Werburga (DNB00)

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WERBURGA or WERBURH, Saint (d. 700?), abbess of Ely, was daughter of Wulfhere [q. v.], king of Mercia, and St. Ermenhild. Her mother was daughter of Earconbert, king of Kent, and Sexburga (d. 699?) [q. v.], a sister of St. Etheldreda [q. v.] or Æthelthryth. Werburga was, according to Ely tradition, left by her mother as abbess of her convent in Sheppey when Ermenhild went to Ely, and at her mother's death succeeded her as abbess of Ely. Her uncle Ethelred of Mercia set her over some Mercian nunneries, as Trentham and Hanbury in Staffordshire, and Weedon in Northamptonshire. According to an early tradition (Flo. Wig., which says nothing of her very probable rule in Sheppey), she became a nun, and entered her great-aunt's monastery, where she worked miracles, on the death of her father Wulfhere in 675. She died at Trentham and was buried at Hanbury. The year of her death is given in the Chester annals as 690, though if there is any ground for the story that Ceolred of Mercia translated her body nine years after her death, when it is said to have been found incorrupt, she could not have died earlier than 700, which is generally given as an approximate date, for Ceolred's reign began in 709. There is no reason to doubt that her remains were carried to Chester during the Danish invasions, perhaps, according to tradition, in 875; it was believed that they then for the first time were subjected to decay, and that her body crumbled to dust. The assertion that she had lived as a nun at Chester in a monastery built by her father is probably a mere fable. The church of her shrine became a famous minster; it was restored by Earl Leofric [q. v.] in 1057, endowed as a Benedictine monastery by Hugh, earl of Chester [q. v.], in 1093, and is the church of the existing see of Chester. Her day in the calendar is 3 Feb., but William Worcester gives 21 June as the day of St. Werburga of Chester, and 3 Feb. as that of another unknown saint of her name. Goscelin [q. v.], who wrote a life of her, records two of her miracles. She was held specially to favour the prayers of women and children. A wholly fabulous story as to the foundation of Stone Priory, Staffordshire, represents her as solicited in marriage when a child by a heathen noble of her father's court named Werbod, who, in revenge for her rejection of his suit, caused Wulfhere to put her two brothers to death. Thirteen dedications to her of churches and chapels, not now all in existence, have been reckoned; seven are within the old Mercian kingdom. A life of St. Werburg in English verse was written by Henry Bradshaw [q. v.] in 1513.

[Liber Eliens. i. cc. 17, 24, 36, 37 (Angl. Chr. Soc.); Flor. Wig. i. 32 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); A.A.S.S. Bolland. 1 Feb. 387 contains life by Goscelin; Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, cc. 76, 214, Gesta Pont. pp. 308–9 (Rolls Ser.); Ann. Cestriensis, pp. 8, 10, 12, ed. Christie (Lancs and Chesh. Record Soc.); Bromton an. 875, ed. Twisden; Dugdale's Monast. vi. 226–30; Kerslake's Vestiges of Mercian Supremacy; Bright's Early Engl. Church Hist. pp. 207, 456, ed. 1897; Butler's Lives of Saints, 3 Feb.; Montalembert's Monks of the West, iv. 405–7, ed. Gasquet; Dict. Christian Biogr. (art. ‘Werburga,’ 2) by Bishop Stubbs.]

W. H.