The Story So Far ...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Anglo-Saxon Ladies - Super Stats!

A few weeks ago I approached three authors with an idea for a little game of cards, using some of our favourite Anglo-Saxon ladies and featuring their 'Super Stats'.



The scoring system was open to interpretation, of course. Some categories are self-explanatory (the number of children, total years of marriage etc) but the question of status was a bit more subjective, depending on whether they were the wife or consort of a king, whether they ruled in their own right, whether they were of noble birth. 

But it's not that which is interesting - these women were not defined by their husbands/circumstances. They bore many children, lived to good ages, raised successful children, and ruled in their own right or as regents.

They suffered tragedy and the loss of children (one, probably, by drowning and others on the battlefield) and one of our ladies had to identify the mutilated remains of her partner. Another had to tolerate rejection in the marriage bed but all of them demonstrated steadfast loyalty. 

Some were put aside, for politics, or suffered marriages of convenience. But all showed mettle, and deserve to have their stories told. With card games, there is usually a winner. But who can pick a champion from all these wonderful women? My fellow authors and I championed two each, chosen because we've written about them.

First up, Mercedes Rochelle:
Gytha Thorkelsd√≥ttir, wife of Earl Godwine of Wessex and sister of Earl Ulf (who was married to Canute’s sister Estrid).



Gytha was an aristocrat who married a commoner, even if he was an earl. She was the mother of 5 earls, A KING, and a queen. After the Norman Conquest, she led a revolt against William along with two of her sons.

Edith Swan Neck - Faithful common-law wife to Harold Godwineson, she was put aside when he was obliged to marry Ealdgyth of Mercia for reasons of state. After Hastings, the monks of Waltham called upon Edith to identify Harold’s mangled body by the marks only a wife would know.



Thanks Mercedes. Next up we have Kelly Evans:
Aelfgifu of Northampton is the handfast first wife of the Danish king Canute the Great.




Kelly describes Aelgifu's 'queenly' attributes as: perseverance, maternal instincts, strength, loyalty. There is a theory that she is one of the five Aelgifus on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

But what of her rival, Emma? ~

Emma of Normandy was an Anglo Saxon queen consort to two kings of England, Denmark and Norway. (She was first married to Aethelred [the Unready] and then to Canute) and Kelly says she was a survivor, pragmatist, and had a fierce maternal instinct.



Thanks Kelly. And now we have Paula Lofting:
Eadgyth (Edith) Godwinsdottir, Queen of England.


Paula tells us that Edith was a benefactor of churches, she was resilient in the face of rejection by her husband (even though she warmed his feet for him!) and managed to escape the same fate as her brothers. She was a schemer who plotted to put her brother on the throne and sentenced to death a man who didn't like that brother. She was extravagant, but also determined ~ when her family was exiled she stayed with the husband who banished them.

Ealdgytha (Aldith), wife of Harold Godwinson, daughter of Earl Alfgar of Mercia, ex Queen of Wales.



Aldith provided an heir for Harold, (also called Harold) and a daughter for Gruffudd called Nest. She had noble Mercian blood. She unified the north and the south by her marriage to Harold.

Thanks Paula. And now for my own two ladies:
Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, wife of the lord of Mercia, a woman who ruled Mercia on her husband's behalf and then on her own, though she was never named 'queen.'


Aethelflaed was a woman in a man's world. Even though her marriage was an arranged one, she stayed loyal to her adopted land of Mercia, fighting the Viking invaders and building fortified towns. She even led an army into Wales to avenge the death of a friend.

Aelfthryth, wife of the earl of East Anglia and then wife of King Edgar, was a consecrated queen, but with none of the power wielded by Aethelflaed. She found that power when she became regent for her son, Aethelred (the Unready) and was a strong influence in her grandson's life, being cited as the woman who brought him up. 


(For those who like to know such details, the illustrations used for Emma and Aethelflaed are portraits of those women. The others, I'm afraid, are just representations of Saxon ladies.)

I hope you've enjoyed looking through this little pack of cards. If you would like to know more, please do read the books, where you can find out more about these remarkable ladies:


To Be A Queen              Alvar the Kingmaker

And thanks to my guests! Find out more about the authors:



16 comments:

  1. I really like this idea, but could you explain the rating system a bit more. The rating for OE name spelling is confusing...obviously Aethelflaed is OE while Emma is not, but while queen, Emma was called Aelfgifu, so why not get points for that? Why would Ealdgyth get a higher OE name score than any of the others? At the end do you add up the scores in each category to determine a "winner"? I guess I'm just not clear about how the game is played.

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  2. Hey Lily. The rating system isn't an exact science, more a bit of fun. The cards mimic a game in the UK called Top Trumps, where you get a deck of character (ie a superheroes) with various ratings on each of their cards. When your card goes up against your opponent, the points come into play.

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  3. Thank you! That explains a lot, but I am still curious as to why Emma as Aelfgifu doesn't get any points.

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    1. Hi Lily - I'm so glad that you enjoyed the post; we certainly had a lot of fun putting it together. It's great to connect with people like yourself who know a lot about, and have a great interest in, this period. I suspect that others might have found it a tad confusing if both of Kelly's ladies had been introduced as Aelfgifu - and as Kelly says, it was never going to be an exact science. Also, we all decided the scores for our own ladies, hence the discrepancies. One thing we all agreed on, though, was that these magnificent and inspiring women needed to have a spotlight shone upon them :)

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  4. Thank you for posting an interesting article, I really like reading about the women in history, more often they are invisible in history books, so its good to know more about them. Most seemed very brave and had to put up with a lot, but the women that interests me the most are the ordinary women not born of rank or to money that had so many struggles just to survive. Child birth in those times must have been horrendous!

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    1. You're right Lynne - unfortunately we have such scant information that those ordinary women remain a mystery to us, aside from what the archaeologists tell us. Using such information as was available, in Alvar the Kingmaker I have written scenes involving difficult childbirth and the conflicting attitudes of the local women and the local priest when it came to doing what was best for mother and child and my research for that revealed some really interesting information.

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  5. So brilliant! What a great way to know these strong women.

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    1. Thanks Cryssa - glad you enjoyed it :)

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  6. I loved this, what a great approach to fascinating women. It's not a period I know but one I shall delve into - I've been focusing on the later Medieval period with Margaret of Anjou in my novel https://www.catherinehokin.com/novel--blood-and-roses.html Might be fun to do a similar exercise!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Catherine - I thought our ladies could 'slug it out' in a slightly more dignified manner than their men are wont to do!

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  7. I enjoyed this too. I rather think I need to know more about these Saxon ladies!

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  8. I'm so pleased you enjoyed it - it was a lot of fun to put together :)

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  9. I believe that Gytha was the daughter of Thorkel the Tall & had a sideline as a slave dealer. I don't believe that Godwine was a commoner but a direct descendant of King Ethelred I & the son of Wulfnoth Child. The story of his being a commoner was Norman propaganda designed to dicrdit Harold's lineage. William the Bastard claimed that he had an hereditary right to rule greater than Harold, which was preposterous, as it was descent through the brother of a queen consort (Emma)which is like saying Tom Parker Bowles has a claim.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave your comment. I'm not aware that Gytha was the daughter of Thorkell, but I've not looked much at the 11thC since I specialised in 10th/11th for my final year of graduate study. Perhaps one of the other authors here might be able to shed more light on this?

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  10. Edgar's foster brother Aethelwold (the Ealdorman (earls came afterwards with Cnut)was sent by Edgar to check out her beauty & was so impressed that he told Edgar she was ugly & married her himself. When Edgar found out he had Aethelwold murdered & married her himself. She in turn had Edward the Martyr killed so that her own son Ethelred the Unready could be king (aged 4). He was so upset she beat him with a candle so that he could never have candles in the house again. Some of his (or all) difficult character traits could be due to borderline personality disorder as a result.

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    1. The story about Edgar having Aethelwold killed comes from a later (12th century, if memory serves) source, and has been discredited in recent years. The term Earl was used during Edgar's reign - notably with reference to Earl Oslac, banished in 975 (see the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle -although elsewhere, in the Laud (E) version it does name him as ealdorman, so there was a gradual change,I suspect. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave your comments - it's very much appreciated :)

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