Mon, 29 Jun 2015
Like Grandfather like Grandson

Athelstan, First King of England
By Sarah Foot

A fairly academic book in places (it is part of the Yale English Monarchs series) but mostly very readable to the lay person.

The main problem with Athelstan is that his life has a very limited documentary record, especially compared to his grandfather, Alfred the Great. This is a shame since he is a very important early king, the first King of England really, and even someone who could claim overlordship over the whole of Britain to some degree.

Sarah Foot is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church, Oxford, and has appeared a few times on the BBC's In Our Time radio programs. On radio, she has taken part on programs that went through the Life of Bede, Alfred's Battle of Edington and, of course, Athelstan. It was on this program that I first heard of the battle of Brunanburh, a decisive victory of the Anglo-Saxon army over the combined forces of the Scots, Welsh and Dublin Norse.

The site of the battle was probably the North West of England around the Wirral, but no one knows for sure and the battle and its significance has been all but forgotten. In some ways, rather like Athelstan himself. Maybe this was due to his background (some question over his mother's lineage) or possible accessory in his brother's death shortly after his (probably) contested coronation. Whatever the reason, Alfred has well and truly eclipsed his grandson.

If you want proper detail about what we know about Athelstan however, this is the book for you. For a more accessible guide. Michael Wood made a very good documentary for the BBC called In Search of Athelstan and you can watch it all on YouTube.