Malmesbury - History
Athelstan, born in 895, was the favourite grandson of Alfred and was elected to succeed him upon his death, although it required him to ‘remove’ two opponents also in competition for the throne. He was the first king to be crowned on the Kings Stone at Kingston-on-Thames, the first to be knighted by a king, the first to be anointed at a coronation and, perhaps most significantly, the first king of all ‘Britain’. He was also the first king in England to introduce a common currency; silver coins were imprinted with his head.
He proved to be a very effective king and lawmaker, with great swathes of important individuals paying tribute and fealty to him. He was well aware that laws should be made specific for certain areas and introduced ‘shrievalty’, which appointed shire reeves (or ‘sheriffs’) to act as important officials overseeing the shire or county. He also managed to increase his powerbase further when he married his sisters to influential men from the European continent. The huge dowries from these marriages often contained precious jewels and sacred relics, a number of which were housed in Malmesbury Abbey, apparently including a thorn from Jesus’ crown, a piece of the ‘true Cross’ and the sword (or lance) of Charlemagne, which was said to have pierced Jesus’ side during his Crucifixion. These relics undoubtedly brought significant trade and prosperity to Malmesbury in this period.
Athelstan showed real affection for Malmesbury, especially towards its people who had helped him in battles on multiple occasions. As a result, in 937 he started the ancient institution of the ‘Commoners of Kings Heath’ or the ‘Old Corporation’. Through this he gave those that had helped him in battle land from Kings Heath (or Malmesbury Common), which totalled almost 600 acres, which continues to be passed down through the descendents of these freemen to this day.
Upon his death in 940, Athelstan was buried in Malmesbury Abbey after a great ceremony. His remains have since been moved and the actual burial place is unknown, but a 14th century tomb erected in his memory can still be seen in the Abbey today.
Bowen, John. (Edited By Allnatt, Graham), A Story of Malmesbury (Hackman Print, Rhondda: 2000).
Hodge, Dr. Bernulf., A History of Malmesbury (5th Edition; The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, Minety: 1990).
Luce, Major-General Sir Richard H., The History of the Abbey and Town of Malmesbury (The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, Minety: 1979).