Athelstan, widely regarded as the first king of the ‘English’ or the first king of England, is one of the main characters in King of Kings. And indeed, the book opens with Athelstan undergoing his coronation. Before his reign, the ruling House of Wessex hadn’t been proclaimed as England’s kings. King Alfred (879-899), Athelstan’s grandfather, was termed the king of the Angles and Saxons (in a charter from 889 known as S346[I]). His son, Edward the Elder, was the king of the Anglo-Saxons, and whether this meant Wessex and Mercia combined has been much debated. But Athelstan was king of the English, (and this certainly included Wessex and Mercia, and parts of the Danelaw that had been reclaimed) and in a departure from earlier custom, was consecrated not with a warrior-helm, but instead with a crown.
Debate still rages as to whether the coronation ordo that has survived was written for Athelstan, his father, or even his nephew (Edgar (959-975), and indeed, whether it included provision for the king’s wife to be consecrated beside him, but for King of Kings, I made use of what is known about the service and reimagined the ceremony for my readers. I hope you enjoy it. Read on for a short extract.
‘This means that only a year after my father’s untimely death, the kingdoms of Mercia, those parts of the East Anglian kingdom that my father lately reclaimed, Wessex and Kent, are reunited again under one ruler. The Saxons, or rather, the English, have just one king. And this is my moment of divine glory, when, before the men and women of the Mercian and Wessex witan, I’ll be proclaimed as king over all.
A prayer is intoned by the archbishop of Canterbury, Athelm, appealing to God to endow me with the qualities of the Old Testament kings: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon. As such, I must be faithful, meek, and full of fortitude and humility while also possessing wisdom. I hope I’ll live up to these lofty expectations.
I’m anointed with the holy oil and then given a thick gold ring with a flashing ruby to prove that I accept my role as protector of the one true faith. A finely balanced sword is placed in my hands, the work of a master blacksmith, with which I’m to defend widows and orphans and through which I can restore things left desolated by my foes, and my foes are the Norse.’
King of Kings is currently available with Prime Reading.