New biography of Æthelflæd


On the twelfth day of this month, at Tamworth in Staffordshire, a national service of commemoration was held to mark the 1100th anniversary of Æthelflæd’s death. A few days earlier, in Gloucester, a solemn procession conveyed a re-imagining of her funeral bier to the medieval ruins of St Oswald’s Priory. More events are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, all of which will help to raise wider public awareness of the Lady of the Mercians.

June has also seen the publication of my latest book – a biography of Æthelflæd that I mentioned here back in April when it was still in the pipeline. Like my other titles its publisher is Birlinn of Edinburgh who have issued it under their ‘John Donald’ imprint.

The narrative incorporates my usual focus on political history with an emphasis on warfare. It considers the military campaigns not only of Æthelflæd but also those of her father Alfred the Great and of her brother Edward the Elder. Hence there are frequent mentions of battles, fortresses, treaties and alliances. But there is much more to Æthelflæd than the Anglo-Saxon warrior queen visualised in modern artworks. She was an educated, literate woman with strong religious beliefs. She had a keen interest in saints – especially Mercian ones – and actively promoted their veneration by establishing new cult-centres in various parts of her domain. She was also adept at what we now call ‘urban planning’ and has left her mark on the modern street-pattern in a number of west midland towns.

A synopsis of my book is provided by the ‘blurb’ on the back cover:

At the end of the ninth century AD, a large part of what is now England had been conquered by the Vikings – heathen warriors from Scandinavia who had been attacking the British Isles for a hundred years. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, was determined to halt the conquests but his death in 899 meant that the task passed to his heirs. In Wessex, his son and successor Edward continued the English fightback. So, too, did Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd and her husband Lord Æthelred, rulers of the old kingdom of Mercia. After Æthelred’s death in 911, Æthelflæd ruled on her own, leading her army on a series of campaigns to recapture lost territory. Known to history as the Lady of the Mercians, she earned a reputation as a competent general and was feared by her enemies. She helped to save England from the Vikings and is one of the most famous women of the Dark Ages. This book, published 1100 years after her death, tells her remarkable story.

Early chapters include an introduction to the documentary sources as well as a summary account of Anglo-Saxon history up to the ninth century. These are followed by the main narrative which deals with the life of Æthelflæd from her birth and childhood up to her mid-teens, then through roughly 25 years of marriage to the period of her widowhood. The penultimate chapter looks at the immediate aftermath of her death in 918, when her daughter Ælfwynn briefly succeeded as the new ruler of Mercia before being deposed. In the final chapter, Æthelflæd’s historical significance and her modern role as a subject for the creative arts are discussed.

Notes for each chapter point the reader to primary sources and secondary works, all of which are listed in a 10-page bibliography. The middle of the book contains a plate section of 15 black-and-white photographs, while the main narrative is interspersed with maps (mostly relating to military campaigns) and plans of burhs (fortified settlements).

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Æthelflæd: The Lady of The Mercians, by Tim Clarkson
(Edinburgh: John Donald, 2018)
ISBN: 978-1-910900-16-1

Available in paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon USA or direct from the publisher.

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12 responses to “New biography of Æthelflæd

  1. Pingback: Æthelflæd arrives « Senchus

  2. YAYYY!!!! Going to buy it right now.


  3. I preordered the book from WH Smith over a month ago, but it still hasn’t come in, and Amazon don’t have it in stock. Thanks for the tip, I might cancel the preorder and get it direct from the Publisher.


    • My apologies for the delay, Joanna. The original publication date was in early June but we missed that by a couple of weeks. Based on past experience I’m expecting Amazon to obtain copies fairly quickly but the publisher can certainly supply the book already.


  4. I can’t wait. I have read most of your books and it is only through them that I get a comprehensive and clear picture of life in this era. The ebb and flow of the socio-political forces laying the strata of our ancestral foundations.


  5. Congratulations, Tim! I’ve started reading it, already enthralled!


  6. I am wondering what evidence you have that Aethelflaed’s grandmother on her mother’s side was a daughter of Offa. Her mother, Aelfred’s wife was a daughter of the mercian ealdorman Aethelred Mucel and of Eadburgh of the royal house of Mercia. So she was, as were the later kings of Wessex, partly Maercian too. But I’ve never seen that Eadburgh was the daughter of Offa. Charters suggest she was part heiress of a subsequent king Coenwulf and so Hart suggests she was descended from one of Coenwulf’s children, but it could be via Coenwulf;s brother Ceolwulf and so some have suggested she was the daughter of king Wiglaf who married a daughter of Ceowulf. I would like it to be Offa as you say. Your books are always informative and accurate and written in a nice style.


    • Many thanks for this, David. Although I strive to be meticulous when proof-reading my books I do occasionally miss something and what you’ve spotted here is an example. In this instance it’s a typo, with Wiglaf not Offa being the name that should have appeared. Coincidentally, Offa did have a daughter called Eadburh, a fascinating character who gets a paragraph to herself elsewhere in the book. I’ve made a note of the typo and it will be corrected when the book goes for reprinting. I will probably expand the adjacent note to explain my support for the Wiglaf connection and to cite the alternatives. I’m grateful to you for getting in touch and for your generous words at the end.


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