PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


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

Leofcild 3 Leofcild sheriff of Essex, fl. 1066

Author: CPL
Editorial Status: 4 of 5

Discussion of the name  



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
Essex 24,15 Wheatley Leuecilt Leofcild, sheriff of Essex - Swein of Essex - 5.00 3.00 4.00 D Map
Total               5.00 3.00 4.00  



Leofcild 3 was a thegn of Edward the Confessor who served as sheriff of Essex for probably only a short period at the start of the reign. He already owned land in Essex in the time of King Harold I, when he was bequeathed 2 hides adjoining his own property. He himself gave the valuable manor of Moulsham in south Essex to Westminster abbey, a gift confirmed by the king in 1052 or 1053, by when he had ceased to be sheriff and may have been dead. His only certain manor TRE was assessed at 5 hides and worth £3: if it was an official shrieval estate it may have been recorded under Leofcild’s name even though he had died some years earlier.



The name Leofcild occurs outside DB in seven documents dating between 1037 and 1053. All those instances can be identified with some degree of confidence as a king’s thegn who served as sheriff of Essex.

His identification starts with the documents which explicitly call him sheriff. Two are writs of Edward the Confessor directed to the shire court of Essex which confirmed donations of land to Westminster abbey. Both were addressed to ‘Bishop Ælfweard, Leofcild the sheriff, and all my thegns in Essex’; Ælfweard (Ælfweard 35) was bishop of London 1035–44, so the writs purported to date from the period within two years of Edward’s accession in 1042 (S 1117–18; Harmer 1952: nos. 73–4), but the authenticity of the grants which they claimed to confirm is open to serious question and there may never have been a genuine writ addressed to Leofcild the sheriff in either case (Harmer 1952: pp. 297–306). On the other hand there is independent evidence that Leofcild was sheriff of Essex early during Edward’s reign, and for the purposes of identifying Leofcild 3 the validity of the writs in question is immaterial.

Independent evidence for the existence of Leofcild the sheriff is his presence as a witness in both of the wills made by the rich East Anglian thegn Thorsten son of Wine (Thorsten 7, formerly Thurstan 9). In the earlier of the two, Leofcild the sheriff was among the witnesses to Thorsten’s bequest in 1042 or 1043 of a single estate in Essex, where he was named first among a small group of Essex thegns (S 1530). The second and longer will disposed of numerous estates in several shires (repeating the bequest detailed in the first will) and dates from the years 1043–5; in that will, Leofcild was listed without the title of sheriff among another and overlapping group of Essex thegns (S 1531). It is likely that Leofcild was in fact still sheriff at the time of the second will, or he would not have been named in the Essex group second only to Ælfgar son of Earl Leofric of Mercia (Ælfgar 46).

None of the other references to Leofcild calls him sheriff. The first is in the will of another rich East Anglian, the lady Leofgifu (Leofgifu 2) (S 1521). Whitelock dated it 1035 × 1044 on the grounds that one of the beneficiaries was Bishop Ælfweard of London, and her dating has been generally accepted. That dating can almost certainly be narrowed. One bequest was to a Stigand who is named without a title and who must surely be the later archbishop of Canterbury before he became bishop of Elmham in 1043 (Stigand 1). Another bequest, which is linked to the gift of 2 gold marks to the king, was of an Essex estate to ‘my lady’: ‘And I grant to the king two marks of gold . . . and to my lady the estate at Belchamp’ (and ic an þan kinge to marc goldes . . . and mine lauedi þat lond at Belhcham). The context seems to require that ‘my lady’ was the king’s wife, and the only king’s wife while Ælfweard was bishop of London was Harold I’s wife Ælfgifu (Stevenson 1913). That line of logic dates the will to the period 1035–40.

The testator Leofgifu’s relationship to the beneficiary Leofcild, and the location of the land in question, are both maddeningly obscure. In general the will arranged its beneficiaries in hierarchical order: first the church, then in succession the king and ‘my lady’, the bishop of London, two kinsmen, the king’s priest Stigand, other kin, and finally Leofgifu’s servants. Leofcild was named between the other kin and the servants, and it is not clear to which group (if either) he belonged. The fact that he shared a common name element with Leofgifu could be taken to mean that he was among her kin.

Whereas every other piece of land given in the will was named, the bequest to Leofcild was simply described as ‘the two hides next to his own’ (þa to hide onfast his owen). That in itself seems to imply that Leofcild had only one estate of his own, or it would have been necessary to say which of his properties was intended. Her other landed bequests were widely scattered across Suffolk and Essex, but the assessment of the gift to Leofcild in hides shows that it was in Essex.

The bequest immediately before Leofcild’s was of 3 hides at Warley to the testator’s aðum (brother-in-law or son-in-law) Godwine (Godwine 50) ‘and my kinswoman’, so perhaps the reason for failing to supply the name of Leofcild’s land was that it was located at the same place. Godwine’s bequest there was very probably the 3 hides at Great Warley which passed to Barking abbey before 1066 (Essex 9:9; Hart 1971: p. 45; VCH Essex VII, 166). If Leofcild’s bequest was also at Warley it must have been the 2 hides held TRE by Godric (Godric 183), which is identifiable as the later manor of Warley Franks in the south-west part of Great Warley parish (VCH Essex VII, 168). That, however, leaves the difficulty of explaining why land left to Leofcild belonged to Godric in 1066, as well as the difficulty of identifying Leofcild’s ‘own land’ adjoining it. Could it have been because Leofcild was dead by then? In the last resort, Leofgifu’s bequest to Leofcild could have been anywhere in Essex, and need not have been effective anyway.

Leofcild further appears as a thegn (minister) witnessing Edward the Confessor’s charter giving land at West Cliffe in Kent to his optimas Æthelræd (Æthelred 38), a charter of undoubted authenticity, indeed evidently surviving in the original, datable 1042 × 1044 (S 1044). The large group of witnesses represents a gathering of notables from across the kingdom, and all that can be deduced from Leofcild’s presence is that he was a king’s thegn, present at court on at least this one occasion. His absence from other surviving witness lists hints that he was not important enough to attend regularly. Perhaps he was present only while serving as sheriff, and his term of office was short.

A connection with the king is evident in the final document naming Leofcild, a writ addressed to the shire court of Essex in which King Edward declared that the estate at Moulsham which Leofcild owned and granted to Westminster abbey was to belong to the abbey just as he gave it, adding various privileges (S 1128; Harmer 1952: no. 84 and pp. 297–306). The addressees (‘Bishop William [of London] (William 2), Earl Harold (Harold 3), Robert the staller (Robert 14), and all my thegns in Essex’) date the writ to 1052 or 1053. The text of the writ was ‘improved’ at some later stage in order to enhance the abbey’s privileges, but there is no reason to doubt that the grant by Leofcild really took place; Moulsham was in Westminster’s hands in 1066 as an estate of 4¾ hides worth £9 (Essex 6:14). It lay across the river Chelmer from the bishop of London’s manor of Chelmsford and afterwards formed part of the same parish. The writ makes it clear that Leofcild had given Moulsham to the abbey at some earlier date; the verb used of his gift is becweðan, and the most natural reading of the writ is that he had ‘bequeathed’ it in a testamentary sense. He was certainly no longer sheriff of Essex at the time of the writ, since Robert the staller appears in the sheriff’s position in its address clause. Whether he had recently died, indeed whether he was dead at all, has to remain an open question.

The Leofcild named in all these documents was very probably the same person, owner of land in Essex in the time of Harold I, a thegn of Edward the Confessor who served as sheriff of Essex early in the reign and gave property to the king’s refounded monastic house at Westminster some time before 1052–3.

Those circumstances make it more likely than not that the sheriff was identical with the king’s thegn Leofcild who owned a 5-hide manor in Essex at Wheatley TRE. It should be noted that TRE need not of itself mean 1066, so that Leofcild’s tenure of Wheatley TRE could be compatible with his death before 1052–3. That point would be especially pertinent if Wheatley had belonged to Leofcild by virtue of his office of sheriff.

Wheatley is in the south-east of the county, on the northern slopes of the wooded hills adjoining Canvey Island, some 10 miles from Moulsham (Leofcild the sheriff’s gift to Westminster abbey). Leofcild’s manor of Wheatley comprised the greater part of the vill. Its later history may be relevant. Wheatley passed after the Conquest to Swein of Essex (Swein 9), son of Robert the staller. Robert was sheriff of Essex at the time of the Moulsham writ and still (or again) sheriff shortly after 1066 (Essex 83:1). Swein succeeded him as sheriff quite early in William I’s reign and was probably still sheriff in 1086, as his byname ‘of Essex’ implies (Bates 1998: nos. 82, 107, 299–300, 309, 317). A later charter discloses that Swein promised Wheatley to Westminster abbey and that his widow and son Robert made good the gift at a ceremony on the abbey’s high altar on the day that Swein was buried (Mason 1988: no. 237); the abbey immediately leased the manor back to Robert for 60s. a year, exactly the sum that it was said to have been worth under Leofcild. This circumstance raises yet another possibility: that Leofcild was actually the abbey’s tenant TRE, and that his death some years earlier had left Westminster unable to secure the estate because of some claim to it by others, whether Leofcild’s kin or more likely his successors as sheriff, one of whom indeed had possession in 1086. Swein conceded the manor to Westminster soon after 1086 (with a guilty conscience at having retained it for so long?), and the monks did not need to include Wheatley in any of the charters that they forged in the twelfth century.

Wheatley was immediately adjacent to another of Swein’s manors, Rayleigh, where, as LDB tells us, Swein made his castle (in hoc manerio fecit Suenus suum castellum), besides creating a park and planting a vineyard that was sufficiently well established by 1086 to produce 20 measures of wine in a good year (si bene procedit) (Essex 24:17). The motte and bailey earthwork of Rayleigh castle survives (King 1983: I, 146). Swein in fact held Rayleigh as two manors, a smaller one of 2½ hides which had belonged to an unnamed free man TRE (Essex 24:18), and a larger one of 5 hides where the castle was built. No pre-Conquest landowner was named for the larger manor, leaving open the possibility (among other possibilities) that it, too, had belonged to Leofcild.

Leofcild farmed his only proven holding, Wheatley, with two ploughs TRE, kept a sizeable flock of 100 sheep and smaller numbers of pigs and cattle, and had a fishery on the river Roach.



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

Harmer 1952: F. E. Harmer, Anglo-Saxon Writs (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1952)

Hart 1971: Cyril Hart, The Early Charters of Essex, Department of English Local History Occasional Papers, First Series 10 (revised edn) (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1971)

King 1983: David J. Cathcart King, Castellarium Anglicanum: An Index and Bibliography of the Castles in England, Wales and the Islands, 2 vols (London: Kraus International Publications, 1983)

Mason 1988: Westminster Abbey Charters, 1066–c. 1214, ed. Emma Mason, London Record Society 25 (1988)

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

Stevenson 1913: W. H. Stevenson, ‘An alleged son of King Harold Harefoot’, English Historical Review, 28 (1913), 112–17

VCH Essex VII: The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A History of the County of Essex, VII, ed. W. R. Powell (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1978)

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