King Æthelstan, the Making of England, and the Battle of Brunanburh
with Michael Wood (Historian, Broadcaster, and Film Maker)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 20th May, 2017

A day with historian Michael Wood on the famous grandson of Alfred the Great, Æthelstan, and his family, in the light of a lifetime of study.  The day will also include his recent work on Æthelstan’s great victory at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, one of the major battles of English history.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                King Ælfred’s Dream of England – Alfred’s decisive victory at Edington in 878 and the cultural rebirth that followed provided the context for the ideas that would lead to the creation of the united kingdom of the English-speaking peoples.  We shall also consider Ælfred’s investiture of young Æthelstan and how his grandson shaped the England of which Ælfred dreamed.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                Æthelflæd, The Lady of the Mercians – Æthelstan’s early years were spent in Mercia with his aunt and foster-mother Æthelflæd.  With the death of his half-brother Ælfweard in 924, Æthelstan was elected as king in Mercia before being accepted in Wessex and crowned king there in 925.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 Æthelstan, King of All Britain – A look at some of the manuscripts, poems, charters, and coins that tell us how Æthelstan created a kingdom.  We shall also consider what these sources reveal of the mind of the king and the high culture of his day, as well as his links with the Carolingian Renaissance in Europe.

14.50 – 15.10:                Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:                The Great Battle of Brunanburh – Reappraising the evidence from texts, coins, and place names, and setting the event in the context of the politics and landscape of Britain in the Viking Age, we shall acquire a new perspective on Æthelstan’s great victory at Brunanburh in 937.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

  1. Sources for the Period
  • Backhouse, J. (ed.), The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art (British Museum, 1984)
  • Garmonsway, G. (ed. & tr.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Dent 1975)
  • Plummer, C. (ed.), Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, 2 vols (Oxford 1892, 1899)
  • Sawyer, P. (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography (London 1968) – now online,
  • Swanton, M. (ed. & tr.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Phoenix 2000)
  • Whitelock, D., (ed.) English Historical Documents Vol. 1, c. 500-1042 (London 1979) – includes some charters and law codes.


  1. Studies on King Æthelstan
  • Foot, Sarah, Æthelstan: The First King of England (Yale 2011) – a recent full length study which had access to Michael’s own research, which is due to be published in his forthcoming book The Lost Life of King Athelstan (see below).
  • Stenton, F.M., Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1943) – includes the classic chapter on Æthelstan by the great narrative historian.
  • Robinson, J.A., The Times of St Dunstan (London 1923)
  • – a pioneering work on the king’s character.
  • Wood, Michael, In Search of the Dark Ages (BBC Books 1981) – contains Michael’s first essay (chapter 6) on Æthelstan.
  • Wood, Michael, “An English Charlemagne?” in Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: studies presented to John Michael Wallace-Hadrill, ed. Patrick Wormald, with Donald Bullough, & Roger Collins (Oxford 1983) – Michael’s second paper on Æthelstan.
  • Wood, Michael, In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past (Viking 1999, Penguin 2000) – includes an essay (chapter 8) on the lost biography of the king (see below, forthcoming).
  • Wood, Michael, “Stand firm against the monsters”, in Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World, ed. Janet Nelson & Patrick Wormald (Cambridge 2007) – on Æthelstan and his intellectual concerns.
  • Wood, Michael, The Lost Life of King Athelstan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)


  1. Studies on the Battle of Brunanburh
  • Campbell, A., The Battle of Brunanburh (London 1938) – the primary study of the text and langauge of the poem on the battle preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  • Downham, Clare, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014 (Dunedin Academic Press 2007) – on the York-Dublin axis of power and the Irish Sea background.
  • Smyth, Alfred, Scandinavian York and Dublin: The history and archaeology of two related Viking kingdoms (Templekieran Press, 1975, Irish Academic Press 1987) – now a rare book, this is a fascinating study.
  • Livingston, Michael (ed.), The Battle of Brunanburh: a Casebook (Liverpool 2011) – the case for Bromborough, Cheshire, as the location of the battle, but its value is limited by a failure to include any Anglo-Saxon historians.
  • Wood, Michael, “Searching for Brunanburh: The Yorkshire Context for the ‘Great War’ of 937”, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 85 (2013), pp. 138-159 – Michael’s detailed and considered response to the case for Bromborough.
  • Wood, Michael, “The Spelling of Brunanburh”, Notes and Queries (Oxford, forthcoming in September 2017) – Michael’s new analysis of the place-name and its potential significance for our understanding of the site of the battle.