21st August 2014
A poorly honoured woman
Leicester has many women who have left their mark on its history: Sue Townsend, Beryl Markham, Rosemary Conley, Lady Jane Grey, Alice Hawkins, Lilian Lenton…
There is one woman whose contribution to Leicester has so far gone almost uncelebrated and whose impact on the town is known only to a very few people. She was a woman who liberated Leicester from its occupation by an army that had overtaken it.
Her name was Æthelflæd and she was queen of the Mercians and one of a number of royal persons whose names have gone down in the history of our town and city.
It was in the year 918 AD that Æthelflæd led an army which liberated the town from the occupation of the Vikings. The Danish invaders had subjugated great swathes of what we now call England beneath the yoke of their Danelaw.
She has been called The Lady of the Mercians, and she ruled the Kingdom of Mercia from 911 to her death in 918. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxons. She gained the throne when her husband Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, died in 911.
Now a petition has been launched to put up a statue of this great woman and monarch to properly honour her life and what she did for the people of Leicester back in those far-off days. In the so-called ‘dark ages’ of the ninth and tenth centuries, women were largely ignored by the male monks who write the history books of their times. Even those who were royalty were often mentioned only in passing; the largely male writers of the time gave women only a scant mention as they chronicled the lives of the great men of their times.
In 917, Æthelflæd liberated Derby from the Vikings. Her fame as a great military leader spread like a fire through the land. So much so, that when she and her army arrived at the gates of Leicester (then a walled city) the occupying Danes capitulated without a fight. She was referred to at the time as ‘a very famous queen of the Saxons.’ With her brother Edward she drove the Vikings out of central and southern parts of what we know call England (in those days the country was divided into a variety of Kingdoms and had not yet become known by the name to which we refer to it today – England.)
In the courtyard of Leicester’s ancient medieval Guildhall there is a small status of Queen Æthelflæd. The statue had been commissioned by Leicester City Council in the late 1970s. It was made by the local painter and sculptor Jack Newport who is experienced in bronze casting. It is very much smaller than the one that was made to honour Richard III.
Now a petition has been launched to get a bigger, more fitting statue of the Saxon Queen set up in Leicester.