Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia was born circa 872 in Wessex to Alfred the Great (849-899) and Ealhswith (c852-905) and died 12 June 918 Tamford, Staffordshire, England of unspecified causes. She married Æthelred of Mercia (c855-911) 886 JL in England. Alfred the Great (849-899).


Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, (d. 12 June 918) ruled Mercia from 911 to her death in 918. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great (849-899), king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and his wife Ealhswith (c852-905). Æthelflæd was born at the height of the Viking invasions of England. Her father married her to Æthelred (c855-911), Lord of the Mercians. After his death in 911, she ruled as Lady of the Mercians.

After her death in 918, the Mercian kingdom then became part of the domain of her brother Edward the Elder (c870-924), part of the larger English Kingdom.

Kingdom of Mercia

Mercia was the dominant kingdom in southern England in the eighth century, and maintained its position until it suffered a decisive defeat by Wessex at the Battle of Ellandun in 825. Thereafter the two kingdoms became allies, which was to be an important factor in English resistance to the Vikings.[1]

In 865 the Viking Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia, and used it as a starting point for an invasion. The East Anglians were forced to buy peace, and the following year the Vikings invaded Northumbria, where they appointed a puppet king in 867. They then moved on Mercia, where they spent the winter of 867–868. King Burgred of Mercia was joined by King Æthelred of Wessex and his brother, the future King Alfred, for a combined attack on the Vikings, but they refused an engagement and in the end the Mercians bought peace with them. The following year, the Vikings conquered East Anglia.[2] In 874 they expelled King Burgred, and Ceolwulf became the last King of Mercia with their support. In 877 the Vikings partitioned Mercia, taking the eastern regions for themselves and allowing Ceolwulf to keep the western ones. He was described by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as "a foolish king's thegn" who was a puppet of the Vikings, but the historian Ann Williams regards this view as partial and distorted: he was accepted as a true king by the Mercians and by King Alfred.[3]

Ceolwulf is not recorded after 879. The family background of his successor, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, is unknown. He is first seen in 881, when, according to the historian of medieval Wales, Thomas Charles-Edwards, he led an unsuccessful Mercian invasion of the north Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd. Around this time, Æthelred became the ruler of the English western half of Mercia. In 883 he made a grant with the consent of King Alfred, thus acknowledging Alfred's lordship. In 886 Alfred occupied the Mercian town of London, which had been in Viking hands. He then received the submission of all English not under Viking control, and handed control of London over to Æthelred. In the 890s, Æthelred and Edward fought off renewed Viking attacks.

Lady of the Mercians

On her husband's death in 911, Æthelflæd became Myrcna hlædige, "Lady of the Mercians".[8] Ian Walker describes her succession as the only case of a female ruler of a kingdom in Anglo-Saxon history, and "one of the most unique events in early medieval history".[32] In Wessex, royal women were not allowed to play any political role, and Alfred's wife was not granted the title of queen, and was never a witness to charters. But Mercia was different. Alfred's sister Æthelswith had been had been the wife of King Burgred of Mercia, and she had witnessed charters as queen, and had made grants jointly with her husband and in her own name. Æthelflæd inherited a Mercian tradition of acceptance of queenly importance, and was able to play a key role in the history of the early tenth century as Lady of the Mercians which would not have been possible in Wessex.

When Æthelred died, Edward took control of two Mercian towns and their hinterland which Alfred had put under Mercian control, London and Oxford. Ian Walker suggests that Æthelflæd accepted this loss of territory in return for recognition by her brother of her position in Mercia. Alfred had constructed a network of fortified burhs in Wessex, and Edward and Æthelflæd now embarked on a programme of extending them to consolidate their defences and provide bases for attacks on the Vikings. According to Frank Stenton she led Mercian armies on expeditions which she planned, and he commented: "It was through reliance on her guardianship of Mercia that her brother was enabled to begin the forward movement against the southern Danes which is the outstanding feature of his reign."

Death and Burial

Æthelflæd died at Tamworth on 12 June 918, and her body was carried seventy-five miles to Gloucester, where she was buried with her husband in their foundation, St Oswald's Priory.[8] According to the Mercian Register, Æthelflæd was buried in the east porticus. A separate building which is suitable for a royal mausoleum has been found by archaeological investigation at the east end of the church, and this may have been St Oswald's burial place. A situation next to the saint would have been a prestigious location for Æthelred and Æthelflæd to be buried. According to William of Malmesbury, the burial places were found in the south porticus during building works in the early twelfth century. He may have been misinformed about the position, but it is also possible that the tombs were moved from their prestigious position next to the saint when the couple became less known over time, or when tenth-century kings acted to minimise the honour paid to their Mercian predecessors.

Marriage and Family

Æthelflæd was born around 870,[a] the oldest child of King Alfred the Great and his Mercian queen, Ealhswith, who was a daughter of Æthelred Mucel, ealdorman of the Gaini, one of the tribes of Mercia. Ealhswith's mother, Eadburh, was a member of the Mercian royal house, probably a descendant of King Coenwulf (796–821).[10] Æthelflæd was thus half–Mercian, and the alliance between Wessex and Mercia was sealed by her marriage to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. She was first recorded as Æthelred's wife in a charter of 887, when he granted two estates to the see of Worcester "with the permission and sign-manual of King Alfred", and the attestors included "Æthelflæd conjux" However, the marriage may have taken earlier, perhaps when he submitted to Alfred following the recovery of London in 886.[11] Æthelred was much older than Æthelflæd, and they had one known child, a daughter called Ælfwynn. Æthelstan, the eldest son of Edward the Elder and future king of England, was brought up in their court,[8] and in the view of Martin Ryan, certainly joined their campaigns against the Vikings


Offspring of Æthelred, Lord of Mercia and Æthelflæd (c872-918)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Ælfwynn of Mercia (c888-918) 888 England, United Kingdom (Mercia) 918 England, United Kingdom (Mercia)




Footnotes (including sources)