Aethelflaed

Lady of the Mercians, Saxon Ruler

Alfred the Great and Æthelflæd, 13th century
Alfred the Great and Æthelflæd, 13th century. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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

Family:

  • 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 a 4th great-grandmother of Matilda of Flanders, married to William the Conqueror, and thus ancestor of later British royalty)
  • Husband: Aethelred (Ethelred, Æthelræd), Earl of Mercia
    • daughter: Aelfwyn (Aelfwynn, Ælfwynn, Ælfwyn, Elfwina)

Aethelflaed Biography

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.

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.

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 defacto 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.

She built fortresses in western Mercia as 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 hostage.

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

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 Gloucestor, 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.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Aethelflaed." ThoughtCo, Dec. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2016, December 22). Aethelflaed. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Aethelflaed." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/aethelflaed-british-queen-3529617 (accessed November 21, 2017).