in: England and the Continent in the Tenth Century: Studies in Honour of Wilhelm Levison (1876-1947), Brepols: Turnhout, 2011.
According to the tenth-century chronicler Flodoard, Æthelstan, king of Wessex (924–39), was ‘the king from overseas’. In the early twelfth century William of Malmesbury wrote of him:
“This explains why the whole of Europe sang his praises and extolled his merits to the sky;kings of other nations, not without reason, thought themselves fortunate if they could buy his friendship either by family alliances or by gifts”.
Was this a case of William of Malmesbury’s hyperbole? How far did it correspond with the reality of Æthelstan’s reign, the perception of him by his contemporaries, and his own perception of his role in Continental politics? Æthelstan’s Carolingian heritage had its origins in the mid-ninth century. The story of Æthelwulf’s marriage in 856 to Judith, Charles the Bald’s daughter, and its implications, notably in terms of Judith’s anointing and coronation in West Francia prior to her arrival in England, with an English coronation ordo adapted by Hincmar, are familiar. A great deal has been made, justifiably, of the impact of Judith’s charisma on that account, and the way in which the West Saxon kings used this first link with the Carolingian dynasty, especially Æthelwulf’s son Æthelbald, who was so aware of it that, rather than lose it on his father’s death, he married his widowed stepmother himself in the teeth of ecclesiastical opposition.
Judith was anything but just a symbolically important figure: she was given land in England as her dower (which she later relinquished), witnessed charters with Æthelwulf, and sat next to him on the throne.