Sister Elizabeth Woodford (c.1498-1573)
(c.1498-25 October 1573) was the daughter of Robert Woodford of Ashby Folville, Leicestershire and
Brightwell, Buckinghamshire, and Alice Gate.
In some genealogies she is simply referred to as 'a nun'. Elizabeth did not take holy orders until 1519, when when she entered Burnham Abbey in Buckinghamshire.
Elizabeth was turned out when Burnham Abbey was surrendered on 19 September 1539. Initially, she returned to Brightwell Hall to live with Thomas, her eldest brother, but soon moved to Marshfoot in Essex, where she joined the household of Dr. John Clement and was placed in charge of the education of the Clement daughters.
She accompanied the Clement family to Flanders when they went into exile in 1549 and at Louvain, entered St. Ursula's Augustinian cloister, the first English woman to join the canonesses there.
The Clement girls continued their education at St. Ursula's and the youngest, Margaret Clement, was elected prioress there in 1569. She is said to have credited Sister Elizabeth with being her inspiration for entering the religious life.
After the surrender of the Abbey at Louvain, she entered St. Ursula's Augustinian cloister. She was the first English woman to join the canonesses there.
Burnham Abbey was founded in 1265/6 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall,
styled King of the Romans, the brother of King Edward III. Richard endowed
it with several manors, including the manor of Burnham, and 'land appurtenant
to the manor of Cippenham with a mill, fishery and other rights'. The Abbey
was situated about a half mile from Burnham.
A complaint was made shortly after the foundation that Richard had diverted a watercourse to the abbey that had been used by a nearby village and that he also had given 20 acres of common land to the monastery. It is unknown as to whether this issue was resolved.
In 1311 a nun, Margery of Hedsor, left the monastery and her
vows, and was subsequently excommunicated. This sentence was renewed
periodically for some years until it was cancelled by the bishop for reasons
A serious legal dispute occurred in 1330 concerning the ownership of the manor of Bulstrode which had been granted to the abbey, but was claimed by a Geoffrey de Bulstrode who in protest proceeded to vandalise the property and harass the servants of the abbess. Eventually a commission found in favour of the abbey but by then, substantial losses had been accrued.
Being of little wealth, Burnham Abbey should have been closed in the first wave of the dissolution in 1536, but a petition by local commissioners delayed its end to 1539. The document of surrender, dated 19 September 1539, was signed by Alice Baldwin, as Abbess, and the nine remaining nuns including Elizabeth Woodford. At the dissolution, the Abbey's revenues were valued at £51 2s 4-1/2d. Baldwin was granted a small pension and appears to have spent her remaining years at Aylesbury at the home of her father, Sir John Baldwin.
After the surrender it was leased to William Tyldesley and at his death, it passed through his widow to Paul Wentworth. The church was demolished in about 1570 and a house formed from much of the remaining buildings. By 1719, it was a farm with some of the buildings such as the refectory having become ruinous. In 1913 it was purchased by James Lawrence Bissley, an architect and surveyor, who restored the remaining buildings and converted the original chapter house into a chapel.
In 1916 James Bissley sold the property to the Society of the
Precious Blood, a community of Anglican Augustinian nuns, who took possession
and began to restore and extend the abbey for their use.