This week, Prince Edward was paying tribute to a much-loved Queen. Not ‘Mummy’ — but Queen Æthelflæd, Alfred the Great’s eldest child, the Lady of the Mercians and one of our greatest, if largely forgotten, Anglo-Saxon leaders. If it wasn’t for Æthelflæd kicking the Danes out of Mercia during her reign from 911-918, we’d all be speaking Danish. You could call her the first Brexiteer.
Æthelflæd died in 918, 1,100 years ago this week, in Tamworth, Staffordshire, heart of her Mercian kingdom (roughly equivalent to Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire). In the West Midlands some people call her the Founding Mother of England. A huge statue of ‘Our Aethel’ sporting a Usain Bolt pose, with her spear aloft, dominates the Offa Drive/Saxon Drive round-about outside Tamworth Railway Station. Tamworth Brewery has brewed a commemorative, dark, velvety stout, also called ‘Our Aethel’.
And on Tuesday Prince Edward was in Tamworth at St Editha’s Church — Editha was Æthelflæd’s niece — at a National Service of Commemoration, unveiling a stained-glass window of Æthelflæd, his kinsman. Five bishops, two archdeacons and a host of eminent historians were also there to record Æthelflæd’s achievements. Professor Dame Jinty Nelson said her ‘real achievement was peace’ in England. A beautiful young redhead playing the part of Æthelflæd was backed up by a retinue of hefty, heavily bearded Anglo-Saxon warriors in chainmail, brandishing spears and shields. Prince Edward smiled at them as they passed him under St Editha’s Anglo-Saxon tower. But his protection officer looked a bit green in the gills when he saw one helmeted Anglo-Saxon brush by the prince, swinging a huge, primitive axe.
Born in around 870, Æthelflæd was a Wessex girl who did much to unite two huge English kingdoms by marrying Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians.