The Historical Truth Behind Egbert, The Anglo-Saxon King Of Wessex

Egbert (also known as Ecbriht or Ecberht; referred to as ‘Ecbert’ in History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ TV series) was an Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex during the early 9th century. In the serial, King Egbert is played by English actor Linus Roache, being one of the main characters of the first three seasons.

It must be mentioned that the writers and producers of ‘Vikings’ accurately associate Egbert with the early medieval Anglian Kingdom of Wessex but either omit or exaggerate several aspects concerning his reign and fate (for example the fact that he fell in love with Lagertha, who, according to most contemporary historians, is a quasi-legendary figure of the Norse folklore, and as such might have not even set foot on Britain during the Viking Age).

14th century miniature depicting King Egbert of Wessex. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

In Egbert’s time, Anglo-Saxon England was divided into several kingdoms, of which the most dominant then was Mercia (at least with respect to neighbouring Wessex in the south). However, after he rose to the throne of Wessex upon King Beorhtric’s death (namely in 802; being initially exiled by Offa of Mercia and King Beorhtric of Wessex in the late 8th century), Egbert gradually put an end to Mercia’s efforts of subduing Wessex (culminating in the Battle of Elladun in 825). This is highlighted more or less accurate from historical standpoints in the TV series.

Map highlighting the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Æthelwulf (literally meaning ‘noble wolf’ in Old English), who inherited a far powerful and organised kingdom (which managed to incorporate Surrey, Kent, and Sussex) from his father. Egbert is also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle under the royal title of bretwalda (meaning ‘wide-ruler’) alongside another West Saxon king, specifically Alfred the Great.

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