Posted by: kljolly | June 5, 2012

Oakley and Glastonbury

Glastonbury is turning out to be a bit trickier than Shaftesbury in terms of locating its landholding and boundaries in the Woodyates and Oakley area, but nonetheless instructive for my project in recreating the southern Wiltshire and northern Dorset landscape for Aldred and Bishop Ælfsige’s 970 visit.   The Woodyates charter (S1753) is known only from a contents list, so we don’t have a description of the land or its boundaries; the charter for contiguous Damerham with Martin and Pentridge is fraught with uncertainties as to whose hands they were in circa 970.  Abrams, Anglo-Saxon Glastonbury, is an essential guide to the evidence surveyed here, particularly in terms of lining up charter with Domesday Book evidence.

Glastonbury’s acquisition of estates in Wiltshire and Dorset was part of an eastward expansion in the mid-tenth century, probably related to the monastic reform movement under Dunstan.  In Glastonbury’s records and that of other monasteries, the large number of charters to individuals issued under kings Æthelstan,  Edmund,  Eadred, Eadwig, and Edgar is not only testament to lay piety but to the complex relationships in landholding (Abrams, p, 342).  How that land was held and managed is subject to debate (Abrams, pp. 266-95): some land was held permanently or continuously, but perhaps with boundary changes between original charters, Domesday Book, and later cartularies; some land could be alienated temporarily and restored, others not; some was held by tenants, some by the abbot, or a mixture thereof; some tenants or land could not be “separated” (Abrams, pp. 292-95).

Management of the abbacy’s lands, especially those more remote, may have been undertaken by a designated official, given that the Regularis concordia, the reformed guide for monastic life produced circa 970-73, discouraged monks from leaving the monastery for that purpose, unless absolutely necessary (Reg. conc. 11; Abrams, pp. 267-70).  Thus Glastonbury may have assigned estate managers, like the reformer Dunstan’s brother Wulfric, who was referred to as praepositus (provost), the same term Aldred uses of himself in Old English in the Durham A.IV.19 colophon, praefast.  Aldred may have performed similar functions on behalf of the bishop for the community of St. Cuthbert’s lands in Northumbria.  Although their landholding shows similar complexities of permanent claims to land based on charter grants from kings and others in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto mixed with tenant leases, we don’t have Domesday Book evidence for comparison.

In Dorset by 1066, Glastonbury had 6 estates totaling 58 hides, plus an additional 22 ploughland; all had tenants solely or shared with the abbot’s lands (Abrams, pp. 276-77).  Both Woodyates and Pentridge each had 1 tenant only, but their tenancy in relation to Glastonbury and royals is complicated in the charter evidence.  In Wiltshire, Glastonbury held much more:  15 estates totaling more than 260 hides, with only 16% of it in tenants’ hands (Abrams, pp. 278-80).  Unlike Woodyates and Pentridge, Damerham (with Martin included) was a mixture of abbot’s and tenants’ land, but whether it was actually in Glastonbury’s hands in 970 requires closer examination of the charter evidence.  The upshot is that Glastonbury might not have been as much of a presence in the Oakley region in 970 as Shaftesbury was.

Woodyates.  As noted, charter S1753 is from a contents list (Cambridge Trinity College MS R.5.33, fols. 77r-78r, the Liber terrarum).  It reads simply Eadwi de Widingete dat’ Byrhtere .S. qui .G. (Abrams LT35, p. 32).  A second reference possibly to the same item in the  index chartarum  refers to Idem de Widamgate given to a layman by King Edgar, possibly an error for Eadwig or a regifting if the grant was a temporary alienation (Abrams D20 S1772, pp. 37, 253).  Apparently, then, King Eadwig (955-59) gave Woodyates to Brihthere, who gave it to Glastonbury (the latter gift also noted in William of Malmesbury’s Early History of Glastonbury).  Domesday Book also confirms Glastonbury holding Odiete in 1066 (see Oakley Back in Time). But in Edgar’s reign (959-75), and specifically in 970, was Brihthere the Woodyates tenant and was he holding from the king or from Glastonbury?

Damerham.  Here we have a charter with details, S513 (944×946), that includes the contiguous lands of Damerham with Martin in Wiltshire, and Pendridge in Dorset.  Damerham was apparently already a religious community in King Alfred’s day with its own lands, and may have continued to be a royal monastic foundation, eventually transferred to Glastonbury’s control in the tenth-century monastic reform (Abrams, pp. 104-07).  However, this charter from King Edmund  to his wife Æthelflæd grants a fairly large set of lands to the Queen for her lifetime, with the proviso that it reverts to Glastonbury after her death, an action confirmed in her will (S 1494).  Æthelflæd, Edmund’s second wife, outlived him and remarried an Ealdorman Æthelstan; the will is datable to 962 x 991, probably after 975, which means that the land was more than likely still in her hands in 970 when Aldred and Bishop Ælfsige traipsed through the area.   Martin was included in the Domesday assessment of Damerham (probably South Damerham, Martin, and district of Allenford and Toyd), but Pentridge is treated separately.

Pentridge.  Although Pentridge is included in S513 as part of the temporary alienation of monastic land into the queen’s hold, it appears to have a separate history from Damerham, linking it more firmly to lay control through royal gift.  Glastonbury does not hold onto it for long.  In 1066, Domesday Book has a layman named Wulfweard holding Pentridge from Glastonbury, who “could not be separated from the church;” by 1086 Pentridge was no longer Glastonbury’s but a royal demesne. Wulfweard (the White) was a thegn of Queen Edith and Queen Emma before her, who holds other estates in the area.  Although almost a hundred years later, this Domesday Book evidence suggests that Pentridge remained a royally controlled estate with a tenuous Glastonbury connection.

So, for my purposes, it seems likely that Bishop Ælfsige and Aldred are encountering around Woodyates and Oakley lay tenants, possibly monks at Damerham, as well as local officials representing the interests of King Edgar and his wife Queen Ælfthryth, dowager Queen Æthelflæd, Shaftesbury (under Abbess Herleva), and Glastonbury (under an Abbot Ælfric).    This leads to my next topic, regarding the “tent.”  Were Aldred and the bishop with their Northumbrian entourage on their own, itinerating through this region on their way from one place to another, or are they in Woodyates at a royal meeting with other bishops, abbots, and lay ministers?


Lesley Abrams,  Anglo-Saxon Glastonbury: Church and Endowment (Woodbridge:  Boydell, 1996).

The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey : Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C.A. Ralegh Radford, ed. Lesley Abrams and James P. Carley (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1991).


  1. The upshot is that Glastonbury might not have been as much of a presence in the Oakley region in 970 as Shaftesbury was.

    But, do either house actually have people on the ground who belong to the house in any obvious way, or is it just that every Whitsuntide and Christmas (or whatever) the provost’s reeve comes round to collect the dues? I ask because I don’t know, but it seems likely to me that fairly small estates like this would probably be operated by the same local family whoever their landlords were.

    • Also, apparently I can’t close my tags, sorry about that…

  2. Hi Jonathan. Exactly the issue I am running into at the moment: who exactly would be there? A local reeve to be sure, and perhaps someone sent occasionally from the monastery or whoever to collect rents. What I am actually playing with now (see the tent post) is that Edgar and entourage turned up at Woodyates and, in the absence of available housing, AElfsige and Aldred pick a nearby location to pitch their tents. If I have AElfsige sign the one charter in 970 his name appears on, I could make it happen at Woodyates and then use the charter witness list to figure out who else was there.

  3. […] Jolly of Revealing Words has been scouting her sites for her novel around Oakley and interpreting what a note about an Anglo-Saxon tent […]

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