Jedburgh Abbey lies on south facing slopes on the north bank of the Jed Water, close to the centre of Jedburgh. It was founded, initially as a priory, by King David I in 1138. His intention was partly to demonstrate to the English that the Scots could build on a grand scale so close to the oft disputed border between the two countries. In doing so he was tempting fate and the English: and both failed to resist the temptation many times over the following four centuries.
David had another reason for founding Jedburgh Abbey here. This site was probably the one used for a church by Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne in 830, though a beautifully carved fragment of a shrine on display in the visitor centre dates back to the 700s and suggests that even Bishop Ecgred was not breaking new ground.
By 1080 the church at Jedburgh was well established. There is a story that the murderer of the Bishop of Durham, one Eadwulf Rus, fled to Jedburgh, only to be killed in revenge by a local woman.
He was buried at Jedburgh, but his body was later exhumed and left to rot in a ditch. People have tried to link this story with the discovery of part of a body in a ditch near the later site of the Chapter House, complete with a fine ivory comb, also on display at the abbey.
By 1154 the priory founded in 1138 had been elevated to an abbey populated by Augustinian or "black" canons. Building work would have been under way for the better part of a century. The abbey church at least would seem to have been complete by 1285, the year in which Alexander III of Scotland married Yolande de Dreux here.
Not long afterwards conflict overtook the abbey and it was used as lodgings for King Edward I of England in 1296 on one of his many trips north. In 1305 another English army stripped the lead from the abbey roofs to help in the construction of siege engines. By 1312 the abbey was seen as a supporter of the English cause when the Scots recaptured Roxburgh Castle and the abbot and 11 canons moved for safety to Yorkshire.
By the end of the 1300s the abbey and the religious community it supported had been rebuilt. But the town and abbey were attacked again in 1409, 1410, 1416 and 1464. More rebuilding followed, but in 1523 the Earl of Surrey arrived at the head of an English army and again badly damaged the abbey. This time the rebuilding was on a more limited scale than after earlier bouts of destruction, with parts of the accommodation remaining unusable and other parts only roughly repaired.
In 1544 the Earl of Hertford and yet another English army attacked the town, returning in 1545 and again in 1547. It is possible that the English occupying Jedburgh fortified the abbey. This was certainly done by the French army holding Jedburgh for the Scots in 1548: with ramparts around the abbey and artillery housed in the tower.
At the time of the Reformation in 1560, there were probably only eight Augustinian canons left in occupation of parts of the shell of the abbey, using an area under the tower of the Abbey Church for their services. They were allowed to continue to live at the abbey and their reduced Abbey Church became used as Jedburgh's Parish Church.
By the mid 1600s fears were being expressed about the structure of the tower, and from 1671 a new Parish Church was built into the west part of the nave of the original Abbey Church, presumably at what was felt to be a safe distance from the tower. A replacement Parish Church was built beyond the Jed Water in 1875 and restoration of the abbey was undertaken by the Marquis of Lothian. It was placed in State care in 1913 and is now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.