Queen Æthelburg was the wife of King Ine, ruler of Wessex from 688 to 726. Her husband had a distinguished reign as king—not only was he a skilled and successful warrior, but he also was one of the first Anglo-Saxon kings to develop a written code of laws for his kingdom. In addition, this impressive king was lucky enough to be graced with a very formidable wife. Unfortunately, Bede (c. 673-735), one of the most reliable historians of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, devoted incredibly little page space to Ine and Æthelburg. Therefore, most of the information on King Ine and his formidable queen comes from less detailed, and more dubious, sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Even so, the brief appearance that Queen Æthelburg made in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a hint at just how remarkable a woman she may have been.
During his reign, King Ine constructed a stronghold in the region of Taunton. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Taunton was apparently seized in 722 by a rebellious noble named Ealdbert (or Ealdbriht), who wished to usurp power from Ine. For unexplained reasons, King Ine was evidently indisposed at the time, and unable to immediately raise an army against the rebel. Yet, even though the king was curiously absent, Queen Æthelburg was still present and she decided to take the defense of Wessex into her own hands.
As the story goes, Queen Æthelburg mustered a formidable army and marched to confront Ealdbert at Taunton. Upon arrival at the rebel stronghold, the queen’s warriors besieged Taunton and ultimately destroyed the fortification in their attempt to capture the rebellious noble. Ealdbert, however, escaped before or during the siege and fled all the way to Sussex. Later that year, King Ine returned from his mysterious sabbatical and launched an invasion into Sussex to pursue Ealdbert. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, King Ine finally tracked down and killed Ealdbert in 725.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (image of Alfred the Great’s daughter, Queen Æthelflæd of Mercia, as depicted in the cartulary of Abingdon Abbey (British Library Cotton MS Claudius B VI, f.14), c. 1220, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.