Athelstan, the first who called himself king of the English, born about 895, died at Gloucester, Oct. 25, 941. He was a grandson of Alfred the Great, and illegitimate son of Edward the Elder; but as the only legitimate son of Edward who was of age died a few days after the death of his father, Athelstan was preferred by the witenagemote to his legitimate brothers, who were under age, and he was crowned king of the Anglo-Saxons at Kingston on the Thames in 925. He annexed the territory of Cornwall and Devon, and exacted tribute from Howel Dda, pendragon of Wales. When Sigtric, king of Northumbria, died, Athelstan seized upon his territory also. Au-laf, the son of Sigtric, obtained the assistance of the Danes and Norwegians, and was aided also by the Irish, Scots, and Welsh, who saw with dislike the increase of the power of the South Saxon king; but Athelstan signally defeated the allies at Brunenburg or Brunsbury in Northumbria. After this event Athelstan enjoyed great consideration on the continent of Europe. His sisters were given in marriage to the king of France, the emperor of Germany, and a Norse king.

He was succeeded by his brother Edmund. Athelstan added much to the code left by Alfred. One of his decrees was, that any merchant who made three voyages on his own account beyond the British channel, or narrow seas, should be entitled to the privileges of a thane. He favored learning, built monasteries, collected books, and encouraged the translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular. Two of his books are believed to be extant among the Cottonian manuscripts in the British museum.