The Founders’ Book: A Medieval History of Tewkesbury Abbey

Think of a Founders’ Day as a day that belongs to the founders of one of the many great institutes around the world many of which are steeped in history, often rich and colourful, that is celebrated annually by the descendants or alumni of the original founders. Initial thoughts of a ‘Founders’ Day’ often conjure up images of memorials to the high and mighty or sports days or other activities, but all focused on celebrating the events that brought a community together.

That sense of rich, even bloody, celebration of history is never more apparent this year with the marking of the 900th anniversary of the consecration of Tewkesbury Abbey: bloody as it coincides with the 550th of the Battle of Tewkesbury, during the War of the Roses in 1471.

To mark these historic events,Tewkesbury Abbey Publications (in conjunction with The Friends of the Abbey) has produced a limited edition Founders’ Book that incorporates a facsimile of the original Latin Chronicle parchment manuscript written by the Benedictine monks who occupied the abbey shortly before Henry V111 brought about the dissolution of monasteries in 1536. Within the book and preceding the Chronicle is the Latin Charter of William Fitzrobert, second Earl of Gloucester, listing the privileges he granted to the abbey.

As you would expect with manuscripts of this age they have been painstakingly written with great flourish and illumination. With the originals being kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, this is an extremely rare opportunity for owners of the book, for scholars, or simply for those interested in history, to see and read these documents in their original size, 9 x 7 inches, and in all their heraldic illuminated and artistic glory. Thankfully, for those of us for whom Latin is limited to the words of love ‘amo amas amat amamus….’ this is much more than a glorious art book for the text has been translated to provide context to said illumination.

Set within manicured lawns Tewkesbury Abbey is an imposing building with a very tranquil atmosphere bordered on one side by meadows and on the other by delightful wooden beamed medieval dwellings that are part of eclectic mix of Tewkesbury’s architecture. But as mentioned, Tewkesbury Abbey also has a bloody history and the breaking of its tranquility is perfectly described with the inclusion in the book of two separate accounts relating to the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury fought in April and May 1471. Contained within is a record of those killed after the battle when the Lancastrian army were dragged out of sanctuary the abbey by the Yorkist army to be executed at the market cross.

This unique book will be launched at the Friends of Tewkesbury Abbey Festival in the grounds of Abbey House on Sunday July 4th, after the 10:30 morning Eucharist service. Copies will be available to purchase at a cost of £35.00. It makes a handsome commemorative souvenir of this anniversary year.

Andrew Marshall

The Founders’ Book published by Shaun Tyas includes an introduction by the editor Professor Julian Luxford, School of Art History, University of St Andrews; Latin translation by Professor Susan Powell, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Texts and Culture, University of Salford; and an essay on heraldry by Dr Andrew Ailes of the Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Bristol and Vice- President of the Heraldry Society.