Her name was all but erased in Saxon chronicles, but it is high time to remember the Lady of Mercia, daughter of Alfred the Great, who fought Vikings and won, again and again.
Note: This post contains historical spoilers, so if you would prefer to wait for the next couple seasons of The Last Kingdom completely spoiler-free, please don't read on.
The Last Kingdom, one of my favourite TV shows, is very clearly a work of fiction, but it is also a dramatic portrayal of the early years of England that was not yet in existence. Though the first three seasons have focused on the battle of wills and uneasy comradeship between King Alfred and Uhtred of Bebbanburg, we were already introduced to those who would continue Alfred's dream of a united England, his son and heir Edward, and his daughter Aethelflaed.
Aethelflaed was only 16 years old when she was married off to Aethelred, the Lord of Mercia. At that time, Mercia was split north to south by Viking invaders. Following their marriage, Aethelflaed and Aethelred took back Mercian territories from the Danes. It was said that Aethelflaed showed military leadership and a strategic mind, which should not have been surprising given that she likely got the same kind of education her brother Edward did. When Aethelred died in 911, Aethelflaed became the sole ruler of Mercia, a remarkable occurrence in those male-dominated times. An Irish chronicler reportedly called her the 'Queen of Saxons'.
By 911, Aethelflaed's brother Edward had been king of Wessex for about 12 years. Together, brother and sister drove the Danes out of central and southern England. Aetheflaed further engaged the Danes in Wales, Derby, and Leicester. Aethelflaed died in late 918, before she could witness the promised pledge of alliance by the city of York, then a Viking stronghold, to her.
It was a mark of Aethelflaed's power and the high regard the Mercians had for her that her daughter Aelfwynn succeeded her as Lady of Mercia without question. Aelfwynn did not rule for long, however. Her uncle and Aethelflaed's brother Edward marched to Mercia, deposed Aelfwynn, and incorporated Mercia into the Kingdom of Wessex.
Reading stories about women in power in ancient times always make me happy. It is even more thrilling that a remarkable leader like Aethelflaed is part of a show I love. Thank you for joining me on a brief remembrance of Aethelflaed. I hope you have a joyful and purposeful International Women's Day!
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians by Ben Johnson
Aethelflaed: The warrior queen who broke the glass ceiling by Greig Watson