Edith Forne (c1080-1152) and Osney Abbey
 
The creation of the present church at Water Stratford may be due, directly or indirectly, to Edith, the wife of the village's third overlord, Robert D'Oyly the younger.  She was born Edith Forne Sigulfson, the daughter of Forne, the son of Sigulf, and early in her life became a mistress of King Henry I who ruled England from 1100 to 1135, the third Norman king.  Henry had two wives and at least ten mistresses, by whom he had many children.  He and Edith had at least
two, Adeliza and Robert FitzEdith.  Henry seems to have treated his mistresses well and when he tired of Edith he married her to Robert, the nephew of Robert D’Oyly the elder, a henchman of William the Conqueror who had fought at Hastings in 1066 and built Oxford Castle (right) in 1071.  Henry also gave Edith the manor of Claydon in Buckinghamshire as a dowry.  After Robert D’Oyly the elder died in 1090, his younger brother Nigel succeeded him and on Nigel’s death in 1112, his son Robert became the third Baron Hook Norton, Constable of Oxford Castle and, at some point, King Henry’s Constable.  (Please note that many different spellings of D'Oyly are found, including De Oiley and D'Oyley, and that Osney frequently appears as Oseney.)
 
Edith was both a beautiful and a pious woman, the piety perhaps being due to remorse at having been Henry's mistress.  In 1129 she persuaded her husband to found and endow the Church of St Mary, in the Isle of Osney, near Oxford Castle.  The church become Osney Abbey (left) in 1149.  The Abbey was south of Botley Road, near the present Oxford railway station, and briefly served as Oxford's cathedral between the Reformation and the building of Christ Church Cathedral, whose famous bell, Great Tom, was taken from from Osney.  More information on the Abbey and on the D'Oyly family can be found on the Hook Norton Village History website.  
 
According to Sir John Peshall in The History of Oxford University in 1773:
'Edith, wife of Robert D’Oiley, the second of this name, son of Nigel, used to please herself living with her husband at the castle, with walking here by the river side, and under these shady trees; and frequently observing the magpies gathered together on a tree by the river, making a great chattering, as it were, at her, was induced to ask Radilphus, a Canon of St. Frid, her confessor, whom she had sent to confer upon this matter, the meaning of it.
 
"Madame”, says he, "these are not pyes; they are so many poor souls in purgatory, uttering in this way their complaints aloud to you, as knowing your extensive goodness of disposition and charity"; and humbly hoped, for the love of God, and the sake of her’s and her posterity’s souls, she would do them some public good, as her husband’s uncle had done, by building the Church and College of St. George.
 
"Is it so indeed", said she, "de pardieux.  I will do my best endeavours to bring these poor souls to rest"; and relating the matter to her husband, did, by her importunities, with the approbation of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and consent of her sons Henry and Gilbert, prevail on him to begin this building there, where the pyes had sat delivering their complaint.'
 
John Leland said much the same in the first half of the sixteenth century:
'Sum write that this was the occasion of making of it.  Edith usid to walk out of Oxford Castelle with her Gentilwomen to solace, and that often tymes, wher yn a certan place in a tre as often as she cam a certan pyes usid to gether to it, and ther to chattre, and as it wer to speke unto her.  Edithe much marveling at this matier, and was sumtyme sore ferid as by a wonder.  Whereupon she sent for one Radulph, a Chanon of S. Frediswide’s, a Man of a vertuus Life and her Confessor, asking hym Counsel: to whom he answerid, after that he had seen the fascion of the Pies Chattering only at her Cumming, that she should builde sum Chirch or Monasterie in that Place.  Then she entreatid her Husband to build a Priorie, and so he did, making Radulph the first Prior of it.'
 
One historian commented: 'This is a curiously characteristic story.  Edith, whose antecedents may have made her suspicious of reproach, was evidently possessed with the idea that the clamour of the magpies was a malicious mockery designed to humiliate and reprove her, and to convey a supernatural warning that she must make speedy atonement for her sins.'  Some historians place the magpies in a dream that Edith had.
 
Henry I was an able and, by the standards of his time, a just king but his death in 1135 threw the kingdom into disarray.  His only legitimate son had drowned in 1120 and the throne was taken by his nephew Stephen.  But Henry's daughter Matilda disputed the succession and civil war, often called The Anarchy, broke out.  Robert sided with Matilda and gave her sanctuary at Oxford Castle in 1141, whereupon Stephen marched to Oxford, set fire to the town and captured it.  He besieged Matilda in the castle from Michaelmas to Christmas but she then escaped in the snow, dressed in white for camouflage, walking six miles to Abingdon where she found a horse and safely reached Wallingford Castle.  After her escape Oxford Castle was yielded to Stephen the next day.
 
Robert D’Oyly died soon after these events, but it is not clear whether or not King Stephen caused his death.  Edith survived him until 1152 when she was buried in Osney Abbey.  When John Leland visited in the early sixteenth century, on the eve of its dissolution, he saw her tomb:
'Ther lyeth an image of Edith, of stone, in th’ abbite of a vowess, holding a hart in her right hand, on the north side of the high altaire.'  The 'dream' of magpies was painted near the tomb:
'Above the arch over her tomb there was painted on the wall a picture representing the foundation legend of the Abbey, viz. The magpies chattering on her advent to Oseney; the tree; and Radulphe her confessor; which painting, according to Holinshed, was in perfect preservation at the suppression of religious houses (in the time of) Henry VIII.'
 
The nave and tympani of Water Stratford church date from Edith's time.  It may have been founded at her direct instigation or, since we know that Robert gave land here to Osney Abbey, it may have been at the Abbey's instigation.  Either way it is possible to regard Edith as our church's founder.