King of Wessex and first king of England (r. 924-939)

Æthelstan or Athelstan (c. 894 – 27 October 939) was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to his death in 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife, Ecgwynn. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England and one of the "greatest Anglo-Saxon kings".

My wish it is that you should always provide the destitute with food.


  • My wish it is that you should always provide the destitute with food.
    • Ordinance Relating to Charities, quoted in Tom Holland, Athelstan: The Making of England (2016), p. 71

Quotes about Æthelstan

  • It was through a sound historical instinct that Ælfric, the greatest of late Old English scholars, writing when civilization was again threatened by foreign invaders, placed Athelstan among the three English kings whose histories might encourage a harassed people. Between Alfred who fought with the Danes until he gained the victory and freed his people, and Edgar, whose enemies sought peace from him without a battle, he sets Athelstan, "who fought with Olaf, destroyed his army, drove him into flight, and then reigned peacefully".
  • Athelstan's charters are the most important memorial of his government... [T]he king himself was inclined to leniency. In what seems to be the last of his laws, he exempts all persons under fifteen from the death penalty "because he thought it too cruel to kill so many young people and for such small crimes as he understood to be the case everywhere". It is this suggestion of a humane mind in revolt against the grimmer aspects of government which raises Athelstan's laws above the commonplace.
  • In spite of the unsatisfactory materials for his history, Athelstan is one of the few Anglo-Saxon kings of whose personality a faint impression can be formed. It is known that he was of no more than average height, and that his hair was flaxen, with intermingled golden threads. The record of his movements is hardly needed to show that he possessed the physical energy without which no early king could govern well. More remarkable is the mixture of devotion and intellectual curiosity which made him a collector of relics on a scale approached by no other English king. The devotion appears again in his gifts of books to churches for the recompense of their prayers, and the curiosity found another vent in the entertainment of foreign scholars at his court and in the intercourse which he maintained with foreign monasteries. More unusual, or at least more rarely recorded than any of these qualities, is the touch of humanity shown in the pardon which he granted to criminals willing to make amends, and in his revulsion against the execution of young offenders. In character and cast of mind he is the one West Saxon king who will bear comparison with Alfred.
  • It was a common saying of the Anglo-Saxons of Athelstan, that no one more legally or more learnedly conducted a government. It is not at all surprising, that he was a favourite both among his own people and in Europe. He was certainly a great and illustrious character. He appears to have been as amiable as great. To the clergy he was attentive and mild; to his people affable and pleasant. With the great he was dignified; with others he laid aside his state, and was condescending and decently familiar. His stature was almost the middle size; his hair yellowish, twisted with golden threads. His people loved him for his bravery and humility; but his enemies felt his wrath.
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