Those of you who regularly read my posts (you there, lurking in the corner - come on, show yourself! Oh, just a shadow. All right then, as you were...) will know that I've already written one or two about Alfred the Great and his wonderful daughter, Aethelflaed. But I make no apology about writing another one this week, because there's a practical reason for it: Michael Wood has a series of three documentaries on at the moment about Alfred and his family, and if you're interested in history, you should watch them - because they're really excellent, and because Alfred is a tremendously significant figure who in recent years has not had nearly as much attention paid to him as he deserves. And this is even more true of Aethelflaed - except that in her case, she's not been getting as much attention as she deserves for centuries, let alone the last few years.
Why are they so important? Well, Alfred, because he was the last English king standing when the Vikings had dispatched the rest of them - either into exile or into the afterlife using a fairly gruesome method known as the blood-eagle.(For more detail, see my book, Warrior King.) Because he turned the tide, laying the foundations for his grandson, Athelstan, to rule the whole of England. Because he fervently believed in the importance of education and culture, collecting learned scholars at his court from all over Europe, and translating important books into English so that more people could actually read them. Because he set in train the creation of towns - burhs - which would form centres for commerce and places of safety for the people. Because he took London from the Danes and set about rebuilding it.
And Aethelflaed? As a girl of sixteen, she was married to the considerably older Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians. Mercia had been a great kingdom - one of its kings was Offa, who built the dyke of which parts can still be seen and walked. But when Alfred of Wessex stood fast, the last king of Mercia fled, and now, Mercia was a client kingdom with Alfred as overlord. Initially with her husband, Aethelflaed carried on her father's work in Mercia. She too established burhs and restored ancient towns such as Gloucester and Tamworth. When her husband became ill, she carried on, and when he died, the people chose her as their Myrcna Hlaefdige - Lady of the Mercians; and she fought, sometimes alongside her brother Edward, against the Danes. Sometimes she didn't have to fight: such was her reputation that the Danes of York and Nottingham swore allegiance to her without a battle. She also fostered her brother's first son (though not with his queen), Athelstan - who in his turn became a great king who bound the different kingdoms of England into one.
The programmes are on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC 4, and are repeated at 10.15 on Thursdays, same channel. Because of Michael Wood's erudition and enthusiasm, they're an absolute delight, and it's a special treat to hear Anglo-Saxon being read aloud so beautifully. If you can't catch the programmes, there's also my book, Warrior King, which is published by Walker as an e-book.
Alfred's also been in the news recently for a different reason - read about it here. In brief, there is some doubt as to where his final resting place is, because his remains are known to have been moved several times. The Bishop of Winchester is coat the moment considering whether to grant permission to a group which wishes to analyse the bones which are said to be his, in the hope of being able to prove their identity one way or another. This comes in the wake of the discovery of Richard 111's skeleton in Leicester.
But old as Richard's bones are, they're younger than Alfred's by centuries. It's very unlikely that a direct descendant of Alfred could be found, to provide DNA - though not, perhaps, impossible. (See another post of mine, about Cheddar man - here.) So although tests could show how old the bones were, and indicate more about the man to whom they belonged, it's not likely that they could prove his identity. So should these bones be disturbed? What do you think?