Gloucester Arts Council to mark the 1100 year anniversary of Gloucester’s Queen of Mercia:
Æthelred and Æthelflæd’s brother, the future King Edward the Elder played a major role in fighting off the renewed Viking attacks in the 890s, at a time when the Mercian Kingdom was centred around Gloucester . Æthelred and Æthelflæd fortified Gloucester and Worcester, against attack , gave generous donations to Mercian churches and built a new minster in Gloucester. Æthelflæd was mainly responsible for the government of Mercia from the Gloucester court at Kingsholm. Edward had succeeded as King of the Anglo-Saxons in 899, and in 909 he sent a West Saxon and Mercian force to raid the northern ” Danelaw ” Viking controlled areas of England . They returned with the remains of the royal Northumbrian saint, Oswald, which were translated to the new Gloucester minster making Gloucester a centre of pilgrimage. When Æthelred died in 911 Æthelflæd took over and ruled Mercia as the Lady of the Mercians. The accession of a female ruler in Mercia is described by the historian Ian Walker as “one of the most unique events in early medieval history”.
Alfred had built a network of fortified burhs and in the 910s Edward and Æthelflæd embarked on a programme of extending them. Among the towns where she built defences were Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, Warwick, Chirbury and Runcorn. In 917 she sent an army to capture Derby, the first of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to fall to the English, a victory described by Tim Clarkson as “her greatest triumph”. In 918 Leicester surrendered without a fight. Shortly afterwards the Viking leaders of York offered her their loyalty, but she died on 12 June 918 before she could take advantage of the offer, and a few months later Edward completed the conquest of Mercia and united England for the first time .
Historians agree that Æthelflæd was a great ruler who played an important part in the conquest of the Danelaw and the creation of England as a single Kingdom. She was praised by Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury, who described her as “a powerful accession to [Edward’s] party, the delight of his subjects, the dread of his enemies, a woman of enlarged soul”. There is no doubt that she was Gloucester’s greatest female influence making the city a place of pilgrimage, resulting in wealth coming to Gloucester and the creation of its high church status and as a result the creation ultimately of the Cathedral, she redesigned its streets into the town we have today and fortified its defences. A story that needs to be told and when more fitting than the 1100 anniversary in 2018 of her death and burial in St Oswald’s Priory Gloucester. We will slowly drip out more detail of her life as the play script develops for a touring production that will take in many of the towns and cities around the UK that she impacted on.
Watch this space!!