Tamworth’s year of Aethelflaed: Major events planned to mark ‘warrior queen’ anniversary

Tamworth's new Aethelflaed statue2018 is a very special year in Tamworth as it marks 1,100 years since the death of one of the most powerful and influential women in Anglo-Saxon England.

It was on June 12, 918, that Aethelflaed ‘Lady of the Mercians’ took her last breath in Tamworth – the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mercia - before being finally laid to rest in St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester, alongside her husband Aethelred.

The anniversary of the death of Aethelflaed (also known by the Victorian spelling of Ethelfleda) will be marked throughout the year in Tamworth with a number of major events, including the unveiling of a new six-metre statue, the creation of the town’s biggest ever piece of community art, a major commemorative church service, talks, a special guided walk, commemorative ale and an academic conference weekend drawing academics and delegates from all over the world.

Daughter of King Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed is a key figure in the history and making of England. She ruled Mercia with her husband Aethelred (also known as Ethelred) and together they led the battle to defend the ancient kingdom against Viking invaders.

Alongside Aethelflaed’s brother, Edward the Elder, the couple launched a series of military campaigns in the 10th century which brought large parts of England under Anglo-Saxon control. At the same time, Aethelflaed and Aethelred embarked on a major programme of building and fortification, creating defensive and strategic buhrs (fortified towns) throughout Mercia, and including Tamworth, a centre of royal power, where she spent much of her time in later life.

After her husband’s death in 911, Aethelflaed became the sole ruler of Mercia and continued her campaign to further defend and expand her kingdom. She was a formidable warrior and was thought of as ‘queen’ by many of her subjects. She leaves a legacy as one of the most powerful female rulers of the time.

Aethelflaed’s part in history is of great interest to historians, scholars and academics across the world and will be explored in depth during a weekend conference to be held in Tamworth as part of the anniversary events.

Scholars from UK and international universities will descend upon the town for the July 13-July 15 conference for a packed programme of lectures, exploring themes such as women and political power in early Medieval Britain, the re-making of Mercian rulership, the origins of St Editha’s Church, the uncontested succession of Aethelflaed’s daughter as an exceptional example of female succession, and Tamworth in the Domesday book. There will also be a photographic exhibition on Mercian landscapes, accompanied by a lecture about Anglo-Saxon influences on modern authors such as J.R.R Tolkien. Delegates are already confirmed from the United States, Canada and Europe.

The conference is being co-ordinated by scholars from Keele, Chester and Manchester universities and while most of the lectures will be ticket only, the weekend will include a free lecture open to Tamworth residents which will be announced nearer the time.

A range of other events are being planned for the conference weekend, including the unveiling of the Mercian Mosaic on Saturday, July 14. This huge and ambitious community project by Tamworth Borough Council’s Arts and Events team is part of the Arts in Unusual Spaces project funded by Arts Council England.

Artist Maggie Carney has designed the mosaic which is made up of 1,400 individual square yard tiles which are being decorated by hundreds of volunteers from schools, arts groups, community groups and sheltered housing schemes across the town. They will be brought together for the first time on that Saturday when the pieces will be laid on the lower lawn of the Castle Grounds. The Anglo-Saxon-themed design features Aethelflaed at its centre.

Organisers of Tamworth Literary Festival have also planned a special talk to coincide with the academic conference weekend which will see a panel of female historians and authors discussing Aethelflaed as a woman and an Anglo-Saxon. This takes place on Saturday, July 14, from 11am to 3pm. Tickets cost £10 including a buffet lunch. The panel will be chaired by Dr Sara Read, together with Dr Jennifer Evans, Annie Whitehead and Marianne Whiting.

Aethelflaed will also launch this year’s Tamworth Literary Festival (March 2-10) with an opening talk from archaeologist, writer and broadcaster Martin Carver on ‘Aethelflaed and the Origins of Stafford’. This takes place at 7pm on Friday, March 2, at St Editha’s Church. Martin’s book ‘Stafford – Birth of a Borough’ discusses how the majority of our county towns and the shires owe themselves to the campaigns of King Alfred and his children. For more information and ticket details visit www.facebook.com/TamworthLiteraryFestival/.

Another key event in the celebrations of Aethelflaed’s life will be the much-anticipated unveiling of the new six-metre tall statue of the Anglo-Saxon legend which is in the final stages of construction by artist and sculptor Luke Perry. Lady Aethelflaed is due to be installed on the roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station this year.

The Tamworth and District Civic Society is organising a major commemorative service at St Editha’s Church to mark the actual anniversary of Aethelflaed’s death on June 12. In addition, the society’s second annual The Tamworth Lecture, which takes place later this year, will be on the topic of Aethelflaed.

Other events in the planning include a special walking tour being put together by the Tamworth Guild of Town Guides for this summer which will focus on the town’s Anglo-Saxon and Norman heritage, and a possible themed beer festival.

As well as exploring the possibility of organising a beer festival, George Greenaway of Tamworth Brewing Co in Market Street will be reviving his award-winning Aethelflaed Ale.

It is hoped that other businesses and community groups will get involved throughout the year and use the anniversary and associated events to raise the profile of Tamworth and its Anglo-Saxon history.

Cllr Rob Pritchard, Deputy Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, said: “Tamworth has a very rich heritage and was incredibly important as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. Aethelflaed is key to that history, not only for Tamworth, but in the creation of a united England as we know it today.

“The fact that respected academics and scholars from around the world have chosen Tamworth as the location for a whole weekend conference to discuss Aethelflaed and her role as a female ruler is testament to the significance of the ‘warrior queen’ and our town.

“The anniversary of Aethelflaed provides an opportunity to celebrate and shout about our Anglo-Saxon history and a number of events have been planned to mark the occasion and raise the town’s profile. We are already working with representatives from organisations including The Tamworth and District Civic Society, Tamworth Castle, Tamworth Heritage Trust, Tamworth Guild of Town Guides and St Editha’s Church, and it would be great to see other businesses and community groups getting on board with their own themed celebrations and promotions.”

More details will be revealed as they become available in the coming months.