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For other people named Æthelflæd, see Æthelflæd (disambiguation).
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
Born c. 870
Died 12 June 918
Tamworth, Staffordshire
Burial St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester
Consort Æthelred
Issue Ælfwynn
House House of Wessex (by birth)
House of Mercia (by marriage)
Father Alfred the Great
Mother Ealhswith
Ruins of St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester, where Æthelflæd and Æthelred were buried

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 wife 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 as Lady of the Mercians.


Mercia was the dominant kingdom in southern England in the eighth century, and maintained its position until it suffered a decisive defeat Battle of Ellandun in 825. Thereafter the two kingdoms became allies, which was to be an important factor in English resistance to the Vikings.[1]

In 865 the Viking Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia, and used it as a starting point for an invasion. The East Anglians were forced to buy peace, and the following year the Vikings invaded Northumbria, where they appointed a puppet king in 867. They then moved on Mercia, where they spent the winter of 867–868. King Burgred of Mercia was joined by King Æthelred of Wessex and his brother, the future King Alfred, for a combined attack on the Vikings, but they refused an engagement and in the end the Mercians bought peace with them. The following year, the Vikings conquered East Anglia.[2] In 874 they expelled King Burgred, and Ceolwulf became the last King of Mercia with their support. In 877 the Vikings partitioned Mercia, taking the eastern regions for themselves and allowing Ceolwulf to keep the western ones. He was described by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as "a foolish king's thegn" who was a puppet of the Vikings, but the historian Ann Williams regards this view as partial and distorted: he was accepted as a true king by the Mercians and by King Alfred.[3]

Ceolwulf is not recorded after 879. The family background of his successor, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, is unknown. He is first seen in 881, when, according to the historian of medieval Wales, Thomas Charles-Edwards, he led an unsuccessful Mercian invasion of the north Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd. Around this time, Æthelred became the ruler of the English western half of Mercia. In 883 he made a grant to Berkeley Abbey with the consent of King Alfred, thus acknowledging Alfred's lordship. In 886 Alfred occupied the Mercian town of London, which had been in Viking hands. He then received the submission of all English not under Viking control, and handed control of London over to Æthelred.[4]


Æthelflæd was the eldest child of King Alfred the Great and his Mercian queen, Ealhswith, who was a daughter of Æthelred Mucel, ealdorman of the Gaini, one of the tribes of Mercia. Ealhswith's mother, Eadburh, was a member of the Mercian royal house.[5] Æthelflæd was around born 870.[a] The alliance between Wessex and Mercia was sealed by the marriage of Æthelred and Æthelflæd. She was first recorded as Æthelred's wife in a charter of 887, but the marriage may have taken earlier, perhaps when he submitted to Alfred following the recovery of London in 886.[7] Æthelred was much older than Æthelflæd, and they had one known child, a daughter called Ælfwynn. Æthelstan, the eldest son of Edward the Elder and future king of England, was brought up in their court.[5]

Lady of the Mercians[edit]

England Aethelred 910 EN.svg

In the 890s Æthelred and Alfred's son Edward fought off renewed Viking attacks,[8] and Æthelred and Æthelflæd fortified Worcester at the request of it bishop, Werferth.[9] Æthelred's health seems to have declined at some stage after Alfred died in 899, and Æthelflæd then became the effective ruler of Mercia. In the view of Maggie Bailey, this probably occurred by 902.[10] According to the Irish annals called the Three Fragments, the Norse Vikings were expelled from Dublin, and they then made an unsuccessful attack on Wales. When this failed they applied to Æthelflæd, her husband being ill, for permission to settle near Chester. She agreed, and for some time they were peaceful. They then joined with the Danes in an attack on Chester, but Æthelflæd had fortified the town, and the defenders were able to drive the Vikings off. Other sources confirm that the Norse were driven out of Dublin in 902, and Æthelflæd fortified Chester in 907.[11]

In 909 Edward sent a West Saxon and Mercian force to raid northern Danish territory, where it raided for five weeks. The army also seized the remains of the royal Northumbrian saint Oswald from his resting place in Bardney Abbey in Lincolnshire and took them to Gloucester. In the 890s the Gloucester had become a burh, and Æthelred and Æthelflæd had repaired its ancient Roman defences. They also built a new minster, which was initially dedicated to St Peter. When Oswald's remains were brought to Gloucester, Æthelflæd had them translated to the new minster, which was renamed St Oswald's Priory in his honour.[12] The following year the Danes retaliated by invading Mercia, raiding as far as the Bridgnorth in Shropshire. On their way back they were caught by an English army near Tettenhall in Staffordshire and their army was destroyed, opening the way for the recovery of the Danish midlands and East Anglia over the next decade.[13]

On her husband's death in 911 after the Battle of Tettenhall, Æthelflæd was recognised as Myrcna hlædige, "Lady of the Mercians". Edward took control of two Mercian towns and their hinterland which Alfred had put under Æthelred's control, London and Oxford.[5] Ian Walker suggests that Æthelflæd accepted this loss of territory in return for recognition by her brother of her position in Mercia.[14] Alfred had constructed a network of fortified burhs in Wessex, Edward and Æthelflæd now embarked on a programme of extending them into Mercia to consolidate their defences and provide bases for attacks on the Vikings.[15] Æthelflæ fortified 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. She also established garrisons in Hereford and Gloucester before 914.[16] Historian Frank Stenton "It was through reliance on her guardianship of Mercia that her brother was enabled to begin the forward movement against the southern Danes which is the outstanding feature of his reign.".[17]

In 916 she sent an expedition into Wales to avenge the murder of a Mercian abbot, and succeeded in capturing the wife of the king of Brycheiniog.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.

In the view of F. T. Wainwright:

[Æthelflæd] played a vital role in England in the first quarter of the tenth century. The success of Edward's campaigns against the Danes depended to a great extent upon her cooperation. In the midlands and the north she came to dominate the political scene. And the way in which she used her influence helped to make possible the unification of England under kings of the West Saxon royal house. But her reputation has suffered from bad publicity, or rather from a conspiracy of silence among her West Saxon contemporaries.[21]


  1. ^ Marios Costambeys dates Æthelflæd's birth to the early 870s,[5] but Maggie Bailey argues that as she was her parents' first child and they married in 868, she was probably born in 869–70[6]


  1. ^ Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 11–12.
  2. ^ Stenton 1971, pp. 246–248.
  3. ^ Williams 1991b; Williams 1991c.
  4. ^ Costambeys 2004b; Charles-Edwards 2013, pp. 490–91.
  5. ^ a b c d Costambeys 2004a.
  6. ^ Bailey 2001, p. 112.
  7. ^ Keynes 1998, p. 27; Bailey 2001, pp. 112–13.
  8. ^ Costambeys 2004b.
  9. ^ Stenton 1971, pp. 528–29.
  10. ^ Williams 1991a; Bailey 2001, p. 113.
  11. ^ Wainwright 1975, pp. 79–85.
  12. ^ Costambeys 2004a; Stenton 1971, p. 323; Heighway 2001, pp. 102–03.
  13. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 323.
  14. ^ Walker 2000, p. 99.
  15. ^ Costambeys 2004.
  16. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 326–7.
  17. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 324.
  18. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 327.
  19. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 329.
  20. ^ Charles-Edwards 2013, pp. 495–499, 504.
  21. ^ Wainwright 1975, p. 305.


  • Bailey, Maggie (2001). "Ælfwynn, Second Lady of the Mercians". In Higham, N. J.; Hill, D. H. Edward the Elder 899–924. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21497-1. 
  • Charles-Edwards, T. M. (2013). Wales and the Britons 350–1064. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-821731-2. 
  • Costambeys, Marios (2004a). "Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918), ruler of the Mercians". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8907. Retrieved 17 September 2014.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Costambeys, Marios (2004b). "Æthelred (d. 911), ruler of the Mercians". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/52311. Retrieved 2 August 2012.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Heighway, Carolyn (2001). "Gloucester and the New Minster of St Oswald". In Higham, N. J.; Hill, D. H. Edward the Elder 899–924. London, UK: Routledge. pp. 102–11. ISBN 0-415-21497-1. 
  • Keynes, Simon; Lapidge, Michael, eds. (1983). Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources. London, UK: Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-044409-4. 
  • 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. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-598-7. 
  • Stenton, Frank (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5. 
  • Wainwright, F. T. (1975). Scandinavian England: Collected Papers. Chichester, UK: Phillimore. ISBN 0-900592-65-6. 
  • Walker, Ian W. (2000). Mercia and the Making of England. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-2131-5. 
  • Williams, Ann (1991a). "Æthelred Lord of the Mercians c. 883-911". In Williams, Ann; Smyth, Alfred P.; Kirby, D. P. A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain. London, UK: Seaby. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-85264-047-7. 
  • Williams, Ann (1991b). "Burgred, King of Mercia 852–74". In Williams, Ann; Smyth, Alfred P.; Kirby, D. P. A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain. London, UK: Seaby. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-1-85264-047-7. 
  • Williams, Ann (1991c). "Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia 874-9". In Williams, Ann; Smyth, Alfred P.; Kirby, D. P. A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain. London, UK: Seaby. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-85264-047-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bintley, M. (2014). "The translation of St Oswald's relics to New Minster, Gloucester: royal and imperial resonances" (PDF). Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History. 19: 171–81. ISSN 0264-5254. 
  • 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, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 456–484. ISBN 0-521-36447-7. 
  • 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). Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. ISBN 978-2-503-53208-0. 
  • 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. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. pp. 101–116. ISBN 978-0-7546-5120-8. 

External links[edit]