1086 And All That… Conquest and Continuity: Part Two.   Leave a comment

 001 (4) 001William the Conqueror’s followers, the last invaders of England, thought it necessary to impress the natives with their might. Throughout the land they erected castles, but these were simple affairs at first, built of earth and wood, lumps and tumps on today’s landscape, not the lasting stone monuments to their mastery we now visit. These later strongholds were not built to keep out the Saxon peasantry, but for the lords to fight private battles with each other, or even with their king.

The Bigods of Framlingham and Bungay:

001 (2)

005The owners of Clare Castle in Suffolk, the FitzGilberts followed by the de Burghs, were more concerned with the comfort of their residence, rather than with maintaining it as a fortress. However, like the Gulafras, although they were given control of extensive lands in both Essex and Suffolk, they did not become central characters in the history of Suffolk. The Bigods of Framlingham and Bungay did, but at the beginning of the Conquest they were hardly on the roll of Norman nobles who ‘came over with the Conqueror’.  In 1066, King William appointed Ralph de Guader, an East Anglian nobleman of Breton origin, as earl of Norfolk and Suffolk. However, Ralph was involved in an abortive rebellion nine years later and it was then that the Bigods entered the history of the County. The King took the opportunity of de Guader’s fall from grace to reward a poor knight, Roger Bigod, for his loyalty, by granting him the bulk of the former’s confiscated estates, 117 manors in Suffolk in addition to lands in the adjoining counties. He also appointed him the Royal Steward of East Anglia.

Roger was succeeded by his eldest son, William, but he was drowned in 1120 on board The White Ship, sailing from Harfleur, together the heir to the throne and three hundred other knights. William Bigod, High Steward of England, was succeeded by his brother, Hugh, who surpassed his fellows in acts of desertion and treachery, and was never more in his element than when in rebellion. He supported Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, against the King’s daughter, Matilda , because he thought he could manipulate Stephen. In 1135, he was created Earl of Norfolk.

Right: The White Ship sinking

Then, in 1140, he switched sides, declaring for Matilda and rallying his forces in East Anglia to fight for her. By then, he had constructed two very formidable castles at Framlingham and Bungay. By 1165 Hugh’s position was unassailable. Whoever wore the crown in London, the Bigods ruled Suffolk. However, Henry II steadily and stealthily hemmed the troublesome earl into the corner of north-east Suffolk, secured control of Norwich, and built a rival fortress, Orford Castle (below), guarding both the sea and the approaches to Bigod territory, and only a short march from Framlingham.


It was only a matter of time before Bigod tried to break out of the cordon of royal control. The situation was resolved in two brief campaigns of 1173 and 1174. Hugh combined forces with a detachment of French and Flemish mercenaries, setting off from Framlingham towards Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge, overthrowing the Royal fortress at Haughley, commandering food and commiting outrages in the villages and on the farms on the way. Barns were looted and animals slaughtered, but a mile north of Bury St Edmunds the rebels were surprised by a detachment of royal troops, who scattered them into low-lying meadows and marshes. As they floundered up to their knees in mud, they found themselves faced not only by the King’s men, but by angry countrymen armed with pitchforks and flails. Hugh Bigod agreed to a truce, but next spring bought more mercenaries and tried to capture Norwich, and then Dunwich. Henry entered Suffolk in person and led his army straight to Framlingham. Bigod surrendered and agreed to the dismantling of his castles. Framlingham was destroyed, but Bungay was spared when Bigod bought the King off. The next earl, Roger Bigod, redeeemed Framlingham from an impoverished Richard I, rebuilding the castle on a more massive scale. Caen stone was brought up the Alde, tons of local flint were commandeered and the river Ore was dammed to form a marsh which augmented the defence system on its western side. The new castle was very formidable, with a three-thousand foot circumference, walled and moated outer bailey, a forty-four foot high wall set with towers, and within that a massive keep. In its twelfth-century prime the fortress must have provided a secure bastion for the lord, his family, retainers, animals and a considerable armed guard, so that the Bigods could have defied a besieging army for a long time. The castle was finished at about the time King John came to the throne (1199).



Soon, king and barons were locked in conflict once more over where the balance of power should lie within the first estate. Was the power of the king absolute? Were his barons over-mighty subjects? Or did those subjects have rights as well as duties? If so, what were they? John’s exercise of arbitrary rule brought this issue to the fore once more, as it became clear to many of the barons that they must find a permanent solution to the issue as a matter of urgent priority. So, eight hundred years ago this November, in 1214, the barons went to celebrate the feast of St Edmund, a sure sign of how English they had become, at the shrine to his martyrdom at Bury St Edmunds. However, they were really there to plan concerted action against their liege lord. They discussed the rights and freedoms which it seemed to them were theirs by natural law or ancient custom. These were practical discussions, not philosophical debates. Some of the monks present wrote down a list of liberties and laws to present to King John. Then, they all swore on the great altar that if the King refused to grant these… they themselves would withdraw their allegiance to him, and make war upon him till he should, by charter under his own seal, confirm to them everything they required. This, of course, was the first draft of the document known as Magna Carta, sealed by a reluctant King John at Runnymede seven months later. What was established that day in 1214 at Bury St Edmunds, was that the King should be under God and the law. The participants in this battle of wills were unaware that they were making constitutional history. For them, if not for us, they were reacting to a king who was placing himself too high above them on the feudal pyramid. They sought a restoration of rights, and were not concerned to share those rights with those further down the pyramid, nor were they advancing new claims to further rights and privileges. In the phraseology of the typical undergraduate essay question, Magna Carta was a reactionary rather than a revolutionary document. By understanding its origins and context we can understand that. Runnymede was the second stage in a power struggle and, as they came away, they were already planning the next stage.


 John mustered his forces in the Midlands. The rebel lords, among them Roger Bigod, levied troops, victualled castles and hired mercenaries. Their power base was London, still identified with Essex, and the counties to the east of it. Their leader was Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. The first royal advance into East Anglia was repulsed, but in March 1216 John, having subdued the rest of the country, turned his attention on the eastern earls. He marched on Framlingham where Roger Bigod, following family tradition, yielded without a fight. The king went on to capture Ipswich, then turned south for Essex and Kent, punishing by pillage his poorer subjects, who had little choice but to follow their great lords in the rebellion against him. However, in Kent he suffered a serious set-back and was forced to flee westwards. The barons reclaimed East Anglia but this time John’s vengeance fell upon Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The campaign of 1216 was the last medieval campaign on Suffolk soil. The Bigods remained the leading men of Suffolk for almost another century and remained, to the core, men of independent spirit. The fifth earl of Norfolk and the last of the Bigod line, was one of the leaders of fresh constitutional conflict with the crown during Edward I’s reign, arguing with the king over his right not to serve in Edward’s campaign in Gascony unless Edward himself led it. By God, Earl, you shall either go or hang! the King threatened. By God, King, retorted Bigod, I will neither go nor hang! The outcome? Bigod didn’t go and neither did he hang!

The Bigods were not the only leaders of Suffolk society, but they were in essential respects typical of the great Suffolk landowners. The only way to personal wealth in early medieval times was the royal service. Those who attended to the King’s needs and wants in military, spiritual, diplomatic or personal matters expected to be rewarded by grants of land. They were then able to rule as kings in their own domains for, although the freemen were protected by law and custom from arbitrary actions, such protection counted for little when it came to disputes over manorial rights. However, the Bigods finally fell foul of the centralising policies of the Plantagenet monarchs in the later middle ages, Their decline was as rapid as their rise.  The vast estates of the Norman Bigods were forfeited to Edward I, and Framlingham came to Thomas of Brotherton, eldest son of Edward and Margaret of France. It then became a major seat of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk.

The Gulafras (Gullivers) and the Manors of Suffolk:


Most landlords did not depend on royal patronage for their continuing tenure, but by keeping the peace on their lands, chiefly by respecting the pre-Conquest rights of their tenants, and managing their manors and estates diplomatically, especially in their relations with neighbouring magnates. There is also evidence of greater stratification among the landowning classes, with many examples of sub-tenanting of manors and more flexible arrangements where the management of freemen was concerned. To understand this, we need to look at those families other than the Bigods who, for one reason or another, did not become tenants-in-chief, or as continuously wealthy and powerful as they did.

In the case of the Goulaffre/ Gulafra family in Suffolk, this may have been due to their desire (at least initially) to continue to maintain and manage lands in Normandy, under Duke Robert. Under the Conqueror’s eldest son, Guillaume Goulafriere fought in the First Crusade which left Normandy in 1096. His estates in England passed to his son, Roger, who was Lord of Oakenhill Hall Manor in the reign of Henry II. The main branches of the family are documented as holding lands in East Anglia, especially Suffolk, and Essex, between Domesday (1086) and 1273. There are also references to the family name, or variants of it, in court records for Sussex, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Oxfordshire Golafre family descended from a younger son of Sir Roger Golafre, dominus de Cercedene (Sarsden), in the reign of King John; who, with some of his posterity, was buried in the chapter house of Bruern Abbey, of which he was probably a benefactor. Fourth in succession from Sir Roger was the Sir John who married the heiress of Fyfield some time in the early 1330s, and settled in what was then Berkshire.

Sir Roger’s eldest son bore his name, and was seated at Norton in Northamptonshire, when William, his heir, acquired Heyford by marriage. Baker’s Northamptonshire tells us that this William Golafre was appointed deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer to Edward I. by William de Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester. His son ‘Master John de Golafre’ afterwards executed the same office on the nomination of Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Chamberlain in fee, and retained it till his death, for in 1315 John de Aston, clerk of John de Golafre, deceased, surrendered two great keys and twenty-three lesser keys of the doors of the treasury and coffers of the Exchequer. There was one other Northants John de Golafre, and then the Heyford estate passed to the Mantells.

In Suffolk, where Copinger’s 1905 book helps us to piece together something of the history of each manor, we find that in pre-Conquest times, the village of Aspall had two small manors, one held by Brictmar in the time of Edward the Confessor, a freeman under commendation to Edric. He held thirty acres, which at Domesday was held by Robert Malet as the tenant of his mother. She was the widow of William Malet, a baronial tenant-in-chief, who accompanied the Conqueror from Normandy and was one of the few Norman barons proven to be present at Hastings, taking care of Harold’s body after the battle, on William’s command. Legend has it that his William Malet’s mother was English, and that he was the uncle of King Harold wife Edith (the claim being that he had a sister Aelgifu who married Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia, who was the father of Edith). Despite his obviously divided loyalties, William of Normandy rewarded his faithfulness. He was soon appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and given the great honour of Eye (Priory), with lands in Suffolk and several other shires. It was in fact the largest lordship in East Anglia. He built a motte and bailey at Eye, and started a market there. He died in 1071, probably in trying to crush the rebellion of Hereward the Wake, and on his death was one of the twelve greatest landholders in England. His son Robert became a close advisor to Henry I, and at the time of The Domesday Survey, held 221 manors in Suffolk alone.

The other manor, also thirty acres, was originally held by Siric, another freeman. Robert Malet was the tenant-in-chief in 1086, but Stigand was tenant. Whether or not this was the Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, whose uncanonical appointment was one justification given by the Pope for his support for William, we cannot be sure. Although he died in 1072, Stigand’s significant land tenure is still recorded in Domesday in his name, and we know that he continued to hold manors in Elmham and Ashingdon in Essex, where he had been bishop, even after he was deposed by William in 1070. It seems that, here at least, the Saxon freehold may well have survived the Conquest, since William was not strong enough (at first) to remove Stigand. Our image of the Duke of Normandy as an all-powerful conqueror appears somewhat removed from the reality. William Gulafra also held three acres in Aspall, valued at fifteen shillings.

The villages of Oakley and Brome, enumerated together in Domesday were composed of two carucates (or hides – 100-120 acres), one in each village. Here, William Gulafra was a sub-tenant of Robert Malet, holding thirty acres and two freemen, each with half an acre, sharing a ploughteam, an acre and a half of meadow and a mill, valued at ten shillings. In Thrandeston, Robert Malet had sixteen acres, valued at two shillings, held as tenant by William Gulafra. Okenhill Hall Manor, or Saxhams, as it was known locally, also formed part of the great Malet holding. It was held in the reign of Henry II by Roger Gulafra, son of William, who was succeeded by his son and heir, also William. This William had a daughter, Philippa, who married William Brito. He was followed by William le Breton who died in 1258, leaving a daughter, Nichola. She then married Sir Robert d’Amoundeville (de Mandeville), who endowed the Priory of Eye with two sheaves of his tithes, as the Gulafras had done previously. Another of the manors originally held by William Gulafra came to be known as Mandeville’s Manor. Interestingly, this estate of Leuric seems already to have been under Norman protection in the time of the Confessor, though what that meant in terms of land-holding is unclear. At the time of Domesday, it was one of the manors held by William Malet, who passed it to his son Robert. William Gulafre held it in the time of Henry I and passed it to his son, Roger Gulafre, and so it came via Philippa Gulafre into the eventual control of the Mandevilles.

Ashfield was one two Saxon manors, one held by Godman and the other by Brictmar (who also held land at Aspall), both of whom were freemen. The first was thirty acres, and the second twenty-four. There were also twenty-seven acres held by four other freemen. At the time of Domesday, Robert Malet held four of these manors, apparently as tenant-in-chief, but the fourth of these was held by William Gulafra (of ‘Earl Hugh’), ten acres valued at twenty pence (presumably, per acre).

The large village of Debenham consisted of three Saxon manors, the first held by Edric, freeman under commendation to William Malet, with sixteen bordars, twelve ploughteams in demesne and three beloging to the freemen, four acres of meadow, wood enough to support sixty hogs, a rouncy (a cart-horse), four beasts, forty hogs, thirty sheep and forty goats. At the time of Domesday, the manor was held by William Gulafre, of Robert Malet. There were only one and a half ploughteams belonging to the freemen, woodland for only forty hogs, six beasts, twenty hogs, forty-five sheep and twenty-eight goats. The value of the whole estate had declined from sixty shillings to fifty shillings at the time of Domesday, which shows that the Conquest could well have had a negative effect on the wealthier Saxon manors, possibly due to the amount of woodland which was cut down for building castles.William Gulafra also held over the freemen on Malet’s other holding of thirty-six acres, the value of which had declined from ten shillings to six. This suggested that he managed the Saxon freemen for Malet, perhaps as an intermediary who understood them better and who respected him as a farmer. He also held Malet’s sixth estate of ten acres, which had half a ploughteam and was valued at two shillings.

Winston appears, again, to have had a very independent status as a manor, because it was held in the time of the Confessor by the Abbot of Ely, in demesne. Like Stigand, he was a Saxon, Thurstan, appointed by Harold but, unlike Stigand, he was also honest and hard-working, so William did not replace him, even when he (famously) gave Hereward the Wake sanctuary from William’s soldiers in 1071, helping him escape through the Fens. Although the Abbey was fined heavily, and its lands were confiscated, it was only after Thurstan’s death that William appointed a Norman monk in his place. Perhaps William was also mindful of the powerful symbolism of Ely to the Saxons. Then, following the return of its manors in 1081, Simeon was made Abbot, an old but very wise and able churchman, who was related both to William and to Stigand’s successor as Bishop of Winchester. The Abbey’s land in Winston consisted of forty acres, six villeins, four bordars, two ploughteams in demesne and three belonging to freemen, six acres of meadow and woodland for a hundred hogs. There was a church with eight acres, two rouncies, four beasts, twenty hogs and fifty sheep. It was valued at four pounds. At Domesday, it was still held by the abbot, but with only one ploughteam in demesne and woodland for sixty hogs. Its value had increased to four pounds and ten shillings, however, the only manor showing evidence of becoming wealthier. This prosperity, we are told, had come from additional freemen working the thirty acres of the abbot’s land. William Golafra also held nineteen acres of land, with a ploughteam, an acre of meadow and two bordars, valued at four shillings. Again, it is worth speculating that Golafra held the manor during the confiscation and that, on its reinstatement to Ely, helped the elderly abbot, who was taken up with restoring the Abbey and its treasures, by recruiting and managing the additional freemen from other manors where he had an interest, such as in Debenham. It may also be that the unbroken and consolidated tenure of these forty acres in the hands of the Abbots of Ely, together with Golafra, was a major factor in their continued productivity and value, despite a reduction in woodland similar to that in other villages.

The Domesday Evidence:


As we have seen, the basic system of land holding and administration continued in use. We know a great deal about this from documentary sources pre-dating the Conquest: law codes, charters, wills, letters and so on. We also have the Domesday Books. Drawn up twenty years after the Conquest by the Norman king, it might be thought that it was an entirely Norman-manufactured account. This would be a great mistake, however. It records the state of affairs in the time of King Edward and now, so that it provides a factual description of each manor both before and after the Conquest. It seems to build both on a variety of earlier documents and a variety of oral testimonies. It is not an attempt to introduce new systems of land holding, feudal dues and taxes, but to explain who held what, by what right, and at what value. William wanted to know exactly what his kingdom was like and what taxes he could expect from each manor, but he was not trying to increase taxes or introduce a new system. If he had been trying to do either, it is unlikely that there would have been so many references to the decreasing worth of the land due to the Conquest. He must have known that the effects of the Conquest carried a heavy cost, in particular the cost of the felling of timber to construct castles and the diverting of labour away from the fields for these purposes. He knew he could not tax the land for more than it was worth.

Some features of Anglo-Saxon law were altered: the position of women was drastically downgraded by the Conquest, even that of those among the great landlords, because they lost the right to hold property independently of fathers or husbands, even when widowed, without special leases and covenants granted on petition by the courts. However, a great deal else was retained. Domesday is both a monument to Norman England and Saxon England because it shows how the basic structure of government, land-tenure and feudal society as a whole remained basically the same throughout the first twenty years of Norman rule as it had been in the reign of King Edward. However, it does also record sudden destruction and lasting devastation and shows a distinct change in the names of many of the chief landlords and their sub-tenants, from British, Danish or Saxon to Breton, Norman or French. The peasants still trudged out to till the fields, whoever was collecting the taxes and whatever names their lords went by. They bore a yoke, sure enough, but it wasn’t particularly Norman. It was one most of them them had born for centuries.

The Monastic Settlements and Churches of East Anglia and Southern England:


The great men of the county were not only concerned with wealth and power in this life, but also with their status in the next. That was why they erected churches, chantries and noble tombs to house their earthly remains, and paid priests to say masses for their souls in perpetuity. As we have already noted, the Normans were as muscular and and progressive about their Christianity as they were about their conquest and administration of foreign lands. The rule of the Conqueror coincided with a great revival of monasticism across western Christendom, from Scotland to Hungary. Even so, the number of new houses for monks and nuns built in Suffolk alone is remarkable. By 1200, there were twenty-eight monasteries and abbeys where small religious communities were permanently employed in caring for the sick and singing masses. At Bury St Edmunds, while the townsfolk grumbled in their urban hovels, the monks spent a large part of their income on making their abbey one of the grandest in Christendom. Apparently not satisfied by the additions made to the buildings by Cnut, the now non-Saxon monks began, immediately after the Conquest, as the poet-monk John Lydgate tells us, to build a new church with stone brought from Caen in Normandy.


 The church was not finished until 1211, an enormous edifice with two great towers surmounted by spires. It was over five hundred feet long, making it larger than most surviving Gothic churches, and the Abbey’s gardens, fishponds, vineyards and fields covered many acres. However, this did little to impress the townspeople, who continued to be treated little better than serfs by the monks. At a time when other towns, such as Ipswich, were receiving royal charters guaranteeing their rights and freedoms, Bury’s citizens had no say at all in their governance.

 Their bitterness ran deep and expressed itself in occasional attacks upon the monks, Abbey property and servants. There were demonstrations aimed at forcing concessions from the abbot, and matters came to a head on 15 January 1327, when three thousand armed men broke down the gates, destroyed the sacristy, rifled the treasury, looted the Abbey’s precious objects, flogged the monks, imprisoned the prior in the Guildhall and forced the abbot to sign a charter of liberties granting the town virtual independence. As soon as he could escape, the abbot rode to London, where he repudiated the charter. This led to fresh outbreaks of violence throughout the spring and summer.

053Then, on 18 October, during divine service in the parish church, the monks made an armed attack on the townspeople. They retaliated by rampaging through the monastery, virtually razing it to the ground. They went on to attack twenty-two of the abbot’s manors, before the Sheriff of Norfolk arrived to suppress the revolt. This was no isolated incident, but a deep-seated desire for independence, coupled with a dissatisfaction with the religious establishment. There were twenty thousand malcontents from every social stratum. The ringleaders had been hanged or exiled, and the court in Norwich imposed an impossible fine on the people, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Suffolk people continued to be as devoted to their parish churches as they were distrustful of the great abbeys. There was scarcely a church in the county that did not experience some enlargement, extension or alteration in almost every medieval generation. The Normans built many churches but only a few, such as St Mary Wissington retain the original Norman pattern. Naves were widened to accommodate an increasing population in the thirteenth century, and chancels were extended. From about 1200, chantry chapels were enlarged or incorporated within existing buildings.

DSC09601Ecclesiastical fashions in architecture also played a part in these changes, as Norman gave way to Early English which, in turn, was superseded by Decorated. The Church of Saint Michael Framlingham  (left) has been built, rebuilt and added to down the ages. A surviving feature, the capitals of the Chancel arch, date from the twelfth century, but the majority of the church was built in the perpendicular style between 1350 and 1555.  Such later medieval changes in church architecture can sometimes lead us to exaggerate the degree of change in building styles in the century or so after the Conquest.

What happened to the old Saxon minsters, such as at Winchester, or to the great town abbeys, such as at Bury St Edmunds, should not be taken as a model for most of the parish churches of England.

The Expansion of Christendom: England, The British Isles and the Continent:


In the forty years from 1093 to 1133 that was taken to building the great columns of Durham Cathedral and the vaults that they support, Jerusalem was taken for Christianity and north-western Europe had expanded to a point unsurpassed since the Celtic migrations of the fourth century BC.

048Irish Romanesque has left many fine examples in the ruins of churches at Kilmacduagh and at Clonfert Cathedral, originally the foundation of St Brendan the Navigator. Shortly after this was built, Somerset masons must have brought to Ireland not only their skills but the stone they knew from building the first Gothic cathedral in Europe to employ the pointed arch throughout, that of Wells. With this stone they constructed the first cathedral of Dublin, Christ Church, of which only the north side of the nave remains as their original work. Some years before, the first Cistercians, chief among the patrons of the Gothic style, had arrived at Mellifont north of Dublin.

The religious order most favoured by William the Conqueror and the early Norman kings was that of Cluny. The two most notable sites of Cluniac foundations are at Thetford and Castle Acre in Norfolk.   All the new orders introduced in the twelfth century, the Premonstatensians and Victorines, the Tironensians, Carthusians, Augustinians and Cistercians were all of foreign origins except for the Gilbertines, founded by St Gilbert of Sempringham. Between them, they had a profound effecton the political and historical development, the landscape, and the agriculture of the British Isles as a whole, one that was largely independent of temporal authorities, however. They were allowed a mere three hundred years by those authorities in which to enter nearly every region, to raise their churches and cloisters, and to establish around themselves new communities.



The Premonstratensians, drawing on their origins from Prémontré outside Laon, built one of their earliest abbeys in Suffolk, and then found they had to move it away from the swampy lands to near the small town of Leiston (see photos above). They were also particularly important in Scotland, founding the great Border house of Dryburgh and also reviving the holy site of St Ninian’s white church at Whithorn. In the reign of Henry I, his Queen Consort, Matilda of Scotland, founded the house of Holy Trinity in Aldgate for the Augustinians. Henry I also handed over to them what was to be their richest abbey, at Cirencester, where they also built the splendid parish church for the townspeople. By 1350 they possessed over two hundred priories in England alone.

In Scotland, Bishop Robert of St Andrews (left), with the 044agreement of David I, dispossessed the Celtic monks or Culdees at St Andrews in order to place the most sacred relics in Scotland in the care of the Austin canons. The Culdees were given another site, St Mary of the Rock. Bishop Robert had been prior of the Augustinian house at Scone and he built on the promontory of St Andrews the church dedicated to St Regulus, the Syrian monk who, according to legend, had brought the bones of St Andrew to Scotland in the fourth century AD. The tall tower of St Rule still stands outside the ruins of the cathedral which was begun by Bishop Arnold in 1160. It was planned to be the second largest cathedral of its time in Britain after Norwich, but a storm destroyed its west end in 1275, and it was decided to shorten the nave by two of its bays.

The Augustinians were particularly close to the Scottish royal family: they also held the famous abbey of Holy Rood in Edinburgh and the great Border abbey at Jedburgh. St Andrews under Bishop Lamberton became a stronghold of resistance to Edward I in the Scottish War of Independence in the early fourteenth century, and the consecration of the cathedral in 1318 in the presence of Robert de Bruce must have been a triumphal occasion for more than one reason. Two years later the nobles of Scotland gathered at Arbroath Abbey to sign their Declaration of independence.

047The Cistercians also founded abbeys throughout the British Isles. In Wales, their first and most famous house was at Tintern in the Wye Valley, founded in 1131, but they also went on to found the abbeys at Strata Florida and Valle Crucis, near Llangollen in north Wales. In Scotland they established the greatest of the Scottish border abbeys at Melrose (right), on the request of David I, in the place where St Aidan had first founded a monastery, and where St Cuthbert had been born. In Ireland their first house, at Mellifont, was founded in 1142.

The twelfth century saw the rapid expansion of monasticism throughout the British Isles, especially among the Cistercians and the Gilbertines, and was part of a continental expansion, including in Normandy itself. It was a historical phenomenon which stemmed partly from Rome, partly from Christian rulers, but mainly from the mission of the monks themselves to open their doors to the humble and illiterate who desired the monastic life, to the growing number of poor pilgrims who needed hospitality, and to those in need of treatment for their illnesses.

The devotion of both Saxon and Norman kings and queens, as well as some of their lords may have aided this development of monasticism, but it was not part of a conquest.


The thirteenth century was the time of the mendicant friars, most notably the Franciscans and the Dominicans, who by their preaching and their going out into the world transformed the ideals and possibilities of the Christian life. Remarkably, little survives in England, Scotland and Wales of their numerous convents and houses. Their greatest remaining visible achievement was the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge as internationally famous centres of learning. The impetus for new orders and new foundations was largely dying out by the fourteenth century, coinciding with a decline in the numbers seeking the monastic life.

For the thirteenth century, it has been calculated that twenty thousand were in religious orders out of a population of three million, one in every hundred and fifty of the population. Rich benefactors preferred to found institutions of learning.

For all their decline in numbers, monks and nuns had worked great changes on the land, and the ruined buildings remain to keep the memory of the lives which had once been lived there. The influence of Medieval monasticism continued into the fourteenth century and beyond in English, and British, society and culture.

The Hidden Legacy of the Saxons: Signs of Survival:

DSC09532In recent years, the careful cataloguing of surviving Anglo-Saxon churches, that it has become clear how many of these there are. In 1978, 267 churches were listed, identified from structural analysis and visible architectural detail as at least partly Saxon. More should probably be added. Little remains of the earliest churches, since these were mostly built of timber and have survived only as post-holes under later excavated churches. The timber church that does still remain at Greensted in Essex seems to incorporate later Scandinavian influence. A few stone churches can be dated to the seventh or eighth centuries, usually from historical sources. Most of these are in Kent, where the first Augustinian mission was based, such as St Martin’s in Canterbury. There is also a group in northern England, including Jarrow, where a foundation stone gives the precise date of 23 April 684 for the dedication of St Paul’s. Unfortunately, most of that church was demolished, not by the Normans, but by the Georgians in 1782, and all that remains in Gilbert Scott’s nineteenth century church of the Saxon original is the chancel.

016Escomb in County Durham gives a better idea of an early Saxon church. This simple two-celled building still sits in its round churchyard (left). It was larger once, with a western annexe and a side chapel to the north of the nave, but its present classic simplicity makes it a model for the reconstruction of early Saxon churches. The proportions of the nave and chancel arch, which are tall and narrow, are a classic feature of Saxon architecture, as are the massive stones which form the corners of the nave and side of the chancel arch, possibly brought from an earlier Romano-British site which became a quarry. The windows are small, intentionally designed to reflect as much light as possible in the small space, whilst at the same time seeking to economise in the use of glass, or, if left unglazed, to minimise the draught.


Brixworth in Northamptonshire is perhaps the most impressive surviving Saxon church. The arches of the Saxon aisles still exist, made from bricks which have been dated to Romano-British times, but they are blocked up. Many different kinds of stone have been used in the construction of the church, showing how other Saxon churches might have been added to and changed, using different raw and recycled materials, from one phase to another. The majority of churches defined as Saxon belong to a later period than Escomb and Brixworth, to the tenth or eleventh centuries, when many were rebuilt after the Viking destruction. However, parts of these churches were rebuilt from original blocks and features, including stone strips, pilasters, which can be seen on two well-preserved towers at Earls Barton and Barton-on-Humber. Some of the more decorative features can be compared to those on contemporary continental buildings. At Barton-on-Humber (see photo), a very small church was built originally, with the tower forming the nave crammed between a small chancel and a baptistery. Over the centuries the original building was gradually added to. Archaeologists were able to trace this growth because the later church had become redundant and they could therefore excavate the whole of the interior. They were therefore able to expose a round apse, as well as to excavate part of the cemetery, where they found Anglo-Saxon burials. In other churches which have been proved to have much surviving Saxon fabric, it has been more difficult to excavate because the early walls were covered with plaster inside and later concrete rendering outside, leaving only windows and doors as a means of dating them.

A church of Saxon proportions may well contain pre-Conquest fabric, but even if none is found, continuity can be argued because the original church has been added to piecemeal over the centuries, so that its original shape has become fossilised in the later versions. Medieval builders sometimes built around an old church, reproducing it exactly, only in larger dimensions, and pulling down the old church only when finishing the new, so that the congregation could always worship with a roof over their heads. One such church is at King’s Sutton in Northamptonshire, where no visible features are earlier than the twelfth century, but the nave has classic early proportions. The walls of the nave are quite probably Saxon, with twelfth-century aisles and much later clerestory windows cut through them.

Historically, this was a minster, a large and important church served by a group of priests, and serving several parishes. Later in the Anglo-Saxon period this type of church government gradually gave way to the parochial and diocesan system we know today, but it is still possible to work out where many of the original minsters were.

Many more churches than those defined as having Saxon architectural origins still incorporate the remains of Saxon buildings. In fact, if we could count the numbers destroyed in the great Victorian rebuilding, we would probably discover that a very substantial proportion of the smaller churches of England had not fallen victim to Norman builders, and that, after the Conquest, many people would have worshipped in the same church as their Saxon and British ancestors before 1066. Much of the visible fabric of the ordinary villages and market towns of Anglo-Saxon England was still to be seen in Norman and early medieval times, if not into late medieval and early modern times.

Pride and Prosperity:

DSC09858The continuing passion for building and rebuilding reveals considerable local pride and devotion, and illustrates a talent for united and well-organised effort. It also provides evidence of enormous wealth, much of it stemming from the trade in wool. At the time of the Domesday Suvey there were about eighty thousand sheep in East Anglia, spread fairly evenly over the whole region. Every farming community made its own cloth and sold its surplus wool in the local markets. To these markets at Bury, Ipswich, Sudbury came merchants from London and Europe. Throughout the early Medieval period wool was Suffolk’s most important export and the basis of its extraordinary prosperity.

However, compared with the prime sheep-rearing regions such as the Welsh borders and the Yorkshire moors, Suffolk wool was of an inferior quality. Shropshire fleeces were fetching fourteen marks a sack when the Suffolk farmer could only get four marks for his. Nevertheless, Suffolk was richer than Shropshire due to the volume of trade, since it was closer to continental customers. Most of the buyers came from across the North Sea from Germany, the Baltic States and the Low Countries, regions with which East Anglians had long and close commercial contacts. The sight of these buyers riding eastwards to Ipswich or Dunwich followed by long lines of laden packhorses was a very familiar one to medieval Suffolkers. But this trade was not destined to last into the second half of the fourteenth centuy, but to be replaced by a far more lucrative one, the trade, and industry, in woollen cloth.

DSC09733However, by this time, the development of international trade, the building of castles and churches and cathedrals, due to the growth of important centres of pilgrimage, had all contributed to the concentration of population and the growth of towns. The case of Bury St Edmunds showed that it was impossible for feudal law and custom to apply to emerging centres of trade and commerce. Towns sought and usually obtained charters which enabled them to control their own affairs. Ipswich’s charter had been granted by King John in May 1200, allowing the burgesses to elect their own representatives, appoint officials, levy market tolls and avoid interference by powerful local magnates and churchmen. Soon after, they gathered together to elect their own governing body, which did business for the first time in July. These first city fathers were industrious and proud. They appointed officers to supervise every aspect of the town’s affairs. They decreed that a special book called le Domesday be started which would record all their decisions and laws. One of the first of these decisions was the casting of a town seal – a symbol that their corporate unity was equal to any baron in the land.

007DSC09763The Norman Conquest was a military invasion that left physical remains in the archaeological and architectural record. However, much of the fabric of everyday life did survive the Conquest. There were no real changes in religion, in burial rites, house types, jewellery, pottery or coinage. The basic ethnicity of the population remained the same, so that genetic analysis of skeletons in recent years has shown little change in composition. The Normans simply added a ruling élite, but that was not simply Norman, and certainly not very Norse. Neither did Norman French supplant the dialects of the Anglo-Saxons as a dominant lingua franca, and these dialects gradually became a common tongue based on the Mercian dialect, with a few French synonyms added. Only in the way castles were sited and in the drastic rebuilding of significant religious monuments do we have unequivocal evidence of an invasion. Even then and there, these kinds of changes need to be evaluated in longer historical and broader geographical contexts.

Printed Sources:

(as listed in part one)

Internet Sources:

as referenced in the text, especially Copinger (1905).

Posted August 25, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: