In Search of the Dark Ages (1981): S02E01 – In Search of Athelstan


In Search of the Dark Ages is a BBC television documentary series, written and presented by historian Michael Wood, first shown between 1979 and 1981.

It comprises eight short films across two series, each focusing on a particular character from the history of England prior to the Norman Conquest, a period popularly known as the Dark Ages. It is also the title of a book written by Wood to support the series, that was first published in 1981.


Wood begins in the Abbey of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where the tomb of Æthelstan – arguably the first “King of the English”, stands. The grandson of Alfred the Great, he reigned over the realms of Wessex, Mercia, and the Danelaw, and later Northumbria. In 927, he swept north, capturing Danish Jórvík, receiving the vassalage of the fortress of Bamburgh, and the submission of British lords at Eamont Bridge, Hereford, and Exeter, becoming the first southern king to achieve lordship over northern Britain. Styling himself as “Emperor”, he shifted focus to church patronage such as St Nectan’s and St Cuthbert’s, reaffirming the River Wye as the Welsh border, alongside city and shire administrative reform. In 939, he overcame his greatest threat at the Battle of Brunanburh, which Wood places at Brinsworth.

In Search of the Dark Ages Series

You can find a full overview and index of In Search of the Dark Ages here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Released Date: 19 March 1981.
  • Running time: 35-45minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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