King Æthelstan in the English, Continental and Scandinavian Traditions of the Tenth to the Thirteenth Centuries
By Angela Marion Smith
PhD Dissertation, University of Leeds, 2014
Abstract: Using close textual analysis, this thesis has identified similarities and differences in the ways in which the Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelstan, is depicted in narrative sources from England, the Continent and Scandinavia during the tenth to the thirteenth centuries; how historical, cultural, and literary contexts influenced their writers and their patrons and how literary analysis might contribute further to historical understandings of Æthelstan and his reign.
Central to my analysis are the concepts of the sources as textual and visual narratives, deriving contemporary meaning from their intertextuality with other sources and fulfilling a function of recording and creating social memories for their own time and for the future.
The thesis does not argue for the historical veracity of any one version over another but for the individual narrative voices to be heard and understood as part of their own historical, national and contemporary backgrounds. Based on my literary analysis of the texts I have questioned some generally held historical interpretations, suggested some alternative interpretations of my own and identified further areas for research.
The thesis demonstrates that there are similarities but also significant differences in the way Æthelstan is depicted both between and within the English, Continental and Scandinavian traditions. It identifies a number of narratives within the sources that provide the basis for further research on Æthelstan: his Carolingian ambitions, his role as foster-father to Hákon of Norway, the possibility that he had a second coronation to confirm his claim to be King of all Britain and the depictions of him as a king-maker and a friend and ally of the Vikings.