Charlemagne’s indirect role in the unification of England

May 16, 2013

Statue of King Alfred in Wantage Market Square, England.

Statue of King Alfred in Wantage Market Square, England.

In the year 849, when Alfred [the Great] was born at the royal burgh of Wantage, the youngest child of Aethelwulf and Osberga, the King of the West Saxons had already established his authority as lord over the other Teutonic kingdoms in England. Until the time of Egbert, the father of Aethelwulf, this overlordship had shifted from one strong hand to another amongst the reigning princes, each of whom, as occasion served, rose and strove for the dignity of bretwalda, as it was called. Now it would be held by a Mercian, then by a Northumbrian, and again by a king of East Anglian or Kentish men. But when, in the year 800, the same in which the Emperor Charlemagne was crowned by the Pope, the Great Council of Wessex elected the Aetheling Egbert king of the West Saxons, all such contention came to an end.

The Coronation of Charlemagne

For Egbert, exiled from his own land by the bretwalda, Offa of Mercia, had spent thirteen years in the service of Charlemagne, and had learned in that school how to consolidate and govern kingdoms. He reigned thirty-seven years in England, and at his death all the land owned him as over-king, though the Northumbrians, Mercians, and East Anglians still kept their own kings and great councils, who governed within their own borders as Egbert’s men. In Egbert’s later charters he is called King of the English, and the name of Anglia was by him given to the whole kingdom.


Thomas Hughes, Alfred the Great (New York: MacMillan and Co., 1891), 32-3.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 282


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