Name: King Aethelred I (Ethelred)
Born: c.837
Parents: Aethelwulf and Osburh
Relation to Elizabeth II: 32nd great-granduncle
House of: Wessex
Became King: 866
Married: Wulfrida
Children: 2 sons
Died: April 23, 871 at Witchampton, Dorset
Buried at: Wimbourne
Succeeded by: his brother AlfredKing

Æthelred I (Old English: Æþelræd, sometimes rendered as Ethelred, “noble counsel”) (c. 837– 871) was King of Wessex from 865 to 871. He was the fourth son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. He succeeded his brother, Æthelberht (Ethelbert), as King of Wessex and Kent in 865.

Succeeded his brother Aethelbert. Aethelred’s reign was one long struggle against the Danes. Ivarr the Boneless and his brother Halfdan based in Dublin attacked and occupied York in 866 which became a Viking kingdom (Jorvik). The Danes marched south and occupied Nottingham. In 869 they sailed to East Anglia where they killed the local king Edmund. Wessex was then threatened and Aethered and his brother Alfred were engaged in a series of battles with the Danes Ivarr, Halfdan and Guthrun at Reading, Ashdown and Basing. During 870/871 the Danes sacked and plundered their way through the countryside. The next major engagement was at Meretun, in Hampshire, which was an indecisive battle. Aethelred was seriously injured in the battle and died of his wounds at Witchampton, near Wimbourne, where he was buried.


In the same year as Æthelred’s succession as king, a great Viking army arrived in England, and within five years they had destroyed two of the principal English kingdoms, Northumbria and East Anglia. In 868 Æthelred’s brother-in-law, Burgred king of Mercia, appealed to him for help against the Vikings. Æthelred and his brother, the future Alfred the Great, led a West Saxon army to Nottingham, but there was no decisive battle, and Burgred bought off the Vikings. In 874 the Vikings defeated Burgred and drove him into exile.

In 870 the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex, and on 4 January 871 at the Battle of Reading, Æthelred suffered a heavy defeat. Although he was able to re-form his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown, he suffered further defeats on 22 January at Basing, and 22 March at Meretun.

In about 867, Æthelred effectively established a common currency between Wessex and Mercia by adopting the Mercian type of lunette penny, and coins minted exclusively at London and Canterbury then circulated in the two kingdoms.

Æthelred died shortly after Easter (15 April) 871, and is buried at Wimborne Minster in Dorset. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Alfred the Great.


His wife was probably called Wulfthryth. A charter of 868 refers to Wulfthryth regina (queen). It was rare in ninth century Wessex for the king’s wife to be given the title queen, and it is only definitely known to have been given to Æthelwulf’s second wife, Judith of Flanders. Historians Barbara Yorke and Pauline Stafford, and the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, treat the charter as showing that Wulfthryth was Æthelred’s queen. She may have been the daughter or sister of Ealdorman Wulfhere, who forfeited his lands charged with deserting King Alfred for the Danes in about 878. However, Keynes & Lapidge in their notes to Asser’s Life of King Alfred the Great refer to a “mysterious ‘Wulfthryth regina'”, and Sean Miller in his Oxford Online DNB article on Æthelred does not mention her.

He had two known sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder after Alfred’s death in 899. Æthelred’s descendants include the tenth century historian, Æthelweard, and Æthelnoth, an eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury.

Timeline for King Aethelred I  
 866  Aethelred becomes king on the death of his brother Aethelbert
 869  Edmund King of East Anglia resists the Vikings and is killed
 870  Aethelred defeated by the Danes (Vikings) at Reading
 871  Aethelred and his brother Alfred defeat the Danes at Ashdown
 871  Battle of Meretun, Hampshire. Aethelred is mortally wounded and dies.