Charter of King Æthelstan

Description

This charter served as the title-deed for land at Ham, in Wiltshire. It was granted to a nobleman called Wulfgar by King Æthelstan (r. 924–939), who became the first king of the territory we now know as England following the submission of the Northumbrians in 927.

The language used in charters was one way that Æthelstan sought to project the grandeur of the newly established kingdom ‘of the English’, and to express his aspiration to be regarded as ruler of the whole of Britain.

This particular charter was issued from a royal assembly held at Lifton, Devon, on 12 November 931. It shows King Æthelstan in his pomp, in the main text as ‘King of the English’ and in the witness-list at the end as ‘King of Britain’.

Æthelstan is followed in the witness-list by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, by two ‘sub-kings’ from Wales (Hywel Dda and Idwal Foel), and thereafter by the columns of bishops, abbots and noblemen, drawn from all over the extended kingdom, including those parts of eastern and northern England which had been settled by the Danes.

The charter was the work of someone who served probably in the King’s household and who seems to have been responsible for the production of all the king’s documents issued at such assemblies from 927 until 935.

This charter would have been taken away by the beneficiary (Wulfgar), and kept in a safe place; in his will, which was subsequently joined to the bottom of the document, he left the land at Ham with the title-deed (this charter) to the Old Minster, Winchester, where they were preserved until early modern times.

Full title:
Charter of King Æthelstan for Wulfgar, his thegn
Created:
931
Format:
Manuscript
Language:
Old English
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Cotton Ch VIII 16

Full catalogue details

Related articles

How was the kingdom of England formed?

Article by:
Alison Hudson

How did the England we know today come into being? Discover the battles and power struggles that helped to create it.

Related collection items