Nearby, but not far away

1138: Godstow Nunnery –

This house was founded the latter end of the reign of King Henry the First, at the instance of Editha, a religious matron of Winchester, widow of a knight, named Sir William Lamelyne.

The legend says, she was directed by a vision to repair to a place near Bisney, and there to erect a nunnery, where a light from Heaven should appear.

John of St John, Lord of Wolvercote and Stanton, gave the ground for the site of the building. She was likewise assisted by the contributions of diverse well disposed persons, insomuch that she soon compleated a convent for Benedictine Nuns, which was consecrated, anno Domini 1138, to the honour of the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist; the last perhaps in compliment to St John the benefactor.

The ceremony was performed with great solemnity, by Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, in the presence of King Stephen and his Queen, prince Eustace, the archbishop of Canterbury, and six other bishops, with several of the nobility, who most of them gave towards its endowment. Alhericas, bishop of Hostia, the pope’s legate, then in England, released to everyone of these benefactors, one year of enjoined penance; and granted moreover a remission of forty days in every year, to all those who should in devotion visit the church of this house, on the day of St Prisca the virgin, or on the nativity of St John the baptist.
The lands given were confirmed by King Stephen, and by King Richard the First in the first year of his reign. Editha was abbess here over twenty-four ladies; her eldest daughter Emma being first, and her daughter Avis second prioress.

This nunnery was the residence, and afterwards the burial place of Rosamund Clifford, concubine to king Henry the Second, on whose account (as it is supposed) that king was a great benefactor, as was afterwards his son King John, who bestowed a fund for masses and prayers to be offered up for the soul of his father and that of the lady Rosamond.

The history of this unfortunate beauty is generally thus related. Rosamond, daughter of Walter, lord Clifford, was a young lady of exquisite beauty, fine accomplishments, blessed with most engaging wit and sweetness of temper; she had, as was the custom of those days, been educated in the nunnery of Godstow: Henry saw her, became enamoured, declared his passion, and triumphed over her honour.

This intrigue did not long remain a secret to Queen Elinor: Henry, fearfull of the effects of her jealousy, caused a wonderful maze or labyrinth, formed with arches and winding walls of stone, to be built at Woodstock, into whose recesses it was impossible for any stranger to penetrate. Hither he transported his lovely mistress, where she remained several years, and was frequently visited by the king, whose ardour was encreased rather than cloyed by enjoyment. The fruits of this intercourse were William Longsword, earl of Salisbury, and Geoffry, bishop of Lincoln.


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