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A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death (802) was changed into a convent for twelve nuns by his widow, Saint Alburga, sister of Egbert of Wessex. Owing to the consent given by this king he is counted as the first founder of this monastery. Saint Alburga herself joined the community, and died at Wilton. King Alfred, after his temporary success against the Danes at Wilton in 871, founded a new convent on the site of the royal palace and united to it the older foundation. The community was to number 26 nuns. It was attached to St Mary's Church.[1] Two daughters of king Edward the Elder and Ælfflæd, Eadflæd and Æthelhild, probably joined the community, Eadflæd as a nun and Æthelhild as a lay sister. They were buried at Wilton with their mother. Their half-brother, king Æthelstan, made two grants of land to a congregation at Wilton in the 930s, including one in 937 for the remission of his sins and those of Eadflæd.[2]

River adjacent to the site of the former abbey

In 955 King Eadwig granted the nuns of Wilton Abbey an estate called Chelke (Chalke, Saxon aet Ceolcum) which included land in Broad Chalke and Bowerchalke.[3][4]

Wulfthryth (Wilfrida), the wife (or concubine) of Edgar, King of the English (959-75), was abbess of Wilton between the early 960s and about 1000. According to Stenton, she was a nun when Edgar (who could not have been more than sixteen at the time, and she a bit older) abducted her from the abbey and carried her off to his palace at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks. Abduction of a bride was not uncommon in pre-Christian and early Christian Anglo-Saxon society, and it is unknown how much of her abduction was with her consent. Nevertheless, she was held at Kemsing for two years, during which time she bore Edgar a daughter Saint Edith, whom he acknowledged and supported for the rest of his life. St. Dunstan, an advisor to Edgar, later talked the king into doing penance for the abduction: reportedly, Edgar refrained from wearing his crown for seven years. By the early 960's, Wulfthryth was installed as abbess back at Wilton (where she raised her daughter), and Edgar had bestowed the abbey with treasure and land. In 964 Edgar married Ælfthryth, in a Christian ceremony which would have nullified any pagan arrangement with Wulfthryth; because of this, modern historians sometimes refer to her as a "concubine" but the word is inaccurate, given the custom of the time. Having been given wealth by the king, and being of a noble background herself, Wulfthryth used her wealth to build up Wilton's relic collection. She was also able to use her royal connections to protect Wilton in other ways, such as securing the release of two Wilton priests who had been imprisoned by the reeve of Wilton. Her daughter died between 984 and 987 at the age of 23, and her mother and various royalty, as well as enormous local popular support, promoted her cult as a saint.[5][6][7]

In 1003 Sweyn, King of Denmark, destroyed the town of Wilton but we do not know whether the abbey shared its fate. Edith of Wessex, the wife of Edward the Confessor, who had been educated at Wilton, rebuilt the abbey in stone; it had formerly been of wood.

In 1143 King Stephen made it his headquarters, but was put to flight by Matilda's forces under Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The Abbess of Wilton held an entire barony from the king, a privilege shared by only three other English nunneries, Shaftesbury, Barking, and St. Mary, Winchester. Cecily Bodenham, the last abbess, surrendered the convent to the commissioners of King Henry VIII on 25 March 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The site was granted to Sir William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, who commenced the building of Wilton House, still the abode of his descendants. There are no remains of the ancient buildings.



  1. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Mary (1355781)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  2. ^ Foot, Sarah (2011). Æthelstan: the first king of England. Yale University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-300-12535-1.
  3. ^ Broad Chalke, A History of a South Wiltshire Village, its Land & People Over 2,000 years. By 'The People of the Village', 1999
  4. ^ British History Online ( Broad Chalke
  5. ^ Yorke, Barbara (2004). "Wulfthryth [St Wulfthryth] (d. c.1000), abbess of Wilton". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49423. Retrieved 1 August 2013. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  6. ^ Yorke, Barbara (2004). "Edith [St Edith, Eadgyth] (961x4–984x7), nun". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8482. Retrieved 1 August 2013. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  7. ^ * Stenton, Frank (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.