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Aethelflaed - Lady of Mercia

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, passed away in the June of 918. Her nephew Aethelstan, future king of all England, looks up at her.

Aethelflaed was one of three daughters of Alfred the Great, and her name meant "noble beauty". She married Aethelraed of Mercia at some point during the 880s and while this union meant a strong alliance between Wessex and Mercia the pair embarked on a "Mercian revival" with the city of Worcester at its centre. When Aethelraed died in 911 after years of ill-health Aethelflaed remained as Lady of Mercia and held this position until her death, making her the only female ruler of a kingdom during the entire Anglo-Saxon era. The only compromise she made was to agree to her brother Edward, now king of Wessex, taking some of Mercia's southern lands under his control.

Their father Alfred the Great had fortified dozens of Wessex towns as "burhs" and Edward continued this work, connecting his burhs with those in Mercia to represent a united front against viking incursions, and it wasn't long before this was put to the test. A force of vikings, pushed out of Ireland, landed in the mouth of the Dee after unsuccessfully trying to take land in Wales, and asked Aethelflaed if they could settle for a time outside the old Roman walled town of Chester. Permission was granted but the Norsemen raided and robbed the area at will so Aethelflaed led a force to shut them down. She had Chester fortified and waited for the inevitable viking attack, it came and was repulsed, the Scandinavian chancers sent packing in complete disarray.

This same Norse army was brought to battle at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton where Aethelflaed's forces destroyed them. The writing was now on the wall - the vikings had to go. Together with Edward she raided deep into Danelaw territory on a mission to rescue the bones of St Oswald - who had been killed and ritually dismembered by the pagan king of Mercia Penda - from a church in Lincolnshire then brought the relics down to Gloucestershire where a new church was built to house them...more on that presently.

The burhs continued to be built, and the Dane strongholds fell as Aethelflaed campaigned hard against them. Her forces defeated three Norse armies before finally taking the city of Derby, then Leicester, before the Danes of York came to her to pledge their loyalty. The vikings in Anglia capitulated to Edward and so all of England south of Northumbria was now back under Anglo-Saxon rule.

Aethelflaed died at Tamworth in 918 and so will be forever associated with the town, but she was carried down to Gloucestershire to be buried in the church she had built for St Oswald. Unfortunately the monastery there fell into decline over the centuries, was dissolved in 1536, then almost completely destroyed during the English Civil War. Nobody knows where Aethelflaed's resting place is now, but the ruins of St Oswalds are as good a place as any as a pilgrimage destination for those wishing to follow in the footsteps of the Lady of Mercia.

Picture shows a statue of Aethelflaed at Tamworth Castle, by EG Bramwell, unveiled in 1913. Her nephew Aethelstan, future king of all England, looks up at her.

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Every post by Hugh Williams gives such interesting information, accompanied by photos which apply to some of the information given. I find all of Hugh’s postings to be fascinating and informative. I have learned a great deal about areas I have not been able to visit and I would highly recommend following Hugh on Facebook.

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