King Aethelwulf (Old English for "Noble Wolf") is 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, Aethelwulf succeeded his father as King shortly before Ecbert's death.
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. However, at the same time he possesses a violent temper that is 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.
- 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.
|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|