Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February 1078-1539 A.D. Elstow Abbey-Benedictine Nunnery Founded by Countess Judith, a Niece of William the Conqueror; Dissolved 1539; Nuns Penshioned Off

February 1078-1539 A.D.  Elstow Abbey-Benedictine Nunnery Founded by Countess Judith, a Niece of William the Conqueror;  Dissolved 1539;  Nuns Penshioned Off

Northwest of London by about 45 miles and east of Cambridge about 43 miles.

No author. “Elstow Abbey.”  Bedford Borough Council.  N.d.  Accessed 24 Oct 2014.

Elstow Abbey

tympanum over south door Sep 2007

This page gives a brief history of the institution of Elstow Abbey; separate pages are dedicated to the buildings and to the later history of the church. Elstow Abbey was founded by Countess Judith. She was a niece of William the Conqueror, the daughter of his half-sister Adelaide. She was married to Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon, a powerful Anglo-Saxon nobleman from whom William wished support to legitimise his reign. Waltheof rebelled against his new master twice, in 1069 and 1074, being executed for the latter offence.

Judith inherited many of Waltheof's lands locally, including a considerable amount in Bedfordshire. She let land at Kempston, Maulden and Wilshamstead as well as at Elstow itself to help endow an abbey for Benedictine nuns at Elstow. It is not known exactly when she did this but was probably after Waltheof's death in 1076.

How Judith's life played out after the Domesday Survey is unknown, but has not stopped speculation. De Comitissa alleged WIlliam the Conqueror (her uncle) attempted to force a union between her and Simon de Senlis - her refusal was supposed to have resulted in her expulsion from England. However, this was not the case, not least because of the age gap and morevover, because Simon married Judith's eldest daughter, Maud. The important thing was that Judith's abbey survived.

Copy of the Abbey seal over west door September 2007

King Henry I (1100-1135) had granted the first charter to the Abbey on its completion in the late early 12th century. The first recorded Abbess was Cecily and other endowments were made to finance the foundation, Henry I giving lands in Hertfordshire (Hitchin and Weston) and King David I of Scotland (1124-1153), who married to one of Judith's daughters, gave land in Tottenham [Middlesex]. Henry I's charter was confirmed by Henry II (1153-1189) in the second half of the 12th century.

The Abbey was originally dedicated to Saint Mary and the Holy Trinity. In 1272 a man named Ivota built a chapel in the grounds devoted to Saint Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337). Four years before this King Henry III (1216-1272) had stayed at Elstow Abbey when attending a tournament in Bedford. In the middle of the 13th century Elstow Abbey had acquired a reputation for immorality. This was highlighted by the fall from grace, in 1270, of one of its nuns, Agatha Giffard, sister of the Archbishop of York and of the Bishop of Worcester. A letter from the Bishop of Lincoln, who was, perhaps being tactful given the influential nature of the miscreant, survives noting of the Abbey that "more frequently than from any other, false reports of disgraceful acts are brought to us". Nuns would have had daily contact with the priests who heard their confession and celebrated mass at the Abbey and with lay brothers working on the building and the lands it owned.

Elstow Abbey about 1810 [Z1045/1]

Nuns wishing to go outside the Abbey precincts would have had to have been licensed by the Abbess but in 1421 the Bishop of Lincoln expressly forbade nuns from going into Bedford, Elstow or any other neighbouring town, in order to reduce temptation. In 1408 the Abbey had been attacked by armed robbers and in the skirmish an Abbey servant was wounded and one of the nuns, Agnes Crokebarowe, carried off, whether against her will or not is unclear. This abduction might possibly have been the main reason for the attack.

Elstow Abbey was suppressed on 15th August 1539, part of the wholesale destruction of monastic houses in England by Henry VIII (1509-1547) following his break with the Pope and his continual need for more money to finance foreign wars, building projects and other expensive items. The Abbey's reputation for immorality was worse than it had ever been. A document survives in which the Bishop of Lincoln makes an example of one Katherine Wingate, chaplain to the Abbess - she failed to attend services, frolicked with the steward and altered her nun's wimple to ape secular fashion of the day. The last Abbess, Katherine Wingate's mother superior, was Elizabeth Boyfield and she and her 23 sisters, including the licentious Katherine, went into retirement on pensions granted by the Crown. Not surprisingly a number retired to Bedford and the parish registers of St.Mary's record a number of their burials (no other Bedford register nor that for Elstow survives for this early date):

  • Alice Boyvill on 7th September 1540;
  • Ann Preston on 10th December 1557;
  • Elizabeth Foxe on 15th August 1558;
  • Elizabeth Napton on 22nd August 1558.

Elstow Abbey from east September 2007


February 1078-1539 A.D.  Elstow Abbey-Benedictine Nunnery Founded by Judith, a Niece of William the Conqueror;  Dissolved 1539;  Nuns Penshioned Off

Elstow Abbey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elstow Abbey
Stone from crossing of the cloister vaulting, on display at Bedford Museum
Monastery information
Full name
The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Helena, Elstow
Elstow, Bedfordshire, England
Visible remains


Elstow Abbey was a monastery for Benedictine nuns in Elstow, Bedfordshire, England. It was founded c.1075 by Judith, Countess of Huntingdon, a niece of William the Conqueror, and therefore is classed as a royal foundation.[1][2]



The Church dedicated to St Mary and St Helen, used to extend eastwards for some considerable distance, and contained a central tower, chancel, and Lady chapel. The foundation stones still cause much trouble to the Sexton, though he sometimes unearths beautiful tiles from the old chancel floor.

The monastery was known to have been involved in numerous lawsuits, with an array of monasteries including that of Dunstable Priory, Newhouse and St Albans Abbey, concerning the advowson of various parishes. The nuns often appear to have resorted to aggressive behaviour. There was further trouble in the 14th century when the nearby hospital of St Leonard needed to close and divert a footpath used by the abbey, for the purpose of building construction. The abbess objected and even following a lawsuit in which the abbey lost, they still prevented the work for a further two years until the hospital successfully sought intervention by the Crown, obtaining letters patent.

Further incidents followed:

In 1337 Elizabeth Morteyn, who was then abbess, claimed the 'third penny' from the town of Bedford, in virtue of an alleged grant from Malcolm IV, King of Scotland; the case was carried before Parliament, and the burgesses were successful in proving that Malcolm never had any lordship in the town.

There were numerous reports and complaints of unorthodox behaviour, with a visiting bishop commenting that there was 'too much wandering of the nuns out of the monastery.' Also, as many of the nuns and usually the abbess came from high ranking families, they had friends at court who often visited and even stayed in the monastery purely for social reasons. Some 'secular' women even seem to have been living in the monastery and eventually Bishop Gynwell ordered that none were to stay except those granted a special license to do so. Even so, in 1379 Bishop Buckingham had to order the abbess to dismiss all secular persons from the monastery.

Various records of subsequent years show that little ever improved and if anything the monastery became increasingly secularised, with the nuns maintaining individual households, dining with friends and wearing secular clothing. Successive attempts at intervention seem to have been unsuccessful and probably ignored.

Apparently there used to be a separate Parish Church for the villagers, but this was destroyed about 1500, and the Abbey church was afterwards fitted up for public worship, and dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

The dissolution and beyond

There were twenty-three nuns in residence besides the abbess, Elizabeth Boyvill, when the monastery was closed in 1539, all of whom were then pensioned off. The land then passed to Edmund Harvey.

Following the dissolution, the majority of the church nave was blocked off and retained for parish use. The remainder of the church was demolished after 1580. In 1616 Sir Thomas Hillersdon purchased the remaining monastic buildings and incorporated them into a new house, which itself later became a ruin. The church contains some 15th-century brasses, 17th-century and later tombs and furnishings. Another survivor of the monastery is a small vaulted building on the south side of the church, originally a parlourand now used as a vestry.


Three bays of the church are Norman, (about 1075); the two western bays are of Early English style, about 1225. In 1539, during the suppression, much was lost. By 1580, the east end had been completed, with a west window, and detached tower. A watercolor byThomas Fisher (c.1815) shows a timber-framed north porch. From 1823 to 1828, restoration work was done. Around 1860, a vestry on the north side of the church was demolished.

From 1880 to 1882 restoration work was done, by architect Thomas Jobson Jackson. In 1883 and 1885, the John Bunyan stained glass windows were added in the east wall.[3]

It became a listed building on 13 July 1964.[4]

List of Rectors

  • Roger de Weseham, 1222
  • Haumon de Weseham, 1235 (chaplain)
  • Alexander de Elnestowe, 1235
  • John de Elnestowe, 1247 (subdeacon)
  • Hamon
  • John, 1259 (chaplain)
  • Richard de Salested
  • Richard Scot, 21 March 1273 (chaplain)
  • M. Matthew de Dunstaple, 17 October 1275 (subdeacon)
  • Robert de Welye, 23 September 1284 (clerk)
  • Hugh de Suthluffenham, 25 May 1311 (chaplain)
  • Thomas de Baumbergh, 26 September 1317 (acolyte)
  • William Fincayl, 5 May 1318 (deacon)
  • John de Felmersham, 1 August 1324 (acolyte)
  • William de Tykhull, 5 May 1325
  • M. Robert le Spicer, 24 June 1335
  • D. Hugh de Estmarcham, 27 March 1336
  • Adam de Brandon, 12 October 1339 (priest)
  • Nicholas Holham, 7 December 1340 (priest)
  • John Bachelor
  • Robert de la Beche, 26 May 1342 (priest)
  • John Kyng, 1526 (curate)
  • Thomas Blocksley (curate)
  • Robert Hundley, 1605 (M.A., curate)
  • Robert Twisden, 1612
  • Henry Bird, 1617 (vicar)
  • John Bellay, 1623 (clerk)
  • Andrew Cater, 165? (clerk)
  • Christopher Hall, (Vicar)
  • David Jerland (Vicar)
  • D. Longhorne, 1668
  • John Robinson, 1686 (curate)
  • Joseph Hobbs, 1696
  • John Towersey, 1707
  • John Aubrey, 1715
  • Robert Phipp
  • John Smith, 31 October 1782 (clerk, curate)
  • Thomas Cave, 25 April 1806 (clerk, then curate)
  • George Hull Bowers, 5 June 1819 (clerk)
  • John Wing, 1 May 1832 [clerk, to perpetual curacy, on resignation of G. H. Bowers];
  • John Gaskin, 2 February 1849 (M.A.)
  • John Henry Augustus Rudd, 29 July 1852 (B.A.)
  • James Copner, 4 Dec 1867 (M.A. on resignation of J. H. A. Rudd)
  • George Parker, April 1896
  • Charles Frederick Bonney Hawkins, January 1905
  • Stanley Victor Hartley, 1920
  • Peter Goodwin Hartley, 1953
  • Michael James Murfin Norton, 1976
  • John Andrew Tibbs, 1983
  • Richard William Huband, 1991
  • Jeremy R. Crocker, 2003

See also


    1. Jump up^ "Parish Church of St Mary and St Helena, Elstow". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 17 December 2012.


  • 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Elstow', A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1 (1904), pp. 353–58.
  • Anthony New. 'A Guide to the Abbeys of England And Wales', p166-68. Constable.

External links

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