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The Anglo Saxons

Early Anglo Saxon Staffordshire

The area we now know as Staffordshire in Anglo-Saxon times was part of the great kingdom of Mercia, originally founded around 500 AD.  The name Mercia derives from Mierce - the people of the march or border.  The kingdom itself was comprised of some thirty different tribes.  The best known king of Mercia was Offa who came to the throne in 757 when his cousin was murdered.  He was a strong king who expanded his kingdom by taking over some of the smaller neighbouring kingdoms.  He made Tamworth his capital and he is thought to be buried at Swinfen, near Lichfield, after ruling for nearly forty years.

After the death of Offa in 796 the importance of Mercia began to decline.  It suffered innumerable attacks by the Danes and after 877 the kingdom was split into two one part controlled by the English and the other part by the Danes.

Aethelflaed was the daughter of Alfred the Great and sister of Edward "the Elder," king of Wessex (ruled 899-924).  She joined her husband Aethelred, king of Mercia, in fighting against Danish invaders.  In 911 Aethelred was killed in battle with the Danes, and Aethelflaed became the political and military ruler of the Mercians.  She built fortresses in western Mercia as defence against invading and occupying Danes.

Aethelflaed of Mercia

© Staffordshire PastTrack.  By kind permission.

From the Mercian Register:

'Aeđelfled, Lady of the Mercians, went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and built the fortress there in early summer; before that, in August, she built the one at Stafford.'

Her success was largely put down to the surrounding marshes and dry hills. The marshes later gave name to the town, Staith Ford.  Historians are not sure how to translate the name, it could mean a landing place or a causeway.

She ruled for five years from the newly fortified capital at Stafford, and under her reign, it is likely that the English county of Staffordshire first came into being.

'This year by the permission of God went
Ethelfleda, lady of Mercia, with all the Mercians to Tamworth;
and built the fort there in the fore-part of the summer; and
before Lammas that at Stafford: in the next year that at
Eddesbury, in the beginning of the summer; and the same year,
late in the autumn, that at Warwick.  Then in the following year
was built, after mid-winter, that at Chirbury and that at
Warburton; and the same year before mid-winter that at Runkorn.'
913, Anglo Saxon Chronicle Aethelflaed died at Tamworth in 918.

Why do you think that there are so many different spellings of the queen's name?

Link to activity : Advising Lady Aethelflaed|||| (Powerpoint)

During much of the Anglo-Saxon period, nearly the entire area of Staffordshire was within the great Forest of Arden.  Before the Angles arrived, the largest clearing was around what is now Walsall.

There is much archaeological evidence to suggest that there had been some sort of settlement at Stafford before Aethelflaed decided to fortify the area.  The origins of Stafford revolve around the story of St. Bertelin, a Saxon saint who set up a hermitage in the beginning of the eighth century.  What is now the town centre was then no more than a kind of island surrounded by river and marsh.  A church was built, first of wood and later of stone, on the site of St. Bertelin's hermitage.

Anglo Saxon Staith Ford

© Ben Cunliffe

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