This is the oldest surviving portrait of the first true King of England who is related to the current British royals

Anita Durairaj
King Athelstan presenting a book to a saintPublic Domain Image

King Athelstan (reigned from 927 - 939) is considered to be the first true King of England by modern historians. While the first sovereign of Britain was Egbert, it was Athelstan who was considered to be the King of all of England.

Athelstan's father was Edward the Elder and his grandfather was Alfred the Great. Although Alfred the Great may be the more popular ruler in British history, Athelstan was the first West Saxon king to rule England and is also considered to be one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings by some historians.

When his father, Edward the Elder, died in 924, Athelstan was crowned King of Wessex and Mercia. Wessex and Mercia were both Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at the time. He also conquered the Viking kingdom of York and effectively became King of all of England. In 934, he invaded Scotland. Athelstan was firm on establishing boundaries for his kingdom.

Athelstan was a pious king who collected relics and founded churches. He was a Christian who ruled sternly and did not tolerate theft or corruption. He created the most centralized government that England had ever seen at the time.

Athelstan was especially devoted to Saint Cuthbert. The earliest surviving portrait of an English king is one showing Athelstan presenting a book to St. Cuthbert. The portrait can be found in a manuscript called Bede's Life of Saint Cuthbert which is also the oldest surviving manuscript made for an English king.

Athelstan died in 939 and was succeeded by his half-brother, Edmund I.

Athelstan is related to the current British Royal Family. According to the History channel, he would be the 30th great-grand-uncle to Queen Elizabeth II.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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