It has been suggested that the Danish occupation of Repton was quite
possibly aided by Burgred's political opponent, Ceolwulf II, of whom the
Wessex propaganda machine – (ASC) had written– 'a foolish King's
"He swore them oaths and gave hostages, so that it would
be ready for them on whatever day they would have it, and he himself
ready, and all those who would follow him at the force's need."
It is easy to see Ceolwulf as a latter-day quisling only interested in
feathering his own nest. After all, a Viking army was stationed in the
heart of the kingdom and was raiding monasteries and plundering the rich
lands with no sign of redress.
The blood of kings
There is the distinct probability however, that far from being a
Viking puppet, Ceolwulf II did indeed have the blood of kings in his
It seems likely that he was a direct descendent of Ceolwulf I and
Coenwulf (of the rival 'C' Dynasty). It is also a possibility that those
Mercians who supported him had promoted him, at Burgred's defection,
rather than suffer a king appointed by the Vikings.
Another possibility is that the Mercians themselves toppled Burgred,
with whom they had become disaffected, to promote his political rival,
Ceolwulf; the Vikings being a mere catalyst to events. This suggests that
the Mercians retained at least some control.
Certain areas to the south and west lay beyond Viking reach, which
provided some grounds for hope that the kingdom may survive. By working
with the Vikings, Ceolwulf II may just have preserved a rump of Mercian
independence. Perhaps less of a quisling, more a Marshall Pétain. Ceolwulf
and his bishops perhaps should be regarded as having accepted office to
save their people from worse miseries, rather than as a bunch of
Friendship with Wessex
[It has also been suggested that the later similarities of design in
the coinage of Alfred and Ceolwulf II is evidence of a similar
relationship to that of Burgred and Alfred's predecessors, indicating that
the two kings were allies. Thus the so-called 'two emperors' and 'cross
and lozenge' coinages were minted in the names of both kings, and it is
certainly true that Ceolwulf was recognised as the legitimate ruler of
The derogatory and vitriolic tone of the pro-Wessex Chronicle
might suggest that Ceolwulf II was not regarded as a friend of Wessex, and
it has therefore also been mooted that the likelihood is that joint
coinage and design similarities were introduced to ease trade and the
process of exchange (to wit the euro!)
However, the fact that the two kings used the same moneyers would
militate against this latter interpretation.
A similar design exists for Halfdan of Danish Northumbria, and by no
stretch of the imagination could he be regarded as a friend to
Anglo-Saxons; he was attempting to gain some trade advantage by mimicking
the coins of his English neighbours. In this case it was just such a
Ceolwulf extended his control over southern Mercia, the Vikings clung
on to the north. Nobody knows now exactly where the border was.
Ceolwulf ruled for five years, in alliance with Alfred, but seems to
have died around 879. Subsequently, Alfred's historians partially re-wrote
history to justify the supremacy of Wessex over the Midlands.
Alfred's son-in-law Æthelred undoubtedly ruled Mercia but seems not to
have taken the title of king. On his death, his wife (Alfred's daughter)
Æthelflæd was termed 'Lady of The Mercians', and she did much to preserve
a vestige of Mercian independence. She died in 918.
Many commentators view this point as that which marks the beginning of
an 'English Kingdom' and the end of independent Wessex and Mercia.
However, things were not as simple.
The people wanted to keep their independence whilst retaining the
alliance with Wessex. Therefore, Æthelflæd was succeeded by her daughter,
Ælfwynn, as 'Lady of the Mercians', although her uncle, Edward the Elder
of Wessex no doubt exerted considerable influence.
Ælfwynn, though, was not her mother and although circumstances were
similar to when Æthelflæd assumed power in 911, they were not the same,
and the inexperience of the young Ælfwynn was soon demonstrated and her
reign foundered. She remained for six months before she was deposed by
Edward, who ruled Mercia directly.
The Mercian nobility were acutely aware of the ever-present threat of
Vikings on their borders, and the alliance with Wessex was essential to
the preservation of their kingdom. Ælfwynn had proved unsuitable as their
leader in such difficult times, so they accepted and encouraged the albeit
temporary rule of Edward.
It was understood that the succession would pass to Athelstan whilst
Edward's elder son, Ælfweard would ascend the throne of Wessex. Edward was
therefore not the first king of a united England, but rather the king of
two independent kingdoms – a situation that didn't really begin to be
resolved until the accession of Æthelred II.