King AEthelbald of Wessex, Queen Judith, Bjorn Ironsides, Prince Alfred, King Charles the Bald, Pope Nicholas I, Baldwin Iron Arm, Ivar the Boneless… this episode has it all!
(History of Britain, History of England, History of Wessex, French History, Vikings, Roman History)
NOTE ON RESEARCH
I get a lot of questions about this episode asking for more detail on where it comes from and where to find more information. Answering that question is a bit difficult because it came from all over the place. I think I first heard of it from either Stenton or Justin Pollard. Regardless, as I recall (now well over a year after the fact) it was Pollard who had the most concise version I’d seen and that was who got me to start digging. Being that I knew he is a pop historian, I turned to more solid academic sources in order to verify the account. As I recall I looked to Abels and (maybe) DP Kirby for support. Also, I think I might have turned to Barbara Yorke on that one too. I turn to her on a lot of things.
As I was digging, though, I ran into a pretty big barrier. Not all sources are translated into English, and not all translated sources are publicly released. That leaves me somewhat hamstrung on esoteric stories (and this one is esoteric as hell). Now Pollard’s description matched with the documents I could get my hands on, and it also matched with the academic articles I was able to access. Moreover, those articles also included additional details, like Iron Arm’s likely aggressive posture throughout the whole situation. But because some of the items referenced materials that were in France and didn’t appear to have an English translation available online or in libraries, there were portions I just had to take on faith and trust Pollard and other academic articles had better access to sources than I did.
So unfortunately, one of my favorite episodes from a storytelling perspective, is also one of my least favorite on the research level because I had to trust secondary sources far more than I’m accustomed with. Furthermore, because I was unable to find any other succinct compilations of this story written in English, I don’t have any books I can recommend you turn to for more information. This episode was literally everything I could find on her.
JSTOR can be a good resource, and if you have access to a good academic library you can do some research. But I fear that you’ll find, just as I did, that you can see glimpses of her in articles (articles that are often focusing on something else) but she’s a rather murky figure and there really isn’t much of anything directly focusing on her.
But I thought that it’s important that you know this before listening to the episode on Judith because it’s important to know where information comes from.
Here we are in 858 and everything has changed in Wessex. King AEthelbald has ascended to the throne and has married his father’s widow in an attempt to solidify his hold on power, and also avoid the awkwardness that could have come from Judith contesting him for the throne, which was a very real possibility. She was a consecrated queen, after all, and she witnessed charters as “regina” and of course she was the great grand-daughter of Charlemagne. If you were AEthelbald, you’d likely be thinking it was best to just nip that in the bud.