Æthelberht, king of Wessex (855-60 [subking], 860-5)

Æthelberht, king of the West Saxons (d. 865), was third of five sons of King Æthelwulf and Osburh, herself descended from the West Saxon royal line. Shortly before Æthelwulf went to Rome in 855, Æthelberht was appointed sub-king of Kent (really Kent, Essex, Surrey, and Sussex), a post he kept until 860.

Æthelwulf seems to have intended Æthelberht to establish a cadet branch of West Saxon kings in Kent. However, when Æthelbald died in 860, the kingship of the West Saxons passed to Æthelberht, probably because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to lead a country facing Viking attacks (Alfred was only eleven).

It was under Æthelberht that Wessex and its recent south-eastern conquests became a united kingdom. Unlike his predecessors, Æthelberht did not appoint another member of his family as sub-king of Kent. Further, a charter (S 327) issued in the first year of Æthelberht?s reign reflects an extraordinary new kind of assembly: it was the first charter of a West Saxon king to include a full complement both of West Saxon and of Kentish witnesses.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Æthelberht?s reign as one of good harmony and great peace. Though this was true of internal affairs, the Vikings remained a threat, unsuccessfully storming Winchester and ravaging all eastern Kent. Æthelberht died in 865 and was buried at Sherborne beside his brother Æthelbald.