Wulfhere, Ealdorman of Wiltshire

Wulfhere (fl. AD 855-?877) was Ealdorman for Wiltshire,[a] when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, of England, were experiencing turbulent times. An invading Danish army had landed in East Anglia, in 865 and had conquered all of the English kingdoms apart from Wessex. The Danish king Guthrum was overrunning the kingdom of Wessex, with Alfred the king of Wessex in retreat. The county of Wiltshire was part of Wessex and on its northern border was Danish held Mercia. Wulfhere was left with a problem, should he stay loyal to his king (Alfred) or do a deal with the invader? The evidence from the charters of the time infer that Wulfhere had some sort of arrangement with Guthrum. So when Alfred was able to regain control of his kingdom Wulfhere was held to account.

Ealdorman of Wiltshire
England Great Army map.svg
Anglo-Saxon England


In 865 the Great Danish Army landed in East Anglia with the intention of conquering all the English kingdoms. During their campaign, the Viking army conquered the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria and they overran the kingdom of Wessex. .[2]

Ealdormen were responsible for ruling the shires on behalf of the king (Alfred the Great). Wulfhere was the Anglo Saxon ealdormen for Wiltshire.[3]

Guthrum, the leader of the Danish army, from his base in Gloucester (Mercia) had been tracking the whereabouts of Alfred and his army. He discovered where Alfred was spending Christmas of 878. Then shortly after Christmas, Guthrum carried out a surprise attack on Alfred's royal vill, at Chippenham, Wiltshire. Alfred managed to escape into the marshes around Athelney. As Ealdorman for Wiltshire, Wulfhere was responsible for the kings security, he had obviously failed in his duty, but why?[4]

Treason and confiscation of landsEdit

A charter [b]from Alfred's successors reign, his son, Edward the Elder may give the answer. It says that

"an estate by the River Wylye, [c] granted to Æthelwulf, was land that had been confiscated from Wulfhere and his wife, for deserting both Alfred and his country in spite of the oath which he had sworn to the king and all his leading men. This confiscation was done with the agreement of all the wisemen of the Gewisse and the Mercians."

— PASE 2010 S.362.

The fact that the two witans sat in judgement indicates the importance of the Wulfhere family.[7][6] The charter[b] from Edward's reign is dated 901. The dates when Wulfhere had his land confiscated and was replaced, as Eolderman by Æthelholm, is not known, due to the absence of datable charters from the time.[7]

Possible deal with GuthrumEdit

Wulfhere is the only one of Alfred's Ealdormen to be named for desertion.[7] However the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 878 says:

"This year, during midwinter, after twelfth night, the [Danish] army stole away to Chippenham, and overran the land of the West-Saxons, and sat down there; and many of the people they drove beyond sea, and of the remainder the greater part they subdued and forced to obey them."

— Giles 1914, ASC 878

Alfred was retreating and Guthrum had overrun a large part of Wessex, the chronicle says that the greater part of the population had to submit to him. The historian Barbara Yorke suggests that under these circumstances Wulfhere may well have had to negotiate with Guthrum. However, when Alfred reestablished control, after his victory at the Battle of Edington, Wulfhere's relationship with Guthrum may have been construed as treason.[d][7]

A reflection of how important Wulhere and his family were, can be inferred by the fact that not all his lands were confiscated. Two pieces of land granted to Wulfhere, by Æthelred in 863, [e] were still in the family during the time of Wulfhere's grandson Wulfgar.[f][7]


  1. ^ Sometimes recorded as Wulfhere, Ealdorman of Hampshire.[1]
  2. ^ a b Charter S.362 [5]
  3. ^ Later called the manor of Stockton.[6]
  4. ^ Other historians, for example David Sturdy, suggest that Wulfhere may simply have fled the country.[1]
  5. ^ Charter S.336 [5]
  6. ^ Charter S.1533[5]


  1. ^ a b Sturdy 1995, p. 147.
  2. ^ Oliver 2012, pp. 169–177.
  3. ^ Albert & Tucker 2015, pp. 13–14.
  4. ^ Smyth 1995, pp. 446–447.
  5. ^ a b c The Electronic Sawyer 2020.
  6. ^ a b Baggs et al. 1980, pp. 212–223.
  7. ^ a b c d e Yorke 2013, pp. 35–36.


  • Albert, Edoardo; Tucker, Katie (2015). In Search of Alfred the Great: The King, The Grave, The Legend. Stroud: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 1-445-64964-0.
  • Baggs, A.P.; Crittall, Elizabeth; Freeman, Jane; Stevenson, Janet H (1980). Crowley, D.A. (ed.). "Parishes: Stockton; Downton Hundred; Elstub and Everleigh Hundred". A History of the County of Wiltshire. London: British History Online. pp. 212–223.
  • Giles, J.A. (1914). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle . London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd. – via Wikisource.
  • Oliver, Neil (2012). Vikings. A History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-86787-6.
  • PASE (2010). "Wulfhere". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. King's College London. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  • Smyth, Alfred P. (1995). King Alfred the Great. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822989-5.
  • Sturdy, David (1995). Alfred the Great. London: Constable. ISBN 0-09-474280-4.
  • The Electronic Sawyer (2020). "Anglo Saxon Charters". King's College London. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  • Yorke, Barbara (2013). "Edward as Aethling". In Higham, N.J.; Hill, D.H. (eds.). Edward the Elder 899-924. London: Routledge. pp. 35–36. ISBN 9-781-31501081-6.

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