Who was King Athelstan?


AthelstanThis Order is a tribute to the Spirit of King Athelstan. Athelstan was the first king of all of the English and grandson of Alfred the Great. He reigned between 925 and 939 and was a distinguished and courageous soldier who pushed the boundaries of the kingdom further than anyone had done before.

In the year 926 A.D., the legendary Grand Assembly at York, was said to have been held by King Athelstan's half brother Prince Edwin, wherein the great traditions of symbolic and operative masonry were constituted, revived, or organized, and a new code of laws for the governing of the Craft instituted.

In 927, he took York from the Danes and forced the submission of King Constantine of Scotland and of the northern kings. All five of the Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute to him, and he eliminated opposition in Cornwall. In 937, at the battle of Brunanburh, Athelstan led a force drawn from Britain and defeated the king of Scotland in alliance with the Welsh and Danes from Dublin.

Under Athelstan, 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 largely confined to the burghs, encouraging town life. Areas of settlement in the Midlands and Danish towns were consolidated into shires.

Overseas, Athelstan built alliances by marrying off four of his half-sisters to various rulers in Western Europe. He was also a great collector of artworks and religious relics, which he gave away too many of his followers, and to churches in order to gain the support of the clergy.

Athelstan's tombAthelstan's tomb at Malmesbury AbbeyAthelstan died in 939 at the height of his power, and was buried in Malmesbury Abbey. He had been an ardent supporter and endower of the Abbey, and it is fitting that he should be buried there, although in subsequent years the body was removed and only a 14th century tomb remains.

Sir Frank Stenton, whilst referring to letter of gratitude from the 'great and the good' sent to Athelstan in respect of his Law making decrees, writes in the Oxford History of England:

‘But the most significant of these unofficial texts is a memorandum recording the measures taken for the execution of the Kings decrees by a body described as a ‘peace-gild’, of which the leading members were Bishops and reeves belonging to London.’

He continues ‘The ordinary members of the gild were the countrymen of a region which certainly included all Middlesex and may also comprise of Surrey and parts of Hertfordshire. Like later associations of the same kind, this early gild made provision for the spiritual benefit of its members.'

He continues further:

‘Its members were divided into groups of ten, one of whom acted as headman of his company. The groups of ten were combined into groups of one hundred over each of which a separate headman presided. He with the headmen of the groups of ten formed a standing committee. They met once a month, accounted for the money they gave to the common stock, saw that the gild statutes were adhered to and held a gild-fest.'

Athelstan was known to be a great supporter of the Craft known as masonry and this is well documented in the Regius Manuscript (or Halliwell manuscript) of 1390, the Cooke MS of 1450 and the Lansdowne Manuscript, dated 1590 to name but a few.