Editor’s Note: this post in part is a celebration of Yule tomorrow, and in part of my returning to regular internet access after a six-month involuntary detox. That’s also why it’s a little longer than average. Regular service on this blog will resume in the new year. Have a happy holidaymass, everybody.
Princess of Wessex
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the British Isles has heard of Æthelflæd’s father. Alfredus Magnus, Ælfred the Great, pious scholar, cunning warrior, and skilful statesman. He’s mostly famous for founding the Royal Navy and being a really bad cook. Oh yeah, and uniting the Saxons and the English to kick the Danes back out of the country. Or at least, that’s the Ladybird version.  If one is broadly familiar with early medieval history one might know that Alfred died of chronic malaria and religious exhaustion with the job only half done. Mercia was an ally but the Anglias and the Kingdom of York were in vigorous Danish hands, and Strathclyde was a Welsh kingdom hungry for more land. Northumberland was stuck on his rock at Bamburgh and couldn’t do much. At this point Edward, King of Wessex steps into the limelight of history. He is credited with leading an alliance between Mercia, Wessex and, as liberated, the Anglias which ended the Danish kingdoms in England (for a hundred years or so, anyway). The campaign is relatively well-documented, and by all accounts Edward was both a talented soldier and a brave one, being at least as good a warrior as he was a general. Alfred and Edward between them created one of the defining cultural myths which allowed the modern English to come into existence.
What is largely invisible from this narrative is the role played by Edward’s sister. His steadfast ally, Æthelred Ealdorman of the remaining English Mercians, who covered the western flank while Edward rampaged up the east coast, was so steadfast in large part because he was married to Æthelflæd. And he was also dead from the second year of the actual campaign.