‘Vikings’ Season 5: According To History, Here’s What Really Happened To King Aethelwulf

An unexpected fate awaited King Aethelwulf in Episode 9.

Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

Episode 9 of Vikings Season 5 saw a shocking fate befall King Aethelwulf. However, is this the way it really happened in the history books?

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about Episode 9 (titled “A Simple Story”) of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet viewed this episode and wish to avoid spoilers.

In the middle of discussions between the Saxon rulers over what should be done in regard to the Great Heathen Army, King Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford) is stung by a bee and dies in Episode 9 of Vikings Season 5. The completely unexpected death shocked viewers who didn’t see it coming. But is this the way King Aethelwulf really died?

According to History Channel’s Vikings, King Aethelwulf rose to power after his father, King Ecbert (Linus Roache), abdicated the throne. Aethelwulf’s entire reign, after that point, dealt with the Viking invasion and Ivar’s Great Heathen Army.

Encyclopedia Britannica states that King Aethelwulf ruled from 839 to 856 and helped to unite Wessex and Mercia against the Vikings. However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Aethelwulf ruled from 836.

History Channel's Vikings,' Season 5, King Aethelwulf, Episode 9, A Simple Story
Featured image credit: Bernard WalshHistory Channel

Regardless, after Aethelwulf’s death, two of his sons, Ethelbald and Ethelbert, ruled after him. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle explains the division of rulership.

“Then his two sons succeeded to the kingdom; Ethelbald to the kingdom of the West-Saxons, and Ethelbert to the kingdom of the Kentish-men, and of the East-Saxons, and of Surrey, and of the South-Saxons.”

So, what about Aethelred and Alfred, the two sons that appear in History Channel’s Vikings?

Aethelred came to rule after the death of his brothers sometime around 865-66. He and his brother, Alfred, continued in the battle against the Vikings and it is suspected he died of wounds sustained in a battle at Basing or Maeretun (possibly Marden in Wiltshire) according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Alfred then came to power after this and went on to be known as Alfred the Great.

But How Did King Aethelwulf Die?

While the Encyclopaedia Britannica lists Aethelwulf’s death as 856, according to the British Library website, King Aethelwulf died on January 13, 858. However, beyond that date, very little is known about his manner of death.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Aethelwulf died two years after marrying the Frankish daughter of Charles, Judith (no, she wasn’t the daughter of the Saxon king, Aelle). The Chronicle details Aethelwulf’s death below.

“Charles, king of the Franks, gave [Aethelwulf] his daughter, whose name was Judith, to be his queen. After this he came to his people, and they were fain to receive him; but about two years after his residence among the Franks he died; and his body lies at Winchester.”

Since there is no indication in any of the old texts that discuss how Aethelwulf died, it seems Vikings creator Michael Hirst was free to pick the manner in which Aethelwulf died in the television series.

History Channel's 'Vikings,' Season 5, King Aethelwulf, Judith, and Bishop Heahmund
Featured image credit: Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

However, it is interesting to note that after Aethelwulf married Judith (who was 14 at the time against Aethelwulf’s 61 years), it caused unrest with his son, Aethelbald. This is suspected to be because he feared being cast aside if a son was produced from the marriage as this son would be of higher standing than himself.

Could it be possible that this dispute led to the death of Aethelwulf?

So far, there is nothing to suggest this, but after his father’s death, Aethelbald went on to marry his stepmother, Judith, another indicator that Aethelwulf could have died as a result of foul play. However, once again, there is absolutely no evidence in the history books to suggest Aethelwulf’s death was a result of murder.

Vikings returns to History Channel on Wednesday, January 24, at 9 p.m. ET. Zap2It writes the following synopsis for the mid-season finale, Episode 10 (titled “Moments of Vision”).

“A sense of doom looms over Kattegat as bloodshed ensues; the defeated army flees in the face of the victors, and a legendary warrior makes his way home.”