Friday, August 12, 2011

Æðelflæd (Aethelflaed)

Æðelflæd (Aethelflaed) - "The Lady of the Mercians" - The eldest child of the famous King Alfred of Wessex and Ealhswyth, his noble Mercian wife, Aethelflaed was born about 869 CE, two years before her father ascended to the throne of Wessex - then the most powerful of the English kingdoms. Like her younger siblings, Aethelflaed learned to read and write in English and Latin, memorized the Psalms, and learned the seven liberal arts. She was considered intellectually gifted in her schooling, and beyond.

She married King Aethelred II of Mercia (not Unraed, he was later) in 884, as part of a political deal. Aethelred accepted the overlordship of Alfred and demoted himself from cyning (king) to ealdorman ( earl), but in return had the security of connection to the Wessex royal family. In this marriage, at least, it seems as if Aethelflaed was acting in the stereotypically feminine capacity of peace-weaver. Aethelflaed was not a subservient wife, however, nor was she demonstrably peaceful. She immediately began working with Aethelred in developing military strategies, and joined with him in the fights against Viking invaders.

From 888 CE -- the year Aethelred was struck with a debilitating illness-- until his death in 911 CE , Aethelflaed wielded the royal power in her marriage. Unlike her mother, Ealhswyth, Aethelflaed did not retire to a monastery at the death of her husband, but continued the control she had wielded over her kingdom until her own death in 918 CE. It was she who invaded and conquered part of Wales, built defensive burhs in Mercia, refortified several fortresses, and fended off the Vikings. In her refortification efforts, Aethelflaed rebuilt the Roman walls at Gloucester, and developed a city plan. Gloucester still bears the mark of Aethelflaed's plan today; the roads that are in the city are where they are because Aethelflaed put them there. When Aethelred died in 911 CE, Aethelflaed continued to rule, joining with her younger brother Edward to put down rebellions to the north, create political alliances with other kings, and (surprise!) fight off Viking invaders. She defeated the Danes of York, who then submitted to her overlordship in 918 CE in return for defense from the Norse in Ireland.

When Aethelflaed died in the same year (918 CE), her kingdom of Mercia was nominally left in control of her 20 year-old daughter Aelfwynn. However, Aelfwynn was almost immediately brought to the court of Edward, her maternal uncle, by reason of her "minority" and Wessex annexed Mercia.

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