Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians

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Also Known As: "Æðelflæd", "Æthelflæd", "Aethelfleda Princess of England", "Æthelflaeda of Damerham"
Birthplace: Wessex, England
Death: June 12, 918 (44-53)
St. Peters, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England
Place of Burial: St. Peters, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Alfred the Great, king of The Anglo-Saxons and Ealhswith
Wife of Æthelred, Ealdorman of Mercia
Mother of Ælfwynn
Sister of Ælfthryth, countess of Flanders; Eadmund; Edward I "the Elder", king of The Anglo-Saxons; Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury and Æthelweard

Occupation: Queen Consort of England, prinses van Wessex
Managed by: Anders Helge Eriksson
Last Updated:

About Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd: daughter of King Alfred the Great, Lady of the Mercians and – to her Viking foes – ‘most famous Saxon queen’. Her impressive reputation and unique position in Anglo-Saxon England are recorded in two medieval sources housed in the Library, one English, one Irish. Both stand as testament to her enduring legend at home and abroad.

Diagram of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms identified as making up England (Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia). The kingdoms appear as petals with Mercia appearing bottom left. TCD MS 496, ff. 127v-128 The eldest child of Alfred the Great (d.899) and Eahlswith (d.902), Æthelflæd was born into a fragmented England: Alfred’s Wessex was one of a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in turbulent co-existence with the constantly encroaching Viking Danelaw. Alfred, it seems, intended each of his children to play important roles in furthering his aim of uniting the English kingdoms against the Danes, and this was to be achieved through a variety of means: through political power, through property, through strategic marriages, and through religious influence. However, Alfred’s contemporary biographer, Asser, describes a society that did not promote female leadership: ‘The West Saxons do not allow a queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called a queen, but only the king’s wife’. This makes Æthelflæd’s achievements all the more startling.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.

During the 800s and early 900s the Danish Vikings overran most of the English Kingdoms such as Northumbria, Eastern Mercia, East Anglia and even threatened the very existence of Wessex. Alfred and his descendants reconquered these lands from the Danes by 937[1]. 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 married Ethelfleda to Aethelred of Mercia and gave his son-in-law the title Ealdorman 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 finally 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.

Ethelfleda married at the age of 15, and while travelling to Mercia for her wedding her band was attacked by the Danes in an attempt to kill her and so sabotage the alliance between Wessex and Mercia. Though half her company perished in the first attack, Ethelfleda used an old trench as a fortress, and defeated the Danes. While her husband was alive, she signed agreements, leading some to think that she was the real leader. 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 approximately eight years (according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) from the newly fortified capital at Stafford, it is likely that the English county of Staffordshire first came into being during her reign. She fortified her existing borders and re-took Derby. She died at Tamworth in 918, and was buried at St Peter's Church (now St Oswald's priory) in 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 of Wessex.

The succession of Edward the Elder finalised the union of the two kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia and gives some insight into the emergence of a unified England.

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 Germanic peoples, 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.



^ Hill, Paul, The Age of Athelstan, Tempus Publishing, 2004. (ISBN 0-7524-2566-8)

Reference : History of the Anglo-Saxons by Sir Francis Palgrave (1876) (Paperback edition on Senate) page 164.


Further reading

Ian W. Walker. Mercia and the Making of England (2001)


Popular culture

Haley Elizabeth Garwood, Swords across the Thames, Bruceton Mills, 1999. ISBN 0-9649721-8-6

Rebecca Tingle, Far Traveler, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2005. ISBN 0-3992389-0-5: A semi-fictional account of the life of AelfwynnTitles of nobility

Preceded by

Aethelred Lady of the Mercians

911 – 918 Succeeded by


  • Æthelfleda Princess of England

born about 0869 Wessex, England

died 12 June 0918 Tamworth, St. Peters, Gloucestershire, England


  • Alfred the Great King England

born 0849 Wantage, Berkshire, England

died 26 October 0901 Winchester, Hampshire, England


  • Alswitha (Ealswitha) of Mercia

born 0852

died 5 December 0905

married 0868


  • Edward the Elder "The Unconquered" King of England

born 0870 died 0924 Forndon, Northhamptonshire, England


Æthelgifu Abbess of Shaftsbury


  • Ælfrida Princess of England born about 0877 Wessex, England

died 0920


  • Æthelred II Ealdorman of Mercia

born about 0865 Mercia, England

died 0912


  • Elfwina of Mercia

born about 0905 Mercia, England

biographical and/or anecdotal:

notes or source:


Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, (d. 12 June 918) was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and his queen, Ealhswith. Æthelflæd was born at the height of the Viking invasions of England. Her father married her to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. After his death in 911 she ruled Mercia until her own death in 918. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to her as the Myrcna hlæfdige, "Lady of the Mercians".

Ethelflaed was according to Asser the first born child of Alfred the Great and his Mercian queen Ealhswith[1] who was a descendant of king Coenwulf of Mercia through her own mother Eadburh. Ethelflaed's date of birth is not known but it was probably sometime beetween the marriage of her parents in 868 and birth of her brother Edward the Elder, whose own date of birth is not known but presumably took place before 878.

Alfred was the fifth son of king Ethelwulf and was never expected to become king. However by 865 three of his brothers had died and Ethelred, the only other one still alive, was King of Wessex. Soon afterwards in the same year a great Viking army arrived and wreaked havoc in much of England. It would be the start of a long period of war between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons which lasted many battles until after the Battle of Eddington in 878 in which Alfred was king and commander.

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Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians's Timeline

Wessex, England
Mercia, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom
June 12, 918
Age 49
St. Peters, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England
St. Peters, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England