Æthelstan the first king of Britain?
by Professor Sarah Foot

Date: Tuesday 28 September 2021

The reign of Æthelstan, first king of England, and his claims to hegemony over all the peoples of Britain

Æthelstan the first king of Britain?

This lecture explores the reign of Æthelstan, 924-939. Grandson of Alfred the Great, Æthelstan succeeded to the throne of Wessex on the death of his father Edward the Elder. Edward had conquered Danish Mercia and East Anglia, expanding the West Saxon kingdom to encompass a territory that stretched from the Channel to the River Humber and calling himself ‘King of the Anglo-Saxons’. Æthelstan built on his father’s successes, conquering Northumbria in 927 and receiving the submission of other rulers in the British Isles. Thereafter Æthelstan, the first king to rule all the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the island took the royal style king of the English in his charters, but on his coins he began to call himself Rex totius Britanniae, king of all Britain. We will consider Æthelstan’s military and diplomatic achievements (including his victory over a combined Scots-Norse army at Brunanburh in 937), look at his support of the church and promotion of learning and ask whether he should be considered the first king of Britain.

Sarah Foot is the Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. She has published extensively on the history of the Church in England before the Norman Conquest, working on monasticism and on women’s religious communities. She wrote a life of Æthelstan which was published by Yale in their English Monarchs series. She is currently working on a biography of the Venerable Bede.

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