Thomas of Marlborough: History of the Abbey of Evesham

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The Evesham History is one of the last important thirteenth-century texts to be translated. This is also the first completely new edition of the Latin since that of 1863. The author, Thomas of Marlborough, was an educated and much travelled man and his work was written not so much in terms of a chronicle but as a history of the lawsuit between the monastery at Evesham and the Bishop of Worcester over the Bishop's right to visit or inspect the community. The case began in England, but was finally taken to Rome and battled out with much legal argument before Pope Innocent III's curia. Much of the History is an eye-witness account. It shows the development of canon law at this period and illustrates aspects of England's relationship with the papacy during King John's reign, including the period of the Interdict. It is valuable too for the light it sheds into the mind of its author, a Benedictine monk, who had pursued a career at Oxford before entering the community. It tells us much about institutional pride and of the use of earlier archives to help the case. In telling the story of the community of Evesham from its foundation by St Ecgwine in the eighth century, Thomas incorporated the work of earlier Evesham historians including the twelfth-century Prior Dominic who was responsible for the Life and Miracles of St Ecgwine. Marlborough also produced a most vivid and personal account of the tyranny of the scandalous Abbot Norreis and of the sufferings of the convent. He went on to recount the return of law and order to the community at Evesham, and the election of a new abbot with whom he attended the Fourth Lateran Council. The edition concludes with the death of Thomas as abbot in 1236. The History provides a very pertinent example of the importance of the past in the interpretation of the present. Building on the past, Thomas exploited the evidence at his disposal in order to maintain and improve the rights that were won in the lawsuit. Few other chronicles or histories provide such an intense, inside view of a community, and are so frank.