History lesson

U.K. celebrates 1,100th anniversary of Aethelflaed, a queen and conqueror who helped unite England

A portrait of Queen Aethelflaed. (The British Library)

Gloucester, a Western English city near the border of Wales, is celebrating the 1,100th anniversary of the death of its former ruler, Queen Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mericans, whose conquests of her Viking enemies would help lead to the founding of the Kingdom of England.

Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great, ruler of Wessex, was married at age 16 to Aethelred, Lord of Merica, a territory split north to south by Viking conquests of York, East Anglia, and the “five boroughs” of Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln, and Stamford. Following the death of her father, and with the declining health of her older husband, Aethelflaed began taking control of Merica — leading ambitious building projects, peace treaties with her aggressive Viking neighbors, and even military campaigns in her own name.

After the death of Aethelred in 911, Aethelflaed’s successes — including a crushing victory over the York Vikings — enabled her to sway Merica’s nobles into accepting her as their sole ruler, the Lady of the Mericans. She declined to remarry so as to prevent a new husband from taking control over a kingdom she had full intent of ruling herself. In 917, an Irish chronicle said she personally led the army that took the Viking stronghold of Derby. A year later, she took on the formidable “five boroughs” — and after a number of victories, the Vikings of Leicester submitted without even waging a fight. Even York, the stronghold of the northern Vikings, soon surrendered to Aethelflaed and accepted her as their sovereign.

In 918, however, she succumbed to a sudden illness — believed to be age 47 or 48 — and was buried at St. Oswald’s in Gloucester, a church that she had commissioned to be built. She passed her kingdom down to her daughter, who is believed to have never married, without opposition — an achievement than Dr. Clare Downham from the University of Liverpool said appears to be “unique” in British history. And while Irish and Welsh chroniclers spoke in awe of Aethelflaed’s accomplishments, Downham noted, many British historians continue to ignore her place in history because of her brother Edward’s chroniclers, who focused on Edward’s achievements instead.

Read the full story at BBC News.

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