The Historical Truth Behind Æthelstan

Æthelstan is one of the main characters in the Irish-Canadian TV series ‘Vikings’. Of all of the main characters (i.e. Rollo, Ragnar Lothbrok, or Lagertha), Æthelstan might be the most inaccurately portrayed from the historical point of view. While in the show he is depicted as a monk at the monastery of Lindisfarne when the Norsemen raided it at the end of the 8th century (a turning point considered by most historians as the event which actually triggered the beginning of the Viking Age), the real Æthelstan was the King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and later on the King of the English from 927 to 939.

Æthelstan played by English actor George Blagden in History Channel’s ‘Vikings’. Image source:

Apart from being concerned about the fate of his people, he was also quite a pious figure, being interested in collecting relics or founding monasteries. He was never married and after his death he was succeeded by his half-brother Edmund I.

14th century miniature of King Æthelstan (895-940). He was King of the Anglo-Saxons between 924–927 and then King of the English from 927 to 939. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Unlike the other Norse characters in the TV series, he could have really been a real person. Rollo, Ragnar Lothbrok, Aslaug, or Lagertha are indeed described in a 12th century chronicle entitled ‘Gesta Danorum’ written by the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus, but to this date there isn’t any certainty to as how real where they (that is, except for Count Rollo of Normandy) given the fact that the chronicle itself is regarded by many historians as utterly fictional.

Documentation sources ande external links:

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6 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Æthelstan

  1. I think many people were named Athelstan and that king is not the only one. Nice information about the king himself through.

  2. Crystal says:

    I have read in many articles though that the Vikings did take a monk or priest for some time and he wrote of the Vikings. Since, the average height at the time of most Europeans was around 5’6 must have seen the Vikings as giants as so did the monk say so.

  3. Dave Moseley says:

    The truth is the fictional vikings character Athelstan seems to be more based not on Æthelstan “first king of all England” but on Alcuin “Of York”, he did write letters on dealing with the Viking attack on Lindisfarne in July 793. to Æthelred amongst others including Hygbald “Bishop of Lindisfarne”, Alcuin’s poem on the subject, De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii, which provide the only significant contemporary account of the raid event. Alcuin of York was an English scholar, clergyman, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria born around 735

    • buzz adams says:

      The TV show was a TV show, loosely based on historical events and including many legendary characters. A new book by Neil Price, The Children of Ash and Elm, is a must read if you are interested in the Vikings. It takes you from the inception of the Vikings or at least the events that created their mindset, through their religious beliefs, which were significantly more than Valhala, etc etc. Watching TV series to gain a knowledge of history is a bit risky …lol

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