Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ælfthryth (945?-1000)

ÆLFTHRYTH, or in Latin ELFRIDA (945?–1000), was the daughter of Ordgar, the ealdorman of Devon. Her first husband was Æthelwald, the ealdorman of the East Anglians, who died about 962. Two years after his death she married King Eadgar. On the death of Eadgar and the accession of Eadward, the stepson of Ælfthryth, the ealdorman Ælfhere [q. v.] headed a reaction against the revived monasticism of Dunstan. As Ælfthryth was by her first marriage sister-in-law of Æthelwine, the head of the monastic party, and was also probably opposed to the election of her stepson Eadward, she no doubt upheld the cause of the monks. Eadward was slain at Corfe, and Æthelred, the son of Ælfthryth, was made king in his stead. Osbern, writing in the latter part of the eleventh century, was the first who attributed the death of Eadward to his stepmother. His statement gains additional weight by the confirmation of Florence of Worcester. The fact that the contemporary chronicler does not mention the names of the murderers of Eadward, and his statement that his kinsmen would not avenge his death, is consistent with the assertion of the guilt of Ælfthryth. And as Ælfhere, the champion of the secular clergy, joined with Dunstan in the translation of the body of Eadward, the death of the king may probably be set down to personal rather than political motives. Ælfthryth was alive in 999, but had died by 1002, as in that year her son Æthelred granted lands to the monastery of Wherwell for the good of her soul. She is represented in a new light—as a kindly grandmother to one of her son's children—in the will of Æthelstan, a son of Æthelred, who left his bequests for ecclesiastical purposes ‘for the soul of Ælfthryth, my grandmother who afed me.’ This is all that is really known about her. She is the subject of a romance told by William of Malmesbury, and improved on by later writers. The growth of this romance has been discussed in an essay by Mr. Freeman, who believes the story to contain germs of truth, and infers from it that Ethelwald in some way met with a violent death, and that there was some canonical impediment to the second marriage of Ælfthryth with Eadgar.

[A.S. Chron.; Florence of Worcester; Osbern, Vita Dunstani, see Introd. by Dr. Stubbs in Memorials of Dunstan, Rolls Series; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. 113; William of Malmesbury, ii. 165; Gaimar, 3605; Bromton, ap. Twysden, Dec. Script., 865; Codex Dipl. iii. 314, 322, 364; Freeman's Historical Essays, i. 15.]

W. H.