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Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, c870-918

aethelflaed 2

We believe that the earliest named individual to have been directly associated with the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge was Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex. Alfred is famous for his efforts to drive the Vikings out of southern England. In this he had an ally in Aethelred, king of the midlands region of Mercia, and Alfred sealed their alliance by giving him his sixteen-year old daughter, Aethelflaed, in marriage.

Even at such an early age, Aethelflaed seems to have been a very capable administrator and military tactician, working alongside her husband to push the Vikings further back from the territories of Mercia, including the land around Chester.

Aethelred died in 911 and Aethelflaed became the sole ruler, known as 'Lady of Mercia'. Meanwhile, in 899 her brother Edward had succeeded to their father's kingdom of Wessex and the siblings are said to have shared their father's ambition to unite the whole of the country. Together they continued to drive the Vikings out of central and southern England.

One tactic in the fight to secure control was to build a series of defensive 'burhs' — the boundaries of which are echoed in our modern 'boroughs'. Some were based on pre-existing structures and it has been suggested that our Iron Age hillfort at Eddisbury was the site of one of these burhs.

In the Mercian Register, a version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, it is recorded as 'Eadesbyrig', constructed by 'Aethelflaedin' AD 914. The following year Aethelflaed founded a new burh to control the Mersey which later became the town of Runcorn.

This remarkable woman, who had ruled Mercia and fought the Vikings for three decades, died at Tamworth in 918. Whilst we cannot know if she ever trod on the Ridge herself, it is satisfying to think that one of the key figures in establishing a unified kingdom of England made a mark on these hills and is remembered in the historic and cultural heritage of the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge.

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Our thanks to Peter Winn, Trustee, for this footprint on the Ridge.