of Wight were both of Jutish origin [ibid., 56]. However, this seems like a slim basis on which to conclude a relationship.

Conjectured son or other relative:
Osric, princeps; ealdorman of Dorset, 845; ealdorman of Hampshire, 860.
Osric appears in a charter of 847, signing as princeps, third after the king and his son ["Signum manus Osrici principis" Cart. Sax. 2: 34 (#451)]. He is probably the same as the Osric who appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as ealdorman of Dorset in 845 ["Osric aldorman mid Dornsætum" ASC(A,E) s.a. 845], and as ealdorman of Hampshire in 860 ["Osric aldorman mid Hamtunscire" ASC(A,D,E) s.a. 860; he appears as "Wulfheard" in the B and C versions of the Chronicle, ASC 2: 83]. His prominence, along with the "Os-" name, suggest that he was a kinsman of Ælfred's mother [e.g., Stevenson, notes to Asser, 163 n. 7]. Nelson suggested that Osric may have been Osburh's brother [Nelson (1991), 57-8].

Probable descendant:
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.

Probable descendant:
Osferth, fl. 898-909 (-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, but given the "Os-" name and the relationship to Ælfred, it is very likely that Osferth was a descendant of Oslac.


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).

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

Dümmler (1876) = Rudolf Köpke & Ernst Dümmler, Kaiser Otto der Große (Leipzig, 1876).

Hlawitschka (2006) = Eduard Hlawitschka, Die Ahnen de hochmittelalterlichen deutschen Könige, Kaiser und ihrer Gemahlinnen. Ein kommentiertes Tafelwerk. Band I: 911-1137, 2 vols. (MGH Hilfsmittel, 25, Hannover, 2006).

Keynes-Lapidge (1983) = S. Keynes & M. Lapidge, Alfred the Great (Harmondsworth, 1983). [Not seen by me]

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

Sawyer (1968) = P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters. An Annotated List and Bibliography (London, 1968).

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

Compiled by Stewart Baldwin

First uploaded 20 June 2010.

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