House of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Shaftesbury

A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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'House of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Shaftesbury', in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 73-79. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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The Benedictine nunnery of Shaftesbury is generally, though not universally, ascribed to the foundation of Alfred the Great (fn. 1) about the year 888; (fn. 2) the king, by his charter in honour of God the Blessed Virgin and all the saints, conferring on the nunnery, over which his daughter Elfgiva, Æthelgeofu or Algiva, presided as abbess, 100 hides of land as an endowment, consisting of 40 hides at Donhead St. Andrew, and Compton Bassett (Wiltshire), 20 hides at Handley and Gussage, 10 hides at Tarrant, 15 hides at Iwerne Minster and 15 at Fontmell. (fn. 3)

This nucleus was much increased by the grants of Alfred's successors; from Æthelstan in 932 the nuns obtained 4½ carucates of land at Fontmell on condition that they should sing psalms for the redemption of his soul (fn. 4) and by another charter in 935 land at Tarrant in Pimperne Hundred. (fn. 5) Edmund in 942 gave to the religious woman Wenflede the land of twenty manses at Cheselbourne; (fn. 6) Eadred in 948 land in Purbeck to the religious woman Ælfthrith; (fn. 7) Edwy bestowed on the nunnery in 956 for the love of Christ the land of 80 manses at Donhead St. Andrew, Easton Bassett (Wiltshire), Compton Abbas, Handley and Iwerne Minster (Dorset). (fn. 8) Edgar confirmed and renewed to the church and nuns of Shaftesbury in 966 ten cassates of land at Piddle formerly granted to them by his grandmother Wenflede, the record of which through carelessness had been lost. (fn. 9) Æthelred 'the unrede' gave in 984 the land of twenty manses at Tisbury (Wiltshire), (fn. 10) and by another charter in 1001 bestowed on the church of St. Edward the vill and monastery of Bradford (Wiltshire) to be subject to the nuns, that with the relics of the Blessed Martyr (King Edward) and other saints they might find there a refuge against the attacks of the Danes, the king stipulating that on the restoration of peace and tranquillity when the sisters returned to their ancient home they should leave behind at Bradford a sufficient community, according as the prior should think fit, for its monastic state to be maintained. (fn. 11) The chartulary of the monastery records that in 1019 Canute, who died here in 1035, (fn. 12) made a grant of sixteen cassates of land at Cheselbourne to his servant Agemund with the object of their ultimate reversion to the church. (fn. 13)

During the first century of its existence the abbey appears under the dedication of the Blessed Virgin, but after the translation to Shaftesbury of the body of Edward the Martyr, murdered in 978, (fn. 14) it was called after him and became popularly known as St. Edward's; the earlier dedication, however, was never formally dropped and the house frequently occurs, as in the Domesday Survey, under the dedication of both St. Mary and St. Edward. (fn. 15)

According to the Survey of 1086 the abbey at that time held the following lands: 15½ hides at Felpham in Sussex; (fn. 16) 5 hides at Beechingstoke; 10 at Tisbury; 40 at Donhead; 42 at Bradford; 7 at Alvediston; 38 at Liddington; and 20 at Downton (Domnitone) in the county of Wilts; (fn. 17) 5 hides at Combe, and a rent of 50d. paid by six burgesses of Milborne in the county of Somerset; (fn. 18) in this county the possessions of the nuns were as follows: 20 hides at Handley; 8 at Hinton St. Mary; 17 at Stour; 15 at Fontmell; 10 at Compton Abbas; 10 at Melbury; 18 at Iwerne Minster; 10 at Tarrant; 5 at Fifehead; 10 at Kingston; 1 at Farnham; 5 at Stoke; 11 at Mapperton and 10 at Cheselbourne. (fn. 19) In the time of Edward the Confessor the abbess had 153 houses in the town of Shaftesbury, now owing to the destruction of forty-two she only had 111, she also held at the time the Survey was taken 151 burgesses in the same town, twenty vacant houses and a garden. (fn. 20) A great increase in the value of the manors had taken place since Edward the Confessor's time and Domesday records that William the Conqueror had given the church of Gillingham to the nuns in place of a hide of their manor of Kingston on which he had built his castle of Wareham, and had restored to them the manors of Cheselbourne and Stour, of which they had been robbed by Earl Harold, on the production of a writ by the late king ordering their restoration together with the manor of Melcombe, which the Conqueror still retained for himself. Puddle was another manor that had been seized by the late earl. (fn. 21)

The Norman and Plantagenet kings by their gifts and privileges added enormously to the power and wealth already enjoyed by this richlyendowed house. (fn. 22) William Rufus in 1090 confirmed to the church of St. Mary and St. Edward and to Eulalia the abbess various grants by different persons, each grantor bestowing a daughter as a nun in the house as a condition of his gift. (fn. 23) Henry I confirmed the manor of Donhead to the nuns 'for their clothing' to be held quit of all geld and tax, pleas of the hundred, suits and quarrels save for murder and theft. (fn. 24) Stephen by his charter confirmed the lands which Emma the abbess had proved to belong to the abbey in the presence of Henry I and his barons. (fn. 25) Henry II took the community under his special protection and made them free of all toll and passage. (fn. 26) Richard I in the first year of his reign granted to the abbey, and especially to the abbess Mary, the privilege of the hundred in their manor of Bradford. (fn. 27) John count of Mortain gave the nuns, at the special request 'of my dearest friend the abbess Mary' of Shaftesbury, two loads of brushwood daily in his manor of Gillingham. (fn. 28) The abbess received from Henry III a charter for wreck of the sea in her manor of Kingston, (fn. 29) licence to hold a market and two fairs at Kintbury (Berkshire), (fn. 30) and right of free warren over her lands at Barton, Cheselbourne, Almer and Caundle (Dorset), Donhead, Tisbury and Bradford (Wiltshire), and Felpham (Sussex). (fn. 31) Edward I by letters patent in 1290 licensed the alienation to the abbey by Edward de Manneston of land and two messuages in Donhead and Tisbury, (fn. 32) and on payment of a fine in 1304 allowed the nuns to acquire the manor of Stour by feoffment of Ralph Wake. (fn. 33) By licence of Edward II in 1318 Stephen Pruet, parson of Compton Abbas, bestowed on the convent 20s. yearly rent out of Donhead (Wiltshire) for the provision of a light to burn through the night in the cloister of their abbey. (fn. 34) Edward III in 1337 gave a licence for the sisters to acquire more land to the value of £10 yearly. (fn. 35) The king in 1340 after an inquisition confirmed to them the right to have four horse-loads of brush wood daily except Sunday from the forest of Gillingham. (fn. 36) Hugh le Despenser in 1343 bestowed a yearly rent of 10 marks from the manor of Broad Town (Wiltshire) for the lifetime of his sister Joan, a nun in the abbey, (fn. 37) and the following year the community obtained in proprios usus the church of Felpham (Sussex) of their advowson. (fn. 38) The abbess was allowed in 1368 to crenellate the abbey for the purpose of defence. (fn. 39) At the beginning of the fifteenth century the convent obtained from Henry IV letters patent inspecting and confirming the charters granted to them by his predecessors, (fn. 40) and in 1481 Edward IV inspected and confirmed by his letters patent a grant of Henry III for wreck of the sea in their manor of Kingston. (fn. 41)

That popular form of religious endowment, the foundation of chantries, was the object of many additional grants to the abbey in the fourteenth century. In 1326, and again in the first year of Edward III, the community acquired two messuages in Shaftesbury in aid of the maintenance of a chaplain who should celebrate daily in the church of St. Mary and St. Edward for the souls of Edward I and all the faithful departed. (fn. 42) In 1330 Walter Hervy obtained a licence for the alienation of a toft and 8 acres of land in Shaftesbury for the provision of a chaplain to officiate daily at the altar of St. Anne in the conventual church; (fn. 43) by another licence in 1334 three messuages, 26 acres of land, and 4 acres of meadow in the town were alienated for the maintenance of a chaplain to celebrate daily for the souls of Sibyl Cokyn, Thomas de Hacche, John Kokyn, and Agnes de Hacche, their ancestors and heirs, at the altar of St. Thomas the Apostle. (fn. 44) Richard Poinz in 1340 made over a rent of 15s. for the provision of a chaplain who should celebrate daily in the church for his soul and the souls of his ancestors; (fn. 45) and in 1342 a chantry was founded at the altar of St. Nicholas for the good estate of Thomas Platel of Shaftesbury and Alice his wife and for their souls after death, and the souls of their ancestors, heirs, and benefactors. (fn. 46) The priest serving the chantry at the altar of Holy Cross was in 1364 transferred by the bishop to the church of Holy Trinity within the churchyard of the monastery, and inducted therein as perpetual chaplain with a fit salary assigned. (fn. 47) Various other chantries were established to commemorate the souls of certain of the abbesses. (fn. 48) In the episcopal registers mention is made of the chantry of St. Edward within the abbey, (fn. 49) and the chantry commissioners of Edward VI in the sixteenth century made a return of three chantries at Shaftesbury: St. Catherine's at the altar of St. Catherine, St. John Baptist, and the chantry of St. Anne de la Gore in the chapel of that name within the parish of St. James. (fn. 50) The abbess and convent were granted in 1386 reversion of the manor of Brydesyerd for the support of a chaplain officiating in a place called 'le Belhous' in Shaftesbury and of the twelve poor inmates there. (fn. 51) In the Valor of 1535 various sums were assigned by the community in support of these twelve poor men in the 'Maudelyn' or 'Belhous' of Shaftesbury, who in return for their maintenance were bound to pray for the founders of the monastery. (fn. 52)

The endowment of the monastery was so considerable and the extent of its possessions so vast that in the Middle Ages there was a popular saying, 'If the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury their heir would hold more land than the king of England.' (fn. 53) In the reign of Henry II the holding of the abbess was assessed at the service of seven knights, (fn. 54) three of whom appear to have represented her fees in Dorset and Somerset and four those in Wiltshire. (fn. 55) In 1166 she certified the king by charter that the seven knights she was bound to find for his service were as follows: Earl Patrick one fee, Anselin Mauduit, Jordan de Necche, and Thurstan de Huseldure a fee each, Robert FitzPeter and Roger de Thoka held the fifth fee, and the sixth and seventh were held 'against the convent' by Roger de Newburgh, who in addition held Almer at a rent of 40s. and said that he ought to hold it for half a fee, which however the abbess declared William de Glastonia never did; twelve other tenants held various fractions of fees. (fn. 56) Henry III by charter of 4 May, 1233, released to the Abbess Amicia and her successors the demand made by the king and his ancestors of the service of three knights and the fourth part and sixth part of a fee in addition to the seven already enumerated, ordaining that in future the said abbess should be accountable only for the service of seven knights, which she admitted to be due. (fn. 57) At the close of the thirteenth century the Taxatio assessed the temporalities of the abbey in the diocese of Salisbury at £506 14s., (fn. 58) in the diocese of Chichester at £50, (fn. 59) and £33 in the diocese of Bath and Wells. (fn. 60) The spiritualities of the convent, reckoned only at £14, consisted of pensions from the churches of St. James, Shaftesbury, Tisbury, and Bradford. (fn. 61) The power and influence in the district possessed by the abbess can have been only less than supreme; to her belonged a moiety of the manor of Shaftesbury— the other half pertaining to the king (fn. 62) —and the custody of the vill for which she paid a fee farm of £12. (fn. 63) The patronage in her hands and those of the community was above that of any other religious house in the county; in addition to the presentation of all the churches in Shaftesbury, at that time numbering twelve with the abbey, and the advowson of the hospital of St. John super montem, she had within her gift the four prebends or portions for secular priests within the conventual church, viz., Iwerne Minster, Gillingham, Liddington, and Fontmell, the appointment of the various chaplains officiating at the different chantries, and the presentation to the office of deacon of the high altar within the church, collation to which fell to the crown in the vacancy of the abbey. (fn. 64) In the return of church property of 1535 the receipts and disbursements are entered of an official appointed by the abbess and removable at her will, William Breton, clerk, who held the office of sacrist of the abbey and to whom was assigned certain rents for the maintenance and repair of the church, the provision of bread, wine, and other necessaries for the celebration of divine offices, and the payment of salaries and pensions for certain priests officiating in the church. (fn. 65)

On the eve of the Dissolution the net income of the abbey was assessed at £1,329 1s. 3d.; (fn. 66) the spiritualities of the community included the parsonages of Bradford and Tisbury and tithes from Barton, (fn. 67) their temporalities the manors of Barton, Downton, Fontmell, Tarrant, Liddington (Wiltshire), Hinton, Felpham (Sussex), Kingston, Donhead (Wiltshire), Stour, Tisbury (Wiltshire), Cheselbourne, Combe (Somerset), Caundle, 'Arne,' 'Kulmyngton,' Handley, Melbury, Sedgehill (Wiltshire), Berwick (Wiltshire), Almer, Iwerne Minster and Kelston (Somerset). (fn. 68) But if the revenues of the abbey were enormous, (fn. 69) the charges on the house were by no means trifling, and the management of so vast an estate and the direction of so large a community called for powers of government and organization which it is more than probable every abbess did not possess. Whether the difficulties that arose were due mainly to the too frequent absence of these qualities or sprang from other causes the fact remains that from the fourteenth century, and even earlier, onwards, the house with every outward sign and manifestation of wealth and influence was continuously crippled by insufficient means and its existence chequered by the constant recurrence of debt and insolvency. As regards the charges on the house, the abbess was summoned by writ to furnish soldiers for the field in proportion to the number of her fees; (fn. 70) the summons to Parliament, to which by tenure she was entitled, was omitted on the ground of her sex. The convent, in common with the majority of houses under the royal patronage, was called on to provide maintenance for boarders at the king's presentation, (fn. 71) and was expected on the occasion of the new creation of an abbess to furnish a pension for a clerk at the royal appointment. (fn. 72) In addition the king claimed a right to present a nun on the occasion of the voidance of the abbey, (fn. 73) and the episcopal registers record that the bishop of Salisbury, on his promotion to the see, had the right of placing an inmate in the house and of appointing one of the nuns to act as her instructor. (fn. 74) Henry V, in the first year of his reign, presented Iodonia Wodehill to the convent in accordance with his prerogative to nominate a nun to the abbey on his coronation. (fn. 75) Henry VI, in 1480, recalling this ancient privilege, presented Joan Archcombe, 'of good life and honest conversation;' in like manner, (fn. 76) Richard III in his first year issued letters of recommendation for Elizabeth Bryther to be the king's 'mynchyne' at Shaftesbury. (fn. 77)

One of the causes contributing to the troubles of the monastery was the excessive number of its inmates. The pope, whose attention in 1217 was directed to the abbey by an appeal made to him in connexion with a disputed election, (fn. 78) in 1218 forbad the community to admit nuns beyond the number of a hundred, on the ground that they were unable to support more or to give alms to the poor. (fn. 79) Evidently the decree was not observed, for in 1322 the bishop of Salisbury, after a recent visitation of the house, wrote to the abbess and convent pointing out that they had neglected the order of the Holy Father, that the inmates of the house were far too many for its goods to support, and forbidding them to admit more until the state of the abbey had been relieved. (fn. 80) Four years later, in response to a petition from the abbess asking him to fix a statutory number, the bishop issued an order stating that the house was capable of maintaining 120 nuns and no more, and until the community had been reduced to that number the abbess and convent should not receive any more inmates. (fn. 81) It is evident that this number became considerably reduced a century later. The voting body at the election of Edith Bonham in 1441 consisted of forty-one professed sisters and fourteen awaiting profession (tacite professae); (fn. 82) the total number at the election of Margaret St. John in 1460 was fifty-one; (fn. 83) at the election of Margaret Twyneo in 1496 twenty-five professed sisters and eleven not yet professed are mentioned; (fn. 84) at the election of Elizabeth Shelford, 1504, twenty-eight professed and twenty-two tacitly professed voted. (fn. 85) The surrender deed of the abbey on its dissolution gives the names of fiftyfive sisters besides the abbess and prioress. (fn. 86)

The usual expedients were adopted in order to relieve the financial difficulties of the abbey. The sisters, after a petition setting forth the charges incumbent on them for the maintenance of the statutory number of 120 nuns and the exercise of hospitality, as well as the losses they had incurred through the inundation of their lands, obtained a bull from the pope in 1343 appropriating to their use the church of Bradford of their advowson. (fn. 87) Edward III in 1365, by a charter reciting the reduction of the house by tempestuous winds, pestilences, and other adversities, so that its means barely sufficed to support the community or to meet the charges incumbent on them, granted to the prioress and nuns the custody of the temporalities of the abbey on the occasion of its next voidance by the death of Abbess Joan Formage. (fn. 88) In 1380 the sisters were allowed, in consideration of the damage to their lands by encroachments of the sea and losses of sheep and cattle, to appropriate to themselves the church of Tisbury, the advowson of which already belonged to them. (fn. 89) About the same time Bishop Erghum made an ordination assigning a weekly allowance of 2d. to each nun from the issues of the house with the object of reducing as far as possible the expenditure of the community. (fn. 90) The convent in 1382 petitioned Richard II that, whereas they could not hold out another year against their indebtedness unless some remedy were provided, the king would on all future occasions of a voidance in the abbey allow the community to retain the temporalities in their own hands (saving to the king knights' fees and advowsons), rendering an account of the same to the Exchequer for a year or any part of a year. (fn. 91) Bishop Aiscough in the fifteenth century sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Gillingham to the abbey, which, through pestilence, failure of crops, want of labourers 'and their excessive demands,' was said to be much reduced. (fn. 92)

To focuss the various references to Shaftesbury in the episcopal registers so as to gain some idea of the state of the monastery, apart from its financial condition and worldly standing, is a task of extreme difficulty. Incidents that illustrate the inevitable defects and shortcomings of a house are calculated to mislead in many instances, and doubly so if accepted as representing the normal state of affairs in connexion with a community of the size and importance of the abbey of St. Edward. (fn. 93) The house was visited from time to time by the bishop of Salisbury or his commissary; he received the profession of canonical obedience from the abbess, and bestowed the benediction on her election. The episcopal registers record the appointment by him of confessors to the abbey and the reception of the profession of the nuns. An order was sent in 1298 to Robert, rector of the church of Donington, desiring him to enforce suitable penance to the abbess and nuns of Shaftesbury, who, 'for their offences against God and by the creation of scandal,' had incurred sentence of excommunication. (fn. 94) A copy of the edict of Pope Boniface for the stricter inclosure of nuns was forwarded to the sisters at the beginning of the fourteenth century by Simon of Ghent, who announced that by the 'new constitution' he was bound to visit yearly the nuns subject to his authority. (fn. 95) The abbess, after a visitation in 1309, was strictly admonished not to allow the sisters to go out into the town of Shaftesbury save under special conditions, 'lest scandal enter in and not without negligence on your part.' (fn. 96) Further, one of the nuns, Christina Baryl, was ordered to be confined within the cloister of the monastery until notice had been sent by the bishop. (fn. 97) The archdeacon of Dorset and William of Braybrook, canon of Salisbury, were ordered in 1316 to adjudicate in a dispute which had arisen in the monastery between the abbess and certain of the nuns. (fn. 98) Joan Formage, who was elected abbess in 1362, received a dispensation from the bishop in 1368 to leave the abbey for a year and reside in her manors for the sake of air and recreation. (fn. 99) On her death in August, 1394, the bishop ordered the abbey to be sequestrated, and annulled a will by which she had alienated the goods of the house in bequests to friends, declaring such a disposition to be injurious to the community and contrary to the usage of religious women. (fn. 100) A good deal of disturbance and a species of interregnum ensued before the appointment of a successor, in spite of the consideration of Richard II, who granted a licence to elect immediately on the voidance of the abbey, (fn. 101) and, 'in pity for the poverty of the house,' directed the bishop to signify the royal assent without delay to the choice of the community. (fn. 102) In November of the same year Richard Pittes, canon of Salisbury, John Gowayn, and Thomas Bonham were appointed to examine and take charge of the abbey, to inform themselves as to its condition, the withdrawal and waste of its goods, as well as to make allowances for the maintenance of the nuns and their household, holding the remainder of the revenues in charge until further orders. According to the letters patent of this commission the king had been forced to abrogate the grant made by himself and his predecessors to the prioress and convent of the temporalities of the abbey during voidance, as by fraudulent means an election had been obtained of an unfit person, who, with the object of securing confirmation of her appointment, had repaired with an excessive number of men to places remote, to the waste and destruction of the possessions of the community. (fn. 103) Richard II, after an interval of more than six months had elapsed since the death of abbess Joan Formage, wrote to the bishop, April, 1395, desiring him to provide a fit person to the abbey, which by this time had lapsed to his collation. (fn. 104) The choice fell on Egelina de Counteville; the pope, at the king's special request, confirmed her election as abbess, 'although Lucy Fitzherberde has the greater number of votes,' (fn. 105) and so the matter ended. Bishop Hallam in 1410, on a report that the nuns were given to frequenting places outside the monastery, addressed a letter of admonition to the abbess and convent, bidding them consider the punishment that overtook Dinah the daughter of Jacob for yielding to the desire to go abroad. (fn. 106) In the same year the bishop issued an indulgence for those who should visit the monastery on the principal feasts of St. Edward, King and Martyr, from the time of the first to the second vespers. (fn. 107) In 1412 letters of indulgence were published for those visiting the shrine of St. Edward on the feast of his translation, 20 June. (fn. 108) There are no visitation reports of Shaftesbury during the fifteenth century, and few references during the remainder of its existence save those recording the election of superiors and the admission of the profession of nuns. (fn. 109)

The last abbess of Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Zouche, hoped doubtless by a conciliatory attitude to secure from the court party some measure of consideration for her house. Sir Thomas Arundel, in a letter to the 'visitor-general of monasteries,' in 1536, states that by the advice of the writer the abbess and convent have given him (Cromwell) the next presentation to the parsonage of Tarrant, for which he had expressed a desire, adding, 'my lady is right glad to do you pleasure.' (fn. 110) The transfer to Shaftesbury in the same year of the prioress and nuns of the small Benedictine priory of Cannington (Somerset), dissolved by the earlier Act of suppression, (fn. 111) may have encouraged the poor lady to continue her efforts, and nerved her to hold out longer than was the general disposition in this county. At any rate, Sir Thomas Arundel, writing again to Cromwell in December, 1538, informs him that, contrary to advice, the abbess of Shaftesbury refuses to follow the 'moo' (majority), and resign, and offers the king 500 marks and Cromwell £100 for her house to be allowed to stand. (fn. 112) The offer was fruitless; the fate of Shaftesbury was sealed, though the house, owing perhaps to the abbess's spirited endeavour, was the last to fall in this county. With the surrender of Elizabeth Zouche and her fifty-six nuns on 2 March, 1539, (fn. 113) ends the long line of abbesses headed in the ninth century by Alfred's daughter.

Abbesses of Shaftesbury

Elfgiva or Æthelgeofu or Algiva, first abbess about 888 (fn. 114)

Ælfthrith, occurs 948 (fn. 115)

Herleva, occurs 966, (fn. 116) died 982 (fn. 117)

Alfrida, occurs 1001 or 1009 (fn. 118)

Leueua, occurs temp. Edward the Confessor (fn. 119)

Eulalia, appointed 1074 (fn. 120)

Eustachia (fn. 121)

Cecilia, appointed 1107 (fn. 122)

Emma, occurs temp. Henry I (fn. 123)

Mary, occurs 1189 (fn. 124)

J., elected 1216 (fn. 125)

Amicia Russell, elected 1223 (fn. 126)

Agnes Lungespee, elected 1243 (fn. 127)

Agnes de Ferrers, elected 1247 (fn. 128)

Juliana de Bauceyn, died 1279 (fn. 129)

Laurentia de Muscegros, elected 1279 (fn. 130) died 1290

Joan de Bridport, elected 1290, (fn. 131) died 1291

Mabel Gifford, elected 1291 (fn. 132)

Alice de Lavyngton, elected 1302, (fn. 133) died 1315

Margaret Aucher, elected 1315, (fn. 134) died 1329

Dionisia le Blunde, elected 1329, (fn. 135) died 1345

Joan Duket, elected 1345, (fn. 136) died 1350

Margaret de Leukenore, elected 1350 (fn. 137)

Joan Formage, elected 1362, (fn. 138) died 1394

Egelina de Counteville, appointed 1395 (fn. 139)

Cecilia Fovent, occurs 1398, (fn. 140) died 1423

Margaret Stourton, elected 1423, (fn. 141) died 1441

Edith Bonham, elected 1441, (fn. 142) died 1460

Margaret St. John, elected 1460 (fn. 143)

Alice Gibbes, died 1496 (fn. 144)

Margaret Twyneo, elected 1496, (fn. 145) died 1505

Elizabeth Shelford, elected 1505, (fn. 146) died 1528

Elizabeth Zouche or Zuche, elected 1529, surrendered her abbey, 1539 (fn. 147)

The round thirteenth-century seal attached to the surrender deed of the abbey gives on the obverse an elaborate design of the church. In the doorway St. Edward, King and Martyr, fulllength, with the name s' EDW—ARDVS upon the string-courses at the sides. (fn. 148) Legend:—


The reverse shows within a carved quatrefoil the Coronation of the Virgin. Overhead the Dove; at the sides two candlesticks, crescents, and other emblems. In base, under a trefoiled arch, an abbess, half-length, holding a pastoral staff, is in prayer. (fn. 149) Legend:—



  • 1. Will. of Malmes. Gesta Regum (Rolls Ser.), i, 131; Matt. of Westm. Flores Hist. (Rolls Ser.), i, 468; Leland, Coll. i, 26; Leland, however, in another place (ibid. i, 67) speaks of Æthelbald, the son of Æthelwulf of Wessex, as the founder, and his brothers Æthelbert, Æthelred, and Alfred as co-founders. In various other passages the above authorities ascribe the foundation to St. Elgiva, wife of King Edmund, with her husband a great benefactor of the abbey (Will. of Malmes. Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser.), 186–7; Matt. of Westm. op. cit. i, 455; Leland, op. cit. ii, 252. It may be that the similarity in the name of the first abbess, Alfred's daughter, and that of the benefactress who followed her and was buried in the abbey, has led to this confusion as to the founder.
  • 2. Asser, De rebus gestis Ælfredi (Camd. Soc.), 19; Sim. of Durham, Opera (Twysden), 150; Leland, Coll. iii, 71.
  • 3. Birch, Cart. Sax. ii, 148. The date, however, 871, generally ascribed to this charter is some years previous to that usually given for the foundation of Shaftesbury.
  • 4. Ibid. ii, 383; Harl. MS. 61, fol. 11.
  • 5. Ibid. fol. 15; Cart. Sax. ii, 414.
  • 6. Ibid. 509; Harl. MS. 61, fol. 7.
  • 7. Ibid. fol. 4.
  • 8. Ibid. fol. 20d.; Cart. Sax. iii, 158.
  • 9. Ibid. iii, 449; Harl. MS. 61, fol. 13d.
  • 10. Ibid. fol. 2.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 1.
  • 12. Angl.-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 128.
  • 13. Harl. MS. 61, fol. 8.
  • 14. Angl.-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), 102; Leland, Coll. i, 219; ii, 252.
  • 15. The possessions of the abbey for instance in Sussex and Somerset are entered under 'Terra Sancti Edwardi,' in Wilts and Dorset under 'ecclesia S. Mariae Sceptesberiensis.'
  • 16. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, 17b.
  • 17. Ibid. i, fol. 67b.
  • 18. Ibid. i, fol. 91.
  • 19. Ibid. i, fol. 75.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. A summary of the charters contained in the register of Shaftesbury (Harl. MS. 61) is given by Dugdale, Mon. ii, 68.
  • 23. Harl. MS. 61, fol. 23.
  • 24. Ibid. fol. 24.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid. fol. 25.
  • 27. Ibid. fol. 26.
  • 28. Ibid. fol. 27.
  • 29. Pat. 54 Hen. III, No. 50. Confirmed by Edward IV; ibid. 21 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 11.
  • 30. Chart. R. 52 Hen. III, n. 12.
  • 31. Ibid. 22 Edw. I.
  • 32. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 11.
  • 33. Ibid. 32 Edw. I, m. 16.
  • 34. Ibid. 11 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 32.
  • 35. Ibid. 11 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 32. In part satisfaction of this grant they obtained in 1348 lands and messuages in Shaftesbury, Cann, Gussage St. Andrew and Minchington (Dorset), Kelston (Somerset), and Donhead St. Mary and St. Andrew (Wilts). Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 13.
  • 36. Pat. 14 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 6.
  • 37. Ibid. 17 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 3.
  • 38. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 15.
  • 39. Ibid. 42 Edw. I, pt. 1, m. 25. A complaint was made by the abbess and the king's tenants of Shaftesbury in 1341 that many evil-doers and breakers of the peace were going about armed, robbing and killing their servants, and that no remedy had been provided hitherto. Ibid. 15 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 45.
  • 40. Ibid. 2 Hen. IV, pt. 3, m. 20; 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 23.
  • 41. Ibid. 21 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 11.
  • 42. Ibid. 19 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 2; ibid. 1 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 23.
  • 43. Ibid. 4 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 18.
  • 44. Ibid. 8 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 21.
  • 45. Ibid. 14 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 20.
  • 46. Ibid. 16 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 32.
  • 47. Sarum Epis. Reg. Wyville, fol. 315. See Pat. 41 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 16.
  • 48. Dionysia le Blunde, Cecilia Fovent, Edith Bonham, and Margaret St. John. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 36.
  • 49. According to an institution in Bishop Chandler's register (fol. 44) the chantry of Edward, King and Martyr, was founded at the altar of St. Nicholas.
  • 50. Chant. Cert. Dorset, 16, Nos. 17–19, 95–7.
  • 51. Pat. 9 Rich. II, pt. 2, m. 31.
  • 52. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 280.
  • 53. Fuller, Church Hist. iii, 332.
  • 54. Red Bk. of the Exch. (Rolls Ser.), i, 27, 33, 43, 54, 80.
  • 55. Ibid. 64, 65.
  • 56. Ibid. i, 214.
  • 57. Chart. R. 17 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 58. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 183.
  • 59. Ibid. 139.
  • 60. Ibid. 203.
  • 61. Ibid. 178, 180–1.
  • 62. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 11–13.
  • 63. In 1391 Richard II made a life-grant to John Roos of this fee farm paid by the abbess for the town. Pat. 14 Rich. II, pt. 1, m. 30.
  • 64. Ibid. 18 Rich. II, pt. 1, m. 10.
  • 65. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 280.
  • 66. Ibid.
  • 67. Ibid. 276.
  • 68. Ibid. 276–9.
  • 69. The contrast between the wealth of Shaftesbury and that of all the other houses in the county is perhaps most vividly brought home to us when we read the list of grants made by the spirituality in 1527 towards the king's expenses in the recovery of the crown of France; Shaftesbury, like Glastonbury, contributed £1,000, double the contribution of the chapter of Salisbury and ten times the amount paid by Sherborne. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii, 2483.
  • 70. Parl. Writs (Rec. Com.), ii, div. 3, 1424.
  • 71. Close, 4 Edw. II, m. 25 d.; 18 Edw. II, m. 5 d.; 13 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 16 d.
  • 72. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 14 d.
  • 73. Ibid. pt. 2, m. 17.
  • 74. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mitford, fol. 139; Neville, fol. 51 d.; Blyth, fol. 40.
  • 75. Rymer, Foed. ix, 11.
  • 76. Rymer, Foed. x, 438.
  • 77. Harl. MS. 433, fol. 22d.
  • 78. Three judges were appointed by the pope to examine the case of A., nun of St. Edward's, who, as she declared, having been elected abbess was forced by her electors to renounce the right of her election. The case having been tried, however, the pope, on the petition of J., abbess of Shaftesbury, ordered the bishop of Salisbury, the prior of Amesbury, and the chancellor of Salisbury to impose silence on the said A., sacristan of the place, whose claim was found to be void. Cal. Pap. Letters, i, 49, 61.
  • 79. Ibid. 51.
  • 80. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, fol. 140.
  • 81. Ibid. pt. 2, fol. 231.
  • 82. Ibid. Aiscough, fol. 10.
  • 83. Ibid. Beauchamp, i, fol. 34.
  • 84. Ibid. Blyth, fol. 95.
  • 85. Ibid. Audley, 126–7.
  • 86. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 586.
  • 87. Cal. Pap. Letters, iii, 137. This grant was confirmed by the bishop, and received the royal sanction; Sarum Epis. Reg. Wyville, i, fol. 132d.; Pat. 23 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 17.
  • 88. Harl. MS. 61, fol. 116. A grant of the custody during voidance was first obtained by the nuns from Edward I in 1285, on payment of a fine of £100 (Close, 13 Edw. I, m. 3; 14 Edw. I, m. 8). It became the usual custom, but a confirmation of the grant was generally obtained on every separate occasion.
  • 89. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. 3, m. 14; Sarum Epis. Reg. Erghum, fol. 41.
  • 90. Ibid. fol. 44.
  • 91. Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), iii, 129.
  • 92. Sarum Epis. Reg. Aiscough, fol. 60.
  • 93. The register of Mitford contains a letter from the pope to the bishop desiring him to restore Alice Wilton, nun of Shaftesbury, to the position in the abbey which she had forfeited by the most grievous lapse of which a religious could be convicted, the sin of incontinence. The bishop, in accordance with the order, reinstated the nun, who had proved her penitence for the offence, and declared her eligible for all offices in the monastery save that of abbess; Sarum Epis. Reg. Mitford, fol. 122.
  • 94. Ibid. Simon of Ghent, i, fol. 5 d.
  • 95. Ibid. fol. 33.
  • 96. Ibid. fol. 127.
  • 97. Ibid.
  • 98. Ibid. Mortival, ii, fol. 47 d.
  • 99. Ibid. Wyville, ii, fol. 230.
  • 100. Ibid. Waltham, fol. 24.
  • 101. Pat. 18 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 10.
  • 102. Ibid. m. 5.
  • 103. Ibid.
  • 104. Ibid. 18 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 15.
  • 105. Cal. of Pap. Letters, iv, 524. Lucy Fitzherberde was probably the 'unfit person' elected on the first occasion.
  • 106. Sarum Epis. Reg. Hallam, fol. 29.
  • 107. Ibid.
  • 108. Ibid. fol. 56.
  • 109. In 1442 the profession was received by the bishop of fifteen of the nuns, and in 1453 of fourteen; ibid. Aiscough, fol. 97; Beauchamp, i (2), fol. 150.
  • 110. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 1340.
  • 111. Ibid. 1450.
  • 112. Ibid. xiii (2), 1092.
  • 113. Ibid. xiv (1), 586. To Elizabeth Zouche was assigned on her surrender a pension of £133 6s. 8d.; the prioress received a pension of £20, the subprioress £7, and the remainder of the sisters yearly sums ranging from £6 13s. 4d. to 56s. 8d.; ibid.
  • 114. Will. of Malmes. Gesta Regum (Rolls Ser.), i, 131; Flor. Wigorn. Chron. (Engl. Hist. Soc), i, 104.
  • 115. She is mentioned in a charter of King Ædred, Harl. MS. 61, fol. 4.
  • 116. Gale, Rerum Angl. Script, i, 45.
  • 117. Angl.-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), i, 103.
  • 118. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 27.
  • 119. Dugdale (Mon. ii, 473), from Exon. Domesday.
  • 120. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 30.
  • 121. Dugdale, Mon. ii, 473.
  • 122. The third daughter of Robert Fitz Hamon, who elevated Tewkesbury to the dignity of an abbey. Ibid. ii, 473.
  • 123. Harl. MS. 61, fol. 23.
  • 124. Ibid. fol. 26.
  • 125. Pat. 1 Hen. III, m. 16.
  • 126. Ibid. 7 Hen. III, m. 3.
  • 127. Ibid. 27 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 128. Ibid. 31 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 129. Ibid. 7 Edw. I, m. 21.
  • 130. Ibid. m. 16.
  • 131. Ibid. 18 Edw. I, m. 34.
  • 132. Ibid. 19 Edw. I, m. 3.
  • 133. Sarum Epis. Reg. Simon of Ghent.
  • 134. Pat. 9 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 14.
  • 135. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 13.
  • 136. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 13.
  • 137. Ibid. 24 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 21.
  • 138. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 27.
  • 139. Pat. 18 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 10.
  • 140. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mitford, fol. 105.
  • 141. Pat. 2 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 22.
  • 142. Sarum Epis. Reg. Aiscough, fol. 10.
  • 143. Ibid. Beauchamp, i, fol. 37.
  • 144. Ibid. Blyth, fol. 95.
  • 145. Ibid.
  • 146. Ibid. Audley, fol. 126d.
  • 147. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 5290; xiv (1), 586.
  • 148. Deeds of Surrender, No. 211. See also B.M. Seals, lxii, 49.
  • 149. Ibid. 50.