Tag Archives: Wessex

Judith of Flanders, two Kings and a Count in twenty years.

Judith and her 3rd husband Baldwin

Judith and her 3rd husband Baldwin

Judith of Flanders, (c 843 AD to c 870 AD) was the eldest daughter of the Frankish King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald and his wife Ermentrude of Orleans.  Through her marriages too two different Kings of Wessex (Aethelwulf and Aethelbald) she was Queen twice.  Her first two marriages were both childless.  Her third marriage to Baldwin, Count of Flanders made her the first Countess of Flanders.  One of her sons by Baldwin married Aelfthyth daughter of Aethelbald’s brother Alfred the Great.  She was also an ancestor of Matilda of Flanders the Queen consort to William the Conqueror and thus the later monarchs of England.  This places her quite highly as things stand in the history of both Wessex and England.

In 855 AD King Aethelwulf of Wessex, made a pilgrimage to Rome and on his way back in 856 AD he stayed at the court of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the Bald.  In July of that year he became engaged to Charles’s daughter, Judith.  On 1st October 856 AD they wed at Verberie in northern France.  The marriage formed a diplomatic alliance between Wessex and the Holy Roman Empire.  Both kingdoms had been suffering from numerous Viking raids and an alliance between the two would make them stronger to repel the attacks.

The marriage itself gave Aethelwulf trouble at home, provoking a rebellion led by his eldest surviving son Aethelbald.  A compromise was reached between Aethelwulf and Aethelbald in where they split the kingdom between father and son.

Judith had no children with Aethelwulf, who died 13th January 858 AD.  He was succeeded by his son Aethelbald who married Judith.  Judith would have been only roughly 15 at the time.  It is believed that Aethelbald would of married Judith to enhance his own status and claim to the throne.  The marriage was condemned by Asser in the Life of Alfred the Great

One King Aethelwulf was dead.  Aethelbald his son, against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity and also contrary to the practice of all pagans, took over his father’s marriage bed and married Judith, daughter of Charles, king of the Franks, incurring great disgrace from all who heard of it.

Judith was still childless when Aethelbald died in 860 AD after a reign of only two and half years.

Following Aethelbald’s death Judith sold all her properties in Wessex and returned to France.  She was then sent by her father to the Monastery of Senlis.  Charles would have presumed due to her childless state that he would be able to rearrange another marriage of political alliance if he could prove she had kept her virtue.  However in 861 AD, around Christmas Judith eloped with Baldwin, the later Count of Flanders and it is believed the two were married at this time in the Monastery of Senlis.  This time Judith was not depicted as the victim bride but part of the plot, and with the consent of her brother Louis the Stammerer.  Maybe third time lucky she got to marry for love!

Judith’s problems did not stop there though.  Her father unsurprisingly was unhappy and ordered his Bishops to excommunicate the couple.  They couple fled to Judith’s cousin Lothair II of Lotharingia for protection before going to Pope Nicholas I to plead their case.  The Pope intervened for the couple and asked Judith’s father to accept the marriage and welcome the young couple to his court.  The couple returned to France and were officially married in Auxerre in 863 AD.

Baldwin was given the land south of Scheldt and the County of Flanders.  His main task was to ward off and deflect any Viking raids.  You would have to wonder with King Charles not liking Baldwin, whether there was an alternative motive behind making sure Baldwin took part in many battles.  This plan if it was in Charles thoughts didn’t work though.  Baldwin did well and quelled the Viking threat, increased his army and also his land holdings.  He became a very faithful supporter of Charles.

Judith and Charles had three children

  • Charles (born after 863 AD and died young.
  • Baldwin II (c 864 AD – 918 AD) succeeded his father as Count of Flanders and married Aelfthyth daughter of Alfred the Great
  • Raoul/Rodulf (c 869 AD – 896 AD) became the Count of Cambrai around 888 AD and was killed by Herbert I of Vermandois in 896 AD

Judith died in about 870 AD just a few years before her father became Holy Roman Emperor.

Father of the Great, Aethelwulf, King of Wessex.

Aethelwulf 1

Aethelwulf, meaning noble wolf was King of Wessex from 839 AD until his death in 858 AD.  He was the father of one of the greatest if not the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred the Great.  He was the only known child of King Egbert of Wessex.  He conquered the Kingdom of Kent on behalf of his father in 825, and was later made King of Kent as a sub-king to his father.  He succeeded his father as King of Wessex, on Egbert’s death I 839.  By this point the Kingdom stretched from Kent in the east to Devon in the west.  At the same time as Aethelwulf became King of Wessex his son Aethelstan became King of Wessex.

Historians have conflicting assessments of Aethelwulf.  Some state that Aethelwulf was intensely religious with little political sense.  He was an unambitious man who suffered greatly because of the inconvenience of rank.   Some historians state that he has been under-appreciated and lay the foundations for Alfred’s reign.  He managed to find new and adapt traditional answers and coped with the Scandinavian threat better than others in the same period.  It is also mentioned that he was the first to open channels of communications through the Frankish realms in Europe towards the Alps and Rome.

The most common source from the time the Anglo Saxon Chronicle refers to Aethelwulf’s presence at some important battles of the time.  In 840 AD he thought at Carhampton against 35 ship companies of Danes whose raids had increased greatly.  His most notable victory came in 851 AD in ‘Acleah’.  This could be possibly either Ockley in Surrey or Oakley in Berkshire.  Here Aethelwulf and his son thought against ‘the greatest slaughter of heathen host ever made.”  Around 853 AD Aethelwulf and his brother in law Burged, King of Mercia defeated Cyngen ap Cadell of Wales, and made the Welsh subject to him.  According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle Aethelwulf fought more battles through the adjoining years mainly against different pirating bands and Danes.

This was an era when different European nations were being constantly raided and invaded by many different groups.  In the south this was by the Saracans, in the east the Maygars, in the west the Moors and in the north the Vikings.  Before Aethelwulf’s death raiders had wintered on the Isle of Sheppey and pillaged East Anglia which would then set precedence for his sons to be constantly harassed by different raiding parties.

As king Aethelwulf split the kingdom into two.  He gave the eastern part to his eldest son Aethelstan, this including the counties Kent, Sussex, Essex and Surrey.   Aethelwulf then kept the more ancient western half for himself, which included Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset.

Aethelwulf coin

Aethelwulf and his first wife Osburh had five sons and a daughter.  After Aethelstan came Aethelbald, Aethelbert, Aethelred and Alfred.  Each of his sons with the exception of Aethelstan succeeded to the throne.  Alfred the youngest has been praised as one of the greatest kings to ever reign in Britain.  Aethelwulf’s daughter Aethelswith was married as a child to King Burgred of Mercia.

Religion was always a great and important part in Aethelwulf’s life and this did rub off on his son Alfred.  As early as the first year of his reign he began planning a pilgrimage to Rome.  With the increase of raids he felt the need to appeal to the Christian god.  In 853 AD he sent his son Alfred to Rome.  Alfred was only four years old.  In 855 AD about a year after the death of his wife Osburga, Aethelwulf followed Alfred to Rome where he was generous with his wealth.  He disturbed gold to the church of St Peter.

On the return journey from Rome he married Judith of Flanders in 856 AD.  Judith was a Frankish princess and a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne.  She was about twelve at the time and her father was Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks.

Upon his return to England in 856 AD Aethelwulf was met with a rebellion.  His elder son Aethelbald (Aethelstan had since died) had devised a conspiracy with the Ealdorman of Somerset and the Bishop of Sherborne to oppose Aethelwulf ‘s resumption of kingship upon his return.  Although Aethelwulf had enough support to banish Aethelbald and his fellow conspirators he instead yealded the western half of Wessex to Aethelbald while keeping the central and eastern parts for his own rule.

Also on returning to England Aethelwulf managed to change the laws regarding the future Kings Queens.  Previously the Queen was not called Queen but known only as ‘wife of the King’.  They were not allow the Queen to sit next to the King.  The restriction was lifted for Queen Judith and it is believed that the concessions were made because she was already a high-ranking European princess.

Aethelwulf died 134th January 858 AD and was buried at Steyning and later re-interred in the Old Minster at Winchester.  His bones now rest in one of several ‘mortuary chests’ at Winchester Cathedral.