According to an unidentified ‘Chronicon Abbat. Cirencest.’, which belonged in the eighteenth century to the Revd. John Collinson (c.1757-93), a religious house of some kind was founded at Cirencester ‘by Alwyn, a Saxon, in the time of King Egbert’.  The place lies in the southern part of the land of the Hwicce (cf. Asser, ch. 57), and was thus in ‘Mercian’ territory; so if there is any basis to the tradition, it may be that a church at Cirencester was founded under West Saxon patronage in the 820s, during a period when the rulers of the West Saxons, and their agents, would certainly be expected to have had interests in that area.  The foundations of a large church thought to date from the ninth century were discovered by excavation in the 1960s, underneath the site of the present Cirencester abbey.  Nothing is known for certain of the history of this presumed pre-Conquest minster; but since Cirencester appears to have been a centre from which English tax-gatherers operated in Wales in the early tenth century (Armes Prydein, p. 6), and since the place is known to have served on various occasions in the tenth and eleventh centuries as a meeting-place for the king and his councillors (Keynes, Diplomas, p. 270), it might be assumed that the minster came to be associated in some way with what was evidently an important royal estate.  If only to judge from its small endowment (2 hides) in the mid-eleventh century (GDB 166v), the minster seems latterly to have fallen into decline.  The priest Regenbald, who acted as royal chancellor for Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror in the 1060s, seems to have developed a particular association with Cirencester and its church; after Regenbald’s death, probably in the 1090s, his various estates passed into the hands of the king, and subsequently formed the nucleus of the endowment of the college of secular canons founded by Henry I at Cirencester in 1133.

The principal surviving cartulary of Cirencester abbey (Davis 255) was compiled towards the middle of the thirteenth century (Ross, I, pp. xiii-xvi).  It contains a most important group of three vernacular writs: one of Edward the Confessor, confirming Regenbald’s rights over his land and men, as enjoyed by his predecessors in the days of Cnut, and granting him the wite of a diocesan bishop (S 1097); and two of William the Conqueror, also in favour of Regenbald (Pelteret, nos. 4 and 9).  A second cartulary was produced in the later fourteenth century (Davis 256), to complement the first (Ross, I, pp. xvi-xviii); its compiler chose to ignore the eleventh-century texts, beginning instead with the charter of Henry I.  Both cartularies appear to have passed after the dissolution into the hands of Richard Master, who purchased the site of the abbey in 1564; but nothing is known of the fate of whatever muniments then survived in single-sheet form (Ross, I, pp. xi-xiii).  The cartularies were owned in the seventeenth century by Richard’s grandson, Sir William Master (d. 1662), and seem subsequently to have belonged to the Gloucestershire antiquary, John Prynne (d. 1743).  The cartularies were later in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (above, p. 00), and were acquired by Lord Vestey, of Stowell Park, Northleach, Gloucestershire, at a Phillipps sale in 1946; they are now deposited in the Bodleian Library <MS. Dep. c. 392>.

<Cotton 1621, in Harley 6018, 150v: ‘Registrum monasterii de Cicestere my cosen James Pagett.’  Dugdale 48, 56v: ‘Cirencester: Sir Will: Masters of Cicestre, 2 fine books.  Sir Henry Poole of Saperton in Com. Glouc., 1’.  Aubrey: ‘The Legier book of the Abby of Cirencester, with Sr. Wm. Masters.’  Collinson: RB ii.134.  Check ref. for Reg. B.>


Charters of Cirencester

Writ.  1097.

Select bibliography

Mon. Angl. ii. 89-90; Not. Mon. (Gloucs.), no. VI; Mon. Angl. (rev. ed.) iii. 175-9; VCH Gloucs. ii. 79-84; MRH, p. 154.

  • R. Bromwich, Armes Prydein: the Prophecy of Britain, ed. I. Williams (Dublin, 1972);
  • J. Collinson, History of Somersetshire, 3 vols. (Bath, 1791) II, p. 191 (under Frome);
  • A. K. B. Evans, ‘Cirencester’s Early Church’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 107 (1989), pp. 107-22;
  • Harmer, Writs, pp. 211-14;
  • Keynes, ‘Regenbald the Chancellor’, pp. 195 and 211-13;
  • The Cartulary of Cirencester Abbey Gloucestershire, ed. C. D. Ross, 2 vols. (London, 1964).