Athelstan (d. 939), King of England (924–39). One of the greatest of Anglo-Saxon kings, Athelstan, son of Edward the Elder, succeeded in uniting all of England under his rule. Early in his reign he consolidated his position south of the Humber. Brought up in the household of his father and of his aunt, Æthelfleda, effective ruler of the Mercians, he was well received by the Mercian as well as by the West Saxon nobility. At a meeting held at Hereford he brought the Welsh to submission, and their princes, notably Hywel Dda, the ablest among them, regularly attended his courts. His military successes were great. From 927 he established direct control of York. He led expeditions against the Scots, culminating in a battle at Brunanburh in 937 when he and his brother and successor, Edmund, led a joint force of West Saxons and Mercians to victory against a composite force of Scandinavians, Irish, and Scots, aiming to overthrow his domination in the north. No fewer than five kings and seven earls from Ireland and the son of the Scottish king were killed in the battle. Athelstan established a firm internal peace, issuing important codes of law, calculated to apply to all his subjects, and also confirming local peace agreements. His central courts developed into virtual national assemblies, attended by magnates drawn from all England, as well as Welsh princes. On the international scale he extended the range of the monarchy, arranging marriages for his sisters with Hugh, duke of the Franks, and with the future Otto the Great of Germany. He protected in exile Louis IV (d'Outremer), king of France (936–54), and brought up at his court a future king of Norway in the person of Haakon Haraldsson, known as Athelstan's fosterchild. His charters, written in a very elaborate Latin style, betray an advanced secretariat for the age, and accord the king formal titles that indicate effort to express his special dignity. His coinage was placed under strong royal control, and after 927 his style on coins was normally given as rex totius Britanniae, king of all Britain. Not all his work proved immediately enduring. After his death, the English hold on the north weakened and Scandinavian princes returned to York. Athelstan's reign, nevertheless, marks a vital stage in the move towards the unification of England under the West Saxon dynasty.
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