“You can’t tell the players without a program!”
Hlafdige Arastorm aka Tchipakkan aka Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor ©2010
Noble women in Anglo-Saxon women had two ranks: Cwen- Queen, and Hlafdige- Lady. The same names were used so often it is a bit hard sometimes to keep track of to which lady is being referred.
Women in Anglo-Saxon England had more rights than most women in the same time period, but this does not translate to equal rights as we understand them. Rank in Anglo-Saxon England was measured by the were-geld due for an injury, and women’s were generally less than men’s. A woman’s rank came from her family, and didn’t generally change when she got married. Anglo-Saxon women had the right to own their own property, buy, sell and bequeath it. They could be witnesses on charters. They were considered separate entities from their husbands, for example, if a woman didn’t lock up stolen goods for her husband, she was not held complicit in the crime, and if she did she was.
Religion was the path to an independent life, nuns property was given over to the church, but many lay women lived in abbeys and retained property. It was where a woman would go if she didn’t want to get married or remarried. Before the conversion we know very little about women’s religion, but in the 7th century, the typical institution was a double monastary lead by an abbess, not a priest (although this changed after the later reforms). Many noble women became abbesses and saints, and had a high level of education.
For about a hundred years, Wessex did not refer to their royal consorts as queens, (see Eadburh to Judith below). Other kingdoms didn’t ever have that problem. Sometimes royal women would retire to monastaries, some kept their finger in politics, queen mothers especially could be quite powerful.
Some of my favorite Anglo-Saxon Women:
“The Island Girl” I’ll start with an unnamed princess of the “Angilori” who was betrothed to Radigis of the Varni and set aside when a better offer came along. She led an expedition pf ships and armed men over to Jutland, captured the Prince and made him send his “better” match home, and honor his promise to marry her. This story comes from Procopius as “current” to the Gothic Wars (535-550).
Ælfgifu of Northampton (990- 1040+) aka Alfifa, first wife of Cnut, mother of Svein and Harold Harefoot, 1015. Unpopular regent (with Swein) in Norway 1030-35
Ælfgifu of Shaftsbury saint) first wife of Edmund I , mother of kings Eadwig and Edgar. Daughter of Wynflaed . Not consecrated queen, called concubine, in charter she was between bishops and ealdormen. Probably overshadowed by her mother-in-law Eadgifu of Kent. (died 944)
Ælfgifu of York (985-1002) first wife of Aeþelred Unred, mother of King Edmund Ironside, also Æþelstan, Ecgberht, Eadred, Edmund, Eadwig and Edgar, and daughters, Eadgyþ (married Eadric Streona), Ælfgifu, Wulfhild, and possible two more daughters. She kept a low profile- her moþer-in-law Ælfþryþ raised some of her sons. While she didn’t witness charters, she was testatrix (executor for wills) of her people. She’s presumed to have died in childbirth- and her successor Emma of Normandy was given her name.
Ælfgifu wife of Eadwig. In the Life of St. Dunstan during the coronation feast, Eadwig slipped off to “debauch” with an Æþylgifu and her daughter, and was indignantly dragged back to the feast by Dunstan, who he then exiled. St. Oswalds life has an alternate story of Eadwig and the pair, but these stories are later campaigns created to smear political rivals. Oda, a supporter of Dunstan, annulled the marriage based on consanguinity, which bolsters his brother Edgar’s status as heir. This may be referring to this Ælfgifu.
Ælflaed of Mercia, daughter of Offa and Cyneþryþ.. Possible proposed match to Charles the Younger, son of Charlemagne ~790 . Married Aeþelred of Northumbria 792- called Cwen
Æþylflæd, Lady of the Mercians: (869-918) daughter of Ælfræd the Great, married Æthelred Ealdorman of Mercia. She built fortifications, organized the tactics to successfully push back the Danish invasion. She had one daughter Ælfwynn, who was elected leader after her, but did not seem to have her mother’s talent for leadership. She raised Æþlystan (her brother Edward’s heir). She and Edward reconquored the lands the Danes had taken. Ruled by herself after Æþylred died 911, ruled until 918,. She signed agreements, built burhs, ran campaigns into Wales, captured Danish strongholds, rebuilt Gloucester. Died 918. (By 937. Mercia changed from Kingdom to Earldom.)
Ælfþryþ married Baldwin of Flanders , daughter of Ælfred the Great
Ælfþryþ (aka Alfrida, Elfrida) (944-1000) married Edgar the Peaceful 964/5. mother of Edmund 965 and Æþelred Unrede 978. First known crowned and anointed Queen of England. Only known female legal advocate. She was accused of arranging the death of Edward the Martyr.
Ælfwynn, 888-919+ daughter of Ælflæd, Lady of Mercia, succeeded her in 918, but was removed by Edward the Elder, and bundled off to a Monastery “deprived of all control in Mercia, and was led into Wessex three weeks before Christmas” (AS Chronicle). She did witness charters
Æþelburh of Kent- (?-647) second wife of Edwin of Northumbria, daughter of Eþerbert and Bertha of Kent, sister of Eadbald. Her marriage (625) triggered the conversion of Northumbria. After Edwin’s death 633, she, her priest Paulinus, and children fled to Kent, where she founded an abbey in a ruined roman villa (the first Monastery in Kent).
Æþelburg of Wessex, wife of King Ine. 722 she “destroyed the stronghold of Taunton”. Ine retired to religious life 726, leaving no heir
Æþylflaed of Damerham, first wife of Edgar the “Peaceful”, (re-uniter of England in 958) mother of Edward the Martyr (rival of Ælfþryþ)
Æþelglyþ of Mercia married Aeþelhelm 848-898
Æþylþryþ, saint, (Audry) 630-679 (cancer) Daughter of King Anna, she and her sisters Seaxburh, Aeþelburh and Wihtburh all became saints. She married first Tondbert of EA, then 660-672 Ecgfriþ of Northumbria. Founded the abbey at Ely.
Akdeberge (Bertha) of Kent, (539-612) daughter of Charibert of Paris, married Æþelbert of Kent. Made a saint for paving the way for the conversion in Kent. Restored St. Martins, from an old Roman Church in Canterbury. Mother of Eadbald and Æþelburg.
Cuþburga (d. 718) married Aldfriþ of Northumbria, sister of Ine of Wessex and Cwenburg. Mother of Osred and maybe Osric and Offa. 705 she became a nun, and, of course, a saint.
Cyneþryþ:- 770-798 Offa’s Queen only queen to have her own coinage. Mother of Ecgfriþ of Mercia (coin from British Museum) She may have descended from Penda’s daughters: Cynewise, Cyneburh, and Cyneswiþ. She witnessed charters- after Ecgfriþ was born. Reports of her instigating the killing of Æþelbert II of East Anglia, 794 are from centuries later. After Offa’s death, she became abbess of Cookham d after 798
Eadburh daughter of Cyneþryþ and Offa, was wife of Beorhtric of Wessex (Cwen 789-802), she “had power throughout the entire kingdom” and behaved as a tyrant “like her father”. She’ said to have accidentally poisoned her husband (while killing off another political enemy), fled to to Francia (with a great deal of treasure), insulted Charlemagne (chose his son over him), and was sent to a nunnery. She was kicked out of there when found in flagrante with her lover, and died a whore in Pavia. It is laid on her memory that Wessex would suffer no Cwen.
Ealhswiþ (852-905) married Alfred the Great (868), Consort (871-899) Mother of Æflæd Lady of the Mercians, Edward the Elder, Æþylgifu, Ælfþryþ and Æþelweard.
Eadgifu of Kent (Edgiva) 896-968,, third wife of Edward the Elder (919-924), mother of Eadred and Edmund (kings) and saint Eadburh, had much power as mater regis , died 968,
Ealdgyþ (Ediþ) 1015-1016 wife of Sigefert who with his brother Morcar were killed by Eadric Streona and Æþelred took their lands. She was held in an abbey. In the course of the revolt of 1015, Edmund Ironsides married her. She may have been the mother of Ironside’s sons Edward the Exile and Edmund.
Ealdgyþ (Ediþ), daughter of Earl Ælfgar of Mercia. She was first the wife of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ruler of all Wales (d, 1063), then wife of Harold Godwineson. (d. 1066) rival of Harolds mistress Edith Swanneck.
Eanflæd- (626- 704) daughter of Edwin of Diera. On the day she was born Edwin survived an assassination attempt and said he’d convert if he succeeded in his revenge. Which he did in 627 (but died in 633), they returned to Kent. In 642 Oswiu of Bernicia married her to cement ties to Kent. He had so many liaisons it’s hard to tell which of his several children were hers. She retired to Whitby Abby, and after her kinswoman Hild, in 680 was co-abbess with her daughter Ælflæd.
Ecgwynn d 901 first consort of Edward the Elder, Mother of Aþelstan (King 924-938). Aþelstan was apparently born before the marriage, raised in Mercia by Ælþylflæd, designated heir by Alfred, but Edward stepped in. Mercians chose him king when Ælfweard followed his father. The conflict over the succession involved arguments about whether Ecgwynn was a concubine or true consort.
Elfreda (Ælfflaed) 878-920 second wife of Edward the Elder (901-919+) had 2 sons Ælfweard and Edwin and six daughters (mostly married kings on the continent)
Emma (Ælfgifu) of Normandy 985-1052) daughter of Richard of Normandy, married Eþelred Unred (1002-1016), mother of Edward b.1004, Edred b.1005, Godgifu (Goda) b.1009 Alfred b.1012 . Married Cnut (1016-1035) mother of Harþacanute b. 1018 and Gunhilda (Kunegunda) b. 1020 When Cnut died Harþacnut was busy in Denmark, and Harold Harefoot took the crown. She was briefly exiled to Flanders, but returned after Harolds Death in 1040. Edward the Confessor was welcomed to England. She was a survivor, and a player in the political arena.
Eþylflæda married Edgar the peaceful mother of Edward the martyr d 978
Friþugyþ, sister of Ine, wife of Æþelheard of Wessex. Signed charters, made grants of land to the church.
Gunhilda (Kunegunda) 1020-1038 daughter if Emma and Cnut- married Henry III Holy Roman Emperor. 1036. Mother of Beatrix (b.1037) charged with adultery, defended by combat, and became a nun, reconciled, went on campaign with Henry to Italy, and died of a epidemic.
Gyþa Þorkelsdottir- wife of Godwin of Wessex, mother of Harold 1022, Sweyn 1023, Tostig (Northumbria) 1026, Gunnhilda, Ælfgifu, Edith 1029 (married Edward), Gyrþ (Anglia) 1032, Leofwine 1035 Wulfnoþ 1040
Judith of Flanders (844-870) daughter of HRE Charles the Bald. Married Eþelwulf of Wessex 856, (he’d passed through her father’s country on a pilgrimage to Rome). While he was gone his son Eþelbald ruled, and when he got back they split the country between them. In her honor (as daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor) she was annointed Queen (at 12), she was the first queen of Wessex since Edburgh. In 858 (at 14) Eþelwulf died and Eþelbald married her (incurring censure of the church). The marriage was annulled and Eþelbald died in 860 . She returned to France where she was sent to the monastery at Senlis (while her father looked for a new husband) but she eloped with Baldwin of Flanders 861 (at 17). Her father was cross and tried to get it annulled, but they appealed to the pope, and were officially married in 863. Her father gave Baldwin the land in the path of Viking attacks, but he fought successfully, and it became Flanders. With Baldwin she bore Charles, Baldwin II, (who married Ælfþryþ daughter of Ælfred the Great), and Rodulf (Raoul).
Osburh Osburga (810-853) daughter of Oslac Jutish line from Isle of Wight, wife of King Eþelwulf, mother of Aelfred the Great also Kings Æþelbald, Æþelbert, Æþelred, and Æþelswiþ, & Æþelstan.
Osgyþ/Osyþ/Syþe, Saint. Granddaughter of Penda of Mercia. She wanted to be an abbess but was married to Sighere of Essex, produced a son, and snuck off and became a nun while her husband was out hunting “a beautiful white stag”. She was killed by Danish “Vikings” 653 (a cephalophoric martyr- said to carry her head in her hands).
Redburga wife of Egbert of Wessex ~800, described as sister of Frankish king (Charlemagne?) while Egbert was in exile (by Offa) at Charlegmagne’s court, moþer of Aeþlwulf, and grandmoþer to Alfred þe Great
Seaxburh of Ely (saint) daughter of Anna of East Anglia, Sister of Aeþelburg, Sæþryþ, Æþelþryþ, and Wiþbeurga (all abbesses and saints) married Eorceberht of Kent, mother of Kings Ecgbert and Hloþhere and Saints Ercibgita abd Ernebikda (married Wulfhere of Mercia). When Eorcenberht died 664, she ruled as regent, then founded the abbey of Sheppey, and later moved to her sister Æþelþryþ’s double monastery at Ely, which she took over when Æþelþryþ died 679. In 695 she organized the translation of St. Eþeldreda’s relics to a new shrine at Ely using a Roman white marble sarcophagus. (d 699)
Seaxburh of Wessex second wife if Cenwalh, (first wife was a daughter of Penda of Mercia) The Anglo-Saxon Chronical says that “Seaxburg Westseaxna Cven” reigned JOINTLY with her husband Cenwalh until his death in 674.