04 March 2014

The reputation of Queen Aelfthryth

From a biography of her husband, King Edgar the Peaceable (r.959-975), a discussion of how Queen Aelfthryth of England really got on the wrong side of the clergy, and how they attacked her name and reputation in response:
Queens could now exercise patronage, and in Aelfthryth's case this was formally promulgated in the Regularis Concordia. This put the queen at the king's side, with joint rule over monasteries and nunneries. The queen was expected to live up to the ideas of the reformers, and was seen less as a lay woman and closer to the status of a religious woman because of her anointing. But the queen's involvement, after the death of Edgar, in the murder of her stepson Edward at Corfe, while he was on a visit to see her and her young son Aethelred, laid her reputation open to attack as the obvious hate-figure of the evil stepmother. To this was added the allegations of resentful abbesses who objected to their being expected to conform to the standards of the new monasticism and to the subsequent loss of estates, which became the communal property of their house ... 
The Liber Eliensis contains an astonishing attack on the queen's reputation. She is accused of witchcraft and lewd behaviour and of an attempt to seduce Abbot Byrhtnoth. He died around 996-999 and Aelfthryth at about the same time or a little later. The Ely record accuses her of his murder because he would not accede to her demands. She is said to have plunged red-hot knives into his chest through the armpits, yet when his body was recovered by the monks it bore no sign of any injury. The cause of death must surely have been a heart attack! They also bring up allegations that she 'openly trapped by all her trickeries and unlawfully killed' her stepson, the martyr Edward. The whole thing is a farrago of monastic misogyny. 
- Peter Rex, Edgar, King of the English 959-75, Stroud, Gloucs, 2007, p.154.
Edgar is regarded by historians as being the first ruler of a united English kingdom.

See also:
History: The break of gauge, 14 January 2014
History: A sunny day on Dartmoor, 29 April 2011
History: Treasures of Mercia, 17 December 2009
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