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The British History Podcast

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The British History Podcast discusses the human drama that changed a small island into a towering empire. The podcast is organized chronologically from Britain's early beginnings to present day.

The British History Podcast discusses the human drama that changed a small island into a towering empire. The podcast is organized chronologically from Britain's early beginnings to present day.
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The British History Podcast discusses the human drama that changed a small island into a towering empire. The podcast is organized chronologically from Britain's early beginnings to present day.




296 – Darkening Skies

It begins in France. The struggle for power between King Louis IV and Hugh the Great had been raging for quite some time… When we last visited the continent, , Hugh the Great, King Otto of Germany, Duke William of Normandy, Count Herbert II, and various other supporting characters were allied against King Louis IV, the Archbishop of Rheims, and Count Arnulf of Flanders. In response, King AEthelstan tried to intervene by sending a fleet to support the embattled king… Suddenly King...


295 – The Return of England

You know the pieces on a chessboard? There’s the knight, and the queen, and the castle….and then there’s the bishop. There’s a reason why a game that simulates medieval power strategy has a piece called the bishop. Bishops had power. And it was a power that didn’t flow from the monarchy. And in britain, it wasn’t a power that necessarily had to be aligned with the monarchy either. We’re going to see this over and over again on the island - if you were trying to rule Britain, holy men were...


294 – It All Comes Crashing Down

The story of the last few episodes is a story about a lesson that humanity has had to re-learn again and again throughout history. When your society is ordered around a single figure it’s likely to descend into chaos the minute that figure goes away. And finding a new balance in the midst of sudden cascading failures is a difficult task that many peoples in history have failed to do. Support the Show


293 – The Beacons are Lit

When we left off, AEthelstan had recently died, Olaf had returned from Dublin and been crowned King of Jorvik (which meant that the Kingdom of Jorvik was back). The English Fyrd was still recovering from the bloodbath at Brunanburh. And the English Navy were currently sailing up and down the French Coast shouting “Liberte, Fraternite, Piracy” And for the new 18 year old King Edmund, the political problems were only the tip of the iceberg. There were also the personal struggles. The...


292 – King in the North

How we understand any event comes down to what angle we are able to view it from. And the story of AEthelstan is no exception. On the one hand, it is easy to see AEthelstan as one of the greatest kings in English history, one to place on our shelf of real-life legends along with his grandfather. And for good reason… much like Alfred, AEthelstan wasn’t content to just hold his throne and maintain the status quo. He strived to restructure the very foundations of his kingdom. Support the Show


291 – Pandemonium

When King Edward died, the plan was that his second son would take the throne. By all indications, neither Edward nor the power structures within Wessex, wanted AEthelstan. The young AEtheling had been discarded and sent to be raised in Mercia far from the halls of power. The throne of Wessex wasn’t for him. It was for AEthelstan’s younger half brother, AElfweard. But he died soon after Edward (under questionable circumstances) and so the path opened up for AEthelstan. Support the Show


290 – This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land

Brunanburh had been a titanic struggle. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle speaks of how the fighting lasted from morning to night, until “the field grew dark with the blood of men.” Blood spilled from warriors of no less than four separate kingdoms. The scribes speak of how the ground was littered with men impaled upon spears. This was human devastation on a scale that hadn’t been on the island in living memory. And now the Scots, Northmen, and Strathclyde Britons were fleeing the field… but this...


289 – Brunanburh

You can’t just go to war. I mean… I guess you can. But it’s not a good idea. War takes work. It takes planning. It takes preparation. War, to put it simply, is a pain in the ass. You really have to want it. And the workload only increases with the number of people involved. You would think that bringing the biggest army would make the task easier… and I’m sure it does make certain things easier, like flanking, reinforcements, enveloping, and that sort of thing. Support the Show


288 – Extracurricular Activities

I wonder if King Rudolph of France resented his crown. I mean, seeking the crown probably seemed like a good idea at the time but the whole thing had been turning out to be an enormous headache. And it all started when Rudolph’s father in law (Robert) rebelled against King Charles and drove him into Lorraine. Pretty soon thereafter, Robert got himself crowned as King of the Franks. And that’s not too bad… a father in law who was King of the Franks? Sounds great. The trouble, though, was...



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287 – The Conquest of Scotland

For the last six years, AEthelstan had been ruling in a manner that hasn’t been seen in Britain for generations. Beyond being a warlord, or even a King… AEthelstan was acting more like an Emperor. All of the Anglo Saxon territories were annexed into his new Kingdom of England, the Kings of Wales were now mere members of his Court, and he was receiving tributes and gifts from Scotland, Norway, and Frankia. And the next generation of monarchs were living in his Court. [/s2If] Support the Show


286 – Noble Pursuits

After generations of devastating war, England has found itself at peace. Which leaves a question we haven’t had to ask in a while. What did the Anglo Saxons actually do during peacetime? For the regular freemen (which was the vast majority of the population), this is a fairly straightforward question with a straightforward answer. Peace meant that their obligations to the fyrd suddenly lessened which gave them more time to take care of matters at home. So you might imagine that they were...


285 – Full Court Press

The Era of AEthelstan is one of contradictions. His behavior, his policies, his wars… pretty much everything that is happening during this period seems to have an element of duality. This man was discussed by scholars of his time in terms of his piety and his generosity both with the church and also with his subjects. And there is plenty of real evidence that AEthelstan was a kind king and role model to those around him, and that he took his role as a ruler seriously and with care. But...


284 – AEthelstan the Victorious

Last week, we ended with King AEthelstan’s aggression towards Kingdoms of Wales and Cornwall. We don’t know precisely what occurred, or why AEthelstan demanded crippling tributes from the Welsh and then violently expelled or executed the Cornish of Exeter. Support the Show


283 – The Kingdoms of the Foreigners

Imagine that you went from being a disfavored bastard with little power, to the most powerful English king that had ever existed, in the space of just a few years. Support the Show


282 – How To Win Friends and Influence Jorvik

AEthelstan had completed his annexation of Jorvik, and in doing so he had outperformed every last one of his predecessors, including his grandfather, Alfred the Great. But there were a few loose ends that he still needed to knot up. And as he watched the defenses of Jorvik burn and dolled out Jorvik’s wealth to his loyal men - two of those loose ends, namely his former rivals Guthfrith and Turfrid, slunk away with little more than their lives. Support the Show


281 – England

The last couple of episodes have focused on the political tools that AEthelstan had at his disposal. Marriage alliances, fostering, dynastic cults and diplomatic entreaties were all powerful pieces moving on a huge dark age chess board. And the thing I want you to realize about these things is first, that they took time. A strategic mind - a mind like AEthelstan’s - would see the long game and set his moves accordingly knowing they wouldn’t fully materialize for years to come. The second is...


280 – King AEthelstan’s Love Life

What is a King’s most important duty? Is it the defense of the realm? Or perhaps the growth of the kingdom’s borders? What about developing the economy? Fostering strong diplomatic alliances? Shepherding the souls of his subjects to Christ? How about just keeping his subjects happy and healthy? When it comes down to it, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with the crown, so it’s a bit daunting to choose one as most important. But if I had to pick… and I suppose I do, since I was...


279 – Dynastic Cults

Want to know something strange? When Edward died, the Irish annals said nothing. Not a mention about his death, nor the circumstances of it. And it’s not like the Irish Annals were disinterested with what was happening in the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. After all, they’re the source for our story about AEthelflaed’s defense of Chester. They were so interested that they told us about the bees. And it’s not like the Irish annals didn’t bother to record deaths of Anglo Saxon figures. For example,...


278 – The Thunderbolt

There’s a dirty secret to history podcasts, and it only becomes clear when you actually start one. The truth is that many people will SAY that they want to learn something new, and hear new stories and hear new facts. But every time, without fail, the most popular episodes - and the most popular history shows - are about stories and figures that people already know. Now, this isn’t because the people who say they want to hear something new are lying. It’s just because they’ve forgotten what...