‘Vikings’ Season 5: Historically, Did Aethelred Really Conspire Against King Alfred?

According to the history books, Aethelred was overshadowed by another brother.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as King Alfred and Darren Cahill as Aethelred
Jonathan Hession / History Channel

According to the history books, Aethelred was overshadowed by another brother.

In History Channel’s Vikings, viewers have seen some discontent from Aethelred (Darren Cahill) against his brother, King Alfred’s (Feria Walsh-Peelo) rule. However, historically, did Aethelred really conspire against his brother?

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about Episode 14 (titled “The Lost Moment”) of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5 as well as historical information that may lead to spoilers in the television series. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet viewed this episode and wish to avoid spoilers.

Episode 13 of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5 saw the suggestion that Aethelred was conspiring against his brother, King Alfred. As Den of Geek points out, the character of Aethelred, adds an interesting dilemma to the situation. After all, Aethelred was supposed to be king but chose to step aside at his mother’s insistence so that his younger brother could rule in his place. Then, in Episode 14, this conspiracy was expanded upon as Aethelred and the group opposing King Alfred planned to slaughter the king during a war council meeting.

But did this really happen?

According to the history books, Aethelred ruled in the shadow of another of his brothers, Ethelbert. However, Britannica does point out that Aethelred should have ruled ahead of Ethelbert. Instead, his father, Aethelwulf (played by Moe Dunford in Vikings), chose Ethelbert over Aethelred. This meant that Aethelred had to step aside so that a brother could rule in his place, adding some validity to the choice History Channel has made in Vikings. Even so, there is nothing to suggest that he did it begrudgingly, or that Aethelred conspired against him.

When his brother died in 865, Aethelred finally stepped into the position as the king of Wessex. He then continued to rule until his own death in 871.

  Jonathan Hession / History Channel

Not long after Aethelred came into power, a great Viking army arrived on the shores of Wessex and he had to battle against them. Within five years of his appointment as king, It is believed that Aethelred and Alfred fought alongside each other at points. Once again, there appears to be no record of conflict between the brothers. However, this doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, just that it wasn’t recorded.

When Aethelred died in 871, he had male heirs. However, due to their young age, Alfred was placed on the throne rather than any of Aethelred’s sons. While it is possible that this might have caused conflict, there appear to be no records detailing what Aethelred’s wife or sons thought of this appointment.

As has been seen in History Channel’s Vikings, Alfred was known to suffer from ill health, though this didn’t appear to affect his reign considerably. In fact, by the time of his death, he had been given the title of Alfred the Great on account of all the good he brought to Wessex.

Once again, whether any of this will come into play in History Channel’s interpretation of medieval history in Vikings remains to be seen.

Vikings returns on Wednesday, December 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. History Channel provides the following synopsis for Episode 15 (titled “Hell”).

“Bishop Heahmund is wracked with guilt as he fights to renounce his passions. Viking will clash with Saxon on a battlefield leaving a key figure lost in the balance.”