Evesham abbey was founded c. 700, by (St) Ecgwine, bishop of Worcester (?699-717). According to the abbey’s own conception of its past, Ecgwine himself was instrumental in acquiring the bulk of the endowment from various benefactors in the early eighth century; further estates were acquired at different times thereafter. To judge again from local tradition, it was not until the early 940s that the abbey began to suffer serious depradation. The ‘first destruction of the church of Evesham and the dispersal of the monks’ took place following the death of Abbot Eadwine in the reign of King Edmund (939-46), when Ealdorman Ealhhelm obtained the abbey, appropriated its estates and replaced the monks with canons. The abbey remained for some time under the control of various men, including a certain ‘raptor iniquissimus’ called Wulfric, and Osulf, bishop of Ramsbury; but it was restored during the reign of King Edgar, when Bishop Æthelwold installed Osweard as abbot and entrusted to him the lands previously seized by Ealhhelm. The ‘second dispersal of the monks’ took place following the death of King Edgar. <Ealdorman Ælfhere. Freothegar. Godwine of Towcester. Bishop Æthelsige; Bishop Æthelstan; Bishop Aldwulf of Worcester. Abbot Ælfric; Ælfgar; Brihtmær; Æthelwine. Godwine, 1013-14. Abbot Ælfweard (c. 1014-44); Mannig (1044-58); Æthelwig, 1058-77. In 1077, at the instigation of Bishop Wulfstan II of Worcester, the community of Evesham entered into association with the communities of Chertsey, Bath, Pershore, Winchcombe, Gloucester and Worcester (P 78). Seizure of estates by Odo, during abbacy of Walter.>
A Liber de gestis abbatum was complied in the 1220s by Thomas of Marlborough, prior of Evesham (and later abbot, 1229-36); ptd, from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson A. 287, in Chronicon abbatiae de Evesham, ed. W. D. Macray, Rolls ser. (London, 1863), pp. 1-260, and translated (in part) by D. C. Cox, The Chronicle of Evesham Abbey (Evesham, 1964). Books I and II of this work (ed. Macray, pp. 1-67) are based on a Life of St Ecgwine written by Dominic of Evesham in the first half of the twelfth century. Book I incorporates the text of Ecgwine’s supposed charter of foundation, dated 714 (S 1251); Book II (Miracles of St Ecgwine) contains some information on the abbey’s history in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Book III was put together by Thomas, ‘ex variis cartis et scriptis et factis manifestis’ (ed. Macray, p. 70, with frontispiece). It includes a list of the abbey’s pre- and post-Conquest benefactors (pp. 71-5), and a list of abbots of Evesham from the early eighth century to the first half of the tenth (pp. 76-7); it also includes an interesting narrative of the abbey’s fortunes in the tenth and eleventh centuries (pp. 77-87), a detailed account of the career of Abbot Æthelwig (1058-77), focussing on his recovery of numerous estates (pp. 87-96), and an account of the abbacy of Walter (1077-1104), focussing on the losses suffered at the hands of Bishop Odo (pp. 96-8). The chronicle extends thereafter to the early thirteenth century, ending on p. 260 (with a continuation, pp. 260-310, added in the early fifteenth century). Thomas’s sources evidently included an earlier history of the abbey, which seems itself to have been of composite construction: the account of Abbot Æthelwig is said to have been based on ‘ancient charters’, on the testimony of reliable men, and on the author’s direct knowledge of events (see p. 94), suggesting that it was written towards the end of the eleventh century; yet this account appears to have formed part of a more extensive work on the abbey’s endowment, which may have begun with the foundation and which may have been extended at some point to cover developments during the abbacy of Walter. It is important to recognise, therefore, that Thomas made use of ‘early’ material which has not chanced to survive in its original form, giving his Liber de gestis abbatum somewhat greater value than it might seem at first sight to possess. For further discussion, see R. R. Darlington, ‘Æthelwig, Abbot of Evesham’, EHR 48 (1933), pp. 1-22 and 177-98; J. C. Jennings, ‘The Writings of Prior Dominic of Evesham’, EHR 77 (1962), pp. 298-304; A. Gransden, Historical Writing in England c. 550 to 1307 (London, 1974), pp. 89-90 and 111-12; and J. Sayers, ‘“Original”, Cartulary and Chronicle: the Case of the Abbey of Evesham’, Fälschungen im Mittelalter, IV: Diplomatische Fälschungen (II), MGH Schriften 33.4 (Hannover, 1988), pp. 371-95.
The pre-Conquest charters of Evesham abbey are of notoriously ill repute, and it is immediately obvious that they have to be approached in the context of developing notions of the abbey’s past, and that they cannot be understood except in detailed relation to the numerous disputes over the abbey’s lands and privileges in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The charters are preserved in two twelfth-century cartularies, BL Cotton Vespasian B. xxiv (Davis 381) and BL Harley 3763 (Davis 382); but the cartularies are of rather different character, and it is interesting that there is remarkably little overlap between their respective contents. An edition of material in both cartularies, by H. B. Clarke, is to be published by the Worcestershire Historical Society; see also H. B. Clarke, ‘The Early Surveys of Evesham Abbey: an Investigation into the Problem of Continuity in Anglo-Norman England’, unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham (1977), and Domesday Book (ed. J. Morris), 16: Worcestershire, ed. F. and C. Thorn (Chichester, 1982), Appendix IV.
Several of the charters transmitted in one or other of the Evesham cartularies appear to be bowdlerized or ‘improved’ versions of genuinely pre-Conquest title-deeds preserved among the abbey’s muniments; and in a few instructive cases it is possible to see beyond the cartulary texts. King Offa’s charter granting land near Salmonsbury, Gloucs., to his thegn Dudda (S 114), and King Eadred’s charter granting land at Bourton on the Water, Gloucs., to his thegn Wulfric (S 550) belong together as title-deeds for the estate at Bourton; that the charters were preserved at Evesham in the twelfth century is shown by the fact that conflated extracts from both are given in Vespasian B. xxiv, 72v. King Edmund’s charter granting land at Badby, Dodford and Everdon, Northants., to Bishop Ælfric (S 495), and King Cnut’s charter granting land at Newnham, Northants., to his monk Æfic (S 977), also belong together, as title-deeds for estates which belonged to Æfic, ‘the noble dean of Evesham’ who died in 1037 (ASC MSS. CD) and who is said to have given Badby and Newnham to the abbey (Chronicon, ed. Macray, p. 83; Hart, ECNE, pp. 61-3); both charters were accorded some rough treatment in Vespasian B. xxiv, and S 977 is represented by the patently spurious S 957 in Harley 3763 (see below). King Edward’s charter granting land at Upper Swell, Gloucs., to Evesham (S 1026), is of interest as a ‘direct’ title-deed which seems to have been produced at Evesham in the late eleventh or early twelfth century; a copy occurs in Vespasian B. xxiv, with some alterations, and appears to be the source of the copy in Harley 3763.
It is difficult to convey in words an impression of the complications which surround the initial entry and subsequent treatment of the ‘pre-Conquest’ texts in Vespasian B. xxiv; and it must be stressed that none of them can be properly assessed without direct reference to its manuscript context. The majority of the texts were entered in the manuscript by a single twelfth-century scribe, who seems to have been concerned with pre-Conquest documentation in particular and whose work bears comparison in some respects with the accounts of the abbey’s property as given in the Domesday survey; but other scribes subsequently interfered with several of his texts, and added related material in available spaces. The main scribe began his work with a copy of S 495 (King Edmund’s charter for Bishop Ælfric), on 18r-19r; but the opening parts of the charter, on 18r, were subsequently erased, perhaps to conceal the identity of the actual beneficiary. Two mid-tenth century charters relating to land at Bathingbourne in Godshill, Isle of Wight, evidently belong together: S 1662 was written on 19v-20r, and S 1663 on 20rv, but only the second part of the former, and the first part of the latter, escaped subsequent erasure; the connection with Evesham is not obvious, and it may be that the intentions of a former owner were overtaken by events (cf. S 1498 and 842, from the New Minster, Winchester). A copy of S 977 (King Cnut’s charter for his monk Æfic) was written on 20v-21v; in this case, the operative part of the dispositive section on 20v was erased and rewritten in Evesham’s favour, and a date (‘1020’) supplied on 21r (cf. S 957, in Harley 3763). Texts of charters for Badby (Northants.) and Ombersley (Worcs.) were written on 21v-22r and 25rv; again, the texts were subsequently erased, and only disembodied boundary clauses remain (S 1565, 1594). There is rather less interference thereafter, as the scribe worked his way through the abbey’s estates in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire; though it should be noted in connection with the group of Hampton charters (S 873, 1223, 1053, 1052 and 1398), on 29r-31r, that what would appear to have been a charter of King Cnut (presumably granting the estate to Earl Leofric; cf. Chronicon, ed. Macray, p. 85) has been erased, leaving only a single line from a witness-list at the top of 30r. One is left with the impression that the collection as a whole was formed in accordance with one set of principles, and subsequently ‘edited’ to serve more contentious purposes; but the precise intentions of the original scribe, and the inwardness of the later interventions, must await further elucidation.
The charters in Harley 3763 occur in a twelfth-century section of the manuscript (fols. 59-71), which appears to have been conceived as a special collection of texts relating to the abbey’s lands and tenants. The three outer bifolia (fols. 59-61 and 68-70) contain the following items: a list of benefactions to the abbey, on 59r-60r (not printed in this form); a list of lands appropriated from the abbey by Odo of Bayeux, c. 1078, compiled c. 1100 (ptd Darlington, pp. 188-90), on 60v-61r (‘Evesham N’); a register of the abbey’s tenants during the abbacy of Walter (1077-1104) (ptd Darlington, p. 195), on 61rv (‘Evesham O’); another <early twelfth-century?> list of the abbey’s tenants, on 68rv; and a statement of the renders payable from the abbey’s lands to its various offices, on 69r-70r. The pre-Conquest documents are written on three bifolia physically inserted into this collection of texts (fols. 62-7); the boundary clause for Twyford (S 1599) begins on 70v, and was completed on a singleton added at the end (fol. 71). The surveys resume thereafter, with a version of ‘Evesham E’ on 71rv (ptd Darlington, pp. 191-2) and ‘Evesham P’ on 71v. The texts were confined as far as possible each to a single page; they include two ‘detached’ sets of bounds (S 1565 and 1599), and a short ‘historical’ statement about Abbot Ælfweard’s recovery of land at Broadwell in Gloucestershire (65v). Against this background, it is only to be expected that the charters are closely related in substance to the list of benefactions on 59r-60r; and it may be no coincidence that the estates covered by four of them in particular (S 81, 83, 112 and 191) bear what might be considered to be a suspiciously close relationship to the list of lands appropriated by Bishop Odo, raising the possibility that a wish to substantiate the abbey’s claims prompted someone, perhaps in retrospect, to fabricate evidence showing how the abbey had acquired the various properties in the first place.
A document purporting to be a statement by Bishop Ecgwine of the lands he acquired for Evesham abbey (S 1250) was preserved in the sixteenth-century Prise-Say register, and its derivatives (above, pp. 00-0); the same register also contained a text of S 80, of which a variant version had been entered in Vespasian B. xxiv. At least three single-sheet charters from the Evesham archive (S 114, 495 and 977) passed into the hands of Sir Robert Cotton; and one (S 1026) is known to have belonged in the early eighteenth century to Peter Le Neve. The single-sheet original of S 550 (a charter of King Eadred granting land in Gloucestershire to Wulfric, miles) was presumably preserved at Evesham until the Dissolution, and seems then to have passed into other hands; the charter itself is now lost, but a remarkable ‘facsimile’ of it was made in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, and this presently found its way into the Cotton library. Similarly, the ‘original’ of S 122 (a charter of King Offa granting land to Esne, comes, with reversion to Evesham) presumably left Evesham in the sixteenth century and was copied in the seventeenth century by one Edmund Langley; ptd Hemming, ed. Hearne, ii. 638, from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Dodsworth 55 (19), 47r (cf. Dugdale 17, p. 60); also ptd Mon. Angl. (rev. ed.) ii. 16, apparently from the original itself, penes John Smith, of Acton Burnel, Salop. It should otherwise be noted that Evesham’s purported bull of Pope Constantine (BCS 126) existed in the seventeenth century in single-sheet form; a script-facsimile occurs in ‘Sir Christopher Hatton’s Book of Seals’ (Northampton, Northamptonshire Record Office, MS. FH 170, fol. 94).
<Check Bodl. Dodsworth 55 (19), 47r (ref. from Hearne, and Birch, but not cited by Sawyer).>
The list of the abbey’s benefactors given in Thomas of Marlborough’s Liber de gestis abbatum (ed. Macray, pp. 71-5) appears to be a development of the similar list in Harley 3763, 59r-60r. Another version of the list, said to have been extracted from an Evesham register by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald, was printed by Dugdale (Mon. Angl. ii. 851-3), from a volume of Glover’s collections (BL Egerton 3789, 110r); it differs from the others in certain apparently significant respects, and seems to have been derived from a cartulary now lost.
WM, GP, pp. 296-8; Mon. Angl. i. 144-52 and ii. 851-3; Mon. Angl. (rev. ed.) ii. 1-48; VCH Worcs. ii. 112-27; MRH, p. 65; HRH, pp. 46-8.
The sources for our knowledge of St Ecgwine (and of the foundation of Evesham) are examined in a series of articles by M. Lapidge: ‘The Medieval Hagiography of St Ecgwine’, Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers 6 (1977), pp. 77-93; ‘Dominic of Evesham, “Vita S. Ecgwini episcopi et confessoris”’, Analecta Bollandiana 96 (1978), pp. 65-104; and ‘Byrhtferth and the Vita S. Ecgwini’, Mediaeval Studies 41 (1979), pp. 331-53.
Harmer, Writs, pp. 225-7;
D. C. Cox, ‘Evesham Abbey: a Bibliography’, Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers 2 (1969), pp. 11-25, and 3 (1971), pp. 19-51;
D. C. Cox, ‘The Vale Estates of the Church of Evesham, c. 700-1086’, Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers 5 (1975), pp. 25-50;
Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, pp. 141-2.
Composite Evesham/Pershore annals, in Leland, Collectanea i.240-53, at 241. Cf. Harl. 3736, ff. 167-76 (whence Vesp. B. xv, ff. 17-20), derived from the Chronicon; Macray, p. xxxvi. On Evesham cartularies, see Keynes 1976, pp. 133-64.
Royal diplomas. 54; 78; 79; 80; 81; 83; 85; 97; 112; 114; 115; 122; 191; 203; 226; 495; 550; 873; 935; 957; 977; 1026; 1052; 1053; 1057; 1058; 1662; 1663; 1664. See also 1870.
Miscellaneous. 1174; 1175; 1214; 1223; 1238; 1250; 1251; 1398; 1479. (1423 is a lease issued by Ælfweard, abbot of Evesham; it was issued in triplicate, and the surviving copy is that which had been assigned to Worcester.)
Boundary clauses. 1548; 1550; 1553; 1565; 1590; 1591a; 1594; 1599.