Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury

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Æthelgifu (Old English pronunciation: [ˈæðeljivu]) was a daughter of King Alfred the Great, an Anglo-Saxon king of the 9th century. She was the third of Alfred and his wife Ealhswith's five children and the second eldest daughter. She was likely born sometime in the 870s.[1]

A Welsh monk named Asser who wrote a biography of Alfred the Great, described her as 'devoted to God through her holy virginity, subject and consecrated to the rule of monastic life, entered the service of God'. She was said to have become a nun as a result of her bad health.[1]

Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey ca. 890 and placed Æthelgifu as its first abbess. This Abbey along with Athelney monastery (for monks) received 1/8 of Alfred's annual revenue in support. It appears to have housed nuns from an upper-class background. Very little is known about Æthelgifu's time as abbess.[1]

In Alfred's will, there is mention of two estates left 'to his middle daughter Æthelgifu' at Kingsclere and at Candover in Hampshire, and the will itself makes no mention of her role as abbess. It is possible that the will was written before Æthelgifu became abbess, or it is possible that these estates were given to her while she was abbess, but they reverted to the male line once she died.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Studies in the Early History of Shaftesbury Abbey. Dorset County Council, 1999

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