Constance de Lega and Lacock Abbey
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
The abbey for Augustinian nuns at Lacock in Wiltshire was founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, in her widowhood. She was the wife of the late William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, and natural son of King Henry II. Ela was the only daughter and heir of William Fitz Patrick, Earl of Wiltshire but styed always as Earl of Salisbury. She became Countess in 1296 on the death of her father when about 5 to 10 years old. In the same year she was given as wife to William Longespee by King Richard. William Longespee died in 1225 and Ela took control of her inheritance. After the founding of Lacock Abbey in 1229 she became a nun there in 1238 and succeeded as abbess in 1240. Ela remain abbess until 1257 when she resigned and on her death in 1261 was buried at Lacock. She was succeeded as Countess of Salisbury by her great granddaughter, Margaret Longespee who married Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln.
An associate founder or co-founder of Lacock Abbey was Constance de Lega (Leigh). I first wrote about Constance de Lega in a previous article, see = http://celtic2realms-medievalnews.blogspot.ie/2013/11/in-search-of-woman-in-time-of-king-john.html
This article attempts to reconstruct the life of this Worcestershire/Gloucestershire lady with some improvements on previous attempts.
William de Lega, father of Constance
We do not know when Constance de Lega was born. She was the daughter of William de Lega who in turn was the son of William de Lega by his wife Lady Constantia. In 1170-71 a person called William de la Lega was in charge in Hereford in Wales of gathering supplies for the invasion of Ireland by King Henry II. It is not clear if this was William de la Lega senior or William junior. The father of Constance first appears with certainty in January 1191 when William de Lega granted his land at Calmsden in Gloucestershire, viz. all his house and pasture of Aldesgare and 2½ virgates of villeinage, to G. de Naples, Prior of the Hospital of Jerusalem in England, in fee farm in return for a yearly payment of three marks. At a date around 1230 Constance de Lega granted this rent to Lacock Abbey.
About the year 1200 William de Lega was seneschal to the abbot of Pershore in Worcestershire. As part of his job William de Lega made a grant to William the clerk of Bredona, of a messuage of laud with a meadow in Pershore. The witnesses were Simon, abbot of Pershore, the lady Constantia, mother of the said William de Lega, Hugh and Alexander, chaplains of Pershore, Maurice the clerk, parson of Aldremonneston, William le Poher of Peritone, William de Kinefare, Hugh the porter and his son Reginald, and many others.
Early grants by Constance de Lega
In an undated document of the early 13th century Constance de Lega, the daughter of William de Lega, in her lawful ownership, made a grant to Roger of Pershore, the son of Constantine, for his homage and service, the homage and service of William the son of Robert Drake of Brocton, of one half hide of land which William held of Constance in the village of Brocton, by the service of four shillings a year. The village of Brocton was south-east of Worcester in the parish of Pershore High Cross. The place is today known as Drake Broughton.
Sometime between the 8th and 20th year of Henry III Constance de Lega, daughter of William de Lega, widow, made a grant to Sir Gervase, the abbot, and the convent, of Pershore, of all the land at Howeshulle which Adam son of Richard Org … held of her, excepting demesne. The grant also included all the issue of Adam in payment of rent due for lands held by Constance from the abbey of Pershore. The witnesses included Hugh le Poher, sheriff of Worcester, Peter de Wika, and John de Ecchynton, along with many others.
Sometime between 1230 and 1235 Constance de Lega made a grant to Roger de Millinghoppe of all her land in Srireuine in exchange for land in Widecumbe. The witnesses were Dom. Hugh le Poer, Sheriff or Worcester, Master William de Colewelle, Walter de Cheuemham, and Alan de la Sudhide among many others. This exchange, if it happened, was not of a permanent nature as in about 1242 Constance de Lega tried again to make the exchange. In a document of c.1242 Constance de Lega, daughter of William de Lega, made a grant to Roger Fillol of her land in Srireuine in exchange for land at Widecumbe. The witnesses on this occasion were Dom. Thomas, Prior of Great Malvern, and Richard, son of Andrew de Lega, along with Alan de Sudhida, and William Fillol.
Srireuine appears to refer to the place in Worcestershire called Lench Sheriff which was also written as Schyreveslench. It is not clearIn the time of King Edward II the manor of Lench Sheriff was held by Guy de Bello Campo, Earl of Warwick, of the Abbot of Evesham. In the time of King Edward III the Sudley family of Sudley in Gloucestershire held a carucate of land and 30s of yearly rent at Lench Sheriff by the gift of Ralph de Derset of the Earl of Warwick.
Widecumbe is a harder place to find. It does not appear to be located in Worcestershire. There is a place in Gloucestershire called Witcombe, below Birdlip, which in the fourteenth century was known as Wydecombe. But there is not enough in the way of surviving documents to connect this Wydecombe with Constance de Lega.
Meanwhile, in about 1231-1232, Constance de Lega was in court against the Prior of Great Malvern in an assize of darrein presentment concerning the church of Eckington. At the Worcestershire Court the Prior of Great Malvern fell into the King’s mercy. Before the justices Hugh le Poer, Peter de Saltmarsh, Peter de Wick and Robert of Spetchley the Prior was amerced at two marks.
Grants to Lacock Abbey by Constance de Lega
In 1229, Ela, Countess of Salisbury, desired to establish at her manor of Lacock in Wiltshire an abbey for nuns to be known by the name of Blessed Mary. One of the early benefactors of the abbey was Constance de Lega. In about 1230 Constance de Lega, in her widowhood, made a gift in free alms to Lacock Abbey for the souls of her father William de Lega and her mother Mabel de la Mare. Her gift to the Abbey was all her manor of Woodmancote in Gloucestershire ‘with all appurtenances, liberties and free customs in all places and in all things’. The gift was to help establish Lacock Abbey.
The witnesses to the gift included Sir Walter de Pavely, Sir John Daco, Sir Henry Daubeny, knights; Masters G. the penitenciary, Thomas de Ebelesburne, Adam vicar of Audiburn, Walter de Soliers, Peter de Saucey and Hugh de Dol.
It would seem that Constance de Lega travelled to Lacock or some castle of Ela, Countess of Salisbury, to make the gift of Woodmancote as most of the witnesses appear as witnesses to other documents by Ela or in documents by the Longespee family, the family of her husband. The only witness that seems to have come from Constance de Lega’s side was Walter de Soliers.
There are three places by the name of Woodmancote in Gloucestershire. The first is near Bishop’s Cleeve, a second is near Dursley and a third one near North Cerney. It is the latter place which formed the gift of Constance de Lega. In 1086 Woodmancote belonged to Gislebert Fitz Turold but he lost it when he joined the revolt of the Normans against William Rufus. It was then granted with North Cerney and part of Calmsden to Robert Fitz Hamon and formed the Honor of Gloucester. Robert Fitz Hamon, Lord of Creully in Cavados married Sibyl, daughter of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, and was succeeded by his daughter Mabel who married Robert, illegitimate son of King Henry 1, first Earl of Gloucester.
Chapter House of Lacock Abbey
In April 1233 Wymarca, prioress of Lacock, appeared in the King’s court through her attorney, Nicholas de Heddington, concerning two ploughlands in Woodmancote. Constance de Lega was called to warranty her charter. The court found that the prioress held the land by right of Constance’s gift and kept it of Constance in free alms. For this the prioress received Constance de Lega and her heirs into all future benefits and prayers in the church of Lacock Abbey. Clearly somebody had questioned the gift of the land to Lacock and the prioress went to the King’s court to register her claims.
This person may have been Nicholas de Mara, rector of Thotesthorn. Between 1239 and 1257 he made an agreement with Ela, abbess of Lacock, concerning two carucates of land at Woodmancote and 21s in rent. Nicholas de Mara quitclaimed these to Lacock abbey in return for 10 marks.
The second founder of Lacock Abbey
If Ela, Countess of Salisbury, was the founder of Lacock abbey, as the documents all agree to be the case, then Constance de Lega, by her gift of Woodmancote to establish the abbey, was the second founder of the house. Other people, in the years after 1229, gave property and money to Lacock abbey but they then so to an established and operating abbey. It would be interesting to discover how Constance de Lega came to know of the foundation of Lacock abbey. Did she hear about it a letter read at churches from the Bishop of Worcester advertising the abbey and seeking support? Or did she know Ela, Countess of Salisbury, before 1229 and so agreed to help her friend to establish the abbey? It would also be interesting to discover if this was common to have a chief founder of an abbey and a second founder, giving endowments at the same time or was Lacock an isolated case – a job for another day.
Constance de Lega’s gift is challenged
In the meantime there was some disagreement between William de la Mare of Rindecumbe and Ela, abbess of Lacock (the founder of Lacock) about the homages, reliefs and suits of the heirs of Dame Constance de Lega. An agreement was made between 1239 and 1257 that William quitclaimed to the abbess all his claims for homage, etc., from the heirs of Constance in return for 6d a year in rent and for the royal service of the men of Woodmancote. The abbess was obliged to do twice a year the view of frankpledge at William’s court.
In about 1269 William de la Mare of Rindecumbe tried to obtain a reasonable aid from Beatrice, the then abbess of Lacock, from her land at Woodmancote, to help William’s first born son to become a knight. In May 1269 the matter went to arbitration but without a clear agreement. Later on, between 1269 and 1283, both sides did come to an agreement. William de la Mare quitclaimed for 17 marks to Beatrice, abbess of Lacock, all his dues of homage, fealty, relief, heriot and tallage along with all works of ploughing, sowing, harrowing, reaping and carrying. William further ended all claims for aid to make his son a knight or for marrying his first daughter and the 6d rent his family formerly received out of Woodmancote.
Early deeds for Woodmancote: Perevel land
At some unknown time Mabel de la Mare made a gift of a virgate of land in Woodmancote to Reynold Peverel with the assent of her daughter Constance de Lega in return for one bezant paid to each of them and 7s of rent. The land was formerly held by Nicholas the reeve.
By an undated document of the early 13th century Constance de Lega, daughter of Mabel de le Mare, confirmed the gift to Reginald Peverel, of the virgate of land with appurtenances in 'Wodemonnek', for 7 shillings of annual rent. The witnesses were: Thomas de Mara, knight, William de Soleres, Geoffrey de Mara, William son of Robert, Walter Lohand, Alan de Bosco, William de Bosco, William son of Guy, Joseph de Mareis, William de Mareis, Henry de Henleg, Roger son of Nicholas and many others.
Reynold Peverel subsequently gave all his land in Woodmancote to his son Henry to hold by hereditary right while paying to the chief lord 7s a year in rent. This was witnessed by Walter de Soliers among others. Walter de Soliers was alive in 1230 to witness the gift of Woodmancote to Lacock Abbey by Constance de Lega. After the death of Reynold Peverel, his widow Juliana gifted and quitclaimed all the land in Woodmancote that she would be entitled to have as part of her dower property, to Henry Perevel in return for 8s a year. Following her marriage to Walter de Haudyngton, Juliana Perevel renewed her quitclaim to Henry Perevel in return for the 8s. At around the same time Geoffrey Perevel quitclaimed to Henry Perevel any rights he had to the virgate of land in Woodmancote in return for two marks and 6d (pence) per year while paying 7s to the chief lords of Woodmancote.
At around the same time Henry Perevel received lands at Woodmancote from John Gerard of same who was in urgent needed of money. John Gerard first gave the land on lease but later sold it to Henry Perevel. At a later, unknown date, Henry Perevel made a gift in free alms of the former Gerard property to the church of the Blessed Mary and St. Bernard of Lacock. A certain Henry Perevel witnessed a gift of land to Lacock abbey in 1257-83 but it is not certain if he was the same Henry Perevel.
In the above documents it is difficult to put a date for when things occurred. Medieval documents before 1250 rarely included a date and up to 1300 you can still find many documents that just give a regal year. After 1300 the vast majority of documents have a date with day, month and year. For early documents we have only the list of witnesses to narrow down the date to a few years and even that can be difficult. The last mentioned document was written somewhere within a twenty-six year period. If a few of the witnesses are well known people the date range can be reduced. But if, as in many Woodmancote deeds, the witnesses are local people who were not well known it can be next to impossible to even put a date range on the document.
Early deeds for Woodmancote: Niel land
Returning to Constance de Lega and her mother Mabel de la Mare we find other deeds made by them concerning land at Woodmancote. At an early time Mabel de la Mare gave a gift of half a virgate of land and 6 acres which Ralph son of William Walsh had to Roger son of Niel along with one acre of her demesne which Reynold Wykint formerly held. For this Roger son of Niel was to pay one pound of pepper per year or 12d. This gift was made with the consent of Constance de Lega. The joy for us who are trying to reconstruct the life of Constance de Lega with this gift is that the gift to Roger son of Niel was confirmed by Constance de Lega and her husband, Geoffrey de Abbetot.
Geoffrey de Abbetot was possibly a descendent of Urse de Abbetot who in about 1069 was appointed sheriff of Worcestershire or of Osbert de Abbetot, brother of Urse, who was sheriff of Worcestershire about 1110. The family came from the village of St. Jean de Abbetot in the commune of La Cerlangue near La Havre in Normandy.
Most of the Worcestershire property of Urse de Abbetot was divided by the Beauchamp and Marmion families after the exile of Urse’s son, Robert de Abbetot, in about 1110. Yet later descendants held some property in Worcestershire and continued to call the county their home. In 1200 Geoffrey de Abbetot gave the King 100 marks to have the manor of Hanley (Enley) and the Forest of Malvern. In 1209-10 Geoffrey de Abbetot and two others owed 2,000 marks for having custody of the lands of Wilekin de Beauchamp, their lord, for four years. The Abbetot family were cousins of that of Beauchamp as a daughter of Urse de Abbetot, Emmeline, married Walter de Beauchamp.
In about 1210 Geoffrey de Abbetot and his son, also called Geoffrey, were among the witnesses to the grant by John de Wrenifort of a messuage and land at Longdon in Worcestershire to Geoffrey of Teffort (Stefford). It is likely that Geoffrey the son was by a different woman to Constance de Lega. If he was the son of Geoffrey de Abbetot and Constance it would seem proper that he should have given his consent to the gift of Woodmancote to Lacock Abbey. Geoffrey de Abbetot junior appears in February 1262 as one of the jurors for the inquisition post mortem of William Shurnake in Feckenham Forest and later May 1262 as one of the jurors for the inquisition post mortem of Robert Strech in Feckenham Forest in the County of Worcestershire.
Marriage of Constance de Lega
By 1220 Sir Geoffrey de Abbetot had a knighthood and appears to have become the husband of Constance de Lega. He certainly was an associate of the de Lega family by that time as he was witness to the release by Jordan de Lega of land at Longdon to Sir Robert Folet in exchange for land near Widelon and grazing rights in Malvern wood. Another witness was Sir William de Abbetot.
With his marriage to Constance de Lega, Geoffrey de Abbetot became a relation of the de la Mare, family of Constance’s mother. In about 1220 Geoffrey de Abbetot further bonded himself to the de la Mare family when he gave his sister Lucy in free marriage to Richard de la Mare. The marriage portion of Lucy was to be the half virgate of land formerly half by Ralph de la Mare (Richard’s father) of Geoffrey de Abbetot at Redmarley with a messuage at Petford. Geoffrey’s seal to the deed was of a figure on horseback.
How happy the marriage of Constance de la Lega and Geoffrey de Abbetot is difficult to tell at this distance in time. Yet we can read between the lines and say it wasn’t the best of marriages. Constance de la Lega kept her own surname and in her bequest to Lacock Abbey in 1230 she only gave the gift in return for prayers for her father and mother. By 1230 Geoffrey de Abbetot was dead and it would be expected that Constance would ask for prayers for his soul but she did not.
The later history of the Niel lands at Woodmancote
After Mabel de la Mare gave the half virgate of land and six acres to Roger son of Niel, the latter held it for an unknown length of time before he gifted the land to Walter son of Walter the chaplain in return for six marks. This gift to Walter son of Walter was witnessed by Reynold Perevel among others. Constance de Lega was concerned about this transaction and got Roger son of Niel to restore the property to her. Following recovery of the property Constance de Lega then proceeded to gift the half virgate and six acres to Walter son of Walter the chaplain for a rent of one lb of pepper or 12d yearly as Walter could decide.
Sometime later Walter son of the chaplain and Mabel his wife made a quitclaim of the land to Lacock Abbey. For this the nuns granted Walter and Mabel an allowance for life. Between 1257 and 1283 Beatrice, abbess of Lacock, made an agreement with Walter son of the chaplain on what this allowance should be. The allowance included the provision of a dwelling house for Walter and Mabel; two white loaves each day, two gallons of nun’s beer per day and a dish of food. Walter and Mabel also got 6s a year for clothes and four cart loads of fuel and four bundles of straw. If Walter or Mabel died the allowance was halved and if Mabel sought her dower after the death of Walter, the allowance would cease.
Thus we come to the end of this brief biography of Constance de la Lega, an important benefactor of Lacock Abbey. It would appear that she was still alive in about 1242 but it is unknown when she died. It may be possible among the early records of Worcestershire to find some other bits of information as Constance and her husband came from that county. Further research among other medieval abbeys, and more especially, nunneries could determine if the gift of Constance to the foundation of Lacock Abbey (as a second chief founder of the house) was common or usual.
End of post
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), p. 1
 G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage (Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1987), Vol. XI, pp. 379, 381, 382
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland (Kraus reprint, 1974), vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 7
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), nos. 372, 373
 H.C. Maxwell-Lyte (ed.), A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds (1894), Vol. 2, No. B.2914
 http://www.wyverngules.com/Documents/BroctonManor.htm from the Aug office Misc. Bk lxi fol. 86d, accessed on 20 November 2013
 H.C. Maxwell-Lyte (ed.), A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds (1900), Vol. 3, No. B.4009
 Bermingham City Archive, Mathon, M3688/225
 Bermingham City Archive, Mathon, M3688/226
 J.E.E.S. Sharp (ed.), Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. V, Edward II (Kraus reprint, 1973), no. 615, p. 398
 J.E.E.S. Sharp (ed.), Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. VIII, Edward III, nos. 30, 258; J.E.E.S. Sharp (ed.), Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. XII, Edward III, no. 166, p. 146
 W. St. Clair Baddeley, Place-names of Gloucestershire (John Bellows, Gloucester, 1913), p. 166
 Paul Dryburgh & Beth Hartland (eds.), Calendar of the Fine Rolls of the reign of Henry III, Volume II, 9 to 1 Henry III, 1224-1234 (Boydell Press & National Archives, 2008), nos. 16/199, 17/93
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 1
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 5
 W. St. Clair Baddeley, Place-names of Gloucestershire (John Bellows, Gloucester, 1913), p. 166
 Charles S. Taylor, An analysis of the Domesday Survey of Gloucestershire (Bristol, 1889), p. 157
 George E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage (Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1987), Vol. V, p. 683
 C.R. Elrington (ed.), Abstracts of Feet of Fines relating to Gloucestershire 1199-1299 (Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Gloucestershire Record Series, Vol. 16, 2003), no. 229; Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 375
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 380
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 376
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 378
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 379
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 381
 National Archives, Kew, WARD 2/50/176/63; Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 382
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 383
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), nos. 384, 35
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 386
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), nos. 387, 388, 389, 390, 393
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 394
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 395
 W.H. Stevenson (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester (Gloucester, 1893), no. 122, note 3
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_de_Beauchamp_(nobleman) accessed on 10 October 2016
 W.H. Stevenson (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester (Gloucester, 1893), no. 122, note 3
 W.H. Stevenson (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester (Gloucester, 1893), no. 122
 J.W. Willis Bund (ed.), The Inquisitions Post Mortem for the County of Worcester, part 1 from their commencement in 1242 to the end of the 13th Century (Worcestershire Historical Society, 1894), pp. 5, 7
 W.H. Stevenson (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester (Gloucester, 1893), no. 151
 W.H. Stevenson (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester (Gloucester, 1893), no. 155
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 396
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), no. 397
 Kenneth H. Rogers (ed.), Lacock Abbey Charters (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol. XXXIV, 1978), nos. 399, 400