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Athelstan: The Making of England (Penguin…

Athelstan: The Making of England (Penguin Monarchs)

by Tom Holland

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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 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". ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 2, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0241187818, Hardcover)

The formation of England happened against the odds—the division of the country into rival kingdoms, the assaults of the Vikings, the precarious position of the island on the edge of the known world. But King Alfred ensured the survival of Wessex, his son Eadweard expanded it, and his grandson Æthelstan finally united Mercia and Wessex, conquered Northumbria and became Rex totius Britanniae. Tom Holland recounts this extraordinarily exciting story with relish and drama. We meet the great figures of the age, including Alfred and his daughter Æthelflæd, 'Lady of the Mercians', who brought Æthelstan up at the Mercian court. At the end of the book we understand the often confusing history of the Anglo-Saxon kings better than ever before.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 17 Jun 2016 23:00:56 -0400)

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