In the year 909 we get an odd entry from the Chronicle. “This year St. Oswald’s body was removed from Bardney into Mercia.” It’s an weird entry that caps a very strange section of the Chronicle. In the seven year period from 902 to 909 we’ve got three blank years, two star gazing entries, one entry about Chester getting refurbished in 907 and then finally the discussion of what happened to the bones of Saint Oswald in 909. Even for the Chronicle, that’s pretty sparse.
Now, in the last episode you heard about that so-called refurbishment of Chester in 907. You might expect it to be called the Battle of Chester, since we know from other sources was a moment of real Mercian triumph over the Danes, thanks in part to some help from their little bee friends. But for the Chronicle, all of that was cut and it was just a minor tale of construction.
The entry in 909, the one about the bones, is similar.
Again, the Chronicle only says “This year St. Oswald's body was removed from Bardney into Mercia.” and the way the scribes put it, you can’t help but imagine something along the lines of Saint Cuthbert’s posthumus road show with the monks of Lindisfarne.
Now, it’s not strange why the scribes would be interested in the fate of St. Oswald’s body. St. Oswald was a very important religious figure for Christians in Britain, and if you recall, we’ve actually mentioned him before. He was Oswiu’s older brother… the King who defeated Cadwallon of Gwynedd, and who was later defeated and killed by Penda at Maserfield. And because Penda was Penda, after the defeat, Oswald’s body was put up on Waelstengs.
Oswald’s various bits and bobs were apparently taken down after a while and buried at Bardney, and here’s where our story gets a lot more interesting than the Scribes state. You see Bardney was located in Lindsey… which in the beginning of the 900’s was deep in Scandinavian held territory.
And yet the Chronicle states the relocation of this body like it was some sort of walk in the Northern countryside. But there are other sources and as we dive into those sources we see that this wasn’t a simple matter of fedexing a corpse. This was a high stakes snatch and grab carried out by Anglo Saxon warriors.
It signals a massive shift in policy for the Anglo Saxons. Up to this point, the Anglo Saxon wars with the Danes had been carried out on a defensive footing. And thanks to the construction of burhs and the reorganization of the military, this was a strategy that was working. But it was a strategy they largely stuck to, and with a few exceptions, you’d be hard pressed to find the House of Wessex carrying out /offensive/ wars against the Danes. Even the war which resulted in the death of the Scandinavian King of East Anglia and Edward’s cousin, AEthelwold, had been a defensive war.
And here we have the first hint that all of it was changing. Why?
Before we move on, we have to acknowledge that we can’t truly be sure. This is detective work where every single witness, perpetrator, and victim are all dead. There’s no cross examination, no statements, and the evidence is woefully incomplete. We can only do our best to create a handful of logical possibilities. That’s it. In fact, we can’t even really be sure thatt Oswald’s bones were recovered at all, nor can I be sure that Oswald’s bones were the real goal of this new offensive war.
What I can tell you is that this fight, and the political situation surrounding it, gives us a crucial a window into the chaotic world of shifting alliances, unstable spheres of influence, and general political backstabery that characterizes this period of history.
And when, in 909, Lady AEthelflaed of Mercia and her little brother, King Edward of Wessex, decided to join forces to invade the Scandinavian held region of Lindsey… that decision didn’t come out of nowhere. If you look and the history of the region, and what was happening in Britain, it was something that had been coming for quite some time.
So let’s talk about what lead to the two eldest children of Alfred the Great deciding to finally take the fight directly to the Danes. And you already know about Alfred’s wars… you already know about the recent fight that AEthelflaed and the Mercians fought at Chester… you already know a lot of the elements that would have lead to that decision.
But there’s another aspect that I haven’t spoken about in the show yet, and it’s something that develops slowly and subtly, but it is something that has had a significant impact upon politics for millenia. We’ve seen it in play during the cold war, during the colonial wars, during the hegemonic rule of Kings like Offa, during the Roman empire, and just about everywhere else.
The phrase historians and international political scientists use is “spheres of influence.”
Who has power over what - and how much power.
It seems like wherever two or more people get together, it always seems like someone wants to extend some degree of authority of control over someone else. And this extends upwards to political bodies, nations, and kingdoms.
The expansion of Wessex and Mercia into the Scandinavian-Saxon lands were part of this same tendency and it started long before that 909 invasion. And the spheres of influence in play weren’t a simple matter of Mercia, Wessex, and Danelaw.
Rather, we see the seeds of this conflict appear in Wales, during the reign of Edward and AEthelflaed’s father… Alfred the Great.
Now, as you might remember, Alfred spent the later part of his life bringing Wales into the West Saxon Hegemony. Major portions of it were slow to join… in particular, the sons of Rhodri (under the leadership of Anarawd ap Rhodri of Gwynedd) were late to join the party, only joining after their alliance with Northumbria had turned sour. But eventually all of Wales j offered their loyalty and Submission to Alfred, joining the subjugated ranks of Cornwall, Kent, and large portions of Mercia.
The result of that union was to create a powerful southwestern bulwark that could stand against any incursions from the Scandinavian held northeastern territories.
It was a remarkable feat and it represented a tectonic shift in the balance of power on the island. Wessex had never been much of a heavy weight in Anglo Saxon politics. Nor did they have a history of extending their sphere of influence over Wales. Wessex was a southern player, and a relatively minor power in the heptarchy until very recently.
Dealing with Wales was something Mercia and Northumbria did from time to time, but not Wessex.
As a consequence, maintaining the West Saxon hold on Wales would be difficult. There wasn’t the historical groundwork there which would naturally secure a long-time stability. Any stability in that political alliance would come through hard and constant political work. To make matters even more difficult early Welsh history was plagued with just as much factionalism as the Heptarchy, and many of those factions had more connections with the rival dynasties of Northumbria and Mercia than they did with Wessex…. So keeping everyone on the same page would have been difficult even for leaders with a historical connection to the region. And that would prove to have long term effects for Wessex.
This all starts with a young Mercian warleader named AEthelred. His rise to power is unknown, as is his lineage, but by 881 he had replaced King Ceolwulf II of Mercia. And not just Ceolwulf… but also most of Ceolwulf’s supporters as well. This was a radical shift on the council of Mercia. It’s clear something huge had happened within the midland Kingdom, though we do not know what. And then in 881, we are told of AEthelred leading an army into Gwynedd.
Now Mercia already expressed overlordship over southeastern Wales… but a defeat of Gwynedd would bring almost all of Wales under his umbrella.
Unfortunately for AEthelred, the sons of Rhodri Mawr had other ideas. At the battle of Conwy, under the leadership of King Anarawd ap Rhodri, the army of Gwynedd defeated AEthelred and his Mercians.
This was a disaster for Mercia. The power of the Kingdom was severely shaken. He sought to retain control over what still remained, though, and so we are told by Asser that he ruled South-Eastern Wales with an iron fist… and it was actually his tyrannical rule that lead to the Southeastern Welsh seeking Alfred’s protection.
Suddenly, the Mercian controlled Welsh lands came under the domain of AEthelred’s southern neighbor of Wessex. It was yet another tectonic shift in power, and two year later in 883, AEthelred submitted to Alfred. Becoming merely AEthelred, Lord of Mercia.
But the remaining structural and cultural power of AEthelred, and of Mercia, wasn’t lost on Alfred… Three years later, in 886, Alfred gave AEthelred command over London. That isn’t exactly a minor granting of titles… London (even when it was just Londonwic) was an economic machine. I can’t believe that it would have been given lightly.
At approximately the same time as that gift, AEthelred also married AEthelflaed, first born child of Alfred. That, too, was no minor matter.
Everything about AEthelred telegraphs a powerful ruler who was treated with respect by Alfred… and while it might have been AEthelred’s personal charisma and good looks. Chances are, what Alfred really respected (and likely feared) was the power of the long term military heavy-weight of the region. Mercia.
So that was the situation between Mercia and Wessex in the 880s. Power was shifting in the region, and it was shifting as a result of Welsh (not Anglo Saxon) politics. And according to historian T.M. Charles-Edwards, things started to get really messy for Mercia and Wessex when King Hyfaidd of Dyfed died.
Do you remember King Hyfaidd of Dyfed? He was the Welsh King that Asser argued with about taxes… the same guy that exiled Asser’s boss (and probably Asser himself) but he eventually decided to agree to send Asser to visit with Alfred, thus starting that whole “will you be my best friend” saga?
Well, back when he submitted to Alfred, it appears that King Hyfaidd controlled most of Southern Wales, if not all of it… though, control might be a strong term since he was subject to Mercian power. That is, until that deal with Alfred which lead to a shifting of alliances.
Well, about a decade after that deal, on 892, King Hyfaidd died. He left behind two sons who had a claim to the throne. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t the only people interested in the throne of Dyfed. And their allies… the guy who protected King Hyfaidd from the Mercians… Alfred? Yeah, well, unfortunately he was a bit busy because 892 just happened to be the year where Wessex was fighting off a multipronged Danish invasion lead by Haesten and the Appledore Danes. So as far as Alfred was concerned, southern Welsh politics was going to have to sit on the back burner for a while.
And into that vacuum entered the most powerful man in Wales. Anarawd ap Rhodri of Gwynedd and he had an idea of who should rule southern wales… and it wasn’t Hyfaidd’s sons.
So we are told that two years after Hyfaidd’s death, King Anarawd of Gwynedd “came with Angli to lay waste” to Hyfaidd’s former kingdom.
“Came with Angli”? It’s often translated directly into Englishmen, but Angli is a rather interesting term. So who were the Angli… the Englishmen… who allied themselves with the Welshmen of Gwynedd?
Well, Charles-Edwards points out that it’s highly unlikely that it would be the West Saxons, and you can see why. Alfred had already intervened and established an alliance with King Hyfaidd and the dynasty of Dyfed, thus bringing it into his sphere of influence (and out of Mercia’s). It’s highly unlikely that Alfred would have martialled his army to support an attack on an allied subject dynasty.
Furthermore, just on a linguistic level, it doesn’t make much sense. The term used for the West Saxons in the Welsh Annals tended to be “Saxones”, not “Angli.”
So he suggests that the Angli who helped King Anarawd attack Southwestern Wales probably weren’t West Saxons. But the history of the region does provide us with a different group that tended to form alliances with greater Gwynedd. A group that had recently held dominion over Southern Wales, until Alfred snagged it out from under them. A group that fits the use of the term “angli” much better than the West Saxons.
Charles-Edwards argues that Gwynedd’s allies were probably the Mercians.
Now close listeners might be balking and saying “I get that Mercia used to control southern Wales, so AEthelred might want to re-establish it… but allying with the Northern Welsh? He fought against them about a decade earlier. Wouldn’t they still have a beef with him, despite his lovely long red hair?” And good for you for remembering those wars, and his luscious locks.
Well, pretty much everyone fought everyone else at this point in history. The Heptarchy was essentially Mean Girls with swords. All the kingdoms were awful to each other, but they also kept allying whenever it suited their needs.
But underlying all of the petty personal politics is the shifting planes of political spheres of influence.
Working with the Mercians, and deepening their alliance, would make a lot of sense. They were closer, there was a history there, and critically the dominance of Wessex wasn’t fated. In fact, if you looked at the history of the region, you could be forgiven if you assumed Mercia would come out on top. They had been the heavyweights south of the Humber for generations.
It’s not an unreasonable calculation to make.
So that’s the reason why Gwynedd might work with Mercia. And as for why Mercia might work with Gywnedd? Well, despite it’s troubled years under Burgred and Ceolwulf II, Mercia still had a good chance of returning to its former glory.
Until the catastrophes of Halfdan’s Great Army and Burgred’s less than great leadership, Mercia was the major player in the region. And even after that they still had quite a bit of sway until the attempts to hold North Wales went so badly and Alfred nicked Mercia’s southern Welsh subject kingdoms.
The fact is that their fall happened only a short while earlier… I mean, most of it happened under AEthelred’s watch… so it wasn’t ancient history. And Mercia had endured serious losses in the past, only to rise back up. You could even argue that this wasn’t even the worst thing they’d handled. They’d been conquered by the Northumbrians, they’d even endured leaders who gibbered with demons, and they’d even dealt with a series of short lived leaders who kept invading East Anglia even though East Anglia seems to have been designed specifically to kill Merican kings.
Wessex, on the other hand, had almost always been a minor player.
So Mercia, had every reason to expect a come back and by working with Gwynedd, and thus forming an alliance with the most powerful portion of Wales, they might be able to return to the days of the Mercian supremacy.
So suddenly, two kingdoms… two powerful kingdoms… that were supposed to be subjects of Alfred’s, joined forces and attacked his ally in Southern Wales.
That’s bad news for the House of Wessex. Already, the sphere of influence that Alfred was building over Wales was rolling back… and Gwynedd, which already controlled huge portions of Wales, was coming into the Mercian sphere.
And this happened during the reign Alfred, who was a particularly powerful king!
Edward, on the other hand, had nearly lost his crown in a civil war against his cousin (along with his cousin’s Northumbrian and East Anglian allies). How do you think things in Wales would go once he took power?
Well, as you might have guessed, the rival factions of Wales saw their opportunity to strike while Edward was struggling to maintain his hold on power… and in 903 and 904, the sons of Hyfaidd… the heirs to the throne of Ceredigion and Dyfed… died.
And not of natural causes. They were killed. Violently. In fact, the last surviving son of Hyfaidd was beheaded. Which suggests that his death didn’t happen on a battlefield, but rather it was a political execution or assassination.
This was a coup, and it was enacted during a time when King Edward of Wessex was too weak to do anything about it. And as for who executed that coup….
Well, after their deaths, the kingdom ended up being ruled by a man named Cadell ap Rhodri. He was the brother of King Anarawd ap Rhodri of Gwynedd… the same Anarawd who had laid waste to Dyfed with his Mercian allies years earlier.
With the placement of his brother on the throne of Dyfed, his conquest of the Southwest was complete… and now the dynasty of Gwynedd ruled almost all of Wales. And because of their alliance with Mercia (an alliance that would actually continue for the rest of Mercia’s history)... well, this victory significantly expanded Mercia’s sphere of influence.
In the early years of his reign, Edward was watching the once great sphere of influence that existed under Alfred being reduced to just Wessex, Kent, and southeastern Wales. The remainder of Wales… the kingdoms of Gwynedd, Dyfed, and Powys… were allying themselves with Mercia. A kingdom ruled by his older sister and brother in law. And you have to wonder how that balance of power was working out between the two branches of the family.
And right at around this same period of time, we find a charter that gives us a window into this whole mess, and I also feel like perfectly sums up what I love about the history of the ninth and early 10th centuries.
In that charter we see a confirmation of a land purchase… but what makes it important and vital to the story we’re telling, is what is being purchased. We read of tracts to the north of Derbyshire and to the south of Bedfordshire that were “bought from the heathen at the command of King Edward and Ealdorman AEthelred.”
Now, as Ealdorman AEthelred was part of the driving force of this purchase, we can be relatively certain that the transaction happened between 899 and 911… and likely it was much closer to 899, considering how sick AEthelred was in the waning years of his reign.
So in the period of time where King Edward was dealing with his cousin’s insurgency, and then dealing with his Cousin’s East Anglian and Northumbrian allies continuing that war… in the same time that all by South-eastern Wales was bucking from Wessex and coming under the Mercian sphere… and in the period of time where the defenses of Chester were organized by AEthelflaed and AEthelred because the Scandinavian warlord Ingimund and his Northumbrian allies besieged it…
Roughly during /that/ chaotic period, we’re also seeing Anglo Saxon nobles (under the direction of the King and the Ealdorman of Mercia) buying lands in Scandinavian controlled territories. Some of which was even in the famed five boroughs.
And if this was the first time that something like this came up, I’d be giving you a lecture about how this isn’t a cultural war. But we have already talked quite a bit about that, and over and over again we’ve seen evidence that the Scandinavians weren’t out to commit genocide, cultural or otherwise. Rather, they sought to settle and integrate… in everything from social structures and existing aristocracies all the way down to matters of the home like linguistics and religious beliefs.
So how does this charter fit into that framework? Well, for one, scholars pretty much universally agree that this charter isn’t an isolated incident. Rather, it’s the tip of the iceberg and southern Anglo Saxon nobles were buying up land all over the Scandinavian controlled territories.. And the Scandinavians, obviously, were allowing it.
Why? Well, cooperating, and integrating, and engaging in business deals with their neighbors makes perfect sense. The Scandinavians, by and large, were looking to settle and the more successful among them likely had acquired more lands than they could reasonably govern… so they needed to sell or grant those extra lands out.
And while we know that some of these sales went to Scandinavians (and we see remnants of those sales in the structure of settlements and even in some place names, like Copeland which means Bought Land in Old Norse)... we also see evidence in things like land charters that they also sold land to Anglo Saxon nobles and not just local Anglo Saxon nobles, but also anglo saxons from /Wessex./
And why not? Coin is coin, and one purchaser is as good as any other.
But the reason why I’m bringing it up isn’t because of the Scandinavian influence… it’s because of the Anglo Saxon side of the question.
While the Scandinavians appear to have been looking to settle, which likely explains much of the sales on their side… the Anglo Saxons (especially the West Saxons) were taking a pretty hard cultural and religious stand against the northmen. At least in their writings. And yet, here we have this charter. And we’re not just hearing of some random Thegn buying a plot of land. We’re hearing about the King of Wessex and Ealdorman of Mercia personally directing the purchase.
So why would they be doing that? Well, because buying land in the Danish controlled lands isn’t all that bad of an idea if you’re playing a long game. It allowed Edward and AEthelred to position loyal nobles in Scandinavian controlled territory… and those nobles were then landed gentry, which gave them a certain degree of influence in the North. It allowed them to stretch their sphere of influence..
So you can see why he might have wanted to get some loyal nobles in the northern territories, can’t you?
And when you consider the shifting power between Mercia and Wessex, and the jockeying for position that was occuring in Wales, suddenly the odd language used in the Charter makes a lot more sense.
It specifically states that the lands were bought “at the command of King Edward and Ealdorman AEthelred.”
We’re not reading of the King acting alone. He, and the Ealdorman of Mercia, are jointly commanding his subjects to buy lands. That carries a pretty heavy subtext, doesn’t it? I mean, if your dad came in and said “your sister and I have decided to ground you” It would at least give you pause and make you wonder if you’d misread the family power dynamics.
And considering how much material there is that carries the same subtext, including the fact that Edward is only referred to as the King of the Anglo Saxons in charters where AEthelred and AEthelflaed aren’t present… and considering the overt statements, like how AEthelred and AEthelflaed are referred to as king and queen in non-West Saxon sources...
Well, it’s starting to feel like like Version A of the Chronicle underplays Mercian power and the Welsh Annals and the Fragmentary Irish Annals were on to something.
And then you have the matter of who Lady AEthelflaed and Lord AEthelred were.
AEthelred was a veteran of Alfred’s wars and had been fighting, and defeating, his enemies long before Edward came to power. He was a warlike leader who carried a gravitas of his own.
And as we talked about earlier, everything about AEthelred telegraphs a powerful ruler who was treated with respect by Alfred.
Meanwhile, Edward was a new ruler. He was the chosen successor of Alfred, and Alfred certainly had put a lot of work into ensuring his succession, but Edward was young. By the time Edward was 11 years old, we read of AEthelred leading armies into Gwynedd. The gulf of years between them was sizeable… and it wasn’t just age. It was also the experience that comes with that age.
And now he was expected to submit his mighty kingdom, with a glorious history, to the tender mercies of his wife’s kid brother? Given what was happening in the margins, I suspect that was something that AEthelred wasn’t eager to do… and that he might have been doing what Alfred had done to him all those years earlier. Carefully maneuvering to politically outflank Edward and steal his allies.
Though AEthelred was old… and now he was getting sick. And in an unusual move for the era, his wife, Lady AEthelflaed, was taking a firmer hand in the direct running of Mercia and I wonder if she held ambitions for independence from Wessex… or perhaps even dominance over Wessex. She was first born, after all, and it was becoming clear that she, like AEthelred, was experienced in the matters of rule and war.
When Ingimund and his Northmen arrived in her lands she followed in her father’s footsteps, and sought a peaceful resolution with them. And when that peace was broken… she broke them.
AEthelflaed was every bit her father’s daughter.
She was even managing her territory in ways that feel quite Alfredian. She had a network of spies watching Ingimund, and when he broke their agreement she did what her father probably would have done. She ordered the fortifications of the old Roman town of Deva to be rebuilt and reinforced, which would serve them in that battle but also in any any further incursions from their bellicose neighbors. In fact, those fortifications are where Chester gets its name. The old Roman term for a fortified location… castrum… became in Old English “Chester.” And so thanks to her efforts the city was back to the business of its namesake. It was a fully functioning burh, and part of a network of similar burhs.
Now infrastructure like that isn’t cheap, nor is it easy, but it can have long term effects for the stability of the region.
Thanks to AEthelflaed and AEthelred’s efforts, Alfred’s plan for Fortress Wessex didn’t die with him. It was just being carried out…. In Mercia.
Which, if you’re Edward, the proliferation of military buildings and the run of successes by the Mercian fyrd might have felt a bit like the sword of damocles.
And then there’s the matter of Edward’s first born son. If we believe the records regarding AEthelstan, it wasn’t Edward who was Alfred’s favorite… it was Edward’s son, AEthelstan. And young AEthelstan had been sent to live with AEthelflaed and AEthelred, as his guardians. Some scholars posit that he AEthelstan was sent to Mercia on Alfred’s own orders, in fact.
That’s an odd move, made even more odd when you consider the political tensions that were lingering under the surface. So how does the guardianship of the first born son of the King of Wessex fit into this whole thing?
We’ve all seen Game of Thrones. We know that wards can be used for all sorts of reasons. They can be used to secure peace treaties, they can be intended to bind alliances together, they can just be convenience or for some other personal reason.
It seems to me that the reason why AEthelstan was living in Mercia with his aunt and uncle could answer a LOT of questions regarding the relationship between AEthelflaed and Edward, Alfred’s views on his two oldest children, and could also explain Edward’s plans for Mercia (or even vice versa).
Unfortunately, we’re in the dark on that subject. But given the shifting politics of the region, it certainly is a curious wrinkle.
It’s honestly hard to know how Edward felt about all of this. It’s possible he was threatened by the growing power of Mercia. But it’s just as possible that Edward was close with his sister, or found her presence on the Mercian throne comforting, or both. It’s even possible that he had no problem with growing Mercian influence over Wales because, when it comes down to it, so long as Mercia is completely loyal to Wessex whatever alliances they have would /functionally/ be his as well. I genuinely don’t know.
But I do wonder if the Mercian royal couple had big plans, and all of these events are signs of it, but in the end they were taken down by something that they simply couldn’t plan for. Health. And their plans had to be adjusted accordingly.
Because in 904, at roughly the same time that almost all of Wales came under the Mercian sphere of influence, disaster struck at the Mercian court. Lady AEthelflaed nearly died giving birth to their only daughter, AElfwynn. It was a labor that was so bad that AEthelflaed would never again bear a child. Mercian politics weren’t as misogynistic as West Saxon politics… there weren’t any myths of poisonous women who tried to sleep with Charlemagne’s son. But that didn’t mean they were purely egalitarian, and the fact is that without a male heir, the Mercian line of succession was now in threat.
And then shortly afterwards, Lord AEthelred started getting sick… and it was a sickness that was only getting worse. The specter of death had been haunting them for quite some time. And this was a time when the spread and progression of illness wasn’t truly understood.
I can’t help but wonder if this sudden decision to start working together, to jointly place nobles in positions of power in Scandinavian controlled regions, was a reaction to the very real possibility that, thanks in large part to bad luck in health matters, Mercia was suddenly staring down the barrel of a succession crisis.
That brings us back to 909. Where Lady AEthelflaed and King Edward decide to jointly attack Lindsey. The Danes were no doubt a threat. While they weren’t in Britain to commit genocide, and while this wasn’t a cultural war, the Danish kingdoms (as well as just random bands of Northmen) had proven they were an existential threat to the ruling classes of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. Whole dynasties had vanished.
And only two years earlier, Ingimund and his Northumbrian allies had broken the peace by attacking Chester. Some sort of retribution was probably inevitable. Especially considering the type of leader that AEthelflaed was.
But what I find interesting about this decision isn’t found in the conflict between the Anglo Saxon vs Scandinavians. What really interests me is the fact that for 26 years Mercia has been under the West Saxon umbrella… but if you look at what was occurring in the margins of that story, it seems pretty clear that for at least 20 of those years, Mercia had been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) expanding its sphere of influence to the detriment of their supposed West Saxon overlords.
The fight for Wales had become a proxy war between Mercia and Wessex. Things weren’t as cozy as the Chronicle makes it sound.
And yet here they are, after a series of unforeseen and disastrous health crises, deciding to work together. I would love to know precisely what brought that about and how brother and sister felt about all of it.
Something else I’d love to know is what was going on with young AEthelstan.
I mean, here we have a kingdom that was periodically under siege by its enemies, and a royal couple that seemed to be haunted by the specter of disease and illness… what was it like to grow up around that? When his aunt nearly died in childbirth, he would have been about 10… when they fought off a great army of Danes at Chester, he would have been about 13. What impact would that have upon a developing mind?
What kind of role did the young teenaged AEthelstan have when Chester was under attack? Was he kept out of harm’s way with his 3 year old cousin, AElfwynn, or was he in the chambers learning the intricacies of military strategy?
I don’t know… But when AEthelstan returns to our story in a more overt manner, we will see a formidable man with a capable military mind. So it makes you wonder.
Something else that makes me wonder is what kind of person was King Edward? I mean, he didn’t just send away his first born son… he sent the boy to the border territory of Mercia and we have no record of the young AEtheling returning to Winchester despite the fact that AEthelred and AEthelflaed pretty clearly had their hands full with personal health issues… not to mention military matters.
It’s entirely possible there are big pieces of the story we’re missing, and that this wasn’t as dire as it appears. But it’s also possible that Edward wasn’t getting a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug for his birthday.
But by the time the decision to invade Lindsey was made… AEthelstan was about 15 years old. Old enough to campaign. And I wonder if AEthelflaed and Edward decided that it was time the boy earned his spurs.
And as for the Danes? The Danes didn’t know what was coming at them. But they would, very soon. AEthelflaed wanted some strike back… Edward wanted to expand his influence… and hey, if they had time, maybe they could give Oswald a lift to his new grave while they were at it.