Edward's heir Athelstan (reigned 925-39) was also a distinguished and audacious soldier who pushed the boundaries of the kingdom to their furthest extent yet. In 927-8, Athelstan took York from the Danes; he forced the submission of king Constantine of Scotland and of the northern kings; all five Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute (reportedly including 25,000 oxen), and Athelstan eliminated opposition in Cornwall.

The battle of Brunanburh in 937, in which Athelstan led a force drawn from Britain and defeated an invasion by the king of Scotland in alliance with the Welsh and Danes from Dublin, earned him recognition by lesser kings in Britain.

Athelstan's law codes strengthened royal control over his large kingdom; currency was regulated to control silver's weight and to penalise fraudsters. Buying and selling was mostly confined to the burhs, encouraging town life; areas of settlement in the midlands and Danish towns were consolidated into shires. Overseas, Athelstan built alliances by marrying four of his half-sisters to various rulers in western Europe.

He also had extensive cultural and religious contacts; as an enthusiastic and discriminating collector of works of art and religious relics, he gave away much of his collection to his followers and to churches and bishops in order to retain their support.

Athelstan died at the height of his power and was buried at Malmesbury; a church charter of 934 described him as 'King of the English, elevated by the right hand of the Almighty ... to the Throne of the whole Kingdom of Britain'. Athelstan died childless.

 

Athelstan's position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI