PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


[Image: Excerpt from the Domesday Book]
[Image: Durham Liber Vitae, folio 38r (extract)]

Beorhtgifu 11 Beorhtgifu ‘of Dorchester’ (Oxon.), fl. 1086

Author: CPL
Editorial Status: 4 of 5

  Discussion of the name  



Beorhtgifu was significant among the Oxfordshire tenants of the bishop of Lincoln in 1086, holding 20½ hides of Dorchester at farm and 2½ hides at Baldon, immediately north of Dorchester.

Distribution map of property and lordships associated with this name in DB

List of property and lordships associated with this name in DB


Subtenant in 1086

Shire Phil. ref. Vill Subtenant DB Spelling Holder 1066 Lord 1066 Tenant-in-Chief 1086 1086 subtenant Fiscal value 1066 value 1086 value Subtenant ID conf. Show on map
Oxfordshire 6,1b Dorchester Bristeua Wulfwig, bishop of Dorchester - Remigius, bishop of Lincoln Beorhtgifu 'of Dorchester' 20.50 10.00 20.00 A Map
Oxfordshire 6,17 Marsh Baldon Bristeua Wulfwig, bishop of Dorchester - Remigius, bishop of Lincoln Beorhtgifu 'of Dorchester' 2.50 1.33 2.33 A Map
Total               23.00 11.33 22.33  



Beorhtgifu appears in two entries among the Oxfordshire tenants of the bishop of Lincoln in 1086, holding 20½ hides of Dorchester at farm and 2½ hides at Baldon, immediately north of Dorchester. The holding at Baldon was associated with 5 hides held of the bishop by Isward, but the two were distinct and can be shown to have lain at Little Baldon and Marsh Baldon respectively (VCH Oxon. VII, 2). It has been argued that Beorhtgifu’s 2½ hides at Marsh Baldon were included in the 20½ hides (VCH Oxon. VII, 2–3); the argument is needed to make Dorchester hundred exactly 100 hides in DB and is plausible. Certainly Marsh Baldon, like Beorhtgifu’s Dorchester lands, passed back into the bishop’s demesne soon after 1086.

The bishop of Lincoln’s 90-hide manor of Dorchester is described in a long and complex entry in DB, but Beorhtgifu’s part in it is relatively certain, and the location of her holding can be determined with some confidence. The entry distinguishes between what the bishop held ‘in his farm’ (in sua firma) and what was held from him by his knights (Oxon. 6:1a). The resources of the knights’ land are listed separately further on (Oxon. 6:9). The bishop’s land in sua firma consisted of three parts: a holding in demesne (in dominio) (Oxon. 6:1a), Beorhtgifu’s land, held at farm (ad firmam) (Oxon. 6:1b), and the bishop’s detached demesne at South Stoke, 8 miles down the Thames towards Reading (Oxon. 6:1c).

The 90 hides of the whole manor covered most of Dorchester hundred. The knights’ land and South Stoke can all be accounted for among the fiefs later held of the bishop, while the bishop’s demesne manor and Beorhtgifu’s land together must have corresponded to the later bishop’s demesne and the small estate which Remigius gave to the canons of the former cathedral (an abbey from c. 1140); the demesne extended beyond Dorchester and its daughter settlement of Overy to Burcot, Clifton Hampden, Drayton St Leonard, Chislehampton and Stadhampton (VCH Oxon. VII, 3, 42–3, 45). Among those parishes and townships, only Stadhampton was entirely demesne in the thirteenth century; the rest included a mixture of demesne and knights’ fees (VCH Oxon. VII, 11–12, 18–20, 66–7, 73, 83).

Beorhtgifu in effect had half the episcopal demesne in 1086. The bishop retained 22 hides to her 20½ hides, 3 demesne ploughs to her 4, and 15 tenant ploughs to her 16. His estate had fewer villan tenants than hers (34:46) but more bordars (22:15). The non-arable resources were divided rather differently. Beorhtgifu had only a third of the meadowland by value (22s. 8d. to the bishop’s 40s.) and a quarter of the eel renders from the fisheries (9 sticks of eels to the bishop’s 30), but two thirds of the value of the watermills (38s. to the bishop’s 20s.). The mills allow some of Beorhtgifu’s lands to be located. There were five mills altogether in 1086, one in the bishop’s hands and four in hers. The bishop’s mill is certainly identifiable as Queensford mill on the Thame above Dorchester, first mentioned by name in 1146 (VCH Oxon. VII, 44). In the thirteenth century there were only four other mills on the former episcopal lands in Dorchester hundred, taking into account both the demesne and the abbey’s granges. Two were at Overy, just east of Dorchester, and belonged to the abbey: one on the Thames and one on the Thame; they were later said to have been given to the abbey by Bishop Remigius (VCH Oxon. VII, 44). The other two were on the bishop’s demesne at Stadhampton (4 winding miles up the Thame), though rented out in the thirteenth century (VCH Oxon. VII, 84). Remarkably enough, there is no record of mills in any of the other parishes or townships (VCH Oxon. VII, 5–27, 65–92). The natural inference is that Beorhtgifu’s four mills were the ones recorded later at Overy and Stadhampton. Her 20½ hides, then, lay dispersed in Overy, Stadhampton, Marsh Baldon, and perhaps other places. If Remigius really did give the two Overy mills to the church, it allows Beorhtgifu’s disappearance (presumably her death) to be dated before Remigius’s death in 1092.

DB says nothing about the pre-Conquest tenure of Dorchester, not even that Remigius’s predecessor as bishop held it (though he clearly did). In theory that leaves open the possibility that Beorhtgifu held at farm before 1066 as in 1086. But DB gives the render from her 20½ hides for three dates: ‘This land pays £20. TRE £10. When she received it £8.’ (reddit ista terra .xx. libros. T.R.E. x. libros. Cum recepit viii. libros.) The triple dating contrasts with the two dates (TRE and 1086) for which renders were stated for the bishop’s demesne at both Dorchester and South Stoke. DB appears to imply that Beorhtgifu acquired her 20½ hides at some time after 1066, initially at a lowered rent of £8 a year but racked up to £20 a year by 1086. It also implies that someone else had the same land at farm for £10 a year in 1066.

Beorhtgifu’s holding was significantly larger than any of the knightly tenancies established on the bishop’s estates in Oxfordshire by 1086 (Oxon. 6:1–17); its only parallel locally was the monastic estate of Eynsham (the abbey not yet fully re-established as an independent Benedictine house) which was held from the bishop by Columbanus the monk as a manor of 15½ hides worth £20 (Oxon. 6:6).

Beorhtgifu was clearly an important person locally in 1086, but the identity of her landed estate remains problematic. There are three possibilities. The first is that her 20½ hides was the estate of the secular canons of the Anglo-Saxon cathedral, held by them from Bishop Wulfwig in 1066 and removed from their control and put out at farm to Beorhtgifu when Remigius relocated the cathedral to Lincoln in 1072. That would lighten the complete obscurity of the late Anglo-Saxon chapter and its estates (‘Nothing is known about the clerks of their lands’: Barlow 1979: 215). The second possibility, given Beorhtgifu’s gender, is that there was a second, female, minster church at Dorchester in the late Anglo-Saxon period, disbanded after the Conquest, and that Beorhtgifu was its last abbess, granted its property to hold at farm for life. It should be said that there is absolutely no evidence of any kind for such a nunnery (Foot 2000). If neither of those possibilities is admissible, then all we can say is that Beorhtgifu must have been a member of some very rich and well connected English family in the region, influential enough with Bishop Remigius to be given a very large landed estate on a lifetime tenancy.



Barlow 1979: Frank Barlow, The English Church 1000–1066: A History of the Later Anglo-Saxon Church, 2nd edn (London: Longman, 1979)

Foot 2000: Sarah Foot, Veiled Women, 2 vols (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000)

VCH Oxon. VII: The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A History of the County of Oxford, VII, ed. Mary Lobel (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1962)

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