Athelstan (Penguin Monarchs): The Making of England

by Tom Holland

Hardcover, 2016



Call number



Allen Lane (2016), Edition: Illustrated, 128 pages


'Many kingdoms had risen to primacy before in Britain, only to crumble away. It was now on Athelstan's shoulders to ensure that the realm forged by his grandfather and father did not follow a similar path' Despite savage assault from Viking hordes, Athelstan defeated his enemies, conquered Northumbria and was hailed as Rex totius Britanniae- 'King of the whole of Britain'. With relish and drama, Tom Holland recounts the extraordinary story of how an Anglo-Saxon dynasty rescued the kingdom from near-oblivion.

User reviews

LibraryThing member john257hopper
This short book is about the life and reign of the Anglo Saxon king Athelstan - a ruler who should be better known, as he was effectively the architect of England as a (more or less) united country, bringing into reality the vision and concept of his more famous grandfather Alfred. The fact of his
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being (almost certainly) brought up at the Mercian court for his own protection from rival factions to his Wessex father Edward the Elder, led to his being accepted eventually as the best ruler for both Wessex and Mercia. Then later he was to challenge and overthrow Viking rule in York, the capital of Northumbria (though that was reversed after his and his successor's deaths, and only eventually cemented in the reign of his much younger half-brother Edred). Athelstan's vision went even further to include overlordship of the whole British isles ("rex totius Britanniae" the contemporary chroniclers called him), defeating Scottish, Welsh and Irish rulers at the decisive battle of Brunanburh in 937 (a battle the site of which remains unknown to this day). This did not outlast his death; but Athelstan saw himself, and was seen by many of his contemporaries, as a European monarch of the stature of Charlemagne, marrying off several of his many half-sisters to Frankish and German princes. When he died, an Ulster chronicler described him as "the roof-tree of the dignity of the western world". The author Tom Holland is better known for his excellent books on ancient history, such as Rubicon, about the fall of the Roman Republic, and other works covering a broad sweep of ancient history. While a new period for him, he has a similar broad view here when he concludes that "In a country that has been a unitary state for longer than any other in Europe, the sheer feat of statecraft that was required to bring it into existence risks being signally underestimated. The king who founded England has largely been forgotten even by the English".
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LibraryThing member walterhistory
Tom Holland's interesting biography of "Athelstan" works with difficult & few early medieval accounts. It is amazing that the author was able to glean as much as he was able to. There are more primary documents about Alfred, Athelstan's grandfather than Athelstan himself which is problematic in of
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itself. Hence this author, having to work with so little has managed to carefully piece together a better picture yet remaining incomplete of Athelstan's times. It is indicative of the chaos & increasing need for a stable government in that time of constant threat of rebellion within & invaders intent of pillaging & slaughtering while establishing a bloody chaotic kingdom albeit brief. Mr. Holland's picture of Athelstan's life & times is an excellent read produced by Penguin in their Monarch series.
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Physical description

7.4 inches


0241187818 / 9780241187814
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