blog

In these blogs, I delve into the background of the Anglo-Saxons in relation to my latest book, King Alfred’s Daughter. Some discuss the life and times of the Anglo-Saxon people to give you insights into the book’s plot. Others take you on a tour of the places that have a direct connection to Æthelflæd, the heroine of the book, many of which celebrate her life with statues, stained-glass windows or plaques, so you can celebrate what this extraordinary woman did over 1000 years ago.

Finding Æthelflæd in Leicester

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

Leicester

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians played a significant role in the history of Leicester, liberating the town from the control of Danish forces in 918 and reclaiming the city as part of the Anglo-Saxon territory of Mercia.

This is commemorated by a small statue of Æthelflæd in the Guildhall square with a plaque stating that she repelled the Danes, but also a reminder that a more substantial monument to her was intended: “this bronze statuette is a replica of the former drinking fountain erected on Victoria Park in 1922 and paid for from money left by Edith Gittins 1845-1910 who was well-known locally for her generous public service.” 

Her life was however celebrated as part of Leicester Libraries Week on Monday 2nd October, 2023 where I gave a talk on her life. She is the subject of my novel King Alfred’s Daughter which tells the story of Æthelflæd, the heroine who was written out of history. I reminded the audience of the achievement of this remarkable person, the first woman to rule an Anglo-Saxon state in her own right, who founded many towns in the Midlands as part of her  system of defensive boroughs and who fostered Athelstan the first king of all England.

Finding Æthelflæd in Shrewsbury

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

SHREWSBURY, the “fort in the scrub’

There is uncertainty over the date of the development of Shrewsbury as an Anglo-Saxon ‘burh’ or fortified town. A charter indicates that Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred met with the elders of Mercia by the upper Severn in 901AD at a place called Scrobbesburgh, or ‘fort in the scrub’, thought to be Shrewsbury. This date could be the founding of the town, but according to local tradition it was not finished until 912. What is certain is that Shrewsbury thrived thereafter as an easily defended hilltop town, surrounded by a tight loop of the Severn, and even boasted a mint. The location of the line of defences established for the town are unknown, but it is likely that Æthelflæd built a rampart across the ‘neck’ of the loop in the river, relying on the river to defend the other three sides.

When Æthelflæd founded St Alkmund’s church in Shrewsbury, she invested it with relics as she did with many of her churches. She retrieved the bones of Alkmund, a Northumbrian prince, from his resting place in Derby when she recaptured that town from the Danes in 917. To keep them safe and to bless the newly established town, she brought them to Shrewsbury.
St Alkmund’s church: picture in Shrewsbury Museum

Æthelflæd developed fortified towns like Shrewsbury as a key part of her strategy to re-take those parts of her territory occupied by the Danes. Sadly, her contribution has been largely overlooked, but I hope my historical novel, King Alfred’s Daughter can further promote her legacy by bringing this determined, courageous and compassionate woman to life. In the book, Shrewsbury was home to one of Æthelflæd’s ealdormen, Beornoth and this is how her initial meeting with him in her role as Lady of the Mercians is described:  

By the time the vessels pulled slowly onto a rough wooden wharf at the foot of Shrewsbury’s hilltop settlement, Beornoth was waiting to greet us, resplendent in fur and gold ornaments and surrounded by a retinue of armed guards.

‘Welcome to Shrewsbury m’lady, although it is not a good time of year to appreciate our surroundings.’

I used to liken him to a weasel on account of his long thin body and sharp beady eyes. I had not seen him since a Danish axe had sliced into his skull and he had been thought to die. I felt some sympathy when I saw the red scar that ran down his face from forehead to cheekbone, a patch covering the place where his right eye used to be.

He still reminded me of a weasel.

‘We have reason to come at an unseasonable time, Lord Beornoth. We are urgently seeking your son, Beorhsige.’

The ealdorman gave a look of surprise or made a good attempt at feigning one. ‘Why, he has only just departed on urgent business to the north. Shall we shelter from this bitter weather?’ He indicated a pathway that wound upwards to a set of wooden buildings on the crest of the rise. ‘Will you be staying? Is there baggage to fetch?’

I glanced at Cenwulf who silently nodded his agreement to a halt. ‘That depends on what you have to tell us,’ I said, striding along the path.

‘There is a horse for you,’ Beornoth called after me. ‘My legs are too old to climb, so I will ride to the hall.’

‘I will walk. I have been sitting for too long,’ I said.

As I neared the summit, I stopped to look around. It was as Cenwulf had described: the River Severn made an almost complete loop around the hill, enclosing an area that was more than sufficient for a large town. Yet it contained only a few scattered huts in need of repair. The harbour would have to be improved and walls built to defend the unprotected north-eastern approaches, but Shrewsbury could be strengthened relatively easily.  With new streets and buildings, it would make an ideal burh.’

(King Alfred’s Daughter, David Stokes, 2013)

Finding Æthelflæd in Warwick

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

WARWICK

In 914 Æthelflæd fortified the existing village of Wæringwic located on a sandstone hill above the River Avon and a nearby ford, close to the strategic road of the Fosse Way. 1000 years later Warwick celebrated Æthelflæd as its founder in 2014 with a plaque on the wall of the Court House, Jury St. The image is taken from a stained glass window in Worcester Cathedral.

This is how Æthelflæd describes the founding of Warwick in the novel King Alfred’s Daughter (2023):

“I chose a wonderful site for a burh at Warwick near the Fosse Way, a road which gave me direct access to the Danes of Leicester and Lincoln. A trading settlement had already developed on the sandstone cliff overlooking the crossing point of the River Avon, an ideal site for fortifications. My men were busy building an oval-shaped palisade to encircle the existing homesteads, when some visitors came calling. They were Danes.
Six horsemen bearing no flag to indicate their allegiance sat watching us on the far bank of the Avon by the ford. Their leader sat tall on his horse but wisps of grey hair in his beard told me he was not young. Athelstan had already exchanged greetings with him when I arrived from the far side of town where I had been measuring the ditches we needed.
‘He is the Jarl Thurketel from Northampton. He wants to know our intentions,’ Athelstan reported.
I chuckled and shouted down from the cliff top to him. ‘Have we killed all your kings that I have to speak with jarls, now?’
To my surprise, he bowed his head and smiled. ‘M’lady of the Mercians, I had hoped to meet you. Your renown has spread throughout our land.’
His tone surprised me. ‘Maybe you would like to cross the ford and kneel before me. I would accept your allegiance now that you have no king.’
His grin disappeared. ‘And take my lands and kill my children as soon as I lay down my sword, no doubt.’
‘Once you submit, you will have my word and of King Edward and all our followers that you will live in peace under our protection. You and your warriors will be welcome to stand alongside us against our common enemies.’
His smile returned. ‘I’ve heard you have the reputation of a lady who likes to command men. I will think on what you have said. We will meet again.’ With that he rode away, no doubt to report to his fellow warlords.
For so many years, the Danelaw had seemed a lost land to us, only visited by merchant traders. Now we rode freely across the frontier. I sometimes think that the ease with which we made those early inroads softened my mind to possible disasters ahead.”

(From King Alfred’s Daughter, Chapter 18, David Stokes, 2023)

Finding Æthelflæd in Derby

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

DERBY – a significant but costly victory

Derby was one of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw, created when King Alfred made peace with Viking invaders towards the end of the 9th century. His daughter Æthelflæd lead Mercian forces against the Danish forces based there in 917AD. Her victory and recapture of the town was one of her most significant military achievements. But it was achieved at a cost, as recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles (Mercian Register): “Four thegns who were dear to her were slain there within the gates”.

The re-taking of Derby was clearly a bloody affair; there is also an account that a Welsh king had fled there and was killed by the Mercian forces. The Danish defeat made a significant impact on the morale of other settlers in the Danelaw. It was quickly followed by the surrender of Leicester, another of the Danish Five Boroughs, to Æthelflæd, this time without bloodshed.

Æthelflaed’s name (spelled Æþelflæd), in the ‘Mercian Register (B-text) of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, courtesy of the British Library.

Historians today acknowledge that Æthelflæd, the heroine of the historical novel, King Alfred’s Daughter, was one of the most influential leaders of the Anglo-Saxon era. Yet she was almost written out of the contemporary historical records by those anxious to promote their own power and legacy. If manipulating the media sounds all too familiar to us today, back then it was even easier to control the communication channels as the written word was confined to an educated religious elite subservient to powerful kings.

Fortunately, we can now piece together Æthelflæd’s achievements because many related to specific places. As ‘Lady of the Mercians’, she founded many well-known towns that populate the East Midlands today. By building a chain of fortified towns on the River Severn and along the boundary of the Danelaw which roughly followed a line between London and Chester, she helped fulfil King Alfred’s dream of a united England. Today, these towns and the churches she founded within them, stand as monuments to her campaign to provide havens for the Anglo-Saxon people.

 

The Coronation of the King

Which part of the Coronation ceremony on May 6th is required by law?

This month’s Coronation of King Charles has its origin in the crowning of Anglo-Saxon kings over 1000 years ago. Following the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity, the church played an increasing role in state affairs. This was symbolised by God’s acceptance of a new king in a ceremony led by archbishops. The first recorded service was that of Edward the Elder who was crowned ‘King of the Anglo Saxons’ in 900AD at Kingston. A central part of the service was the ‘Coronation Oath’ which places an obligation on the monarch to govern according to the rule of law. In surviving documents of the time, the King’s promise’ (promissio regis) specifies that the king undertakes to maintain peace, good order and the rule of law. It is the only part of the service which today is required by law.

This is how the coronation oath of Edward, King Alfred’s son, is described in my latest historical novel King Alfred’s Daughter:

“The Archbishop turned to Edward. ‘Will you, Edward, swear to rule according to our ancient laws?’

‘I will,’ he said, projecting his voice to make sure everyone heard.

‘Will you carry out justice and enforce our laws?’

‘I will.’

‘Will you use your utmost powers to maintain the Church of the One True God.’

‘I will.’

As I listened to the oaths, I recognised the hand that had scripted them. The bishops were putting on a show to signify that God had chosen Edward to be king. If anyone disputed his authority from this day forward, they would have to answer to the Lord of Heaven.”

(from chapter 6, King Alfred’s Daughter, by David Stokes, The Book Guild, 2023)

Image from the British Library of the Promissio Regis – the Old English Coronation Oath

Finding Æthelflæd in Worcester

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

Finding Æthelflæd in WORCESTER

Worcester was a key borough reinforced by King Alfred’s daughter, Æthelflæd, and her husband, Æthelred, who are today celebrated in a stained-glass window in Worcester Cathedral. A Charter of 902, signed by Æthelflæd , along with Bishop Wærferth and Æthelred, gave rights to tax revenues to the church in return for prayers in the cathedral to Æthelflæd and Æthelred. This is a rare example of a woman signing Anglo-Saxon charters, and symbolises Æthelflæd’s influence even in the early part of her time as the Lady of the Mercians. Although she is more famous for fortifying towns and leading the fightback against the Vikings, she also supported what has been called a ‘knowledge hub’ in Worcester throughout her reign. Four contemporary prayer books were written by women, for women, in Worcester, including one containing gynaecological prayer. (see Femina, Jamina Ramirez, 2022)

The Lord and Lady of the Mercians, stained glass window by A.J. Davies in the cloisters of Worcester cathedral (Ethelfleda is the Victorian version of Æthelflæd’s name). This image of Æthelflæd was also used on a 2014 commemorative plaque in Warwick. 

During Æthelflæd’s early years in Mercia, Wærferth, the Bishop of Worcester, became a key advisor and remained a constant supporter and friend.

Bishop Wærferth (Werfrith), Bishop of Worcester, a close ally of Æthelflæd seen here with her father, King Alfred.

In King Alfred’s Daughter, this is how Æthelflæd describes a visit to the church where she checks to see if the Bishop has been keeping his side of the bargain as documented in the Charter of 902AD:

“When I entered the vestibule of St Peter’s with the bishop, we paused to allow those ahead to be seated. Someone whispered and pointed in our direction. As one, the heads of the congregation turned to gawk at me before looking down to pray as though they had seen nothing. Wærferth walked me down the knave, past the rows of farmers, artisans, traders and their families, and into the empty front pew. I sat there in lonely isolation whilst the bishop took his seat in the chancel. The priest who took the mass was young yet word perfect, and the choir of monks sang in such harmony that I almost wept at the beauty of the sound. Finally, at the end of the service, the moment came when I would discover how our charter agreement was being honoured. The priest looked to Bishop Wærferth who rose and came to the pulpit. I had noticed before that the bishop used a booming voice when he spoke in church, yet today he used softer tones, more like the ones he used privately. 

‘Those of you who regularly attend this church will know that it is our custom to sing the psalm, De Profundis to conclude our service. The younger ones amongst you may not know why we do this. Well, many years ago, the Lord and the Lady of Mercia generously endowed this church and, in return, we agreed to sing this psalm in their honour as long as they shall live. Happily, we welcome the Lady Æthelflæd amongst us today, so I ask you to sing even more heartily than usual for our kind benefactor.’

Tears welled in my eyes as the psalm resonated around the rafters and I joined the good folk of Worcester in singing the words:

Out of the depths, I have cried unto You, Lord. Lord, hear my voice.

I was soon to discover that He had.”

Excerpt from my new book ‘King Alfred’s Daughter’, chapter 11 published by The Book Guild.

Read more here…

Finding Æthelflæd in Chester

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

CHESTER – the burh that Æthelflæd defended with bees against a Viking attack

Chester, once an important Roman fortress town, fell into disrepair in Anglo-Saxon times and was even used as a camp by raiding Vikings during the reign of Alfred the Great. It was his daughter, Æthelflæd, who restored and revitalized the town when she became Lady of the Mercians in the early 10th century. Recognising its strategic importance close to the Danes to the east and the Welsh in the west, Æthelflæd rebuilt the old town as a fortified ‘burh’. She laid it out in the criss-cross pattern found in the town centre today, and extended the ancient walls down to the Dee so that the river could add further protection. Æthelflæd’s work turned the ruined town into a thriving community with its own mint making local coins.

A coin minted by Æthelflæd in Chester showing a tower symbolic of her building programme and possibly illustrating the church she built there.

As described in my book, King Alfred’s Daughter, Chester soon needed its defences. When Norwegian Vikings under Ingimund were expelled from their base in Dublin, they asked Æthelflæd for permission to settle and farm in the Wirral, claiming they had forsaken their raiding roots. She agreed, no doubt believing they would provide her with a useful mercenary force against other invaders. For a few years, the agreement held, and the settlers lived in peace, but as Chester prospered, the Vikings found the temptation too great. They allied with neighbouring Danes and attacked the town. 

According to a contemporary account, Æthelflæd used imaginative tactics to defend the city walls – including deploying the local bees! (I won’t give too much away here as I have used this version as the basis of my description in King Alfred’s Daughter). The influence of Scandinavian settlers can still be seen in Chester to this day – for example in St Olaf’s Church in Lower Bridge St.

As part of her restoration programme, Æthelflæd bestowed the relics of St Werburgh on the main church, now the town cathedral. A stained-glass image of ‘Ethelfleda’ in the west window honours her as the original founder.

Detail of the West Window of Chester Cathedral showing ‘Ethelfleda’ (the Victorian version of Æthelflæd) designing fortified towns

This how is Æthelflæd describes beginning the defence of Chester in the novel, King Alfred’s Daughter:

Time was short and I ordered every available man, woman, and child to help with the re-building effort. I had the great hall emptied and bade local farmers to bring in their cattle and stores. Women dug up vegetables and picked fruit from beyond the defences to store inside the town. Everything was done not only to build up our own stocks but also to deny food to the attackers.

On the third day, Æthelred’s foot soldiers arrived and filled the town with their tents, weapons, cooking utensils and bad language. I calculated that our defenders now numbered four hundred, but informants in the Wirral had reported news of three separate warband encampments. I needed more men if I was to stand a chance of holding the makeshift stronghold.” 

Excerpt from my new book ‘King Alfred’s Daughter’, chapter 11 published by The Book Guild.

Read more here…

Gloucester – Æthelflæd’s Capital

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

GLOUCESTER – ÆTHELFLÆD’S CAPITAL

A good place to start is Gloucester, her ‘capital’. She and her husband Æthelred established the main court of Mercia in Gloucester, reinforcing the town’s Roman defences and encouraging trade. Just outside the town walls, she built royal residences at Kingsholm and founded St Oswald’s Priory where she and Æthelred were buried – all as described in King Alfred’s Daughter.

Æthelred, Æthelflæd’s husband, was from the Hwicce people who originated around Gloucester. As the Lord of the Mercians, he fought alongside King Alfred against the Vikings, and his reward was the king’s daughter as his bride in 887 AD. She was a teenager, he an experienced warrior at least 10 years her senior, but she soon shared the burden of running a state still at war.

Gloucester had been a thriving Roman fortress and town until the fifth century, but when Æthelflæd arrived from her home in Winchester, it would have been a ramshackle collection of derelict ancient buildings, wooden huts and working farms scattered inside the crumbling walls. She set about restoring it as one of her first ‘burhs’, or fortified townships.

The old Roman walls were repaired on three sides and extended down to the River Severn, which formed a protective fourth flank to the northwest. Access was through three renovated stone gates in the walls, and over the river by a town bridge which stood where it does today. Inside the walls, Æthelflæd used the template used by her father, Alfred, to create a street layout fit for both military and civilian purposes. Four main streets connected the gates and the bridge to a crossroads in the centre.  Smaller streets ran off them like fishbones where houses were built for traders and warriors alike. Today, you can walk along roads such as Longsmith Street where metals were worked, and St Aldates where the cattle market stood, knowing that 1100 years ago, Æthelflæd and her family also travelled the same path.

At Kingsholm, close to the site of an old Roman fort, archaeologists have discovered evidence of a late Saxon timber building which is thought to be Æthelflæd’s palace, and perhaps the main centre of Mercian government at this time.

From ‘Anglo-Saxon Gloucester: c.680 – 1066’, in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, ed. N M Herbert (London, 1988), pp. 5-12. British History Online  https://www.british-history.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publications/pubid-281/images/fig02.gif

She built a new minster just outside the walls, dedicated at first to St Peter, later to St Oswald once she had obtained his relics from within the Danelaw – (as told in King Alfred’s Daughter). She and her husband chose to be buried there: excavations in the 1970s revealed an ornate 10th century carved slab that may have once covered a royal grave, but the exact location of the Lord and Lady of the Mercians remains unknown.

The ruins of the Abbey have been recently renovated and stand today as a monument to Æthelflæd’s achievements in the early development of the city. Her life was celebrated in Gloucester with a pageant on the 1100th anniversary of her death in 2018.

St Oswald’s Abbey today

This how is Æthelflæd describes the building of the Abbey in the novel, King Alfred’s Daughter:

“I little thought that the abbey that I founded as our family church in Gloucester would have the impact it did. Yet so many events that followed had their roots in that simple decision to build a monument to God.

We sited the abbey by the river, between the residence I had built for the family at Kingsholm and the newly repaired walls of Gloucester. The fields around the town were scattered with the ruins of buildings left by the Romans and we used the plentiful stone to create a church. From the rubble of past generations, the masons skilfully raised majestic walls and gracious arches, and constructed a most beautiful House of God. We named it after St Peter but, as I will recount, we had cause to change that later. When my earthly toils are done, I have chosen to lie there, in my own modest chapel, rather than the grandiose mausoleum that my brother has built in Winchester.”

Excerpt from my new book ‘King Alfred’s Daughter’, published 28th March 2023 by The Book Guild.

Read more here…

Finding Æthelflæd in Tamworth

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

 

Finding Æthelflæd in Tamworth

Tamworth was an ancient capital of Mercia until it was sacked by the Vikings in the 9th century. During Æthelflæd’s time, it was a border town between the Danelaw and Mercia. She renovated and reinforced it as one of her line of burhs, a network of fortified settlements to protect against attackers. She used Tamworth as her base when she invaded the Danelaw in her later years, and she died there in her royal residence close to the site of the later Tamworth castle. As described in the book, she restored the church that was dedicated to St Editha, daughter of a Wessex king, She is now commemorated in the local church with her own stained glass window.

Left: Æthelflæd depicted in St Editha’s, Tamworth, a church she rebuilt after Vikings destroyed the original

Right: Statue of Æthelflæd in Tamworth castle grounds looking down on her nephew Athelstan, fostered at her court and future King of England

 

Tamworth has been very conscientious in remembering Æthelflæd’s role in their history. A statue of her, sword in hand, looking down on a young Athelstan, was created by Edward George Bramwell in 1913, one thousand years after she re-entered the town.

 

The town regularly commemorates her life: a pageant in 2013, celebrated the centenary of the unveiling of the statue; in 2018, a service was held in the Church of St Editha to commemorate her death on 12th June, 1100 years before. About 500 guests attended including the Earl of Wessex, the Danish Ambassador, several bishops, military representatives, at least six professors of history, local dignitaries and representatives from the towns which had been founded or rebuilt by Æthelflæd. In 2018 a modern 20 ft. statue by Luke Perry was erected on a roundabout next to the town’s railway station.

The large 2018 statue outside Tamworth railway station

 

Anglo-Saxon Tamworth, showing royal residences and an early watermill by the River Anker (courtesy of Visit Tamworth)

This how is how Æthelflæd describes the retaking of Tamworth in King Alfred’s Daughter:

“In the following year, 913, I was ready for my boldest move yet against the Danes. I marched on the ancient royal centre of Mercia. I took an army to Tamworth.

It was not just an army. I took workmen to rebuild what had once been King Offa’s great hall and residence. I took my household of clerks and priests. It was to be my permanent camp on the frontline of our struggle to reclaim the middle lands of England that my ancestors had ruled for centuries.  It was in Tamworth, that King Offa had received vassal kings and lords from far and wide and I was determined to reinstate it to its former glory. Those who lived in the surrounding Danelaw would see that there was now an alternative to being ruled by the Danes.

Tamworth is sited on the juncture of two rivers, the Tame and the Anker, which protect its southern boundary. I was first to ride my horse across the ford near the confluence of the rivers and up the incline towards the ancient buildings. We had sent scouts ahead, so I knew there was no danger and I wanted to show that the Mercian royal family was returning to its home. When I caught sight of the ancient palace and the church, tears sprang into my eyes. I looked upon a desolate ruin of rotten wood and crumbled masonry overgrown with weeds. The inhabitants had long gone and rats scurried around the fallen timbers.” (King Alfred’s Daughter, Chapter 21, David Stokes, 2023). 

Read more here…

Kingston: The ‘Coronation Stone’

FINDING ÆTHELFLÆD, Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians may have been written out of history, but today we can find evidence of her life and achievements in many places.

 

Kingston: the ‘Coronation Stone’.

My new book, King Alfred’s Daughter, begins with the death of Alfred the Great, and the succession of his son Edward. The relationship between Edward and Æthelflæd is crucial to the plot, and this is epitomised during Edward’s coronation at Kingston upon Thames. Here, on 8th June, 900AD. Edward, was crowned as ‘King of the Anglo-Saxons.’

In an open space near the centre of Kingston, you can see a relic that formed part of the ceremony: a large stone, possibly part of the throne on which the king sat.  The Coronation Stone, as it is now called, is made of sarsen, a type of sandstone not found locally. It sits on a granite base engraved with the names of seven kings who were crowned in Kingston between 900 and 978AD.

Why Kingston?

Why was Kingston chosen as the site of a royal coronation, rather than Winchester, the capital of Wessex? Kingston was chosen because it was on the Thames – and the Thames was the dividing line between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. Under Alfred the Great, only these two areas had held out against the Viking invasions, and he had cemented their alliance by marrying his daughter Æthelflæd to the Lord of Mercia, Æthelred. Edward knew that continued cooperation between Wessex and what remained of Mercia was crucial to his survival, so he chose to be crowned as King of all the Anglo-Saxons in a place that connected the two surviving Saxon territories.

How similar was the ceremony to modern coronations?

The Anglo-Saxon coronations followed an ‘ordo’ that laid out the responsibilities that a king and his people have to each other with oaths and the singing of the Te Deum. A symbolic sceptre and rod were given to the king and a crown placed upon his head. This has formed the basis of such ceremonies for over 1000 years; the coronations of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and that of King Charles III on May 6th 2023 would look remarkably similar to observers from the Anglo-Saxon age.

Where was the coronation held?

Edward and his successors were probably crowned in the ancient church of St Mary. When this collapsed in the 18th century, the ‘Coronation Stone’ was recovered from the ruins of the chapel. In Victorian times, it was placed in the marketplace on a plinth in front of the old Town Hall where the Market House is today, before it was moved to its current position outside the Guildhall. The names of the seven kings believed to have been crowned on the stone are inscribed in the Victorian granite base, with a coin from their reign embedded under each king’s name. After Edward came his son Athelstan who became the first king of all England, building on the success of King Alfred’s son and daughter in reconquering the territories held by Viking invaders.

 This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of King Alfred’s Daughter that describes part of the ceremony (in Æthelflæd’s voice):

“Plegmund, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop Wærferth emerged from the shadows to welcome the king as he approached the altar. Edward stepped up on a grey stone slab to sit on the highchair. He deliberately arranged his flowing robes around him, and turned to face his audience, his three guards lined up behind him.

Plegmund’s voice boomed around the colourful tapestries hanging from the walls.

‘I present to you, Edward, your undoubted king. Are you willing to do homage and service to him as your king?’