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Foundation

I have been getting increasingly confused by why a lot of Internet sources consistently give 1229 as the date for the founding of Lacock Abbey. This is, of course just plain wrong.

I sat down yesterday with all sorts of books and reference material at the dining room table, to try and work out why this was happening.

Following the death of her husband, William Longespée in March 1226 Ela was likely to have been trying to decide what to do as a memorial. It looks as if it was in her mind to found a Nunnery along Cistercian lines, but this was seemingly snubbed, when the general chapter of Cîteaux confirmed the prohibition any further convents of women in 1228.

Ela then gave the land at Lacock to the church in 1229, while she decided how to proceed. The Bishop of Salisbury cleared the way, by giving formal approval of the foundation of a nunnery in April 1230, but stipulated that it should be an Augustinian foundation.

The
Lacock Cartulary (Now in the British Library and available to view online) is quite specific that Ela then founded Lacock Abbey on the morning of the 16th April 1232.

So, why the confusion over the foundation date?

Looking back through various documents, it is clear that even some of the early National Trust guides to the Abbey themselves quote the wrong date and only succeeded in perpetuating the error.

It seems that the act of Ela giving her land at Lacock to the church seems to have been taken as the foundation date, although of course she did not have the permission of the church to found any sort of religious establishment, until the Bishop of Salisbury gave his official consent on the 12th April 1230.

Of course, a lot more is now understood, following what was previously thought to be the definitive work "Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey", by W.L. Bowles and J.G. Nichols, more became known after the two volume cartulary of Lacock was translated and interpreted. That had passed from private hands to The British Library in 2011, allowing more scholars to view it.

As with other historical inaccuracies, such as the commonly held view that King John signed Magna Carta on the 15th June 1215, it takes a while for an update to be generally accepted.

I plan to update and expand the section on Ela, in view of the importance of her to all the successive generations of owners, as this is merely a starting point.
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