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This paper explores how kinship may have impacted upon the careers of two powerful queens of Mercia: Cynethryth wife of King Offa (757-796) and Æthelswith (d. 886), wife of Burgred (r. 852-874). Cynethryth is chiefly remembered for her unique appearance on coins and the witnessing of royal charters.  Nothing is known of her ancestry, but it has been assumed that she was a descendent of Cynewise, wife of Penda of Mercia (d. 655).  I argue that both women were members of West Saxon royal families. 

We are on firmer ground with Æthelswith, sister of Alfred the Great, whose marriage to Burgred, King of Mercia in 953 served to cement a political alliance between Mercia and Wessex in the face of Viking onslaught.  Æthelswith’s powerful kin ensured that she was a major player at the Mercian court, jointly issuing royal charters and appearing regularly in the witness lists.  Æthelswith was the first English queen to dispose of land in her own right and may possibly have been the first crowned queen in England.  Æthelswith’s reign marks the apogee of Mercian queenship which I suggest was indicative of the rising power of Wessex. She would the last queen of an independent Mercian kingdom before its subsummation within a new ‘Anglo-Saxon’ regna created by her brother Alfred. 

Vanessa King is a lecturer at Birkbeck College and is currently writing a book to be entitled 'Early English Queenship 600-1066' for Routledge.  She has published on Anglo-Norman land tenure and prosopographical studies looking at the impact of the Black Death in the village of Walsham-le-Willows. Today's paper will appear in the Aethelflaed Conference proceedings edited by Andrew Sargent and Charles Insley.

This is a joint session between the Women's History Seminar and the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar.

All welcome- but booking is required.