23rd March 2024

Month-long speaker programme marking King Athelstan’s 1100th anniversary launches

King Athelstan’s 1100th anniversary launches with a talk posing the question of why the first King of England choose Malmesbury for his burial place.

Historian Tony McAleavy will try to answer the question ‘Why is the first King of England buried in Malmesbury?’ in the first of what promises to be a fascinating speakers’ programme. The programme marks 1100 years since Athelstan became king.

King Athelstan’s 1100th anniversary launches - Historian Tony McAleavy
King Athelstan’s 1100th anniversary launches – Historian Tony McAleavy

Malmesbury celebrates

The town of Malmesbury will be celebrating the Athelstan 1100 throughout 2024 with a large number of events. They’ll begin in earnest on Saturday June 29 when the speaker line up begins with Tony asking that key question.

In his talk, Tony will explore the links between Athelstan and Malmesbury. And the reasons why Athelstan chose Malmesbury Abbey, rather than Winchester Cathedral, as his last resting place.

It was in 924 AD that Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, became King of Mercia and Wessex. That formed the first steps on his journey to becoming the first King of England. 

A 1100 anniversary

This year marks the 1100th anniversary. A team of community organisations have been working together to create a series of events to celebrate. These include:

  • The Athelstan Museum
  • Malmesbury Town Council
  • Malmesbury Town Team
  • The Warden and Freemen of Malmesbury – who trace their origins to Athelstan)
  • Malmesbury History Society
  • Wessex Week
  • Malmesbury Abbey
  • The Athelstan Players, local schools, businesses and individuals.

‘With 2024 marking 1100 years since Athelstan became king, it’s a great opportunity to look at the life and history of the man regarded as the first King of England,’ said Tony.

‘It’s a pleasure and a privilege to play a part in the speaker programme. And also the many events that are being planned in Malmesbury to mark this important date in our nation’s history.’

Drawing on decades of intensive research, Tony will consider the religious, military and political significance of Malmesbury to Athelstan. Also the way the monks and townsfolk remembered the king throughout the Middle Ages.

And for the first time ever, people in Malmesbury will be able to see digitised images of the earliest copy of Athelstan’s charter to the burgesses of the town.

A well-known historian

Tony is well known as an historian of Malmesbury. He studied history at Oxford and was for many years the schools’ history adviser for Gloucestershire County Council. He is the author of Malmesbury Abbey: 670-1539(2023), the first ever full-length history of the Abbey.

Tony’s talk will be on Saturday June 29, at 7.30pm in Malmesbury Town Hall. Rickets are £10 each and go on sale next week (March 28) . It will be among a weekend of events organised by the Athelstan 1100 team to launch the celebrations.

Going from one historian to another, another highlight in the speaker programme will be a talk on Friday July 5 at Malmesbury Abbey, from world-famous historian Michael Wood. He’ll speak on how Athelstan influenced the development of English law, culture and governance. An acclaimed filmmaker and broadcaster, Michael has written and presented 120  documentaries, including the BBC series ‘The Story of England’.

Athelstan – the first king of Britain?

On Friday July 12, in the town hall, esteemed historian Sarah Foot will deliver a talk entitled ‘Athelstan, First King of Britain?’

The Very Rev Prof Foot is the Dean of Christ Church, University of Oxford. She writes on women in religion, medieval monasticism, and the early history of the Church in England. She’s currently working on a study of the life and work of the Venerable Bede.

The speaker programme concludes on Friday July 19, with a talk in the Town Hall from Paul Hill. He’ll examine the conducting of warfare in England during the age of King Athelstan.

Tickets for all the talks go on sale on Thursday March 28. There’s a 10 per cent early bird discount available until Sunday May 19. For details and to buy tickets visit https://www.athelstan1100.co.uk/events-ticketing.

Campbell Ritchie, who is leading the Athelstan 1100 project, said the speaker programme comprised one highlight of the many events planned in the town to mark the anniversary.

‘Having a king buried at the Abbey puts Malmesbury on the map in terms of historical importance. We’re looking forward to welcoming people to join our celebrations at Tony’s opening talk. And at the other great Athelstan 1100 talks, events and experiences taking place this year.’

The full speaker programme for Athelstan 1100 comprises:

Tony McAleavy – Athelstan and Malmesbury 29th June 7.30pm – Town Hall 

Miranda Shirnia – A Walk on the Wild Side: Malmesbury 924 2nd July 2.30pm – Town Hall

Jim Storr – Athelstan 1100, the essential backstory 3rd July 7.30pm – United Reform Church

Michael Wood – The Lost Life of Athelstan: Further Reflections – 5th July 7.30pm – Malmesbury Abbey

Oliver Ross – Athelstan and the Battle of Belief 11th July 7.30pm – United Reform Church 

Sarah Foot – Athelstan, First King of Britain? 12th July 7.30pm – Town Hall

Stephe Harrop – Delight and Dread: Unladylike Tales from the Age of Aethelflaed  

15th July 7.30pm – The Kings Arms

Sam Entwistle – Staying Well in Anglo Saxon Malmesbury, Herbal Medicine, Cures and Remedies –

17th July 7.30pm – The Old Bell Hotel

Paul Hill – What was Warfare like in Athelstan’s Age? 19th July 7.30pm – Town Hall

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