S1 E1: Mercia transcript
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Hello and welcome to Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore. Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore is a historical entertainment podcast about countries that don’t exist anymore.
This week on Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore we delve into the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia.
One of 7 Medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England historians know as the Heptarchy: Northumbria, Wessex (West Saxons), Essex, Sussex, Kent, East Anglia (East Angles) & Mercia (Middle Angles.).
In reality, there were more than just 7 in this period. Northumbria was occasionally divided up into two smaller kingdoms known as Deira and Bernicia and Mercia had effective control over the smaller Kingdom of Lindsey, the Hwicce and the Magonsaete….but, to keep things simple, forget everything I just said.
FX: Rewind button
Tape recorder voice: One of 7 Medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England.
Where was Mercia?
Mercia occupied an area of central England (now in the Midlands). At its height Mercia’s borders spanned from Liverpool - NW, down to Wales in the West, as far as Somerset in the South, across to London, over to East Anglia and up to the river humber in the north east. Basically, if you’re around at this time and you live south of the River Humber - there’s a good chance you answer to Mercia. If you lived North of the Humber, you’d be in Northumbria. And that’s why it was called that.
CROWD: Ooooh APPLAUSE (i.e. trick)
The capital of Mercia was Tamworth, now home of Nibbles Cafe and Drayton Manor theme park. But who needs white-knuckle rides? Listeners of this podcast will learn that Medieval history is the real rollercoaster.*
FX: *Clicking noise of roller coaster*
Nerd: Oh my God! We’re about to learn about the 10th century
FX: Screaming roller coaster
By 910, Mercia had been split almost diagonally with the Southwest portion falling under the influence of Wessex (Mercian royalty had been replaced with a lesser Lord or Lady of Mercia). The Northeast portion, meanwhile, was part of the Norse-occupied Danelaw. Subsequently, Mercia was pretty much gobbled up by Wessex and finally a nascent idea of England.
When was Mercia?
C. 515 - 918 which is 403 years. Pretty good going, given that the United States has only notched up 241 years so far, and it seems like their latest president isn’t that interested in beating that record. Although many Donald Trump fans call their country Murica. Murica, Mercia.
GRAMS: Mercia! Fuck yeah! Comin’ to save the motherfuckin’ day yeah!
Also Mercia comes from the Old English word Myrce meaning border people. See? They’re all about walls, but we’ll come on to that when *we talk about Offa’s Dyke.
Between 600-900 was the supposed Mercian Supremacy, when the Mercians largely dominated their neighbours. A period which came between the Mercian Identity and Mercian Ultimatum.
It might be fairer to say that the 7th century was dominated by Northumbria, the 8th century belonged to Mercia and Wessex came to the fore in the 9th century.
Who were the Mercians?
According to Bede, they were descendents of the Angles - a people who had migrated over from Germany.*
In fact, things weren’t quite as neat as Bede suggested. For one thing, the names Angles and Saxons were often used interchangeably, so it’s not like a whole nation decamped over to the island of Britain and picked up where they left off.
Even then, the Anglo-Saxon migration wasn’t just Angles and Saxons, but also included Jutes (or people who later identified as Jutes), Frisians and Franks. There are still lots of Franks in England to this day. Most notably Lampard and Bruno.
Anglo-Saxon migration is thought to have happened in the early 6th century, although it may have happened over a *much longer period, because the Saxon shore defences were built in the Late Roman era to guard against Saxon raids.
Most of what we know about Mercia comes from the Venerable Bede, a monk born in - I kid thee not - Monckton. His most famous work was Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (which, for the few non-Latin listeners means The Ecclesiastical History of the English People- and this was the first work of History in which the AD dating system was used! (nom nom nom). According to Bede, after the Roman withdrawal Britons were having trouble fighting off the Picts, the irish and others, so enlisted Saxon mercenaries to fight on their side.
One of the reasons the Picts were a threat is that the Romano-Britons had been using Hadrian’s Wall as a defence, but the Picts just got into boats and went around it...you know, because there’s a sea right next to the land….
Jurassic Park clip: “Clever girl.”
So, according to Bede, The Saxons did the fighting and realised that the Brits were actually pretty badly defended and so got the whole family over. The sword-swinging German brutes then easily overpowered the effeminate olive oil guzzling Romano Brits.
Except this didn’t quite happen. For one thing, the Britons were no push over. There are reports of Britons crushing Saxons at various battles (this is supposedly the start of Arthurian legend). Later on, Mercian kings were forever having to raid into Wales (with Cornwall, one of the last stronghold of the Britons) to assert their authority AND both the Welsh and Scottish fought in alliances with one Anglo-Saxon king against another.
One of the reasons that there is relatively little Viking encroachment into Wales, in fact, was because the likes of Rhodri Mawr, ruler of Gwynedd (844-78) gave them such a hard time at a time they were swallowing English kingdoms whole.
Also the Anglo-Saxons came over with nothing and were usually dirt poor. They were settlers and refugees as much as kings or warbands - so this whole mercenaries who bit the hand that fed them narrative doesn’t really ring true.
What also seems to support the idea that these were just normal people migrating is that we have archaeological evidence that whole villages and towns in Germany were emptying out. We don’t know exactly why the Anglo-Saxons moved to Britain but the history of Europe basically consists of one group of people giving another group of people a hard time until they bugger off somewhere else.
But what happened to the Romano-Britons? Well, one way to find out is to look beyond Bede and into DNA evidence.* People seem to be more strongly “Anglo-Saxon” in the East of England whereas the further west you go the more it’s mixed with indigenous British DNA. For a long time, it was assumed that the Romano-Britons were simply massacred by the invading Saxon hordes . But if this is so, where are the mass graves?
While some Britons almost certainly migrated to Britainy when the Roman legions left Britain, many remained powerful, holding lands in Cornwall, Wales and various regions after the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were established. Maybe there weren’t British massacres. Maybe they just had mass-acres.
FX: comedy trombone, boom chish
So rather than Anglo-Saxons completely replacing the Britons, the Anglo-Saxon invasion was as much cultural as it was genetic. Last seasons toga was swapped for an on fleek battle axe. Many Britons just started dressing like Anglo-Saxons, talking like Anglo-Saxons and being buried like Anglo-Saxons. Just because women in the 90s had a Rachel from Friends hair cut, it doesn’t mean that those same women would test positive for Jennifer Aniston’s DNA.
In the same way that there was really no pure Anglo-Saxons, Mercia was really a big, mixed confederacy of people. In fact Mercia was much less about territorial expansion and more about dominating the surrounding kingdoms.
The great King* Penda (628 - 655) spent much of his time killing East Anglian kings and generally duffing up everybody around him, without annexing any great swathes of territory. There was no King Alfred-style conquests for an English nation here. Mercia wasn’t about expansion and uniting the kingdoms. Much more a kind of Mercian Defence League.
FX: MDL, MDL, MDL.
Ugh. Enough of that.
Later chroniclers have the first families of the Mercians descended from a chieftan called Icle. Icle is said to have been a king of the Angles in Germany before landing in East Anglia in 515, winning a battle against the Britons and then working his way west to control land in the Midlands by 527. True or not, the subsequent early ruling family of Mercia were called the Iclingas, or family of Icle.
Athens had Hercules! Rome had Romulus! Mercia had Icle - who must have been made of marshmallow and giggled when you tickled him.
Helium Ickle: Stop it naughty!
What kind of government did Mercia have?
There’s a reading of history, a favourite of the US Founding Fathers, which suggests that the roots of parliamentary democracy were found in the Anglo-Saxon world through the Witan, a council of wise men. The idea was that this Witan council balanced the power of the monarchy but, given that there was no machinery of government other than what the king thought best, in effect the Wittan was just a huge rubber stamp.
Incidentally, we can surmise that the character of the king was all important because when Mercia had effective kings, it did well. When it didn’t, it didn’t. While the machinery of the Roman state could weather a Caligula or a Nero and keep on trucking, if a Mercian king didn’t know how to biff someone over the head with a battle axe, it was game over.
Putting all that to one side, the Witan weren’t without influence. They did have some say in appointing a king, but this was really at times when it wasn’t obvious who would be king next, for example if a king snuffed in battle and didn’t leave*
On the other hand, Mercia was really more an aristocracy than an absolute monarchy. The King was chosen from amongst the Æthelings (or princes) of noble families. Since all noble families had a dynastic claim, this made things unstable. In fact by the time the Vikings rocked up, much of the energies of the great kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia had already been spent in dynastic wars and feuds.
Wessex arguably weathered better against the Vikings because they’d had a period of relative stability….because the crown had been passed….stabley...between....relatives.
FX: TA-DA FANFARE
What was Wergeld?
So strong were the aristocracy in Anglo-Saxon society, in fact, that noblemen could actually kill people and then pay off the family the amount they were worth in a system called Wergeld. Wer means man, like werewolf means man-wolf. Werewolf? Where is wolf?
Do werewolves wear wolves? Do wolves wear wolves? Do Wolverhampton Wonderers wear wolf
There’s a sclipt?
The purpose of Wergeld was to stop dangerous blood feuds from spiralling out of control before there was anything as formal as police, an army or law courts.
You would only owe the full value of a man if you completely killed him. Meanwhile different body parts had different values. The Franks, for example, placed high value on an archer’s fingers because they were extremely important to him. By that rationale, you could lop off the Pope’s penis for free.
In 8th century Kent, for example, a nobleman was worth 300 shillings, whereas a freeman was worth 100 shillings, slaves were worth much less. By the way, one shilling was the price of a cow.
Welcome to Burger Thane. Can I take your order.
One cow’s worth of burgers for my Warband here. Right Warband?
WARBAND: (various chatter)
Yeah! Nice one! Can I get a McFlurry? No. This is Burger Thane. They don’t do them here.
One cow’s worth of burgers. That’s one shilling.
Damn. I’ve only got a 10 shilling coin. I’ll have to kill a slave and get some change from the family.
-TOP OF THE POPS THEME-
It’s time once again for Mercian King Top of the Pops.
In at 10 - It’s Ludeca. King for a year in 826 and then got ‘imself mangled by pesky East Anglians. Not ‘alf, mate!
9 - Number 9, Ecgfrith was king for 141 days. Then he died. Whoops-a-daisy!
8 - down 2, it’s Beornwulf. He’s cost Mercia it’s supremacy after losing to wiley Wessex at the Battle of Ellandun in 825. What a nana!
7 - Holding at 7, it’s Wiglaf. Might have kept his hair on, but couldn’t keep the throne.
6 - Diddled with some nuns and murdered by his bodyguard, it’s naughty ole Aethelbald in at 6-6-6. Cripes!
5 - Everybody claimed to be a descendant of him so he must have been doing something right. In at number 5, it’s Pybba.
4 - Is there a wolf there? No, there’s a Wulfhere and he’s the last Mercian bretwalda. He’s in at number 4.
3 - Number 3 this week is the self-styled Emperor of Mercia himself, it’s Coenwulf.
2 - In at 2, King Penda. He defeated just about everybody going, but only went and got himself killed at the Battle of Winwaed against Bernicia. What a wally!
1 - And this week’s top Mercian king. Taking the top spot with his new hit Live and Let Dyke, it’s
9th-century Welsh Wessex-based scholar Asse r wrote: "there was in Mercia in fairly recent time a certain vigorous king called Offa, who terrified all the neighbouring kings and provinces around him, and who had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea".
Offa might be most famous for Offa’s Dyke - a 2.4 metre high, 75-mile long earthwork defence of Mercia’s western border with the Welsh Kingdom of Powys, who were an off again and on again thorn in mighty Mercia’s side.
This was no random hill of mud. The route of the dyke took advantage of natural contours of the land, creating the best defences and giving the best view to the West.
The resources and labour required to build the dyke attests to Offa’s power, influence and general aversion to the Welsh. It also suggests that, if he were round today, he wouldn’t like the music of Tom Jones.
The great King Offa (757-796 AD) ruled over a powerful centralised court that looked to the empire of Charlemagne. Offa even minted some pretty fancy coins to make himself look like a Roman Emperor and later King Coenwulf (796-821 AD) even styled himself “Emperor” on one charter but most kings were just the nobles with the most support. Also, calling yourself Emperor of Mercia is a bit like calling yourself Grand Vizier of the stationery cupboard or Sultan of Shed.
Offa made his son joint king while he was alive and even tried to have his son anointed by an Archbishop as the legitimate successor, but it was never that simple. In fact, Offa had so much trouble convincing the Archbishop of Canterbury (who was based in Wessex) to do this that he set up another Archbishopric in Lichfield (within the borders of Mercia) just to get it done.
Offa also had some coins minted with Arabic script around the outside proclaiming the general awesomeness of Allah. Was Mercia joining the caliphate? No. Either the coins looked to ape the great trading currencies coming out of the Islamic world or possibly these coins were to be accepted abroad. Either way, Mercia was in no way cut off from the world. In fact, such was the fame of Offa, he was even pen pals with badass uber Emperor Charlemagne.
There was no doubt that Offa was extremely powerful and known of on the continent, but in his correspondence, it was clear that Offa fancied himself on par with Charlemagne. Charlemagne was having none of it.
OFFA: (writing letter)
My Lord Charles, by the Grace of God, King of the Franks and the Lombards, patrician of the Romans, vanquisher of the ungodly pagans. I write, my lord, to request your protection of Mercian nobles who make pilgrimage through your mighty lands….
Err...ooo is this? Is this one of zese chainmail letters? My army has plenty of chainmail already. Yours snootily, Charlemagne. PS. Oooo is this?
What we don't know about Mercia
Unfortunately, we don’t know as much as we’d like about Mercia. To be remembered in history, you really need someone to write about you, someone to big you up in the form of a chronicler. Like a Medieval Flava Flav. Northumbria to the North had monk the Venerable Bede, who we’ve already heard from of course, and Wessex to the south had Alfred the Great’s Welsh monk Asser.
Either Mercia simply didn’t have a superstar chronicler or much of its records were destroyed. Some of this was rightly blamed on Viking raids on monasteries.
[QUICK SFX OF VIKINGS ENTERING A MONASTERY AND DESTROYING RECORDS - “Take that St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” “Be vanquished the Best of Yes.” etc.]
In actual fact, plenty of monasteries were abandoned before the coming of the Vikings - the Monastery at Hartlepool, for example, seems to have been abandoned in the late 8th century during political upheaval - but it suited the later narrative of the devilish hordes attacking Christendom before Christianity’s ultimate victory.
This means that Mercian history can be patchy and reliant on chronicles from other kingdoms or from the work of archaeological study, particularly of hordes.
By hordes we mean treasure hoard, like the Staffordshire Hoard and not the Mongol horde.
Incidentally, hoards were only prominent during the early Anglo-Saxon period when they still worshipped Woden and other Germanic gods. As soon as they converted to Christianity, burying hoards stopped and we learn less about that time period. Nice one, Christianity.
The other reason why documents might be thin on the ground is that the language of Mercia was Old English or, as they might have called it at the time...English. What’s old to us was new to them.
Welcome to the Boar’s Face Tavern comedy night. First up, we’ve missionary and master of ribaldry, St Peter of Kaye…
Eh? Eh? Do you remember the days that are older than now? Do you remember the Late Roman era. What was that like? Venerable Bede’s on the front row. He knows what I’m talking about? Do you remember togas? Eh? Eh? Do you remember Roman-style underfloor heating? What were that about? Eh madam? Bit chilly now int it! Garlic bread!
After the 11th century Norman Conquest of England and influx of French, Old English went out of fashion and stopped having much value. Some of these huge unreadable Mercian tomes were recycled for new books or used as rather elaborate paperweights.
There’s evidence that at least one Anglo-Saxon tome was used as a paint pot stand in a monastery. You can still see the ring of paint! Guardians of knowledge through the Dark Ages, ladies and gentleman. Nice one monasteries!
Mercian Dynasty (maybe Dynasty theme music?)
Mercian Dynasties can often be traced via the first letter of the king’s names. So Pybba’s son was Penda. Penda’s son was Peada.
The “W” dyasty. Wiglaf’s son was Wigmund whose son was Wigstan.
The “C” dynasty. Coenwulf’s son was Cynehelm. His brother was Ceolwulf.
If dynasties C to P and anyone with a speedy Mercian monarch premier boarding pass please make your way to the front for boarding.
Umm...it’s really important I board now actually. Got a really important invasion….
Could I check your pass please. Yeah, sorry King Wiglaf. Back of the queue, please.
Coelw*ulf, Wulfhere, Coenwulf, Where’s wolf?.......Did Anglo-Saxon England have a wolf problem? Yes, because lots of people were called Wolf. Aethelwulf meant Noble wolf whereas Wulfhere meant Wolf Army! These days no one listens to a boy who cries wolf. Back then, if you went into a bar and cried wolf, half the drinkers would have thought you were talking to them.
USE OLD VERSION
[Insert, bar door opening with atmos and a boy shouts: “Wolf!” - loads of voices: “yeah?”]
I can assure you that while the Mercians weren’t Dungeons and Dragons RPG nerdlingers, they did give their swords cool names, like brandric (blade of power) or cenenbrand (keen blade). These days we just have Russell-Brand (disappointing) and own brand (exactly the same).
This is because the Anglo-Saxons LOVED war. In fact, the name Saxon comes from Seaxe, meaning short sword/ knives.
MUSIC Insert: WAR, HUH, WHAT IT IS GOOD FOR [insert “expanding Anglo-saxon influence] SAY IT AGAIN!
Valour, heroism and laying down your life for the lord were worth nothing if you couldn’t brag about it lot over a few beers.
Drunken karaoke wasn’t huge in Anglo-Saxon England, but fireside stories were massively popular. Number 1 epic? Beowulf. There’s that wolf again.
Epic, yes, but don’t this isn’t Lord of the Rings. The Anglo-Saxon battles would have involved a couple of thousand men at most. The king would usually have a warband a thousand or so in strength and that was it. Mass peasant armies called fyrds could be raised - but this wasn’t common until Alfred had to take on the Vikings later.
Mercia was the last kingdom to convert to Christianity in the late 7th century. Bede states that conversion was finally assured when King Wulfhere (658-675) appointed a guy named Chad to be Bishop of Lichfield, to which the Latin scholar Chad responded “Awesomus maximus, brosephus.” [SFX Bill and Ted guitar riff]
Before that Wulfhere’s Dad King Penda (who reigned from 626 for 30 years according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) was a Pagan but he was very happy for everybody else to convert to Christianity. In fact his key complaint was people who expressed their faith outwardly but had no serious conviction.
Either you believe that we’re inhabited by the souls of 50 billion year old space aliens imprisoned on this planet by Lord Xenu or you’re just an S.P.
Suppressive Person? That’s quite a niche Scientology reference.
The power of the church grew in Mercia, with the Roman Church establishing monasteries and churches. As they grew in influence, monasteries began to be filled with the children of wealthy nobles, which turned the institutions from holy places to student unions for rich kids. And, unlike later monasteries, Anglo-Saxon monasteries often contained both monks and nuns. That’s right it’s a boarding school boy’s wet dream.
Quiet prayer and church bells.
Monk: SPRING BREAK!
[saved by the bell theme tune over this bit]
English religious places became the most debauched in Europe. King Aethelbald (716-757) apparently used nunneries as knocking shops were he fathered a large amounts of bastards with noble nuns. [Sean bean bastard callback] It was like Medieval Tinder, except swiping someone probably led directly to their death.
His successor, King Offa, spent times killing off Athelbald’s illegitimate spawn, which is why he was so keen to get his successor consecrated in case anyone thought that it would be okay to kill his son Ecgfrith. And where might they get the idea that regicide was cool? Oh yeah. Offa.
I, King Offa of the Mercians, decree that from now on it’s no longer cool to bum p off heirs to the throne. Starting from...now.
It is I, Beored, son of Aethelbald. I have returned from Pilgrimage from Rome to claim Mercia, my rightful kingdom.
Pass me my sword.
Okay, that one didn’t count. Starting from...now.
We’ve talked a lot about the pinnacle importance of the king but how do we tell when a Mercian monarch is powerful? Tribute. The more tribute you can squeeze out of your subjects and even neighbouring kingdoms, the more powerful you are. It’s glorified protection money.
My Lord Offa, I can tax the churls no more. We can provide no more tribute.
Ecgfrith, your lack of respect troubles me. Who’s the godfather to your favourite cow?
You are my Lord.
Right. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to that cow. Like if she was standing in the field, minding her own business, swatting flies in a carefree manner with her tail and then...BAM. A coupla Viking schumcks tip her over and she can’t get up cos cows aint got no self-righting mechanisms.
Very well my lord.
FX: Big bag of gold coins.
And in reciprocation I’m going to make you a small action figure of me.
Oh...er...sire, that won’t be necessary.
I’m gonna make you an Offa you can’t refuse.
Tributes were calculated in hides - notionally the amount of land needed to sustain oneself and one’s family. These tributes allowed Offa to build his dyke which, in turn, protected his investment. If the Welsh plunder and burn, there will be less tribute - and the position of the monarch could be fatally undermined.
Successful kings like Penda or Offa attracted the best soldiers because their record in battle suggested that if you followed one of these successful monarchs, you’d get a share in the glory.
You follow a king because you’re impressed with him, not because of any legal obligations or abstract state apparatus. If the people who run your estates (known as reeves) aren’t afraid of the king, they will just steal from him. If the warriors don’t respect him, they won’t turn out and fight for him.
So, it doesn’t take much for a kingdom like Mercia to fall into ruin.
Decline and fall of Mercia
At the Battle of Ellandun in 825, King Egbert of Wessex defeated King Beornwulf of Mercia. Wessex escaped Mercian domination and spread its control over Sussex, Kent and Essex.
East Anglia also broke away from Mercia which was disastrous because east Anglia was home to Mercia’s mint. Beorwulf invaded East Anglia but was killed. The next year Luceda went in there but was also killed. East Anglia became Mercia’s Vietnam.
*In 830 King Wiglaf did restore Mercia prestige and extend power over Berkshire (as well as regaining control of London from Wessex) but the permanent independence of East Anglia and the hegemony of the West Saxons meant that Mercia started to decline.
In the late 9th century, along came the Vikings!
Note: Vikings were known as Northmen or sometimes Danes by the Anglo-Saxons as Viking just means “to raid.” It’s a verb. i.e. We will go a-viking.
Hopefully historians in 1500 years from now won’t make the same mistake. New Zealanders, for example, like to get into huge plastic balls and roll down hills. Hopefully historians won’t refer to them as Zorbings.
Although Viking incursions had been happening for the past 100 years, Mercia’s fate seemed sealed after the Great Heathen Army (who landed in Britain in 865) came for nothing short of conquest.
The Great Heathan Army first popped into Mercia in 868 after conquering York. They wintered in Nottingham, presumably because there’s a great Christmas market there:
“Hey Olaf. Come and have a gander at these tasteful baubles. Wouldn’t they go lovely hanging off the tree?”
“I prefer using the skulls of my enemies.”
“What is it with you and skulls?”
The Mercians laid siege to Nottingham with Wessex before heroically….paying the Vikings to go back to York. Like in Eastenders where the father doesn’t approve of his daughter’s fiancee so offers him money to clear off.
The Mercians paid the Vikings off at the end of 873 before the Vikings returned to Mercia, made their base at Repton (resting place of Mercian kings) before conquering Mercia in 874. They stuck Ceowulf on the throne as their puppet king and then went back to stamping on the English.
Enter Alfred the Great, king of Wessex who, after burning some cakes, gave up cookery and instead defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in 878. Mercia was shared between himself and the Vikings and was absorbed into the Viking area of England known as the Danelaw. *With PUPPET KING Ceolwulf’s death in 879, there died the last King of Mercia.
Alfred took the title King of the Anglo-Saxons, so basically the idea of a kingdom of Mercia was over.
So Mercia lived and died by the strength of its kings.
This is why we have to mention one more character in the Mercian story - Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred.
She was born in 868 or 870 at the height of the Viking invasions and she becomes the greatest British female badass since Boudicca.
The whole thing was a lot like the Terminator franchise
If the Vikings were the unstoppable Terminators and there’s a Sarah Connor in this story, it’s Athelflead. Although actually Alfred was John Connor, so how does this metaphor make sense when Athelflaed was Alfred’s daughter? Errr….time travel. Look, it doesn’t matter. Compared to Terminator Genisys, it’s total clarity.
Alfred married his daughter to a Mercian alderman called Althelred - to rule as an outpost of Wessex as Lord and Lady of the Mercians. Her mother Ealhswith was from Mercian stock, so Aethelflaed was accepted by the Mercians as one of their own.
Aethelflaed was loved by the Mercians and she saw herself as charged by god to defend her people. Even after Athelred’s death she went on ruling Mercia on her own, leaving Alfred to get on with defeating the Vikings and building his kingdom.
She fortified places like Worcester, Tamworth and Stafford and put them on a war footing.
In 907, her reinforcement of Chester led to the repulsion of a Viking attack, which was hot gossip amongst Irish chroniclers. Her troops supposedly threw hot beer and beehives onto the Vikings below.
Eric, you say you like beer and honey, right?
That’s right Olaf. They are my favourite thing.
Eric. Do you like your beer boiling hot and your honey full of bees?
No Olaf, I’m pretty conventional in my tastes.
I see. And do you like them served to you by being hurled on to you from above?
I’m really more of a brought to me at a table kind of guy.
I thought so. In that case we probably should….RETREAT! (add bees buzzing)
In 909, Athelflaed sent an expedition into the Danelaw to capture the relics of warrior St Oswald. They were brought back and a priory built in their honour at Gloucester (the new capital of Mercia) - restoring pride to the Mercians. As a reprisal, Vikings came raiding into Mercia but were returning with their captured plunder when they were ambushed and massacred. Three of their kings were killed at Wednesfield, or Woden’s field.
*The defensive towns, known as burghs, she had built on the border allowed her this lightning attack. These burghs weren’t just about defence. They were about urban regeneration and building a prosperous England.
Welcome to Gloucester, new capital of Mercia. With the building of the new priory, Gloucester is hot property. After checking out the bones of St Oswald, why not kick back with a flagon of craft mead and enjoy our exclusive menu of charcutrerie treats - including a Viking’s face compote and a trio of free-range, organic boar’s ballbag. Our exclusive apartments at The Priory comes complete with concierge, landscaped open sewer and off-street vertical horse racks. Be yourself. Be at home. Be Mercia. Mercia is a sub-domain of Wessex Crown Holdings. Terms and conditions apply.
In 917 (and with the assistance of Welsh kings and the Scottish King Constantine) Athelflead sent an army into the Danelaw to capture Derby and then Leicester in 918. In that year Vikings in York offered her her loyalty but she died before she could accept it.
There seems little doubt that if she were born a little earlier in history (and it was normal for the Anglo-Saxons to have queens) she would have been up there with the likes of Offa and Penda.
That was countries that don’t exist anymore. Every 2 weeks, we’ll be uncovering countries that you never knew existed and...in fact...don’t.
Next time, we jump forward to the 19th century and visit the grandiose-sounding Free and Independent Republic of West Florida….which lasted less than 3 months.
Until then, do exist… and also, make sure your friends also exist also….
Countries That Don’t Exist anymore was written and presented by Ed O’Meara, produced by Phil O’Meara, with artwork by Eleri Steadman.
Close with a song. Either: existing national anthem, song associated with the place OR write an anthem?
If not: Close with jingle.