Who Was Aethelflaed?

Lady of the Mercians, Saxon Ruler

Alfred the Great and Æthelflæd, 13th century
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Aethelflaed (Ethelfleda) was the eldest child and daughter of Alfred the Great and sister of Edward "the Elder," king of Wessex (ruled 899-924). Her mother was Ealhswith, who was from the ruling family of Mercia.

Who She Was 

She married Aethelred, lord (ealdorman) of Mercia, in 886. They had a daughter, Ælfwynn. Aethelflaed's father Alfred put London in the care of his son-in-law and daughter. She and her husband supported the Church, giving generous grants to local religious communities. Aethelred joined her husband Aethelred and her father in fighting against Danish invaders.

How Aethelred Died

In 911 Aethelred was killed in battle with the Danes, and Aethelflaed became the political and military ruler of the Mercians. She may have been the de facto ruler for a few years during her husband's illness. After her husband's death, the people of Mercia gave her the title Lady of the Mercians, a feminine version of the title that her husband had held.

Her Legacy

She built fortresses in western Mercia as a defense against invading and occupying Danes. Aethelflaed took an active role, and led her forces against the Danes at Derby and captured it, and then defeated them at Leicester. Aethelflaed even invaded Wales in retribution for the killing of an English Abbott and his party. She captured the wife of the king and 33 others and held them as a hostage.

In 917, Aethelflaed captured Derby and was able to take power in Leicester. The Danes there submitted to her rule.

Final Resting Place

In 918, the Danes in York offered their allegiance to Aethelflaed as protection against Norwegians in Ireland. Aethelflaed died that year. She was buried at the monastery of St. Peter at Gloucester, one of the monasteries built with funds from her Aethelred and Aethelflaed.

Aethelflaed was succeeded by her daughter Aelfwyn, whom Aethelflaed had made a joint ruler with her. Edward, who already controlled Wessex, seized the kingdom of Mercia from Aelfwyn, took her captive, and thus solidified his control over most of England. Aelfwyn is not known to have married and may have gone to a convent.

Edward's son, Aethestan, who ruled 924-939, was educated at the court of Aethelred and Aethelflaed.

Known for: defeating the Danes at Leicester and Derby, invading Wales

Occupation: Mercian ruler (912-918) and military leader

Dates: 872-879? - June 12, 918

Also known as: Ethelfleda, Ethelflaed, Aelfled, Æthelflæd, Aeoelfled


  • Father: Alfred the Great (Ælfred), ruled Wessex 871-899. He was the son of Æthelwulf, King of Wessex and his first wife, Osburh (Osburga). 
  • Mother: Ealhswith of the Gaini, daughter of Æthelred Mucil of the Gaini tribe and Eadburh, a Mercian royal. As was Saxon custom, she was not crowned or titled queen.
    • Brother: Edward "the Elder," king of Wessex (ruled 899-924)
    • Sister: Aethelgiva, Abbess of Shaftesbury
    • Brother: Aethelwaerd (three sons with no descendants)
    • Sister: Aelfthryth, married Baldwin, Count of Flanders (Aelfthryth was the 4th great-grandmother of Matilda of Flanders, married to William the Conqueror, and thus an ancestor of later British royalty)
  • Husband: Aethelred (Ethelred, Æthelræd), Earl of Mercia
  • Daughter: Aelfwyn (Aelfwynn, Ælfwynn, Ælfwyn, Elfwina)
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Who Was Aethelflaed?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Who Was Aethelflaed? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Who Was Aethelflaed?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617 (accessed June 6, 2023).