Aethelburh was Queen of Wessex in the early eighth century in modern day England.
Not much is known about Aethelburh’s early life, but she is identified as the wife of Ine, who was King of Wessex from 688—726 CE. In one source, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an account of Aethelburh razing the fortress of Taunton is described. This is not given any context, and is only mentioned in that one source (Pennington). This is because there is a lack of historical record during Ine’s rule. There are several possible reasons for her destruction of Taunton in Somerset which was built by her husband.
1) In 722 CE, a man called Ealdberht the Exile rose in revolt against Ine. Aethelburh’s destruction of Taunton could have been a response to the situation on her husband’s behalf, which suggests that Ealdberht could have seized control of Taunton. One reason for its destruction could have been because she didn’t have enough troops to keep it safe from invaders so she decided to have it destroyed instead so it wouldn’t be used as a weapon against her and her husband.
2) The destruction of Taunton could have been a response to a Welsh or British attack from the north or west. This is a possibility because Ine’s reign was very violent and he was engaged with enemies from all sides of his kingdom.
3) Aethelburh herself could have revolted against her husband. This possibility could provide a simple motive for her destruction of her husband’s recently built fortress. Because of the haze surrounding Aethelburh, she might not have even been Ine’s wife, but the head of a rival political faction or cadet branch of the royal line. This scenario contradicts the long-held belief from the 12th century and beyond that Aethelburh and Ine were on good terms.
Legacy: Even though virtually nothing except her actions are known, Aethelburh went down in history. The sack of Taunton is perceived as being highly significant in the history and development of Wessex. It also contradicts the belief that women, though they were involved in siege warfare quite a bit throughout history, held only a defensive position rather than an aggressive one.
Note: She is not to be confused with Aethelburht of Wessex, a king who ruled in the 800s, nor many other historical women who held the name Aethelburh.
Pennington, Reina. Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2003. Print.