Poem: ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe

As both a reader and a writer, I love Poe’s work. Those who have read my dark poetry or horror stories will find it entirely unsurprising that I consider him one of my inspirations.

Last year I shared his poem ‘The Bells’ as part of my observance of (Inter)National Poetry Month.

This year, I have chosen ‘The Raven’ as my first post for Poetry Month because while it is most famous, being quoted or referred to in many books, films and popular culture, I have a very strong suspicion that most of the people who make those references have probably never read it.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—   
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—            
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.   
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow   
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—            
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;   
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating   
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—            
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;   
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,   
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—            
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;   
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,   
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—            
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.   
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;      
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—           
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;   
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;   
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—            
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;   
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being   
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,            
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.   
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—   
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”            
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store   
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster   
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore            
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;   
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking   
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore            
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;   
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining   
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,            
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.   
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee   
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,   
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—   
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—   
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,   
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!   
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!    “Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;   
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,   
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor            
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

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Women In History: More Fabulous, Famous Femmes

History is full of amazing women who had strength, courage and determination and showed men a thing or two about how things should be done.

There are so many great women that I would have loved to write about, but I couldn’t get to them all because I wanted to focus on featuring some of the less heroines of history with whom many people would not be familiar. I did find this excellent post that includes quite a few ladies who were on my list, so I thought I would share it with my readers on this final day of Women’s History Month.

I hope you enjoy this great post from Nerdome featuring some fabulous famous femmes including feisty royals Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great, and two of my literary loves, Jane Austen and Maya Angelou.

Nerdome

Happy Women’s Day ! , Today we are going to remember , powerful and inspirational women who have been pioneers for women’s rights and racial equality and have defined the worlds of science, mathematics, aviation and literature.

Whether these famous females were inventors, scientists, leaders, politicians, or literal Queens, these  strong women undeniably changed the world for the better.

Cleopatra, 69 BC-30 BC Egyptian pharaoh

cleo.jpg

Cleopatra. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty Images)

Final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was more than the famous beauty her subsequent, simplistic portrayals often depict. A formidable, politically shrewd monarch, she was directly involved in the running of a kingdom that faced challenges on many fronts.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)elizabeth.jpg

“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”

The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I painted in 1588

Elizabeth called herself ‘The…

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Women in History: Maria Sibylla Merian

Image: Public Domain

I had not heard of Maria Sibylla Merian until I stumbled across this post. I found myself amazed by her talent and intelligence, and her dedication to her study of butterflies!

My very great thanks to the author of this excellent ‘Women in History’ post at My Window Seat.

My Window Seat

I have been very much neglecting the history part of my blog recently – I’ve rather lost my history blogging mojo. I’m currently trying a few things to get it back, and this is one of them.

Not only was International Women’s Day on the 8th of this month, apparently the whole month is Women’s History Month. Many bloggers are taking the cue to write about their favourite women from history, and ever the opportunist, I jumped onto the bandwagon. I intend to write about maybe not my ‘favourite women’, but at least women that I think you should know about.

As I said, I’ve been writing more about spiders than about history, so in order to facilitate a smooth transition to history, today I will stick with the creepy-crawly theme. Let me introduce you to Maria Sibylla Merian.

Maria_Sibylla_Merian_portrait_colors

She was born in 1647 in Frankfurt, Germany, into a…

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Women in History: Irina Sendler

Irina Sendler (also called Irina Sendlerowa) was born in Warsaw in 1910. Her father was a doctor who treated the very poor at no charge, and who instilled his strongly Humanitarian values in his daughter. 

After finishing school, Irina studied law and literature  at the University of Warsaw. She opposed the practice of discrimination against the poor and the a Jewish people, and joined both the Union of Polish Democratic Youth and the Socialist Party, earning a reputation for being both a Communist and sympathetic to Jews that kept her from finding employment as a teacher throughout the 1930s. Instead, she took up a role as a social worker which exposed her to the most extreme poverty in and around Warsaw. She worked closely with mothers and children, and published articles about the conditions in which disadvantaged women were living.

When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, the division in which Sendler was working was prohibited from working with Jewish people, and began working with sick and wounded a Polish soldiers. Irons and her colleagues began to issue false medical documents to help the soldiers and their families access welfare, a practice which she extended to Jewish families without telling her colleagues she was doing so. 

The Jewish people were restricted to one small area of the city which became known as the Warsaw ghetto, which was closed off to general access in 1940. Sendler and her colleagues gained entry on the proviso of checking for infectious diseases such as Typhus. Against orders, they smuggled in medications, food, sanitary supplies and other necessities. Over time, this extended to smuggling out babies and small children by various means, including carrying them in their medical bags. 

The children were sent to Polish families, Catholic orphanages and convents, and other orphanages. A Christian institution offered the best protection for the children, who were given Christian names and taught Christian prayers and religion once placed there. Sendler kept detailed records, though, in the hope of eventually reuniting children with their families.

Obviously, this work put Sendler and her colleagues at great personal risk, as helping Jews carried the death penalty.  The degree of danger increased when the ghetto was officially dismantled by Germany in 1942, with orders for its residents were collected in groups and sent to extermination camps. Sendler and her colleagues helped as many adults and adolescents to escape to temporary emergency housing as they could. 

On October 18, 1943, Irina was arrested, tortured for information which she refused to divulge, and then imprisoned in Pawiak. She was further interrogated on later dates, and then sent elsewhere for execution, only escaping this fate because her guards had been bribed. She resumed her work under an assumed name, and tried to remain in hiding as much as she could. 

In 1944, the Polish resistance engaged in the Warsaw Uprising, during which Irina worked as a nurse in a field hospital. When that hospital ran out of money and supplies, Irina took the initiative and hitchhiked to Lublin to seek assistance from the communists who were in control of the city. 

After the war, the hospital in which Irina worked was transformed into the Warsaw Children’s Home. Sendler and her colleagues gave all the names and family details of the children they had saved to the Central Committee of Polish Jews with the aim of reuniting the families, but most of the parents had been killed during the Holocaust, so this only had limited success. 

Irina Sendler received numerous decorations and honours for her service and bravery in the years after the war, both in Poland and from other countries and international bodies. 

The grave of Irena Sendler in Powązki cemetery
Image: Jake from Manchester, UK via Wikimedia Common

Sendler continued to work for the wellbeing and care of women and children. She also remained active in the Communist party, although her relationship with the party was not always a harmonious one. She taught until the age of 73, when she retired, remaining in Warsaw for the rest of her life. After her death on May 2nd, 2008, Irina Sendler was buried in the Powazki Cemetery in Warsaw. 

Women in History: Fatima al-Fihri

In the year 850 CE there was no such thing as a university. By 859, there was— thanks to Fatima al-Fihri.

The cover of a children’s book about Fatima al-Fihri’s life by Maryam Yousaf, available on Amazon

Fatima al-Fihri was an Arab Muslim woman who, having received an education and understanding its value, established the first ever university in Fez, Morocco.

When her father died, he left his estate to his daughters, Fatima and Mariam, each of whom used the money to establish a mosque. Fatima’s mosque grew to hold thousands of worshippers while at the same time evolving into a place of learning that offered degrees for different levels of education in the subjects of Islamic studies, mathematics, natural sciences, music, medicine and grammar.  A library was also established,
providing the resources and documents
needed by students and teachers alike.

Image: Abdel Hassouni via Wikimedia Commons

The University was not exclusive to Muslim students, and attracted scholars from both Jewish and Christian traditions. One of those students went on to become Pope Sylvester II, who introduced both Arabic numerals and the idea of zero to Western mathematics.

By the time Fatima died at the age of eighty years old, The University of Al Quaraouiyine had been running for twenty-four years,
alongside the mosque from which it
had developed.

Image: Mike Prince on flickr via Wikimedia Commons

This makes the university more than two hundred years older than the oldest Western universities at Bologna (est. 1088) and Oxford (est. 1096).

Both the mosque and university are still running today. Both the University of Al Quaraouiyine and its library are the oldest of their kind in the world. The library contains many ancient documents, some of which  date right back to the 9th century origins of the library, and other texts and books written by renowned academics.

What an amazing and enduring legacy, and a testament to foresight and wisdom! 

WordyNerdBird’s note: 
Having grown up in Australia and enjoyed a very Western education, I had no idea until much later in life that the concept of the university was something that came from the Muslim tradition. 

Perhaps if we were taught more overtly and deliberately about the legacies that have come to us from traditions other than our own,  our places of learning and society in general would be far more respectful of those traditions and the people who still hold them. 

Women in History: Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912, and just a few months before her second birthday, her family moved to Sydney, Australia, where she grew up.

When she was sixteen years old, Nancy left home and got a job as a nurse until she lleft the country for New York, then London where she trained in journalism, before moving to Paris where she worked as a journalist in the 1930s, writing a great deal about the rise of fascism and the horrors of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. She married and moved to Marseilles in 1939. 

When France surrendered to Germany in 1940, Nancy worked as an ambulance driver in the war. She and her husband joined the French Resistance, for whom she worked as a courier before working to help both Jewish people and Allied servicemen to escape. She made several attempts of her own to escape, having fled Marseilles and even being imprisoned for attempting to leave the country unlawfully.

By the time Nancy did manage to escape to Spain via the Pyrenees Mountains, she was one of the Nazi’s “most wanted” secret agents. It was the Germans who gave her the name ‘The White Mouse’ in reference to her ability to evade capture. 

Once out of France, Nancy made her way to England where she received training in Special Operations. Nancy returned to France in 1944, tasked with helping the French Resistance organise and prepare for D-Day. She organised parachute drops of arms and supplies, and actually experienced combat against German troops. 

It wasn’t until after the liberation of France that Nancy learned that the Gestapo had killed her husband in 1943. His death was something she never got over, as she held herself responsible because he would not betray her. She finished her time with the Resistance in 1944, and returned to Special Operations in Paris and then London. 

After the war she received medals and, in later years, honours from Britain, France and the USA for her service and bravery. 

On her return to Australia she tried to enter politics more than once, but her attempts to win a seat in Parliament were unsuccessful. Restless and unfulfilled, Nancy travelled to England in 1957 and married again, returning to Australia with her husband. 

Nancy Wake published her autobiography, ‘The White Mouse’ in 1985. 

After her husband’s death in 1997, Nancy sold her medals to provide for herself. She went back to England in 2001 and spent the rest of her life there. She died in August, 2011, and her ashes were scattered near Verneix in central France. 

I admire Nancy Wake for her gutsy attitude, her opposition to injustice and her total commitment to a cause. She is a woman in history whom others can rightly consider a most inspiring role model.

Women in History: Nellie Bly

Picture: Public domain.

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and having altered her name slightly by adding an ‘e’, Cochran’s began her career in journalism when she responded to a newspaper article which contended that girls were really only good for motherhood and housekeeping. 

Significantly impressed by her response, which she had written under a pseudonym, the editor of the paper ran an ad asking the author to come forward. 

When Cochrane introduced herself to the editor, he offered her the opportunity to write another piece for the newspaper, and when she impressed him again, he offered her a permanent job.  At that time, the convention was for women who wrote for newspapers writers to use pen names. Her pen name was taken from a popular song, and when the editor wrote ‘Nellie’ instead of ‘Nelly’, the name stuck.

Nellie wrote a series of articles about issues confronting women factory workers which resulted in complaints from the men who owned and ran the factories. When the editor reassigned her to articles on homemaking and gardening, Nellie soon became frustrated and left for Mexico, where she spent six months reporting on the lives of the people. She had to leave Mexico, however, when her article decrying the imprisonment of a local journalist angered the authorities, then controlled by the dictator Porfinio Diaz. 

Unwilling to spend the rest of her life writing about things in which she took little interest, Nellie moved to New York in 1887 where, after living in very poor conditions, she undertook a job for The World newspaper as an undercover reporter in the notorious women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. It took considerable effort to actually get committed to the asylum, where Nellie experienced all the horrors of the place firsthand for ten days before her release was secured by her editor. 

The conditions and treatment of patients in the asylum became known through Nellie’s articles, which were later published as a book. Cruel staff, poor sanitation, dreadful food and the fact that a number of the women were not insane at all — some simply did not speak English, others were sent there when their affairs with prominent members of society had soured— brought about reforms and made Nellie Bly a household name. 

In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor that she undertake a trip around the world inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the Workd In Eighty Days, to see if it could be done int hat time.

Picture: Public Domain. Cover of the 1890 board game Round the World with Nellie Bly

She left on November 14, 1889, in the clothes she wore, with some money in a pouch that hung on a cord from her neck, concealed by her clothes, and a small bag containing some basic requirements. She travelled by ship and rail, and actually met Jules Verne in France. Her tip was not without delays or complications, but she arrived back in New York just 72 days after her departure — then a world record time.

Later in life, Cochrane became an industrialist and then a reporter on both the events of World War I and the campaign for women’s suffrage in America. 

Nellie died of pneumonia in 1922. She had certainly led an interesting life and demonstrated quite powerfully that women were capable of far more than having babies and running a household. 


Women in History: Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of the most powerful and influential women of her time, Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in the early 1120s and lived until 1204. 

By birth, she became Duchess of Aquitaine, a province in the southwest of France, when her father died in 1137. Independently wealthy and renowned for her beauty, she was the most sought-after bride in Europe.

Eleanor married King Louis VII of France in 1137, but the marriage was not happy. She sought an annulment of her marriage— one wonders how many women were in a position to do that for themselves back then— but it was rejected by the Pope.

It was not until 1152 and Louis’ agreement because she had not produced a son that Eleanor was able to obtain an annulment on the grounds of their family relationship. Louis kept their daughters, but Eleanor’s lands were restored to her and Eleanor was free to move on, which she did almost immediately.

Two months later, despite the efforts of two other lords to abduct and marry her, Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy, who would become King Henry II of England in 1154.

Five sons— three of whom became kings—and three daughters secured the line of inheritance to the English throne before Eleanor and Henry grew apart and became estranged, their marriage complicated by Henry’s frequent affairs and numerous illegitimate children.

While the idea of courtly love was not new, Eleanor and her daughters brought the concept to life at Poitiers, where they and their courtiers discussed matters of love and chivalry and adjudicated both theoretical questions and disputes between lovers. This gave rise to the great popularity of courtly love literature in Europe.

Suspicion that Eleanor was encouraging one or more of their younger sons to rebel and possibly ultimately challenge him for the throne led Henry to summon Eleanor to meet him at Rouen in 1173, from whence he took her captive and kept her as his prisoner at either Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle, and then at various other locations, for the next sixteen years. 

Eleanor was released from her albeit comfortable imprisonment by her son Richard, who became king on Henry’s death in 1189. She returned to Westminster and was welcomed with oaths of loyalty from the lords and, although not officially given any position or title, went on to rule for several years on behalf of her son Richard the Lionheart during his extended absences from England, both while on Crusade and while being held hostage by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI. She was instrumental in raising the money needed and negotiating to secure Richard’s release. 

After John’s accession to the throne on the death of his brother, he sent Eleanor to Castile to bring back one of her granddaughters for an arranged marriage to secure a truce and alliance with Philip II of France. On her way there, Eleanor was kidnapped by Hugh IX of Lusignan who held her hostage, demanding land that his family had owned before selling it to Henry II be returned to him. An old hand at dealing with men who couldn’t think of a better way to solve their problems than to take someone captive and make demands before letting them go, and more than likely quite weary of men telling her what to do, she gave him what he wanted regardless of whether or not it was hers to give, negotiated her own release and went on her way.

That wasn’t the last of the trouble on her errand. On the way back, Eleanor and her granddaughter Blanche spent Easter at Bordeaux where they met a renowned soldier, Mercadier, who agreed to escort them back to Normandy. However, he was killed by the man-at-arms of one of his  rivals.  Shocked by his death, Eleanor retreated to Fontrevaud Abbey, committing her granddaughter to the care and escort of the Archbishop of Bordeaux. 

Despite ill health, Eleanor left Fontrevaud when hostilities once again broke out between England and France. She returned to Bordeaux to support John against the claims of her grandson Arthur, Duke of Brittany.

Not easily dissuaded, Arthur besieged her in the castle of Mirabeau until John arrived and captured Arthur, who was still only fifteen years old. One could be forgiven for suspecting he inherited some of his nerve from his grandmother.

Eleanor returned to Fontrevaud Abbey, where she died and was entombed beside her husband Henry and her son Richard in 1204. Her effigy has her reading a book, presumably a Bible. 

By the end of her life, she had been queen of both France and England, and become the mother of not only two kings of England and one of France, but also of several queens of European nations and provinces. Eleanor had led armies into battle on more than one occasion, and had been a leader of the Second Crusade.  

She was clearly a woman of great temerity and independence of spirit. Even though she very obviously lived in a man’s world, she would never settle for not having just a bit of it for herself and leaving her mark on it when she left. 

Women in History: Boudicca

Boudicca, also known as Boadicea, was queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD. 

The Iceni people lived in south-eastern England at the time when the Romans were invading and taking possession of the land. When the Roman forces gained control of southern England in 43AD, they allowed the Iceni king Prasutagus and his queen, Boudicca, to continue to rule.  

This changed when Prasutagus died: the Romans assumed direct control and confiscated the property of all the Iceni families that were considered important. Boudicca was stripped and flogged  and her daughters were raped. Not surprisingly, the resentment against the Romans grew in intensity and became more widespread.

In 60 or 61 AD, Boudicca and the  Iceni seized the opportunity to rebel while the Romans were distracted by a military campaign in North Wales. Other nearby tribes, also resentful of the Romans, joined the uprising.

As the Romans soon discovered, his was not just some local skirmish or a it of grumbly discontent.

Boudicca and her warriors not only defeated the Roman Ninth Legion, they destroyed the city of Camulodunum (Colchester), at that time the capital of Roman Britain, then killed thousands of people as they sacked the cities of Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). 

The scale and decisive nature of the rebellion caused Nero to consider withdrawing from Britain altogether. 

Finally, Boudicca’s forces were  defeated by a regrouped Roman force led by the Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus himself. It was a crushing defeat in which many Britons were killed.  

While some claim she died of an illness, Boudicca is widely believed to have poisoned herself tather than being captured by the Romans. It does seem a fitting final act of defiance for that strong, brave and very angry woman to die in her own terms and not at the hands of the overlords she hated.


Women in History: Æthelflæd

Meet one of my favourite women in history: Æthelflæd, Lady Of The Mercians.

In today’s Women’s History Month post, I want to introduce you to another favourite feisty English princess: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.

Born in 870  as the first daughter of King Alfred the Great and his wife Ealswith,  she grew up in a kingdom plagued by Viking invasions and increasing Danish domination of lands the had until recently been other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. 

In 878, the tide began to turn when Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington, and  Æthelred  became leader of the the half of Mercia that was still under English control. As Lord of the Mercians, he acknowledged Alfred as King over all the English people who lived in areas not controlled by the Vikings. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Æthelflæd to Æthelred. 

Not content to be a political pawn, Æthelflæd established herself in Mercia as a very capable co-ruler with Æthelred, and when his health began to fail, she took on the responsibilities of rule. When he died in 911, she assumed sole leadership of the kingdom and ruled in her own right as the Lady of the Mercians. 

This was the first time a woman had ruled an English kingdom, and she did a brilliant job of it. She fought against the Danes alongside her father and then he brother Edward, who became King on the death of Alfred in 899, enjoying victories that led to the Viking rulers of York offering her their loyalty in 918. However, Æthelflæd died before she was able to accept their offer and Edward absorbed Mercia into his own kingdom. 

RClearly, Æthelflæd was a woman who was not content to take a passive role in either history or her own life. She recognised no glass ceilings, and showed most of the men around her— including her own brother— how leadership should be done. 

To learn more about this fascinating woman, I recommend Annie Whitehead’s fabulous work of historical fiction, To Be A Queen.