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Dragon Book Review: King Alfred’s Daughter, the Heroine who was Written out of History

Published on: 22 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 21 Mar, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

I loved this book, King Alfred’s Daughter by Guildford-based author David Stokes. I revelled in the history, the drama and intrigue, the battles and the perspective of life lived over a thousand years ago.

History makes scant mention of the central character and heroine, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, whose crucial role in the conquest of the Vikings in the Danelaw was downplayed and even written out by some.

In his fourth novel, David Stokes takes on the little known story of Aethelflaed, Alfred’s eldest daughter and provides a convincing tribute to a strong and nearly forgotten ruler.

She had to fight hard for her position when Alfred’s eldest son, known as Edward the Elder, took the throne after Alfred’s death in 899. The power plays continued when Edward tried to take control of Mercia when Aethelflaed’s husband was struck down by a stroke.

But with steely resolve, Aethelflaed triumphed and she was gradually recognised within Mercia as an effective ruler.

Guildford author, David Stokes.

Stokes paints her strength, determination and vision but he also shows us her doubts and worries as she takes on the running of the administration and leading men into brutal, bloody battle and death.

Why choose Aethelflaed to write about? He said the thought the job of the writer was to take the long view. He said: “It’s a lesson for today. She sought to collaborate between the genders, between all levels of society and not just within the typical patriarchal, warrior led society.

“And I have three daughters.”

Despite opposition, Aethelflaed continued King Alfred’s policy to build burhs, fortified towns, across Mercia, the huge area of England she controlled and it paid dividends when, from a position of relative strength, she took the town of Derby.

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians.

Shortly after, Viking leaders offered their loyalty significantly to her, not to her brother King Edward, but she died before she could formally receive their submission.

King Alfred’s battles with the Vikings in the Danelaw are well known. His legacy of strengthening the rule of the Anglo Saxons in Wessex and Mercia was one step towards a single England and the folklore surrounding him makes for a hero even in our times.

Edward and his successor Athelstan get the credit for uniting England but without his eldest daughter, Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, Alfred’s dream could have come to nothing.

Stokes is a rival to Conn Iggulden, it’s a great read, well researched and brilliantly sets out a different perspective of a turning point in the story of our isles.

King Alfred’s Daughter is published on March 28 but copies can be pre-ordered from The Book Guild Publishing.

You can read more about David Stokes and his books on his website

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Responses to Dragon Book Review: King Alfred’s Daughter, the Heroine who was Written out of History

  1. David Roberts Reply

    March 23, 2023 at 2:47 pm

    David Stokes’s books are great. I hope he writes one next about the Empress Matilda.

  2. David Stokes Reply

    March 25, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    I thank David Roberts for the idea.

    I am certainly an admirer of Matilda and her life would make a great novel. At the moment I am researching Emma, wife of first Aethelred the Unready, and then Cnut. Her son was Edward the Confessor and her Norman origins gave William the Conqueror some basis for his claim to the English throne. So she was a very influential player in the last century of Anglo-Saxon rule.

    There are so many interesting women in the early medieval period! I’m fascinated how Aethelflaed and her successors managed to have so much influence in a patriarchal, warrior-dominated society.

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