Ceolwulf II, king of Mercia (874-877/9? [defeated by Vikings])

Ceolwulf (fl. 874-79) was the last king of the Mercians. His predecessor Burgred was driven out by the Vikings in late 873 or early 874; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls Ceolwulf "a foolish king's thegn" who owed his kingship to the Vikings. Ceolwulf's only other appearance in English narrative sources is in 877, when the Chronicle notes that a Viking army retired into Mercia and divided it, sharing out part of it amongst themselves and leaving the rest for Ceolwulf. A regnal list from Worcester gives Ceolwulf a reign of five years; counting from his accession in 874, this suggests that Ceolwulf ruled the western part of Mercia, including Worcester, for another two years after the Viking settlement. He was probably the leader of the "English" force that killed Rhodri Mawr, king of Gwynedd, in 878, as reported in Welsh and Irish annals. Nothing is known of Ceolwulf after 879: the next leader on the Worcester regnal list was Æthelred. By 883, Æthelred was ealdorman in charge of Mercia under Alfred, who was becoming king of the Anglo-Saxons and not just the West Saxons: the independent kingdom of the Mercians was no more.

Although the Chronicle gibes that Ceolwulf was a foolish thegn and that he acted as steward for the Vikings, holding the land "ready for them on whatever day they wished to have it" (ASC s.a. 874), contemporary evidence from charters and coins shows Ceolwulf acting independently as king of the Mercians. Two charters from 875 survive in Ceolwulf's name, S 215 and 216, calling Ceolwulf rex Merciorum and witnessed by Mercian bishops and nobles. A later charter, S 361, refers to another grant of Ceolwulf, still called rex. Three types of penny survive in Ceolwulf's name; only a fragment survives of one, but the other two, the Two Emperors and Cross and Lozenge, were also issued by King Alfred. The Cross and Lozenge penny was the product of a reform of the coinage, carried out by Alfred and Ceolwulf together. Alfred may have preferred dealing with his brother-in-law Burgred and later his son-in-law Æthelred, but it is clear that in the 870s themselves, both Mercians and West Saxons recognized Ceolwulf as the Mercian king. The fact that after the Viking settlement of 877 Ceolwulf still held some part of Mercia may suggest that Ceolwulf was a shrewder negotiator than the composer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle chose to remember.