Founding a nunnery

Founding a nunnery in Kings Sutton in 916

Historical context

There is some difference in interpretation of the status of Mercia. For example, in Edward the Elder Keynes describes Edward as King of the Anglo-Saxons, including Mercia, Heighway says Æthelred and Æthelflæd governed Mercia in alliance with Edward, Bailey describes Æthelred as de facto ruler of Mercia.

Kings Sutton was on the English side of the boundary with the Danelaw.

From the Anglo Saxon Chronicle etc.:

913 Danish excursion from Northampton and Leicester, defeated.

914 ‘King Edward went to Buckingham with his army, and stayed there four weeks, and made both

the boroughs, on each side of the river, before he went away. And Earl Thurcetel came and accepted him as his lord, and so did all the earls and the principal men who belonged to Bedford, and also many of those who belonged to Northampton.’

915 King Edward at Bedford

916 King Edward in Essex; Æthelflæd in Cheshire and Wales

[neither very convenient to go to to get a grant of land]

917 ‘In this year before Easter King Edward ordered the borough at Towcester to be occupied and built; and then after that in the same year at the Rogation days he ordered the borough at Wigingamere to be built. That same summer, between Lammas and midsummer, the army from Northampton and Leicester and north of these places broke the peace, and Went to Towcester, and fought all day against the borough, intending to take it by storm, but yet the people who were inside defended it until more help came to them, and the enemy then left the borough and went away. And then very quickly after that, they again went out with a marauding band by night, and came upon unprepared men, and captured no small number of men and cattle, between Bernwood Forest

and Aylesbury.

[i.e. Danish troops marauding between Towcester and Aylesbury –
Kings Sutton at risk]

Things seem to be safer after this.

Charters and land grants

Edward seems to have had a policy of not making grants of land. Some were issued to replace charters destroyed by fire or lost but there is a complete gap between 910 to 924.

He ordered people ordered to buy land from the pagans c911. It’s possible that charters granted in areas recovered from Danish control (very few charters survive from these areas).

There are three charters issued by Æthelred and/or Æthelflæd in the 10th century.

Founding a nunnery post 900

All the nunneries that have some amount of documentary history were founded for a member of the royal family (dead or alive). There are a few obscure nunneries listed in Veiled Women where we don’t know that they were founded for that reason, including:

Wareham, Dorset



Romsey, Hampshire

Horton, Dorset


Chatteris (founded by a bishop)


Why would Æthelflæd (or Edward) have sponsored a nunnery in Kings Sutton in 916?

The following are reasons, not all of them likely.

  1. To house a royal female (Æthelflæd’s daughter Ælfwynn?)
  2. To house a dead royal family member (Æthelflæd intended to be buried there?)
  3. To honour a family saint (St Rumwold, Mercian royal family)
  4. As a daughter cell of an established nunnery (Shaftesbury had a daughter cell)
  5. To strengthen ties to the royal family in area that was close to reconquered lands (sounds vaguely possible, but a bit risky for a nunnery, and I don’t have any parallels)
  6. Because that’s what Cyneswith wanted and she was very persuasive

Also – I think Cyneswith would have to have been wealthy, with good connections but with male kin who were young and/or powerless.