Æthelflæd (Ethelfleda) (Old English: Æðelflæd (869 / 870–918), was the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ealhswith, wife of Æthelred (Ethelred), ealdorman of Mercia, and after his death she was ruler of Mercia (911–918).
Although Ethelfleda regarded her warrior role as a reason for not bearing children, in 903 she gave birth to her only daughter Ælfwynn (Elfwynne).
Whilst her husband was alive, she signed agreements leading some to think that she was the real leader, but 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, as according to Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, she was a formidable military leader and tactician.
With the life expectancy in the 900’s at 42 years old, Ethelfleda successfully went on to rule for eight years until her death in 918 at the age of 48 in Tamworth.
Elfwynne, her daughter, should have taken over the role as “Lady of the Mercians” but for her uncle’s intervention, Edward the Elder, who sent her to a convent in Wessex almost immediately.
Which is where she fades into the obscurity of history, but chronicles record her as marrying a Danish Prince… surely not…! her
Mother had only fought the Dane’s a few years earlier, was it an act of defiance for being sent away to a convent by her uncle?
It wasn’t until later that historians discovered that the Dane Prince was called Aethelstan “Half-King”, so called for having control of nearly half the country which was given to him by his Aunt Ethelfleda & Uncle Ethelred…! ethelstan being raised in Tamworth, they both respected and admired him as the scholar and the religious man he grew up to be.
It also turned out that he wasn’t actually a Dane either, but had lived in the East Midlands (then Dane territory); long enough to gain the trust of both sides.
Elfwynne having married her own cousin…! (which was common) may well have been Ethelfleda’s most elaborate and well executed plan ever, ensuring the future of her beloved Mercia, but more importantly the safety of her own daughter.
For many years after Ethelfleda’s death, it was thought her body was buried in Gloucester; but local historians have no evidence to support this and feel it is an inaccurate account of history, today archaeologists are in search of “Lady of the Mercians” tomb as much as they were the Holy Grail – location unknown!