I just recently received this book, Elfrida The First Crowned Queen of England by Elizabeth Norton from Amberley Publishing for review. It’s been available in hardcover since earlier this year but came out in paperback last month.
Elfrida was actually known by several names, Ælfthryth but also Alfrida and Elfthryth. The Anglo-Saxons certainly knew how to make things difficult for us! For the sake of this review, I’m sticking with Elfrida.
Elfrida was the daughter of Ealdorman (high ranking royal officer) Ordgar. She was first married to Æthelwald, son of Æthelstan Half-King. The manner of and the year of Æthelwald’s death are not known. Neither are any possible children from the couple.
Elfrida married King Edgar of England in 964 or 965. Elfrida gave birth to a son named Edmund in 966; he died young around 970. In 968 Æthelred was born to the couple. In 973 a second coronation was organised by King Edgar, and on this occasion, Elfrida was also crowned and anointed.
King Edgar died in 975 while his two sons were quite young. Edward was Edgar’s eldest son but not by Elfrida. He was not his father’s acknowledged heir, but he had the support of many influential figures. Thus, he became king. However in 978 while visiting Elfrida at Corfe Castle Edward was killed by Elfrida’s servants, clearing the way for Æthelred to become king.
Because Æthelred was still so young, Elfrida served as regent for her son until he came of age in 984. She was advised by Bishop Æthelwold, but when he died in 984 Æthelred rebelled against his old advisors, and Elfrida also disappears from the charters. It appears she went into exile for some time. She reappears in 993, and she was made responsible for Æthelred’s children by his first wife, Ælfgifu.
She founded Wherwell Abbey in 986, and she retired there. She died at Wherwell in either 999, 1000 or 1001.
It is really sad that there are so many amazing women in history that we simply do not know much about, so we must grab onto everything we can. This book is very well researched and finally, shows us Elfrida as the queen she really was. There will always be things we do not know, such as the extent of her involvement in King Edward’s murder.
I was quite surprised that the book had an actual letter by Elfrida. It is her only surviving letter.
“Aelfthryth sends humble greetings to Archbishop Aelfric and Earl Aethelweard. I bear witness that Archbishop Dunstan assigned Taunton to Bishop Aethelwold, in conformity with the Bishop’s charters. And King Edgar then relinquished it, and commanded every one of his thegns who had any land on the estate that they should hold it in conformity with the bishop’s wish, or else give it up. And the king said that he had no land to grant out, when he durst not, for fear of God, retain the headship himself; and moreover, he then put Ruishton under the Bishop’s control. And then Wulfgyth rode to me at Combe and sought me. And I then, because she was my kinswoman, and Aelfswyth because he [Leofric] was her brother, obtained from Bishop Aethelwold that they [Wulfgyth and Loefric] might enjoy the land for their lifetime, and after their deaths the land should go to Taunton, with produce and with men, just as it stood. And with great difficulty, we two brought matters to this conclusion. Now I have been told that Bishop Aethelwold and I must have obtained the title deed by force. Now I, who am alive, am not aware of any force any more than he would be if he were still alive. For Leofric had a new title deed; when he gave it up, he thereby manifested that he would engage in no false dealings in the matter. Then Bishop Aethelwold told him that none of his successors could dispossess him. He then commanded two documents to be written, one he kept himself, the other he gave to Leofric.”
Overall I loved reading about Elfrida, a woman about which I knew so little. Elfrida was certainly a powerful figure in the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and I wish we knew more about her time out of royal favour and her possible involvement in King Edward’s murder. It’s still awesome we have an actual letter written by her! The book was a surprisingly easy read despite all the names that look alike. (UK & US)