Community ID
Modern Location
Corporate Status
S. Mary and S. Edward and possibly All Saints
Date Founded
888 (traditional date); it could have been founded any time between 880 and circa 893
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Foundation Information

Shaftesbury was a royal foundation said by Asser to have been made by King Alfred for his daughter Aethelgifu who became its first abbess. William of Malmesbury stated that Elgiua, wife of King Edmund founded the abbey and John Leland ads Aethelbald, son of Aethelwulf of Wessex to the possible founders (see Veiled Women, vol. 2, 166-167, for a discussion of foundation information).

Notable Heads

Aethelgifu, daughter of king Alfred, may have been the first abbess. Cecily, daughter of the earl of Goucester, was succeeded as abbess in the twelfth century by a half-sister of Henry II, the poetess Marie de France.
Eulalia (abbess from 1074 to 1106) corresponded with Anselm: [Letter to Eulalia, abbess of Shaftesbury, 1094-95], [Letter to Eulalia, abbess of Shaftesbury, 1104], [Letter to Eulalia, abbess of Shaftesbury, 1106].

Population Counts

This was the largest nunnery in England. In 1218 the number of nuns was limited to 100, and in 1326 it was ordained that no more nuns should be received until the number had been reduced to 120. There were 55 nuns in 1441, 51 in 1560, 50 in 1504, and 57 in 1539.

Dependent Communities

According to Knowles, the two hospitals at Shaftesbury and the hospital of S. Margaret at Bradford-on-Avon were under the patronage of the abbey; Knowles lists male community. According to Foot, an earlier community, unrelated to S. Margaret, at Bradford-on-Avon was also a dependency of Shaftesbury. This community developed because the nuns took refuge at Bradford and the king required them to leave a community of nuns there when they returned to Shaftesbury (Veiled Women, vol. 1, 76).


King Alfred; King Eadwig; and King Edmund all seem to have been benefactors or claimed to be benefactors of the abbey.

Secular Political Affiliations

The community maintained a profitable relationship with the West Saxon royal house. Wynflaed, grandmother of King Edgar, had a connection to the community.

Relative Wealth

At the Conquest, Shaftesbury was the richest nunnery in England with lands totaling 353 hides in Dorset and Wiltshire. The gross value of the community's assets was, at the time of the Conquest, was 285 pounds.


According to the Domesday book, Shaftesbury owned 40 hides at Don head, 20 hides at (Sixpenny) Handley, 10 at Tarrant (Hinton, 18 at Iwerne Minster and 15 at Fontmell (Magna) (Domesday Book: a survey of the counties of England, vol. 1, fo 78 vb; see also Veiled Women, vol. 2, 166, n 4). This list apparently only represented a portion of the abbey's property at the time of Conquest. For a more detailed list of Shaftesbury's holdings see The Wealth, Patronage, and Connections of Women's Houses in Late Anglo-Saxon England, 163, and The Abbey of Shaftsbury, 73.


According to the Domesday book, the gross income of the convent was 234 pounds, 5 Shillings. It also showed the convent as owing a quota of 7 knights, earlier 10, to the king. In 1535 the community's net income was over 1166 pounds.

Literary Works

Salisbury Psalter, Salisbury, Cathedral Library, MS. 150, was at one time owned by Shaftesbury. Changes made by a scribe indicate that the manuscript was used by women.


The body of Edward the Martyr resided at least for a time at Shaftesbury.

Miscellaneous Information

It was the largest female community in England and had 3 dependencies. Shaftesbury was supposed to have been one of the women's houses, along with Barking, Horton, Wilton and Wareham (female) , that was given to St. Wulfrida after Edgar tried to seduce her. S. Foot notes, however, that this connection between Wulfrida and Shaftesbury may refer to a second religious community in the town.
In addition to a community of nuns, there seem to have been some religious women, such as Wynflaed, mother of Aelfgifu, one of the possible founders of Shaftesbury, who had some close connection to the abbey that seems to be similar to the connection individual vowesses had to a male community.

Admin. Notes


WRL Project
Date Started
Date Finished