ATHELSTAN AND THE OLD CHARGES

ATHELSTAN AND THE OLD CHARGES

Encyclopedia Masonica



On Page 110 is given a quotation from the Roberts MS. to the effect that Athelstan (King in England, 924-940) was a great lover of Masonry and gave Masons their Charter. In other versions of the Old Charges it is said that Athelstan made his son Prince Edwin Patron, or head, of the Masons. Scholars have not accepted the historicity of this tradition because of difficulties and self-contradictions in the text itself, because there is no supporting evidence in chronicles of the Tenth Century, and also because they have not believed that Masonry was as widely developed at the time as the Old Charges presuppose, or that Athelstan himself took any interest in the Craft. As regards the first two difficulties they continue in force, and make it hard to take seriously the confused or garbled accounts in the versions of the Old Charges; but as regards the last-named difficulty, that Athelstan himself had no interest in the Craft, there are data to show that the Old Charges have the support of historical evidence.

In his History of the Norman Conquest Prof. Henry A. Freeman (Vol. I ; page 190) writes: "Among the Laws of Athelstan none are more remarkable than those which deal with the internal affairs of London and with the regulation of her earliest commercial corporations." These laws are given in Thorpe's Laws and Institutes; Vol. I; page 228. They show that London was being built up, with walls, bridges, churches and many new buildings, and that King Athelstan took a large personal interest in the building, and that among his laws were regulations for the builders.
Athelstan must also have had an equally active interest in the builders at York, always a great architectural center and a free city from time immemorial ; in Vol. V, page 316, Prof. Freeman says, "The men of York had their Hanse-house." A hansa was a gild (hence "Hanseatic League'') and if the crafts in York had a building of their own, it means that they were strong and well organized, the Masons among them. Even more striking is Prof. Freeman's account of Exeter. This had been a Welsh city, or town, at least partly so. Athelstan removed the Welsh and rebuilt it as an English town, "surrounded by a wall of dressed stone." He helped to lay out the city, and supervised its building, which would include the supervision of its builders.

These data prove that Athelstan was both practically and intellectually interested in the arts of building and took an active part in its practice, not only once but in three cities ; and to that extent they give some foundation to the tradition embedded in the Old Charges.

See The History of the Norman Conquest in England, and its Resutts, by Henry A. Freeman; six volumes; Oxford ; 1873 ; revised American Edition.


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