Archaeological excavations and written evidence indicate that at the time of Alfred the island was linked by a causeway to East Lyng, with either end protected by a semi-circular stockade and ditch. The ditch on the island is now known to date from the Iron Age. It is therefore presumed that the Isle was known by Alfred to have been an ancient fort, and that its existing defences were strengthened by him. Evidence of metalworking on the site suggests that he also used the island to equip his army. When translated from the Anglo-Saxon, the name of the isle, Æthelinga íeg, is often thought to mean the Island of Princes; if correct this might suggest that the island had royal connections prior to Alfred.
To give thanks for his victory, Alfred founded a monastery, Athelney Abbey, on the Isle in 888, which lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII of England in 1539, when the value of the rubble was put at £80.
After Athelney Abbey was dissolved the monks then built the church in the neighbouring village of East Lyng.
There are no remains of the monastery above ground, but excavations were carried out as part of the 1st and 100th Time Team television archaeology programmes.
The monastery's location was marked by a small monument on top of the isle in 1801 built by Sir John Slade, 1st Baronet of the Slade Baronets, on the site of a stone vault. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (Somerset County No 367) and grade II listed building. The monument is now on private land belonging to Athelney Farm, and although visible from a layby off the A361, is not accessible to the public.
The Athelney cartulary, documenting the 9th-century foundation of a monastery on the Somerset island by Alfred the Great, has been discovered on a dusty shelf at Petworth House in West Sussex.(Brief Article)
Oct 01, 2001; The Athelney cartulary, documenting the 9th-century foundation of a monastery on the Somerset island by Alfred the Great,...