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Warriors don't show their heart until the axe reveals it.
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I would sup with the devil if he would show me how to achieve my earthly goals.

–King Ecbert

King Ecbert Ealhmunding was the worldly and ambitious King of Wessex and Mercia. He developed a strong respect for his new foe and sometimes ally Ragnar Lothbrok.

Biography

Early Life

Ecbert spent his formative years in the court of Frankish Emperor Charlemagne.

Season 2

King Ecbert saves Athelstan from being crucified for apostasy. He regards Athelstan as a kindred spirit. He puts the monk in charge of his treasury of ancient Roman relics and documents left over from Rome's domination of Britain centuries prior. From the scrolls, Athelstan conveys to Ecbert detailed accounts of the battlefield strategies of the Roman legions. Having delved into the military mind of Caesar, King Ecbert puts his new knowledge to the test when confronting the large group of raiding Vikings being led by Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha, and King Horik. With his new ally King Ælle of Northumbria, Ecbert ambushes the advancing Viking Army with a multi-pronged attack that includes both mounted cavalry and infantry. Confounded by Ecbert's tactics, and taking heavy losses as they are assailed from all sides, the Vikings are forced to fight their way out of the trap and into a headlong retreat. King Ecbert's victory is decisive, and in the aftermath, King Ælle expresses surprise at Ecbert's skill as a tactician and strategist. When Ælle suggests finishing off the Northmen, Ecbert demonstrates his keener political acumen, responding that more might be gained by negotiating a truce. Additionally, Ragnar's brother Rollo has been wounded and captured during the battle, and Ecbert recognizes that Rollo is an important and potentially useful captive.

Rollo's release is part of the deal struck between Ecbert and Ragnar. The deal also granted the Northmen five thousand acres of good farming land in East Anglia and a quantity of gold and silver. In return, Ecbert is able to recruit a contingent of Viking warriors to fight as mercenaries for Princess Kwenthrith in her campaign to become Queen of Mercia.

Season 3

When the Vikings return to England, they sup with King Ecbert with whom they are now amicable. Ecbert takes this opportunity to elaborate on the conditions of their deal. He tells the Vikings that they must now fight to return Kwenthrith to the throne of Mercia as a show of good faith. Lagertha and Athelstan stay behind to begin work on the settlement on the lands given by King Ecbert while Ragnar, Æthelwulf, and the rest go to fight for Mercia.

Athelstan has begun a liaison with Judith, which King Ecbert deliberately ignores, hoping that the relationship will make Athelstan want to stay in Wessex. In the meantime, he has been sleeping with Lagertha and showering her with gifts. But when he broaches the subject of her staying with him instead of going back to her earldom, she tells him that she had fun with him but that she knows he only cares for himself.

Season 4

When Queen Kwenthrith is the victim of a rebellion, Ecbert sends his son to protect her and to promise to help her to regain her kingdom. When Kwenthrith learns that Ecbert wants to take over Mercia for himself, she kills Waerferth, one of his men and tries to kill him, but dies because of Judith. Ecbert betrays King Ælle, his ally, becoming the King of Mercia. Later, Æthelwulf warns him that Ragnar has returned. He assures his son, as well as Judith, that Ragnar is just one man. When Ecbert learns that Ragnar is captured, he returns to his castle. He is furious at his son, seeing Ragnar in a dungeon. Ragnar is placed in the big room and he and Ecbert share a moment. Initially, Ragnar is still in his cage but Ecbert frees him, he thinks that Ragnar will kill him but Ragnar demands him to kill him. Ecbert refuses, then they speak faults committed by each other. We see the respect and admiration that Ragnar and Ecbert have one for the other, during their exchange, and mostly Athelstan misses them.

Ragnar demands Ecbert to kill him but he refuses again, because Ecbert can't bring himself to kill the only person who ever really understood him. Finally, Ecbert learns that Ragnar's strategy is to be killed then his son would come to avenge him. He wants to be delivered to King Ælle and blame him for his death. Ragnar promises that his sons will not attack Wessex. Ecbert accepts and promises Ragnar he will spare Ivar. Ecbert is in tears throughout almost this entire interaction as he steels himself for what must be done. Ecbert sneaks out of his villa and attends Ragnar's execution. He is horrified at how Ragnar is being killed. After Ragnar's death by the hand of King Ælle, Ecbert loses reason and the will to live.

He demands that his son fight the Great Heathen Army commanded by Ragnar's sons, but Æthelwulf's army is defeated. However, King Ecbert had a plan and demands Bishop Edmund to crown Æthelwulf as new King of Wessex and Mercia. He stays with Edmund when the city is evacuated, where he plans to trick the Vikings into a false sense of security. By making a deal with Bjorn and giving lands to the Vikings, which he is not legally able to do since he isn't king anymore, King Ecbert hopes to stall the Vikings long enough for his family and people to evacuate, forcing the Vikings to retreat and protect the lands they believe to be theirs by "legal" right. In exchange for this, King Ecbert requests that he choose his own death, thereby stealing the satisfaction of his death from the avenging brothers. Edmund is killed by Hvitserk and after having left lands to Ragnar's sons, Ecbert commits suicide in his bath once that Ragnar's sons have accepted the choice of his death.

Personality

King Ecbert is cold and calculating, but poses as friendly, understanding, and trustworthy. His true personality is one of ambitious, selfishness, and unscrupulous behavior. He is cares about no one beyond himself and is willing to sacrifice everyone and everything, including his only son Æthelwulf, to achieve his goals. His after-the-fact justification for the massacre of the Danish settlement is that it was “the right idea at the wrong time.” He uses his son to pull off a master plot to rid himself of the pagan settlement and pin it on the nobles who had questioned his rule in order to eliminate them. He has no respect for his fellow Saxon rulers, such as Ælle and Kwenthrith, plotting behind their backs to steal their kingdoms while claiming friendship and alliance to their faces. Like Ragnar, Ecbert is a man of great ambition and cunning, who has dreams of greater glory for his people. Athelstan notes that the two have much in common. When Ecbert says that “he’d sup with the devil to achieve his earthly goals” he isn’t exaggerating one bit. Meanwhile, Ecbert is the opposite of Ælle. He is calm, understated, and serene in contrast to Ælle’s more openly bloodthirsty and loud personality.

King Ecbert actively seeks to preserve the writings and the legacy of the Romans. He expresses great admiration for the achievements of the Romans and owns various pieces of their artwork. All his life he tried to be a Roman emperor, reading their manuscripts for strategy, surrounding himself with Roman art, and frequently using a Roman bath which he is quite fond of. He is often seen lounging in his bathhouse and even discussing military and political strategy in it. He may have picked up this habit from being fostered at Charlemagne’s court, as the Emperor was said to be fond of taking baths. He ends up committing suicide by cutting his wrists in his bath. Most of his fellow Anglo-Saxons believe that a race of giants inhabited Britain before them, but Ecbert understands that the “giants” were actually the Romans. He’s also aware that many of the clergymen and commoners would find his fixation on the pagan Romans to be sinful. Therefore, he only reveals his knowledge to people he can trust.

King Ecbert is widely reputed to be a formidable man. His reputation is widely known and his feared throughout England. He learned the ways of politics at the court of Charlemagne, and the ways of warfare during his conflicts with the other kingdoms of England. Ecbert frequently expresses worldviews that are ahead of his time, such as his tolerance and understanding of pagan religions. Excepting that he mercilessly has an entire pagan settlement slaughtered when their presence on his land is no longer necessary for achieving his goals. Ecbert is extremely quick to catch up with the Viking way of thinking and plans his battles and actions accordingly. Nevertheless, Ecbert is considered a great king. He is just and fair to his subjects. He listens to what Athelstan has to say, despite him being a traitor to both England and his faith. Under his reign, Wessex grows powerful, incorporating Mercia and Northumbria under Wessex rule. He orchestrates the Anglo-Saxon counter-offensive against the Vikings, and delivers some brutal defeats upon them. He delivers a complete beating to King Horik, slaughtering most of his warriors and forcing him to flee Wessex. He also defeats the Mercian Ruling Council with the assistance of Lord Wigstan, who saw Ecbert a ruler who would ensure the end of the Mercian Civil War and bring about order and prosperity.

Ecbert does seem to have a softer side for a very few people. After his wife died, he swore to never marry again, suggesting that he had genuine feelings for her. He develops real feelings of affection with Ragnar, as the two men view the other as the only one who can truly understand them. He also loves Athelstan and is devoted to him. He suffers from devastating grief at the deaths of both Athelstan and Ragnar. When he sends Ragnar to Ælle to be executed, he subjects himself to an open-footed walk along a rocky beach and it is implied that he's fasted since Ragnar's death.

Relationships

Æthelwulf

Æthelwulf has a strained relationship with his father King Ecbert. In the episode Revenge, Æthelwulf stands up to his father for the first time when he directly states that the Great Heathen Army has come for them because of Ecbert’s actions. He also finally calls out his father on his treatment of him, pointing out that Ecbert has manipulated and humiliated him all his life, forced him to adopt the son his wife had during an affair, and outright asks if Ecbert even loves him. Ecbert is unable to say he loves him. Ecbert clearly views his son as unremarkable in every way, especially when compared with the other men around him such as Ragnar and Athelstan. It was clear to Ecbert that his son lacked the intellect, strategic planning, and cunning that he had in spades. If there is a choice to be made betweenÆthelwulf and literally anyone else, Ecbert will choose the person that is not Æthelwulf. This becomes especially notable because Æthelwulf is Ecbert’s only son. Æthelwulf clearly wants his father’s love and respect and feels that he has neither. It gets to the point where Ecbert begins using his approval to manipulate Æthelwulf. One of the most painful parts of their relationship is the fact that Ecbert fawns over Alfred and seemly expects Æthelwulf to accept the boy as his own, even in the face of Judith's lack of remorse for her affair.

In History

King Ecbert's father was King Ealhmund of Kent, who was the great-grandson of Ingild, a brother of King One of Wessex. Ecbert, as heir to the throne of Kent and possessing a claim to the throne of Wessex, was forced into exile in Francia after the death of his father. Ecbert's rival, Beorhtric, gained the support of the powerful King Offa of Mercia to seize the throne of Wessex in 786 AD and Mercia asserted its dominion over Kent. Ecbert would eventually be restored as King of Kent and Wessex with the aid of Emperor Charlemagne. Though the series depicts Ecbert as already King of Wessex in the year 800 AD, Ecbert was was not crowned until 802 AD. In 825 AD, King Ecbert accepted the submission of King Sigered of Essex, who were the East Saxons, and annexed his kingdom.

Ecbert and King Ælle of Northumbria never met in real life and were not even contemporaries. Ecbert reigned from 802 until 839 AD, while Ælle is believed to have died around the year 867 AD and was only King of Northumbria for several years. The real-life contemporary King of Northumbria for Ecbert in the year 800 AD would have been King Eardwulf.

King Ecbert of Wessex was a descendant of Cerdic I, a Saxon conquerer that founded the Kingdom of Wessex. According to legend, Cerdic was descendant of Wōden, the Anglo-Saxon name for Odin. Ecbert was named Bretwalda (meaning "ruler of Britain") after he conquered the Kingdom of Mercia from King Wiglaf and received homaged from the Kingdom of Northumbria. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, created during the reign of King Alfred the Great, King Ecbert of Wessex was said to have been married Redburga with whom he had three children: Æthelwulf, Saint Eadgyth of Polesworth, and Æthelstan.

Trivia

  • The name Ecbert means "bright edge" from the Old English elements ecg, meaning "edge of a sword" and beorht meaning "bright."
  • Ecbert's name was alternately spelled as Egbert, Ecgbert, Ecgberht, or Ecgbriht.
  • There is a school in Sheffield, England named after King Ecbert (King Ecgbert School) which originally sat on two sites named Wessex and Mercia.

Gallery

Appearances

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


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