Although the Battle of Tewksbury was fought on 4th May in the year 1471, this current weekend is the time chosen to re-enact the battle. This may be due to the majority of the population of the UK sleeping off the excesses of the May Day Beltane festivities on the actual date or may originally have been an error on behalf of the organisers. This year on that date they had booked the eminent Dr Don Ashtray Pill to give a talk on armour and sartorial elegance (which many visitors found could also have been an error.)
The battle was the culmination of what became known as the Wars of the Roses with Edward, the fourth king of that name, leading his troops to victory in a fight that led to the death of Edward, son of Margaret of Anjou and the pious, mild and unstable Henry VI, thus putting an end to the Lancastrian hope of restoring this line to the throne. Ultimately Henry also lost his life, apparently due to melancholy caused by the death of his son, but in reality possibly by murder, made possible due to the death of his son.
Many leading Lancastrians lost their lives that day. It was the sudden move of the Duke of Somerset’s men which marked the beginning of the end for the Lancastrians. Unsupported by the other two divisions Somerset drove his troops in the centre with disastrous consequences.
Panic ensued amongst the Lancastrians fleeing to Tewkesbury and hoping to escape but many of the nobles and knights, including Somerset, sought sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey. The Abbot of the Abbey then was John Strensham, who had been appointed in 1468. He was assisted in this ministry by Benedictine Monks Fra Declan O’Shea who came originally from Dublin and Brother Anthony Marris from Lincolnshire. Although friendships in monastic orders were frowned upon, the three men had known each other since seminary days and had a close rapport and enjoyed drinking their ‘own brew’ together.
King Edward attended prayers in the Abbey shortly after the battle and took communion from Strensham and his assistants and later allowed the Prince of Wales and others slain in the battle to be buried within the town and Abbey, but this leniency was not to last.
It was perhaps rather silly of those seeking sanctuary to not check official list in the ”Lonely Planet Guide to Sanctuary” that the Abbey was an officially sanctioned place of sanctuary before fleeing there.
It was not.
It is, however, doubtful whether this would have deterred Edward even if it had been and it is likely that after the battle he had decided that the only way to end the war was to brutally remove the Lancastrian leadership once and for all.
Two days after the battle, Somerset and other leaders were dragged out of the Abbey
and were ordered by the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Norfolk to be put to death after perfunctory show trials. These trials were described by a contemporary Greek chronicle writer as the Μπους κουράζω** trials. The cries of those being dragged from the abbey were pitiful. They had believed they were safe, but a red rage had taken over the men charged with the deed and they were not about to spare lives or feelings, even for members of the cloth. John Strensham the abbot was among the number who were violently handled and he could be heard yelling from the outside.
Raucously he called his assistants Brother Anthony and Fra Declan to help him…
“Ant, Dec! I’m a Celebrant. Get me out of here.”
It is unknown whether he had to do any Μπους κουράζω** Trials.
Due to sampling rather too many (hic) glasses of Benedictine (hic) source material is not available today but will be served with a glass of hic hic… I feel a little sleepy. Please hicsuse me. Hic.
PS. Where can I get one of those black bears from?
** Μπους κουράζω loosely translates as ‘Bush Tucker’
© Jeff ‘Jefferty’ Jeff: 8th July 2015