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July 10, 2008

Medieval weekend

This weekend Tewkesbury slips into a timewarp and a big chunk of it slips back 500 years - to 1471 in fact. Each year we have a huge group descend on our town from all over the world. Most dress in medieval costume, some even bring armour and they re-enact the battle between Queen Margaret and her son Edward of Westminster and Edward IV, his uncle, for the throne of England.

The actual battle occured on the 4th May 1471, but it is usually far to wet and cold at that season to attract camping or visitors, so they hold the re-enactment now, on the second weekend in July. Naturally the Abbey forms quite a large centre piece to all of this, pertinent too since the battle ended in our nave with the Abbot driving the soldiers out and denying the King entry with the threat of eternal damnation. His only weapon, the Ciborium containing the consecrated Host - the bread of communion. Abbot John Strensham was obviously a man to be reckoned with since he remained Abbot even though he had probably offended Edward IV, a man who did not take challenges to his authority, or slights to his will, lightly.

The King did get his way in one particular though, he demanded and got, on pain of the sequestration of the Abbey, the surrender of all the Lancastrian nobles who had taken refuge in it. In this he was within his rights, for the Abbey was not a licenced "Sanctuary". The Duke of Somerset and all the Queen's chief supporters were removed and promptly tried and beheaded at the market cross the following day. The Abbey Church itself was closed for almost six months for cleaning, purification and repair, being reconsecrated by the Bishop of Worcester in October 1471.

But one part of the story remains shrouded in mystery, for a little over a hundred years ago, workmen found toys, household goods and even some childrens shoes and other apparel in the roof of the nave and the two great aisles. These were stuffed into a box and deposited at the County Museum, where a hundred years later they were identified as being from the 1470's. Study of the history of the battle reveals nothing of the townspeople, and the Abbey records, such as still exist, reveal little - except that food consumption seems to have been remarkably high for a few days. It appears that the Abbot had concealed the towns women and children in the roof, giving them refuge while the town and its people lay open and vulnerable to the depredations of two hostile armies. There is certainly room in there for several hundred people, but one can only imagine what it would have been like without light, dependent on others to bring food or water - and no toilets!

The re-enactment is always fun, though one does get the odd surprise turning a corner or entering Markus et Sparkus' emporium to be confronted by folk in medieval garb. The camp sweels the towns population by about five thousand and the day visitors bump it up even more. We at the Abbey will be joining in the fun, welcoming those exploring this ancient building and even opening up the roof and a few other places not normally seen by visitors for those fit enough and active enough to see them. Our Parish Eucharist will be celebrated on the Bloody Meadow in the midst of the camp, bringing the message of the gospel to all those who are there and remembering those, known and unknown, who died there in 1471.

Do join us if you can.

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 10, 2008 06:45 AM

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