Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

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Birthplace: Berkhamstead, Suffolk, England
Death: Died in Shaftsbury Abbey, England
Place of Burial: Shaftesbury, England.
Immediate Family:

Daughter of NN (Wynflæd's husband) of Shaftesbury; Byrtsige, Prince of Mercia; Wynflaed of Shaftesbury and Wynflæd of Mercia
Wife of Edmund I "The Magnificent", King of the English and Edmund I the Elder, King of the English
Mother of Eadwig, King of the English and Edgar I "The Peaceful", King of the English
Sister of Eadmære

Occupation: Queen Consort of England
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury (d. 944)

Parents: (unknown father) & Wynfled

Spouse: King Edmund (I) of England (r. 939-946)


Eadwig (r. 955-959)

Edgar (r. 959-975)


King Edward "the Elder" & his third wife (EADGIFU, daughter of SIGEHELM Lord of Meopham, Cooling and Lenham in Kent) had four children:

13. EADMUND (921-murdered Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire 26 May 946, bur Glastonbury Abbey[1690]). "Eadmundus regis frater" subscribed charters of King Æthelstan dated 931 and 939, under the latter also being the grantee of land at Droxford, Hampshire[1691]. He fought with his half-brother King Æthelstan at Brunanburh in 937[1692]. He succeeded his half-brother in 939 as EDMUND King of Wessex, crowned 29 Nov 939 at Kingston-upon-Thames. Olaf Guthfrithson King of Dublin invaded England in 939 and by the end of that year had occupied York. In raids on northern Mercia the following year, King Olaf took Tamworth and nearby land, and under a treaty agreed with King Edmund took the whole of modern Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. King Olaf continued by invading Northumbria over the Tees, but died before the end of 940. King Edmund regained the lost territories from Olaf's successor Olaf Sihtricson in 942. King Edmund brought Northumbria under his control in 944, expelling both Olaf Sihtricson and Rægnald Guthfrithson from York. From that time he may be regarded as king of a united England. He ravaged Strathclyde in 945. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death on St Augustine's day 946 of King Edmund[1693]. Simeon of Durham records that King Edmund was killed "VII Kal Jun" in 946 and buried at Glastonbury[1694]. Florence of Worcester records that he was stabbed to death by Leof "a ruffianly thief" while attempting to defend his steward from being robbed[1695].

[m firstly] ([940]) ÆLFGIFU, daughter of --- & his wife Wynflæd --- (-Shaftesbury Abbey after 943).

"Alfgifu concubine regis" subscribed a 943 charter of King Edmund[1696]. This reference suggests that Ælfgifu was not married to King Edmund, corroborated by another charter of the same year1700 in which his [second] wife is differentiated by the epithet "regina" and the dating of which (if accurate) suggests that the king's relationship with both "wives" was simultaneous. If this is correct, Ælfgifu's date of death cannot necessarily be assumed to be [944/46]. She was popularly reputed a saint after her death as St Elgiva[1697]. Ælfgifu was probably the daughter of Wynflæd as "Wynflæd aua mea" is named in King Edgar's grant of confirmations to Shaftesbury Abbey dated 966[1698].

m [secondly] (943 or before) ÆTHELFLÆD, daughter of ÆLFGAR Ealdorman of the Wilsaetas & his wife --- (Damerham, Wiltshire ----Shaftesbury Abbey [after 975/92], bur Shaftesbury Abbey).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle names "Æthelflæd of Damerham, daughter of ealdorman Ælfgar" as queen of King Edmund in 946[1699]. "Eadmundus rex" granted "Æthelflæd regina sua" lands in Hampshire and Dorset by charter dated 943[1700]. She became a nun at Shaftesbury Abbey.

King Edmund & his first [wife] had two children:

a) EADWIG ([940]-1 Oct 959, bur Winchester Cathedral). "Eaduuius filius regis" subscribed a charter of King Edmund dated 941[1701]. As an infant, he was passed over for the succession in 946 in favour of his uncle. "Eadwig rex" subscribed a charter of King Edmund dated 946 and "Eadwig cliton" one of King Eadred dated 956[1702]. He succeeded his uncle in 955 as EADWIG King of England, crowned [26] Jan 956 at Kingston-upon-Thames. The people of Mercia and Northumbria rebelled against him in 957 and elected his brother Edgar king, after which the River Thames formed the boundary between the two kingdoms[1703]. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death 1 Oct 959 of King Eadwig[1704].

m ([955], separated 958) ÆLFGIFU, daughter of [EADRIC & his wife Æthelgifu] (-Gloucester [Sep 959][1705]). There is no direct proof that Ælfgifu whose will is dated to [966/75] was the same person as the wife of King Eadwig but this looks likely. Ælfgifu and her husband were separated on grounds of consanguinity by Oda Archbishop of Canterbury[1706], but the precise relationship has not been found. Weir dates the death of Ælfgifu to [Sep 959][1707] but the source on which this is based is not known and the date is inconsistent with the dating of the will. The will of "Ælfgifu" dated to [966/75] devises estates at Mongewell and Berkhampstead to "Ælfweard and Æthelweard and Ælfwaru", grants to "my sister Ælfwaru…all that I have lent her", and "to my brother's wife Æthelflæd the headband which I have lent her"[1708].

b) EDGAR ([943]-Winchester 8 Jul 975, bur Glastonbury Abbey). Florence of Worcester records the birth of "filium…Eadgarum" to "regi Eadmundo…sua regina sancta Ælfgiva", undated but dateable to [943] from the context[1709]. Reuniting the kingdom on his brother's death, he succeeded in 959 as EDGAR "the Peaceable" King of England.


Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury (d. 944) was the first wife of King Edmund (I) of England (r. 939-946), by whom she bore two future kings, Eadwig (r. 955-959) and Edgar (r. 959-975). Like her mother Wynflæd, she had a close and special if unknown connection with the royal nunnery of Shaftesbury (Dorset), founded by King Alfred,[1] where she was buried and soon revered as a saint. According to a pre-Conquest tradition from Winchester, her feast day is 18 May.[2]

Family background

Her mother appears to have been an associate of Shaftesbury Abbey called Wynflæd (also Wynnflæd). The vital clue comes from a charter of King Edgar, in which he confirmed the grant of an estate at Uppidelen (Piddletrenthide, Dorset) made by his grandmother (ava) Wynflæd to Shaftesbury.[3] She may well be the nun or vowess (religiosa femina) of this name in a charter dated 942 and preserved in the abbey's chartulary. It records that she received and retrieved from King Edmund a handful of estates in Dorset, namely Cheselbourne and Winterbourne Tomson, which somehow ended up in the possession of the community.[4]

Since no father or siblings are known, further speculation on Ælfgifu's background has largely depended on the identity of her mother, whose relatively uncommon name has invited further guesswork. H.P.R. Finberg suggests that she was the Wynflæd who drew up a will, supposedly sometime in the mid-10th century, after Ælfgifu's death. This lady held many estates scattered across the south of Wessex (Som., Wilts., Berks., Oxon., Hants.) and was well connected with the nunneries at Wilton and Shaftesbury, both of which were royal foundations. On that basis, a number of relatives have been proposed for Ælfgifu, including a sister called Æthelflæd, a brother called Eadmær and a grandmother called Brihtwyn.[5]

There is, however, no consensus among scholars about Finberg's suggestion. Simon Keynes and Gale R. Owen object that there is no sign of royal relatives or connections in Wynflæd's will and Finberg's assumptions about Ælfgifu's family therefore stand on shaky ground.[6] Andrew Wareham is less troubled about this and suggests that different kinship strategies may account for it.[7] Much of the issue of identification also seems to hang on the number of years by which Wynflæd can plausibly have outlived her daughter. In this light, it is significant that on palaeographical grounds, David Dumville has rejected the conventional date of c. 950 for the will, which he considers “speculative and too early” (and that one Wynflæd was still alive in 967).[8]

Married life

The sources do not record the date of Ælfgifu's marriage to Edmund. The eldest son Eadwig, who had barely reached majority on his accession in 955, may have been born around 940, which gives us only a very rough terminus ante quem for the betrothal. Although as the mother of two future kings, Ælfgifu proved to be an important royal bed companion, there is no strictly contemporary evidence that she was ever consecrated as queen. Likewise, her formal position at court appears to have been relatively small-fry, overshadowed as it was by the queen mother Eadgifu of Kent. In the single extant document witnessed by her, a Kentish charter datable between 942 and 944, she subscribes as the king's concubine (concubina regis), with a place assigned to her between the bishops and ealdormen. By comparison, Eadgifu subscribes higher up in the witness list as mater regis, after her sons Edmund and Eadred but before the archbishops and bishops.[9] It is only towards the end of the 10th century that Æthelweard the Chronicler styles her queen (regina), but this may be a retrospective honour at a time when her cult was well established at Shaftesbury.

Much of Ælfgifu's claim to fame derives from her association with Shaftesbury. Her patronage of the community is suggested by a charter of King Æthelred, dated 984, according to which the abbey exchanged with King Edmund the large estate at Tisbury (Wiltshire) for Butticanlea (unidentified). Ælfgifu received it from her husband and intended to bequeath it back to the nunnery, but such had not yet come to pass (her son Eadwig demanded that Butticanlea was returned to the royal family first).[10]

Ælfgifu predeceased her husband in 944.[11] In the early 12th century, William of Malmesbury wrote that she suffered from an illness during the last few years of her life, but there may have been some confusion with details of Æthelgifu's life as recorded in a forged foundation charter of the late 11th or 12th century (see below).[12] Her body was buried and enshrined at the nunnery.[13]


Ælfgifu was venerated as a saint soon after her burial at Shaftesbury. Æthelweard reports that many miracles had taken place at her tomb up to his day,[14] and these were apparently attracting some local attention. Lantfred of Winchester, who wrote in the 970's and so can be called the earliest known witness of her cult, tells of a young man from Collingbourne (possibly Collingbourne Kingston, Wiltshire), who in the hope of being cured of blindness travelled to Shaftesbury and kept vigil. What led him there was the reputation of “the venerable St Ælfgifu […] at whose tomb many bodies of sick person receive medication through the omnipotence of God”.[15] Despite the new prominence of Edward the Martyr as a saint interred at Shaftesbury, her cult continued to flourish in later Anglo-Saxon England, as evidenced by her inclusion in a list of saints' resting places, at least 8 pre-Conquest calendars and 3 or 4 litanies from Winchester.[16]

Ælfgifu is styled a saint (Sancte Ælfgife) in the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (mid-11th century) at the point where it specifies Eadwig's and Edgar's royal parentage.[17] Her cult may have been fostered and used to enhance the status of the royal lineage, more narrowly that of her descendants.[18] Lantfred attributes her healing power both to her own merits and those of her son Edgar. It may have been due to her association that in 979 the supposed body of her murdered grandson Edward the Martyr was exhumed and in a spectacular ceremony, received at the nunnery of Shaftesbury, under the supervision of ealdorman Ælfhere.[19]

Ælfgifu's fame at Shaftesbury seems to have eclipsed that of its first abbess, King Alfred's daughter Æthelgifu,[20] so much so perhaps that William of Malmesbury wrote contradictory reports on the abbey's early history. In the Gesta regum, he correctly identifies the first abbess as Alfred's daughter, following Asser, although he gives her the name of Ælfgifu (Elfgiva),[21]while in his Gesta pontificum, he credits Edmund's wife Ælfgifu with the foundation.[22] Either William encountered conflicting information, or he meant to say that Ælfgifu refounded the nunnery.[23] In any event, William would have had access to local traditions at Shaftesbury, since he probably wrote a now lost metrical Life for the community, a fragment of which he included in his Gesta pontificum:[24]

Latin text Translation

Nam nonnullis passa annis morborum molestiam,

defecatam et excoctam Deo dedit animam.

Functas ergo uitae fato beatas exuuias

infinitis clemens signis illustrabat Deitas.

Inops uisus et auditus si adorant tumulum,

sanitati restituti probant sanctae meritum.

Rectum gressum refert domum qui accessit loripes,

mente captus redit sanus, boni sensus locuples

For some years she suffered from illness,

And gave to God a soul that it had purged and purified

When she died, God brought lustre to her blessed remains

In his clemency with countless miracles.

If a blind man or a deaf worship at her tomb,

They are restored to health and prove the saint's merits.

He who went there lame comes home firm of step,

The madman returns sane, rich in good sense.[25]


Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury (d. 944) was the first wife of King Edmund (I) of England (r. 939-946), by whom she bore two future kings, Eadwig (r. 955-959) and Edgar (r. 959-975). Like her mother Wynflæd, she had a close and special if unknown connection with the royal nunnery of Shaftesbury (Dorset), founded by King Alfred,[1] where she was buried and soon revered as a saint. According to a pre-Conquest tradition from Winchester, her feast day is 18 May.

Ælfgifu was venerated as a saint soon after her burial at Shaftesbury. Æthelweard reports that many miracles had taken place at her tomb up to his day,[14


   * Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS D), ed. D. Dumville and S. Keynes, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition. Vol. 6. Cambridge, 1983.
   * Æthelweard, Chronicon, ed. and tr. Alistair Campbell, The Chronicle of Æthelweard. London, 1961.
   * Lantfred of Winchester, Translatio et Miracula S. Swithuni, ed. and tr. M. Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun. Winchester Studies 4. The Anglo-Saxon Minsters of Winchester 2. Oxford, 2003. 252-333.
   * On the resting places of English saints, ed. F. Liebermann, Die Heiligen Englands. Angelsächsisch und lateinisch. Hanover, 1889. II no. 36 (pp. 17-8).
   * William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, ed. and tr. M. Winterbottom and R.M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury. Gesta Pontificum Anglorum The History of the English Bishops. OMT. 2 vols (vol 1: text and translation, vol. 2: commentary). Oxford: OUP, 2007.
   * William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. and tr. R.A.B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, William of Malmesbury. Gesta Regum Anglorum. The History of the English Kings. OMT. 2 vols: vol 1. Oxford, 1998.
   * "Ælfgifu 3", Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved: 2009-3-27.
   * Dumville, David. “English square minuscule script. The mid-century phases” Anglo-Saxon England 23 (1994): 133-64.
   * Finberg, H.P.R. The Early Charters of Wessex. Leicester, 1964.
   * Owen, Gale R. “Wynflæd's wardrobe.” Anglo-Saxon England 8 (1979): 195–222.
   * Thacker, Alan. “Dynastic monasteries and family cults. Edward the Elder's sainted kindred.” In Edward the Elder, 899-924, ed. N.J. Higham and David Hill. London: Routledge, 2001. 248-63.
   * Wareham, Andrew. "Transformation of kinship and the family in late Anglo-Saxon England." Early Medieval Europe 10 (2001). 375-99.*Yorke, Barbara. Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon royal houses. London, Continuum, 2003.

Her mother appears to have been an associate of Shaftesbury Abbey called Wynflæd (also Wynnflæd).


B: Abt 0922 , , Wessex, England

D: 0944


Was canonized after her death and thus became known as Saint Elgiva.



Æthelflæd married Edmund in 944 following the death of his first wife Ælfgifu, mother of the future kings Eadwig and Edgar.


Ælfgifu, the sixth or seventh daughter of Edward 'the Elder' and his second wife Ælfflæd.

Married, but sources regarding husband unclear. Might have been married to Boleslaw of Böhmen, a "duke near the Alps" or some other nobleman in France or Italy.,%20AngloSaxon%20&%20Danish%20Kings.htm#_Toc214769428


The Book of Hyde names "Edgitham et Elgimam" as fifth and sixth of the six daughters of King Eadweard by his first wife "Elfelmi comitis filia Elfleda", specifying that they were both sent to "Henrico Alemanorum imperatori" and that the latter married "cuidam duci iuxta Alpes"[1685], who has not been identified.

Hroswitha of Gandersheim describes her as "Adiva … younger in years and likewise inferior in merit" to her older sister Eadgyth, confirming that she accompanied to Germany to provide an alternative choice of bride for Otto of Germany[1686].

According to William of Malmesbury, she married "a certain Duke near the Alps"[1687].

Some possibilities have been suggested concerning the identity of the husband of Ælfgifu. A marriage with Boleslaw II "der Fromme" Duke of the Bohemians seems improbable chronologically. Although Duke Boleslaw's birth date is not known, the birth of his younger brother Strakhvas is recorded on 28 Sep 929[1688]. If this is correct, it seems unlikely that Boleslaw could have been born much earlier than 925 at the earliest, whereas Ælfgifu was probably born in the range [910/15] assuming that she was of marriageable age when she went to Germany with her sister.

Another possibility is Ludwig Graf im Thurgau, son of Rudolf I King of Upper Burgundy, who, according to Europäische Stammtafeln[1689], married "Edgifa, daughter of Edward I King of England".

The latter suggestion is chronologically implausible, assuming that it refers to Ælfgifu's younger half-sister Eadgifu who was married according to William of Malmesbury to "Louis Prince of Aquitaine" (see below), as King Rudolf's children were probably born between 880 and 900.

A third possibility is that “iuxta Alpes” should be interpreted as meaning the area south of the Alps, indicating south-eastern France or northern Italy, although it would be fruitful to speculate on the identity of Ælfgifu´s husband if this is correct given the number of possibilities, especially if the title “duci” should be interpreted broadly.

m ---.


married "a prince near the Alps", sometimes identified with Conrad of Burgundy or Boleslaus II of Bohemia


First wife of King Edmund (I) of England. Like her mother Wynflaed, she had a close and special if unknown connection with the royal nunnery of Shaftesbury founded by King Alfred, where she was buried and soon revered as a saint.

It was written in the early 12th century Aelfgifu suffered from anillness during the last few years of her life. Her body was buried and enshrined at the nunnery.

Aelfgifu was venerated as a saint soon after her burial at Shaftesbury. Many miracles had taken place at her tomb and attracted local attention.

The picture is of the Shaftesbury Abbey ruins.


After her husband died, Elgiva retired to the convent at Shaftesbury. She was praised for her generosity, wise counsel, gift of prophesy, and miracles attributed to her intercession. Her Feast Day is May 18.



Her origins are unknown. She has sometimes been reported erroneously as the Abbess of Wilton. After her death, she was popularly reputed to be a saint [Britain's Royal Families : The Complete Genealogy, p. 16].




Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury (d. 944) was the first wife of Edmund I (r. 939-946), by whom she bore two future kings, Eadwig (r. 955-959) and Edgar (r. 959-975). Like her mother Wynflæd, she had a close and special if unknown connection with the royal nunnery of Shaftesbury (Dorset), founded by King Alfred, where she was buried and soon revered as a saint. According to a pre-Conquest tradition from Winchester, her feast day is 18 May. --------------------Ælfgifu_of_Shaftesbury

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Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury's Timeline

Berkhamstead, Suffolk, England
Age 16
Wessex, England
Age 16
Wessex, England
Age 16
August 7, 943
Age 19
Wessex, England
Age 20
Shaftsbury Abbey, England
Age 20
Shaftesbury, England.
May 21, 1927
Age 20
August 30, 1928
Age 20
December 31, 1932
Age 20