Wulfhilda

This is not only NOT a text about the Renaissance history. We´re not even still in medieval times.  This time we´re going further and this blog can be said to have returned from summer vacation.

When going back as far as to before the beginning of the last millennium, say to around 940, sources and information may be a bit scarce, even more so if the information you´re looking for is pertaining to a woman.

Even so, I will try to write a few lines about Wulfhilda, at one point in time abbess atwulfhilda Barking Abbey.

She was born around 940, presumably the daughter of a wealthy Wessex nobleman by the name of Wulfhelm. During her childhood, she was raised and educated by Benedictine nuns at Wilton Abbey, and when she came of age she herself took the vows to live as a nun.

According to legend, she caught the eye of king Edgar the Peaceful who ruled between 959 and 975, and he decided to woo her, something that proved not to be easily done, and while it´s difficult not to at least smile at the description that has survived of the peaceful Edgar, that “he was extremely small in both stature and bulk”, I do hope that this was not the reason to why Wulfhilda rejected him – which she did – but for her vocation to her life as a nun.

It is however said that after several attempts to win her love, Edgar decided to enlist her aunt Abbess Wenflaeda of Wherwell who by faking an illness managed to lure Wulfhilda to where the king was waiting instead of her aunt. Not even the prospect of becoming a queen could change Wulfhilda´s mind, and on this special occasion she is said to have fled through the drains, leaving only her glove behind. Faced with this kind of resistance the king eventually made her Abbess of Barking Abbey and in time also Horton Abbey.

Something else he eventually also did was to get married, and one version of this story states that he the woman who became his queen, AElfthryth, was so jealous of Wulfhilda that she after the death of Edgar deposed Wulfhilda from her position as Edgar the peacefulAbbess at Barking Abbey.

It is said that Edgar´s and Ælfthryth´s son, Æthelred the Unready, restored her to her former position.

Like so many other stories old enough to make it difficult to say if they are just legends, if even with a grain of truth as so often in legends, or if they are plain truth, there are of course two versions to Wulfhilda´s fall from the role as Abbess, which maybe can be taken as a sign that we at least can be sure of that much: she was in fact disposed and retired to Horton Abbey

In this second version, it is indeed the queen who remove Wulfhilda from her role as Abbess, but not due to her own jealousy, but instead as a result of complaints from the nuns. It is also queen Ælfthryth who reinstates Wulfhilda 20 years later.

When reading the section about Wulfhilda her section in the Oxford Index, it is stated that her reign was “not peaceful nor uneventful”. What is that supposed to mean? I have a feeling Wuldhilda may get another visit from me.

Regardless of the reason for Wulfhilda losing her position, it seems that during the 20 years she was absent, it was in fact Ælfthryth – now a widow – who assumed the role as Abbess.

Wulfhilda died in or around the year 1000, and would later be beatified for performing some miracles, one that I have been able to find was that of multiplying drinks at a time when king Edgar and his retinue was visiting the abbey.

St. Wulfhilda´s Day is celebrated on September 9th

Sources:

Gesta Regum Anglorum – William of MalmsburyOxford Dictionary of National Biography – Anne Williams, Barbara Yorke

A dictionary of saintly women – Agnes Dunbar

 Oxford Index/Oxford University Press.

 

 

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