The afternoon started at Gloucester docks with the gathering of many people dressed in Anglo-Saxon outfits, mostly as monks, nuns and soldiers.
They awaited the arrival of a longship, bearing the ‘body’ of Æthelflæd, played by a local actress.
The body was taken from the ship and began its procession through the streets of Gloucester.
The end of the procession was at St Oswald’s Priory, which is where Æthelflæd was buried in 918 AD.
Æthelflæd was the daughter of Alfred the Great and became the most powerful woman of her time, ruling the Kingdom of Mercia after the death of her husband, Æthelred and becoming known as ‘Myrna Hlaefdige’ (‘Lady of the Mercians’). This was the only instance of a female ruling an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. On the way to her wedding, aged 16, she fought off an attack by the Danes, using an old trench as a fortress. Ruling Mercia, she fought off Viking attacks, personally led attacks against the Vikings, fortified Worcester, built St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester, built defences in many Mercian towns and sent an army to successfully capture Derby from the Vikings in a military alliance with her brother, King Edward. She has been compared to Boudica, Elizabeth I and Daenerys Targaryen.
I had never heard of her until last weekend and, while researching her life, I came across a medieval painting of her from the The Cartulary and Customs of Abingdon Abbey, which I copied and painted. It’s not finished yet, but I’m planning to add more pictures and possibly a border after further inspiration from visiting an exhibition about her at the Museum of Gloucester in a few weeks. I’m also practising my calligraphy skills after finding a book about it in a shop in Gloucester yesterday!
The main image used in the materials was a beautiful painting by El-Luminations, inspired by a stained glass window in Worcester Cathedral. The painting had even been made into four stickers to collect at various locations and assemble on a postcard, but unfortunately I only managed to collect three of the stickers as one location had run out.
Arts Council England have also funded a music project. CDs of the piece of music by George Moorey were available for free at the featured locations and it is also available to listen to online. The track was recorded in the historic location of St Michael’s Tower and he is working on other tracks that will be released during the History Festival.
Lady of Mercia. Queen before queens.
Founding Mother on a chessboard of Kings.
Æthelflæd, a noble beauty.
The festival also included music performances, storytelling, living history events and much more. It was a really well-thought out and engaging event, with lots to offer for adults and children.
I was also interested to read that Ladybird are publishing a book about Aethelflaed (written by Tom Holland) and the author has made a video about her here. BBC Radio 3 have an episode about her. And I was excited to find an educational resource pack. BBC History Magazine has an article about her this month written by Dr Janina Ramirez, with a gorgeous illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare.
She also featured in the second season of the BBC2 TV series The Last Kingdom, which I might now have to watch!