Æthelweard (historian)

Æthelweard (also Ethelward; d. c. 998), descended from the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred I of Wessex, the elder brother of Alfred the Great, was an ealdorman and the author of a Latin version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle known as the Chronicon Æthelweardi.


Æthelweard first witnesses charters as a thegn after the accession of Eadwig in 955, probably because he was the brother of the king's wife, Ælfgifu, although the relationship is unproven. The marriage was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, and Æthelweard's position was threatened when Eadwig died in 959 and was succeeded by his half-brother Edgar, who was hostile to the faction associated with Eadwig. Æthelweard survived, although he was not appointed to the position of ealdorman until after Edgar's death. In the view of Shashi Jayakumar "One receives the impression that Æthelweard played his cards right in Edgar's reign, perhaps by treading warily and displaying the same maddening discretion that one finds in his Chronicon.[1]

Æthelweard signs as dux or ealdorman in 973, and was accorded primacy among the ealdormen after 993. He continues to witness until 998, about which time his death may have taken place. Æthelweard's ealdormanry was the Western Provinces, probably the south-west peninsula. His brother Ælfweard, a royal discthegn, or household official, continues to sign as minister until 986.[2]

In the year 991 Æthelweard was associated with archbishop Sigeric in the conclusion of a peace with the victorious Danes from Maldon, and in 994 he was sent with Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester to make peace with Olaf Tryggvason at Andover.[3]

Æthelweard was the friend and patron of Ælfric of Eynsham, who in the preface to his Old English Lives of saints, addressed Æthelweard and his son Æthelmær.


In 957 King Eadwig, the great-grandson of King Æthelred I's brother, Alfred the Great, was obliged to divorce Æthelweard's sister Ælfgifu on the grounds of consanguinity,[3] and in the introduction to his Latin Chronicle Æthelweard claims to be the "grandson's grandson" of King Æthelred.

It has been postulated that Æthelweard and his siblings Ælfweard, Ælfgifu and Ælfwaru were the children of Eadric, ealdorman of Hampshire. This identification rests on Ælfgifu's possession of the estate of Risborough, which had belonged to Eadric's mother, Æthelgyth, the wife of ealdorman Æthelfrith of Mercia.

One possible construction is that his putative grandfather Æthelfrith was the grandson of King Æthelred I through his son Æthelhelm.[4] This royal connection would go some way to explaining the enormous prestige enjoyed by Æthelfrith's sons.

Assuming that the identification of Æthelweard as the brother of Ælfgifu is correct, his mother was the Æthelgifu whose company Eadwig enjoyed along with her daughter whilst escaping his coronation. Ælfgifu leaves a bequest to an Æthelflaed, who is either Æthelweard's wife or his sister-in-law.

Æthelweard was father of Æthelmær the Stout, who was ealdorman of the Western provinces towards the end of Æthelred II's reign. Æthelmær was the father of Æthelnoth, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1020, and was later regarded as a saint.;[5] and of the Æthelweard executed by King Cnut in 1017.[3] Æthelmær has also been tentatively identified as the father Wulfnoth Cild, who was the father of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and grandfather of King Harold II.[6]


After 975 and probably before 983, Æthelweard wrote the Chronicon, a Latin translation of a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, including material not found in surviving Old English versions.[7]

Æthelweard wrote his work at the request of his relative Mathilde, abbess of the Essen Abbey and granddaughter of emperor Otto I and Eadgyth of Wessex, to help her in the duty of keeping the remembrance of their dead relatives. The text only survives in a single copy now in the British Library,[8] which was badly damaged in the Cotton Library fire in 1731, so that later portions are lost. Mathilde probably rewarded him with a copy of Vegetius' work De Re Militari which was written in Essen and has long been in England.

The Chronicon was composed in the hermeneutic style almost universally adopted by English scholars writing in Latin in the tenth century. Michael Lapidge defines it as "a style whose most striking feature is the ostentatious parade of unusual, often very arcane and apparently learned vocabulary."[9] The twelfth century historian William of Malmesbury, writing at a time when the style had come to be seen as barbarous, described him as "... a noble and illustrious character, who attempted to arrange these chronicles in Latin, and whose intention I could applaud, if his language did not disgust me it would be better to be silent..."

See also


  1. Jayakumar, Shashi (2008). "Eadwid and Edgar: Politics, Propaganda, Faction". In Scragg, Donald. Edgar, King of the English 959-975. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. pp. 87–99. ISBN 978 1 84383 928 6.
  2. Keynes, Simon. The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready 978–1016, 1980
  3. 1 2 3 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  4. Barlow, Lundie W. "The Antecedents of Earl Godwine of Wessex" in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1957
  5. Mason, Emma "Æthelnoth (d. 1038)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004 Online Edition accessed 7 November 2007
  6. Anscombe, "The Pedigree of Earl Godwine" in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1913, 3rd Series, Vol. 7
  7. Miller, Sean, "Æthelweard" in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge, 2001
  8. Chronicon de Rebus Anglicis, BL Cotton MS, Otho A.x
  9. Lapidge, pp. 105, 135–136, 139

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