“Aethelflaed’s Protege”


Map Europe Aethelflaed.
Europe during the reign of Aethelstan’s mother Aethelflaed.


Aethelflaed’s protégé strengthens a budding Nation.

Aethelstan, who was Eadward’s eldest son, is not thought to be legitimate. Eadward I (Edward the Elder) had two known wives in succession, neither of them Aethelstan’s mother.

As a boy Aethelstan had been regaled by his grandfather King Alfred, in a Royal tunic and sword, however there are various rumours as to whom his Mother was, none of them from noble blood. Notably Aethelstan had been adopted by none other than Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, who seems to have brought him up to be at least a Royal prospect, and probably as he matured, her successor in Mercia. We have no way of confirming this, but as Aethelstan was the one who succeeded to the throne within five weeks of Eadward’s death, he at least had backing from elsewhere in the Royal court, and some of this must go back to being groomed by Aethelflaed, and her court influence.

Aethelstan Silver penny
There are very few remnants of illustrations with Aethelstan, this is a silver penny, minted during his reign

The Coronation and anointing was on September 4th 925, in public at Kingston on Thames and was done, so as to show the people it was God’s will. The location is interesting because not only was it the highest crossing of the Thames, it was also a Coronation stone of Wessex, so he appears to have become King of Wessex, before being confirmed King of Mercia, which was in fact his stronghold. He was now the Ring Giver, and to prove it, the Bishops of Rome were the instigators, but the men who had helped make him King, would also require a kickback, and Aethelstan wasted no time in giving them their rewards, in 927 he set about extending his Kingdom.

Since the reign of Alfred, the North had changed considerably, although this went largely unrecorded in the ASC (Anglo Saxon Chronicle). In 913 Raegnold and his Danish hordes had invaded Northumbria, and battled at Corbridge, against Constantine King of the Scots, with a combined army which included Ealdred of Bernicia, the Vikings winning the day.

Then later Raegnold moved south and took York, which until now was in the hands of the Irish-Norse Viking dynasty Clan Ivar, it was 919 and the Irish-Norse Vikings were well established, minting their own coins and opening diplomatic dialogue with North Wales, this must have been viewed with alarm by the Saxons.

Aethelflaed had secured the Mersey, and Eadward I had upgraded the old Roman stronghold in Manchester, this had looked to safeguard the Western approach to Mercia. In 920 Sihtric a cousin of Raegnold invaded Mercia and sacked Davenport a place in Cheshire, this may have been what prompted Eadward to take the stronghold of Nottingham, and move North. Whatever the motive, the outcome was that the Scots and Vikings were now part of Northern England, shortly after Raegnold dies and Sihtric takes York as his own.

Kirby Hill Anglo-Saxon Church
Kirby Hill Church Boroughbridge, dates from Anglo Saxons


Aethelstan defeats the Irish-Norse Vikings

Back to the present story, this is where Aethelstan starts his campaign proper, he arranges a marriage of a half-sister to Sihtric, when eighteen months later Sihtric dies, leaving Olaf, a son by a previous marriage of Sihtric, King of Northumbria. At this point, arrives a spoiler for Aethelstan, in the form of Guthfrith an uncle from the Irish-Norse Vikings, who sails over to York to give his support.

It should be remembered that Aethelflaed, just before she died, was arranging a diplomatic solution to the problem with York and the Danelaw, which her untimely death led to a break in negotiations. It becomes all too clear, that she had anticipated that there could be other claims to the Danelaw, and had probably tried to have an improved succession. That she came to the table with a stronger hand, having bashed the Vikings three times in battle, and never lost, unlike her brother brother Eadward the Elder, her politicking now becomes a little more transparent.

Benty Grange Anglo-Saxon Helmet
Benty Grange a rare original Anglo-Saxon helmet

Aethelstan soon routs both of the Vikings, and has a meeting with the Northern Kings at Eamont bridge, which spanned the river at Ullswater in the Lake District, this is thought to be the Northern border of England at that point. He accepts their recognition of him as supreme ruler, and forbade all devil worship, which is taken to mean the Norse Gods, Aethelstan was a devout Christian, and was ruling in Christ’s name.
The Treaty of Eamont Bridge, 12th July 927, was an attempt by Aethelstan to bring some peace between the different Realms. It was an uneasy, relationship and was never strongly accepted, but did last 10 years, until the Irish-Norse Vikings tried to exert their power at Brunanburh.