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St Winifred, Bishop Fleetwood and Jacobitism*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2016

Colin Haydon*
University of Winchester


During the Middle Ages, the cult of St Winifred was the most important of the many Welsh cults centred on wells. Winifred’s story was recounted in two medieval Lives: the Vita prima by Pseudo-Elerius (c. 1100), written from a Welsh perspective, and the Vita secunda by Robert, prior of Shrewsbury, written after the translation of the saint’s supposed relics to his abbey in 1138. According to these, Winifred (fl. c. 650) was educated by St Beuno in North Wales; and, although she had vowed herself to virginity, she inspired the lust of a local prince, Caradog, who, when repulsed, decapitated her. Where her head fell, a spring erupted; and Beuno restored Winifred to life and killed Caradog with a curse. Winifred subsequently became abbess at Gwytherin and, after her death, the spring’s waters were held to cure the sick miraculously. The spring, at Holywell in Flintshire, attracted countless pilgrims in the later Middle Ages, and Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, encased it in a fine building. At the Reformation, however, the cult of saints was abolished, the Twenty-Second of the Thirty-Nine Articles specifically denouncing their invocation.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 2011

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1 ODNB, s.n. ‘Gwenfrewi [St Gwenfrewi, Winefrith, Winifred] (fl. c. 650)’; ‘Shrewsbury, Robert of (d. 1168)’.

2 Walsham, Alexandra, ‘Reforming the Waters: Holy Wells and Healing Springs in Protestant England’, in Wood, Diana, ed., Life and Thought in the Northern Church c. 1100 — c. 1700, SCH S 12 (Woodbridge, 1999), 227–55 Google Scholar; eadem, ‘Holywell: Contesting Sacred Space in Post-Reformation Wales’, in Coster, Will and Spicer, Andrew, eds, Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2005), 211–36 Google Scholar; eadem, Sacred Spas? Healing Springs and Religion in Post-Reformation Britain’, in Heal, Bridget and Grell, Ole Peter, eds, The Impact of the European Reformation (Aldershot, 2008), 209–30.Google Scholar

3 Walsham, ‘Holywell’, 230.

4 Pennant, Thomas, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford, and Holywell (London, 1796), 230.Google Scholar

5 London Gazette, 1 September 1687.

6 Ibid. James probably derived malicious satisfaction from this: Bishop Lloyd was fiercely anti-Catholic and, as the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, had played a notable part in the ‘uncovering’ of the Popish Plot. One recalls Macaulay’s judgement on James: ‘to bend and break the spirits of men gave him pleasure’: Lord Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, ed. Charles Harding Firth, 6 vols (London, 1913—15), 2: 934. Lloyd was one of the Seven Bishops who opposed the King’s ecclesiastical policy in 1688, and he subsequently supported the Revolution.

7 Walsham, ‘Holywell’, 230.

8 Ibid.

9 The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, ed. Christopher Morris (London, 1947), 181.

10 [Philip Metcalf], The Life, and Miracles, of S. Wenefride (n. pl., 1712), 175.

11 [William Fleetwood], The Life and Miracles of St. Wenefrede (London, 1713), 14.

12 Ibid. 9, 10.

13 Anon., Little Preston: An Heroi-Comick Poem, upon the Late Action at Holywell (London, 1717), 10.

14 Ibid. 9.

15 The Great Diurnal of Nicholas Blundell of Little Crosby, Lancashire, ed. J. J. Bagley, 3 vols, Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (Chester, 1968–72), 2: 152.

16 Ibid. 1: 40, 60, 142–3; 2: 23, 105–6; 3: 49–50, 190.

17 Anon., Little Preston, 6, cf. 11–12.

18 Fleetwood, William, A Sermon Preached before the Honourable House of Commons, at St. Margaret Westminster, on Thursday, the 5th of November, 1691 (London, 1691), 28.Google Scholar

19 [Fleetwood], St. Wenefrede, 10, 14, 15, 19.

20 Shaw, Jane, Miracles in Enlightenment England (New Haven, CT, 2006), 29, 170–1 Google Scholar; ODNB, s.n. ‘Fleetwood, William (1656–1723)’.

21 [Fleetwood], St. Wenefrede, 39.

22 Ibid. 11.

23 ODNB, s. n. ‘Fleetwood’.

24 [Fleetwood], St. Wenefrede, 38.

25 ODNB, s.n. ‘Fleetwood’.

26 [Fleetwood], St. Wenefrede, 19.

27 Ibid. 20.

28 Ibid. 15.

29 Ibid. 15–18; and see 127.

30 Ibid. 13–14, 118. Fleetwood strongly disliked the claim that pilgrims who were not cured at Holywell received rewards after death, seeing it as a ‘Fetch of the crafty Monks’ to encourage repeated, lucrative visits to the shrine: ibid. 103—4 note i.

31 Ibid. 3, 8; Bolland ranked the credibility of various types of source.

32 Ibid. 3.

33 Ibid. 36.

34 Ibid. 41.

35 Ibid. 45–6.

36 Ibid. 23.

37 Ibid. 62–3 note k.

38 Ibid. 28, 30, 33, 34, 35, 51–2 note d, 62–3 note k, 83 note t.

39 Ibid. 62–3 note k.

40 Ibid. 117–18.

41 Ibid. 115.

42 Ibid. 40; cf. 54 note g.

43 Ibid. 43.

44 Ibid. 45.

45 Ibid. 118.

46 Ibid. 31, 35.

47 Ibid. 12.

48 Ibid. 11–12; cf. 117.

49 Ibid. 49 note a.

50 Ibid. 38.

51 Ibid. 15, 16, 118.

52 Ibid. 31.

53 Ibid. 41.

54 Ibid. 37, 103–4 note i.

55 Ibid. 12.

56 Ibid. 98 note f.

57 Ibid, (italics mine).

58 Ibid. 22.

59 Ibid. 36.

60 Ibid. 40.

61 Ibid. 41, 47.

62 Ibid. 118.

63 Fleetwood, William, A Sermon Preach’d at Ely-House Chapel in Holbourn; on Thursday June 7, 1716 (London, 1716), 6.Google Scholar

64 Original Weekly Journal, 17 August 1717.

65 Ibid. 31 August 1717.

66 Ibid.

67 Anon., Little Preston, 7–8, 9–10, 12, 14, 19.

68 Original Weekly Journal, 17 August 1717.

69 According to Little Preston (8), there were also Jacobite celebrations at Holywell in 1715, when a false report of a Hanoverian defeat reached the town. This is probably correct: Little Preston, while not contradicting the metropolitan newspapers’ accounts of the ‘Battle’, displays much additional local knowledge, including the leading Jacobites’ names.

70 St. James’s Post, 11 July 1718.

71 The British Chronologist, 3 vols (London, 1775), 2: 45–6; Kew, TNA, SP Dom. 35/12/74; cf. Cambridge, UL, Cholmondeley (Houghton) MS P78/1a.

72 1 Geo. I, Stat. 2, c. 50.

73 TNA, FEC 1/1724.

74 The Political State of Great-Britain 16 (1718), 70.

75 Defoe, Daniel, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, ed. Cole, G. D. H. and Browning, D. C., 2 vols in 1 (London, 1974), Part 2: 66Google Scholar; cf.Corfield, P.J., The Impact of English Towns 1700–1800 (Oxford, 1982), 57.Google Scholar

76 London, Westminster Diocesan Archives, MS A 39, 101, (v).

77 Pennant, Whiteford, and Holywell, 230, 231.

78 Defoe, Tour, Part 2: 66; Pennant, Whiteford, and Holywell, 231.

79 Pennant, Whiteford, and Holywell, 231.

80 Walsham, ‘Sacred Spas?’, 218–20.

81 Pennant, Whiteford, and Holywell, 231.

82 Her shrine at Shrewsbury was desecrated during the Henrician Reformation: Walsham, ‘Holywell’, 217.

83 ODNB, s.n. ‘Wynne, John (1665/6-1743)’.

84 See Defoe, Tour, Part 2: 66.

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