Osburh or Osburga was the first wife of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and mother of Alfred the Great. Alfred's biographer, Asser, described her as "a most religious woman, noble in character and noble by birth".[1]

Osburh's existence is known only from Asser's Life of King Alfred. She is not named as witness to any charters, nor is her death reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. So far as is known, she was the mother of all Æthelwulf's children, his five sons Æthelstan, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, Æthelred and Alfred the Great, and his daughter Æthelswith, wife of King Burgred of Mercia.

The Boyhood of Alfred the Great (1913).jpg

She is best known for Asser's story about a book of Saxon songs which she showed to Alfred and his brothers, offering to give the book to whoever could first memorise it, a challenge which Alfred took up and won. This exhibits the interest of high status ninth-century women in books, and their role in educating their children.[2]

Osburh was the daughter of Oslac (who is also only known from Asser's Life), King Æthelwulf's pincerna (butler), an important figure in the royal court and household.[3] Oslac is described as a descendant of King Cerdic's Jutish nephews, Stuf and Wihtgar, who conquered the Isle of Wight.[4] and, by this, is also ascribed Geatish/Gothic ancestry.


Name Birth Death Notes
Æthelstan 851–855
Æthelswith 888 Married, Burgred of Mercia; no issue
Æthelbald 20 December 860 Married, Judith
Æthelbert Autumn 865
Æthelred c.847 23 April 871 Had issue
Alfred 849 26 October 899 Married 868, Ealhswith; had issue
Judith Married Ethico, Count of Altorf[5]

See also


  1. ^ Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge eds, Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources, London, Penguin Classics, 1983, p. 68
  2. ^ Janet L. Nelson, Osburh, 2004, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography In Nelson's view, Osburh may have been dead by 856 or may have been repudiated.
  3. ^ Keynes and Lapidge, pp. 68, 229.
  4. ^ Asser states that Oslac was a Goth, but this is regarded by historians as an error as Stuf and Wightgar were Jutes. Keynes and Lapidge pp. 229-30 and Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford, Oxford UP, 3rd edition 1971, p. 23-4
  5. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=cCBkAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA43&lpg=PA43&dq=Judith+married+Ethico,+count+of+altorf&source=bl&ots=o_f1hjgvtX&sig=xRsbsYx-iUOAUTqC58yFAZbUJCQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiui53z67_ZAhVX-2MKHYvODkEQ6AEIODAC


External links