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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story: Church Reformers Supporting Edward vs. Mercians, featuring Earl Aelfhere, Supporting Aethelred

Today I have the first post in my renewed Two Sides to Every Story series and it kicks off with a guest post that has been written by author Annie Whitehead.  I'm excited to share this with you all as Annie has presented this topic in such a creative way!

Church Reformers Supporting Edward vs. Mercians, featuring Earl Aelfhere, Supporting Aethelred

Here is a bit to set the scene for you: In the middle of the 10th century, there was a lull in the Viking attacks which had vexed Alfred the Great and were later to plague Aethelred the Unready. Aethelred's father, Edgar, ruled in a time of peace and stability, which had the unfortunate side-effect of allowing court politics and scheming to come to the fore. When Edgar died, both his sons were boys, and the court factions divided over who should rule. A state of near civil war broke out, with the Church reformers championing the elder of the boys, Edward, whilst the Mercians, led by Earl Aelfhere, who'd seen their land destroyed by those reformers, supported Aethelred. Edward's reign was marred not only by this in-fighting, but by famine. And his short reign came to an abrupt end on March 18th, AD978, at the home of his step-mother. Here we imagine the court-room scene which might have followed:

“You stand accused of regicide and destroying monasteries. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty. And you, Archbishop, have no right to try us.”

“Members of the 21st Century jury, here are the facts: Queen Aelfthryth, widow of the late king, conspired to kill her stepson, King Edward, on 18th March, in the year of our Lord, 978. The charge is that she lured the king to her residence at Corfe, where she instructed her retainer to deliver the mortal blow to the king’s person, and arranged for the body to be hidden, claiming the crown for her own son, Aethelred. In this she was aided by the earl of Mercia, Aelfhere, who will come to be known to future historians as ‘The mad blast from the western territories.’ Members of the jury should also know that I, Dunstan of Canterbury, and my fellow monastic reformers, Athelwold and Oswald, will be so revered that we will be declared Saints.
The Life of Dunstan
Photo Credit: The British Library Board
I present exhibit A, a letter from Archbishop Oswald:
My Lords,
Hear my testimony. I was a poor monk from the continent when I came to help with the reform of the monasteries, which were left in a sorry  state after the Vikings had been and gone. It was ever my intention to rebuild, and reform, and for this I needed land. The late King Edgar granted me such, and Earl Aelfhere was envious. He ransacked the monasteries, he put the monks out on the street, he is irreligious. The Queen wished only to see her own son upon the throne, and will be known to history as a murderess. You must convict them.
‘Just as I, Dunstan, will have a book written about me, so will a monk at Ramsey write the Life of St Oswald, praising him. It is the clerks of the Church who write the histories. So you have no documentary evidence to help your case, do you, Earl Aelfhere?”

“But I do. And I, Queen Aelfthryth, present exhibit B, the Regularis Concordia. Written by your fellow reformer, it is a document which pronounces me Lady and Defender of all nuns. Would such a woman countenance murder? I will go on to be regent during the early years of Aethelred’s reign. My grandson will cite me as having brought him up and will mention me in his will.”
Regularis Concordia
Photo Credit: The British Library Board
“And I will have my say, now, Archbishop. Yes, I am the ‘Mad Blast' from Mercia. And many Mercians rallied behind me when the Church evicted the secular clerks and tried to turn all the cathedrals into monasteries. But I am not irreligious. It is documented that I was a generous benefactor to Glastonbury Abbey, and when I die, I will be buried there with all due ceremony. The only monasteries I attacked were the ones which Oswald built on my land. Oswald holds both an archbishopric and a bishopric which is not legal. Future historians will discover how, at Ramsey Abbey, during a time of famine, he feasted royally, while outside, people were starving. King Edward was an angry, callow young man who had no right to the throne. The queen’s son, Aethelred, is the rightful heir, born of both a king and a consecrated queen. The retainer thought that his lady was in danger and sought only to defend the queen. If murder was done, why did we delay Aethelred’s coronation? If I am irreligious, why did I move the bones of Edward, now known as The Martyr, and rebury him with all honours? The monk who will go on to write the Life of St Oswald,  the same monk who named me the ‘Mad Blast’, will also tell of my part in Edward’s reburial and call me ‘That Glorious Earl.’ And you have already admitted his evidence.

‘So, Members of the 21st Century jury, it’s up to you to decide. Are we guilty?” 

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate who now works as an Early Years music teacher. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, available now. She is currently working on the novel which was a prize-winning entry in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition and which she was encouraged by judge Fay Weldon to complete.  You can find Annie Whitehead on Facebook, her  Blog, author Amazon UK Page, and author Amazon US Page.

Buy the Books on Amazon: To Be A Queen | Alvar the Kingmaker

Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Thanks so much for hosting my characters on the blog today Heather - they enjoyed having their say!

  2. Great idea for a blog post. Really drew me in :-)

  3. Humm, I am glad that I didn't have to make the decision back then. I choose the Mercians, since they worked there way into my heart in Annie's novel 'To be a Queen'

    1. I love hearing that! I haven't had the chance to read the book yet

    2. I love hearing that! I haven't had the chance to read the book yet


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