Æthelflæda Princess of England Queen of Mercia
- Born: Abt 872, Wessex, England
- Marriage: Æthelred Earl of Mercia in 886 in Mercia, England
- Died: 12 Jun 918, St. Peter's, Gloucestershire, England about age 46
Ethelfleda (alternative spelling Aethelfled, Æthelfleda or Æthelflæd) (872/879?-918) was the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith. She was born around AD 872. She married Aethelred or Ethelred, later the ealdorman or earl of Mercia, in about 886, and had one daughter, Aelfwynn. On her husband's death in 911 after the Battle of Tettenhall, she was elevated to the status of "Lady of the Mercians". This title was not a nominal position; she was a formidable military leader and tactician. Ethelfleda ruled for five years from the newly fortified capital at Stafford, and under her reign, it is likely that the English county of Staffordshire first came into being. She fortified her existing borders and re-took Derby. She died in 918, and is buried at Gloucester. She was joint lady of the Mercians along with her young daughter Aelfwynn. She was succeeded as ruler of Mercia by her brother, King Edward the Elder.
This gives some insight into the emergence of England from the union of Wessex and Mercia. The Danes overran most of the English Kingdoms such as Northumbria, Eastern Mercia, East Anglia etc. Alfred and his descendants reconquered these lands from the Danes by 896. The aid given him in this by Mercia had to be acknowledged. Instead of making the dominion of Wessex over Mercia seem like a conquest, Alfred made Ethelfleda's husband Aethelred, Eolderman or Earl of Mercia, thus allowing some ongoing autonomy. Since much of Western Mercia was never under the control of the Danes, and remained strong, this was a prudent move. Further prudence prevailed when the kingdoms were absorbed; they were not absorbed into Wessex or greater Wessex but into England. The term Anglo-Saxon thus reflects King Alfred's diplomatic integration of the Mercians Angles and the Saxons.
The dominion of Mercia descended to Ethelfleda's daughter and heiress, Aelfwynn (A.D. 920). Chroniclers have noticed the right of Aelfwynn so precisely as to leave no doubt concerning her claim; and this fact is of considerable value in showing that, contrary to the practice of other Teutonic nations, the sovereign authority amongst the Anglo-Saxons might descend to a female; or, according to the Anglo-Saxon expression, which the French have adopted, "fall to the spindle side".
In this instance, however, the weaker heir was compelled to yield to a more powerful opponent, and one from whom no enmity could have been feared. Aelfwynn was conducted as a captive into Mercia by her uncle Edward, who was engaged in successful warfare against the Danes; and we do not hear anything more concerning her in history. She seems to have lived the rest of her life in a nunnery.
Ref.: History of the Anglo-Saxons by Sir Francis Palgrave (1876) (Paperback edition on Senate) page 164.
Æthelflæda married Æthelred Earl of Mercia in 886 in Mercia, England. (Æthelred Earl of Mercia was born about 870 and died in 911 in Battle at Tettenhall, England.)