The most notable event in Æthelwulf's reign was his second marriage. His first was to one Osburh, who bore him several sons, among them Alfred the Great. When Alfred was seven, his father took him on a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way they stopped by Charles of France's place, and again on their way back. On the second visit, Æthelwulf married Charles's twelve year old daughter, Judith. Once back in England, Osburh faded out of the picture and Æthelwulf was free to devote his besotted attention entirely on Judith. He insisted on having her crowned Queen, and this was done. To us this seems only fair and natural, but Judith was, as it happens, the first woman crowned queen of England.

Crowning the wife of the king and granting the title queen was in fact illegal. The law went back to the time of Beorhtric, king of Wessex immediately before Egbert. Beorhtric's wife, Eadburga, took dislikes to people. These dislikes she carried to the king, and usually he would punish them according to her desires. Those whom he did not punish, Eadburga poisoned. It happened that Beorhtric accidentally drank one of Eadburga's concoctions, leading to Egbert's accession and Eadburga's utter disgrace. She sought sanctuary with Charlemagne, but legend has it that when he asked her to choose between himself and his son for a husband, Eadburga unwisely, but candidly at least, chose the son, as he was younger, upon which Charlemagne would have no more to do with her. As he married five times, Henry VIII-style, one would think he would have had his fill, but apparently not. As punishment, Charlemagne placed Eadburga in a convent, from which she was speedily kicked out for what the authors delicately call indecent behaviour. She died begging for her bread on the streets of Paris, her legacy being a new rule, that in memory of her, no other woman would ever be called Queen. Even the crowning of Judith, however, only modified this rule; for hundreds of years afterwards a queen consort could only be named as such if the king so desired, although it seems not to have occured to any king to deny the title. Interestingly, however, prince consorts also could only be named such by the Queen's will, and both Queen Victoria (unbelievably) and Queen Elizabeth II waited a bit before conferring that title on their husbands.