Alfred the Great
A statue of Alfred the Great in WinchesterOdejea via Wikimedia Commons

England's royal lineage has been called into question after a haul of coins, dating back to the Viking era and discovered by an amateur metal detectorist, apparently shows how Alfred the Great wiped the name of a rival king from Anglo-Saxon history. The king in question is said to be Ceolwulf II of Mercia, who is barely mentioned in the history books but was in fact the last king of an independent Mercia until 879.

Ceolwulf was described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as being an "unwise King's thane". However, newly-discovered coins unearthed 1,000 years later suggest that Ceolwulf's importance has been grossly downplayed and that he and Alfred the Great ruled their respective kingdoms as equals.

According to the Telegraph, 186 coins – which date back to the late 870s – were discovered, along with seven pieces of jewellery and 15 ingots. The cache was discovered by James Mather in a field in Watlington, Oxfordshire. Two of the coins show two figures thought to be king of Wessex Alfred and Ceolwulf.

Gareth Williams, curator of early Medieval coinage at the British Museum, said at the haul's unveiling: "There is a more complex political picture in the 870s which was deliberately misrepresented in the 890s after Alfred had taken over the whole of Ceolwulf's kingdom.

"Perhaps we should be thinking more of Stalin and Trotsky, with Ceolwulf being airbrushed out of history because he's no longer convenient. That, of course, gives a very different picture of history of Alfred the great national hero, defeating the Vikings."

Two of the same type of coins were previously found in each kingdom, which led experts to believe that they were on-off mints. However, the haul shows that they were far more common than previously thought.

"It sheds new light on a very poorly understood period in English history," Williams is quoted by the Telegraph as saying. "Poor Ceolwulf gets a very bad press in Anglo-Saxon history, because the only accounts we have of his reign come from the latter part of Alfred's reign.

"What we can now see emerging from his hoard is that this was a more sustained alliance with extensive coinage and lasting for some years."