Why have her achievements been under-played for so long?

Part of the reason is to be found in how the happenings of the time were documented. Æthelflæd’s life is an early example of how an alternative narrative of events can be spread through state-controlled media. The most important contemporary written source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a year-by-year record of events covering the first millennium AD and beyond. Begun in 891 during the reign of Alfred the Great, it was first written by scribes, probably monks of the Old Minster in Winchester using Old English, the language that Alfred promoted over the continued usage of Latin. Copies were made and distributed to other monasteries throughout the Anglo-Saxon world. There, other scribe-monks added not only the official updates circulated from Wessex but, crucially for our story, they also inserted local records of events. One such copy, known as the ‘Mercian Register’, focuses on Mercian as well as West Saxon happenings. This differs in that it contains details of Æthelflæd’s life that are completely ignored in the original ‘Winchester Chronicle’ that merely records her death in 918.

The Mercian version (shown below as recorded in the so-called ‘Manuscript B’) records more information about Æthelflæd than any other woman throughout all the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Acknowledged as ‘Lady of the Mercians,’ she is documented as ordering the construction of many burhs, some of which are now important towns in the West Midlands.

Image from the British Library of a page from the ‘Manuscript B’ of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle made on the border between Mercia and Wessex that includes a different version of events from 902–924, (the years when Æthelflæd was influential) to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ‘manuscript A’ from Winchester, that focuses on the deeds of her brother King Edward (who reigned 899–924)