wife of King Egbert
Redburga, was said
to be the sister of Charlemagne, though his only known sister was named
may have been his sister-in-law, as the sister of his fourth wife,
Some sources describe her as his niece, and another as the
of Charles Martel. She appears in a medieval manuscript from Oxford
described as “Regis Francorum sororia” which translated as “sister to
of the Franks.” More specifically “sororia” means “pertaining to
sister,” so it could mean sister-in-law.
By some accounts,
arranged Redburga’s marriage to Egbert in the year 800, while Egbert
exile at Charlemagne’s court. Judging by the dates of Egbert’s exile
birth of their oldest child, they were married in the court of
They had three children. The oldest being Aethelwulf, who was born
about 796 (probably
while they were in the court of Charlemagne), was king of England
after his father, and died January
13, 858. Athelstan, who became the under-king of Kent,
died in 850, Editha was their daughter, and probably the youngest child.
Little is known
about Redburga, due
to the custom which started in 802 of keeping the “king’s wife” firmly
background, and even denying her the title of queen. She was not even
to sit beside the king in public. It is known that she influenced
some of his decisions, though perhaps only in private. The West
Saxons forced this policy on Egbert and future kings
the great wickedness of Beorhtric’s queen Eadburh. Redburga
did have some influence with her husband
however. At least one time is known when her influence was felt by the
She expressed her dislike of the Welsh to King Egbert and, because of
intensity of her feelings, he ordered all the Welsh and their families
his kingdom or be put to death.
When Egbert was succeeded by
Aethelwulf, it the first time a son had followed his father as king of
since the seventh century. The reason
for this break with tradition was, of course, Egbert’s success. He had
the way for Aethelwulf’s succession by making him king of Kent. The evidence is too slight
whether he destroyed potential rivals but his family’s later monopoly
kingship would be easier to understand if he had done so. In any case
Aethelwulf had a decisive advantage thanks to the new territory that
had won. He himself continued the expansion by gaining control of Berkshire sometime before 849, when
born at Wantage, and it thereafter remained West Saxon. Aethelwulf’s
that he expected to be succeeded by his sons, four of whom were kings
succession. Aethelwulf was a king of perhaps more than conventional
his pilgrimage to Rome with the young Alfred in 855
suggests; and that Aethelwulf was anyway both rich and generous.
We know much more
of Aethelwulf than of his father, but apparently he was far less worth
He was a man who would never have won the suzerainty over England
for himself, but he was just strong enough to maintain it. Though not
fighting power, and full of a good sense of his duty to his kingdom, he
faults of a conscientious man. He was pious even to excess, an
father, and lacked the capacity for righteous resentment that is an
part of the mental equipment of a great king. Aethelwulf was a worthy
fell upon evil days, and owed part of his troubles to his own
suffered not only from the Viking invasions, but from unruly sons and
subjects, whom a stronger hand might have tamed.
knew, was not by nature a man of arms, but a man whose heart lay in
the church. His gentle and devout nature is largely traceable to
teachings and influence. Egbert could only hope that after he was gone,
Ealhstan, the warrior-bishop of Sherborne, would counterbalance the
influence that Swithin exerted upon Aethelwulf. But Aethelwulf felt
helpless before a prelate who attacked him on his weak side, and he was
with such a one in Ealhstan. This able but turbulent priest was also
to lead a rebellion against his lawful sovereign.
The reign of King
Egbert marked a definite period in the growth of the English kingship.
Egbert died and Aethelwulf stepped into his shoes there was a great
was a change in the moral atmosphere, rather than in anything else.
There was an
air of security, and even of antiquity about Aethelwulf. Although he
son of a man who had fled overseas for his life, and had spent some
exile, yet Aethelwulf lived in an atmosphere of firmly established
The old sense of peril, of instability, of impending change, of hourly
had disappeared. He created the impression that he was an old
actual fact, he died younger than many of his contemporary kings of Europe.
And this feeling reflects the truth that Aethelwulf did have an almost
perfectly assured position, based on the unanimous consent of his
What had once been hazardous and questionable had slipped quietly into
matter of course.
The accession of
Aethelwulf was almost at the same time as the sudden redoubling of
the Danish attacks on England.
Very probably the invaders had realized that with the death of Egbert a
barrier to their assaults had been removed. It does not seem that they
back on England
by any rally on the part of the Franks. During Aethelwulf’s early years
as king there
were also the Frankish civil wars of the sons of Lewis the Pious. With
unrest the Danes were unopposed along the northern shore
the first year after Aethelwulf’s succession (840), there was a
deliberate coasting of the Danes along Wessex.
First they landed near Southampton,
there defeating Wulfheard ealdorman of Hampshire. Then a second attack
on the Isle of Portland: Aethelhelm the ealdorman of Dorset
came down to meet the invaders, “and for a good time he put the enemy
flight: but finally the Danes had possession of the field and slew the
ealdorman.” There can be little doubt that the two victories were won
same squadron, which probably made great havoc, and returned well laden
plunder. In the next year matters grew much more serious for England,
though it was now Wessex
this time which bore the brunt of the invasion. A fleet, no doubt after
coasting down the Frisian shore, appeared in the Wash.
The crews came ashore in the Lincolnshire
marshland, started ravaging, and were attacked by Herebert, ealdorman
Lindsey. But they slew him and many more, and then harried all his
this the squadron turned south, and plundered in succession the shores
of East Anglia
and of Kent.
To show the widespread activity of the Vikings in this year it must be
that a fleet under Oscar sacked Rouen
and devastated all the lands about the Seine-mouth, much about the same
decided that he must appeal to the Christian God for help against an
numerous, so agile, and so profane. He sent his four-year-old son
Alfred to Rome
in 853 and later followed himself, marrying a Frankish princess on his
back. In his absence his son Aethelbald, who must have thought it an
inappropriate time for his father to leave home, rebelled against him,
family quarrel was patched up and the House of Egbert crusaded against
ever-swelling Danish hordes, thereby winning their own immortality in
heroic age of the English people.
Editha, daughter of King Egbert, and Polesworth Abbey
St. Editha of
feast day is July 15th, was the daughter of King Egbert and
to King Aethelwulf. There is no mention of a marriage for her, though
were many princesses married for family alliances during this time. She
a Benedictine nun at Polesworth, Warwickshire, where she was noted for
holiness and became the Abbess. She was named a saint sometime after
Although a Roman
villa had been
built near the river, the village remained small until the foundation
Polesworth Abbey early in the ninth century. Egbert, King of Wessex,
the monastery, which was erected in 829, on what is now the north aisle
present church. It consisted of a small church and a convent dedicated
Church and gatehouse
several limited excavations have been undertaken which enable a
reconstruction to be made of the layout of the Abbey buildings. The
Polesworth Abbey’s medieval abbey church were later converted into the
parish church of St.
Editha and the ruins of the
cloister can be seen in the rear gardens next to the church. It was
laid out in a cross shape, standing to the east of the present parish
nave. The nuns’ quire was probably in the western arm, with a central
presbytery, and transepts, and the cloister would have been south of
The new Abbey
thrived and quickly
came to dominate life in the village. Its success was due in part to
gifts of land and property from King Egbert, as well as from friends
relatives of the nuns, many of whom were from wealthy families. The
hundred years for the Abbey were quietly prosperous, but after the
Conquest this changed disastrously. Shortly after the Conquest, the new
Tamworth Castle, Sir Robert Marmion, seized the Abbey and forced the
their lands. So the story goes, some fifty years after the eviction,
successor, Robert Marmion, was visited in a dream by an apparition of
Abbess of Polesworth, St. Editha, who threatened him with a painful
eternal damnation if he did not restore the nuns to their Abbey. This
frightened him that he restored the nuns to their former home that very
In reality, while
the nuns did
indeed leave for some fifty years, it was in order to allow extensive
work to take place at the Abbey. The entire complex was greatly
include a larger Abbey church, a gatehouse, an infirmary, a forge,
and a bake-house. It may even have been that construction work was paid
the Normans, out of
respect for the
nun’s work and standing.
Alburga, sister of King Egbert, and Wilton Abbey, Wiltshire
established in Wiltshire, England,
three miles from Salisbury.
first buildings were made as a college for secular priests by Earl
Wiltshire, about 773. Alburga married Earl Wulstan of Wiltshire but no
date has been found for it. While
Alburga's birth date is not known, it appears she was older than
Egbert, since she was established in Wiltshire as the wife of Earl
Wulstan at the time of Egbert's arrival from exile. The
in 802 defending Egbert’s realm. After Earl Wulstan’s death King Egbert
changed the college
into a convent of 12 nuns for his sister, St. Alburga.
joined the community, became the Abbess, and remained there until she
died at Wilton. She was later named a saint. King
is counted as the first founder of Wilton Abbey. King
Alfred, after his temporary success
against the Danes at Wilton
founded a new convent on the site of the royal palace and united to it
older foundation. The community was to number 26 nuns.
Wilton is best
known as the home of
St. Edith, the child of a "handfast" union between Edgar, King of the
English (944-75), and Wulfrid, a lady wearing the veil though not a
he carried off from Wilton probably in 961. After Edith's birth,
refused to enter into a permanent marriage with Edgar and retired with
child to Wilton. Edith,
to have been educated, received the veil while a child at the hands of
Ethelwold of Winchester,
and at the
age of fifteen refused the abbacy of three houses offered by her
built the Church of St.
Denis at Wilton,
which was consecrated by St. Dunstan, and died shortly afterwards at
the age of
twenty-three (984). Her feast is on the 16th of September. St. Edith
patron of Wilton, and is
said to have been abbess. In 1003 Sweyn, King of Denmark, destroyed the
town of Wilton, but we do
the monastery shared its fate. Edith, the wife of Edward the Confessor,
been educated at Wilton,
stone the monastery which had formerly been of wood. There are no
the ancient buildings.
Swithin of Winchester
King Egbert had
Swithin and Wulfheard, both served the king until the his death.
is some information about Swithin, there is very little mention of
It seems safe to assume Wulfheard was the military advisor and Swithin
spiritual. St. Swithin was considered to be King Egbert’s chaplain.
nothing is known of the life of St. Swithin of Winchester,
although he is still greatly venerated in England.
There is much legend about him, but little of it can be authenticated.
a native of Wessex,
St. Swithin was born about 800. He was a well-remembered
Swithin was Aethelwulf’s
instructor in his youth and his minister in middle age. Aethelwulf
him Bishop of Winchester in 852. Swithin
reputation as a missionary, and was famed for his knowledge of the
mid-ninth century, the unfortified city of Winchester
was under frequent attack by the Vikings. St. Swithin,Bishop of
Winchester from 852-862, is reputed to be responsible for
building a wall around the city that helped save it from the attackers.
St. Swithin's pupils at the cathedral school was Alfred, who also was
and crowned at Winchester Cathedral. He became the town's
and the shrine of St. Swithin is
the Presbytery of the present cathedral.
biographies came long after his life, and are mainly a list of
miracles. He was
his people obviously, as after his death he was canonized by popular
At his request, when he died in 862, he was buried beside the north
wall of his
cathedral where the raindrops from the eaves could fall on his grave.
the only reasonable source of a superstition that lasts to this day in England,
making Saint Swithin’s Day the British equivalent of Groundhog Day in
the United States. The
is that if it rains on his feast then it will rain for forty more days,
not, there will be forty days of fair weather. He is called Weepy St.
because of an association of his feast day with rain. Some
attribute the connection to the forty days of rain that prevented the
translation of his relics from the Old Minster cemetery into Winchester
Cathedral, whose dedication was changed from Sts. Peter and Paul to St.
an early depiction
of a Saxon queen
coin of Aethelwulf
The British Library Board
Four Saxon Kings
from Abbreviatio chronicorum
Angliae, ca. 1250, the Four Saxon
kings: above, Edmund the Martyr and Edward
the Elder; below, Alfred and Athelstan.
Icon of St. Swithin
St Swithun’s Day,
if thou dost rain,
In this month
is St Swithin’s day;
For forty days, it will remain:
St Swithun’s Day, if thou be fair,
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mair.
On which, if that it rain, they say
Full forty days after it will,
Or more or less, some rain distill.
This Swithin was a saint, I trow,
And Winchester’s bishop also.
Who in his time did many a feat,
As popish legends do repeat:
A woman having broke her eggs
By stumbling at another’s legs,
For which she made a woful cry,
St Swithin chanc’d for to come by,
Who made them all as sound, or
Than ever that they were before.
But whether this were so or no
‘Tis more than you or I do know:
Better it is to rise betime,
And to make hay while sun doth shine,
Than to believe in tales and lies
Which idle monks and friars devise.
---Poor Robin’s Almanac,