Beorhtwulf of Mercia

Beorhtwulf of Mercia

Infobox Monarch
name=Beorhtwulf (Berhtwulf)
title=King of the Mercians
issue=Beorhtfrith, Beorhtric
date of death=852

Beorhtwulf (died 852) (also Berhtwulf, [Like most Anglo-Saxon noble names this is composed of two elements, in this case the Old English words for "Bright" and "Wolf".] ) was King of the Mercians from 840 to 852. The first recorded Viking attacks on Mercia, including two on London, took place during Beorhtwulf's reign, and Berkshire may have passed from Mercian to West Saxon control at this time.


No genealogies of ninth century Mercian rulers survive, therefore reconstructions of the relationships between kings are deduced from knowledge of the strategies of anthroponymy employed by the Anglo-Saxons and their contemporaries. Historians hypothesise three competing kin-groups in the ninth century, the "C", "Wig" and "B" groups. The "C" group, which included the brothers Coenwulf, Cuthred of Kent, and Ceolwulf I, was dominant in the period following the death of both Offa of Mercia and his son Ecgfrith in 796. Ceolwulf was deposed in 823 by a certain Beornwulf, perhaps the first of the "B" group, who was killed fighting against the East Anglians in 826. He was followed by Ludeca, not obviously linked to any of the three groups, who was killed in battle the following year, perhaps again fighting against the East Angles. After Ludeca's death, the first of the "Wig" family came to power, Wiglaf, who died in 842. It is possible that the "B" family also included the ill-fated Beornred who "held [power] a little while and unhappily" after the murder of King Æthelbald in 757. [Keynes, "Mercia and Wessex in the Ninth Century", pp. 314–323; Yorke, "Kings and Kingdoms", pp. 119–122 & table 14. Baldred of Kent (ruled 821?–825) may have been a member of the "B" family.]

An alternative model of Mercian succession is that a number of kin-groups with local power-bases may have competed for the succession. The sub-kingdoms of the Hwicce, the Tomsæte, and the unidentified Gaini are examples of such power-bases. Marriage alliances could also have played a part. Competing magnates, those called in charters "dux" or "princeps" (that is, leaders), may have brought the kings to power. In this model, the Mercian kings are little more than leading noblemen. [For all this, see Keynes, "Mercia and Wessex in the Ninth Century", pp. 314–323; see also Williams, "Military Institutions and Royal Power", pp. 304–305.]


Beorhtwulf may have witnessed a charter in 836, during the reign of Wiglaf, ["Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England", "Beorhtwulf 3 (Male)"; Keynes, "Mercia and Wessex in the Ninth Century", p. 317.] More certainly, he succeeded Wiglaf on the latter's death in 840. [Or perhaps 839, see Kirby, "Earliest English Kings", p. 194.] His reign began inauspiciously as the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" records raids in 842 by Vikings against the south and east coasts of Britain, including the Mercian province of Lindsey, centred on modern Lincoln. The city of London, chief centre of Mercia's trade, was attacked. The "Chronicle" states that there was "great slaughter" in London, and large coin hoards were buried in the city at this time. [Swanton, "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", pp. 62–65, Ms. A, s.a. 838 & 839, Ms. E. s.a. 837 & 839; Cowie, "Mercian London", pp. 207–208.]

In the early part of Beorhtwulf's reign a reform of the Mercian currency took place. This was carried out with the assistance of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, beginning a forty-year period of cooperation between Mercia and Wessex in matters of currency which lasted until the end of the independent Mercian kingdom on the death of King Ceolwulf II in the years around 880. His earliest issues of coin are very much copied from those of Æthelwulf and probably minted at West Saxon-controlled Rochester in Kent, but the Mercian mint in London was active again, after a decade-long interruption, from about 842. Perhaps indicating increased stability and an improving economic situation, Beorhtwulf's coins diverged from the Wessex patterns and were issued in quantity. This economic improvement continued under his successor King Burgred. [Williams, "Mercian coinage", pp. 223–226.]

Asser, writing later in the ninth century, believed that King Alfred the Great was born at Wantage in Berkshire, an event which may be dated to the late 840s. This claim rests only on Asser's authority. How and if Berkshire passed from Mercia to Wessex in Beorhtwulf's time is unclear, and the Mercian ealdorman Æthelwulf appears to have remained in office if such a change occurred. [Keynes & Lapidge, "Alfred the Great", p. 228, note 2; Kirby, p. 195; Williams, pp. 65–66.]

Beorhtwulf's reign appears to have ended in 852 when Burgred became king. A Viking army landed at Thanet, then still an island, in 851, and over-wintered there. A second Viking force of 350 ships is reported by the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" to have stormed Canterbury and London, and to have "put to flight Beorhtwulf, king of Mercia, with his army". [Swanton, "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", pp. 64–65, Ms. A, s.a. 850 & 852, Ms. E. s.a. 850 & 852.]


Beorhtwulf was married to Sæthryth, apparently a figure of some importance in her own right as she witnessed all of his charters between 840 and 849, after which she disappears from the record. [Stafford, "Political women in Mercia", pp. 42–43.] Beorhtwulf is said to have had two sons, Beorhtfrith and Beorhtric. [Yorke, "Kings and Kingdoms", table 14.] Beorhtric is known from witnessing his father's charters, but he ceased to do so before the end of Beorhtwulf's reign. ["Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England", "Beorhtric 2 (Male)".]

Beorhtwulf's second son, Beorhtfrith, wished to marry the royal heiress Ælfflæd, King Ceolwulf's daughter, widow of Wiglaf's son Wigmund and mother of Wigstan (Saint Wystan). Wigstan is said by chronicler John of Worcester to have been killed at a council at "Wistanstowe" in 849 because he prevented the marriage on grounds of consanguinity, Beorhtfrith being a kinsman of Wigmund, in what manner is unstated, and Wigstan's own godfather. [Thacker, "Kings, Saints and Monasteries", pp. 12–14; Kirby, "Earliest English Kings", p. 194; Yorke, "Kings and Kingdoms", pp. 119–122.]

ee also

*Kings of Mercia family tree



*Citation |last=Cowie |first=Robert |contribution=Mercian London |editor-last=Brown |editor-first=Michelle P.| editor2-first=Carol Ann |editor2-last=Farr |title=Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe|location=New York |publisher=Leicester University Press |date=2001 |isbn=0-8264-7765-8 |pages=194–209
*Citation |last=Keynes |first=Simon |author2-last=Lapidge |author2-first=Michael |title=Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources |date=1983 |publisher=Penguin |location=London |isbn=0-14-044409-4
*Citation |last=Keynes |first=Simon |contribution=Mercia and Wessex in the Ninth Century |editor-last=Brown |editor-first=Michelle P.| editor2-first=Carol Ann |editor2-last=Farr |title=Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe|location=New York |publisher=Leicester University Press |date=2001 |isbn=0-8264-7765-8 |pages=310–328
*citation |last= Kirby|first= D.P.|title=The Earliest English Kings|year= 1991|location=London|publisher= Unwin Hyman|isbn=0-04-445691-3
*Citation |last=Stafford |first=Pauline |authorlink=Pauline Stafford |contribution=Political women in Mercia, Eighth to Tenth centuries |editor-last=Brown |editor-first=Michelle P.| editor2-first=Carol Ann |editor2-last=Farr |title=Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe|location=New York |publisher=Leicester University Press |date=2001 |isbn=0-8264-7765-8 |pages=35–49
*citation |url= |title=Kings, Saints and Monasteries in Pre-Viking Mercia |last=Thacker |first=Alan |journal=Midland History |volume=10 |date=1985 |accessdate=2008-01-10 |issn=0047-729X |pages=1–25
*citation |last=Williams |first=Ann| last2=Smyth |first2=Alfred |first3=D.P. |last3=Kirby |year=1991 |title=A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain |location=London |publisher=Seaby |isbn=1-85264-047-2
*Citation |last=Williams |first=Gareth |contribution=Mercian Coinage and Authority |editor-last=Brown |editor-first=Michelle P.| editor2-first=Carol Ann |editor2-last=Farr |title=Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe|location=New York |publisher=Leicester University Press |date=2001 |isbn=0-8264-7765-8 |pages=210–228
*Citation |last=Williams |first=Gareth |contribution=Military Institutions and Royal Power |editor-last=Brown |editor-first=Michelle P.| editor2-first=Carol Ann |editor2-last=Farr |title=Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe|location=New York |publisher=Leicester University Press |date=2001 |isbn=0-8264-7765-8 |pages=295–309
*citation |last=Williams |first=Ann |title=Kingship and Government in Pre-Conquest England c. 500–1066 |date=1999 |publisher=Macmillan |location=Basingstoke |isbn=0-333-56798-6
*citation |first=Patrick |last=Wormald |authorlink=Patrick Wormald |title=The Anglo-Saxons |contribition=The Ninth Century |editor=James Campbell et al. |year=1982 |pages=132–159 |location=London |publisher=Phaidon |isbn=0-14-014395-5
*citation |last= Yorke|first=Barbara |authorlink=Barbara Yorke |title=Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England |year=1990 |location=London |publisher=Seaby |isbn=1-85264-027-8

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