Amesbury, Double Monastery
Community ID
 
814
 
Alternate Names
 
Ambresbury, Ambresberia, Ambrosii burgum, S. Mary and S. Melior
 
Town
 
Salisbury
 
Diocese
 
Salisbury
 
Region
 
Wiltshire
 
Medieval Location
 
At the antique site of Amesbury which was Benedictine from 979-1177.
 
Modern Location
 
Amesbury
 
Corporate Status
 
Priory
 
Dedication
 
S. Mary and S. Meilor
 
Date Founded
 
979
 
Date Terminated
 
1177 refounded as part of the order of Fontevrault; 1186 nuns installed; final dissolution 1539.
 
Religious Order
 
Benedictine
 
Rule
 
Benedictine
 
Congregation
 
Fontevrault
 
Foundation Information
 

As attested by an 11th century narrative by William of Malmsbury, Queen Aelfthryth, wife of Edgar, in 979, founded the monastery as penance for her involvement in the murder of Edward the martyr. (See Veiled Women, 21-22). Benedictines refounded the community after earlier Benedictine nuns left following a scandal in 1177. This scandal and reform resulted in 30 nuns being sent to other communities. The community was refounded in 1177 as a priory of the Fontevreault order at the initiative of Henry II (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 121). Amesbury was (re)colonized with nuns from Fontevrault, and the prioress came from the continent Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 122). Though a re-foundation of an existing pre-Conquest community, the papal bull issued at the foundation emphasized the desire of the king to institute the order of Fontevrault, and to increase the size of the nunnery and its endowments. The pipe rolls record an expenditure of some 881 pounds (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 167). It was an alien province until 1403, then a Benedictine abbey.

 
First Members
 

Amesbury was colonized by 21 nuns from Fontevrault and the former sub-prioress, who came from the Continent (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 122-123). In 1186 the nuns were installed in the new buildings in the presence of the king and the abbess of Fontevrault (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 123).

 
Notable Heads
 

Two early abbesses, NULL (979-1013) and NULL (possibly eleventh century), were included in the mortuary role of Matilda, daughter of William I. Heahflead was named in a charter form King Aethelred that confirmed abbey possessions and established its right to elect its own abbesses (Veiled Women, 23 and n. 1). The last abbess before it was refounded as part of the order of Fontevrault was NULL. When Amesbury was refounded, the first prioress was NULL, followed by NULL, NULL, and NULL. In the late 13th century, Amesbury was involved in a dispute between the abbess of Fontrevraud and the prioresses of Amesbury. Abbess Joan (1265-76), experiencing opposition to her rule at Fontevrault, was said to have withdrawn to Amesbury with her two nieces and another nun and to have attempted to govern the whole order from there (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 127). Abbesses involved in this dispute include NULL and NULL. The dispute seems to have been resolved in 1294, when NULL was appointed prioress, and the King asked the abbess of Fontevraud not to override her authority. NULL was appointed at the request of the king's sister, Mary, because she was not an alien. She was followed by NULL and NULL.

 
Population Counts
 

In 1256 there were said to be 6 chaplains in addition to the prior, a clerk, and 16 lay brothers, to serve a community of some 76 nuns (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 128).

 
Other Ecclesiastical Relations
 

Amesbury appears to have maintained ties with Fontevrault, for in 1221 the abbess of Fontevrault corroborated with her seal a gift made by the convent (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 126). Amesbury in turn appears to have assumed a dominant position in relation to other English houses of the order. Prioress Joan of Amesbury witnessed a charter from Nuneaton and marginal notes in the cartulary of Westwood mention Amesbury agreeing to certain grants.

 
Patrons/Benefactors
 

Queen Aelfthryth was traditionally considered to be the founder in 979.

 
Secular Political Affiliations
 

The royal patronage of Amesbury was reflected in the connections of some of its inhabitants, such as the nun Alpesia, a cousin of Henry III. In 1192 Amicia Pantulf, one of Queen Eleanor's ladies, made a grant to the nunnery with the intention of taking the veil. In 1285 Mary, daughter of Edward I, took the veil at Amesbury, along with 13 girls of noble birth, and the queen mother, Eleanor of Provence, also became a nun here (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 121-122).

 
Social Characteristics
  
Income
 

According to Domesday book, the convent's net income was 53 Pounds, 15 Shillings, and no pence. The convent did not owe a quota of knights.

 
Manuscript Sources
 

[1]Cal. Docs. France, 378, no. 1, 069; Gesta Henrici II, i, 135-6, 354.
[2]Charters of Amesbury

 
Published Primary Sources
  
Miscellaneous Information
 

In 1400 the prioress, together with some of her sisters, was imprisoned apparently at the incitement of the prior, who had been expelled. The prioress attempted to improve the situation by apparently reducing the number of canons at the house from 12 to 4 and appointed secular chaplains instead (S. Thompson, 132).

 
Admin. Notes
 

[CN=1CC01] Information from community 815 has been combined with this community. 815 was deleted 3/2/99. Community 815 recorded CN=2CC08 in the location field, but this is not a community. Kington S. Michael is Kington S. Michael. I am guessing that these references once sought to link the two communities of 814 and 815 which are the same community before and after refoundation. Link to Old Sarum is incorrect and has also been deleted as of 3/2/99.
[V0012]

 
Contributors
 
WRL Project
 
Contributors Notes
 

Amesbury became the most important of the English houses of the order of Fontevrault, eventually almost rivaling the mother house itself (Thompson, 123).

 
Date Started
 
979
 
Date Finished
 
1177
 
Length
 
3371