Aethelflaed: The Saxon ‘Peaceweaver’ Queen

A mock funeral procession has taken place, marking the 1,100th anniversary of the death of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians.

The funeral re-enactment, in Gloucester, south-west England, was part of a weekend-long series of living history events telling her story. The
re-enactment, on Saturday 9 June 2018, attracted more than 10,000 people to the city centre. Local amateur actress Samantha Swinford won a competition to portray the Saxon ruler.

The Fight For Peace And Equality

Aethelflaed, the eldest daughter of Saxon king Alfred the Great, is believed to have been probably born in 870 and ruled Mercia in the English Midlands from 911 for seven years until her death in 918.

In 878, when Aethelflaed was a young child, Alfred and his royal family were forced to flee to the swamps of Somerset as the Vikings attacked their kingdom of Wessex. Months later, Alfred reversed the Saxon fortunes and won victory over the invaders at the Battle of Edington, resulting in the temporary brokering of a peace deal.

Living in a tooth-and-nail war for survival against further Viking invaders, Aethelflaed grew up in a realm teetering on the brink of disaster. She was given the same education as her brothers, and the crises of her childhood would have given her a schooling in the realities of politics and war.

Married at 16 to Aethelred, Lord of Mercia, Aethelflaed gained her own position of power. Wessex had a tradition that the king’s wife could not be called a queen nor could she take an active role in the royal court. However, Mercia had a stronger tradition of women taking part in the life of court and administration. Therefore, at the royal court of Mercia, Aethelflaed’s talents for leadership were allowed to shine.

When her father Alfred died in 899, the uneasy peace between the Saxons and the Vikings hung in the balance. At the same time, Aethelred, Lord of Mercia, declined in health and so rose the influence of Aethelflaed.

Women in Anglo-Saxon England were sometimes called ‘peaceweavers’ because, in the masculine and violent culture of the time, it was perhaps easier for women to negotiate a solution. And that’s what Aethelflaed did. She sought to maintain the peace that her father had earlier fought for.

There was still some sporadic fighting, some of it carried out in her name, but the negotiations were largely successful and, although she was never crowned, Aethelflaed became unofficially known as the ‘Saxon Queen’ until she died in 918 – probably aged 47 or 48 – after falling ill.

She was buried in a church she had ordered to be built, St Oswald’s, in Gloucester.

Funeral re-enactment

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