Æthelweard (historian)

Æthelweard (historian)

Æthelweard (also spelled Ethelward), Anglo-Saxon historian, was the great-great-grandson of Æthelred of Wessex (who was the brother of Alfred the Great), and was ealdorman or earl of the western provinces (i.e. probably of the whole of Wessex).

He first signs as "dux" or "ealdorman" in 973, and continues to sign until 998, about which time his death must have taken place. In the year 991 he 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 at Andover.

Æthelweard was the author of a "Latin Chronicle" extending to the year 975. Up to the year 892 he is largely dependent on the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", with a few details of his own; later he is largely independent of it. Æthelweard gave himself the bombastic title "Patricius Consul Quaestor Ethelwerdus"," and unfortunately this title is only too characteristic of the man. His narrative is highly rhetorical, and as he at the same time attempts more than Tacitean brevity his narrative is often very obscure. Æthelweard was the friend and patron of Ælfric of Eynsham.

New scientific research found the reason for Æthelweard's obscure Latin. He wrote his work on request of his relative Mathilde, abbess of Essen monastery and granddaughter of emperor Otto I and Eadgyth of Wessex, to help her in the duty of keeping the remembrance of the dead relatives. Mathilde was not able to understand Æthelweard's preferred old English, therefore he had to write in Latin. Most likely Mathilde rewarded him with a copy of Vegetius' work De Re Militari which was written in Essen and survived in England.:A later Mediaeval historian, William of Malmesbury says of him"... 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..."Aethelweard was the brother of Aelgifu, the wronged consort of King Edwy the Fair, who was their foster-brother.He and Aelfric of Hampshire- who later turned traitor, were said to have suggested the idea of danegeld. Professor Kelley also suggests that the notorious Eadric Streona was his son, which implies that Brihtric and Aethelmaer Se Greatta were his sons as well. Eadric's involvement with the attempt to rescue Alfheah from the Danes in 1012 by raising a large ransom may suggest his involvement in Aethelweard's earlier mission at Andover.Aethelweard had access to a now lost version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and was an example of a secular writer in a time where this was largely the preserve of monks. He was also at the centre of contemporary politics and his idiosyncratic Latin style is inspirational to schoolboys everywhere.

His grandson was Aethelnoth, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1020, and was later regarded as a saint.Mason, Emma "Æthelnoth (d. 1038)" "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8912 Online Edition] accessed November 7, 2007]

ee also

*House of Wessex family tree


Elisabeth van Houts: "Woman and the writing of history in the early Middle Ages: the case of Abbess Mathilda of Essen and Aethelweard" in: "Early Medieval Europe", 1992, p. 53ff.


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