PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


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

Leofweard 3 Leofweard abbot of Muchelney (Som.), fl. 1066

Author: CPL
Editorial Status: 4 of 5

Discussion of the name  


Leofweard 3 was abbot of Muchelney from before the Conquest until at least 1075, and dead by 1086. He ruled over an ancient but modestly endowed monastery whose four manors were assessed at some 50 hides and worth around £40.

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


List of property and lordships associated with this name in DB



The pre-Conquest abbot of Muchelney (Som.) was named as Leofweard in the GDB and Exon entries for one of its manors, Ilminster (Som. 9:3; Exon 188a2). The entries read as if Leofweard held Ilminster personally, an impression contradicted by the statement that the two thegns who held 1½ hides of Ilminster ‘could not be separated from the church’.

The abbey’s possessions in 1066 consisted of just four manors: Muchelney itself, Ilminster, Drayton, and West Camel. Muchelney and Drayton formed a block towards the southern end of the Somerset Levels, in the angle where the rivers Yeo and Parrett run together; Ilminster is 8 miles south-west, up the river Isle, West Camel 10 miles east of the abbey. The four together were reckoned as 50 hides, though Muchelney itself had never paid geld and was not assessed in hides: it comprised a chain of small fenland islands—Muchelney, Midelney, and Thorney—and provided only four ploughlands, besides fisheries, meadow, pasture, and woodland. The other manors all had much more extensive arable fields.

Of the abbey’s lands, 1½ hides at Ilminster and 3 hides and ½ virgate at Drayton were held by the abbot’s thegns Leofric the priest, Wulfweard, Beorhtwine, Leofing, and Swet (Swet 8); they were not free to withdraw from the church and presumably held by leases for lives. Swet’s 1 hide and ½ virgate, part of the 20 hides of Drayton, was located at Moortown, 3 miles to the west. It was recorded separately because by 1086 the abbey had lost it into lay hands. Also lost by 1086 were two holdings of 1½ hides apiece at Puckington, between Muchelney and Ilminster, which DB says were held by the thegns Leofing and Alweard without power of alienation from the church of St Peter, clearly another reference to Muchelney. Leofing is very probably the same thegn who held 1 hide at Drayton.

The GDB entry for Ilminster and the Exon entry for Muchelney give their values ‘when the abbot died’ (quando abbas obiit); they are likely to mean Abbot Leofweard, who was mentioned by name in the entry for Ilminster. An identical dating clause appears in the Exon entries for manors of 5 hides and 1½ hides at Isle Abbotts and 1½ hides at Cathanger (Som. 9:4–5, 8; Exon 188a3, 188b1, 188b2). Those three manors were held TRE respectively by Godric(Edwin PASE no.), and Wædel, and DB says specifically that the three thegns ‘did not belong to the abbey TRE’.

The recording of values ‘when the abbot [Leofweard] died’ strongly suggests that they came into Muchelney’s possession in his lifetime. Isle Abbotts and Cathanger were only 5 or 6 miles south-west of the abbey church, and the monks possessed charters for Isle which are regarded as authentic. In 762 King Cynewulf of Wessex (Cynewulf 4) gave the church 8 hides identified as Isle (S 261), and in 966 King Edgar gave 10 hides explicitly at Isle to the abbey’s protector Ælfweald, bishop of Sherborne (Ælfwald 34) (S 740). DB’s insistence that Isle Abbotts and Cathanger did not belong to the abbey TRE allows us to rule out the idea that they were thegnlands; more probably, what we are seeing here is three local thegns making estates over to Abbot Leofweald after 1066 in order to keep them out of Norman hands.

That underlines Leofweald’s local position in the district around Muchelney, but in national terms his abbey was of no great wealth or significance, despite its antiquity as a house founded (probably) by King Ine of Wessex (Ine 1) and refounded by King Æthelstan (Æthelstan 18). Leofweald’s only charter attestations are on documents concerned with the bishopric of Wells in 1065 (S 1042; Keynes 1996: 260–2) and 1068 (Bates 1998: no. 286), and he was listed as present at the council of London in 1075 (Ltrs of Lanfranc, no. 11, p. 79 note 16).

Leofweald’s low profile in the sources may have been partly due to the fact that Muchelney was in some sense subordinate to its wealthy neighbour Glastonbury.  The issue came to a head in 1080, when the diocesan bishop, Giso of Wells, tried to assert his rights at Muchelney (and Athelney) against the new Norman abbot of Glastonbury, Thurstan, who had been appointed within the previous two or three years (Heads: 51). According to William of Malmesbury, Giso was outmanoeuvred in part by the worldly wisdom of the unnamed abbot of Muchelney, who insisted that he answered only to the abbot of Glastonbury (De ant. Glast. c. 76). We cannot know for sure whether that was Leofweard or a successor.

Part of Thurstan’s claim in 1080 was that abbots of Muchelney were chosen by the convent of Glastonbury; Leofweard’s most likely origin is therefore as a monk of that house.


Bates 1998: Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum: The Acta of William I (1066–1087), ed. David Bates (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

De ant. Glast.: The Early History of Glastonbury: An Edition, Translation and Study of William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesie, ed. and trans. John Scott (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1981)

Heads:The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, 940–1216, ed. David Knowles, C. N. L. Brooke, and Vera C. M. London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)

Keynes 1996: Simon Keynes, ‘Giso, bishop of Wells (1061–88)’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 19: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, 1996 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997), 203–71

Ltrs of Lanfranc: The Letters of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. and trans. Helen Clover and Margaret Gibson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979)

S: P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 8 (London, 1968), revised by S. Kelly, R. Rushforth et al., The Electronic Sawyer: Online Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Charters, published online through Kemble: The Anglo-Saxon Charters Website, currently at 

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