194 – My Big Fat Dark Age Wedding

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)


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.

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  1. Your pronunciation of “regina” is starting to irritate me. In Latin, or at least the Classical Latin that I studied, the letter “g” is always hard an the letter “i” never “says its name” but sounds more like what we call the letter “e.”

    1. Sorry if it bothers you, Jon, but that’s one of the ways it’s pronounced. And for proof that I’m not the only person who says it like this, here’s a youtube of the pronunciation guide.


      Frankly, I’m finding it a bit frustrating that I have listeners who only bother to comment on the show when they want to complain that I don’t share their exact same accent. It’s a big world, guys. People have accents.

  2. I really enjoyed this episode. I was curious about Judith’s fate. It was heartening to learn that you decided to go the extra distance to give us the fate of this queen teen. Being a hopeless Romantic, I do hope that her and Baldwin did have some happiness. Did you have a special written Chronicler to
    Refer to or someone who is an expert in this period of Francia’s history to text to ?
    Keep up the good work

    1. Unfortunately, because I don’t speak French or Latin, I was forced to rely on a variety of secondary sources (so books, articles, etc) that interpreted the various annals and other documents for much of the Baldwin/Judith portion of this episode. I prefer to work from both primary and secondary sources for episodes, but the language barrier can be a problem for some of the sources. Especially when dealing with stuff that’s not widely available in a commonly accepted English translation. So at times like that, I just have to use secondary sources and hope they are as rigorous with their research and fact checking as I am.

  3. Never mind us, Jamie. You’re awesome. We have nothing much of value to add, so…trolls. Really, you told the story of Judith beautifully. Thank you!

    1. Thanks. I’m honestly not so much fussed as I am baffled that comments regarding my accent are the second most common complaint I get.

      The /most/ common complaint being, of course, that I talk about women… and apparently old men find that gross, disturbing, and pointless. Which is funny, because I find the old men who make those complaints to be gross, disturbing, and pointless. ;)

      1. I’m gross, disturbing and pointless, and I rather enjoy the focus on women in this show. If they want to learn about the dudes, they can get their own history podcast.

  4. I’m not asking this question to be gross or lewd or anything, but just out of curiosity – would the new king Aethelbald have consummated his marriage to Judith, and is there any evidence that his subjects or others would have suspected that he did? Naturally, having an heir would be a plus, but the Old Testament definitely prohibits going to bed with your stepmother.

    Great podcast. Your weekly shows are definitely a big help in my grinding life of law school hell.

    1. It’s really hard to say. It’s possible that he never touched her and the marriage was purely political, due to the fact that she was his step mum. They didn’t have any children, which is suggestive, however… who knows.

  5. Great episode. Really appreciated the Judith tangent – I wanted to know whether she landed on her feet. I know it’s not the History of Francia Podcast, but that was a really fascinating glimpse over the water. I trust we’re going to hear more from Ivar The Boneless? I like the sound of that dude.

  6. Jamie you are a good storyteller. Judith’s story was certainly interesting enough on her own, but to conclude with her marriage to Baldwin whose family in later generations are major figures in the crusades, and one of their progeny several generations down the road marries William the bastard, I mean conqueror brought it to a much higher level for those of us who didn’t already know this. A lesser teller would have began the story with Aethelwolf came back from France with a child bride who would produce in a line of generations Queen Matilda. Not the same effect. Well done, and as always thankyou

  7. While I am loving the podcast, I am more excited about us being only 600+ years away from the beginning of some of the causes of the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, and the rise of OLIVER THE GREAT!!

    Roundhead, Roundhead
    Where you been?
    Beating up Royalists
    Ireland and Scotland again. :)

  8. Dear Jamie,

    I love your podcast! And I am very grateful that you continue to tell the Story of great women. This Episode about Judith was amazing and it made me really happy for her.
    Thank you for your hard Work and interesting, fun and informative podcast.

    Ps: Regina rhymes with vagina, and I’m down with that! Not to Sound gross, as a vagina owner, I’m cool with parts of my Body rhyming with Queen.

    greetings from germany!

  9. Hi Jamie,

    I’m a little behind on my podcasts, but I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed your telling of the story of Judith, and would love to read more about her. Do you have any sources of more information about her that you would recommend? (you said you can’t read the primary, so secondary is fine — just something more than what’s on wikipedia!) Thanks much!

    1. It was pieced together through a patchwork of articles (a lot of which I had to rely on translations of, which made me nervous, but it’s the best I could do with what was available). I wish I had a book or a unified source I could point you to (and I wish I had one when putting it together) but I couldn’t find one.

  10. I’ve started listening about a month ago and have just gotten this far. Never expected to shed a little happy tear over a history podcast. This story definitely made my day!

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