Æthelflæd

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For other people named Æthelflæd, see Æthelflæd (disambiguation).
Æthelflæd
Æthelflæd as depicted in the cartulary of Abingdon Abbey.png
Æthelflæd (from The Cartulary and Customs of Abingdon Abbey, ca 1220).
Lady of the Mercians
Reign 911 - 918 AD
Predecessor Æthelred
Successor Ælfwynn
Consort Æthelred
Issue Ælfwynn
House House of Wessex (by birth)
Father Alfred the Great
Mother Ealhswith
Born c. 870
Died 12 June 918
Tamworth, Staffordshire
Burial St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, (d. 12 June 918) ruled Mercia from 911 to her death in 918. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and his queen, Ealhswith. Æthelflæd was born at the height of the Viking invasions of England. Her father married her to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. After his death in 911, she ruled; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to her as the Myrcna hlæfdige, "Lady of the Mercians".

Early life[edit]

Ethelflaed was according to Asser the first born child of Alfred the Great and his Mercian queen Ealhswith[1] who was a descendant of king Coenwulf of Mercia through her own mother Eadburh. Ethelflaed's date of birth is not known but it was probably sometime between the marriage of her parents in 868 and birth of her brother Edward the Elder, whose own date of birth is not known but presumably took place before 878.

Alfred was the fifth son of king Ethelwulf and was never expected to become king. However by 865 three of his brothers had died and Ethelred, the only other one still alive, was King of Wessex. Soon afterwards in the same year a great Viking army arrived and wreaked havoc in much of England. It would be the start of a long period of war between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons which lasted many battles until after the Battle of Edington in 878 in which Alfred was king and commander.

Lady of the Mercians[edit]

The Five Boroughs and the English Midlands in the early 10th century[2]

Æthelflaed was already married to Æthelred, then ealdorman of Mercia.[3] Æthelred and Æthelflæd are recorded as having had one daughter, Ælfwynn. Æthelstan, the son of Edward the Elder and the grandson of Alfred, was brought up in their court.[4]

Near the end of the reign of Alfred the Great, Æthelred and Æthelflæd were requested by Werferth, the Bishop of Worcester, to fortify the town, in return for which they shared the rents and other profits which had belonged to the bishop.[5]

Æthelflæd established garrisons in Hereford and Gloucester before 914 and repaired the old walls of Chester in 907.[6] In 910 she built her first fortress; since her husband took no part in the campaign against the Danes, some scholars suggest that she was the real leader of the Mercian people.

On her husband's death in 911 after the Battle of Tettenhall, she was recognised as the "Lady of the Mercians". This was not a purely honorific title; Æthelflæd was a formidable military leader and tactician and ruled for eight years.[7] Upon succeeding her husband, she began to plan and build a series of fortresses in English Mercia, ten of which can be identified: Bridgnorth (912); Tamworth (913); Stafford (913); Eddisbury (914); Warwick (914); Chirbury (915); Runcorn (915). Three other fortresses, at Bremesburh, Scergeat and Weardbyrig, have yet to be located.[8]

Æthelflæd allied herself to her brother Edward the Elder, king over much of England. Historian Sir Frank Stenton said that Edward was able to achieve "the outstanding feature of his reign", the move against the occupying Danes in the south of England, due to being able to rely upon Æthelflæd.[9]

In 916 she led an expedition into Wales to avenge the murder of a Mercian abbot, and succeeded in capturing the wife of the king of Brycheiniog.[10] Edward the Elder issued coinage with novel reverses of extraordinary designs, and it is speculated[by whom?] that this series of coinage was for circulation in the part of Mercia under the rule of Edward and his sister, with the design of the coinage perhaps showing the influence of Æthelflæd.

Death and legacy[edit]

Statue in Tamworth of Æthelflæd with her nephew Æthelstan

In 918, the people of the region around York promised to pledge their loyalty to Æthelflæd, probably in order to secure her support against Norse raiders from Ireland, but she died on 12 June 918, less than two weeks before the city was able to pay homage to her.[11] She was succeeded as Lady of the Mercians by her daughter, Ælfwynn, but six months later Edward deposed her and took Mercia under his personal control.

According to the Parker Chronicle (Manuscript A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), which was strongly sympathetic to Edward, "all the people in the land of the Mercians who had been subject to Æthelflæd turned to him; and the kings among the Welsh, Hywel and Clydog and Idwal, and all the Welsh people sought to have him as their lord". Hywel Dda was king of Dyfed in south-west Wales, Clydog ap Cadell probably king of Powys in the north-east, and Idwal ab Anarawd king of Gwynedd in the north-west. Gwent in south-east Wales was already under West Saxon lordship, but in the view of historian T. M. Charles-Edwards this passage shows that the other Welsh kingdoms were under Mercian lordship until Edward took direct power by deposing Ælfwynn.[12]

Æthelflæd died at Tamworth, Staffordshire and was buried with her husband in St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester, which they had established. A statue of her was erected outside Tamworth Castle in 1913 to commemorate the millennium of her construction of the burh of Tamworth.[13]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Cook, Asser's Life of Alfred, pp. 37–38.
  2. ^ Falkus & Gillingham and Hill
  3. ^ Cook, Asser's Life of Alfred, p. 37.
  4. ^ Wood, In Search of England, p. 158.
  5. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 529.
  6. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 326.
  7. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 324.
  8. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 326–7.
  9. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 324.
  10. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 327.
  11. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 329.
  12. ^ Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, pp. 495–499, 504
  13. ^ "Tamworth dateline - a chronological history". Friends of Tamworth Castle. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 

References[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Costambeys, Marios (2004). Æthelflæd (d. 918), in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  • Heighway, C. and Bryant R. (1999). The Golden Minster. 
  • Keynes, Simon (1999). "England, c.900–1016". In Reuter, Timothy. The New Cambridge Medieval History III. Cambridge University Press. pp. 456–484. ISBN 0-521-36447-7. 
  • Keynes, Simon (1998). "King Alfred and the Mercians". In Blackburn, M.A.S.; Dumville, D.N. Kings, Currency and Alliances: History and Coinage of Southern England in the Ninth Century. ISBN 978-0-85115-598-2. 
  • Lacey, Robert (2007). Great Tales from English History. Abacus. 
  • Meijns, Brigitte (2010). "The Policy on Relic Translations of Baldwin II of Flanders (879–918), Edward of Wessex (899–924) and Æthelflæd of Mercia (d. 924)". In Rollason, David; Leyser, Conrad; Williams, Hannah. England and the Continent in the Tenth Century:Studies in Honour of Wilhelm Levison (1876–1947). Brepols. ISBN 978-2-503-53208-0. 
  • Justin Pollard. Alfred the Great: the Man Who Made England (2005)
  • Don Stansbury. The Lady Who Fought Vikings (1993)
  • Szarmach, Paul R. (1998). "Æðelflæd of Mercia, mise en page". In Baker, Peter S; Howe, Nicholas. Words and works: studies in medieval English language and literature in honour of Fred C. Robinson. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. pp. 105–26. ISBN 0-8020-4153-1. 
  • Stafford, Pauline (2007). "'The Annals of Æthelflæd': Annals, History and Politics in Early Tenth-Century England". In Barrow, Julia; Wareham, Andrew. Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters. Ashgate. pp. 101–116. ISBN 978-0-7546-5120-8. 
  • Wainwright, F. T. (1975). "Aethelflæd, Lady of the Mercians". Scandinavian England: Collected Papers. Phillimore. pp. 305–324. ISBN 0-900592-65-6.