The 1100 year anniversary of Aethelflaed, the woman who rebuilt England

in #busy6 years ago

This year is the 1100th anniversary of the death of Aethelflaed, the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great King of Wessex, and the woman who defeated the Vikings. Her name meant "nobel beauty" and girls are still named Ethel after her, to this day.

Aethelflaed was married to the King of Mercia, and on his death, ruled Mercia on her own. Together with her brother Edward, who inherited the throne of Wessex, they sought to push back the Vikings and reclaim England.

The image above comes from a stained glass depiction of her at Abbingdon Abbey made around 1220 AD (so around 300 years after her death).

To fortify Mercia, Aethelflaed embarked on a series of building projects. She reconstructed the Roman cities of Gloucester, Worcester and Chester, (The Roman suffix -chester, -caster and -cester, is derived from the Latin castrum meaning "military camp" so these were good locations for defence). The core street plan of Gloucester is still the one Aethelflaed laid down.

She also built a set of what the Anglo-Saxons called "burhs" meaning "forts", and small towns grew around these fortifications. The towns of Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, Edisbury, Warwich, Runcorn and Chirbury were founded by her as burhs and still exist today.

The turning point in her reign was the Battle of Tettenhall (which the Vikings recorded as the Battle of Wednesfield or Wodenfield).

The Vikings had raided deep into Mercia, plundering and raiding as they went. They believed they were safe as it was a kingdom ruled by a woman, and the Wessex warriors of Edward were too far south to stop them.

The Mercians, led by Aethelflaed waited till the vikings turned to go back to the Danelaw, and trapped them at Tettenhall, with Edward's Wessex army cutting them off from the south .

The anglo-saxon chronicles state that "many thousand" vikings were killed. The Danes recorded this as the Battle of Wodensfield (because according to their religion so many warriors had been taken by the god Woden) and said that the losses were “so terrible... no language can describe”. Among the slain were Danish kings Healfdene and Eowils, and a host of nobles. Aethelflaed had taken out their warrior class, as well as Danish kings who had come to England specially for the raiding party.

After that it was simple to negotiate the return of both Leicester and York, and after her death, her nephew Aethelstan (whom she had raised) cleared the Vikings out of England for good. England has been united ever since.

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