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The First King of England

Sarah Foot

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"Æthelstan was perhaps the most important king of tenth-century England, but we know very little about him, and he has no modern biography. Sarah Foot triumphantly fills this gap, and adds to the richness of our understanding of the period in a way that few others have managed."—Chris Wickham, author of The Inheritance Of Rome

The powerful and innovative King Æthelstan reigned only briefly (924-939), yet his achievements during those eventful fifteen years changed the course of English history. He won spectacular military victories (most notably at Brunanburh), forged unprecedented political connections across Europe, and succeeded in creating the first unified kingdom of the English. To claim for him the title of "first English monarch" is no exaggeration.

In this nuanced portrait of Æthelstan, Sarah Foot offers the first full account of the king ever written. She traces his life through the various spheres in which he lived and worked, beginning with the intimate context of his family, then extending outward to his unusual multiethnic royal court, the Church and his kingdom, the wars he conducted, and finally his death and legacy. Foot describes a sophisticated man who was not only a great military leader but also a worthy king. He governed brilliantly, developed creative ways to project his image as a ruler, and devised strategic marriage treaties and gift exchanges to cement alliances with the leading royal and ducal houses of Europe. Æthelstan's legacy, seen in the new light of this masterful biography, is inextricably connected to the very forging of England and early English identity.

Sarah Foot is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church, Oxford, and a foremost scholar of tenth-century history.

"[An] enthralling work of historical detection. . . . In the pages of this remarkable biography—a work suffused with a rare empathy—Æthelstan emerges as a character of flesh and blood.”—Hywel Williams, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] compelling new biography….Foot manages to construct a remarkably clear vision of this king who deserves to be more widely known.”—David Musgrove, BBC History Magazine (Books of the Year)

“[An] outstanding biography….From a wide range of sources….Foot has pieced together a narrative that speaks of the realities of a vanished world…..Foot has amassed and arranged the evidence for Æthelstan life with great skill and flair….a triumph of historiography that celebrates a life rich in spiritual, intellectual and martial endeavor. Revisionary, thoughtful, beautifully written and exhaustively researched, this biography of Æthelstan is set to become a classic.”—Helen Fulton, Times Higher Education

“[A] definitive and comprehensive study that fully does justice to Æthelstan for the first time.”—Nicholas Orme, Church Times

'Sarah Foot's wide-ranging, detailed and sympathetic account offers many thought-provoking insights into a crucial and formative period in British history. In its pages Æthelstan emerges from the shadows as one of the great English rulers. It will be essential reading for all future explorers in the field.' - Michael Wood, author of In Search of the Dark Ages

"Æthelstan was perhaps the most important king of tenth-century England, but we know very little about him, and he has no modern biography. Sarah Foot triumphantly fills this gap, and adds to the richness of our understanding of the period in a way that few others have managed." - Chris Wickham, author of The Inheritance Of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000

'Sarah Foot's impressive portrait of Æthelstan is very well grounded, and informed at every turn by her command of the available "literary" sources, of the evidence of archaeology and art-history, and of course by her own judgment and imagination. She brings many fresh insights and new perspectives to our understanding of Æthelstan's reign, and shows why he can be hailed as the first king of all the English peoples.' - Simon Keynes, University of Cambridge

'In Æthelstan, Sarah Foot presents most successfully a remarkably vibrant portrait of a king whose visage has been clouded for many of us far too long.' - Patrick Conner

'Sarah Foot's Æthelstan is a major achievement of scholarship which draws back into the light England's most unjustly forgotten king. By examining Æthelstan in the various environments in which he lived and operated rather than through a more traditional chronological framework, Foot creates for the reader a persuasive portrait of a complex man - a pious and intellectual warrior king - who overcame a difficult childhood and disputed succession to become one of tenth-century Europe's most powerful and successful rulers.' - Richard Abels, author of Alfred the Great: War, Culture and Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England

'Here at last is a biography doing full justice to one of the most important, but least remembered, Anglo-Saxon laymen: Sarah Foot comes as close as anyone can to interpreting Æthelstan's enigmatic personality and varied achievements.' - John Blair, author of The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society

“…extraordinary well-researched and very scholarly…this is a particularly welcome volume which will serve as a foundation for further work on the period.”—Northern History

“Very welcome indeed . . . the first book-length treatment of the king . . . a measured and well-written account.”—Charles Insley, Historian
ISBN: 9780300187717
Publication Date: October 30, 2012
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 pp. b/w illus. + 3 maps
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