Who was Alkmund?

Alkmund (774- March 19th, c. 800) was a Northumbrian prince, younger son of King Ahlred (Alcred) and brother of Osred. This was a time of bitter fighting and intrigues among claimants to the throne, many of who met a harsh end, so that a member of the Northumbrian royalty stood in almost as much peril from his own kinsmen as from the marauding Viking raiders who had begun serious raids of the coast at this time.

Driven into exile among the Picts at an early age with his father, Alkmund at length returned at the head of an army, but was then killed treacherously, for which the usurper Eardwulf has generally been blamed. His remains were interred at Derby, where he was almost immediately venerated as a Saint, his ‘day’ being set as March 19th, the anniversary of his death.

For all his ‘good works’ (real or imagined), Alkmund might have been forgotten even among the pantheon of minor Saxon saints, but for the patronage of his descendant, Aethelfleda, the great ‘Lady of the Mercians’. Aethelfleda was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, and, on the death of her husband Aethelred in 911, continued to rule Mercia – an almost unheard-of role for a woman in those days. She proved a capable ruler, and it is suggested that her motive in choosing Shrewsbury as a new and rich church dedicated for Alkmund (it was founded c. 912) may have been the lack of security from heathen raiders further east. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that the relics of St Alkmund ever made their way this far west.

Lilleshall Abbey acquired much of the wealth and many of the assets of the Shrewsbury church in the mid 12th century, and St Alkmund made his way there, his bones finally returning to Derby. The movement of relics, including the bones of saints, was a much more common occurrence than might be imagined at this time. Lilleshall’s loss was ultimately Derby’s gain, and pilgrims brought wealth and some fame to that city. Two of the six churches that bear Alkmund’s name are in Derby, and two in Shropshire (the other in this county being at Whitchurch).

It seems that the efforts of the Saxons to preserve Alkmund’s remains were successful, but he did not survive the attentions of Henry VIII, who had them cast into the river at the time of the English Reformation. When the main Derby church was demolished in 1968 (to be replaced by a more modern building), evidence of several former churches on the same site was uncovered. Among the artefacts found was a magnificent stone sarcophagus, thought at one time to have contained Alkmund’s remains, which is now housed in the Derby Museum.

%d bloggers like this: