(died after 957), commonly called Æthelstan Half-King
, was Ealdorman
of East Anglia
and the leading member of a very prominent Anglo-Saxon
family. Æthelstan became a monk at Glastonbury Abbey
Origins and career
Æthelstan was the son of Ealdorman Æthelfrith or Æthelferth
901×904–915), who held lands in Somerset
, and Middlesex
. His mother was Æthelgyth, daughter of Æthelwulf. His brothers Ælfstan, Æthelwald, and Eadric, were Ealdormen of Mercia
, of Kent
, and of Wessex
The rise of Æthelstan's family begins in the reign of King Edward the Elder, when Æthelfrith, whose family background is presumed to lie in Wessex, was appointed an Ealdorman in southern Mercia. Mercia was then ruled by Edward's sister Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred. Æthelstan himself was appointed by King Æthelstan as Ealdorman of East Anglia and other lands which had formed part of the eastern part of the Danelaw, in the early 930s. His brother Ælfstan became Ealdorman of parts of Mercia at about the same time, while Eadric and Æthelwald were witnessing charters as Ealdormen by 940.
Æthelstan and his family were supporters of the monastic reforms of Saint Dunstan which introduced the Benedictine rule to Glastonbury. Both Glastonbury, and Abingdon Abbey, were endowed by Æthelstan.
Æthelstan's wife was named Ælfwynn. Her family came from the east Midlands. She was foster-mother of King Edgar of England. Ælfwynn's lands would later endow Ramsey Abbey, refounded by Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester, Bishop Oswald of Worcester, and Æthelstan's son Æthelwine. Byrhtferth of Ramsey, author of a Life of Saint Oswald in the early 11th century, devoted considerable space to Æthelstan's family, several of whom were buried at Ramsey. The epithet Half-King comes from Byrhtferth's writings. Several members of the family were buried, or reburied, at Ramsey.
The position of Æthelstan and his brothers in the middle of the 10th century has been compared with the similar dominance of the family of Godwin, Earl of Wessex in the 11th. It is possible that Æthelstan's withdrawal to Glastonbury may not have been a voluntary one. However, the death of Æthelwald in 962 resulted in the family's offices in Wessex passing to their chief rivals, the family of Ealdorman Ælfhere. The result of this was that the two families were roughly equal in influence. Ælfhere's death in the early 970s did not result in a return of the old dominance of Æthelstan's family.
The children of Æthelstan included:
- Æthelwald (died c. 962), Ealdorman of Essex, then of East Anglia after his father became a monk. Queen Ælfthryth, daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar, who was later the third wife of King Edgar, was first married to Æthelwald.
- Ælfwald, called dux in charters.
- Æthelwig, Ealdorman.
- Æthelsige (died after 986).
- Æthelwine (died 992), Ealdorman of East Anglia after Æthelwald, youngest son of Æthelstan. Chief Ealdorman from 983.
Other people associated with Æthelstan's family include Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, whose defeat at the Battle of Maldon is commemorated in verse.
- Æthelstan 26 (Male) Half-King; dux, fl. 932-956. Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved on 2007-10-29..
- Henson, Donald, A Guide to Late Anglo-Saxon England: From Ælfred to Eadgar II. Anglo-Saxon Books, 1998. ISBN 1-898281-21-1
- Higham, Nick, The Death of Anglo-Saxon England. Sutton, 1997. ISBN 0-7509-2469-1
- Miller, Sean, "Æthelstan Half-King" in Michael Lapidge et al., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Blackwell, 1999. ISBN 0-631-22492-0
- Stenton, Frank, Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford UP, 3rd edition, 1971. ISBN 0-19-280139-2
- William of Malmesbury, The Kings before the Norman Conquest, trans. Joseph Stevenson. Reprinted Llanerch, 1989. ISBN 0-947992-32-4
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