Medieval History Term of the Week: Atheling


Aetheling, also spelt Ætheling, Atheling or Etheling, was an Old English term (æþeling) used in Anglo-Saxon England to designate princes of the royal dynasty who were eligible for the kingship.

Aetheling is an Old English and Old Saxon compound of aethele, æþele or (a)ethel, meaning “noble family”, and -ing, which means “belonging to.”[1] It is etymologically related to the modern German words Adel, “nobility”, and adelig or adlig, “noble”, and also to the modern swedish word “ättling” (“descendant”.) It was usually rendered in Latin as clito.

From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

A.D. 1057. This year came Edward Etheling, son of King Edmund, to this land, and soon after died. His body is buried within St. Paul’s minster at London. He was brother’s son to King Edward. King Edmund was called Ironside for his valour. This etheling King Knute had sent into Hungary, to betray him; but he there grew in favour with good men, as God granted him, and it well became him;

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4 thoughts on “Medieval History Term of the Week: Atheling”

  1. This world is close in sound to Althing, the Icelandic assembly -I will have to see if there is any relation there

  2. I liearned “aetheling” very quickly once I stared doing research on the AS period, both early and late. I learned a lot of interesting AS stuff. And yes, it’s related to German “adel”, which is how the name Adolf was derived originally. That means “noble wolf”. The Germans don’t name their kids Adolf much any more, thanks to the activities of a certain Adolf in the middle of the 20th century, but there you are.
    Anne G

  3. Also, athelings eligible for kingship could include brothers of the current king. The term was not always restricted to sons.

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