Æthelstan

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Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey chooses

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King Æthelstan was “a man of culture, a law-maker and a military leader of some substance”, says Ed Davey

When did you first hear about Æthelstan? When I was studying medieval history for my A-levels. Becoming the MP for Kingston upon Thames a couple of decades later deepened my interest in him because he was one of several Anglo-Saxon kings crowned in my constituency. I’m currently ploughing through a big biography of him – it’s not the lightest of bedtime reading!

What kind of man was he? The historical sources for that period of history are limited, but from what we know he was a strong leader, very pious and well-educated. Having Alfred the Great as a grandfather marked him out as quite a special person, although there was a period before Æthelstan was crowned when it wasn’t clear whether he was going to become king. It appears that he never married or had children – why that was so remains a mystery.

What made him a hero? He was a sophisticated person: a man of culture, a law-maker, a military leader of some substance and the first king to try to impose one coinage for all of England. He was seen as almost the English Charlemagne.

What was Æthelstan’s finest hour? First and foremost, being the first monarch who could really be called the king of the English – Rex Anglorum – something that could not be said of either Alfred the Great or Edward the Elder. Secondly, his victory at the battle of Brunanburh (the exact location of which remains unknown) over a Viking-led coalition. But for that triumph, the English nation might not have survived and would almost certainly not have developed culturally into the country we know today. And thirdly, his importance as both a law-maker and a great benefactor of the church.

Do you think he should be better known? Undoubtedly. He should be up there on a list of the greatest kings of England – he arguably did more for his country eco

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