Æthelflæd (c. 868—918 CE) was an Anglo-Saxon ruler and war leader. She was born to Alfred the Great, who succeeded his brother Ethelred as King of Wessex in 871 CE, and Alfred’s queen, Eahlswith. Æthelflæd was born at the height of Viking (the Danes) invasions. Alfred the Great commanded the Anglo-Saxon army in 878 against the Vikings in the Battle of Eddington, and was victorious. Around the age of fifteen, Æthelflæd was married to Ethelred, Earl of Mercia (Lord of the Mercians). They had one child together, Ælfwynn, who was educated in leadership, battle, and strategy just like her mother.
As the wife of the Earl of Mercia, Æthelflæd and her husband led many battles against the Danes. In 899 CE, Alfred the Great died, passing on the Kingdom of Wessex to his son, Edward the Elder. An important alliance between Edward and his sister, Æthelflæd, was forged. They campaigned together against the Vikings, in order to retake lost territories. One noteworthy battle took place in the city of Chester, an important port for trade with Ireland. Chester was attacked by Vikings, ending trade. Æthelflæd and her army slaughtered the Vikings later, retaking Chester.
Edward the Elder’s heir, Athelstan, was raised in his aunt’s court. There, like his cousin Ælfwynn, he learned tactics, strategy, diplomacy, and about warfare. He would later succeed his father as King of Wessex.
Æthelflæd’s husband, the Earl of Mercia, died in 911 CE. She became the ruler of Mercia, styled as Lady of the Mercians. During her reign, she was an effective leader. She fortified cities and towns along her border, strengthened and refurbished old Roman strongholds, and created more fortified and defended towns along the borders of Mercia. She continued her alliance with her brother and Wessex, driving almost all Vikings out of Mercia. Along with her daughter, she laid siege to Derby, a Viking stronghold. She laid siege to other Viking territories as well, including Leicester and York. Leicester peacefully surrendered before a bloodbath, and she showed justice and fairness to Viking inhabitants. This greatly influenced York’s decision to consider taking Æthelflæd as their overlord. Before this could happen officially, she died of unknown causes in 918 CE 12 days before midsummer. She passed on Mercia to her daughter, Ælfwynn. Later Mercia would become Edward the Elder’s territory after Ælfwynn’s abdication in favor of the convent.
She is buried at what is now St. Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.
Legacy: Æthelflæd is considered to be one of the greatest warrior queens in the history of Britain.