‘Vikings’ Season 5: Historically, This Is What Really Happened To Aethelred

Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

Episode 16 of Vikings Season 5 saw a shocking storyline twist involving the royal family in Wessex. However, what really happened in the history books?

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about Episode 16 (titled “The Buddha”) of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet viewed this episode and wish to avoid spoilers.

Aethelred’s (Darren Cahill) story came to a devastating conclusion in Episode 16 of Vikings Season 5 when his own mother, Judith (Jennie Jacques), poisoned him rather than risk him being a true traitor against her other son, King Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). But, historically, what really happened to Aethelred?

As Den of Geek points out, the issue of Aethelred’s treason has been an ongoing storyline. Viewers have seen the struggle as Aethelred was forced to abdicate his position as the king of Wessex in favor of his younger brother. Over the course of this season of Vikings, Aethelred has been involved with treason as the Church tries to bring down Alfred in favor of Aethelred. However, viewers have also seen Aethelred as he struggled with his stance. And, by his death in Episode 16 of Vikings, it seemed like he might actually be coming to a place where he could be considered a true ally to his brother. His mother, however, was not prepared to take such a risk.

Featured image credit: Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

According to Britannica, Aethelred did spend time as the king of Wessex. His reign was short, running for only six years from 865 through to 871. During his reign, he struggled desperately against the Vikings who had arrived in force in East Anglia. This, of course, is different to what has been portrayed in History Channel’s Vikings, as King Alfred has given this area of England to the Vikings to settle.

As for how Aethelred died, it appeared his death occurred at Easter time in 871 and may have been a result of injuries sustained at his last battle. He was subsequently buried at Wimborne.

In the year of his death, there were many battles for King Aethelred. The Danes defeated him at Reading but were then defeated themselves at a massive battle at a place called Aescesdun. Aethelred was defeated by them once more at Basing. His final battle, at Maeretun (which may be Marden in Wiltshire) also saw the English victorious, although it was a slim win. It is possible Aethelred sustained injuries here that caused his death. However, there is no written evidence to suggest his true death, so perhaps History Channel decided to expand on the ambiguity of Aethelred’s death to make it far more scandalous and intriguing.

Vikings returns on Wednesday, January 9, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. History Channel provides the following synopsis for Episode 17 (titled “The Most Terrible Thing”).

“An unexpected turn amongst the settlers leaves Floki powerless. King Alfred confronts Judith. In York, Bjorn must strike a deal with Harald. Wessex is once again threatened by a Viking force, but who will lead the Saxon army to defend the Realm?”