biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

Aethelflaed was the eldest of Alfred the Great’s five surviving children with his Mercian wife, Ealhswith. Aethelflaed would have grown up in a world that was gripped by fear due to the recent invasions of the Danes. In 865, the “Great Heathen Army” arrived and, instead of coming just to raid, they came with the goal to conquer and settle. Within a few years the Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia were controlled by the Danes. By 874, the Scandinavian threat had arrived in Mercia where King Burgred, the last officially recognized King of Mercia, was forced to abdicate. Now the eastern portion of Mercia was consumed by the Danes control and became part of the Five Boroughs, also known as the Danelaw. Aethelflaed’s father, Alfred, had proven himself as a great military commander and found himself sovereign of “the last kingdom” of Wessex. It was the only Saxon kingdom that had not yet been conquered by the Dane invasion.

Division of Saxon and Dane Lands c.800s

As Aethelflaed grew up she would witness her father constantly working to ensure the kingdom was protected. Alfred was busy discussing war strategy, creating cultural reforms, and creating the entire burh system to protect the kingdom. Burhs were fortified towns. Not only were these used as military defenses, but each burh also contained their own local governments and were centers of commerce. Alfred strategically placed these burhs to successfully defend Wessex from the Northern invaders. This would become the model for future rulers. The was a very formative time for Aethelflaed who would become a future Queen. She had a lot to learn from Alfred and despite her young age, it seems she did pick up on many of the strategies he used. This will be seen in her later life.

Growing up in the court of Alfred, Aethelflaed was most likely well educated herself. Alfred had a love for learning and, inspired by this love, began to reform the whole education system in Wessex. No doubt this would have affected his own children as well. Aethelflaed and her brother, Edward, would have had their own tutors. The siblings would have been educated in languages, reading, and writing. She also would have been trained in the traditional “female arts,” such a needlework, due to her status as a princess of Wessex. It would not have been unseemly for a woman to be educated in Anglo-Saxon England, especially because, as mothers, women were expected to be the first educators for their own children (including the heirs to throne).

When Aethelflaed was only about eight years old she lived through one of the most desperate periods of her father’s career. A common tactic to remove the Scandinavian threat during Alfred’s early reign was to use the Danegeld. This was a practice of paying the Danes to leave. It was expensive for the taxpayers and it was not a sustainable solution. At this point in time, Alfred had used this tactic upon the new leader of the Danes, Guthrum. With the promise of gold, Guthrum and his army left Wessex with the promise that they would not return. Yet, Alfred’s subjects continued to lose confidence in their king due to his reliance on this technique. The winter of 878 was when this all backfired-on Alfred.

This winter, the royal court (including Aethelflaed and the rest of her family) had been in Chippenham celebrating Christmas and Alfred had gathered with his nobles to discuss the state of the kingdom. Alfred was attacked unawares by Guthrum (or was he aided by Alfred’s dissatisfied nobles?) who had targeted this royal settlement. Alfred was caught off guard by an invading army and the Saxons were overrun. Alfred and his family had to flee while his kingdom fell to their long-feared enemies.

Image result for tamworth aethelflaed
Aethelflaed, portrayed by Millie Brady, in The Last Kingdom

For months Alfred and his family lived as fugitives in the swamps lands of the west. It must have been miserable for young Aethelflaed during these winter months watching her father brought so low. It was also a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Wessex was taken by Guthrum and his Danish forces, soon to become part of the Danelaw. Asser, in his Life of Alfred, explains “he [Alfred] had nothing to live on except what he could forge by frequent raids either secretly or openly, from the Viking as well as Christians who had submitted…” Aethelflaed would have been highly aware of what was going on and maybe throughout this period of exile in the marshlands she would have gained some military knowledge as she observed her father planning to take his kingdom back.

After winter, Alfred managed to gather those still loyal to him and formed an army for a counter offensive against Gurthrum. Possibly his guerrilla war tactics, as described in the Asser quote above, had encouraged the citizens of Wessex that their king still had some fight left in him. The armies met at Wiltshire in the spring/summer of 878 and here Alfred miraculously defeated Guthurm’s forces at the Battle of Edington. Alfred had shown himself to be strong as he rose from his forced exile to win back Wessex. Without his perseverance, England’s history may have turned out quite differently.

Guthrum, now severely weakened, yielded to Alfred and Wessex. Alfred could have easily executed Guthrum as a show of power, but he chose not to. Instead, Guthrum relinquished all the lands of Wessex he had taken and even pledged to be baptized as a Christian with Alfred as his sponsor. He would go on to rule Easy Anglia, supposedly never to raid again. The way Alfred handled this situation is interesting, taking the merciful approach rather than the violent. The experiences during her father’s reign seemed to have prepared Aethelflaed for the new role she was going to take.

Around 886, Aethelflaed married Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians. She would have been about sixteen years old while Aethelred was about ten years older. In popular culture, Aethelred’s portrayal is often negative. For example, in the Last Kingdom, he is shown to be weak and abusive, but there is no evidence to support this in history. He was chosen by his people to rule over the remainder of Mercia. Aethelred was also a celebrated warlord. He became a close ally to Wessex and Alfred as both were fighting for the same goal. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of the King’s daughter. With this marriage Alfred was already thinking to the future, not just in the present alliance, but in the creation of a complete England.

Aethelred would go on to help Alfred take back the city of London (traditionally part of Mercia) this same year and Alfred made a symbolic gesture by granting the city to Aethelred. It has been interpreted that this was part of a possible “wedding gift.” Alfred recognized that London had been historically part of Mercia and provided a generous gift from an overlord to a new vassal kingdom.

Image result for aethelred and aethelflaed
From The Last Kingdom on Netflix

The real story of Aethelflaed begins once she left Wessex and began her new life in Merica. Though society they lived in was patriarchal, it seems that Aethelflaed and Aethelred worked in a partnership to rule Mercia. Aethelflaed is recorded as a witness on many charters during the time of her marriage, which indicates she was present and involved in these political affairs. Together, the Lord and Lady of Mercia, began to establish fortified burhs/settlements, like Alfred’s, to begin strengthening their holdings against the Viking threat.

One of the first charters that Aethelflaed witnesses is for the fortification of the old Roman city of Worchester. Rome, to the Anglo-Saxons, was viewed a symbol of learning and Christianity. They wanted this to be represented in their revitalization projects. Often, remaining ruins were re-purposed during the creation of burhs in both Mercia and Wessex. The charter of Worchester was commissioned, and the construction was eventually completed in the 890s. The rulers also became the patrons of the bishopric located in Worchester. It was extremely important for a leader to be a generous Christian as well and give back to the church that they supported. Christianity was the center of society during this era, so it was only normal that church and state were intertwined. The Lord and Lady of Mercia are also said to have established a school, which shows the importance of education to the couple. Below is a quote from the charter at Worchester and notice how both Aethelred and Aethelflaed are listed. This confirms Aethelflaed’s role in the establishment of this burh.

“To Almighty God, the True Unity and Holy Trinity in Heaven, be praise and glory and thanksgiving for all the benefits that He has bestowed upon us. For whose love in the first place, and for love of St. Peter and of the Church at Worchester, and also through the entreaty of Bishop Waerferth their friend, Lord Aethelred and Aethelflaed have ordered the burh at Worchester to be constructed for the protection of all the inhabitants, and also that the worship of God may be celebrated therein”

Image result for aethelflaed
Aethelflaed, Worchester Cathedral

The two co-rulers would go on to establish burhs in Shrewsbury, where Aethelflaed herself is said to have established the church of St. Alkmund, and possibly Hereford and Winchcombe. They would also do much to refurbish London. Their most important achievement together was the founding of Gloucester, which would become their new capital city and spiritual center of Mercia. Gloucester was another former Roman city and held a strategic position as it guarded an important River crossing on the Severn. Together, Aethelflaed and Aethelred created a whole new street layout and some of the street designs they created are still used today. They were based on some of Alfred’s designs, which shows the influence that his daughter had in this project. She may have seen some of Alfred’s work first hand while living in Wessex. The two rulers would re-purpose the old Roman defenses to complete their military stronghold. They also established an important church that was dedicated to St. Oswald. In 909, Aethelflaed herself would arrange a mission to recover the bones of St. Oswald from Danish-controlled territory and the relic would be interred here. Both Aethelflaed and Aethelred would arrange to be be buried in this city that was so dear to them.

Aethelred and Aethelflaed would only have one child together, a daughter, named Aelfwynn. She would have been born early in the couple’s marriage. There are a few theories that are discussed in attempt to explain why the couple only had one child. Some are self-explanatory: Aethelflaed had a difficult birth and was unable to have children in the future or she had unrecorded still births. Another theory is that Aethelflaed purposely became celibate for political reasons. She was Alfred’s daughter, so any heir of hers would hurt the consolidated England that Alfred had envisioned. If she had no son and heir, then Mercia would likely be inherited by Wessex. This is an interesting theory, but probably an unlikely reason to not perform marital duties. A biological reason seems to be the most likely.

Besides Aelfwynn, another child grew up in the Mercian court. Athelstan, Aethelflaed’s nephew, would be sent to be raised by his aunt and uncle and to be educated. This was a common practice during the time to send noble children to be fostered in another kingdom. Athelstan would be an extremely important player going forward and is known to history as the King who would eventually unite all of England. This future king’s earliest influence was observing his Aunt Aethelflaed govern Mercia. He would become like a second child to her.

Image result for st oswald's priory gloucester
Ruins of St. Oswald’s Priory. Aethelflaed and Aethelred would be buried here, but their tombs are lost today

There were moments during the co-rulership when Aethelflaed would take authority herself, without the presence of her husband. Around 902, the sources suggest that Aethelred had begun to show signs of a serious illness which left him incapacitated at times. During these moments, it was Aethelflaed who took on the responsibility of the kingdom’s affairs.  This shows how much trust Aethelred had in her and that the people of Mercia had as well. It was also around this period that Norsemen refugees, who had been expelled from Ireland, came to Mercian shores near the ancient city of Chester. Ingimund, the Norse leader, is said to have had an audience with Lady Aethelflaed and requested land where his men could settle. Aethelflaed proved to be very diplomatic and generous. She agreed to gift Ingimund a piece of valuable land in the Wirral peninsula. This land was advantageous due to its access to riverways and provided a harbor for ships. Aethelflaed compromised rather than start another war on a new front, especially since these Norsemen had come in peace to settle. She chose the peaceful route over the violent, which may have been influenced by studying her father’s court. This was a big decision and she met the challenge in one of the first events she is recorded to have act independently.

But, was this the wrong choice? A few years later, about 906, Ingimund betrayed Aethelflaed and launched an attack on the city of Chester to seize it for their own. According to the Irish annals, which may have their own exaggerations, Aethelflaed learned of this betrayal and gathered a military force to be installed at Chester and await the siege prompted by Inigmund. Aethelflaed and her husband were aware that Ingimund’s army contained Irish warriors. The rulers decided to use this to their advantage. Aethelflaed sent negotiations to the Irish warriors in secret and encouraged them to betray their current allies. The Irish and Saxons held Christianity in common and she may have used this similarity to persuade the men. She could have suggested that it was their “Christian duty” to defeat the pagans. In the end, they agreed and together, the Irish warriors and the rulers of Mercia, devised a plan to trick the Norsemen. They would lure the Norse warriors into the city under the pretense that the citizens of Chester wanted to make a deal. After luring the Norse forces into the city under the pretense of negotiation, Aethelflaed’s army struck, defeating the traitorous Ingimund.

Whether this story is exaggerated or not, it seems that Aethelflaed had a big role to play in the command of this mission. She succeeded in saving Chester from the raiders and brought glory to Mercia. In 907, Aethelflaed began to refortify Chester where she reused the old Roman defenses and created improved defense wall. She seems to have extended the wall further down the River Severn, which increased the protection of Mercia’s waterways. She cleared away the rubble and decrepit ancient streets to create a working town. Aethelflaed dedicated a church to St Werburgh, another Mercian saint, and brought Christianity back to the area. She would go on to locate the relics of Werburgh and establish them at this church. She instituted a royal mint here as well and would issue currency. One coin from the period includes the image of a tower, thought to represent Chester, which revealed the importance it held for the Lady of Mercia. This was one of Aethelflaed’s largest projects in her lifetime as the land was vast. She was increasing the power to Mercia and the defense of the Saxon lands.

Aethelflaed’s first mention by name in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle (a manuscript commissioned by Alfred the Great to record Saxon history) is an entry from 910 that states, “the same year Ethelflaeda built the fortress at Bramsbury.” This occurred while her husband was still alive (though it was only a year before he would pass). To be mentioned by name in the Chrionicle shows how Aethelflaed’s importance was growing as she took on more responsibilities due to her husband’s illness. Her name was recorded for posterity and future generations to remember.

In 911, Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians, died, most likely from the illness that had been plaguing him for years. Aethelflaed was about forty-one years old at the time when she entered widowhood. When a woman’s husband died, and she was too old to be remarried, she had few options. Often noble women would leave public life and either enter a nunnery for retirement or at one of their estates. Aethelflaed’s own mother entered the nunnery after Alfred’s death and one would assume Aethelflaed would follow suit, but that was not the case. Aethelflaed had proven herself invaluable to the Mercians during the reign of her husband. She had played an active role in the economic, political and diplomatic spheres. She now succeeded her husband as the ruler of the Mercians completely in her own right. No territory had accepted a female ruler in centuries. Her succession was also do the fact that her people evidently loved her. During this period, rulers were elected from a group called the witan, which would have consisted of nobles. The witan knew they need someone who was strong, intelligent, and experienced as the Danes preparing to strike again. Aethelflaed was all three. She had proven herself to be a great defensive strategist and city planner, she had won a military victory against Ingimund, and was a great patron of the church. It is not hard to see why her nobles would want to pick her over any other candidate. She would now be known to her people and to history as the Lady of the Mercians.

Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia

Throughout her rule, Aethelflaed formed a tight partnership with her brother, King Edward of Wessex. Together, using the might of both Mercia and Wessex, they aimed to make their father’s vision a reality by reconquering the lost territory of the, Dane controlled, Five Burroughs back for the Saxons. Though Edward did take back London and the areas of Oxford (after Aethelred’s death) that were gifted by Alfred to Mercia, it seems there were no hard feelings. Aethelflaed probably saw the advantage of this alliance and allowed the territory to be exchanged. The gift was London could have been a temporary agreement between her husband and Alfred and now was void upon both of their deaths.

Aethelflaed began a mass campaign to restore and create fortresses along the borders of Mercia. It was a larger project than any her late husband had attempted previously. The burhs were placed in strategic locations along the borders touching Dane controlled Northumbria, the Five Boroughs, and the border to the Britons-controlled Wales. The next Anglo-Saxon chronicle entry (A.D. 912) states, “this year also came Ethelfleda, lady of the Mericans, on the holy eve called the invention of the holy cross, to Shergate, and built a fortress there, and the same year that at Bridgenorth.”

In 913, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle highlights one of Aethelflaed’s greatest achievements: “This year [913] by the permission of God went Ethelfleda, lady of Mercia, with all the Mercians to Tamworth; and built the fortress there in the forepart of the summer…” The building of Shergate and Bridgenorth secured her Western border, but Tamworth was key to strengthening their Danelaw border and recapturing lost East Mercian lands. Tamworth was the ancient capital of Mercia during the height of its power but had been destroyed and conquered by the Danes in the 870s. Though Aethelflaed had made her new capital in Gloucester, it did not change the fact that Tamworth was an important symbol of Mercian glory. The recapture of this city would not only help to achieve her goal of capturing lost Merican territory, but it would also give a boost her people’s morale.

The chronicle states that Aethelflaed came “with all the Mercians to Tamworth,” which may imply that she came with an army. There may have been a military struggle as she brought the city under her control. Tamworth was located at the crossing of two rivers, the Tame and the Anker, which was a valuable strategic position. There were no Roman ruins to re-purpose among the shambles of Tamworth. Aethelflaed was forced to build fortified settlement from nothing and, in doing so, showed that Mercia was powerful. Not only was Tamworth a symbol, but a threat to the Danes across the border. There is evidence that Aethelflaed established a royal residence there and revived the church of St. Editha, continuing her patronage of Saxon saints.

Per the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Aethelflaed would go on to build burhs in Stafford, Eddesbury, Warwick, Chirbury, Warburton, and Runkorn. This would happen over the course of a few years, between 912-915. As can be seen from the map below, these were carefully planned defense structures that covered most of Mercia’s borders. It shows that she was alert to the threats from the north. Mercia would not fall to the Danes again. Not only did she increase her defenses, Aethelflaed also looked to form alliances. In 914, she would make an alliance with the British kingdoms to the West. These kingdoms were what remained of the original Briton population that had been reduced when the Saxons originally came from across the sea. The Britons had settled at Strathclyde (southwest Scotland) and at Alba (future Scotland). She knew friends would be important for any upcoming Scandinavian offensive.

It is interesting to review the strategy that Aethelflaed of Mercia and Edward of Wessex used. It was clear that they were working together to stop the Scandinavian threat and claim back Saxon lands lost after the push of the Great Heathen Army in the 800s. It seems that Aethelflaed was cleaning up in the North and West, while she trusted Edward to take care of the East and South. Arman discusses in Warrior Queen that the siblings were creating a “type of pincer movement” as they continued to build up burhs along their borders. They were slowly encroaching together on the Five Boroughs.

Despite being wise in economic affairs and great at city planning, Aethelflaed is remembered today as a “Warrior Queen”. Yet, as of 916, the only great military event that had been recorded about her was Chester when she was betrayed by Ingimund. War was coming, as evident by her preparations, but it is unlikely that Aethelflaed physically led the battles. She would have been using her intelligence to work with her nobles to create a plan of attack. She had a lot of experience after observing her father and her husband’s war councils throughout her lifetime. She may have even had some training with weapons due to the dangerous climate she was born to and events she had faced with her family. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s entry for 916 its states:

“This year was the innocent Abbot Ecbert slain, before midsummer, on the sixteenth day before the calends of July…And within three nights sent Ethelfleda an army into Wales, and stormed Brecknock; and there took the king’s wife, with some four and thirty others.”

This is an interesting passage as it is showing an Aethelflaed that has not been written about before. It shows a response that is swift and ruthless. Abbot Ecbert must have been an important person to the Lady of Mercia and her people since his murder had brought about a violent response. Arman states in her book (Warrior Queen) that Aethelflaed and her army burned a crannog, a type of artificial island that the British cultures constructed and captured over thirty hostages. It seemed the Welsh King involved (King Tewydr) escaped, but he was humiliated by the Mercians. This was Aethelfaled’s goal. She wanted him to feel so humiliated that he would submit (which, in the end, he did). She did not devastate the surrounding kingdom or kill more than she had to, though she could have easily done so. I think this is very telling of what kind of ruler she was and Alfred’s influence. Alfred gave Guthrum another chance after he was sure he was fully submitted to Wessex. He could have been brutal but let Guthrum rule East Anglia. Aethelflaed is the same, she did enough damage to make a show of force but did not create unnecessary destruction.

Image result for tamworth aethelflaed
Aethelflaed statue in Tamworth

The next entry in the Chronicle describes one of Aethelflaed’s greatest military victories: “This year, Ethelfleda, lady of the Mercians, with the help of God, before Laminas, conquered the town called Derby, with all that thereto belonged; and there were also slain four of her thanes, that were most dear to her within the gates…” Derby was one of the Five Boroughs and had been since the split of Mercia in the 870s. Aethelflaed knew that if she could capture one of the Boroughs, it would prove how strong Mercia had grown and would greatly contribute to her and Edward’s overall goal. At this time, war had come to the Danes on two different fronts (the South against the army of Wessex and to the North). The garrison at Derby may have had reduced numbers of troops due to the Danes needing these men elsewhere in their kingdom. If this was true, then this was the perfect time for Aethelflaed to strike.

The campaign for Derby was known as a terribly violent affair. The Danes were not going to go down without a fight, despite their reduced numbers. This territory had become their home as well. Not too many details of the actual battles remain, but, by July of 917, the borough was captured. The whole region fell under Aethelfaled’s rule. With the capture of Derby, Mercia received a boost in revenue and kingdom continued to grow. It is here that Aethelflaed also continued her religious mission and restored the relics of St. Alkmund, which had been left in a perilous position after the Danes had conquered the area. After the campaigns of 917 on both the Mercian and Wessex fronts, things were starting to look bad for the Danes who were quickly losing their territory and citizens. Their rule was slowly failing. The English had two great leaders on their side, both children of Alfred, who were excellent at working together.

It is due to this weakness that, the following year, Aethelflaed was able to take the Borough of Leichester peacefully. The Chronicle writes that: “This year [A.D. 918] Ethelflaeda got into her power, with God’s assistance, in the early part of the year, without loss, the town of Leichester; and the greater part of the army that belonged thereto submitted to her.” It is very interesting that the contemporary source makes a specific note to its peaceful capture. After hearing of the loss at Derby and with the threat of the Saxons, the people of Leicester had loss faith in their Scandinavian overlords. Many of the citizens were former Saxons who had been conquered and brought under new rule. They did not want to fight a risky war, so they surrendered to Mercia. Aethelflaed’s power was at its height and she had gained herself such a reputation that others were ready to submit to her without attempting to fight. 

Within a year, Aethelflaed had greatly extended the territory under her rule. She held two of the Five Boroughs, which is incredible after years of living under the threat of the Danes. It took Aethelflaed to bring back the glory of Mercia. She was impressive to outsiders as well which helped her form the alliances that were mentioned before. The Irish Annals of the period loved to tell stories of her as well. The Anglo-Danish of Northumbria (territory that had been held by the Danes the longest) came to Aethelflaed and submitted, specifically the city of York. The Chronicle makes a mention of this event as well:

“And the Yorkists had also promised and confirmed, some by agreement and some with oaths, that they would be in her interests…”

The people of York began discussions with Aethelflaed about accepting her governorship and were willing to break away from Danish rule. This was a prize. York was a large, prosperous city and had been ruled by the Danes for about fifty years. Yet, now the city felt threatened and felt that this change was the best step for them.

But, it was not to be. In between negotiations, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, died on June 12, 918 at the age of 48. She would be buried next to her husband at St. Oswald’s priory, in the capital city of Gloucester. This death seems to have been an unexpected event. We have no evidence that she was taken by illness, though late forties and fifties was considered a good old age for the period. She died at the height of her power and had made Merica strong again. After her death, Aethelflaed also became known as the first woman to be succeeded by a female heir, her daughter Aelfwynn.

Sadly, Aelfwynn was not like her strong mother and her reign was short lived. It seemed Edward of Wessex took advantage of this weaker ruler, despite being his niece, and somehow, she was deposed. Her deposition may also have been due to her people’s rejection as they could have preferred a stronger ruler (like Edward). Aelfwynn had failed to continue her mother’s goals and was not successful in obtaining York. That deal had been shot once her mother died. There was also a lull in military activity once Aelfwynn came to power. In fact, there was nothing really happening at all. It can be easy to infer why her people may have abandoned her. Edward, now with the rule of Mercia, had really begun the process of consolidating England. Yet, he could not have done this without the efforts of his sister, the great Aethelflaed.

Aethelflaed is another amazing woman that time seems to have been forgotten, until recently. She had a remarkable career and had a big role in the formation of England. It may have been Alfred’s vision, but it was his descendants that put it into action. She was intelligent and had a great understanding of strategy. She was a true born leader which is evident from the love she received from her people. She was more than the standard noblewoman of the age. She did not back down to the challenging of ruling after her husband died, in fact, she was the one chosen to by her people. She was the one they trusted most. She boosted the economy of Mercia, was a great patron of the Christianity, and established many new churches and priories in honor of Mercian saints. She reinvigorated old cities and symbols of Mercian pride. She was an able military commander and had taken two (almost three!) Boroughs back for Saxon England. It is implied that Aethelflaed even caught the attention of J.R.R. Tolkien as he wrote The Lord of the Rings and was the inspiration for the character, Eowyn of Rohan.

Image result for tamworth aethelflaed
Statue of Aethelflaed and Athelstan in Tamworth

Athelstan, her nephew and young ward, would eventually succeed his father Edward as King of Wessex and Mercia. Athelstan, who grew up in Mercia and learned first hand from his aunt, was accepted immediately by the Mercian people and would go on to create the England we know today. He had been raised by his aunt Aethelflaed, and, it is certain that throughout his own rule he would remember many of the things she had taught him.

Aethelflaed is one of the forgotten heroines of English history and I hope this article helped to bring to light some of her great accomplishments.

I know this post is a little longer than normal, but there is so much I wanted to share! Thank you for taking the time to read it! What do you think of the real Aethelflaed and what is your opinion of her portrayal in other media?


The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great by Joanna Arman

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (890s-1100s) translated by Rev. James Ingram and Dr. J.A. Giles.
Originally created under orders of Alfred the Great

Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians by Tim Clarkston

7 thoughts on “Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

  1. Another very interesting post about another influential woman of history. I am a fan of your blog and of the TV show “Last Kingdom” and the books by author Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell’s books and the television show brings historic characters, like Aethelflaed, to life but your post brings validity to the person and their accomplishments. It is significant that Aethelflaed, a woman in a very male dominated, church controlled period of time, was able to achieve the level of influence and support needed to make the contributions to history and to England that she did. Remarkable!

    Nice Post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for taking the time and being so meticulously informative, love stories about empowered women and the oldest in history it is the better.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this! I have learned a lot, about this great woman. Did you know about the other theory that says Aethelflaed had more children like Arnulf the Bevere? For their protection and unifiaction of England she kept them secret. It is said Arnulf was born at Bevere Manor and fleed to Flanders, to his relative Arnulf of Flanders when things got dangerous for him in England.


    1. Dear Catherine, do you have any academic sources about Arnulf the Bevere? I’m very intrested in his history.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s