PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


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

Leofgifu 6 Leofgifu, abbess of Reading, fl. 1066

Author: DWP
Editorial Status: 4 of 5

  Discussion of the name  



Leofgifu 6 was the abbess of a small nunnery with a church and estate of 8 hides at Reading TRE. The church and its estate were held by the abbot of Battle in 1086 and it may well be that the nunnery had ceased to be active by then.

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

List of property and lordships associated with this name in DB

Holder 1066

Shire Phil. ref. Vill Holder 1066 DB Spelling Holder 1066 Lord 1066 Tenant-in-Chief 1086 1086 subtenant Fiscal value 1066 value 1086 value Holder 1066 ID conf. Show on map
Berkshire 15,2 Reading Leueua Leofgifu, abbess of Reading Edward, king Gausbert, abbot of Battle - 8.00 9.00 11.00 C Map
Total               8.00 9.00 11.00  


Leofgifu 6 is recorded as an abbess (Leueua abbatissa) in Domesday Book and as holding a church with an estate of 8 hides at Reading in the lordship of King Edward (Edward 15) TRE. It is likely that she was the head of a small nunnery that had been founded on the royal estate at Reading in the late tenth century.

It has been suggested (Morgan, DB Berks 15,2 Notes; Foot 2000: 146, 168) that Leofgifu 6 is the same person as Leofgifu 5, who in the Exon entry (193b1) relating to Abbas Combe, Somerset, is noted as both Leueua abbatissa and the TRE holder (the corresponding DB entry records the TRE holder as ‘St Edward’s Church’). That both women share the same name as well as the title of ‘abbess’ could be good grounds for regarding them as the same person. However, it is probable that Abbas Combe was a possession of Shaftesbury Abbey (Kelly 1996: 73-6) and thus that Leofgifu 5 was the abbess of that institution; furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Shaftesbury Abbey ever held or claimed an estate at Reading. By contrast, there is evidence (independent of the Domesday entry for Reading) to suggest that it was the site of a (possibly royal) nunnery in the late Anglo-Saxon period and that this may well be the ‘church’ referred to in the DB entry (Foot 2000: 145-7; Knowles et al. 2001: 218, 294; cf. Round in VCH Berks i 312). It remains possible that the Reading estate was a private possession of Abbess Leofgifu 5, particularly since candidates for senior religious posts would tend to come from the social élite; but it is more likely that nunneries existed at both Reading and Shaftesbury TRE and thus that we should regard Leofgifu 6 and Leofgifu 5 as separate people.

It is also unlikely that Leofgifu 6 and Leofgifu 13 are to be regarded as the same woman. Although Leofgifu 13 was the only other person of that name to hold an estate in Berkshire TRE and the possibility that this was a private estate of Leofgifu 6 cannot entirely be discounted, Leofgifu 13 was described as libera femina rather than abbatissa and her six-hide estate at South Denchworth was held by Lawrence as the tenant of Robert of Stafford (Robert 42) in 1086 rather than by the abbot of Battle as might have been expected.


Foot 2000: S. Foot, Veiled Women: The Disappearance of Nuns from Anglo-Saxon England, Studies in Early Medieval Britain 1, 2 vols. (2000)

Knowles et al. 2001: The Heads of Religious Houses in England and Wales I: 940-1216, ed. D. Knowles, C. N. L. Brooke and V. C. M. London, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2001)

Morgan 1979: Domesday Book 5: Berkshire, ed. P. Morgan (Chichester, 1979)

Round 1906: J. H. Round, ‘Domesday survey’, VCH: Berkshire 1 (1906)

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