Aethelstan: The First King of England (The English Monarchs Series)

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  1. Æthelstan: The First King of England
  2. Æthelstan: The First King of England | Reviews in History
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Kingship was as a rule restricted to a small body of throne-worthy kinsmen of the outgoing king, but the selection of a candidate from among those kinsmen by the magnates was still a crucial part of the king-making process.

Æthelstan: The First King of England

But although his reputation was secured as an icon of warlike kingship, reconstructing his life rather than his career is a unique challenge. The writing of any medieval biography is of course vulnerable to the dictates of scarce and tendentious sources. Kings present special problems. Knowledge of his achievements must be spliced together from a broad and sometimes unpromising array of sources — even more so than is usually the case with early medieval history.


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Yet although William states that he did indeed draw on an older source, the age and authority of that source have been the subject of debate, and so Foot is only able to deploy its evidence with caution. Points where her own interpretation adds significantly include, for example, an intriguing discussion of the background to the crowns which the king sports in both manuscript illuminations and on coins.

This might be taken further with reference to earlier Anglo-Saxon practice and contemporary comparisons with other European kingdoms. In the late 10th and 11th centuries he was a hero, and the relative attention he received in Anglo-Saxon sources carried his fame through into the writings of 12th-century historians. Brunanburh remains among the most important unknown locations in Anglo-Saxon history.

Foot reviews the many sites which have been proposed, and she cautiously supports an identification of Brunanburh with Bromborough, Cheshire. Her approach largely focuses on discussion of the diverse, and often discordant, primary sources, supplemented with reference to subsequent analysis by later scholars. Hers is the culmination, it would be fair to say, of a collaborative effort. While at the end of the day, many statements are still simply conjecture, it didn't feel that way while reading.

I've read many books in the past where the info was presented with more 'possiblies' and 'probablies' than I knew what to do with. Yet here, while clear that much is still supposition, it's still presented in a very readable way that doesn't leave you wondering at the end why the author even bothered to write it. Very, very well-done, highly recommended. May 04, Will Elliott rated it really liked it Shelves: Sarah Foot does a fantastic job in illuminating the life of one of England's great Anglo-Saxon monarchs. The thematic, rather than chronological, approach is the correct one for a figure lacking in reliable early sources.

Whilst this does mean certain facts are repeated, this for me was not a problem, allowing deeper understanding of the structure of Athelstan's life and the events that shaped it.

Æthelstan: The First King of England | Reviews in History

Other readers have criticised Foot's prose style. In fact, rather than finding it dull as others hav Sarah Foot does a fantastic job in illuminating the life of one of England's great Anglo-Saxon monarchs. In fact, rather than finding it dull as others have, I found it to be straightforward yet deeply engaging. Foot handles very well, as one would expect of such a well-qualified historian, traditional historical narratives, such as military exploits or religious patronage.

However, Foot is also at home in other important and fascinating areas which I have often found other historians to be weaker in, or to neglect totally, such as art historical analysis or numismatics. Overall an excellent book. Foot's narative of Aethelstan is surely a very well researched piece of work. As the author states right at the beginning, this book tries to shine a light on the person of Aethelstan as a whole, not just as warrior, lawgiver or promoter of the church.

This goal is, I'd say, duly achived. So one might ask: Why just a two-star-rating? The answer to this is, that Foot's book constitutes a textbook for students of early English history and is therefore written in a very scientific mannor. This let me Foot's narative of Aethelstan is surely a very well researched piece of work.

This let me, as I normaly read biographies for relaxation and fun, more than once think of putting the book away for good. The other thing I have to say is something that all authors of books on early history might know: For my taste there is a bit too much of what Aethelstan might have done, where he presumably went or what this or that charter of his possibly ment. So there are too few facts and too much speculation for my taste. This was an excellent book on a lesser known Anglo-Saxon king.

The author does a great job bringing Aethelstan to life and I can't help but wonder why he is forgotten where another childless warrior king, Richard I, has been so remembered.

Aethlestan was a much better king to his people, mentor for many younger relatives and a man of noted piety. This biography was very well researched and documented. Apr 03, Robert Hall rated it it was amazing. So far so good. Well researched and written, The author has thus far has used plain language; no unproveable assertions or judgements. Wonderfully written in depth biography of an under appreciated Anglo-Saxon king of England. Fascinating first king of a united England. Sep 14, Angrbrenna rated it liked it Shelves: In modern times all pre-conquest kings tend to be overshadowed by Alfred the Great - and this is something that Foot tries to rectify.

She is successful in uncovering something of a real person from among the various sources that exist, creating an image of a man with interests, passions, love and obsessions. However, she remains careful throughout to provide evidence for everything she says, making the portrait she creates all the more believable. Overall, bias seems minimal and Foot has succeeded in creating a highly learned piece of work. As for her endeavour to writ a biography, Foot is less successful. However, in doing so Foot fails to produce any sort of coherent narrative, which could be considered a defining feature of a biography.

The analysis in each of the chapters is superb, but the Yale English Kings series was meant to provide a baseline of information for each King, and in some ways Foot's work is a more sophisticated piece. Seems exceptionally well researched but still you don't get much of the story of the man or the times. Sep 07, Jason Wilson rated it really liked it. As blade runner has it , the light that burns shortest burns brightest and you have burned so very very brightly Jun 25, Ruth rated it really liked it.

Aug 06, Stacey Lynne rated it liked it Shelves: I've been on a journey to read about each of the English monarchs, and since there aren't too many books on the kings pre-Conquest, and even fewer on Alfred's sons and grandsons, I found myself reading Sarah Foot's book on Aethelstan. I knew it would be scholarly since it's a part of the English Monarch book series, but whew! It's not a particularly long book, it's just very dense with information, much of which occurs in parenthesis, making it tedious and rather un-interesting to read.

I mean, I've been on a journey to read about each of the English monarchs, and since there aren't too many books on the kings pre-Conquest, and even fewer on Alfred's sons and grandsons, I found myself reading Sarah Foot's book on Aethelstan. I mean, half of each page is devoted to the footnotes. There's also a bit of redundancy throughout which makes it read as if each chapter was a stand alone paper of some sort, all of which then came together as a book.

Not a major flaw, just another thing that, for my little brain at least, made it all the more difficult to navigate through. I won't lie, I was overwhelmed.

Where they came from, the implications of his having them, where they ended up, etc. I really don't see how any of this will ever be retained in my aging brain beyond the fact that I now know he was overly? I'm still not sure if he was king of England, or Britain, or the whole of Britain, or mostly Britain. I'm pretty sure this was discussed at length I think my brain just eventually glossed over.

It's certainly well written. Just not for armchair historians looking for more of a relaxing maybe somewhat entertaining biography. This is more along the lines of something you will study earning your Masters or PhD. I think in reality I'm mostly looking for conversational social history about these kings. I realize there's probably not a lot of people requesting books on Aethelstan or Edward the Elder, etc but it does seem there's at least a small window open for someone to fill in some of these historical gaps with books just a tad bit less academic. But kudos to Sarah Foot for writing such a well-researched book on a king essentially erased from mainstream history.

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Aug 02, Ross rated it it was ok. This book is really just 1 star or me, but I give it 2 stars because I did finish the whole thing. It is a well written book, but turned out to be a very bad fit for my interests. The book was recommended to me years ago because I have been reading a long series of historical novels dealing with medieval England in the time of Alfred the Great and his son Edward the Elder. AEthelstan was the eldest son of Edward and succeeded his father to the throne in the year In the most recent book in the This book is really just 1 star or me, but I give it 2 stars because I did finish the whole thing.

In the most recent book in the Saxon Stories Series mentioned above, AEthelstan is a 15 year old boy learning to be a warrior. So I finally had to get this book to learn all about AEthelstan.

After trying for years to get the book from a library with no success, I finally bought the book eagerly expecting to learn just how AEthelstan conquered all of England and Scotland, which his Grandfather and Father had been trying to do unsuccessfully for their entire reigns. To my horror it turns out that the answer is completely unknown. All that is known is from a brief poem that mentions one great battle with no details at all.

It isn't even known where the battle was fought! The author of the this book, a professor at Yale, says there are 40 different candidates for the site of the battle. This book is really just a purely academic exercise by a professor of medieval studies trying to piece together the history of AEthelstan from the few tiny scraps of information that have survived.

So in conclusion of this rant, I do recommend the Saxon Stories Series by Bernard Cornwell, but obviously not his book. Feb 19, Erich rated it really liked it Shelves: This biographical treatment of the life and achievements of King Aethelstan was far more academic than other biographies I have read, and not nearly as approachable as Justin Pollard's work on King Alfred the Great. In all fairness, there is far more historical information regarding Afred than his grandson, thanks to the work of Asser, but the writing style was more narrative than academic.

This criticism in no way diminishes Sarah Foot's efforts here. It's extremely difficult to research early A This biographical treatment of the life and achievements of King Aethelstan was far more academic than other biographies I have read, and not nearly as approachable as Justin Pollard's work on King Alfred the Great. It's extremely difficult to research early Anglo-Saxon kings because for the most part, the only records that survive are sparse charters and logs of monastery visits.

This biography covers King Aethelstan's charters, sometimes in grueling depth, and despite there not being much information about his early life or movements during his reign, manages to weave together a plausible narrative spanning the king's life, culminating with his greatest military achievement, the Battle of Brunanburh, where he defeated a host of Scots and Danes. Despite history's largely having forgotten Aethelstan, Foot convincingly presses the argument that Aethelstan, not Alfred, is truly the first king of a unified England, ruling over Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Northumberland, and Scotland.

Oct 08, Richard Stueber rated it really liked it. Until his time The Anglo-Saxons were divided into as many as seven Kingdoms.

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He ruled from A. Though highly regarded in his time and for a couple centuries thereafter, at present he is not generally regarded as highly as Alfred or even Edward the Elder. Unlike Alfred he left no writings. So his reign is not as well documented as his father and grandfather. For that reason and that he had no descendants he is far more obscure than he should be. Some of his half sisters were very well married in Continental Europe Make no mistake, this is one heck of a biography of Aethelstan. For the casual historical reader it may well be far too arcane--fully half of each page is taken up with information-crammed footnotes from a wealth of obscure but no doubt fascinating source material.

Information on Aethelstan's personal life is scarce, so Foot has filled in the blanks with scholarly exposition on life and customs in 10th Anglo-Saxon England. The book is an historical tour de force, and will probably remain the las Make no mistake, this is one heck of a biography of Aethelstan. The book is an historical tour de force, and will probably remain the last word on Aethelstan for years to come.

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Unfortunately, Foot is not the most riveting prose stylist I've ever read so sometimes the scholarship, obscure and arcane though it is, comes across as The information is worth the slog, however, but if King Aethelstan is not a burning issue for you, be warned. Mar 01, M. First things first, this is a scholarly work of history. It's very readable, but addresses many more questions than just 'what sort of King was Athelstan?