Aethelstan

Aethelstan was the son of Edward the elder and of Ecgwynn who may or may not have been married to Edward and may or may not be related to St Dunstan, the little written about her is very unclear.

What is clear is that he was crowned king at Kingston-Upon-Thames by the Archbishop of Canterbury who had written a new order of service (ordo) for the event. Aethelstan was also the first king to be crowned using a crown and not a helmet as had always been used in the past.

This did not mean however that he was in anyway weak or didn’t enjoy a good battle, just the opposite. During his reign he pushed the boundaries of the kingdom; in 927 – 928 he took York from the Danes, forced the submission of Constantine of Scotland and all five Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute, it is written that this included 25,000 oxen a huge amount at the time. He also fixed the boarder between Mercia and Wales as the river Wye,
and he eliminated any opposition from Cornwall.

After 7 years of relative peace Aethelstan invaded Scotland, although the reasons for this are not clear, they are most likely connected to the death of Guthfrith who had ruled Northumbria briefly, his death caused some confusion in the north and it may be that Aethelstan took the opportunity to finally bring the north and Scotland to heel as they had always seen him as an outsider.

He set out in May 934 accompanied by 4 Welsh princes; Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, Idwal Foel of Gwynedd, Morgan ap Owain of Gwent and Tewdwr ap Griffiri of Brycheiniog. He also had 18 bishops, 13 Earls, six of whom were Danes from Eastern England.

By late June or early July he had reached Chester-le-Street where he made a generous gift at the tomb of St Cuthbert.

According to the chronicler Simeon of Durham he used land and navel forces. The land forces ravaged as far as Dunnottar in the north east of Scotland, while the navel forces raided Caithness and then possibly part of the Norse Kingdom of Orkney. However Simeon didn’t see fit to tell us the outcome. All we know is that by September Aethelstan was back in the south of England at Buckingham. The following year a charter was witnessed by all 4 of the Welsh princes.

When he wasn’t at war Aethelstan also had extensive cultural and religious contacts and he was an enthusiastic collector of art and religious relics. He gave much of his large collection to his followers and to the churches and bishops to retain their support.

He died at the height of his power in Malmesbury and was laid to rest in the Abbey at Malmesbury; In the words of the Annals of Ulster he was “ pillar of dignity of the western world” that dignity did not extend beyond death however as his tomb was raided during the reformation and his bones were stolen. His empty tomb still stand in the Abbey.

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