Is Warwick even older than 1,100 years?

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, portrayed in a stained glass window in St Andrew's Church, Churchdown, Gloucester.
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, portrayed in a stained glass window in St Andrew's Church, Churchdown, Gloucester.

A new book on Dark Age Warwick has just been published by the district council to coincide with the town’s 1,100 year anniverary.

The illustrated book has been written by heritage and arts manager Jeff Watkin, who is responsible for the current exhibition in St Mary’s Church which runs until September 28.

But Mr Watkin doesn’t only tell readers about Aethelflaed, the warrior queen credited with founding a riverside fortification at a place known as Waeringwicum.

He also explains the story behind the legendary Guy of Warwick - a tenth century romantic hero adopted three centuries later by the earls of Warwick - who changed their family name to match.

And talking of namesakes the short book also includes photographs taken from a souvenir programme of the famous Warwick Pageant of 1906. In one tableau performers pay tribute to the 14 other Warwicks which by the turn of the century had sprung up in America and the Colonies.

But who was Aethelflaed? And was she really the founder of modern-day Warwick back in 914?

Among the evidence studied by Mr Watkin is some for much earlier settlements, including one in existence before the Roman conquest. Other documents hint of a Christian minster long before the arrival of the Wessex daughter of King Alfred the Great.

He said: “It was an enjoyable challenge to research the early history of Warwick. It has been suggested that Aethelflaed may have re-fortified an old Iron Age hillfort near Priory Park, but to date there is no conclusive evidence of earthworks.

“Unlike York or Winchester, archaeology in Warwick has so far done little to clarify exactly where and when the town originated.”

Certainly the name Waeringwicum had evolved into something very close to Warwick by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086 and proof of how the town prospered during the 10th and 11th centuries.

Aethelflaed had became Lady of the Mercians when she was married, around the age of 16, to the much older Aethelred, earl of Mercia.

The pair had one surviving daughter - but her birth was said to have given the warrior queen so much trouble that she ever after refused the embraces of her husband.

A chronicle written 200 years after her death reports Aethelflaed declaring it was “unbecoming of the daughter of a king to give way to a delight which, after a time, produced such painful consequences.”

Instead she built forts to fend off the Vikings.

Dark Age Warwick & The Warrior Queen costs £5 from Warwick Books + other shops.