Athelstan of England
Hare, Kent G.
The Heroic Age Issue 7 Spring 2004
Despite his obscurity in modern memory, the tenth-century English King Athelstan enjoyed great fame in the Middle Ages. The Old English chronicle-poem The Battle of Brunanburh provides just one example of tenth- to twelfth-century lore and legend that celebrated his renown as Christian king and hero.
Athelstan (r. 924-39) is one of the most interesting although lesser known of the late Anglo-Saxon kings of England. He was more than any other tenth-century king of central importance in consolidating the kingdom of England based upon the foundations of Alfred the Great. Athelstan is probably most often recalled as the hero of the famous poetic entry to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 937, known as The Battle of Brunanburh. The exultation that caused the Chronicler literally to break into song with that annal in the midst of an otherwise dry listing of consecrations and deaths is symptomatic of the contemporary fame the warrior king Athelstan enjoyed, which made him the focus of tenth- to twelfth-century lore and legend. This article examines that body of evidence for Athelstan of England as Christian king and hero.