King Alfred The Great’s daughter, Aethelflaed, built the first fort in Warwick in the year 914 AD as a defence against Viking raiders from the north and east, and she is regarded as the founder of the town.
But the influence of the remarkable “Lady of The Mercians” was felt much more widely – across the whole of central and southern England. As well as constructing a chain of forts along the Anglo-Saxon frontline with the Danish controlled north-east of England, she refortified the decayed Roman town of Gloucester, and just outside the walls built a fine church.
In the year 909, she and her brother Edward, King of Wessex, successfully led an army into Danish held Lincolnshire and brought back some powerful relics – the bones of St. Oswald of Northumbria. The venerated relics were placed in a crypt at the east end of the new church and for the next hundred years the New Minster of St. Oswald became famous for its miracles and its wealth. It was nicknamed ‘The Golden Minster’.
When Aethelflaed died at Tamworth in 918 her body was carried ceremoniously the 75 miles to Gloucester and was buried in a special tomb in the Minster of St. Oswald. After the Norman invasion, the church became an Augustan Priory. It was abandoned when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and now only a ruined wall remains. A plaque tells the tale of Aethelflaed and the Golden Minster.
All that remains of the tomb of the Lady of the Mercians are a few carved stoned in the Gloucester museum. But the woman who founded Warwick is far from forgotten. She is widely regarded by historians as one of the great female leaders of Britain – a warrior princess who was a brilliant administrator, with a vision of a united England, and supported by a resolute Christian faith.