Daily Archives: June 30, 2017
The UK now has a female prime minister and Elizabeth II has been queen for more than six decades, but few would associate Anglo-Saxon England with powerful women. Nearly 1,100 years ago, however, Æthelflæd, “Lady of the Mercians”, died in Tamworth – as one of the most powerful political figures in tenth-century Britain.
Although she has faded from English history, and is often seen as a bit-part player in the story of the making of England, Æthelflæd was in fact a hugely important figure before her death in 918, aged around 50. Indeed, the uncontested succession of her daughter, Ælfwynn, as Mercia’s leader was a move of successful female powerplay not matched until the coronation of Elizabeth I after the death of her half-sister Mary in 1558. So, while Bernard Cornwell’s novels and the BBC series The Last Kingdom are cavalier with the historical facts, perhaps they are right to give Æthelflæd a major role.
Æthelflæd was born in the early 870s. Her father, Alfred “the Great” had become King of the West Saxons in 871, while her mother, Eahlswith, may have been from Mercian royal kindred. At the time, Anglo-Saxon “England” was made up of a series of smaller kingdoms, including Wessex in the south, Mercia in the Midlands and Northumbria in the far north. All faced encroachment by Viking forces that were growing in strength and ambition, as outlined in Charles Insley’s article The Strange End of the Mercian Kingdom and Mercia and the Making of England by Ian Walker.
Æthelflæd spent most of her life in the Kingdom of Mercia married to its de facto ruler, Æthelred. Mercia had seen some dark days by the time of her marriage. In the eighth and early ninth centuries, the Mercian kings had had good cause to consider themselves the most powerful rulers in southern Britain. But by the 870s, the kingdom had suffered dramatically from the Viking assaults which had swept across England.
One king, Burgred, had fled to Rome, and his successor, Ceolwulf II, was seen as a mere puppet by the West-Saxon compiler of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and disappeared between 878 and 883. Soon, the East Midlands were ruled by Scandinavians – what became known as the “Danelaw” – and so the kingdom ruled by Æthelflæd and Æthelred was by then just the western rump of the old Mercia.
Nevertheless, Æthelflæd and Æthelred together engaged in massive rebuilding projects at Gloucester, Worcester, Stafford and Chester, overseeing the refounding of churches, new relic collections and saints’ cults. Famously, in 909, the relics of the seventh-century saint, Oswald were moved from Bardney, deep in Scandinavian-controlled Lincolnshire, to a new church at Gloucester. Perhaps appropriately, for a couple facing the Vikings, Æthelflæd and her husband had a great attachment to the saint, a warrior king and Christian martyr. Æthelred was buried alongside Oswald in 911, and Æthelflæd joined him seven years later.
Powerplay and politics
At the time, Athelred and Æthelflæd did not call themselves king or queen, nor do the official documents or coins refer to them as such. Instead, they used the title “Lord/Lady of the Mercians”, because Alfred had extended his authority over Mercia and styled himself “King of the Anglo-Saxons”.
But they acted like rulers. Æthelflæd, with her husband and her brother Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons, launched a series of military campaigns in the early tenth century. These brought all of England south of the Humber and Mersey river under Anglo-Saxon control and rolled up the Scandinavian lordships which had been established in the East Midlands and East Anglia.
These advances were backed up by an energetic programme of fortification, with burhs (fortified towns) built in places such as Bridgnorth, Runcorn, Chester and Manchester.
But while she called herself a “lady”, outsiders, especially the Welsh and Irish, saw Æthelflæd as a “queen” and she surely wasn’t just her husband’s subservient wife. As Alfred the Great’s daughter, the role Mercia and the Mercians would play in the kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons was at stake.
A potent widow
But Æthelflæd really came into her own following her husband’s death in 911, although it seems that he had been in poor health for the best part of the previous decade. The Mercian Register in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, certainly celebrates her deeds from 910 onwards.
In 915, she successfully campaigned against the Welsh and the major Welsh kings, and in England she began further to expand her kingdom. In 917-8, her army took control of Viking-occupied Derby and Leicester, and just before her death, the “people of York” – that is, the Scandinavian lords of southern Northumbria – also agreed to submit to her.
For a brief moment, she had authority not just over her own territory in Mercia, but over the Welsh, the Scandinavian East Midlands and possibly part of Northumbria, making her perhaps one of the three most important rulers in mainland Britain – the others being her brother Edward king of the Anglo-Saxons and Constantin II macAeda, King of the Scots.
This made her a major political actor in her own right, but also a respected and feared figure. Even more remarkably, she passed her authority on to her daughter, Ælfwynn, who was around 30 when her mother died. The rule of Ælfwynn in Mercia, which attracts virtually no comment at all from historians, lasted about six months before her uncle Edward launched a coup d’état, deprived her of all authority and took her into Wessex.
Æthelflæd’s legacy is enigmatic, wrapped up in the “making of England”. But she was a ruler of consequence in an era defined by male authority. Indeed, her project to rebuild the kingdom of Mercia and the Mercians might have placed midland England at the heart of later history.
Philip Morgan, Senior Lecturer, Keele University; Andrew Sargent, Lecturer in Medieval History, Keele University; Charles Insley, Senior lecturer, University of Manchester, and Morn Capper, Lecturer in Archaeological Heritage, University of Chester
As the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) celebrates its 50th birthday, it’s actually being used less and less to withdraw cash in Australia. There are currently more than 32,000 ATMs across Australia and cash withdrawals in February 2017 were A$9,924 million, down 10% from the previous year and just above the total of February 2005.
ATM’s (Automatic Teller Machines) were first introduced at the end of June 1967 and were welcomed by both bank customers and the banks themselves. This “hole in the wall” enabled customers to access their cash 24/7. The ATM’s self-service nature enabled the banks to reduce their costs, by closing bank branches, reducing opening hours and laying off staff.
But the Reserve Bank of Australia’s 2016 Consumer Payments Survey reported that cards were used more often than cash for in-person payments, as well as online payments. This is facilitated by Australian consumers and merchants’ rapid adoption of contactless.
The July 2017 changes to the level of merchant service fees for accepting payment cards might even further reduce our reliance on these machines. The changes should reduce surcharging and minimum spends for accepting cards (in theory) and we will then have even less reason to carry cash.
ATMs will need to evolve to remain relevant, perhaps taking on other services entirely.
Lots of cash, just not from ATMs
Paradoxically, there has never been so much cash available in Australia. By April 2017 there were 1.5 billion individual banknotes on issue, an average of 62 notes for every Australian. The RBA has recently opened a new super bank vault to store its contingency reserves of banknotes.
There are similar patterns in other countries. For example, the Bank of England notes in circulation rose by 10% in 2016, the fastest pace in a decade. This is despite technological advances that now allow people to pay by contactless cards and digital devices, such as mobile phones.
Why then is cash still so popular? The RBA’s 2016 survey concluded that cash is widely held as a store of value. If found 70% of respondents to the survey held cash in places other than their purses and wallets.
The government’s Black Economy Taskforce estimates that the Australian black economy is around 1.5% of GDP, or A$25 billion per year. Much of this is enabled by the use of hard cash, as opposed to electronic payments.
Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff wrote that physical cash can facilitate corruption and tax evasion. In his view, many of the disadvantages of cash could be reduced if larger denomination notes were withdrawn from circulation.
As an example, the Euro 500 note is due to be withdrawn from the end of 2018, however it may take more than this to reduce the underlying attraction of cash.
There are many assumptions, attitudes and beliefs which legitimise and perpetuate participation in the black economy. Questioning these will require behavioural change from all citizens, according to the Black Economy Taskforce’s interim report. As an example, if someone else is avoiding GST by paying in cash, others might think “well if they are doing it, I would be a fool not to do it myself”.
Other uses for the ATM
These are services available to bank customers through their ATMs in countries other than Australia. For example, ATMs could be made more efficient by encouraging more customers to deposit cash into the ATM and then recycling that cash in the machine to be used by those seeking to withdraw cash. This would remove many of the costs and security risks of constantly replenishing ATMs with cash.
Additional functions could be added to the ATM. In the United States you can buy postage stamps at the ATM; in Spain tickets to football matches; in Dubai bars of gold; in California fresh cupcakes and elsewhere fishing licenses and tax bills can all be accessed through ATMs.
As regards customer security to ward off identity theft, biometric measures could make access to the ATM more secure. In Japan finger vein scanning is already in use in many ATMs.
These developments could put ATMs in the forefront of an enhanced customer experience, giving the ATM reasons to survive for another 50 years.