St. Editha’s is an Anglican parish church and Grade I listed building in the centre of the Staffordshire town of Tamworth, and is one of the largest and oldest medieval parish churches in the Midlands. Although most of the church dates back from the 14th to 15th centuries, with additions made in the 19th century, its routes date back over 1,200 years, to Saxon times. The first church being built here in the 8th century, although there have been successive churches on this site during this time.
In 874 Tamworth was invaded by the Danes and the first church on this site was destroyed, but in 913 Aethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of King Alfred the Great, drove back the Danish invasion and rebuilt the town and church.
In 925 attempts were made to bring about a peaceful settlement between Mercia and Northumbria, where Sigtrygg the Dane was King. Aethlefleda’s niece, Editha, sister to Athelstan, was given as the betrothed of Sigtrygg. The ceremony took place in the church in the presence of King Athelstan and solemnised by Ella, Bishop of Lichfield. Sigtrygg soon lapsed into paganism and was killed, so Editha took religious vows and entered a convent at Polesworth. Here Editha served in the precincts of the Castle, where she devoted her life to the poor and sick and established a convent in Tamworth where she was Abbess until her death in 960.
The Danes raided Tamworth once again, in 943, and the church was again destroyed. A third church was rebuilt on the site by King Edgar, in 963, and he dedicated it to the memory of his aunt, Editha. It is believed that Editha was canonised, for her life of devotion and piety, and then made the Patron Saint of the now collegiate church.
In 1080 the great Norman Church was built, probably an extension of Edgar’s church and was at least as long as the present building, in the shape of a crucifix and with a central tower. It is uncertain as to whether King Edgar had founded the ‘College’ or if this was done by Robert de Marmion, Dispencer and Champion of William the Conqueror. The first recorded Dean of the Collegiate church was William Marmion, son of Robert.
The great Norman arches in the chancel date from 1080, but some were destroyed in the ‘Great Fire of Tamworth’ in 1345, when the town and church were again destroyed. In 1350, work started on rebuilding the fourth church (the present church), by Dean Baldwin de Witney, and despite the great difficulties he was faced with, due to poverty, plague and wars abroad, these were overcome and the task was completed in 1369.
The late 14th century saw the re-building of St George’s Chapel and the start of the great West Tower, which was built during the War of the Roses between 1380 and 1420. In its North-West corner stands a rare example of a double-helix spiral staircase, in which two flights of stairs wind one above the other around the central post. The staircase is a unique feature is one of only two in the country.
In 1548 the College of Canons was dissolved under the terms of the Dissolution of Colleges Act 1547 and the church became the parish church for the town of Tamworth
In the 1850’s the church was extensively restored by Benjamin Ferrey and George Gilbert Scott and by William Butterfield around 1871. The church is spacious and with its architectural, historical and art treasures it is regarded as one of the finest churches of its period in the country.
Tamworth’s and St. Editha’s link with the death of King Richard III
It is not widely know that Tamworth, and the church of St. Editah’s, has links with the battle of Bosworth, where Richard III became the last king of England to be killed in battle, on 22nd August 1485.
Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and claimant to the throne, who went on to become Henry VII after defeating Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, stopped in Tamworth en-route to Bosworth.
Henry Tudor’s army is said to have camped at Tamworth, on the Staffordshire Moor (now the Lichfield Road Industrial Estate), on the eve of the battle. Henry is believed to have attended Mass and worshipped at St Editha’s church. The following day, Henry and his army fought a battle which changed the course of English history and the destiny of the English crown forever.
While in Tamworth, Henry was also keen to enlist extra support, as Richard’s army was far greater in number. At least 2 Tamworth noblemen fought at Bosworth, one on each side. Among Henry’s supporters was local man Sir John Stanley, who is buried in Elford. It is said that at the end of the bloody battle, Stanley found the defeated king’s ringlet, the small crown from the top of his helmet, in a thorn bush and used it to crown the victor, Henry Tudor, as Henry VII. Meanwhile, another Tamworth nobleman, Earl Ferrers, fought for Richard, and died. His family lost lots of land but managed to keep their home, Tamworth Castle. One legend suggests that Henry visited Ferrers at the Castle on the eve of the battle to ask for his support, but was turned away.
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