Book 2, Chapter 7, Alfred’s Children from 901 AD to 955 – Renown of Athelstan
Northumbria and Wales fell into the power of Athelstan by this victory. It effectually secured to him the throne of his ancestors, and the subjugation of the Anglo Danes was so decisive, that he has received the fame of being the founder of the English monarchy. The claims of Egbert to this honour are unquestionably surreptitious. The competition can only be between Alfred and Athelstan.
Our old chronicles vary on this subject, some denominate Alfred the first Monarcha, and some give it to Athelstan. The truth seems to be, that Alfred was the first monarch of the Anglo Saxons, but Athelstan was the first monarch of England. The Danish sovereigns, to whose colonies Alfred chose or was compelled to yield Northumbria and East Anglia, divided the island with him, therefore, though be first reigned monarch over the Anglo-Saxons from the utter destruction of the octarchy, it was not until Athelstan completely subjugated the Anglo-Danish power, that the monarchy of England arose.
After the Battle of Brunanburh, Athelstan had no competitor, he was the immediate sovereign of all England, and was even nominal lord of Wales and Scotland, although the Scotch indignantly repudiates the latter title, and it certainly rests upon a somewhat shadowy foundation.
The fame of Athelstan extended beyond the island he governed. His accomplishments, his talents, and his successes, interested Europe in his favour, he received many proofs of the respect with which foreigners regarded him, and from this period, England began to lose its insular seclusion, and to be concerned with the current transactions of Europe.
Before this time, even so far back as the reign of Ethelred, the appellation of Anglo or England had almost superseded that of Saxon. The chronicler Ethelwerd, who was of the royal race of Wessex, being descended from Alfred’s brother Ethelred, calls his own countrymen West Angles, and the South and East Saxons he calls South and East Angles.
This change of name was effected gradually, and henceforth it will be proper in speaking of the Anglo-Saxons, or the people who inhabited the districts formerly known as West Sussex, or Wessex, to designate them, the English, although, strictly, there was to be, a century later, an admixture of the Norman element to constitute the national character understood by the word English. Yet, as has been already hinted, and as will be fully shown in the proper place, there was, in fact, a common stock from which the progenitors of the tribes known by these various names had sprung, so that the Norman element was not so foreign as some would suppose.
The renown of Athelstan is enhanced by what foreign chroniclers have recorded of his relations with Bretagne, France, Germany, and Norway. His friendship was sought by the most powerful monarchs of his time, and he was able, in several instances to befriend and shelter them in adversity, making England, even then, a safe harbour of refuge for the oppressed and the wronged. Of his nine sisters, three became nuns, and the remainder were united in matrimony to various kings, princes, and chiefs. The monks delight to narrate as evidences of his piety, the monasteries which he built or endowed, but a more lasting claim to the respect and gratitude of posterity is found in the translation of the Scriptures into Saxon which he ordered to be made, a proof on the one hand of his own education and taste, and on the other of the improved state of learning since the time of Alfred, in whose reign such a work could not have been executed for lack of qualified translators.
One stain has been cast upon the memory of Athelstan, that he caused his young brother Edwin to be put to sea in an open boat, for having been concerned in the revolt at the early part of his reign, but this charge rests upon no reliable testimony, and it is quite inconsistent with all that is known of his general spirit and conduct. The account given by Henry of Huntingdon contains all that can uow be ascertained. “He had the misfortune to lose in the waves of the ocean his brother Edwin, a youth of great vigour and good disposition.”
Chapter 7, Alfred’s Children
Chapter 7, Athelstan
Chapter 7, Renown of Athelstan
Renown of Athelstan
Chapter 7, Edmund
Chapter 7, Edred
Categories: Book 2