Beorhtric of Wessex

King of Wessex
Reign 786 — 802
Born unknown
Wessex, England
Died 802
Buried Wareham
Married Eadburh, daughter of Offa, king of Mercia
Parents unknown

Beorhtric (died 802) was the King of Wessex from 786 until his death.

In 786, Cynewulf, king of Wessex, was killed by the exiled noble Cyneheard, brother of the former King Sigeberht. Beorhtric was supported by Offa, king of the Mercians against Egbert. It is not entirely clear why Offa intervened in Beorhtric's favour, though it seems likely that the opportunity to influence West Saxon politics, and thus preserve the Mercian Ascendancy were important factors. Additionally, it is suggested that Egbert was a descendant of the Kentish dynasty that, under Ealhmund, had rebelled against Offa's rule and beaten him at the battle of Otford.

To an extent, Beorhtric seems to have been subject to Offa's authority. In 787, he held the Synod of Chelsea jointly with Offa, and in 789 he married one of Offa's daughters, Eadburh. Land that had traditionally been on the borders of Mercian and Wessex were administered by the Mercian court, as is seen in Charters of Offa, and his son Ecgfrith. West Saxons seem to have used Offa's currency: a recent survey of early medieval single coin finds reveals a trail of Offa pennies running from the Upper Thames to Wareham, a site connected with Beorhtric.

It was during Beorhtric's reign that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the first Viking raids on England occurred. In 789, they landed on the Dorset coast, near the Isle of Portland, where they killed a royal official, the shire reeve.

After Offa's death in 796, Mercian power over England was weakened, and Beorhtric may have exercised more independence during this period. The only two West Saxon coins to have survived from Beorhtric's reign were produced at this time, suggesting that he had established a new mint. Within a few years Offa's successor, Coenwulf, had restored Mercia's position, and after 799, Beorhtric's relationship with the Mercians seems to have been largely similar to the situation before Offa's death.

In later years Asser, a scholar at Alfred the Great's court, recorded the story that Beorhtric had died from being accidentally poisoned by his wife, Eadburh. She fled to a nunnery in Francia, from which she was later ejected after being found with a man. The provenance of this story is dubious. Asser, as a Welshman was the inheritor of an ancestral hostility towards Mercians.

Preceded by:
King of Wessex
786 — 802
Succeeded by:

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