Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday 1 October 2023

A criminous fourteenth century Abbot of Malmesbury

Medievalists.net recently had an article about the very dubious career of John of Tintern who was Abbot of Malmesbury in the 1340s. His activities have been revealed in a new history of the Benedictine abbey, whose remains still dominate the attractive and historic Wiltshire town.

The record of his involvement in crime and his other misdemeanours reads in strange and lurid contrast to the scholarly biographies of monastics included by Dom David Knowles in The Religious Ordrrs in England - or indeed as a collection of discreditable actions that would have attracted the keen eye of G.C.Coulton when he was writing. However as we still see today some clergy, incredible as it might seem with hindsight, manage to get away with serious wrongdoing for a long time whilst still occupying prominent positions. 

Why John of Tintern has not attracted more attention from historians earlier is not clear, but his exposure as a distinctly rotten apple in a period when monastic life was on the whole creditable is a tribute to the research by the author of the book. Given the times he lived in Tintern would appear fit in well with the era of the gentry gangs who caused considerable problems in their localities in the period. Their era of “fur-collar” crime in the regions is studied in J. G. Bellamy’s excellent Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middle Ages. I should probably declare an interest here as the late Professor Bellamy was my second cousin.
The Medievalists. net article about John of Tintern can be read at Tale of 14th-century Killer Monk uncovered by historian

The VCH Wiltshire account of the history of Malmesbury Abbey can be read online at House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury

Wikipedia has an account of the abbey at Malmesbury Abbey

Although only a part of the abbey church survives at Malmesbury it is very well worth a visit for the idea it gives of what once existed, and especially for the spectacular twelfth century sculpture of the south porch and the fourteenth century tomb of King Athelstan.

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