How to Pronounce Æðelflǽd

Opinions, or more often the practice of the pronunciation of the Anglo Saxon name Aethelflaed varies greatly, even amongst Historians. Note the difference of pronunciation between Martin Carver’s consistent /æðʊlflæd/ in his BBC Radio lecture and the pronunciations of Michael Wood in the video clip linked to on this blog. Prof. Wood varies between /æðʊlfled/ (once) and /eðʊlflɪ̈d/ (twice). I do not presume to be able to judge which is correct, however I have found the following to be quite useful in drawing my own conclusions and until corrected will be pronouncing her name /eiðʊlflɪ̈d/  ay thul fleed

The main cause of difference seems to be the correct pronunciation of the letter ash (æ) in accented and unaccented forms. Note these in the quote below:

Chr. Erl. 100, 30, states “Hér com Æðelflǽd, Myrcna hlǽfdige, on ðone hálgan ǽfen Inuentione Sanctæ Crucis, to Scergeate, and ðǽr ðá burh getimbrede; and, ðæs ilcan geáres, ða”

According to Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary >

The short or unaccented Anglo-Saxon æ has a sound like ai in main and fairy, as appears from these cognate wordsWæl wail, brædan to braid, nægel a nail, dæg, spær, læt, snæce, mæst, æsp, bær, etc.2. The short or unaccented æ stands only1. before a single consonant; as Stæf, hwæl, dæg:2. a single consonant followed by e in nouns; Stæfes, stæfe, hwæles, dæges, wæter, fæder, æcer:3. or before st, sc, fn, ft; Gæst, æsc, hræfn, cræft:4. before pp, bb, tt, cc, ss; Æppel, cræbba, hæbben, fætte, fættes, wræcca, næsse:5. before double consonants, arising from the inflection of monosyllabic adjectivesLætne, lætre, lætra, from læt late; hwætne, hwætre, hwætra from hwæt quick.3. In the declension of monosyllabic nouns and adjectives, e is rejected from the short or unaccented æ, and becomes a, when a single consonant, or st, sc, is followed by a, o, u in nouns, and by a, o, u, e in adjectives; as Stæf, pl. stafas, g. stafa, d. stafum; hwæl, pl. hwalas; dæg, pl. dagas. adj. Læt late; g. m. n. lates; d. latum; se lata the late; latost, latemest, latest: Smæl small; g. m. n. smales; d. smalum; se smala the small, etc. See short a in B. 3, p. 1, col. 1. 4. æ-, prefixed to words, like a-, often denotes A negative, deteriorating oropposite signification, as From, away, out, without, etc. Like a, ge, etc. æ is sometimes prefixed to perfect tenses and perfect participles and other words without any perceptible alteration in the sense; as Céled, æ-céled cooled.

The long or accented ǽ has the sound of ea in meat, sea. The ǽ is found in the following words, which are represented by English terms of the same signification, having ea sounded as in deal, fear; Dǽl, fǽr, drǽd, lǽdan, brǽdo, hǽto, hwǽte, hǽþ, hǽðen, clǽne, lǽne, sǽ, ǽr, hǽlan, lǽran, tǽcan, tǽsan, tǽsel, wǽpen, etc.2. The ǽ is known to be long, and therefore accented, when in monosyllables, assuming another syllable in declining, ǽ is found before a single consonant or st, sc, and followed in nouns by a, o, u, and in adjectives by a, o, u, or e; as Blǽda fruits; blǽdum: Dwǽs dull; g. m. dwǽses. The ǽ is often changed into á ; as Stǽnen stony, stán a stone; lǽr, lár lore

It might be useful to also consider how the Latin and English pronunciations below may lead to confusion


In Classical Latin, the combination AE denotes the diphthong [ai̯], which had a value similar to the long i in fine as pronounced in most dialects of modern English.[1] Both classical and present practice is to write the letters separately, but the ligature was used in medieval and early modern writings in part becauseæ was reduced to the simple vowel [ɛ] in the imperial period. In some medieval scripts, the ligature was simplified to ę, small letter e with ogonek, the e caudata. This form further simplified into a plain e, which may have influenced or been influenced by the pronunciation change. However, the ligature is still relatively common in liturgical books and musical scores.

The Latin diphthong appeared both in native words (where it was spelled with ai before the 2nd century BC) and in borrowings from Greek words having the diphthong αι (alpha iota).

Old English

In Old English, æ denotes a sound intermediate between a and e ([æ]), a sound very much like the short a of cat in many dialects of modern English.


Further information below from the BBC

The Anglo-Saxon Alphabet

Anglo-Saxon has many of the letters found in Modern English, as well as three extra letters.

a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u w x y þ   ð   æ

The Anglo-Saxon alphabet does not include j, q, or v. The letters k and z are very rarely used and are not usually listed as part of the alphabet.

Modern transcriptions of Anglo-Saxon use modern letters, usually all in lower-case. At the time when Anglo-Saxon was written down, there was not a distinction between upper- and lower-case letters. If the font does not include the three extra letters, it is normal to use ‘th’ to represent both þ and ð , while ‘ae’ is used for æ .

Anglo-Saxon had two forms of each vowel, long and short. This was not indicated in the spelling. Modern manuscripts often use the macron (a horizontal bar over the vowel) to show long vowels. Computerised versions will often use a rising accent, since standard fonts do not include versions of the vowels with a horizontal bar over them.

Reading Ancient Manuscripts

If you are lucky enough to have access to original manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, you will find that many of the letters are unfamiliar looking. The language was written down by monks who used the Irish alphabet, so most of the the letters used are the same as ancient Irish. To represent sounds not found in the Irish and Latin languages, the monks had to adapt versions of the Runic alphabet for the letters w, þ , ð , and æ .

All the following letters are recognisably the same as modern letters:

a b c h i l m n o p u x y

The following have shapes which are slightly different to modern usage but most are the same as Ancient Irish letters:

d e f g t

The following letters have completely different shapes from the modern equivalent:

r s w

s is represented by a letter like a modern r but with a long descending vertical stroke, like the one on a p.

r is similar to s but with the curved section replaced by a pointed top like an inverted v

w looks very similar to a p but is narrower and the curved part descends at 45° to meet the descending stroke.

The three letters þ , ð , and æ are all additional to the modern alphabet.

Ancient manuscripts sometimes put accents on some of the letters, but it is not clear what they signified. They were not indications of long and short vowels and do not appear to have affected the pronunciation in any way.


There is no single definitive set of rules for how Anglo-Saxon was pronounced. Firstly, pronunciation would have varied across England, as it does at the moment. Secondly, scholars are not completely decided on the exact pronunciation anyway. The following rules give a rough guideline.


There are seven vowels: a æ e i o u y.

In Modern English, y is sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant. It was always a vowel in Anglo-Saxon.

The general pronunciation of the vowels is the same as most modern European languages, but different from Modern English:

  • a as in path (North of England open ‘ah’ sound)
  • e as in pet
  • é as in pay
  • i as in pit
  • í as in peat
  • o as in pot
  • ó as in pole
  • u as in put
  • ú as in pool
  • æ as American pronunciation of man
  • y as in French tu or German fü r

The long versions of a, æ , and y (with an accent or macron) are the same but held for a longer time.


A diphthong is where a vowel is pronounced and then the sound is modified into another vowel. This is done smoothly and quickly, so that the whole thing counts as one syllable rather than two. For example, in modern English, the sounds in ‘tune’, ‘pain’, and ‘sole’ are all diphthongs: tee-oon, pay-een, and so-ull.

There were six diphthongs in Anglo-Saxon: ea, é a, eo, é o, ie, and í e. For modern speakers, the easiest way is just to say the two vowels without a break between them, one after the other, putting the emphasis on the first. So:

ea = eh – ah
é a = ay – ah
eo = eh – o (short o like in pot)
é o = ay – o (short o like in pot)
ie = ih – eh
í e = ee – eh


Most consonants were pronounced as in English. Ones which were different are given in the following table:

letter position pronunciation
f at start or end of word f
in middle of word v
beside unvoiced consonant f
doubled f
s at start or end of word s
in middle of word z
beside unvoiced consonant s
doubled s
sc usually sh
þ or ð at start or end of word th as in thin
in middle of word th as in that
beside unvoiced consonant th as in thin
doubled th as in thin
h at start or end of word h
in middle of word ch as in Loch
c in general k
before e, before i, after i ch as in church
g in general g as in garden
before e, before i, after i y as in yellow
in middle of word gh as Modern Greek ghamma or voiced version of ch in Loch
cg usually j sound as in bridge
ng with hard g as in finger, linger, not like in singer, even when at the end of a word

The two letters þ and ð were interchangeable. Modern scholars often try to use þ for the unvoiced ‘th as in thin’ sound and ð for the voiced ‘th as in this’ sound, but this was not the practice of the ancient scribes.

Exceptions: sc in ascian (to ask) is pronounced sk. The gy- prefix at start of some words is sometimes an alternative spelling of the prefix gie. In this case, it is pronounced with a y sound. The cg in docg (dog) is pronounced with a hard g.

Like in Italian and Finnish, doubled letters sound longer than single letters.

All letters are pronounced. So g at start of gnæ t (gnat) is pronounced, as are h at start of hwæ t (what) and e at end of sunne (sun).



Æthelflæd – Timeline

•865 A Great Army arrives from Denmark and sets about conquering Northumberland.
•866 Northumberland is conquered by the Danes. They develop Jórvík (York) into their main city.
•870 The Danes conquer East Anglia.
•871 Another army arrives from Denmark to reinforce the Danes and they set about extending the Danelaw into Mercia.
  The young King Alfred ascends the throne of Wessex.
•872 Æthelflæd is born at the height of the Viking invasions of England. She is the eldest child of Alfred the Great of Wessex.
•874 Most of Mercia has been overrun. The Danelaw now extends from London northwards. Only Wessex is left out of the old kingdoms.
•876 The Danish leader, Guthrum, launches a surprise attack on Wessex and utterly defeats Alfred’s army. Alfred and his remaining troops flee from the battle to take refuge in the Somerset Marshes.
•876-8 Alfred’s troops harass the Danish forces and secretly build up a fresh army.
•878 May 6th-12th – King Alfred launches a surprise attack on the Danes and completely defeats them in battle at Thandun or Edington. He then pursued the Danes to their stronghold at Chippenham and starves them into submission.
•880 Alfred starts building a chain of burhs (forts) along his borders.
  Alfred and Guthrum agree a treaty. Guthrum is baptised as a Christian. The treaty divides Mercia, Alfred gains western Mercia; Guthrum incorporated the eastern part of Mercia into an enlarged kingdom of East Anglia (now known as the Danelaw).
•886 King Alfred captures London from the Danes and then returns the city to the Mercians. His prestige among the Anglo-Saxons shoots up and Æthelred, ruler of the remaining Mercia, acknowledges Alfred as his overlord.
•887 To cement their alliance, Alfred offers Æthelflæd in marriage to Æthelred. She is about 15 years old.
•890 King Alfred orders the Anglo-Saxon chronicles to be started (recording a history of England). They are maintained and added to by generations of anonymous scribes until the mid 12th Century.
•892 Another great Viking army arrives in force. They find a kingdom defended by a mobile field army and a network of garrisoned fortresses. A four-year struggle between King Alfred and the Vikings starts.
•895 Edward’s son Athelstan is born. As the future king, when he is old enough, he is sent to his aunt in Mercia to be educated and trained in military arts and diplomacy.
•896 The Vikings withdraw and all the Anglo-Saxons regard Alfred the Great as their king, the king of England.
•899 Alfred the Great dies. His wife goes to a convent in Winchester. His son, Æthelflæd’s brother, Edward the Elder, becomes king of Wessex.
•902 Æthelred falls ill and withdraws from political life. Æthelflæd, herself became the effective ruler of Mercia.
•905 Æthelflæd & Æthelred repulse the Norse settlers from taking the important city port of Chester.
•907 City of Chester is fortified.
  With her brother, King Edward of Wessex, she raids Danish East Anglia and brings back the captured body of St. Oswald to Gloucester.
  At about this time, Æthelflæd has Gloucester rebuilt from the Roman ruins and lays out the core street plan, which is still in existence today.
•910 Together the forces of Wessex and Mercia repulse the last major Danish Army sent to ravage England in the battle of Tettenhall in Lincolnshire.
  Æthelflæd wins the support of the Danes against the Norwegians, and enters into an alliance with the Scots and the Welsh against the invaders.
•911 Æthelred dies. Æthelflæd becomes the sole leader of Mercia. The people call her Myrcna hlaefdige, “The Lady of the Mercians”. She continues to co-operate with her brother, Edward.
•912 Æthelflæd expands her policy of building burhs to defend Mercia against the Vikings. She builds fortifications at Scergeat and Bridgenorth.
•913 Further burhs or fortifications are built at Tamworth and Stafford.
•914 Further burhs or fortifications are built at Eddisbury and Warwick.
•915 Further burhs or fortifications are built at Cherbury, Weardbyrig and Runcorn, now providing a defence around the whole of Mercia.
•916 Æthelflæd invades Wales and takes Brecknock, after the murder of Abbot Ecgberht and his companions.
•917 Æthelflæd leads her armies against the invaders, successfully besieging and capturing the Viking stronghold at Derby while her brother was taking Colchester.
  Æthelflæd forms an alliance with kings Constantine II of Alba and Constantine Mac Aed of Strathclyde against Norse York.
•918 Æthelflæd begins to engage with disaffected groups within the Norse kingdom and peacefully overruns the Borough of Leicester.
  Æthelflæd dies at Tamworth, before knowing that the Vikings are willing to accept her as overlord at York.
  Æthelflæd’s daughter, Ælfwynn is recognised by Mercians as their leader.
  King Edward the Elder decides that the Mercians might try for independence under Ælfwynn, and his strength against the Danes is in Wessex and Mercia being united. He removes his niece and sends her to Wessex, probably to live her life out in a convent.
•954 King Athelstan, Æthelflæd’s nephew unites the whole of England permanently under one ruler for the first time. The kingdom of the English is now the greatest power in the British Isles.

Things you may not know about Æthelflæd

She was likely to have been well educated.More

On the way to her wedding, she was attacked by the Danes. More
King Edward’s son, later King Athelstan, was brought up in Æthelflæd’s court. More
She was a very powerful presence. More
She was a caring and popular ruler. More
She won the trust and respect of the Vikings as well as the Saxons. More
She was an important tactician and negotiator. More
Nobody knows how Æthelflæd died. More
She was determined that Mercia should stay united with Wessex, as an important step to a united England. More
Queen Eadgyth, Æthelflæd’s neice and sister to Athelstan, is the oldest member of the English royal family whose remains have been definitely identified. More

Æthelflæd in Brief

 Lady of the Mercians

Æthelflæd was the was the eldest child of a great king, Alfred of Wessex. She jointly ruled Mercia with her husband, leading the battle against the Danes in the Midlands and the North and working to unite England.  After her husband’s death in 911, she became the sole ruler of Mercia and became known as ‘The Lady of the Mercians’.

She personally led expeditions against the Vikings. The threat that the Danes would take over all of Mercia and Wessex was very real and, without her input, all could have been lost. The military alliance between Æthelflæd and her brother King Edward was an outstanding success.

Like her father, she proved to be an objective and discerning leader, raising fortifications, refortifying crumbling Roman strongholds and building a number of fortified towns along the border. The association of Æthelflæd and her brother Edward saw the Saxon forces push further into Danish-held territory, until little of Mercia remained under Viking control. 

She was not only a great warrior but also a clever tactician and negotiator. Formidable and warrior-like but just and fair, she won the admiration and respect of the people of Wessex and Mercia. Both English and Danes mourned her death.

Æthelflæd Picture Gallery


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