HARKING back to their school history lessons, most people may remember there was once a chap called Alfred the Great, arguably the first ruler of England as we know it, who was supposed to have had a culinary disaster with some cakes.

Not Great British Bake Off material, however good he was as a king.

What is less well known is that Alfred had a daughter Aethelflaed, who, if the front cover of a new book is anything to go by, bore a striking resemblance to Zena, Warrior Princess, swatter of baddies in a TV action series.

Certainly Aethelflaed put herself about a bit, because she succeeded her father to the throne, became the first Saxon woman to rule a kingdom and led her army into battle against the Viking invaders.

Her legend would have been ideal material for an action movie, starring possibly a young Angelina (Tomb Raider) Jolie.

Had such a film been made, the city of Worcester would have played a central part. Because this woman, whom few have ever heard of, is the subject of a magnificent stained glass window in Worcester Cathedral.

Queen Aethelflaed used Worcester as an important administrative centre, signed charters here, and, with her husband, refortified it.

As author Margaret C Jones observes: “I find it incredible, not to say unjust, that Aethelflaed has been left out of the history books for so long.

“My book has grown out of an almost obsessive urge to set the record straight. I want, in however small a way, to do justice to ‘England’s Founding Mother’.”

Which Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen – Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (Pen and Sword. £19.99) does in no small measure. Starting with the front cover. Although certain artistic license must be allowed for, because I doubt the real life Aethelflaed had access to that much Estee Lauder.

She was born around 870 at a time when the Vikings were pillaging and killing their way across the country. Crossing the North Sea in their shallow draft long ships, which carried 50 men at a time, they travelled up the great rivers of England, the Thames, Humber and Severn, into the heartlands. There is no doubt they reached Worcester, because a Viking warrior’s skin was nailed to the north door of the cathedral.

Aethelflaed’s path to power gained traction in the very early years of the 10th century, when her husband Athelred, who had become King of Mercia, fell ill and she began making major decisions on his behalf. In a document of 902 she is referred to as Queen of the Saxons.

In fact even in his healthier days the pair had operated more as a partnership than husband and subservient wife. Together they built defences against Viking raids in Hereford and Gloucester and in the late 890s undertook major works in Worcester.

They ordered the fortification of the city as a burh (a walled and heavily guarded town) with its main streets laid out on a grid plan to give swift access to the city walls in event of an attack.

A charter signed in Worcester at the time records the fortification plans “for the protection of all the people”. It provides for a grant of revenues, from taxes and collected fines, to Bishop Waerferth of Worcester, who had contributed money for building the new walls.

It explicitly names both Aethelred and Aethelflaed as joint founders of the scheme, which was to be just one of many similar projects Aethelflaed carried out, with or without her husband, across Mercia.

Aethelflaed led her army into battle against the Vikings with bravery and skill, notably at Derby, Leicester, Runcorn and Llangorse, as well as in the defence of Chester.

The stained glass window to her in Worcester Cathedral, designed by AJ Davies, an early 20th century artist, represents Aethelflaed as a warrior or saint with a breastplate and sword.

The image was copied in 2014 for a plaque in Castle Street, Warwick to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the warrior queen’s founding of the town.

Despite the violence which had surrounded much of her life, Aethelflaed’s death, when it came in 918, was swift and largely unexplained.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronical recorded: ”She departed very quickly. Before mid-summer, near Tamworth.”

Margaret Jones observes: “Possibly Aethelflaed succumbed to a stroke or heart attack brought on by age and exhaustion. In any case, it is quite likely she died of natural causes.

“She would have been in her late forties. Old by medieval standards.”

Her final resting place is officially unknown, but could possibly be in Gloucester, near the ruins of the former St Oswald’s church, an area now covered by residential back gardens.

In more recent times, Aethelflaed’s image has been used to promote various products including beer, T-shirts, war games and even ladies’ eye make-up.

But the final word must go to an enthusiastic copywriter for Aethelflaed Ale, who announced the Lady of the Mercians “definitely kicked Viking butt at the Battle of Tettenhall and without Aethelflaed we’d all be speaking Danish in The Midlands”.