Aethelflaed, também conhecida como a Senhora dos Mércios, foi uma governante anglo-saxã da Mércia, que viveu entre os séculos IX e X dC. Quando Aethelflaed ainda era criança, os vikings controlavam grande parte da Inglaterra. Seu território, conhecido como Danelaw, ficava nas partes norte e leste da Inglaterra, e três dos quatro principais reinos anglo-saxões (Anglia Oriental, Mércia e Northumbria) haviam caído diante dos vikings, mas as coisas mudariam.
Although this was the political situation in England when Aethelflaed was growing up, by the time of her death the Vikings were slowly being pushed back, and Aethelflaed played an important role in the Anglo-Saxon fight against the invaders.
Product of a Political Alliance
Aethelflaed was born in 870 AD, and was the eldest child of Alfred (later given the epithet ‘the Great’) and his wife Ealhswith of Mercia. At that time, Alfred had married Ealhswith three years earlier, and the marriage is likely to have been politically motivated. Alfred was the son of Aethelwulf, King of Wessex, and Ealhswith was the daughter of Aethelred Mucel, a Mercian nobleman.
The marriage of Alfred and Ealhswith was meant to cement the defensive alliance between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, which was formed in response to the conquest of Northumbria by the Vikings in the same year.
At the time of Aethelflaed’s birth, Wessex was ruled by Aethelred I, Alfred’s brother. After Aethelred’s death in 871 AD, Alfred became the new king, as his two nephews were too young to rule. During his reign, Alfred fought against the Vikings with mixed success. For instance, in the same year that he became king, Alfred fought against the Vikings at the Battle of Wilton. Although Alfred was defeated, he managed to keep the Vikings away from Wessex for the next five years by paying them off.
But the Vikings returned in 876 AD and captured Chippenham in a surprise attack in January 878 AD. Alfred was forced to flee, but continued to resist, harassing the invaders from a fort in the marshes of Somerset. Seven weeks after Easter that year, Alfred secretly assembled an army, attacked the Vikings, and scored a decisive victory against them at the Battle of Edington.
The Viking leader, Guthrum, was forced to accept peace terms, and was baptized as a Christian, with Alfred acting as godfather. The Vikings were allowed to settle in East Anglia, and their territory became known as the Danelaw, as it was governed by the laws of the Danes.
Was Aethelflaed’s Marriage as for Political Reasons?
The next decade and a half of Alfred’s rule was relatively peaceful. At some point of time between 885 and 887 AD, Aethelflaed married Aethelred, the ruler of English Mercia, i.e. the south and west parts of the kingdom, whose title was ‘Lord of the Mercians’. At that time Aethelflaed would have been between 15 and 17 years old. Although Aethelred’s exact age is unclear, it is speculated that he was much older than his wife.
Some historians are of the opinion that the marriage took place in 886 AD, shortly after Alfred captured London. If so, the marriage would have been politically motivated, as it brought London (given to Aethelred, since it was technically Mercian territory) and English Mercia under Alfred’s control. Aethelflaed and Aethelred had a daughter, Aelfwynn, who was their first and only child, early in their marriage.
In the years that followed, Aethelflaed did not play a huge role in English politics, as it was her husband who handled the affairs of state. For instance, in 892 AD, when two divisions of Vikings arrived from Denmark, one landing in Appledore, and the other in Milton (both situated in Kent), the Mercians took part in the defense of England under the leadership of Aethelred. This is not to say, however, that Aethelflaed was idle during this period. For example, in 889 AD, Worcester, which was under Mercian rule, was fortified as a ‘burh’ (essentially a fort), most likely on the orders of Aethelflaed and Aethelred.
During the relatively peaceful period between 879 and 886 AD, Alfred was building burhs at key locations in his kingdom. As the Vikings lacked siege engines , these fortifications served to defend the kingdom from future raids and attacks. Later on, the burhs would aid in the reconquest of England. Aethelflaed would have been familiar with her father’s policy of building burhs, and was probably responsible for bringing it to her new home in Mercia.
Aethelflaed Takes on the Vikings
At the beginning of the 10th century AD, perhaps as early as 902 AD, Aethelred fell seriously ill, and was unable to govern Mercia. Therefore, Aethelflaed took over the governmental reins. In 902 AD, a group of Vikings, led by Inngimund, were expelled from Dublin and arrived in Mercia. Aethelflaed allowed them to settle in the Wirral, a peninsula not far from Chester.
Three years later, however, Inngimund and his Vikings attacked Chester, but were not able to overcome the defenders. According to one story, the people of Chester poured hot beer on the Vikings from the settlement walls. Additionally, when the attackers defended themselves with shields, the defenders countered by hurling beehives at them. Two years later, Aethelflaed had Chester fortified.
This extended the territory of the Mercians to the north, and allowed them to control the lower Dee. Furthermore, Chester became a base from where Aethelflaed could carry out raids against the Vikings of Northumbria.
Arguably the most famous raid Aethelflaed undertook against the Northumbrian Vikings was the one conducted in 909 AD. The Mercians joined forces with the West Saxons and succeeded in capturing the remains of Saint Oswald , a 7th century king of Northumbria. The king had been laid to rest in Bardney Abbey, in Lincolnshire. After the raid, however, his remains were transferred to Gloucester (which was part of English Mercia), and interred in Sai