Æthelflæd Biography

(Lady of the Mercians (911–918 AD))

Born: 870

Born In: Wessex

Æthelflæd, or the Lady of Mercia, was the eldest child and daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and his wife, Ealhswith. She grew up amid tumultuous battles between the English and the Vikings. At around age 16, she was married off to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, in a strategic alliance, as he submitted to the overlordship of her father, Alfred. Together, Æthelred and Æthelflæd made significant attacks on the Danes, or the Vikings, thus driving them out from large areas of England and reclaiming their land. She became the effective ruler of the kingdom when Æthelred fell gravely ill. Soon after his death, she took over as the sole ruler of Mercia. Known for her military strategy, she joined hands with her brother, Edward, who later took over as Edward the Elder, the King of Wessex. After conquering kingdoms such as Wales and Derby, she died before completing her campaign for Leicester.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ethelfleda, Aelfled

Died At Age: 48


father: Alfred the Great

mother: Ealhswith

siblings: Ælfthryth, Countess of Flanders, Edward the Elder

children: Ælfwynn

Partner: Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians

Born Country: England

Empresses & Queens British Women

Died on: June 12, 918

place of death: Tamworth, England

Childhood & Family

Æthelflæd, also known as Ethelfleda or Aelfled, was called the Lady of the Mercians and was the eldest child of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and his wife, Ealhswith. She was born in around 870.

She was a strong and well-educated lady and grew up watching her father take back large areas of England from the Vikings and engaging in the well-known battle of Edington in Wiltshire.

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Reign & Life

By 878, most of England had been occupied by the Danes, or the Vikings. Mercia was divided between the English and the Vikings. However, Alfred won a major Anglo Saxon victory at the Battle of Edington, and thus, the English-ruled half of Mercia came under Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, who submitted to Alfred's overlordship.

Some believe Æthelred had asked his Anglo-Saxon neighbour, Alfred of Wessex, for help to regain his kingdom from the Vikings. Thus, Alfred, in 886, secured London, a Mercian city back then, from the Vikings. As a token of his victory, he gave London back to Æthelred.

Alfred was soon hailed as the King of the Anglo-Saxons. In the mid-880s, Alfred made a strategic alliance between the remaining English kingdoms by getting his daughter Æthelflæd, who was around 16 years of age back then, married to Æthelred. The pact made Mercia acknowledge Wessex as the most dominant Anglo-Saxon power in England.

Soon, Æthelred and Æthelflæd had their first child, Ælfwynn, who was also their only child. The husband-and-wife duo soon regained vast portions of Mercian land from the Vikings. It is believed that Æthelflæd contributed to strategic military leadership and strengthened the Mercian borders.

One of the most prominent battles during their reign was against a group of local Vikings, who were refugees driven out of Dublin, just outside Chester. These Vikings were living peacefully till they decided to launch attacks on Chester.

As soon as she heard of the Viking uprising in Chester, Æthelflæd rode north to fight them. Her strategic military plan of luring the Vikings into the city and then attacking them proved successful and strengthened the Mercian position.

Unfortunately, Æthelred fell ill around 902, and after a decade-long struggle with poor health, he passed away in 911. Æthelflæd had already been the effective ruler of her kingdom a few years before her ailing husband died, and following his death, she became the sole ruler of Mercia and gained the title ‘Lady of Mercia.’

It is believed, she often relied on her brother Edward for support. Edward, who later became Edward the Elder, took over as the King of Wessex in 899. The brother-sister duo believed in the idea of a united England. As part of her strategy, Æthelflæd gave away Oxford and London to Wessex as soon as she became the new ruler, to strengthen the two cities.

The brother-sister duo drove out the Danes out of most of central and southern England. While Edward fortified the southeast Midlands, Æthelflæd strengthened Mercia. By 917, she and Edward were gearing up to launch a massive attack on the Danish forces.

She fought the Vikings in Wales in 916 and 917. She then took over Derby. In 918, she also captured Leicester. By late 918, she had marched up to the River Humber and made York agree to submit to her. However, she died before the campaign could be completed.

Death & Legacy

Æthelflæd died on June 12, 918, in Tamworth, Staffordshire, before she could reach York to see its citizens swear allegiance to her. She was 48 years old at the time of her death. She was buried in St. Oswalds Priory in Gloucester.

Her daughter Ælfwynn succeeded her to the throne. However, she was soon ousted by Edward the Elder, who then united Mercia with the Kingdom of Wessex. Ælfwynn was exiled and spent the rest of her life in a nunnery.

Edward claimed Æthelflæd’s kingdom and controlled the Danes. Edward also expanded his authority over Wales and Northumbria, the two kingdoms that were well under his sister’s control. Thus, soon, almost the whole of England came under Edward’s control.

See the events in life of Æthelflæd in Chronological Order

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