Formidable Women of Anglo-Saxon England
with Dr Sam Newton (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 18th June 2016.


A reappraisal of female power among the Old English-speaking peoples from the sixth to the eleventh centuries.

Beginning with a look at the evidence for pre-Christian female power, we shall see how this appears to have been realised in early Christian England by the impressive numbers of saintly abbesses.  These include the St Æthelthryth (Audry), queen of Northumbria and founding abbess of Ely, and St Seaxburh, queen of Kent, king-mother, and founding abbess of Minster on Sheppey.  We must also mention St Wihtburh of Dereham and St Mildred of Thanet, as well as the extraordinary story of St Balthild, a lady of English origin, enslaved by the Franks, but who later became a princess, queen, king-mother, regent, nun, and saint.

We shall then consider examples of powerful women in later Anglo-Saxon England, such as Queen Ælfthryth, mother of Æthelræd Unræd, who may have provided a model for Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.  A central figure leading up to the great events of 1066 is the formidable Emma of Normandy.  She was twice queen (married first to Æthelræd Unræd and then to Cnút) and twice king-mother (Harthacnút and Edward the ‘Confessor’).

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          Female Power in Early England.

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:          Abbesses and Saints.

12.40 – 14.00:          Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:          Queen Ælfthryth and other West Saxons.

14.50 – 15.10:          Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:          Queen Emma/Ælfgyfu.

c.16.00:                   Thanks and Close

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald (2003).  He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team.  He is a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

  • Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008).
  • Ellis Davidson, H., Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (Penguin 1964).
  • Fairweather, J. [tr.] Liber Eliensis – A History of the Isle of Ely from the Seventh to
  • the Eleventh Century (Boydell 2005).
  • Farmer, D.H., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford 1978).
  • Gallyon, M., The Early Church in Eastern England (Lavenham 1973).
  • Heaney, S., Beowulf: A New Translation (London 1999).
  • Herbert, K., Peace-weavers & shield maidens: Women in early English society (Anglo-Saxon Books 1999).
  • James, E.,The Franks (Oxford 1988).
  • Newton, S., The Reckoning of King Rædwald (Redbird 2003).
  • Parbury, K., Women of grace: A biographical dictionary of British saints, martyrs and reformers (Boston 1985).
  • Ridyard, S.J., The royal saints of Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge 1988).
  • Rollason, D., Northumbria 500-1100 (Cambridge 2003).
  • Scarfe, Norman, Suffolk in the Middle Ages (Boydell 1986).
  • Sherley-Price, L., Bede: A History of the English Church and People (Penguin Classics 1955, 1968).
  • Stafford, P., Queen Emma and Queen Edith: queenship and women’s power in eleventh-century England (Blackwells 1997).
  • Stafford, P., “Political women in Mercia, eighth to early tenth centuries”, in eds  M.P.Brown & C.A.Farr, Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe (Leicester University Press 2001).