Aelfgifu of Shaftsbury

Female (~914) - 944

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  • Name Aelfgifu of Shaftsbury 
    Born (~914)  [1
    Gender Female 
    Died 944  [1, 2
    Buried Shaftesbury Abbey, Dorset, England Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Person ID I50593  The Hennessee Family
    Last Modified 26 Oct 2019 

    Family Edmund I, King of the English,   b. ~921, Wessex, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 26 May 946, Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire, England Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married Y  [1, 2, 3, 4
     1. Edgar the Peaceful, King of England,   b. Abt 943, (Wessex) England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 8 Jul 0975, Winchester, Hampshire, England Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 32 years)
    Last Modified 24 Sep 2021 
    Family ID F18782  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Shaftesbury Abbey, Dorset, England Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Notes 
    • Saint ¥lfgifu of Shaftesbury, also known as Saint Elgiva[1] (died 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 Wynflaed, she had a close and special if unknown connection with the royal nunnery of Shaftesbury (Dorset), founded by King Alfred,[2] where she was buried and soon revered as a saint. According to a pre-Conquest tradition from Winchester, her feast day is 18 May.[3][4]

      Queen consort of England
      Tenure 939 - 944
      Died 944
      Burial Shaftesbury Abbey
      Spouse Edmund I, King of England
      Issue Eadwig, King of England
      Edgar, King of England
      Mother Wynflaed

      Family background

      Will of Wynflµd (British Library Cotton Charters viii. 38)[5]
      Her mother appears to have been an associate of Shaftesbury Abbey called Wynflaed (also Wynnflµd). 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) Wynflµd to Shaftesbury.[6] 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.[7]

      Since no father or siblings are known, further speculation on ¥lfgifu'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 Wynflµd who drew up a will, supposedly sometime in the mid-10th century, after ¥lfgifu's death. This lady held many estates scattered across Wessex (in Somerset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Hampshire) 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 ¥lfgifu, including a sister called ¥thelflµd, a brother called Eadmµr, and a grandmother called Brihtwyn.[8]

      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 Wynflµd's will and Finberg's assumptions about ¥lfgifu's family therefore stand on shaky ground.[9] Andrew Wareham is less troubled about this and suggests that different kinship strategies may account for it.[10] Much of the issue of identification also seems to hang on the number of years by which Wynflµd 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 Wynflµd was still alive in 967).[11]

      Married life

      The sources do not record the date of ¥lfgifu'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, ¥lfgifu proved to be an important royal bed companion, there is no strictly contemporary evidence that she was ever consecrated as queen. In a charter of doubtful authenticity dated 942-946, she attests as the king's concubine (concubina regis).[12] but later in the century ¥thelweard the Chronicler styles her queen (regina).

      The remains of the Norman buildings which replaced the earlier ones at Shaftesbury Abbey.
      Much of ¥lfgifu's claim to fame derives from her association with Shaftesbury. Her patronage of the community is suggested by a charter of King ¥thelred, dated 984, according to which the abbey exchanged with King Edmund the large estate at Tisbury (Wiltshire) for Butticanlea (unidentified). ¥lfgifu 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).[13]

      ¥lfgifu predeceased her husband in 944.[14] 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 ¥thelgifu's life as recorded in a forged foundation charter of the late 11th or 12th century (see below).[15] Her body was buried and enshrined at the nunnery.[16]


      ¥lfgifu was venerated as a saint soon after her burial at Shaftesbury. ¥thelweard reports that many miracles had taken place at her tomb up to his day,[17] 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 ¥lfgifu [...] at whose tomb many bodies of sick person receive medication through the omnipotence of God”.[18] 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.[19]

      ¥lfgifu is styled a saint (Sancte ¥lfgife) 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.[20] Her cult may have been fostered and used to enhance the status of the royal lineage, more narrowly that of her descendants.[21] 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 ¥lfhere.[22]

      According to William of Malmesbury, ¥lfgifu would secretly redeem those who were publicly condemned to severe judgment, she gave expensive clothes to the poor, and she also had prophetic powers as well as powers of healing. [23]

      ¥lfgifu's fame at Shaftesbury seems to have eclipsed that of its first abbess, King Alfred's daughter ¥thelgifu,[24] 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 ¥lfgifu (Elfgiva),[25] while in his Gesta pontificum, he credits Edmund's wife ¥lfgifu with the foundation.[26] Either William encountered conflicting information, or he meant to say that ¥lfgifu refounded the nunnery.[27] 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:[28]

      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.[29]

      See also

      ¥lfgifu of Exeter; [2]

  • Sources 
    1. [S12116] "Margaret of Wessex", Pedigree Chart,, retrieved or revisi.

    2. [S12144] "¥lfgifu of Shaftesbury", Biography,, retrieved or revisited,.

    3. [S12121] "Edmund I", Biography,, retrieved or revisited, recorded & uploaded to the websit.

    4. [S12595] "The House of Wessex",,