Short History of the Town of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire


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Short History of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
The Battle and the Abbey

by John Timbs

Tewkesbury, in the western part of Gloucestershire, and close to the borders of Worcestershire, is said to be of Saxon origin and to derive its name from Theot, a Saxon, who founded an hermitage here in the seventh century. Early in the eighth century, two brothers, Dukes of Mercia, founded a monastery which, in the tenth century, became a cell to Cranbourne Abbey, in Dorsetshire. In the twelfth century, Robert FitzHamon enlarged the buildings and liberally endowed the institution, in consequence of which the monks of Cranbourne made Tewkesbury the chief seat of their establishment. At the Dissolution, the Abbey belonged to the Benedictines and its annual revenue was 1,598.

On opening the tomb of the ecclesiastical founder of the Abbey, the body of the Abbot was found arrayed in full canonicals, the crosier was perfect, while the body showed scarcely any symptoms of decay, although it had been entombed considerably above six hundred years. On exposure to the air, the boots alone of the Abbot were seen to sink. The tomb was then ordered to be sealed up and his holiness again committed to his darkness.

A great battle was fought on the 4th May 1471, within half a mile of Tewkesbury, when the Lancastrians sustained a most disastrous defeat: the Earl of Devonshire, Lord Wenlock, Lord John Beaufort, nine knights and upwards of 3,000 men were slain. Queen Margaret of Anjou was taken prisoner by Edward IV, the young Prince Edward is stated, in a contemporary manuscript, to have been killed while flying from the field, and not to have been butchered in Edward's presence as commonly reported. The Duke of Somerset, Lord St. John and about a dozen knights and esquires were dragged from the church, where they had taken sanctuary, and beheaded on May 6th.

This battle was fought in a field, long after known as the Bloody Meadow. The chief glory of this well-fought field belonged to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. At Tewkesbury, he commanded the van and was confronted by the Duke of Somerset, who had taken up so formidable a position, fenced by dykes and hedges, that to carry it seemed hopeless. After a feigned attack and short conflict, Gloucester drew back as if to retreat. Somerset, rash and impetuous, was deceived by this manoeuvre and left his 'vantage ground, when Gloucester faced about, and fell upon the Lancastrians so furiously and unexpectedly that they were driven back in confusion to their entrenchments, which the pursuing force entered along with them. Lord Wenlock, who, by coming to their assistance with his division, might have beaten back Gloucester, never stirred. Somerset no sooner regained his camp than riding up to his recreant friend, he denounced him as a traitor and coward and stopped recrimination and remonstrance by dashing out his brains with a battle-axe (Edinburgh Review, No. 234).

In the stately Abbey church, obtained from the King, for the use of the parishioners, at the time of the Dissolution, was buried Brietric, King of Wessex; Norman Fitz-Hamon, Earl of Gloucester; Edward, son of Henry VI; George Clarence, brother of Edward IV and his wife, Isabel, daughter of the king-making Earl of Warwick. The church is in the Early Norman style and has a central tower. The roof is finely groined and carved. There are several ancient chantry chapels in the east-end of the choir, which is hexagonal. Some of the monuments are in memory of persons who fell at the battle of Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury retains but few features of its ancient house-fronts. The place was famous very early for its mustard. Shakespeare speaks only of its thickness, but others have celebrated its pungency.

"His wit is as thick as Tewkesbury mustard." - 2 Henry IV.

The people appear of the downright sort, for we read in an old work,

"If he be of the right stamp and a true Tewkesbury man, he is a choleric gentleman and will bear no coals."

Edited from John Timbs' Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales (1870)

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