Alfred Aetheling


Alfred Aetheling

Alfred Aetheling (Old English "Ælfred Æþeling"), was one of the eight sons of the English king Ethelred II, called 'The Unready'. He and his brother Edward the Confessor were sons of Ethelred's second wife Emma of Normandy.

In 1013 during the siege of London by the Danes, Ethelred fled England to exile in Normandy accompanied by a retinue of close family members which included Alfred, Edward and several more of his children. Ethelred regained the throne in 1014, but Alfred and his family remained in Normandy. After Ethelred died in 1015, and England was conquered by Canute of Denmark in the following year.

In 1035, Canute died, and during the uncertainty that followed, the heirs of the former Anglo-Saxon rulers attempted to restore the House of Wessex to the throne of England. Alfred Aetheling landed on the coast of Sussex with a Norman mercenary body guard and attempted to make his way to London. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there is an account of this fateful encounter:

*"As Alfred and his men approached the town of Guildford in Surrey, thirty miles south-west of London, they were met by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex, who professed loyalty to the young prince and procured lodgings for him and his men in the town. The next morning, Godwin said to Alfred: "I will safely and securely conduct you to London, where the great men of the kingdom are awaiting your coming, that they may raise you to the throne." This he said in spite of the fact that the throne was already occupied by the son of Knud, Harold Harefoot, and he was actually in league with King Harold to lure the young prince to his death. Then the earl led the prince and his men over the hill of Guildown, which is to the west of Guildford, on the road to Winchester, not London. Perhaps the prince had insisted on continuing his journey to his original destination, his mother’s court in Winchester, in any case, Godwin repeated his tempting offer; showing the prince the magnificent panorama from the hill both to the north and to the south, he said: "Look around on the right hand and on the left, and behold what a realm will be subject to your dominion." Alfred then gave thanks to God and promised that if he should ever be crowned king, he would institute such laws as would be pleasing and acceptable to God and men. At that moment, however, he was seized and bound together with all his men. Nine tenths of them were then murdered. And since the remaining tenth was still so numerous, they, too, were decimated. Alfred was tied to a horse and then conveyed by boat to the monastery of Ely. As the boat reached land, his eyes were put out. For a while he was looked after by the monks, who were fond of him, but soon after he died, probably on February 5, 1036."

Interestingly, during the 1920s the remains of several hundred soldiers, probably Normans, were found to the west of Guildford. They were bound and had been executed. The grave has been dated to c.1040. It is believed to be likely that they were the guards of Prince Alfred.

The Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex was restored through the accession of Alfred's brother Edward in 1042. Alfred's death was one of the main reasons for the mistrust and resentment shown by many members of Anglo-Saxon society, and particularly from Edward himself, towards Earl Godwin and his sons.

ee also

*House of Wessex family tree


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