Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.
Æthelflæd, was born at a time when women, even noble women, were considered insignificant, destined only to be remembered as a footnote in the stories of men. But, that was not to be Æthelflæd’s fate. As the Lady of the Mercians she not only held her territories against the invading Vikings but extended them, and would come to change the face of England. Æthelflæd died at the height of her power, and is the only female ruler in British history to be succeeded by her daughter. Despite her success Æthelflæd’s story is not well known, which is something this article seeks to change by sharing the story of this amazing woman with a new audience.
(Æthelflæd as depicted in the cartulary of Abingdon Abbey. Artist unknown. Image from:http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/cottmanucoll/q/zoomify75052.html)
The precise date and location of Æthelflæd’s birth is unknown, but most agree it was between late 686 (the year of her parents’ marriage) and 870, in Chippenham. She was the eldest of the five surviving children born to Alfred the Great and his wife Ealhswith. Her name unlike so many of the time was an original, and not taken from an ancestor, its meaning is debated Micheal Wood suggests it meant noble beauty, ‘Æthel’ meaning noble, and ‘flæd’ meaning beauty, Joanna Arman, however, suggests the meaning of ‘flæd’ could also have meant “…something like ‘flood’, or something flowing over, so her name might actual mean something like ‘overflowing with nobility.” It was said that King Alfred, regretted not receiving a formal education in his youth, and so made sure his children, including Æthelflæd received a good education.
(Medieval miniature of Æthelflæd in Genealogical roll of the kings of England. 14th century . Image from: https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/Æthelflæd-0012746)
The Vikings were an ever present threat that would continue throughout Æthelflæd life. As a child, she would have been aware her father and other male relatives could be called away to war at any time and might not come back. Indeed, Margaret C. Jones writes that, “The Vikings were the bogeymen of their time.” In 878, Alfred and his court, including Æthelflæd were residing at the royal residence in Chippenham, either to celebrate Christmas or so Alfred could placate lords who wished to overthrow him, when they were attacked by a large Viking force called a led by Guthrum. As she was whisked away by guards to safety in the nearby woods, Æthelflæd must have been terrified. After the attack, Alfred was forced into exile, and although the sources do not say he was accompanied by his family, they almost certainly would have accompanied him, had they remained behind they would have faced an unpleasant and possibly short future. They remained in exile until 878 when Alfred won the Battle of Edington, and successfully besieged Chippenham forcing the Danes to surrender, thus retaking his kingdom.
Now that he had his kingdom back, Alfred recalled his family from where they were hiding in Somerset and set to work rebuilding his kingdom. This included the building of defensive burhs and forming strong alliances with powerful lords, including Æthelred, an ealdorman of Mercia who was to become Æthelflæd’s husband. Despite ensuring their daughter received a good education, it was expected that she would either enter the church or be used to make advantageous marriage, which in Anglo-Saxon society was integral to gaining and holding on to power. These marriages were so important that one of the West Saxon words for wife was ‘frithuwebbe’ which meant peace weaver. This was to be Æthelflæd’s destiny. In 868, when Æthelflæd was around 15 or 16, it was decided she was ready to marry, and the groom Alfred chose was Æthelred, an ealdorman of Mercia. Where the couple married is unknown, but they would have done so surrounded by the whole Wessex. Alfred gifted the newly recaptured London to his son in law. For Æthelflæd, marriage marked the end of her childhood and her life in Wessex, a few days after the wedding she travelled to join her husband in Merica, thus beginning her life as the Lady of the Mercians.
At the time of her marriage, Æthelflæd was aged between 15 and 16 and thought to be around ten years younger than her husband. Whilst some might have been intimidated my their new surroundings and more experienced husband, Æthelflæd was as not, Margaret C. Jones writes,
“Æthelflæd already knew her role in this marriage. It would not be a subordinate one. Her place was beside her husband, shouldering with him the burdens of state. This, rather than bearing sons or founding and ruling a convent, like other royal women of her day, would be Æthelflæd’s legacy to Mercia.”
Æthelred seems to have accepted his new bride’s co-rule and the two remained married for 25 years, it produced only one child, a daughter named Ælfwynn. Under their rule Worcester was fortified and many gifts were made to the church including the building of a new minster in Gloucester.
(Charter S221. Dated 901, record of Æthelred and Ætheflæd donating land and a golden chalice to Much Wenlock Church. Image from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Æthelflæd#/media/File:Charter_S_221,_dated_901,_of_Æthelred_and_Ætheflæd,_rulers_of_the_Mercians.jpg)
From around the 900s Æthelred’s health had begun to decline and Æthelflæd began to take on more solo leadership decisions. One such example is given in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, which recount Æthelflæd’s c.907 defence of Merica, against Viking forces led by Ingimund. The story goes that having left Ireland and asked Æthelflæd for some land “…on which he would build barns and dwellings, for he was tired of war at that time.” Æthelflæd gave him lands near Chester, and for a while all seemed well. Soon, Ingimund grew dissatisfied and began to plot in secret with the chieftains of the Norwegian and Danes, who agreed that they should take “…the good lands…” Despite the meeting having been held in secret, Æthelflæd heard of Ingimund’s plot and “…gathered a large army about her from the adjoining regions, and filled the city of Chester with her troops.” When the Vikings attacked Aethelflead’s forces were ready:
“What the Saxons did was to put the ale and water they found in the town into the towns cauldrons, and to boil it and throw it over the people who were under the hurdles, so that their skin peeled off them. The Norwegians response to that was to spread hides on top of the hurdles. The Saxons then scattered all the beehives there were in the town on top of the besiegers, which prevented them from moving their feet and hands because of the number of bees stinging them. After that they gave up the city, and left it.” – The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland.
Æthelflæd proved her worth as a leader and military commander earning her the respect of the Mercians.
As Alfred planned the marriage ensured that even after his death in 898, and the accession of Edward the Elder the alliance between Wessex and Merica remained strong. The two joined forces in 910 to defeat the Vikings at the Battle of Tettenhall, where three Viking leaders were killed shifting the balance of power to the Anglo-Saxons. However, just a year after their success at the Tettenhall, Æthelred died in 911, leaving Æthelflæd to rule alone.
With Æthelred dead, rather than enter a nunnery or review to one of her estates, Æthelflæd was acknowledged as the Lady of Mercia. This meant she was no longer a consort, but a queen, a unique position for an Anglo-Saxon woman and it shows how respected and accepted she was by the people of Mercia. As ruler, Edward the Elder was in a difficult position. On the one hand, having his sister as an ally would make their alliance strong, on the other, he was concerned she would become too independent. In the end, he offered his approval providing Æthelflæd accepted that Mercia remain subject to the final jurisdiction of Wessex, and furthermore, she had to cede London and Oxford back to him. Both of which she did. With their alliance sealed Edward and Æthelflæd’s attacks on the Vikings become more coordinated and aggressive. Rather than just shoring up their defences in case of a Viking attack, they began building upon the network of fortified burhs created by their father, Alfred. Whilst Aethefleaed focused on the North and West, Edward focused on East Anglia, Essex, and East Midlands, driving the Vikings out of central England.
Æthelflæd’s first burhs were built at Chester and Bremesburh (on what is now the Welsh border). Æthelflæd’s strategy in strengthening these locations first, was to allow Mercian forces to perfect the techniques of building fortifications before gradually moving the construction closer to the Viking strongholds. It was a sound and successful plan. So, by the time the Vikings saw what was happening, Mercian garrisons were too strong for their ‘blitzkrieg’ tactics to work. The last successful Viking raid was in 913, when they sacked Banbury. In response Æthelflæd fortified Buckingham, and built two forts either side of the river Ouse. The show of force worked, and the Viking armies of Northampton and Bedford submitted to Æthelflæd’s army at Buckingham. By now, Æthelflæd’s string of forts now formed a nearly straight southeast line from Chester to Hertford, the only were in the midlands between Tamworth and Buckingham and the mouth of the Mersey River. Æthelflæd closed the Mersey gap with two burhs, in 914 she built Eddisbury and, in 915 Runcorn, whilst also fortifying Warwick.
It was not just a building program that brought Edward and Æthelflæd success, successful alliances played a part. In 917, Æthelflæd signed a treaty with two Scottish kings, both of whom were named Constantine, ensuring their alliance against the Danish forces in York. The Danes, not wanting to fight Athelflaed’s forces targeted the Scottish forces at the Second Battle of Corbridge, it would prove a costly victory as they had halved their troops to achieve it. In July 917, Edward was fighting in the east, Æthelflæd marched her troops into Derby and quickly secured it, the siblings delivered a crushing blow to the Danes.In 918, the Danes in Stamford submitted to Edward without a fight, and the those in Leicester submitted to Æthelflæd without bloodshed. York arranges to submit to Æthelflæd, but before they can do so she dies.
Æthelflæd died in Tamworth, on the 12th of June, 918. Her death seemed to come as a shock, possibly from a sudden onset illness, although the constant campaigning must have taken its toll. She was buried in Saint Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester next to her husband. Sadly the priory and Aetheflaed’s gave have not survived.
(St Oswald’s Priory Wall-incorporates the remnants of the church built around 900AD by Aetheflaed. Image from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Oswald%27s_Priory,_Gloucester)
After Æthelflæd’s death the Mercian witangemot that had named Æthelflæd lady of Mercia bestowed the same title on her twenty-year-old daughter Ælfwynn. This was the only time a daughter has succeeded her mother and the next female to female succession was not until 1558 when Elizabeth I succeeded her half sister Mary I. Ælfwynn’s reign was only to be brief and in 191, her uncle, King Edward, summoned her to court and officially annexed Mercia. No one would claim either title, lord or lady of Mercia, again.
Æthelflæd’s story is one of defied expectations. She was expected to marry and produce heirs, instead she co-ruled at the side of Æthelred. Taking over leadership and their forces, when her husband was incapacitated. After Æthelred’s death, she was expected to retire to either a nunnery or one of her estates, instead she forged an alliance with her brother and became invaluable in his fight against the Vikings. Commanding forces, Æthelflæd not only held her territories she expanded them and became so feared that Viking forces surrendered rather than face her in battle. Even after her death she was defying expectations by being the only ruler to pass her throne to her daughter. For all she achieved she deserves to be remembered and hailed as a role model for women who want to smash the expectations played on them because of their gender.
We know have our own website where you can read this and all our posts, find it at: sagasofshe.co.uk
The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Æthelflæd,Daughter of Alfred the Great. By Joanna Arman. (2018)
Founder, Fighter Saxon Queen ÆthelflædLady of the Mecians. By Margaret C. Jones. (2018)
A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons The Beginnings of the English Nation. ByGeoffrey Hindley. (2006)
Mercia-A Captivating Guide to an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of England and the Invasions of the Vikings During the 9th Century. By Captivating History. (2020)
Mary Ann Bernal
The UK now has a female prime minister and Elizabeth II has been queen for more than six decades, but few would associate Anglo-Saxon England with powerful women. Nearly 1,100 years ago, however, Æthelflæd, “Lady of the Mercians”, died in Tamworth – as one of the most powerful political figures in tenth-century Britain.
Although she has faded from English history, and is often seen as a bit-part player in the story of the making of England, Æthelflæd was in fact a hugely important figure before her death in 918, aged around 50. Indeed, the uncontested succession of her daughter, Ælfwynn, as Mercia’s leader was a move of successful female powerplay not matched until the coronation of Elizabeth I after the death of her half-sister Mary in 1558. So, while Bernard Cornwell’s novels and the BBC series The Last Kingdom are cavalier with the historical facts, perhaps they are right to give Æthelflæd a major role.
Æthelflæd as depicted in the cartulary of Abingdon Abbey (Public Domain)
Æthelflæd was born in the early 870s. Her father, Alfred “the Great” had become King of the West Saxons in 871, while her mother, Eahlswith, may have been from Mercian royal kindred. At the time, Anglo-Saxon “England” was made up of a series of smaller kingdoms, including Wessex in the south, Mercia in the Midlands and Northumbria in the far north. All faced encroachment by Viking forces that were growing in strength and ambition, as outlined in Charles Insley’s article The Strange End of the Mercian Kingdom and Mercia and the Making of England by Ian Walker.
Famous statue of King Alfred the Great on Broadway in Winchester. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Æthelflæd spent most of her life in the Kingdom of Mercia married to its de facto ruler, Æthelred. Mercia had seen some dark days by the time of her marriage. In the eighth and early ninth centuries, the Mercian kings had had good cause to consider themselves the most powerful rulers in southern Britain. But by the 870s, the kingdom had suffered dramatically from the Viking assaults which had swept across England.
One king, Burgred, had fled to Rome, and his successor, Ceolwulf II, was seen as a mere puppet by the West-Saxon compiler of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and disappeared between 878 and 883. Soon, the East Midlands were ruled by Scandinavians – what became known as the “Danelaw” – and so the kingdom ruled by Æthelflæd and Æthelred was by then just the western rump of the old Mercia.
Nevertheless, Æthelflæd and Æthelred together engaged in massive rebuilding projects at Gloucester, Worcester, Stafford and Chester, overseeing the refounding of churches, new relic collections and saints’ cults. Famously, in 909, the relics of the seventh-century saint, Oswald were moved from Bardney, deep in Scandinavian-controlled Lincolnshire, to a new church at Gloucester. Perhaps appropriately, for a couple facing the Vikings, Æthelflæd and her husband had a great attachment to the saint, a warrior king and Christian martyr. Æthelred was buried alongside Oswald in 911, and Æthelflæd joined him seven years later.
Remains of St Oswalds Priory, Gloucester, burial place of Æthelflæd and Æthelred (Public Domain)
Powerplay and Politics
At the time, Athelred and Æthelflæd did not call themselves king or queen, nor do the official documents or coins refer to them as such. Instead, they used the title “Lord/Lady of the Mercians”, because Alfred had extended his authority over Mercia and styled himself “King of the Anglo-Saxons”.
But they acted like rulers. Æthelflæd, with her husband and her brother Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons, launched a series of military campaigns in the early tenth century. These brought all of England south of the Humber and Mersey river under Anglo-Saxon control and rolled up the Scandinavian lordships which had been established in the East Midlands and East Anglia.
These advances were backed up by an energetic programme of fortification, with burhs (fortified towns) built in places such as Bridgnorth, Runcorn, Chester and Manchester.
Statue in Tamworth of Æthelflæd with her nephew Æthelstan, erected in 1913 to commemorate the millennium of her fortification of the town. (Humphrey Bolton/CC BY SA 2.0)
But while she called herself a “lady”, outsiders, especially the Welsh and Irish, saw Æthelflæd as a “queen” and she surely wasn’t just her husband’s subservient wife. As Alfred the Great’s daughter, the role Mercia and the Mercians would play in the kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons was at stake.
A Potent Widow
But Æthelflæd really came into her own following her husband’s death in 911, although it seems that he had been in poor health for the best part of the previous decade. The Mercian Register in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, certainly celebrates her deeds from 910 onwards.
In 915, she successfully campaigned against the Welsh and the major Welsh kings, and in England she began further to expand her kingdom. In 917-8, her army took control of Viking-occupied Derby and Leicester, and just before her death, the “people of York” – that is, the Scandinavian lords of southern Northumbria – also agreed to submit to her.
For a brief moment, she had authority not just over her own territory in Mercia, but over the Welsh, the Scandinavian East Midlands and possibly part of Northumbria, making her perhaps one of the three most important rulers in mainland Britain – the others being her brother Edward king of the Anglo-Saxons and Constantin II macAeda, King of the Scots.
This made her a major political actor in her own right, but also a respected and feared figure. Even more remarkably, she passed her authority on to her daughter, Ælfwynn, who was around 30 when her mother died. The rule of Ælfwynn in Mercia, which attracts virtually no comment at all from historians, lasted about six months before her uncle Edward launched a coup d’état, deprived her of all authority and took her into Wessex.
Æthelflæd’s legacy is enigmatic, wrapped up in the “making of England”. But she was a ruler of consequence in an era defined by male authority. Indeed, her project to rebuild the kingdom of Mercia and the Mercians might have placed midland England at the heart of later history.
Top Image: Medieval miniature of Æthelflæd in Genealogical roll of the kings of England. 14th century (Public Domain) What Aethelflad may have looked like. (History's HEROES?)
The article, originally titled ‘Æthelflæd: The Anglo-Saxon Iron Lady’ by Philip Morgan, Andrew Sargent, Charles Insley and Morn Capper was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.
Trailblazers: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians
In Women’s History Month 2020 I started a mini-Trailblazers series where we looked at Empress Theodora, Marie Curie, Christine de Pizan and Ida B Wells, and this year I’ll be continuing this series exploring more kick-ass women!
So, to get things started, we’re going to find out about Æthelflæd. She was daughter of Alfred the Great and would go on to become Lady of the Mercians ruling Mercia independently from 911 until her death in 918.
Æthelflæd was the oldest child of King Alfred of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith, we don’t have an exact birth year but it was likely to have been the late 860s/early 870s. She was alive during a time of great unrest, when the Vikings were a dominant force taking many parts of the country by violent conquest. It’s important to note England wasn’t a unified country at this point, it was separate kingdoms like Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia. During her childhood her father briefly lost his throne to the Viking Guthrum and the family fled into exile living in marshlands. This would have been a difficult time for Æthelflæd where the fate of herself, her family and Wessex hung in the balance. Thankfully Alfred reclaimed his throne, but this episode would have increased Æthelflæd’s understanding of politics and warfare, knowledge she would put to good use later on.
It was imperative noblewomen made politically sound marriages and Æthelflæd was no different, marrying Lord Æthelred of Mercia in roughly 886. Mercia were getting overwhelmed with Vikings and allied themselves with Wessex with Alfred becoming Æthelred’s overlord. The marriage between Æthelred and Æthelflæd cemented this alliance. They were to be married for around 25 years and had one daughter Ælfwynn.Charter of Æthelred and Ætheflæd dated 901 recording a donation of land and a golden chalice to Much Wenlock church
During her marriage Æthelflæd “played an active role in the economic, diplomatic and political activities of her kingdom” and this did not end when as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 911 “Æthelred, lord of the Merican died”. Where historically a woman may have joined a nunnery and retired from public life, it was at this point when Æthelflæd really came into her own. She began to rule Mercia in her own right as an independent female leader, known as Lady of the Mercians.
During her reign she achieved a lot, including creating more burhs which were a type of fortified settlement and battling the Vikings in Wales and Northumbria. Some of these events are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle…
912: “Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, on the holy eve of the Invention of the Cross, came to Scergeat and built the borough there, and in the same year, that at Bridgnorth”
913: “By the Grace of God, Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, went with all the Mercians to Tamworth, and built the borough there in early summer and after, before Lammas, built that at Stafford. The year after that, the other was built at Eddisbury in early summer, and the same year, late in autumn, that at Warwick”
916: “Abbot Ecgbriht, innocent, was killed before midsummer, on June 16 th , with his companions – the same day that was St Ciricus the martyr’s. Three nights later, Æthelflæd’s troops into Wales stormed in Brecenan mere, and took the king’s wife, as one of some thirty-four others”
917: “Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, with God’s help, before Lammas obtained the borough that is called Derby, with all that belonged to it. There also were killed four of her thanes, who were dear to her, inside the gates.”
These excerpts provide a snapshot of the kind of work Æthelflæd was doing in Mercia, fortifying her lands for the purpose of defense and attacking the Danelaw (land occupied by Danes). Wessex and Mercia remained close allies with similar goals, with her brother Edward having been king of Wessex since their father’s death in 899. Edward had even sent his son Æthelstan to be raised in Æthelflæd and her husband’s court. The Wessex and Mercians appear to have coordinated their building programs and jointly attacked the Danelaw.Statue in Tamworth of Æthelflæd with her nephew Æthelstan courtesy of Humphrey Bolton CC BY-SA 2.0
Sadly, for Æthelflæd she never got to see the fruition of some of her efforts.
After her success at Derby in 917 which was “the first of the Viking ‘Five Boroughs’ of the north-east midlands to fall” she was continuing her efforts but died suddenly in 918 as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle…
“She took the borough of Leicester under her rule, peacefully, early in the year, and the greatest part of the force that belonged to it became subject to her. The people of York had also promised her – some gave pledges, and some fastened it with oaths – that they would be under her rule. But very soon after they had agreed to this she died, twelve nights before midsummer, in Tamworth, in the eighth year she was with rightful lordship holding Mercian rule. Her body lies in Colchester, in the east chapel of St. Peter’s Church”Æthelflæd in the thirteenth-century Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings,
Æthelflæd’s daughter retained power as the next Lady of the Mercians but not for long as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says in 919 “the daughter of Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all power in Mercia, and taken into Wessex”. Edward took control of Mercia, which was likely to have been a long-term ambition of his, as we can see from the fact he sent one of his sons to be raised there.
There was never another Lady of the Mercians, but I don’t think that can be seen as evidence that Æthelflæd wasn’t a trailblazer. After all she ruled the kingdom of Mercia independently for 7 years, proving a woman could rule. She lived in a very patriarchal time, and it’s amazing how much she achieved as an independent female leader. Although it would be another few centuries before there was another Queen Regnant (Mary I), Æthelflæd showed what was possible, the inkling that a woman could do more than just be in the domestic sphere leaked subconsciously into England’s consciousness.
What do you think of Æthelflæd? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
Never miss a post and sign up to my mailing list here.Æthelflaed statue outside Tamworth Railway Station courtesy of Annetoone CC BY-SA 4.0
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: The Authentic Voices of England, from the time of Julius Caesar t o the coronation of Henry II. Translated and collated by Anne Savage.
Miniature of Aethelflaed - History
Every now and then I like to write a post about one of the important and often overlooked women in history and British history in particular. Sometimes they appear in the most unexpected places such as the Wrestling Mongolian Princess Khutulun or a very Grace Darling who became a heroine around the world in Victorian times.
We have a long history of incredible and formidable women and one of the earliest though by no means the first was Æthelflaed – Lady of the Mercians. Whilst we all know it is 100 years since women won the right to vote here, it is also the 1,100 years since the death of a substantial Queen.
The real-life 7 kingdoms of old England
Æthelflaed was the eldest child of Alfred the Great, king of the West Saxons (reigned 871–899), and his wife Ealhswith. Ealhswith may have been related in turn to the royal house of the nearby kingdom of Mercia. Under pressure during the Viking invasions at the end of the 9th century, King Alfred made an alliance with Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. Æthelflaed subsequently married Æthelred, strengthening this bond.
By the first years of the 10th century, Æthelred had become very ill. When he died in 911, Æthelflaed became the ruler of the Mercians in her own right. As lady of the Mercians (‘Myrcna hlæfdige’), Æthelflaed expanded her territories to the north, east and west. She fortified settlements, or burhs, and led her armies into Wales and Northumbria. In the final year of her life, the people of York even pledged to obey her ‘direction’ (‘rædenne’). It is possible that some of her military exploits were coordinated to help her brother, King Edward the Elder (reigned 899–924), but at other times Æthelflaed seems to have been acting independently.
Æthelflaed’s reign was unusual. Her successful political career did not necessarily reflect tolerant contemporary attitudes towards women, and (with one brief exception) she did not pave the way for future Anglo-Saxon female leaders. According to Asser, her father’s biographer, the West Saxon court where she grew up was particularly opposed to over-mighty queens: ‘The West Saxons do not allow a queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called a queen, but only the king’s wife [because of] a certain obstinate and malevolent queen [from Mercia], who did everything she could against her lord and whole people’
Æthelflaed must have been imbued with some incredible personal qualities as people didn’t rebel and pretenders to the throne didn’t chance their luck. All were happy to be led and ruled by this strong and woman.
It’s not clear if she ever fought in battle, it would be impossible to rule it out as fighting in battle was one of the key elements in the contract between the monarch and people if the monarch can’t act with strength to defend your lives then why would the people be loyal to the crown? However, she was definitely present at the siege of Derby, where she lost thegns ‘who were dear to her’ and we can infer that it was she who oversaw the successful defence of Chester in 907, because we know that by this time her husband was incapacitated. In 917, an abbot of whom she was fond was murdered by the Welsh, and she led an army into Brycheiniog, attacking the fort on Llangorse Lake and taking many hostages. Clearly, this was not a lady to be messed with!
Even when she died, she was in the middle of negotiations with a deputation from the north, who had asked for her help against a fresh wave of invaders.
Really she deserves to be remembered along with other great Queens such as Boudicca and Elizabeth of England or across the Channel in France, Joan of Arc.
Æthelflaed as remembered in a much later 13th-century geneaology of the kings of England
Sadly history barely remembers her, possibly because the main primary source for this period in our history is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As this great work was commissioned by Alfred the Great and was written by monks of Wessex, they naturally had a bias towards the West Saxons. But she is at least remembered in the old capital of Mercia, Tamworth, where in 1918 they erected a statue of her.
Æthelflaed was initially succeeded by her daughter, Ælfwynn, whose reign was significantly shorter. The Mercian Register claims that just one year later, in 919, ‘the daughter of Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all authority in Mercia and taken into Wessex, three weeks before Christmas’. England would have to wait a few hundred years for another queen to rule unchallenged in her own right.
You have probably noticed this article gave me the unavoidable chance to use Æ which is an old Anglo-Saxon letter which comes from ancient Greece. If you’d like to know more about this largely forgotten digraph then check out my post The Ædifying use of Æ.
They had a son, named Uhtred after his father, but the child died young after choking on a pebble. The elder Uhtred believes the death is supernaturally connected to the survival of Alfred’s son Edward, who was healed by Iseult at the same time that the younger Uhtred choked.
So Uhtred on the show is fictional, but he’s definitely at least loosely based on a historical figure. There’s also the fact that, according to the aforementioned Guardian profile, Cornwell’s father, William Outhred, was another inspiration for the books.
Catherine was one of the daughters of Lord Edmund Howard ( c. 1478 – 1539) and Joyce Culpeper ( c. 1480 – c. 1528 ). Her father's sister, Elizabeth Howard, was the mother of Anne Boleyn. Therefore, Catherine Howard was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, and the first cousin once removed of Lady Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), Anne's daughter by Henry VIII. She also was the second cousin of Jane Seymour, as her grandmother Elizabeth Tilney was the sister of Seymour's grandmother Anne Say.  As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree. Her father was not wealthy, being the third son among 21 children and disfavoured in the custom of primogeniture, by which the eldest son inherits all his father's estate.
When Catherine's parents married, her mother already had five children from her first husband, Ralph Leigh ( c. 1476 – 1509) she went on to have another six with Catherine's father, Catherine being about her mother's tenth child. With little to sustain the family, her father was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more affluent relatives. After Catherine's mother died in 1528, her father married twice more. In 1531 he was appointed Controller of Calais.  He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March 1539. Catherine was the third of Henry VIII's wives to have been a member of the English nobility or gentry Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were royalty from continental Europe.
Catherine was probably born in Lambeth in about 1523, but the exact date of her birth is unknown.   Soon after the death of her mother (in about 1528), Catherine was sent with some of her siblings to live in the care of her father's stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager Duchess presided over large households at Chesworth House in Horsham in Sussex, and at Norfolk House in Lambeth where dozens of attendants, along with her many wards—usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives—resided.  While sending young children to be educated and trained in aristocratic households other than their own was common for centuries among European nobles, supervision at both Chesworth House and Lambeth was apparently lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants. 
As a result of the Dowager Duchess's lack of discipline, Catherine became influenced by some older girls who allowed men into the sleeping areas at night for entertainment. The girls were entertained with food, wine, and gifts stolen from the kitchens. Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, although, on its own, her ability to read and write was impressive enough at the time. Her character has often been described as vivacious, giggly and brisk, but never scholarly or devout. She displayed great interest in her dance lessons, but would often be distracted during them and make jokes. She also had a nurturing side for animals, particularly dogs. 
In the Duchess's household at Horsham, in around 1536, Catherine began music lessons with two teachers, one of whom was Henry Mannox. Mannox's exact age is unknown although it has recently been stated that he was in his late thirties, perhaps 36, at the time, this is not supported by Catherine's biographers. Evidence exists that Mannox was not yet married, and it would have been highly unusual for someone from his background at the time to have reached his mid-thirties without being married. He married sometime in the late 1530s, perhaps 1539, and there is also some evidence that he was of an age with two other men serving in the household, including his cousin Edward Waldegrave (who was in his late teens or early twenties between 1536 and 1538). This evidence indicates that Mannox too was in his early to mid-twenties in 1538. This is, however, guesswork, based on interpreting fragmentary surviving details about Mannox, given that there are no baptismal records for him. Subsequently a relationship arose between Catherine and Mannox, the details and dates of which are debated between modern historians. The most popular theory, first put forward in 2004 by Retha M. Warnicke, was that the relationship between them was abusive, with Mannox grooming and preying on Catherine in 1536-38, and this is expanded upon in detail by Conor Byrne.  Other biographers, like Gareth Russell, believe Mannox's interactions with Catherine took place over a much shorter period of time, that Mannox was of roughly the same age as her, but that "their relationship was nonetheless inappropriate, on several levels." He believes Catherine was increasingly repulsed by Mannox's pressure to lose her virginity to him and was angered by his gossiping with servants about the details of what had gone on between them.  Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery inquisitions that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not actual coitus. When questioned Catherine was quoted as saying, "At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require."  
Catherine severed contact with Mannox in 1538, most likely in the spring.  It is not true, as is sometimes stated, that this was because she began to spend more time at the Dowager Duchess's mansion in Lambeth, for Lambeth was Mannox's home parish and where he married, perhaps in later 1538–9. He was still living in Lambeth in 1541.  Shortly afterward, Catherine was pursued by Francis Dereham, a secretary of the Dowager Duchess. They allegedly became lovers, addressing each other as "husband" and "wife". Dereham also entrusted Catherine with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. Many of Catherine's roommates among the Dowager Duchess's maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539, when the Dowager Duchess found out. Despite this, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract of marriage. If indeed they exchanged vows before having sexual intercourse, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church. 
Catherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at Court in the household of the King's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Catherine quickly caught Henry's eye. The King had displayed little interest in Anne from the beginning, but on Thomas Cromwell's failure to find a new match for Henry, Norfolk saw an opportunity. The Howards may have sought to recreate the influence gained during Anne Boleyn's reign as queen consort. According to Nicholas Sander, the religiously conservative Howard family may have seen Catherine as a figurehead for their fight by expressed determination to restore Roman Catholicism to England. Catholic Bishop Stephen Gardiner entertained the couple at Winchester Palace with "feastings".
As the King's interest in Catherine grew, so did the house of Norfolk's influence. Her youth, prettiness and vivacity were captivating for the middle-aged sovereign, who claimed he had never known "the like to any woman". Within months of her arrival at court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine. Henry called her his 'very jewel of womanhood' (that he called her his 'rose without a thorn' is likely a myth).  The French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, thought her "delightful". Holbein's portrait showed a young auburn-haired girl with a characteristically hooked Howard nose Catherine was said to have a "gentle, earnest face."
Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen – Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians
Coming in at the 1100 th anniversary of Aethelflaed’s sudden (and suspiciously convenient) death, this book manages to paint a vivid picture of the life and times of a neglected heroine. Too often dismissed as an interim solution, as “daughter of Alfred the Great”, “widow of Aethelred”. Whether she was a queen at all may be up for debate, but she certainly ruled Mercia for ten or more years.
And, here she becomes interesting for wargamers, she kicked Viking backsides left, right and centre, transforming Mercia into a definite power to be reckoned with along the Welsh border. The Vikings of York were even ready to accept her overlordship – a diplomatic move to prevent costly war. Yet in times where every Viking army, in reenactment or on the games table, seems to field scores of History-TV-inspired shieldmaidens, Aethelflaed seems to be almost forgotten.
Jones’ book should go a long way to amend this. It is fact-filled, provides a vivid picture of the life and times of this female Saxon ruler, and can even double as a travel guide for the curious. Having said that … often the author uses conjecture, veers to the edge dividing history from historical fiction. This makes the book highly readable (and brings the events to life), yet may leave a wide opening for discussion. Take it with a grain of salt – the documentary evidence is sparse, and at times muddled.
Who should read this book? Everybody with an interest in the power struggles tearing Britain apart during the Early Middle Ages, and especially wargamers wanting to field a Saxon army with a female leader … after all, the illustrations even include a 28mm Aethelflaed. So, no excuse for SAGA players who want to add the nearest equivalent to Boudica, Elizabeth I or Maggie Thatcher to their Saxon warband.
Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen: Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians is Margaret Jones' study of the daughter of Alfred the Great who became the ruler of Mercia. This is one of those books that I was interested in but probably wouldn't have bought without a very tempting offer from Pen and Sword Books. I have also just binged my way through the latest series of The Last Kingdom, in which Aethelflaed is the central character. Mind you, Jones makes no reference to her liaison with Lord Uhtred!
The real Aethelflaed had a busy and testing childhood, as her father struggled with the Vikings. This included the period as a refugee on Athelney, after the Viking attack on Chippenham in 878AD. Her mother Ealhswith was a Mercian and she would have been brought up to be wedded to domesticity and a largely religious education. The Wessex court would have received diplomats from across Europe and many refugees and other nobles would be trained up in Alfred's care.
At the age of 15, she was married to Aethelred (yes Saxon names can confuse), an ealdorman of Mercia. The marriage strengthened his position in Mercia, something Alfred probably planned. The defeat of new Viking raids carved out a more secure Mercia, under the overlordship of Wessex.
Bernard Cornwell doesn't write a great part for Aethelred in The Last Kingdom, but he was probably better than depicted there. He built defences against Viking incursions and strengthened Mercia. He died a year after the victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Tettenhall (probably not of his wounds as Cornwell depicts) and Aethelflaed found herself the sole ruler of Mercia.
Aethelflaed undoubtedly did lead the Mercians into battle against the Vikings and the Welsh, but much of her rule was spent fortifying towns and building forts in strategic positions. These are described in some detail in the book along with the Burgh system. By 916 she had constructed a formidable grid of defences, which matched those in Wessex.
She died in 918, probably of natural causes. Her daughter Aelfwynn was named as her heir, but King Edward of Wessex as overlord had other plans and forced his own son Athelstan on the Mercians.
The sources on Aethelflaed are limited, so the book is padded out with a description of what it meant to be a ruler of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. We also get a chapter on her legacy and where you can find her today.
The core of this book still tells a remarkable story of a remarkable Queen. Female rulers were the exception and she truly was Alfred's daughter.
A good story inevitably leads to an outbreak of wargamers disease. I have a small Saxon army, mostly from the earlier period. The Footsore Miniatures bulletin sealed the order and what was my reducing lead mountain, has suddenly got bigger!
Footsore do a very nice Aethelflaed, even if her charging into battle axe in hand is probably stretching it a bit!
In addition, we have some Saxon archers. These come with separate hands and bows which involves fiddly drilling and glueing. I can't see any reason for this other than the manufacturer's convenience, which annoyed me. But they are nice models.
I first came across Emma Hamilton (c.1765-1815) at Kiplin Hall where there was a beautiful portrait of her in one of the rooms upstairs. I volunteered as a steward, so as I read up on all the collection items I found out she was the famous mistress of British naval hero Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). 'Emma, &hellip Continue reading Love Letters: Horatio Nelson & Emma Hamilton
Today on Some Sources Say we have a guest post by the wonderful Laura Adkins creator of the For the Love of History blog. Read more below! "Christ has his John and I have my George. " On 28th March 1625 King James, I of England died. He had been suffering over the last few days &hellip Continue reading Love Letters: James Stuart & George Villiers (Guest Post by Laura Adkins)