5 things you should know about Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians
Early medievalist Rebecca Hardie shares her favourite facts about the Lady of the Mercians’ fascinating life and reputable legacy…
Born in around AD 870, Æthelflæd was the daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the West Saxons, and Ealhswith, a Mercian noblewoman. While not much is known about her early life, in AD 886 she went on to marry Æthelred of Mercia, marking the point she became joint ruler of the Mercian people.
After her husband’s death in AD 911, she continued to rule as sole leader another seven years and enjoyed a period of great political prosperity. Throughout her short reign and beyond, she was celebrated as a keen military strategist, diplomatic negotiator and a key player in pushing back Viking advances in the Midlands territories, paving a way for the unification of early medieval English kingdoms under subsequent rule.
From ‘Lady of the Mercians’ to ‘Mother of the English’, Æthelflæd’s success has provided her with a long cultural afterlife. But what are the key facts to know about her? Speaking on the HistoryExtra podcast, Rebecca Hardie shares her five top facts about Æthelflæd that everybody should know…
Mercian success story
First of all, she was the highly-successful, highly-celebrated leader of the Mercian people, under whom Mercia enjoyed a period of immense political prosperity.
She was also a leader of a diverse peoples. She united the tribes of Mercia, and she was able to negotiate across borders with different peoples in Wales and in the north. This gives us an idea of the complexity of England at this time in which she was negotiating.
Line of female rulers
Æthelflæd came from a line of Mercian ruling women as well. Her female leadership was shaped by this female genealogy and the influence she received from people like her mother and grandmother.
Title and power
Æthelflæd was a lady, not a queen, in the Mercian sources. Yet she enjoyed a considerable amount of agency and power at this time, which makes her one of the most fascinating people in history to research.
Legacy of the Lady
From the 10th century onwards, we've inherited many different representations of Æthelflæd. This is just another way that she can inspire us to look for different ways of connecting with the past and help us understand that there is not a limited number of ways. She provides more scope to connect through her with early medieval England.
Rebecca Hardie is an early medievalist at Freie Universität, in Berlin, and the editor of the upcoming essay collection, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, and Women in Tenth-Century England. She was speaking with Emily Briffett on the HistoryExtra podcast, exploring what this fascinating figure can tell us about contemporary definitions of power and the lives of other women in the early Middle Ages. Listen to the full podcast episode here.
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