Programme in the form of "a historical detective story" (Radio Times) in which Michael Wood attempts to trace the story of the founder of the first British Empire, King Athelstan, who reigned between AD 925 and 939. Written by Michael Wood.
Athelstan (c. 895 - 939 AD)
Athelstan was the first king of all England, and Alfred the Great's grandson. He reigned between 925 and 939 AD. A distinguished and courageous soldier, he pushed the boundaries of the kingdom to the furthest extent they had yet reached. In 927 AD he took York from the Danes, and forced the submission of Constantine, King of Scotland and of the northern kings. All five of the Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute. He also eliminated opposition in Cornwall. In 937 AD, at the Battle of Brunanburh, Athelstan led a force drawn from Britain, and defeated an invasion made by the king of Scotland, in alliance with the Welsh and Danes, from Dublin.
Under Athelstan, law codes strengthened royal control over his large kingdom; currency was regulated to control silver's weight and to penalise fraudsters; buying and selling was largely confined to the burhs, encouraging town life; and areas of settlement in the Midlands and Danish towns were consolidated into shires. Overseas, Athelstan built alliances by marrying off four of his half sisters to various rulers in western Europe. He was also a great collector of works of art and religious relics, which he gave away to many of his followers and churches in order to gain their support. He died in 939 AD at the height of his powers, and was buried in Malmesbury Abbey. This was a fit burial place for him, as he had been an ardent supporter and endower of the abbey.