Æthelflæd was an Anglo-Saxon queen and warrior in 9th and 10th century England, who fought to protect her land from Viking invasion.
The eldest child of King Alfred of Wessex (better known as Alfred the Great), Æthelflæd was raised in a time when the kingdoms of England were being conquered by Danish Vikings to create the new territory of the Danelaw. As a teenager she was married to Æthelred, lord of the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia, to form an alliance against the Vikings. On the way to her wedding she personally fought off a Viking attack, which may have been sent to assassinate her and prevent the marriage.
The alliance proved effective in bullying the Vikings into making a temporary peace, and the couple took advantage by building a series of forts to help defend their lands. When in 902 Æthelred began to suffer a wasting illness, Æthelflæd became the ruler of Mercia in all but name.
As ‘Lady of the Mercians’ she undertook a military and political campaign to reclaim what had been lost to the Danelaw. In 905 she led her forces in repelling a Viking attack on the port of Chester, and in 907 she took an army deep into Danish East Anglia to retrieve the bones of a Christian saint.
In 917 she again went to war, not just against Vikings at Derby, but also against Welsh kings who had been opening their borders to Viking forces. This was more of a tactical than bloodthirsty move, leading to alliances with some Welsh rulers. A cunning politician, she also cultivated ties with the king of Alba (Scotland) and even with disaffected Viking lords.
She died in 918, just days before the Vikings at York surrendered to her and accepted her as their overlord. Her life’s work led to a combined kingdom of Mercia and Wessex that lay the foundation for a united nation of England.