Aethelflaed & Eadward

Aethelflaed Statue
Statue of Aethelflaed at Tamworth, Staffordshire, the boy is Aethelstan who went on to unite England





Excerpt from; Dark Ages to the Vikings 410 TO 1050


With special reference to Athelflaed Lady of the Mercians

The ASC mentioned, refers to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, without which, any book dealing with the Anglo Saxons, is of no value.


Into the picture now comes Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, and King Alfred’s eldest child, she is married to Aethelraed the Mercian, and seems to be the power behind the throne, indeed although not mentioned, when analysed her fingerprints look to be all over the previous eleven years events, the ASC has her building a fort in 910 as part of the defences of Mercia against the Vikings, and one suspects she was in the habit of ‘advising’ her younger brother Eadward I(the Elder) in his campaign, hence my note above.

Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians is not mentioned in the battle at Tettenhall(910) but neither is her husband Aethelraed although it is inferred he was in charge of the battle, he is on his deathbed and dies shortly after. At which point Aethelflaed is proclaimed ‘Lady of the Mercians’, this in itself suggests she was accepted as being a powerful Woman in her own right. This would precede any record in the ASC, indeed going by her later performance it is possible she directed the battle of Tettenhall, as there is no ‘general’ named and other sources suggest Aethelraed led the battle, but as he had been suffering a long term illness and incapcitated this seems less than likely.

Certainly Aethelflaed immediately built another couple of forts or Burhs, which are to the design of her father Alfred the Great, and later took her Army into battle three times providing all the planning and ensuring the logistics worked. Such a Woman does not come from nowhere without renown, and we can take it she learnt many of her skills from her father Alfred the Great, she was in all probability with him at Athelney whilst he was hiding out from the Vikings.

On top of this, earlier, she is mentioned in a charter equally with her husband Aethelraed, when work was done to strengthen Worcester. One of the terms of the charter she is mentioned in, would denude income from the crown of Mercia, hence it would give credence to her instigating the building of the Burhs, and one supposes gaining other income from the rents, this would mitigate the lost income from Worcester, by gaining tolls of revenue from goods, passing through the new Burhs.  Indeed, we know from other Burhs, there would have been deals brokered to entice Thegns or such like into these Forts, and if they were Vikings, who came from further north in the Danelaw, then it would also answer part of the question, why from this period, Northumbria is unable to withstand the Viking raids from Ireland, their best Vikings are in Mercia.

Eadward had been King for nine years at this time, yet had not expanded his Kingdom, suddenly on the death of Aethelraed, this all changes, Aethelflaed I think is the power behind the Wessex throne.

Meanwhile younger brother Eadward retook London for Wessex, which it is thought had fallen into Viking hands, until this time, London had been held by Mercia, this suggest’s the tacit approval of Aethelflaed, because she is in charge of Mercia. Then Eadward restarted the campaign to enlarge Wessex, and bring parts of East Anglia into the Kingdom.  In 914 a large Viking force from Scandinavia attacked Wessex, which for a time stopped any advance, but once this raid had been repulsed, Eadward started his expansion campaign again towards Northampton.  Meanwhile Aethelflaed in concert with him, started an onslaught on Derby.

Map 10th Century England
This is not accurate, the Danelaw spread down parts of Lincolnshire, but is does show to some extent how Aethelflaed and Eadward I had extended the two Realms. Aethelstan unites both and then moves into Deira, more usually known as the ‘Danelaw’


Eadward, Aethelflaed, move North in concert.

This way the move North continued in the campaigning season, this is the Spring and Summer months outside the harvest, but is also very elastic as 917 Eadward continued campaigning until November, past Martinmas, which is November 11th and in January 918Aethelflaed took Leicester “without a fight”, and she was given a promise of allegiance from the Vikings in Yorkshire. They seem to have wanted an extra defence she was able to provide, it would seem to protect them from attack by the Irish Vikings and also Yorkshire’s Northern neighbours, however there was no time with which to act upon it.

12 days before Midsummer 918, Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians died, she had made her mark but failed to live to see the outcome, Yorkshire was still at the mercy of the Irish and Strathclyde Viking raiders.  Indeed had she secured Yorkshire as both sides seemed to want, she would definitely warrant a major place in history, also had this happened, it could be seen today, the extent to which, she has been airbrushed out of History by later generations.  Eadward the Elder immediately went to Tamworth and ‘captured it’. At this point the ASC says that Mercia and the Welsh regions turned to him, however there is no mention of him being declared King, but this is what he became, in all but name.

The Danish settlements south of the Humber now found themselves isolated and soon came under Eadward’s rule. With the impetus in his favour, Eadward kept up the pressure of conquest as best he could, but it is worth noting that Eadward the Elder found it difficult to administer the enlarged Kingdom, and it was only held loosely in some parts.  In many areas, full centralisation of Government, had still to be been honed to the sharpness it yet needed.

Eadward and Aethelflaed left a series of Burhs, or defensive Towns, this carried on the work started by Alfred, and they had extended up England, to Runcorn in the West, via Manchester and Lincoln in the East, it gave a springboard should counter attack come. Also Eadward had always ensured there were military reserves, which from a planning point always leads a General to ask if there is enough front line troops to fight, this reduces over stretch, through the thinking that, if one has not the reserve, then what happens.  The answer being keep a reserve or stay within the area you have gained, over ambition has led many to fall, Eadward didn’t even stumble, it may indicate a lack of authority and planning for expansion, but there is nothing wrong with expanding within ones own limits, the Emperor Augustus used the strategy.

11th century carts, contemporary draw
Agriculture was the bedrock of the wealth, this illustration is from a 19th Century book, the original is in the Cotton Collection of the British Museum

There is a footnote to this story.

Although Eadward I didn’t unify today’s England, Aethelflaed, was to ensure it happened, she had adopted, Eadward’s illegitimate son, Aethelstan, and had raised him in the Mercian Court but he also seems to have had a strong following in Mercia, because on Edawrd’s death within weeks, Aethelstan is Crowned King, and then is decalred King in Mercia before advancing into the Danelaw. Plus Aethelflaed has had Aethelstan well tutored, because it is he, that has the administrative abilities to ensure continued control of the Whole of England.