Waltheof of Melrose

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Abbot of Melrose
File:Waltheof Tomb.jpg
19th century sketch of Waltheof's 12th century tomb
Installed 1148
Term ended 1159
Predecessor Richard
Successor William
Personal details
Born c. 1095
probably Huntingdon or Northamptonshire
Died 3 August 1159(1159-08-03) (aged c. 64)
Buried Melrose Abbey
Parents Simon I of St Liz, 1st Earl of Northampton
Maud, 2nd Countess of Huntingdon
Feast day 3 August
Patronage Melrose Abbey, Northamptonshire

Waltheof (also Waldef or Waldeve) (c. 1095 – 1159) was a 12th-century English abbot and saint. He was the son of Simon I of St Liz, 1st Earl of Northampton and Maud, 2nd Countess of Huntingdon, thus stepson to David I of Scotland, and the grandson of Waltheof, Earl of Northampton.[1]

As a younger son in the world of Norman succession laws, Waltheof chose a career in the church.[citation needed] Between 1128 and 1131 he entered Nostell Priory to become an Augustinian canon. His noble connections enabled him to rise quickly. Within a few years he became Prior of Kirkham, North Yorkshire. Upon the death of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, in 1140, Waltheof was nominated to be his successor.[2] His candidacy was supported by William of Aumale, the Earl of York.[3] Stephen, probably sensing his links to David and hence to the Empress Matilda were too strong,[citation needed] rejected the nomination.[4] William of Aumale withdrew his support after Waltheof refused to promise to give the earl the ecclesiastical manor of Sherburn-in-Elmet in the West Riding of Yorkshire.[3] William fitz Herbert was instead chosen by Stephen. Waltheof featured prominently among those opposing William's provision,[5] but by 1143 he had given up and become a Cistercian monk at Rievaulx Abbey. In 1148 he was elected to the abbacy of Melrose, a daughter house of Rievaulx. Waltheof remained in this position for the remainder of his life, even though he was offered of the bishopric of St Andrews in early 1159, which he declined.[6] He died at Melrose Abbey on 3 August 1159.[1][7]

Following the death of Waltheof, his successor as Abbot of Melrose, Abbot William, refused to encourage the rumours that were now spreading regarding Waltheof's saintliness. Abbot William attempted to silence these rumours, and prevent the intrusiveness of would-be pilgrims. However, William was unable to get the better of Waltheof's emerging cult, and now his actions were alienating him from his brethren. As a result, in April 1170, William resigned the abbacy.[8] In William's place, Jocelin, the prior of Melrose, became abbot. Jocelin had no such scruples. Jocelin embraced the cult without hesitation. Under the year of Jocelin's accession, it was reported in the Chronicle of Melrose that:

The tomb of our pious father, sir Waltheof, the second abbot of Melrose, was opened by Enguerrand, of good memory, the bishop of Glasgow, and by four abbots called in for this purpose; and his body was found entire, and his vestments intact, in the twelfth year from his death, on the eleventh day before the Kalends of June [22 May]. And after the holy celebration of mass, the same bishop, and the abbots whose number we have mentioned above, placed over the remains of his most holy body a new stone of polished marble. And there was great gladness; those who were present exclaiming together, and saying that truly this was a man of God ...[9]

Promoting saints was something Jocelin would repeat as Bishop of Glasgow, where he would commission a hagiography of Saint Kentigern, the saint most venerated by the Celts of the diocese of Glasgow. It is no coincidence that Jocelin of Furness, who wrote the Life of St. Waltheof, was the same man later commissioned to write the Life of St. Kentigern. Jocelin's actions ensured Waltheof's posthumous de facto sainthood; and the need of Melrose Abbey to have its own saint's cult, ensured the cult's longevity.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Barlow The English Church 1066–1154 p. 208-210
  2. Barlow The English Church 1066–1154 p. 96
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dalton "William Earl of York" Haskins Society Journal pp. 162–163
  4. British History Online Archbishops of York accessed on 14 September 2007
  5. Appleby The Troubled Reign of King Stephen p. 120
  6. Dowden, John (1912). Thomson, J. Maitland (ed.). The Bishops of Scotland. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Son. p. 6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. For this paragraph, see Derek Baker, "Waldef (c. 1095–1159)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 28 Nov 2006
  8. For the account of Abbot William and the cult of Waltheof, see Richard Fawcetts and Richard Oram, Melrose Abbey, (Stroud, 2004), pp. 23–4.
  9. Chronicle of Melrose, s.a. 1171, trans. A.O. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286, 2 Vols, (Edinburgh, 1922), vol. ii, pp. 274–5; translation slightly modernized in Fawcetts and Oram, Melrose Abbey, p. 23; this entry was written after the year for which it was written, sometime after the death on 22 February 1174, of Enguerrand, Bishop of Glasgow.


  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286, 2 Vols, (Edinburgh, 1922), vol. ii
  • Appleby, John T. The Troubled Reign of King Stephen 1135–1154 New York:Barnes & Noble 1969 reprint 1995 ISBN 1-56619-848-8
  • Baker, Derek, "Waldef (c. 1095–1159)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 28 Nov 2006
  • Barlow, Frank The English Church 1066–1154 London:Longman 1979 ISBN 0-582-50236-5
  • British History Online Archbishops of York accessed on 14 September 2007
  • Dalton, Paul (1990). "William Earl of York and Royal Authority in Yorkshire in the Reign of Stephen". In Robert B. Patterson (ed.). Haskins Society Journal. 2. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 155–165. ISBN 1-85285-059-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fawcetts, Richard and Oram, Richard, Melrose Abbey, (Stroud, 2004)