Monday, March 25, 2013

Potato Kings of Wessex

   In 839, when Egbert King of Wessex died, his only child Ethelwulf  broke with tradition because he inherited the Throne of Wessex.  And there are some Saxons who still blame the church and its more progressive Bishops for such an egregious dismissal of conservative values.  Ethelwulf was a more spiritual or lily-livered person, he took no pleasure from war making, saw it as a necessity rather than a business opportunity.  His own preference was to seek out the help of the Almighty in the battle against the profane and disorderly.  And to this end he chose to make a pilgrimage to Rome, lavish gifts on the Vicar of Christ, who would have been either Pope Leo IV or Pope Benedict the III, in exchange for divine intervention and guidance in the matter of ruling a kingdom.   On his return from Rome,  Ethelwulf fell in awe of Judith Martel.  She was twelve years old and she was one of Charlemagne's legitimate grandchildren.  Ethelwulf,  married Judith in the court of  Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks. Which is a rather long drawn out way of saying "Judith wasn't just anybody, she was a French Princess." But, during Ethelwulf's absence from Wessex, his third legitimate son Ethelbald, who far outshone his father as military leader, had conspired with the particularly reactionary, 'no foreign Sharia nonsense,' Saxon Bishop of Sherborne, as well as Notables and probably Merchants, because as a rule, underneath it all, these things were in those days as they are today, about "who gets what."  Which meant that a fifty six year old Ethelwulf, and his twelve year old bride, were faced with the prospect of civil war for control of the Kingdom of Wessex.


     Traditionally a Saxon King's solution to this sort of circumstance was to go ahead and fight a war, be brave and if necessary die honorably, and while in great pain try to say something catchy. The sort of thing that even today merchants and kings expect from their soldiers, but which for some reason these days soldiers no longer expect from either their merchants or their kings or their members of congress or even their generals. But, Ethelwulf, rather than fight the civil war, again broke with tradition,  he negotiated a settlement.  And in that settlement one of the harder fought provisions was that henceforth  in the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, anyone married to a king would be permitted to sit on a throne beside the king. And, to further irritate the Bishop of Sherborne, anyone married to a king would no longer be referred to as  "The King's Wife." Instead they would be called "A Queen."  Then when Ethelwulf died, Judith at the age of fourteen married Ethelwulf's son Ethelbald. Then when Ethelbald died, Judith returned to France where at the age of around nineteen she married a man called  Baldwin, who owned a part of Europe that's still called Flanders. Judith  must have been quite fond of her third husband, because they remained together for thirty seven years and had four legitimate children, one of whom became Baldwin the II.  And I'll still insist there should be a variety of Potato named "Egbert" or at least "Ethelwulf."   Incidentally, "bald" in those days meant "bold." "Ethel"  and the word  "bert"  reference old meanings in "noble" that we have built into words like  "famous, illustrious, wonderful, super, fantastic, media star."  And for those who might care about the difference, "Wulf" is today's word for the endangered species "Wolf." And yes! Running fast and loose with the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, translates to,  "it's snowing with horrible wind outside."

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