Patronage, Privileges and the Saintly Royal Women of Shaftesbury and Wilton Abbeys

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The women of the West Saxon dynasty had long-standing connections to the female religious houses of southern England. Queens-consort served as founders, patrons and advocates. Often this patronage led to their residence at their favoured religious house in retirement from the royal court, whether as repudiated consort or as queen-dowager. Likewise, unwed royal daughters would enter abbeys to become lay sisters, nuns or abbesses, theoretically negating the possibility of unsanctioned marriage. The presence of these latter usually encouraged grants of privileges to the abbey in question. Royal grants could also be encouraged by the interment of a royal women. Inherent within these relationships was the potential for sainthood, and this paper focuses on three such examples of sainted royal women and their connections to the West Saxon abbeys of Shaftesbury and Wilton. Firstly, Ælfgifu (d. 944), first queen-consort to King Edmund I, who was buried at Shaftesbury Abbey. Secondly, Wulfthryth (d. 1000), the repudiated second consort of King Edgar, who retired to Wilton Abbey to become its abbess. Lastly, Wulfthryth and Edgar’s daughter Edith (d. c. 986), who followed in her mother’s footsteps as a nun of Wilton Abbey. An examination of representations of the three women in pre-Conquest histories and hagiographies, alongside relevant royal diplomas, will reveal that their legacies mediated a reciprocal relationship. Just as the abbeys benefitted from royal patronage, so too did the West Saxon dynasty benefit from the cults the abbeys fostered, its status enhanced by saintly wives and daughters.
Period1 Jul 2021
Event titleRoyal Patronage: Material Culture, Built Heritage & the Reach of the Crown: Kings & Queens 10 Conference
Event typeConference
LocationPerth, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational