The speaking cross, the persecuted princess and the murdered earl: the early history of Romsey Abbey


The speaking cross, the persecuted princess and the murdered earl: the early history of Romsey Abbey

Anne Williams (University of East Anglia)

Anglo-Saxon, 1 (2007), pp. 221-38.

Abstract

The abbey of St Mary and St Æthelfleda at Romsey (Hampshire) was the third-richest house for women in pre-Conquest England, better-endowed than the abbey for men at Evesham, and nearly as rich as Coventry. Little is known of its early history. A handful of charters, all preserved in late copies, record something of its endowment, and comparison with the account of the abbey’s land in ‘Domesday Book’ suggests that little was added after the initial foundation in the 960s. Lack of material means that no general account of Romsey’s history can be attempted, but the three incidents which form the subject of this paper may have an interest of their own, offering both a brief glimpse of the circumstances attendant on its foundation and a little information about events in the period immediately after the Norman conquest.




I have to confess at the outset that the speaking cross is no more than a cheap trick, designed solely to catch attention. It arises from the mistranslation of a passage in the abbey’s foundation-charter, whose probable date is 967. The diploma now exists only as a copy in the cartulary of Edington, a small Benedictine house founded in 1351 on land which had once belonged to Romsey. It is a composite text, in which Edgar’s grant of privileges is followed by a note of the same king’s confirmation of the abbey’s purchase of some woodland attached to the manor of Romsey, which (as will appear) must be dated 971×975.

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