Thursday, July 25, 2013

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

by Lisa Yarde

During the late ninth century in England, the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith, a descendant of the royal family of Mercia, welcomed their first child. Their newborn daughter Aethelflaed entered a dangerous world, made so by frequent incursions from the Danes who had harried the English coasts and countryside for decades. Aethelflaed would have two brothers and two sisters, with whom she shared pivotal roles or eclipsed entirely.

During the children’s early years, their father Alfred brokered a treaty with the Dane, Guthrum. This chieftain had carved out a portion of northwestern England called the Danelaw, which included a ravaged portion of Mercia. The ensuing period of peace allowed for a marriage between Aethelflaed and the warrior Athelred, alternatively called an ealdorman or Lord of the Mercians.

Alfred supported his regime and gave him control of London and part of the Oxford area. The bride might have been in her late teens when the marriage took place, but Athelred’s age remains uncertain. They would have one child, a daughter named Aelfwynn. During the marriage, the couple issued joint charters. They also transferred the relics of Saint Oswald of Northumbria to the Gloucester priory they founded in his name.

In 899, Aethelflaed lost her father, whose son Edward eventually succeeded after fending off a rival claim for the throne from Alfred’s cousin. Aethelflaed and her husband continued to govern Mercia, though all of the country’s coinage bore King Edward’s name.

After the year 900, Athelred’s health steadily declined. His wife’s responsibilities increased until she became the de facto ruler. It is possible her power exceeded that of most women of her time as she fortified the defenses against Mercia’s Welsh and Danish enemies.

On the west, Mercia abutted northern Wales and Athelred had endured several conflicts with its people, which continued under Aethelflaed’s reign. In 905 when the Danes attacked Chester, she safeguarded the town. Aethelflaed also established new defenses at the boroughs of Bridgnorth and Bromsgrove.

For four years after Athelred’s death and his burial at Saint Oswald’s priory in 911, Aethelflaed also allegedly began strengthening several areas around Tamworth, Stafford, Warwick, Runcorn, and Eddisbury; there is some dispute as to whether Edward ordered the work instead. He reclaimed the London and Oxford lands his father had granted Athelred, rather than allowing the widowed Aethelflaed to rule them.

It remains certain that she also struck out against Mercia’s foes. In 916, she led an incursion into Wales to avenge the death of a Mercian abbot. She allied with her brother Edward for a fight against Northumberland’s Danes in 917. She gained Derby and Leicester in the struggle. Aethelflaed also pledged to intervene in the fight against Norse raiders determined to take York, but she died at Tamworth before this could occur. Interred at Saint Oswald’s priory after death, her tireless efforts against the Danes and Welsh gained her the title, Lady of the Mercians.


Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written three novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana,  Sultana’s Legacy and Sultana: Two Sisters, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is included in Pagan Writers Press’ 2013 HerStory anthology.

Born in Barbados, Lisa currently lives in New York City. She is also an avid blogger and moderates at Unusual Historicals. She is also a contributor at Historical Novel Reviews and History and Women. Her personal blog is The Brooklyn Scribbler.

Learn more about Lisa and her writing at the website Follow her on Twitter or become a Facebook fan. For information on upcoming releases and freebies from Lisa, join her mailing list at

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  1. Aethelflaed has always been one of my favourites, Lisa. I enjoyed your post very much.

  2. Looks like I remembered her name the wrong way as Ethelthyth or Eanflead. She is a figure that I am interested in though, would like to get learn more about her. Interesting post.

  3. Wonderful post about one of my favourite women in history!


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