Philip Parker

Uneasy Lies the Head…

Athelstan: The Making of England

By

Allen Lane 116pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Æthelred the Unready

By

Yale University Press 369pp £30 order from our bookshop

Anglo-Saxon kings suffer from an image problem, or to be more precise they suffer from the problem that the information relating to their lives is so tenuous, the sources so intractable, that for many of them all that is left in the popular historical imagination is a single image: Alfred burned the cakes; Harold died from an arrow shot to his eye; Athelstan was the first to be ‘king of all Britain’; and Æthelred was ‘Unready’, a pitiable failure of a king (never mind that his posthumously acquired nickname means ‘ill-counselled’ rather than unprepared). It is heartening, therefore, that two Anglo-Saxon royal biographies have come along at the same time, each trying, in rather different ways, to shed light on two men behind the bare-bones accounts of chronicles and charters.

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