She was the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great, and she assisted her brother Edward the Elder, king of the West Saxons reigned 899–924, in defeating the Danish army that had occupied eastern England at the time. Some years before her husband Aethelred’s death (911) in the year 911, Aethelflaed ascended to the throne of Mercia and became the effective ruler of the kingdom. While Edward was fortifying the southeast Midlands 910–916, Aethelflaed was constructing fortifications throughout Mercia (910–916).
When she and Edward arrived in Denmark in 917, they were prepared to unleash a tremendous united assault on their adversary’s positions. Aethelflaed conquered Derby in 917 and seized Leicester in 918, but she died before the battle could be successfully concluded.
As a result, Edward successfully claimed his sister’s kingdom and accomplished the subjugation of the Danish people. Aethelflaed had expanded her sphere of influence into Wales and Northumbria, and as a result, Edward was able to exert his authority over these two provinces as well. This resulted in his having power over nearly the entire country of England.
After a significant period of time has passed, the show returns to the story of Uhtred. His children are now grown and have their own narratives, which dad shares with the audience. One of Aethelflaed’s daughters, Aelfwynn, has also reached adulthood.
She is 12 years old and will play a major part in the upcoming season. However, moving away from the book series and real-life history, the show raises questions about her father’s identity, leading her to question his identity. Who, if not the lord of Mercia, is Aelfwynn’s biological father?
Aethelflaed marries Lord Aethelred when she is a young woman. Because her husband demonstrates himself to be nasty and abusive, the young bride’s political union between Wessex and Mercia swiftly turns sour for both of them. Aethelflaed is prevented from fleeing by her feeling of duty, yet they are not in love with each other at all.
Aethelred brings Aethelflaed to the battlefield out of jealousy and hatred, where she is captured by the Danes and imprisoned for several months. In the midst of being held captive, she meets Erik. Despite the fact that the two falls in love and plot to flee together, their relationship is not meant to be. Erik is assassinated by his brother after their affair is discovered, and Aethelflaed is forced to return to her marriage.
Alfred’s Exile & Aethelflaed’s Marriage
It is not known if Aethelflaed would have accompanied her father into exile if the opportunity had presented itself. A small group of men traveled with him in secret, often in disguise, according to the available records, which are solely concerned with the king’s personal life rather than that of his family. He was pushed into this position by a Viking invasion on Chippenham in 878 CE, led by the Viking chieftain Guthrum (died c. 890 CE), which took him and his army completely by surprise and forced them to retreat.
Alfred and his family were in Chippenham celebrating Christmas when the onslaught began, and since everybody who did not manage to flee was either killed or enslaved, it is quite likely that Alfred took his family with him when he fled with his life.
With the help of guerilla assaults on Viking strongholds and a few months of hiding out, Alfred was able to gather a significant force and beat the Vikings under Guthrum at the Battle of Eddington in May 878 CE. This was the pivotal engagement that allowed Alfred the authority to finally dictate terms to his opponents, who had consistently held the upper hand during his reign up to this point. A key aspect of the peace was Guthrum and thirty of his chieftains being converted as Christians, after which they promised they would never again raise arms against the English.
The Vikings kept their word and stayed away from the English territory of Wessex, but there was no requirement in the treaty for them to leave Britain, and they remained and strengthened previously established colonies in Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia, among other places. It was in 886 CE that Alfred drove the Vikings from London and re-established control over the city. Shortly after, he planned the marriage of his eldest daughter to Aethelred, the king of Mercia.
Marriage & Birth of Aelfwynn
Although it is commonly asserted that Aethelflaed’s marriage was arranged in order to achieve an alliance between Wessex and Mercia, this is not the case in reality. The marriage of Alfred and Ealhswith, which took place decades previously, had already brought the two territories together, and Aethelred had already accepted Alfred as his lord prior to 886 CE. According to a more correct interpretation of the marriage, it was a display of solidarity that not only renewed each region’s allegiance to the other but also sent a strong message of strength to the Vikings.
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Despite the fact that Aethelred was at least ten years older than Aethelflaed, the two were likely engaged from an early age. He had accepted Alfred as his master as early as 883 CE, following Alfred’s victory at the Battle of Eddington in the same year. Despite the fact that Aethelred is remembered as a great Christian warrior who fought against the pagan Vikings, there is no record of how he came to be crowned King of Mercia in the first place. The fact remains that by the 880s CE, he had gained control of the entire region and was a formidable warlord at the time of their marriage.
Aethelred and Aethelflaed began their rule at the city of Gloucester, which was adjacent to her family’s estates and not far from the county of Wessex. Despite the fact that later romantic traditions would come to depict their union as a loveless marriage of convenience, there is no evidence to support this interpretation.
They had one daughter, Aelfwynn, who is first mentioned on a land charter in 903 CE, although she was too young to sign it as a formal witness because she was under the age of majority. Her date of birth is uncertain, but it is possible that she was born shortly after the marriage. William of Malmsbury, writing centuries later, reports that the birth of Aelfwynn nearly killed Aethelflaed and that she took precautions to ensure that she would not have any more children.
How Did the Real Aethelflaed Die?
As was the case with Aethelflaed in book 10 of Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, on which the novel The Last Kingdom is based, Aethelflaed died as a result of breast cancer in The Last Kingdom.
The tragic news is that Aethelflaed died from her illness, despite the attempts of Aelswith (Eliza Butterworth) and Father Benedict (Patrick Robinson) to obtain some supernatural intervention to help save her life.
As depicted in the film The Last Kingdom, her brother King Edward (Timothy Innes) assumed control of Mercia, but this was not the situation in reality.
Aethelflaed’s true death is still a mystery to this day. According to historical accounts, Aethelflaed did not die in war but rather died unexpectedly at the age of 30.