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Æthelfleda, lady of the Mercians

Æthelfleda, lady of the Mercians (d. 918), was the last independent ruler of Mercia. The daughter of Alfred of Wessex and his Mercian wife Ealhswith, she was married to Æthelred of Mercia, probably in the second half of the 880s. Even before his death in 911, Æthelfleda is recorded as exercising regalian power in the province in the ‘Mercian Register’, a fragment of a Mercian chronicle incorporated into some versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In particular she is noted for providing a ring of burhs (fortified centres) around western Mercia and for conducting successful military campaigns against the Welsh, the Hiberno-Norse Vikings who were establishing settlements in Lancashire and Cheshire, and the Danes of York and the east midlands. Her campaigns against the Danes were in co-operation with her brother King Edward the Elder of Wessex and, although Æthelfleda has often been cited as evidence for the relative independence of women in Anglo-Saxon England, her position must be viewed in the context of the ambitions of her father and brother to annex western Mercia. These were realized after Æthelfleda's death in 918, when Edward deposed her daughter Ælfwynn and took over control of the province.

Barbara Yorke

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