King Edward is dead. He has died in battle. All hell broke lose. Or is it loose – I can never remember!
But let’s rewind a bit. We left our intrepid hero Athelstan in the loving care of his aunt, Eathelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. She was teaching him Latin, English and how to carve up Vikings with a broad sword. She was the Gina Ford of her time.
Eathelflaed died in 918AD and immediately King Edward marched in to Tamworth Burgh (Castle) to reinforce his claim to Mercia. The Mercians didn’t exactly welcome Edward with open arms. Eathelflaed had a daughter who attempted to assert her authority – she mysteriously disappeared not long after her mother’s death.
King Edward continued his campaign to take the Danelaw, the land occupied by the Vikings, piece by piece. Athelstan fought in these campaigns alongside his Father as did his step brothers, sons of the Bitch Queen and Edwards second wife, the eldest of whom is called Aelfweard.
Are you keeping up? It’s about to get even more ridiculous.
By 924AD Great Britain looked like this (Edward rules the bits with a crown).
Fig 1 – Enormous map of Britain badly drawn by woman who should really stick to writing!
Although Mercia and Wessex were supposed to be one, in reality they didn’t feel that way. The Mercians thought the Wessexians were southern puffs and the Wessexians thought the Mercians were northern scum. I’ve just invented the word Wessexians – apologies if this is an insult to every south of the Watford Gap.
This feeling of them and us led to the Mercians revolting in 924AD. King Edward tried to quash the rebellion and was killed. Apparently Athelstan was there, with the army when it happened. Who knows what side Athelstan was fighting on but as soon as Edward met his demise he made his move to secure the throne.
The Mercians proclaimed Athelstan not just as their lord but as their King. Athelstan is the first born of the now dead King – he should have the throne.
Meanwhile in Essex Aelfweard, Edwards eldest son to the bitch Queen (Athelstans step mother, Edwards second wife) starts to make his claim to the throne. Athelstan’s mother was only a lady – his mother was a Queen when he was born. That makes him the rightful heir.
Aelfweard is in the court in Wessex making waves.
Athelstan is in the north of the Kingdom with a bloody great big army!
The Mercians get behind their boy Athelstan, the Wessexians behind their boy Aelfweard and we’re all set for some big old political slanging matches that would make the cast of dynasty look like Andrex Puppies when Aelfweard meets an untimely end. Some reports suggest it was as little as 2 weeks after the death of his father.
Whatever the cause or the timeline, it cleared the path of sibling rivalry for Athelstan to take the throne. However in Saxon times it wasn’t enough to have the genetics; you also had to have the court onside. It was almost an election. You also had to be one hell of a warrior – after all your main job was going to be kicking out the Vikings.
It was a year after Edwards death before Athelstan was fully accepted and proclaimed King of the Anglo Saxons. It is believed that he struck a deal. He agreed that he would neither marry nor produce any heirs. When he died the throne would pass on to his step brothers who at that point were too young to take it and defend the realm. He was almost a caretaker.
This 30 year old man agreed he would never marry. He was tall, blond, good looking, fought like a bear, fit as anything and was heir to entire Kingdom. How did he get this far without marrying? This is the question that historians everywhere would love to know the answer too. Until time travel is invented in the 24th century we can only speculate. There are three theories.
1. The experts theory
Athelstan was an incredibly pious man and felt that he was on a mission from god to unite England. His Grandfather had seen saints in visions who had told him this. In these times there was no question that god was real and you did what you needed to do to please him. When people wanted something from Athelstan (normally some asses kicking) they would give him holy relics as that floated his boat in the same way Jimmy Choo floats Victoria Beckham’s! His love of god, his need to fulfill this mission and stay on track would have been enough to keep him from all female temptation.
2. Hannah from KINGSTON museum’s theory
He was actually in love with god in the same way that two people can be in love before they get married and have kids. For Athelstan god was an ever present being who walked by his side (until the end but we’ve a couple more blogs to get through first!)
3. My theory
He was gay. Tall, good looking, amazing at everything and single. It doesn’t happen!
Regardless of why he gave up the ladies the deal was agreed and Athelstan chose to hold his coronation on the 4th September 925AD in Kingston’s ancient market place. It is believed he chose Kingston because it stood on the border of Mercia and Wessex which made it neutral territory. Also at the time the river at Kingston was shallow enough for horses to walk across it making it a practical place to have a party. I moved here for the same reasons!
Tradition says a great big wooden platform was built so that the crowds could see and the most important bishops of the time performed the ceremony. He had a new order of service drawn up for his coronation which forms the basis of the service that is still used today. A golden crown was placed upon his head which made Athelstan the first King in this country to wear a crown.
After the service he went into Kingston church which stood on the present site of All Saints church (the big one opposite John Lewis). There he said prayers and, as an act of mercy, he freed a slave.
Then he had a huge party with feasting, drinking and musical statues.
When Athelstan took the throne he was 30 years old. It was an extraordinary achievement. When I was 30 I was a penniless actor. I had done a lot of feasting, drinking and musical statues however so we’re clearly not all that different.
But what of the coronation stone. I’ve not mentioned it. It’s a controversial subject so it gets a whole post of it’s own – see Part 2B – THE SEVEN KINGS AND THE CORONATION STONE.