Æthelflæd

   , Lady of the Mercians
(d. 918)
   Daughter of King Alfred, traditionally known as the Great, and wife of the powerful ealdorman (or lord) of Mercia, Ethelred. Although she was described by later historians as too weak to endure the pains of childbirth more than once, despite the powerful motivation of having borne no male heir, Æthelflæd was a strong partner for her husband while he lived and a leader against Viking attacks after his death. After 911, she was recognized as "queen," or "lady," of the Mercians and ruled the kingdom in her own name. Her marriage forged an important alliance between her native Wessex and Mercia during the critical period of the Viking invasions.
   Æthelflæd's career in Mercia began by the end of 889, with her marriage to Ethelred to solidify an alliance between her father and her new husband, an alliance that was to be important in the face of increased Viking pressure. During her entire married life, Æthelflæd exerted influence on her husband's rule, and at least by 900 her name was associated with his in charters confirming grants of land. But it was after her husband's death in 911 that Æthelflæd left her greatest mark as a warrior queen. She assumed control of the kingdom in 911 and was able to keep the loyalty of her husband's vassals. Joining with her brother, King Edward, she led the campaign against the Vikings and enabled her brother to make significant progress against the Danish Vikings in the south. She led her armies personally and achieved smashing victories over the Vikings, victories that enabled her to retake Derby and Leicester. Her victories forced Viking settlers and Welsh kings to recognize her authority. She also built a number of important fortifications, inspired perhaps by her father's example. With her husband, she fortified Worcester. After 911, she embarked on a deliberate program of building to strengthen the defenses of Mercia. She built as many as ten fortresses, which limited the effectiveness of Viking attacks and allowed her to send out armies against her enemies with increasing effectiveness.
   She ruled in her own name until her death in 919. She had one daughter, Ælfwyn, who inherited the loyalty of the Mercian nobility. Unfortunately, family ties were not so strong, and her uncle, King Edward, marched into Mercia, seized his niece, and took control of Mercia. Edward thus unified Mercia and Wessex. Despite the absorption of Mercia by Wessex, Æthelflæd left an important legacy to Anglo-Saxon England and had a great impact on the struggle against the Vikings.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Jewell, Helen. Women in Medieval England. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996.
 ♦ Leyser, Henrietta. Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England, 450-1500. New York: St. Martin's, 1995.
 ♦ Stafford, Pauline. Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: The King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
 ♦ Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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