"I am Æthelwold, son of King Æthelred, and rightful King of Wessex. Alfred stole my crown."
— Æthelwold, to GuthrumÆthelwold is King Æthelred's son, and Alfred's nephew.
His own father considers him an unsuitable heir, because of his debauchery and youthful lack of concern for the kingdom's business.
After King Æthelred is mortally wounded in battle, the Witan chooses Alfred as his succesor, resulting in Æthelwold's humiliation, and longing to reclaim what he considers his birthright.
Aethelwold is a complex character, self-serving but self-loathing, able to display ridiculous, almost comical self-importance, as well as acute and candid self-awareness. For one, he is quite aware that many people perceive him as a lightweight and a buffoon, a role he often makes light of and even embraces and plays with.
For instance, when he is made to grovel before Alfred, he uses the occasion to stir the crowd into laughing, ridiculing the punishment as well as himself, thus indirectly shaming Alfred, and gaining Uhtred's favour in the process, for, although Aethelwold does harbour great pride, he is not one bit hindered by it, keeping his eye on the big picture.
Having led a sheltered youth, he is quite immature, petulent and generally cowardly, though he occasionally shows surprising bravoury, being a man with a wounded ego, little to lose, and a lot to prove (though, in Uhtred's own words, he is "as much a warrior as he is a king.")
Though not in-your-face charismatic, Aethelwold has a way with words, and a sarcastic (oftentimes self-deprecating,) sense of humour. Having received a kingly education, he is well-versed in geography and politics.
Manipulative, he is considerably smarter than meets the eye, and has an eye for people's character, motivations, weaknesses and wounds, which he will often wield to turn them into allies of circumstance (though he will often switch sides and throw old allies under the bus if he finds himself in a predicament or sees a new opportunity to seize.)
With no land or army to call his own, he is not the most eloquent public speaker, and prefers to work behind the scenes, often presenting his arguments in a downplayed, matter-of-fact manner (though he is perfectly aware of their insidiously persuasive effect.)
Despite his desire for the throne and growing resentment towards Alfred for inheriting it, he is very aware of his uncle's intellectual might and worth as a leader, and harbours great admiration and even love for him, feelings with which he struggles as he tries to find the right path for himself.
Though he shows considerable personal growth throughout Seasons 1 and 2, and a genuine intent to prove his worth off the royal path, both to himself and to his friends, he is regularly tempted astray, and grows more bitter and reckless as he grows older, particularly as the young Edward is groomed to become Alfred's heir, which only rubs salt in Aethelwold's wounded pride.
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