13th September 2023

Serial Killer Monk’s Secrets revealed by historian, Tony Mcaleavy.

MALMESBURY ABBEY has a long, fascinating and, at times, grisly history. A history that historian Tony Mcaleavy has been researching for many years. One that he’ll be revealing in one of two talks he will give during this year’s Wessex Week taking place in the town in October. He will even talk about a once-unknown monk, John of Tintern, who was a serial killer and a 14th century ‘gangster’.

Serial Killer Monk's Secrets Revealed - Tony Mcaleavy, one of the two founder volunteers of Wessex Week. Tony has discovered that one of the Abbey’s monks was a serial killer.
Serial Killer Monk’s Secrets Revealed – Tony Mcaleavy, one of the two founder volunteers of Wessex Week.
Tony has discovered that one of the Abbey’s monks was a serial killer.

Historian and author

Tony is a professional historian and author. And, since 2016, has been one of the group of people who, along with Julia Bowen and Barbara Pollard and others, who’ve helped to organise and run Wessex Week in the town.

This year will be a little different though, as Tony stepped back from the organisational side of things to concentrate on his latest book, Malmesbury Abbey 670-1539: Patronage, Scholarship and Scandal. It’s the first full-length medieval history of the Abbey, which is due to for publication this month – September 2023.

I’ve lived in Malmesbury for over forty years. Over the last few decades I’ve become completely obsessed with the history of the town. It’s got lots of history and there are lots of sources that I’ve yet to explore.’

Boydell Press commissioned the book three years ago. But, off and on, it’s been almost ten years of research.’

What’s happening in Wessex week

During Wessex Week, Tony will be giving two talks both based on the research that went into his latest book. The first will be a broad-sweep history of the Abbey from the 7th to the 16th centuries, charting the rise and fall of the monks of Malmesbury.

‘I’m delighted to be giving this talk in the Abbey, which will be very special, to be talking about the history of the place, in the place itself.

‘The stories are brilliant and the people associated with medieval Malmesbury are so interesting. It’s full of saints and sinners and this extraordinary gamut of characters with associations with the Abbey. So I’m particularly interested in that human dimension.

I’ve uncovered some quite extraordinary stories that are not in previous history books. The most startling discovery I’ve come across is that of a monk, John of Tintern. He became an abbot in the 14th century but was a serial killer.’

Tony came across the criminal file while researching in the National Archives in Kew: ‘He was a bit of a gangster who terrorised the people of Wiltshire for years. He travelled with a hitman. And local people accused him of ‘bumping off’ anyone who crossed him. Legend has it,he was responsible for four murders and got away with each of them. So, this Abbot was a serial killer who evaded justice. But at length succumbed to the Black Death’

Another grisly event uncovered by Tony involved a massacre in the abbey church in 1153, perpetrated by soldiers loyal to Henry Plantagenet. He was on the brink of becoming King Henry II, and the soldiers chased the locals onto holy ground and killed them all.

Tony’s second talk

Tony’s second talk will reveal the links between medieval Malmesbury and the queens of England.

There existed a strong set of connections between the women of the Royal family from Anglo-Saxon times through to the Tudor period,’ Tony says.

The talk will take place in The Old Bell Hotel, close to the abbey – a place full of history in and of itself. 

The hotel was the former guest house of the abbey. As a part of the abbey precinct, it provides an amazing sense of continuity – thus it’s often called the oldest hotel in England. You can still see several 13th century features in the hotel, including a beautiful early 13th century fireplace, so it’s another great venue.’

And history has always been a big part of Tony’s life. ‘I studied history at Oxford University and for many years acted as the schools’ history adviser for Gloucestershire County Council.’

He’s also written several history books. His works include volumes for English Heritage, secondary subject texts for Cambridge University Press and about education reform for the education charity for which he currently works as a research director.

Wessex week 2023

This year’s Wessex Week features a series of events that will celebrate the region’s history, culture and art through the centuries with a particular emphasis on Malmesbury and the Anglo-Saxon period. The events take place in the town between Saturday, October 14 and Saturday, October 21.

It’s a community event and an opportunity for Malmesbury folk to celebrate the town’s very rich, medieval heritage,” explains Tony. ‘It’s got different dimensions to it, with a mic of music and drama, as well as traditional academic history. So it’s got a festival feel to it and helps to put our beautiful town on the map.’

Tony’s talks at this year’s festival:

The Story of Malmesbury Abbey: 670 – 1539. October 14, 7 pm to 9 pm. £15.00.

Happening in the abbey: Malmesbury and the Queens of Medieval England. October 18, 7:30 pm to 9 pm. £10.00

Garden Room: Old Bell Hotel, Abbey Row, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Tickets for any of these events are available online via the Wessex Week website https://wessex-week.org – and there are some also available to buy at the tourist information centre based at Malmesbury town hall.

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