The Age of Athelstan

Paul Hill

Why I looked at this book

I'm interested in how England came together as a country in Anglo-Saxon times, and I thought a book on the first King of all England ought to have plenty of information on this.

First impressions

I haven't found a sample of this book

Main review

The first chapter looks at the legacy of Athelstan today. I would have preferred that the book jumped straight into the history and left this until the end. The next chapter looks at the coming of the Vikings, followed by the development of England from the time of Alfred the Great. This was much more what I wanted, describing the tensions between Mercia and Wessex, and how they were resolved.

The battle of Brunanburh in 937 AD is a central theme of the book - Hill devotes a chapter to a discussion of the its location. The battle was a resounding victory for Athelstan, but it was not a final victory - Athelstan's successors had to continue fighting against the Vikings, not always with as much success. It does seem, however, to be the battle that created England as a country - future battles were seen as against rebels, or in the case of Cnut, took over the country as a whole.

We hear much of Alfred, and how he set the stage for the unification of England, but perhaps don't hear so much of his successors who carried it out. The final chapter explains that in subsequent centuries Athelstan came to be seem as something of a villain in becoming King when there were more legitimate candidates, and so his success in making England a prosperous country was forgotten. This book helps to redress the balance and I thought that it was definitely worth reading.
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