Somerset Historical Essays/The Saxon Abbots of Glastonbury

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Somerset Historical Essays by Joseph Armitage Robinson
The Saxon Abbots of Glastonbury



Nothing has done more to discredit William of Malmesbury's work 'On the Antiquity of Glastonbury' than the discovery of an ancient list of the abbots of that monastery, contained in the Cottonian MS Tiberius B. 5, and printed by Bishop Stubbs in his Memorials of St Dunstan, p. lxxxii.[1] After comparing this list with the series of abbots in the De Antiquitate, Bishop Stubbs says: 'The order and dates of Malmesbury's list seem to be quite at random: yet there is enough likeness between the two lists to show that he had older materials to work upon.'

Now William of Malmesbury puts down no name and no date without telling us the source from which his information was drawn. The discrepancy between the two lists therefore is not to be explained off-hand by attributing gross carelessness to the historian. Nor have we any reason for suspecting that this part of the De Antiquitate has suffered, as we have shown the earlier part to have suffered, from the meddlesomeness of inventive interpolators. William of Malmesbury worked from the Glastonbury charters. Many of these had no doubt been recopied and partially recast in the tenth century or later: none of them perhaps can claim to be originals or even exact copies of the originals. Accordingly it is quite possible that he was misled on occasion by their testimony. Most of these charters we can read for ourselves in Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus or in Birch's Cartularium Saxonicum; others can be shown to have been in existence as late as 1247. The purpose of the present Essay is to consider William of Malmesbury's statements in the light of this evidence. The examination is necessarily minute and somewhat tedious; but the result will, I believe, be found to justify the pains expended on it. For we shall reach the conclusion that the compiler of the tenth-century list, however trustworthy he may be as he nears his own time, did not make use of the charters and so had but little to guide him in collecting and arranging the names of the earlier abbots. On the other hand we shall be rewarded by a growing conviction that the Glastonbury charters, however much they may have been depraved by copying and recasting, contain materials of high value for the history of Wessex, and especially for the progress of the gradual conquest of Somerset by the West Saxons;[2] and we shall be even surprised at the patient investigation to which the great historian submitted them: there is perhaps hardly a parallel in mediaeval history to the task which he undertook and carried through.

William of Malmesbury tells us that in the Great Church at Glastonbury there was a painting which gave the names of three British abbots—Worgret, Lademund, and Bregored.[3] Moreover one of the 'pyramids' outside the Old Church was inscribed with the names of Hedde episcopus, Bregored, and Beoruuard. He further knew of Worgret from an ancient charter of a king of Domnonia whose name was no longer legible.[4]

Haeddi was the bishop of Winchester, who translated the body of St Birinus from Dorchester, and held the undivided episcopate of Wessex from 676 to 705. William of Malmesbury identifies the 'Beoruuard' of the pyramid with 'Berwaldus', who, he tells us later, succeeded Abbot Hemgisl and ruled the abbey from 705 till 712. If he is right in his conjecture that the pyramid contained the bones of the persons named thereon, the absence of Beorhtwald and Hemgisl, Beorwald's predecessors, will be explained by the fact that the former became archbishop and was buried in St Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury, while the latter rested, as he tells us presently, in the Old Church itself.

The first English abbot, according to William of Malmesbury, was Beorhtwald (Berchtwald, Brihtwald), who afterwards became abbot of Reculver and then succeeded Theodore in the archbishopric of Canterbury. The statement has been questioned, but for reasons which are not convincing.[5] William of Malmesbury had seen a Glastonbury charter in which K. Coenwalch in the 29th year of his reign (i.e. 671 or 672) granted land at Ferramere (i.e. Meare) to Abbot Beorthwald. A late copy of this charter survives, and it is attested by Theodore, Leuterius (i. e. Hlothere, bishop of Winchester), and the abbots Haeddi and Aldhelm. There is no prima facie reason for not accepting the facts which are thus recorded. The whole question calls for a fresh examination.[6]

First, it is desirable to note the political conditions of Wessex about the year 670. In 658 Coenwalch had defeated the West Welsh at Pen-Selwood and driven them back as far as the Parrett. As a consequence of this victory Glastonbury fell into the hands of a Saxon king, who was not only a Christian well-disposed to the Church, but also, as Bede tells us, the intimate friend of the great monastic leader Benedict Biscop, who visited him (or intended to visit him) shortly before his death in 672.[7] In the spring of 669, Benedict had returned from Rome in company with Theodore the new archbishop, who retained him at Canterbury for two years in charge of St Augustine's abbey. If Glastonbury fell vacant about that time, by the death of the British abbot Bregored, we may well believe that, on the advice of Theodore and Benedict Biscop, the king may have appointed such a man as Beorhtwald, whom Bede describes as learned in the Scriptures and very highly trained alike in ecclesiastical and monastic discipline.[8] The position of Glastonbury would be exceptionally difficult. The introduction of the English customs in regard to the tonsure and the date of Easter, and at the same time, as we cannot doubt, of the Benedictine rule, must have taxed the new abbot's powers to the utmost. But his difficulties were not confined to the internal administration of his house. The distant property of Brent Knoll, a lofty eminence which rises out of the marshes near the point where the Parrett flows into the Bristol Channel, had been given, so tradition told, to the monastery by King Arthur. It was on the Saxon side of the Parrett, but it may have lain open to the attacks of the British, when the strong hand of Coenwalch was withdrawn and the kingdom of Wessex was divided for a while among a number of petty kings. At any rate William of Malmesbury had seen a charter which contained these words: 'which land (of Brent) Abbot Berthwald of his own accord deserted; and, without violence on our part and without expulsion, he gave up the place of his own monastery, and against the prohibition and will of our bishop he took his departure'.[9]

The abbey of Reculver in Kent had been founded by Bass the mass-priest in 669, the year of Theodore's arrival at Canterbury.[10] To this new house some years later Beorhtwald was appointed, and the earliest 'land-book' that has come down to us in its original form is a grant made to him there in 679.[11] Archbishop Theodore died 19 September 690: Beorhtwald was elected on 1 July 692, and consecrated at Lyons on 29 June 693. The long delay and the consecration abroad may have been partly due to the strained relations between Kent and Wessex, which were not readjusted until 694; and if Haeddi, the bishop of Winchester, whose commands Beorhtwald had disobeyed, was unwilling to take part in the consecration, this would be a further reason why it may have seemed wise to look abroad. The whole story hangs well together, and we may accept the tradition that Beorhtwald was the first English abbot of Glastonbury.

Beorhtwald was succeeded by Hemgisl. The first of the charters in the Liber Terrarum—a lost Glastonbury chartulary, probably compiled at the end of the tenth century[12]—was entitled 'the charter of Ken win concerning the island of Glastonia'. From a charter based on this William of Malmesbury must have drawn his statement that in 678 K. Centwine granted to Hemgisl 'Glastonbury, free from all service, VI hides': also that at the petition of Bishop Haeddi and the monks he appointed Hemgisl abbot.[13] The date agrees well with the story of Beorhtwald's retirement. The charter is unfortunately lost, and indeed was already lost in 1247. It cannot have been a genuine document in the form described above, but the facts may have been taken from an earlier charter. The mention of only six hides, and not the usual 'Glastonbury Twelve Hides', is a very favourable feature.

Rather more satisfactory is a charter dated 681 (or, as William of Malmesbury says, 680), but in the fifth indiction, which would give 677. This is a grant by Bishop Haeddi to Abbot Hemgisl of Lantocai (i.e. Leigh in Street), together with an island surrounded by the water of Ferramere (i.e. Meare). According to William of Malmesbury's account Centwine, Baldred and Caedwalla confirmed the grant; and this suggests a time before the last of these was driven into exile.[14]

Baldred was one of the petty kings of Wessex, who held power with or under Centwine, before Caedwalla subdued the latter and acquired supremacy in 685. Baldred gave to Abbot Hemgisl Pennard[15] and a fishery on the Parrett;[16] also Logwores-beorh (Montacute, afterwards lost);[17] and he restored Brent which had been lost under Abbot Beorhtwald.[18]

Hemgisl was buried, as we have already said, in the Old Church;[19] and from this we may perhaps conclude that Ina's new church was not built in his time. We may provisionally place his death in 705. The list of abbots, compiled about the year 990, begins with the name of Hemgisl. The absence of Beorhtwald from the first place is probably due to the confusion between his name and that of Hemgisl's successor Beorhwald. Moreover, if the list was drawn up in part from sepulchral monuments, Beorhtwald's burial at Canterbury would further help to account for the omission of his name. As a matter of fact, 'Beorhtwald' does appear in the fourth place in this ancient list; but probably it is only a scribe's error for Beorhwald.

When we come to Hemgisl's successor, Abbot Beorhwald, we have for the first time the advantage of evidence from outside, not derived from Glastonbury charters or traditions. About the year 710 some trouble in Wessex led to the meeting of a council of ecclesiastics, who finally sent a trusty messenger to Beorhtwald, the archbishop of Canterbury, to seek his approval of their action. The messenger was Winfrid, afterwards famous as St Boniface, the Apostle of Germany. He was commended to K. Ina for this purpose by Winbert his own abbot of Nutscelle, Wintra the abbot of Tisbury in Wilts, and Beorhwald the abbot of Glastonbury.[20] We meet with Abbot Beorhwald again in the Collection of Letters which preserves the correspondence of St Boniface.[21] Archbishop Beorhtwald writes to Forthere bishop of Sherborne (709-36), requesting him to intercede with Beorhwald the abbot of Glastonbury on behalf of a captive Kentish girl. This letter must fall between 709, the accession of Forthere, and 731, the death of Archbishop Beorthwald.

We now come to charters. K. Ina's privilege to the churches of Wessex (B. C. S. 108) contains a long list of abbots, including Wintra, whom we have mentioned above as the abbot of Tisbury, and 'Beornuuald'. It is dated 704, but no reliance can be placed upon it in its present form. Two charters of K. Ina (B. C. S. 112, 113), one granting land on the Doulting, the other lands there and at other places, are dated 702 and 705 respectively; but the indiction in both is the fourth, which points to 706. The charters are not genuine in their present form, but the mention of Abbot Beorhwald in connexion with these gifts need not be rejected. William of Malmesbury has worked from these charters and others, but he adds nothing serviceable in the way of dates. Provisionally we may date Beorhwald between 705 and 731: but these limits are probably much too wide.

In connexion with Abbot Beorhwald it is interesting to note the following entries in the Index charlarum of 1247:[22]

(1) Among the charters of lands no longer held by Glastonbury the following still existed at that date:
'Carta Kenelmi de Wethmor facta Wilfrido episcopo'
'Carta dicti Wilfridi de eodem facta Beorwaldo abbati'.

It is obvious that Kenelmi is a mistake for Kenwini (Centwine).

(2) Among charters then existing of lands still held we have:
'Cenewre rex de Clifwere'
'Wilferfus rex de Clifwere. inutilis'.

These are ascribed to the time of Abbot Albert, Cenewre is probably meant for Cenwine (Centwine), and the impossible Wilferfus rex must be meant for Wilfridus eipiscopus; for in the list of charters in the Liber Terrarum we find: 'Wilfridus episcopus de Clifuuere'.

'Clif-wara' (Clewer in Wedmore parish) was held by the bishop of Coutances at the time of the Domesday Survey, having previously been held by Turchil: later, however, it was held by the abbey. Wedmore was held by Bishop Giso of Wells. The charters mentioned above have disappeared: they were 'inutiles'—a term used of books worn to pieces or illegible (J. of G., pp. 425. f.). Wilfrid's friendship with Caedwalla is mentioned by his biographer Eddi, who says (c. 42) that he gave him innumerable tracts of land. It is quite possible that Centwine, who yet earlier befriended Wilfrid, may have given him Wedmore and Clewer; and that at the end of his life (†709) Wilfrid may have given them over to Beorhwald the abbot of Glastonbury.[23] William of Maimesbury had these charters before him; for he says in his account of Beorhwald: 'Bishop Wilfrid gave the island of Wethmor, lxx hides, given to him by K. Centwine, and the vill of Cliwere, 1 hide'.[24]

At this point it will be useful to set side by side the order of the earliest English abbots, as derived from the statements of William of Malmesbury, and the list drawn up at the end of the tenth century. We must however premise that a list printed by Hearne on p. 103, and taken from the Cambridge MS of the De Antiquitate, is quite untrustworthy. It frequently differs from the statements made earlier in the book, in spelling and order and dates. It is not found in the MS quoted as M by Hearne.[25]

De Antiq., pp. 49-61. Tib. B. 5.
668 Berthwaldus
678 Hemgisel Hemgils
705 Berwaldus Wealhstod
712 Albert Coengils
719 Etfrith Beorthwald
729 Cengisle

We need not go further at present. We have seen how William of Malmesbury constructed his list, and our examination of such charters as are still available gives ample proof of the care which lie devoted to his task.[26] The tenth-century compiler probably proceeded in a different way, and made the best list that he could from names which he read on sepulchral monuments and in the book of commemorations called the Martyrology. Accordingly it is not until we get near to his own time that we can feel confident that the order which he gives us will be the more accurate of the two.

If now we follow William of Malmesbury in putting Beorhwald next to Hemgisl, what are we to make of Wealhstod in the rival list? Bede mentions that in 731 Ualcfistod was bishop of Hereford: and William of Malmesbury in his Gesta Pontificum quotes some ancient verses which tell how he began the erection of a cross, but did not live to finish it. It was completed by his successor Cuthbert, who afterwards was archbishop of Canterbury.[27] Wealhstod may have been bishop of Hereford as early as 727, and have died as late as 736. No Glastonbury charter mentions him as abbot, and therefore William of Malmesbury has no knowledge of him.[28] If he were an abbot, he must come in somewhere before 731, when Bede speaks of him as bishop of Hereford: and, if William of Malmesbury is right in putting 'Kemgisel' (i. e. Coengisl) in 729, it is clearly possible to find a place for Wealhstod just before that date.

William of Malmesbury does not recognise Wealhstod, but he gives us two other abbots between Beorhwald and Coengils. The first is Albert, or Aldbeorth, whom he places in 712, on the ground of a charter by which Bishop Forthere gives one hide at Bledenhithe on the river Æsca (Axe), at a small island and at the church of St Martin (i.e. Martineseye).[29] The indiction given in the charter is the first; which points rather to 718 or 723. The charter has features which suggest genuineness: unfortunately only a late and imperfect copy of it exists, though it was still preserved in 1247.

The other abbot is Echfrid, or Ætfrith.[30] The name comes from the grant of a hide of land with a fishery on the Axe, given by K. Ina in 719. This we cannot further trace, unless perchance it be the same as a charter, still preserved in 1247, by which K. Ina gives 'land at the foot of Munedup ': but that is ascribed to the time of Abbot Beorhwald.[31]

We can, if we will, find a place for the three abbots—Aldbeorht, Ætfrith, and Wealhstod—especially if the last of the three was only in office for a brief period before his removal to Hereford c. 729.

We must now take another glance at the political conditions of Wessex. We saw that in 658 Coenwalch drove the West Welsh as far as the Parrett, and that thus Glastonbury fell into his hands. It does not follow that the whole of Somerset east of the Parrett was at once occupied and held by the English: indeed the failure of Glastonbury to retain Brerit Knoll suggests that at any rate the district near the sea was still debated territory. The death of Coenwalch was followed, as we have said, by a period of unsettlement (672-85), in which the kingdom was more or less divided among several members of the royal stock, Centwine however achieving a pre-eminence in 676. No progress westwards was made until 682, when, as the Chronicle tells us, 'Centwine drove the Britons to the sea'. This vague expression suggests that the coast-line east of the Quantocks was henceforth in English hands: Centwine's grant of land near Quantock-wood (West Monkton) indicates an advance at least to this point.[32] Then in 685 the vigorous Caedwalla made himself supreme in the kingdom; but his arms were turned chiefly against Sussex, Kent, and the Isle of Wight.

Ina's long reign (688-726) raised Wessex to an unexampled height: but, though he did much for its consolidation, we cannot be sure that he carried its frontier far to the west. In 710 the Chronicle says: 'Ina and Nunna his kinsman fought with Geraint the king of the Welsh '. It has sometimes been assumed that the conquest of Somerset was now completed, but this is unlikely. The rich lands round Taunton were indeed protected by a fortress erected about this time; but under 722 we read: 'Æthelburg the queen destroyed Tantun which Ina had built'. The immediate cause of this was the revolt of Ealdbriht, who may have made common cause with the Welsh. But a fortress so far advanced—if we suppose this to have been the frontier line—might be an actual source of danger, if it could not be strongly held.

It is Ina's glory that in his famous code of laws he dealt out justice to the conquered Britons of the lands he ruled. Their ancient monastery rose to new glory under his fostering care. Gifts of land enriched it, and the king built the Great Church of SS. Peter and Paul, east of the venerable wooden shrine which still treasured the memories of the past.[33] Glastonbury necessarily came under English abbots with the Benedictine rule; but it never ceased to be a centre of Celtic pilgrimage, and as a temple of reconciliation it must have played no small part in the blending of the two races. Under Ina the great Wessex diocese was divided, and Aldhelm, the learned abbot of Malmesbury, who had corresponded with K. Geraint on the debated subject of the date of Easter, became the first bishop of the new diocese 'west of Selwood'. He may have helped to keep the peace during his episcopate (705-9), for we note that it was in 710 that Ina had to call his kinsman Nunna, ruler of the South Saxons, to his aid to meet the forces of Geraint. Under Aldhelm's guidance Ina is said to have built the first church at Wells, where he is commemorated as founder, even as his splendid gifts to the neighbouring abbey gained him the less merited title of the founder of Glastonbury.

When Ina retired to die at Rome, his successor was Æthelheard (726-40). Already the growing power of Mercia had begun to threaten Wessex. Ceolred, the Mercian king, had fought with Ina himself at Woddesbeorge (or Wodnesbeorge) in 715: but the next year Ceolred died. He was succeeded by Æthelbald, who reigned with growing might from 716 to 757. The new king of Wessex, Æthelheard, had trouble at the outset with a rival named Oswald, who however died in 730. Then in 733 Æthelbald descended on him, forced his way far west and 'harried Somerton'. Cuthred succeeded Æthelheard in 740, and we are told that he 'fought boldly' with Æthelbald: and again in 752 'he fought at Beorgfeorda against Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, and put him to flight'. The next year he fought with the Welsh, but whether Taunton was now rebuilt we cannot tell. The Glastonbury lands never extended beyond West Monkton, which lies just outside it to the north-east: but it is significant that in the future the rich township of Taunton fell not to Glastonbury, but to the lordly bishopric of Winchester.

Æthelbald's successor was the great Offa, who ruled Mercia for thirty-nine years, and held paramount sway over the whole of England. So Wessex till the days of Egbert had to submit to the Mercian overlordship.

We now return to our abbots. The next abbot is Coengisl (c. 72944). Here we have again the testimony of the Boniface correspondence; but we get his name only, and no clear indication of his date.[34] We must therefore turn back to the charters. William of Malmesbury found a charter by which K. Æthelheard granted to Abbot Coengisl land at Pouholt in 729. The form of the charter as we have it is suspicious, but its statements may be provisionally accepted.[35] We also find 'Cynegysli abbatis' in the attestation of a charter of K. Æthelheard. by which in 737 he confirms Q. Fridogyda's gift of land at Taunton to the church of Winchester.[36] This charter would be of historical importance if we could trust it. But it comes to us from a most suspicious source, the great Winchester chartulary, which is almost unrivalled as a collection of discreditable forgeries. The most we can say, therefore, is that the names of the witnesses may have come from a genuine charter of the date in question.

Next to Coengisl William of Malmesbury places Abbot Tumbert.[37] He found him in a charter of K. Cuthred, granting three hides at Ure in 745. This charter we have not now got. He found him again in the much manipulated charter of the lady Lulla, granting Baltonsborough.[38] Once more he found him in a charter by which Æthelbald, the Mercian king grants four hides in two places, Jecesig[39] and Bradanleghe (West Bradley) at the price of 400 shillings. This is the earliest charter in which we hear of a price paid for a gift to Glastonbury.[40] This detail may be the sign of a genuine document; and the charter, had it come down to us, would have been of historical interest as an illustration of the Mercian overlordship in these parts.[41]

After Tunbert William of Malmesbury gives us Abbot Tica, A.D. 754, from a charter by which K. Sigebert for 50 golden solidi granted him xxii hides in Poholt: for a like sum the king also gave him vi hides in the western part of the same. In the Liber Terrarum the 63rd entry was: 'Sigebeorth de Poolt dat. G.'; but we have no further trace of this charter. These are fresh acquisitions on the Poldon range; for we have already had notices of gifts in that district from Ina (xx hides) and Æthelheard (lx hides). K. Sigebeorht, the successor of Cuthred, is said to have reigned in 756 and part of the following year. The signature of 'Tyccæan abbatis' occurs in an original charter of 757, dealing apparently with land in Wessex.[42]

At an earlier point in the De Antiquitate (p. 29) we have had Tica mentioned as a Northumbrian abbot, driven out by the Danes, who took refuge in the west and became abbot of Glastonbury.[43] He was said to have brought with him relics of St Aidan and the bodies of Ceolfrid, Benedict Biscop and other abbots of Wearmouth, as well as those of the Venerable Bede and the saintly Hilda of Whitby. Tica was buried in the right-hand corner of the Great Church, near the entrance to the Old Church.

Offa came to the Mercian throne in 757 and reigned till 796. The subject kings of Wessex were Cynewulf, 757-86, and Beorhtric, 786-802. Then under K. Cenwulf the Mercian supremacy quickly began to fall. Wessex under K. Egbert, 802-39, recovered and presently dominated the whole of England.

Next to Tica we have Abbot Guba, to whom in 760 K. Cynewulf gave v hides at Wootton, and also Huneresburg on the east bank of the Parrett: but these charters are lost.[44] After this comes Abbot Waldun, who in 762 receives from K. Cynewulf v hides at Cumtun. William of Malmesbury makes him rule for 32 years.[45]

Then in 794 Abbot Beadewulf receives from K. Offa x hides at Ineswurth.[46] The Liber Terrarum had a charter described thus: 'Offa de Inesuuyrth juxta Hunespulle. S. qui G.' The 'serviens' here is perhaps Ethehnund, who, as William of Malmesbury goes on to say, 'assensu regis Offae dedit Hunespulle, i hidam'. Beadulf is given as one of the abbots who attest K. Cenwulf's confirmation of the privilege granted by Leo III to K. Kenelm in 798.[47]

Next to Beadewulf William of Malmesbury gives us (p. 68) 'Cuman', who ruled two years, or according to the other manuscript (M) twenty-two years. He dates his accession in 800, but gives us no authority for him. Probably 'Cuman' is a ghost- word; for the next abbot is called Muca.

Abbot Muca, we are told, received in 802 from K. Egbert v manseson the river Torric.[48] Moreover iEdgisilius with consent of the same king gave Budecleg (i.e. Butleigh) xx hides. K. Egbert's grant of Butleigh to Eadgils his 'minister' is attested by 'Muca abbas'.[49] Muca is among the signatories of the decree of the Council of Clovesho in 803, which in accordance with Leo III.'s precept to Archbishop iEthelheard forbids the appointment of laymen as 'domini' over monasteries. Under the attestation of Wigbert bishop of Sherborne come the names of 'Muca abbas: Eadberht abbas: Berhtmund abbas'.[50]

After Muca comes Abbot Guthlac, who in 824 grants to a certain Eanulf i cassate in Brunham for 500 shillings, of which 200 were to go to the abbot and 300 to the monks.[51] There is no further record of this transaction; but there is an Eanwulf who attests Wessex charters, c. 833-75, as 'dux', 'princeps', 'minister'; and 'Ænulfus comes' appears presently as the donor of Ditcheat and other lands.[52] Guthlac's name appears at a late point in the tenth-century list of abbots.

K. Egbert died in 839, and was succeeded by his son Æthelwulf, whose eldest son, Æthelstan, died before him. Four sons survived, of whom Æthelbald reigned in Wessex from 856 to 860, Æthelbert till 866, and Æthelred till 871 . Then in April 871 Alfred, the youngest, came to the throne. In Æthelwulf's reign the Danish raids, of which Egbert had some experience, became a constant terror; and in the last days of Æthelred Wessex was in great jeopardy.

To return to our abbots: Abbot Elmund, we are told (p. 69), in 851 with consent of K. Æthelwulf transferred Doulting to the jurisdiction of the monastery ('Dulting in jus monasteriale transtulit'). The meaning of the phrase is not clear; but it looks like a second indication that the abbot and the monks were dividing the properties. The king added xx hides 'ad supplementum vitae regularis'.[53] Other gifts are enumerated, apparently in connexion with Æthelwulf's famous 'Donation'.[54]

Abbot Hereferth, we are next informed, received from K. Æthelbald, son of Æthelwulf, x hides at Brannucmunster, in the year 867. There is some error here, as K. Æthelbald died in 860. Herefyrb' appears in the tenth-century list of abbots; but there he succeeds Stiðheard whom William of Malmesbury puts after him, as we shall presently see.

But at this point William of Malmesbury's story gets into confusion. He has no gift of K. Alfred to record, except 'lignum Domini' which Pope Martin gave him. Then he suddenly goes on to speak of K. Athelstan, mentioning incidentally Abbot Ælfric as ruling at that time for fourteen years. He speaks of Athelstan's gifts of relics, and then as suddenly he returns to his list of abbots (p. 71).

Abbot Stithherd, he tells, succeeded in 991 (cod. M has 981: probably for 891). He can say no more about him than that the severity of his character corresponded to his name (for stith is equivalent to 'stiff'), and that it is illustrated by his pictures which invariably represent him with a scourge or a broom.

After him Abbot Aldhun appears in 922 (992 M) as receiving back Cumtone from K. Edward.[55] After this we are told about St Dunstan.

The figures have got wrong: we may correct Abbot Stithheard's date to 891, and put Abbot Aldhun in 922: then Abbot Ælfric will get his fourteen years under K. Athelstan from 926 to 940. But we can have no confidence in these dates, especially as we shall presently see that the tenth-century list of abbots places Ælfric next after Dunstan, and at this point we can hardly set aside its authority which is almost contemporary.

William of Malmesbury proceeds to say (p. 71) that now we shall know what to think of the writer who said that St Dunstan was the first abbot of Glastonbury. He is referring to the Life of St Dunstan by Osbern, the precentor of Canterbury, whom he severely criticises in the preface to his own Life of the saint.[56]

Dunstan is said to have been abbot in 940, when several estates were granted to him by K. Edmund (p. 72). In 956, when Dunstan has been driven into exile, K. Edwy makes grants to Elsius, who is stigmatised as 'pseudo-abbas'.

In 963 Abbot Egelward (p. 84) receives a grant from K. Edgar of five estates. Separate charters of two of these estates are known—Middetone in 966, and Stoure in 968: but neither of them mentions the name of an abbot.[57] The charter of 963 on which William of Malmesbury relied must have been a composite charter and of no historical value. He found his name again, as it would appear, attached to a Privilege of Pope John: but, when this Privilege appears in some MSS of the Gesta Regum, the name given is not Egelward but Ælfward.[58] We shall find that Ælfward is the last name in the tenth-century list of abbots. After Egelward Ave are given Abbot Sigegar, who is made to rule from 965 to the end of the century, being succeeded in the year 1000 by Abbot Beorhtred. Abbot Sigegar happily we know, for he was bishop of Wells from 975 to 997. He stands last but one in the list of abbots in Tib. B. 5, which was probably drawn up in his lifetime.[59] We need not pursue William of Malmesbury's list any further. It will suffice to say that after Abbot Beorhtred he gives us Brithwi (1017), another Egelward (1027), Egelnoth (1053), and then the first Norman abbot, Turstin (1082). We may now set the list which we have constructed from the De Antiquitate side by side with the ancient list preserved in Tiberius B. 5.

 W. of M.  Tib. B. 5
670 Berthwaldus
678 Hemgisel Hemgils
705 Berwaldus Wealhstod
712 Albert
719 Echfrid Coengils
729 Cengisle Beorhtwald
745 Tumbertus Cealdhun
754 Tican Luca
760 Guban Wiccea
762 Waldunus Bosa
794 Beadewlfus
800 Mucan Stiðheard
824 Cuthlac Herefyrð
851 Elmund Hunbeorht
867 Hereferthus Ændhun
891 Stiþherd Guðlac
922 Aldhunus Cuðred
926 Elfricus Eegwulf
940 Dunstanus Dunstan
956 Elsius ps.-abbas
963 Egeluuardus Ælfric
965 Sigegarus Sigegar
1000 Berthredus Ælfweard
1017 Brithwius
1027 Egelward
1053 Egelnoth
1082 Turstinus

In comparing the two lists it will be well to work backwards, beginning with the latest names of the tenth-century list. For that list is here contemporary and may be accepted without misgiving, whereas for the whole of the tenth century William of Malmesbury is in difficulties owing to the rarity of charters containing abbots' names.

As Abbot Sigegar became bishop of Wells in 975, we may assume that Ælfward succeeded him at Glastonbury in the same year. The date of Abbot Sigegar's accession is not clear. William of Malmesbury used a composite charter by which K. Edgar granted to Sigegar three estates in 965. The first of these is Hamme: but the Hamme charter[60] was granted in 973, and it does not mention the abbot's name. Sigegar's first attestation as abbot seems to be in 974,[61] but he may possibly have been abbot as early as 965. Ælfric fills the gap, whatever it may have been, between Dunstan and Sigegar. Dunstan was consecrated bishop in 957 and became archbishop in 960: we do not know at what precise date he ceased to be abbot of Glastonbury.

It is perhaps useless to speculate as to the reasons which led William of Malmesbury to make Ælfric Dunstan's predecessor and not his successor. But we may note that a group of four or five abbots attest K. Athelstan's charters between 931 and 934; though after this no abbots attest either in his or in K. Edmund's reign. This group is regularly headed by 'Ælfric abbas'; and the first of the charters in question is a grant to an Abbot Ælfric.[62] It is possible that William of Malmesbury saw some charter of K. Athelstan's of that period at Glastonbury, and, having reasons for believing that there was at some time an Abbot Ælfric at Glastonbury, made this precarious identification. In his Life of St Dunstan[63] he further says that it was Ælfric's elevation to the episcopate which had made the vacancy at Glastonbury which Dunstan was unexpectedly called to fill. As an Ælfric became bishop of Hereford in 940, and another citric became bishop of Ramsbury in 942, the suggestion was a tempting one.

But when we turn to our tenth-century list we find that Ælfric comes after Dunstan instead of before him, and we are unable to accept this explanation of the vacancy. In this list the two names which precede Dunstan's are Cuthred and Ecgwulf. Of the latter we know nothing: but there is a possible trace of the former. For in the St Gall Confraternity Book the list of English names entered on the occasion of Bishop Kynewald's visit in 929 mentions after the bishops two abbots, 'Kenod abb. Albrich abb.': then follow names with no distinctive designations and first among these is 'Cud ret '. Bishop Stubbs assumed that this Cudret was the abbot of Glastonbury who appears in the ancient list as Cuthred.[64] It is however to be observed that, though he stands next to the abbots, he is not described as an abbot. Now in a charter of K. Athelstan of three years later[65] we find the attestation of 'Cuðerð minister' If the 'royal island' of Glastonbury were at this time in the king's hand and ruled by a lay 'abbot', we could understand that he would not be styled 'abbas' in the St Gall Confraternity Book; and if his successor Ecgwulf were also a king's thegn we could understand that he should be removable at pleasure, and so present no obstacle when K. Edmund suddenly resolved to place Dunstan in the abbot's seat. But this is mere conjecture: the evidence does not warrant us in calling it more. And William of Malmesbury's example warns us of the danger of Writing down conjecture as history.[66]

Guthlac, the name which precedes Cuthred in the tenth-century list, is placed at a much earlier point by William of Malmesbury, who dates him between 824 and 851. Here the balance of probability on the available evidence is against the tenth-century list; and possibly we are no longer justified in looking to it for the proper sequence of the names which it records. Names could be gathered from tombs and from martyrological entries: but exact dates for the most part would be impossible of recovery, unless the compiler made a close study of the charters as William of Malmesbury himself did.

The two lists need no further comment: they speak for themselves. We need only note certain possible identifications. Luca may be a mistake for Muca. Wiccea is probably a mistake for Ticcea, which we have found as an alternative spelling of Tica. Hunbeorht may be the same as Tumbert or Tunbeorht. Perhaps less probable is the identification of Cealdhun with Waldunus. On the other hand iEndhun looks like a misspelling of Aldhun. In all these instances except the last it is the initial consonant which seems to have gone wrong. As our list comes to us in a Winchester manuscript of about a century after the compiler's date, it is possible that at some stage in its transmission the initials were left to be inserted by a rubricator, who made the best attempt he could at putting them in. There are actual examples of lists of bishops in which absurd errors have been introduced in this way.[67]

  1. A more exact transcript will be found below, p. 41.
  2. Many of these charters have been used to good effect, though not always with adequate knowledge or sufficient caution, in Early Wars of Wessex, Major and Whistler (1913), pp. 49 ff.
  3. It is possible that we have a trace of Bregored in the 'Bregredeswere' of the bounds of Butleigh in K. Egbert's grant of 801 (B. C. S. 300).
  4. W. of Malm., De antiquitate Glaston. ecclesiae (published by Hearne in his Adam of Domerham), pp. 48 f.; cf. p. 46. The passage occurs in the insertion in the third edition of the Gesta Regum (G. R.3), pp. 28 f .: there we find the spelling Worgrez.
  5. Cf. Stubbs, Pref. to Gesta Regum, vol. II, p. xxiv: 'His identification of abbot Berhtwald with the archbishop who succeeded Theodore is a mistake of grievous rashness.'
  6. De Antiq., p. 49. B. C. S. 25, for which see below in Appendix B.
  7. Hist. Abbatum, 4 'Ingressus Brittaniam ad regem se Occidentalium Saxonum, nomine Connnalh, conferendnm putavit, cujus et ante non semel amicitiis usus et beneficiis erat adjutus. Sed ipso codem tempore inmatura morte praerepto, tandem ad patriam gentem … rediit,' &c.
  8. H. E. v. 8 'Scientia scripturarum inbutus, sed et ecclesiasticis simul ac monasterialibus disciplinis summe instructus': the same praise as he had given to Abbot Hadrian: 'sacris litteris diligenter inbutus, monasterialibus simul et ecclesiasticis disciplinis institutus' (iv. 1).
  9. De Antiq., p. 51 'sine nostra violentia et sine expulsione locum proprii coenobii dimisit, et contra interdictum et voluntatem pontificis nostri discessit.' The charter is lost, but B. C. S. 121, a later compilation, which professes to be Ina's confirmation of Baldred's gift of Brent, is partly based upon it.
  10. A. S. Chronicle.
  11. B. C. S. 45. Although in the De Antiquitate (p. 49) W. of M. speaks of Beorhtwald as holding the abbey of Glastonbury for ten years and then becomingarchbishop of Canterbury, in the later edition of his Gesta Regum, c. 1139, when he inserts extracts from the De Antiquitate, he corrects this point and says that, on leaving Glastonbury, 'ad regimen monasterii Raculf secessit' (G. B.3 p. 29).
  12. John of Glastonbury, ed. Hearne, p. 370. A list of its contents, made in 1247, is there printed: see below, Appendix A.
  13. De Antiq., p. 49: 'Huic [sc. Hemgiselo] anno ab incarnacione domini DCLXXVIII Kentwinus rex Glastingai liberam ab omni servicio concessit, VI hidas; quem pro sua fideli conversacione, et episcopi Hedde et monachorum peticione, abbatem ibi constituit: ea tamen condicione quatinus fratres ejusdem loci habeant jus eligendi et constituendi rectorem juxta regulam sancti Benedicti. MUNECATONE. Et juxta silvam, inquit, quae vocatur Cantucdun XXIII hidas, in Caric XX hidas, et in Crucan III hidas, ad supplementum,' &c. It looks as if W. of M. found all this in one charter; if so, it was a composite one. The appointment of the abbot according to the Rule he has probably introduced from the Great Privilege of K. Ina, which he gives later (p. 57). For the rest we have in the Liber Terrarum two distinct charters of K. Centwine: (1 ) 'de insula Glastoniae', (2) 'de Cantucwdu s. Munekaton'. The first is lost: the second is probably represented by B. C. S. 62, in which K. Centwine gives in 682 'xxiii mansiones' near 'Cantucuudu' (i.e. West Monkton) and 'in cassatos' on the other side of the river Tone 'ad insulam juxta collem qui dicitur brittanica lingua Cructan, apud nos Cryc beorh ', bounded on the north by the Tone and on the south by the 'Blacan broc'. We thus see that the text of the De Antiq. has two blunders: (1) 'Cantucdun ' for 'Cantucuudu' (Quantock-wood), and (2) 'Crucan' for 'Cructan'. The names Creechbury (or Creechbarrow) Hill and Black Brook still remain. The twenty hides at Cary do not appear in this charter. The word 'Crucan' has seriously misled the writers of The Early Wars of Wessex (pp. 57 f.). This Quantock-wood charter is important as showing that the Saxons under K. Centwine had reached within three or four miles of what was soon to be known as Taunton.
  14. For this charter see below in Appendix B.
  15. B. C. S. 61, a tenth-century charter preserved at Longleat.
  16. De Antiq., p. 50; J. of G., p. 370.
  17. De Antiq., p. 50: he seems to have used a composite charter which included Pennard, Montacute, and the Parrett fishery.
  18. B. C. S. 121.
  19. This W. of M. (p. 52) may have got from the closing paragraph of the Privilege of Cathred (B. C. S. 169).
  20. 'Beorwald, qui divina coenobium gubernatione quod antiquorum nuncupatur vocabulo Glestingabury regebat': Willibald's Life of St Boniface, Monumenta Moguntina (P. Jaffé, 1866), p. 439; Giles, ii. 153.
  21. Mon. Mogunt., p. 48 (Ep. 7); Giles, i. 275 (Ep. 144).
  22. J. of G., pp. 370 ff.
  23. Cf. Eddi, V. Wilfridi, c. 40 (after Wilfrid's ejection from Mercia, c. 681): 'Deinde cum odio pontifex noster expulsus, manentibus tamen illic monachis suis, regem Occidentalium Saxonum adiit, nomine Centwine; per parvumque spatium pro subsequente persecutione ibi manebat. Nam illic regina, soror Irminburgae reginae, odio oderat eum, uti propter amicitiam regum supradictorum trium dehinc fugatus abscessit.'
  24. De Antiq., p. 53.
  25. That is, Cox Macro's MS, now in the British Museum, Addit. MS 22934.
  26. He seems, however, in calculating the length of an abbot's rule, occasionally to have made the unwarrantable assumption that the year in which mention is first made of him in a charter was the year of his accession.
  27. Bede, H. E. v. 23; W. of M., G. P., p. 299.
  28. In the curious and much altered charter (B. C. S. 168: ' a. d. 744 ') by which Lulla grants Baltonsborough to the abbey we find 'Walestod the priest' among the witnesses: so the name at least seems to have been known at Glastonbury, and the compiler of the tenth-century list may have mistaken him for an early abbot.
  29. De Antiq., p. 53; B. C. S. 128. The charter looks genuine: it is short and somewhat ungrammatical: but the signature is abbreviated and the year of the Incarnation is appended. It is a grant to the abbot himself with power of disposal: the only other instance of this among the copies preserved to us is K. Coenwalch's grant of Ferramere to Abbot Beorhtwald (B. C. S. 25).
  30. De Antiq., p. 53.
  31. J. of G., p. 375.
  32. B. C. S. 62, a late form: dated Indict, 10, i.e. 682.
  33. In one of the genealogies in Tib. B. 5 we read of K. Ina: 'He getimbrade pæt beorhte mynster æt glæstinga byrig ': see further on this note The Saxon Bishops of Wells, p. 14, n. 2.
  34. Mon. Mogunt., Ep. 46 (p. 126); Giles, i. 148.
  35. B. C. S. 147.
  36. B. C. S. 158.
  37. pp. 62 ff.
  38. B. C. S. 168; dated 744, indict. 12.
  39. Also given as Gassig by a later hand. Comp. the entry in the index of the Liber Terrarum (J. of G., p. 371): 'Æthelbaldus de Seaceset et Bradenleag'.
  40. The Baltonsborough charter mentions 'pretium muneris', but its evidence is too uncertain to be regarded.
  41. Tumbert does not appear in the tenth-century list of abbots, where however at a much later point we find the name of Hunbeorht. A forged Winchester charter (B. C. S. 102) gives 'Tunbeort abbot in an attestation which includes both Ina and Cuthred; the names having been carelessly taken over from genuine charters.
  42. B. C. S. 181. K. Æthelbald and K. Cynewulf attest together. The charter is discussed by Mr. Stenton in E. H. R. xxxiii. 443.
  43. See above, p. 19.
  44. De Antiq., p. 63. In the Liber Terrarum we have ' Cynewifus de. V. hidis. G.'
  45. De Antiq., p. 64. The Liber Terrarum had 'Cyneuulf de Cumtone. G.'; but the charter is lost.
  46. De Antiq., p. 64; cf. p. 98.
  47. These documents were found by W. of M. in English, and he translated them back into Latin (pp. 65 ff.). The Privilege of Leo III grants Glastonbury to K. Kenelm and his successors: it is followed by the Confirmation of Coenwulf, k. of Mercia (796-821), subscribed by Abbess Kinedrip, with her kinsfolk Ethelburh and Cefled, stipulating that if the territory of Glastonbury should pass into the power of a man 'alterius progeniei', yet the rights of Kenelm and his successors should be preserved. There is a further attestation by Ethelard abp. of Canterbury, Higbert abp. of York (a mistake for Lichfield), nine bishops and thirteen abbots. W. of M. confesses that he does not know who K. Kenelm was, since Kenelm, the son of K. Coenwulf, was killed at the age of seven years (†821). The privilege runs: '… confirmamus tibi, Kenelme, et successoribus tuis: monasterium scilicet libere in perpetuum habendi cum omnibus villis,' &c, 'hac condicione' (lights—psalms—masses): no king, archbishop, bishop or prince to infringe this decree.

    The attestation of the notaries Eustachius and Paschalis is closely parallel to that of Jaffé 2498 (20 Apr. 798): the differences may well be due to translation and retranslation. Jaffé dates our privilege 8 Mar. 798. The character of the privilege seems in harmony with the date. It defends the abbey only from attack on its temporalities, and says nothing of exemption from the spiritual control of the bishop. It stands thus in sharp contrast with the privilege which K. Coenwulf is said to have obtained from the same pope for Abingdon (Hist. Abingd. i. 20).

    The abbess Cynedritha recovers her monasteries of Coccam (Cookham, Berks.) and Pectaneye at the Council of Clovesho in 798 (B. C. S. 291: Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, iii. 512). Was she the daughter of K. Coenwulf, and the abbess of Winchcombe who was said to have murdered St Kenelm?

    The documents may be accepted as substantially genuine. 'Rex Kenelmus ' is not a serious difficulty at a time when the title of king was freely used in Wessex and other kingdoms for members of the royal house who were given some share of authority (Chadwick, A.S. Institutions, pp. 296-307). 'Cenelm filius regis' attests a Canterbury grant of K. Coenwulf in 799 (B. C. S. 296). He may be the same as 'Kynehelm dux' whose last signature is in 811 (B. C. S. 339). He may have died before the birth of the younger Kenelm in 814.

    We have here historical material which illustrates the overlordship of Mercia shortly before it began to break down: and this may have been an arrangement under sanction of the ecclesiastical authorities, by which if the Mercian lordship over Wessex ceased, yet Glastonbury should remain in the hands of the Mercian royal house.

  48. In the Liber Terrarum were two charters: 'Æthelardus de Torric. G.' (cf. De Antiq., p. 61); and 'Ecgbirhtus de libertate ejusdem. G.'
  49. B. C. S. 300.
  50. B. C. S. 312: Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, iii. 546.
  51. De Antiq., p. 68. The principal MS has 'Cuthlac', but M has 'Guthlac'.
  52. De Antiq., p. 69: cf. B. C. S. 438.
  53. For this phrase cf. B. C. S. 61, 62, 142; and Mem. of St Dunst., p. 25.
  54. Cf. B. C. S. 472.
  55. A charter entitled 'Edwardus de Cumptone' still existed in 1247 (J. of G., p. 375), but we have no further knowledge of it.
  56. Mem. of St Dunst., p. 250.
  57. B. C. S. 1188 and 1214.
  58. De Antiq., p. 84; G. R., p. 169.
  59. For further information as to Sigegar, or Sigar, reference may be made to The Saxon Bishops of Wells, p. 48.
  60. B. C. S. 1294: the attestation is not given in full.
  61. Ibid. 1303.
  62. Ibid. 674; from the untrustworthy Winchester chartulary.
  63. Mem. of St Dunst., p. 270.
  64. Ibid., p. lxxvi.
  65. B. C. S. 689: A.D. 932.
  66. The 'Cuthred minister' to whom land is granted by 'K. Edred's' charter of '948' (B. C. S. 873) is shown by the signature to be the Cuthred of K. Ethelred's time (866-75). Similarly the 'Ecgulf minister' of the Sherborne charter of K. Edgar (B. C. S. 1308) occurs in a mixed signature which belongs mainly to the ninth century.
  67. Thus in the Lambeth MS of Florence of Worcester we find Bodeca and Bisa among the bishops of Wells, for Dodeca (Dudoc) and Gisa.