King Æthelwulf (which means "Noble Wolf") was King of Wessex and Mercia, and son of the late King Ecbert. Following the Battle of Repton, and the Great Heathen Army's storming of the Wessex royal villa, Æthelwulf succeeded his father as King shortly before Ecbert's death. A very strong and abled warrior-king, Æthelwulf was at the forefront of driving the Vikings from the lands of Wessex. He later died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
Aethelwulf and a group of soldiers arrive, and he invites Ragnar to speak with his father. As a sign of goodwill, Aethelwulf returns Athelstan's bracelet to confirm that the monk is still alive. Despite Ragnar's promise of safety, Aethelwulf's group is ambushed by Northmen led by Erlendur. The entire group is slaughtered except for Æthelwulf who is allowed to escape.
The vikings return to Wessex, King Ecbert informs Ragnar that to receive their land, the Vikings must fight for Princess Kwenthrith to appease King Ecbert's nobles.
Prince Aethelwulf searches for the young brother of the princess and his army. He captures a soldier who tells him they expect reinforcements. King Egbert, who woos Lagertha, offers her a necklace.
Aethelwulf attempts to befriend Rollo and Floki. Aethelwulf learns that Judith is with Athelstan's child, and he is sent to the settlement to resolve problems there. Aethelwulf leads his soldiers to the settlement, and kills all the settlers.
Aethelwulf engages in battle and rescues Kwenthrith. Aethelwulf returns with the rescued Queen Kwenthrith and her son Magnus. Aethelwulf and Judith argue, and Judith tells him they are married in name only. Aethelwulf with Queen Kwenthrith that they need to fight to restore her power in Mercia.
Ecbert sends Aethelwulf and Alfred on a pilgrimage to Rome. Aethelwulf and Alfred arrive in Rome, and the Pope makes Alfred a consul.
Years later Aethelwulf finds Ragnar's black raven banner on the beach, and alerts King Ecbert, who reassures him that Ragnar is simply one man. Aethelwulf sizes Ragnar and Ivar. Ecbert arrives and promises no harm will come to Ivar, then introduces Ragnar to Magnus. Ragnar states he and Kwenthrith never had sex and Aethelwulf exiles Magnus.
Aethelwulf gathers a large army in Wessex and moves to intercept the advancing Vikings in Repton. Aethelwulf decides to move his forces toward the Viking's ships, but the Vikings then ambush them in a tight valley. In panic and frustration, Aethelwulf orders a charge. The Saxons charge into the Norse shieldwall, and suffer heavy losses. Aethelwulf orders a retreat, and flees to Ecbert's capital to ready its evacuation. Ecbert refuses to leave, and cedes the crown of Wessex to his son. The bishop Edmund refuses to abandon Ecbert.
Aethelwulf and Judith are in exile with princes Aethelred and Alfred, the latter struck by sickness. Prince Alfred has a vision in which Athelstan tells him the Vikings are in York, so King Aethelwulf joins forces with Bishop Heahmund.
The Saxons led by King Aethelwulf and Bishop Heahmund attack York, but are led into a trap. Aethelred is wounded and the Saxons are forced to retreat. Ubbe and Hvitserk propose a peace, but Ivar wants to continue the war. Aethelwulf seemingly accepts their offer, but Heahmund arranges to have the brothers humiliated.
The Saxons are joined by Judith's cousin Mannel and his men from Northumbria. Heahmund persuades Aethelwulf to lay siege, and attack only when the Vikings are starving. They massacred there hunting parties and blocked the city. Aethelwulf and Heahmund see the smoke from the fires and enter the apparently deserted city. Saxon celebrations are cut short when Vikings appear from the sewers and engage in battle. Heahmund is surrounded, but spared by Ivar, and captured. The Vikings retake and garrison the city, as the Saxons retreat. Ivar takes Heahmund back to Norway, hoping to persuade him to fight on his side against Lagertha.
A few months later, the remnants of the Saxon army head back to Winchester to take their quarters. Aethelwulf summons the witan to discuss the Viking threat, stating that Scotland and Ireland have been the prey of Danish invaders and that Danish forces have taken their winter quarters in parts of different English realms. He refers to the Vikings as "stinging Hornets" repeatedly. Later, while reading in a book that his father King Ecbert had ordered, he is stung by a bee. He chuckles at the irony, however, soon, It is revealed that he is highly allergic to bees, resulting in his death. On his deathbed the dying King tells his sons to "listen to their mother." After Aethelwulf passes there is a discussion between Judith and her sons about the line of Succession. Judith convinces her son Aethelred to renounce the throne in favour of his half brother Alfred, whom she states, "has many gifts that Aethelred doesn't have" - due to his Grandfather's training - making him the perfect fit to rule England.
Aethelwulf, although lacking the political acumen (and keen intelligence) of his father, seems doggedly determined to be a good man, a stalwart Christian, a dutiful son, and a strong warrior and future king. He is first and foremost an exceptional warrior in his own right, having fought and killed many Vikings and fellow Saxons during his reign as prince and then King of Wessex. Though a competent enough leader, Aethelwulf lacked the cunning of his father, which resulted in the brave yet foolish Aethelwulf being often outsmarted by others. At the same time he possesses a violent temper which takes over what little good judgement he possesses, a situation which is further worsened by his manipulative father King Ecbert. Ecbert knowingly uses Aethelwulf's blind loyalty, as well as his battle prowess, to fulfill his own ambitions and commit brutal acts by his orders. Aethelwulf is essentially Ecbert's thug and leads the razing of the Viking settlement, an act later shown to be all part of Ecbert's plan.
The gullible Aethelwulf's unwavering trust in his father begins to change when he is sent to Mercia to reassume Wessex's control over the region from the unpredictable Kwenthrith.
The circumstances appear more and more like a suicide mission, culminating in a cornered and angry Kwenthrith, having failed to seduce him, threatening his life. Aethelwulf refuses to be intimidated despite the multiple swords at his throat, but realizes that his father might well have been perfectly ready to sacrifice him in order to have an excuse to begin a war with Mercia and become its king in addition to Wessex. This suspicion that he is more his father's pawn than son becomes the seed of growing distrust between them. This conflict continues to build as Aethelwulf challenges his father more often, once even blatantly disagreeing with him over the trustworthiness of a wounded Wessex scout, saying dismissively "Not everyone thinks like you, father".
Aethelwulf's relationship with his wife Judith is also complex and fraught with problems. Although he appears to treat her kindly (if a bit awkwardly) at first, it is clear that Judith feels trapped in a political marriage and considers Aethelwulf to be something of a dullard. She becomes fascinated with the monk Athelstan and has an affair and illegitimate child by him (Alfred), a child which Ecbert fawns over and seemingly expects Aethelwulf to accept as his own, even in the face of Judith's lack of remorse. Despite his jealousy and rage (feelings which he attempts to violently repress, even through such fervent religious means as self-flagellation) Aethelwulf tries to remain outwardly calm and upstanding in the face of public humiliation. However, their relationship continues to decay as their public interactions become cooler and more stilted, while in private he repeatedly loses control over his emotions, occasionally to the point of vicious outbursts. Judith allies herself with Ecbert for protection, which the manipulative king is all to happy to provide... for a price.
Despite him having previously rebuffed her advances (and her threatening of his life) Aethelwulf and Kwenthrith bond and eventually become lovers after he risks his life rescuing her and her son from rebel forces in Mercia and leading them back through the northern winter to safety in Wessex.
- Aethelwulf, prior to becoming King of Wessex, would conquer the kingdom of Kent on behalf of his father, who would grant him the kingship over the country, beginning a tradition by West Saxon kings to make their heirs kings of Kent in preparation for their future rule over the whole realm of Wessex.
- Aethelwulf means "Noble Wolf" in Old English. It is the root of German "Adolf", Old High German "Adalwolf", French "Adolphe", Italian "Adolfo", and Latin "Adolphus". It is also rendered "Eadulf" and "Eadwulf".
- During his own reign as King of Wessex, Aethelwulf would go on a pilgrimage to Rome with his youngest son, Alfred. Historians living centuries later would claim that during their visit, the Pope would invest Alfred as the future king of Wessex, though in reality, the then seven-year old Alfred was merely made an honorary consul by Pope Leo IV.
- Historically, Judith was Aethelwulf's second wife, his first wife being a West Saxon noblewomen named Osburh, whom, according to the Life of King Alfred by Bishop Asser, was the mother to all of Aethelwulf's children, including Alfred the Great himself.
- What's more, Judith was a daughter of the Carolingian King Charles the Bald of Francia, not the Northumbrian King Aella. Also, the marriage of Aethelwulf and Judith took place in year 858 AD, nineteen years into his own reign as (Ecbert died in 839) and fifty-eight years later than depicted in the series.
- Historically, Aethelwulf was succeeded to the throne by four of his sons successively. The youngest and last of his sons to become king was Alfred the Great.
- Aethelwulf's death and the manner in which it occurred was widely criticized by both fans and critics, with many claiming that it was rushed and abrupt.
|Season two appearances|
|Brother's War||Invasion||Treachery||Eye For an Eye||Answers in Blood|
|Unforgiven||Blood Eagle||Boneless||The Choice||The Lord's Prayer|
|Season three appearances|
|Mercenary||The Wanderer||Warrior's Fate||Scarred||The Usurper|
|Born Again||Paris||To the Gates!||Breaking Point||The Dead|
|Season four appearances|
|A Good Treason||Kill the Queen||Mercy||Yol||Promised|
|What Might Have Been||The Profit and the Loss||Portage||Death All 'Round||The Last Ship|
|The Outsider||The Vision||Two Journeys||In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning||All His Angels|
|Crossings||The Great Army||Revenge||On the Eve||The Reckoning|
|Season five appearances|
|The Departed Part 1||The Departed Part 2||Homeland||The Plan||The Prisoner|
|The Message||Full Moon||The Joke||A Simple Story||Moments of Vision|
|The Revelation||Murder Most Foul||A New God||The Lost Moment||Hell|
|The Buddha||The Most Terrible Thing||Baldur||What Happens in the Cave||Ragnarok|