Elflaed (d. 714)

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Elflaed (d. 714)

Anglo-Saxon abbess of Whitby, the pre-eminent center of learning in Anglo-Saxon England. Name variations: Aelflaed; Aelfled; Aelfflaed; Elfleda; Elflaed; Aelfleda of Whitby; Elfleda of Whitby. Born in Northumbria, date unknown; died in 713 or 714; daughter of Oswin also known as Oswio or Oswy (612?–670), king of Northumbria, and Eanfleda (626–?); granddaughter of Ethelberga of Northumbria (d. 647); great-granddaughter of Bertha of Kent .

Elflaed was born into an early English ruling family, the daughter of Eanfleda and Oswy, king of Northumbria, and granddaughter of Edwin and Ethelberga of Northumbria . Eanfleda was a deeply pious Christian who worked hard to ensure that the people of Northumbria adopted Christian beliefs and practices. Her piety influenced her daughter Elflaed, who felt called to a religious life and was allowed to enter a convent instead of making a politically expedient marriage, the fate of most royal daughters. Joining the convent of Whitby, Elflaed received instruction and spiritual guidance from the venerable abbess Hilda of Whitby , one of England's most highly educated women.

Elflaed soon became renowned as a founder of religious establishments and for her generous acts of charity. She is remembered as the founder of the first church at Canterbury, one of England's most sacred places. Honored by the nuns at Whit-by when she was chosen to succeed as abbess upon Hilda's death on November 17, 680, Elflaed shared the rule with her mother Eanfleda.

A still extant letter of Elflaed's, preserved in the Boniface Correspondence, is written in Latin and addressed to Adola , abbess of Pfalzel, near Trier. From this, scholars observe that Elflaed wrote a very elaborate Latin. One modern scholar asserts that in the middle years of the 7th century Whitby was "the preeminent center of learning in Anglo-Saxon England."

Laura York , freelance writer in medieval and women's history, Riverside, California