Wulfthryth of Wilton

Wilfrida also known as Wulfthryth, was a 10th-century Catholic female saint[1] and Abbess from Anglo-Saxon England who was venerated locally in Wiltshire.


Wulfthryth is known to history through the hagiography of the Secgan Manuscript,[2] John of Worcester’s Chronicle, William of Malmesbury,[3] Osburn’s uita of Dunstan, the vita of St Wulfthryth found in The Wilton Chronicle,[4] A Royal Charter of King Edgar to Wulfthryth,[5] and the Vita Edithae by Goscelin.[6] The medieval source record her as living an exemplary life of sanctity and virtue and her virtues were often contrasted to the machinations of Edgar’s second (third?) wife, Aethelthryth.[7]


Near contemporary drawing of Edith.

Wilfrida was a noble woman, a cousin of Wulfhild, born about 937AD, whom King Edgar of England carried off from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey and took to his residence at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks.[8] While at Sevenoaks, Wulfthryth gave birth to a daughter, Edith.[9]

After at least a year, Wulfthryth returned to Wilton Abbey, taking Edith with her.[10] She later became head of the abbey and outlived her daughter.

According to early monastic texts, under Saint Dunstan's direction Edgar did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years.[11] As part of his penance, Edgar gave Wilfrida six estates in Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight which she passed on to her Abbey at Wilton in 965AD.[12] Since some form of bride abduction (often more simulated force than actual, by this time) may have existed as a vestige of earlier Anglo-Saxon tradition, historians have alternatively referred to Wilfrida as Edgar's concubine or his second wife, though never a captive. Given eccesiastical mores at the time, the penance was likely related to his violation of the sanctity of her religious vocation, rather than any personal affront to Wilfrida. It is clear that the two may have had continuing friendship long after her return to Wilton. At any rate, Edgar seems to have acknowledged Edith as his offspring; the relationship may have been considered a marriage despite formal church sanction, as was the custom of the time, and therefore Edith as legitimate. Wulfthryth continued to have considerable influence upon Edgar after her return to Wilton. She was able to stop bailiffs arresting a thief who had taken sanctuary in the Abbey[13] and was able to secure the release of two Wilton priests who had been imprisoned by the reeve of Wilton.[14] As Abbess she built a stone wall round the Abbey and also used her wealth to build up the relic collection of Wilton.[15] Goscelin calls her the ‘hidden treasure and light’ of the Abbey and she was held in high esteem during her life.[16] and she is credited with miracles during her lifetime,[17] and Alms giving.[18]


St Mary's church, Wilton

Both she and her daughter Edith were regarded as saints after their lifetimes.[19] Wulfthryth died at Wilton on 21 September, c1000AD and was buried before the main altar of the abbey church of St Mary's Church, Wilton.[20] Her Feast Day is 13 September.


A coin of Edgar, c.973.
  1. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
  2. Stowe MS 944, British Library.
  3. William of Malmesbury Gesta Regum Anglorum, Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, 1999)p.139).
  4. Wiesje Emons-Nijenhuis, The Embedded Saint, the Wilton Chronicle's Life of St Wulfthryth in Revue Bénédictine Volume 119, Number 1 Jun 2009
  5. Manuscript Sawyer 799
  6. Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, Stealing Obedience: Narratives of Agency and Identity in Later Anglo-Saxon England (University of Toronto Press, 2012) ebook.
  7. Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, Stealing Obedience: Narratives of Agency and Identity in Later Anglo-Saxon England (University of Toronto Press, 2012) ebook.
  8. Stephen Morillo, The Haskins Society Journal (Boydell Press, 2003)page 97
  9. Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma & Queen Edith, (Blackwell, 2001), pp. 324-325
  10. Mrs Jameson, Legends of the monastic orders: as represented in the fine arts p. 95 google ebook.
  11. Ann Williams, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), (Edgar Pacificus), accessdate=16 May 2012.
  12. Wulfthryth at OxfordDNB.
  13. Stephen Morillo, The Haskins Society Journal (Boydell Press, 2003)page 112.
  14. Gwen Seabourne, Imprisoning Medieval Women: The Non-judicial Confinement and Abduction of Women in England, C.1170-1509 (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011) page 184.
  15. Wulfthryth at OxfordDNB.
  16. A. Wilmart, ‘La légende de Ste Édith en prose et vers par le moine Goscelin’, Analecta Bollandiana, 56 (1938), 5–101, 265–307
  17. Wulfthryth at OxfordDNB.
  18. The Liber Vitae of the New Minster, Winchester Fol 26r.20 (901 x 904 - ?)
  19. Barbara Yorke, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press , 2004), (St Wulfthryth, abbess of Wilton) accessdate=17 November 2012
  20. Wulfthryth at OxfordDNB.
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