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I’ve been spending a bit of time in my erstwhile home of Norfolk this summer and it only takes a glance to see how historic this county is. But what do we know of its origins?
The Little Domesday Book includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It is much less of a summary and includes more detail than Domesday, although it is more untidy.
Why did it remain separate from the main Domesday Book?
One suggestion is that it was begun first, and that the rest of the survey was cut down when they saw how bulky the work was becoming. Historian Vivian Hunter Galbraith suggested it might have been a local compilation made by the commission and actually posterior to Volume I. It is, apparently, nearer to the original returns, which could mean it was never sent in and condensed and that it is therefore more accurate.
The Inquisito Eliensis
This is a subsidiary source of information, relating to lands held by the abbot of Ely in Cambs, Hertford, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Huntingdon. There is some doubt as to how it came into existence. Galbraith: “It was the return demanded by Ranulf Flambard in 1093, when Abbot Symeon died, and the possessions of the abbey were taken into the king’s hands.” JH Round argued that it was the return of the Royal Writ of 1086 instructing Lanfranc to inquire further into Ely’s losses of lands and rights.
A draft of the Little Domesday Book may have been revised to produce the I.E. Certainly the correspondence between the two is great and the differences are such that could have resulted from errors in copying.
Norfolk Settlements and their distribution
The total number of separate places – 731 – may not be accurate; today there are many villages bearing the same place name, and it is not always clear whether more than one existed in the eleventh-century. Great and Little Massingham were dealt with as Massingham (today, ½ mile separates them.)
There are places about which very little information is given. Perhaps the Domesday record is incomplete, or the relevant details are included with another village, eg: Rippon Hall is included in the measurement of the neighbouring village of Hevingham, but we are not told whether its men, ploughs, woods and meadow are included in the total for these items in Hevingham. The Little Domesday is silent on Bergh Apton. Were it not an Ely manor and therefore in the I.E., we would know nothing about it.
Not all the 731 names appear on the present day map. Some remain as houses or topographical features. Bawsey was recorded as a parish – all that remains today is a church and a farm.
Some idea of the nature of the information in the Domesday folios from Norfolk and of the form in which it is presented may be obtained from the entry for Bircham Newton (Docking):
“Bircham Newton was held by Tove, a freeman, as two carucates. Then as now 4 villeins and 3 bordars.* Then 3 serfs afterwards and now 1. Then one plough on the demesne, afterwards 2 now 3. Then and afterwards 4 ploughs belonging to the men, now 2 ½. Then as now 2 rounceys** and 10 swine. Then 220 sheep, now 540. To this manor belong 11 freemen with 1 ½ carucates and 11 ½ acres. There is 1 church with 20 acres, worth 16 pence. These freemen Eudo his predecessors had; Stigand had the soke. It was then worth 60 shillings, afterwards and now 100. The whole is half a league in length and a half in breadth, and renders 15 pence out of 20 shillings in geld.”
The extent of woodland on a holding is usually indicated by the number of swine it could support – the swine fed on the acorns and the beech mast – providing a convenient measure. Thus the normal entry is ‘wood for n swine’.
The number ranges from 1 or 2 up to 100, with a few entries at over 1000. The larger entries are usually given in round figures, but the small entries are detailed, suggesting exactness.
It may not follow that the swine were actually there – they were just used as a unit of measurement.
A Deer Park is mentioned at Costessey. (Pronounced, should you ever need to know, as Cossey!)
The entries are uniform:- “N acres of meadow”, varying from 1-100 and even 200. Figures above 50 though, are rare. Its distribution is concentrated around the Broadlands – winter floods meaning good crops of hay along the margins of the more permanent stretches of water. There was not as much in the Fenland as might be expected, but many of the streams that drained into the Fenland were bordered by fair quantities.
Unlike meadow, pasture is not regularly mentioned, in fact only in 11 places, and only 5 of these mention pasture for sheep. Of those it is sometimes unclear whether sheep were actually present, eg: “At Haddisloe in Clavering there was pasture capable (my italics) of supporting a total of 170 sheep.”
It is only mentioned in connection with three places. Two lie near to the marshes of the lower Yare and Waveney rivers; the third extends into the Nar Valley which is an extension of the Fenlands. Obviously these cannot have represented all the marsh in a county which includes part of the Fenland and the Broadland.
The pasture for sheep recorded presumably refers to marshy flats on which the sheep fed. But even with these five localities the greater part of the Norfolk marshland remains unaccounted for in the Domesday text.
They are recorded for 1086 in connection with 61 places in Norfolk. Only the number is mentioned – no reference is made to their value, as is the case in other counties. There is usually one fishery in a vill, but 2,3 or even or 7 are recorded. There are ½ fisheries, usually when two adjacent villages shared a fishery and a half is recorded for each. There are some cases where the fractions are impossible to combine. Gayton Thorpe in Freebridge had ¼ but we hear nothing of the other ¾. For the most part the fisheries lay in the west – in and near the Fenland. Elsewhere the distribution is sporadic, and quite often they are not mentioned where one would expect – for example, none is mentioned in the Broadland.
There is no mention of sea-fisheries, although we can’t be certain that those in Hunstanton and Heacham (on the West coast) were not sea-fisheries.
Here again, salt pans (mentioned in connection with 62 villages) are only referred to in number – their values are not recorded. The number ranges from under 1 to over 40. Again, fractions are mentioned, some of which are impossible to combine. At Shernborne in Docking, ½ is mentioned, with no mention of the other ½. The distribution of the salt making industry is confined to the eastern and western marshlands. The big gap separating them is broken only by Burnham on the north coast.
Some villages away from these two regions are recorded as having salt pans but as it is geographically impossible that they were situated in these places it seems that the saltpans attributed to the villages were actually in the Fenland – leaving no doubt that the main salt making activity was centred on the Fenland and Broadland regions.
In 1086, 302 settlements had mills. In 13 other places mills had existed in 1066 but had apparently disappeared by 1086. Normally only the number was stated, varying from a fraction up to 9. Of two holdings in Bayfield (Holt) one had ¼, while the other had ¾. While it seems that neighbouring villages often shared a mill, often it impossible to piece the fractions together. (Snettisham is recorded as having 7 mills – Mill Lane exists today, running near a stream.)
The mills were watermills, aligned along streams. But the distribution is not what might be expected. The areas with most arable land and the most dense population, are not the areas with the largest number or the largest cluster of mills.
Churches are mentioned in connection with 217 villages, apart from Norwich, Thetford and Yarmouth. These can’t have been the only ones in the county – Holt and Dunham were important enough to have markets, and yet no church is recorded for either place.
There are some hundreds with only one church. The I.E. records 7 places with churches not recorded in the Domesday. Some had two churches and form double parishes today. Again there are untraceable fractions.
Priests are recorded where there is no church. At Hevingham a priest sang ‘three masses a week’ – likely then that there was a church. Normally the value was stated with the number of acres it held, thus at Appleton, Freebridge, “one church with 12 acres, and it is worth 12 pence.”
Horses are frequently recorded, and groups of wild or unbroken mares were found in many parishes. The most common variety of horse was the rouncey. Donkeys are only occasionally mentioned. Goats are recorded for a number of holdings, but the flocks were much smaller than those of sheep, usually under 50, sometimes less than 10.
Cows must have been kept in considerable numbers for breeding oxen for the land, but strangely they are seldom mentioned.
Sheep are associated with the salt marshes. The largest number, 1300, was at West Walton in the Fenland. It’s possible that some sheep of the northwest hundreds pastured on the salt marshes of the coast. Numbers of sheep increased and decreased between 1066 and 1086 ith no real explanation.
There are only 3. ½ at Dunham, ¼ at Litcham, one at Holt. There is nothing to indicate why there should be one at the first two, and no trace of the missing fractions. It must be a shortlist which does not cover all the markets of Norfolk.
Occasionally recorded along with livestock, the number is usually under 10, although 27 are recorded at Methwold. The value is never stated. Beekeeping was important for mead, wax and sugar. The entries cannot represent all the hives in Norfolk. Occasionally a render of honey is stated where no hives are mentioned.
Little at all remains to be seen of Domesday Norfolk. But the traces of this historic county are still there to be found, and Little Domesday survives as a remarkably detailed record of what was there in the eleventh-century, and gave me plenty of clues for modern locations.
Domesday Studies – the Eastern Counties R Welldon-Finn
The Norman Conquest and its effects on the Economy 1066-1086 R Welldon-Finn
History from the Sources – The Domesday Book ed. J Morris
The Domesday Geography of Eastern England HC Darby
English Society in the early middle Ages – DM Stenton
*bordar – A person ranking below villeins and above serfs in the social hierarchy of a manor, holding just enough land to feed a family (about 5 acres) and required to provide labour on the demesne on specified days of the week.
**The term rouncey (also spelled rouncy or rounsey) was used during the Middle Ages to refer to an ordinary, all-purpose horse. They were used for riding, but could also be trained for war. It was not unknown for them to be used as pack horses.
[All photographs apart from Ely taken by, and copyright of, the author]
This article originally appeared on the EHFA blog on 15th August 2016
It was 1984. I was in a seminar room in Kentish Town in North London and my tutor, Ann Williams, was talking to us about the 10thc anti-monastic rebellion. Ealdorman Aelfhere, one of the three most powerful noblemen in the country, was the leader of this rebellion, and he was described as the ‘Mad blast’ from Mercia. I wanted to know more about this guy. And I wanted to write his story.
My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. She effectively became ruler of what was by then little more than a satellite kingdom of Wessex, but had originally been a powerful kingdom in its own right. Mercia gave us such great and notorious kings as Penda, and Offa. Now it was allied to Wessex, pledged to fighting off the Viking army.
The allies were successful, for a while. Anybody who knows a bit about the 11thc will recall that it wasn’t long before the Vikings were not only here to stay, but were running the show. Swein, his son Canute, his sons (briefly), and then William of Normandy who was, to all intents and purposes, ethnically a Viking.
But what happened in between? And why was England so ripe for a takeover bid in the 11thc?
The 10thc is not much talked about. It was a bit, well, peaceful. No Vikings, no wars between the kingdoms, no kings with the epithet ‘the great’.
England in AD956 was, for the first time in living memory, free of the Viking threat. Just as well, because there was a bit of a problem. Kings kept dying, young, without offspring. Athelstan (Alfred’s grandson) had done an excellent job of uniting all the English kingdoms and sorting out the Scots and Irish but he’d not done such a great job of finding a wife and having children. When he died in 939 the crown passed to his half-brother, Edmund. He managed to produce two sons, Edwy and Edgar, but he died prematurely and the kingship went to his brother, Eadred. His most notable act was probably seeing off Erik Bloodaxe and restoring the Viking Kingdom of York to English control. Then he died, too.
In AD955 King Edwy, the eldest of the boys born to Edmund, became king. Unfortunately, not a very good, wise, or chaste king. His brother, Edgar, was sent away to be fostered in Mercia and decided, when he was about 14, that he’d quite like a shot at being king. Trouble was, he was only 14, and he needed a bit of help. Like, maybe, from a newly ennobled earl by the name of Aelfhere (or Alvar, as I call him in my novel, Alvar the Kingmaker.) Alvar had received his earldom from King Edwy, and thus had sworn to serve him, but he knew him to be a fornicator and a fool. He was faced with a difficult choice. And so began his career…
I won’t reveal any plot spoilers, but it’s a matter of fact that Edgar died relatively young, although not childless. And this presented a bit of a problem. Because once again, the heirs to the throne were two young boys. This time, however, they were born of different mothers. The eldest boy, Edward, was already famous for having a short temper, and the other was very young.
I have my own theories about how and why the younger son’s temperament developed, but suffice to say he was the youngest of his mother’s four sons. The eldest two were deliberately kept away from her, the third died of a childhood fever. Could she be blamed for being overprotective of her last-born?
This lady, Aelfthryth, whom I’ve called Alfreda, was Edgar’s widow. She was also a consecrated queen and her supporters, Alvar included, felt that her son, having been born ‘in the purple’, was the rightful heir.
Others, including Alvar’s enemies in the Church, thought differently, and crowned Edward.
One night, Edward, he of the famous short temper, went to see Alfreda and her son. There was an argument, then a scuffle. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the result was that Edward was fatally stabbed. Accusatory fingers pointed right at Alfreda but Alvar managed to quell the disquiet, put an end to the infighting and help to establish the surviving heir as king. It’s just a bit of a shame that the new boy-king’s name was Aethelred. And he did get an epithet, although not ‘the Great’ but ‘the Unready’ (meaning badly-counselled.)
He was not a good king. He was not a wise one. I think he was still a bit of a ‘mummy’s boy’. And somewhere, across the sea, a Danish king knew he could take advantage of this…
[a version of this article originally appeared Here]
I was privileged to attend a lunch a couple of years ago with, amongst others, Sarah Waters and Fay Weldon. They were kind enough to ask me about my writing and when I told them that my first three novels were set in Anglo-Saxon England, Sarah Waters said she knew little about the period and Fay Weldon commented that their costumes “Weren’t very sexy.”
A dear friend of mine concurred, adding that the Anglo-Saxons all wore brown sacks instead of dresses. She said that when she reads a novel set in Tudor England, she can envisage the scenery and the costumes.
In 2013, the author Sebastian Faulks was publicising the Chalke Valley/Penguin History prize for secondary school children. Youngsters were encouraged to write stories set in the following ‘Periods of importance’ : Norman Conquest to Wars of Roses (1066-1485) The English Civil War and the Restoration (1642-1685) The Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815) The British Empire (1759-1947) and the Cold War (1945-1991)
Now, I’m not going to argue that these periods were not important, but why narrow the field? Taken in isolation, these periods of history mean little. Can one really understand the significance of the Napoleonic period without first studying the preceding years, including the circumstances which led to the French Revolution? Periods of history are only important if you set them in context, if you know what’s gone before.
1066? How can you realise its significance and the changes it wrought unless you know what England was like pre-conquest?
Is it true; does it simply boil down to the fact that it wasn’t ‘sexy’ enough, that it can’t easily be envisaged?
There are stories from the ‘Dark Ages’ that equal anything of later periods: the mighty Godwin family, the frankly feckless Aethelred the Unready and his struggles against the vastly superior Cnut. What about Alfred the Great, and his children, Edward the Elder and my favourite, his daughter, Aethelflaed, subject of my novel To Be A Queen? She ruled a kingdom and fought against the Vikings.
Did she not have a pretty enough dress?
Is it just a case of bad press? Ultimately, the English lost out to the Normans. Does history favour the victor? In which case, why does the story of Arthur still resonate, with fiction and non-fiction books published year upon year; is that down to the seemingly unsolvable riddle of whether or not he existed?
And why, if we don’t care too much about losers, has such a cult grown up around William Wallace? Wasn’t he just a defeated nationalist, like Harold Godwinson? Maybe being hung drawn and quartered is a more interesting way to be the ultimate loser than just attempting to get too close a look at the quality of workmanship that went into the making of a Norman arrow?
The Chalke Valley competition is a good thing – anything which promotes history must be welcomed. Faulks said that “History needs to regain its central place in schools.”
I remember when my own children were choosing their GCSE options, that the school produced a list of subjects, and gave the teachers the chance to ‘sell’ their subject. Each was entitled “What can this subject give me?” Other subjects talked specifics, but history “Gives you everything you need for future study: analysis, argument, memory, understanding.” I can’t argue with that, but within the discipline itself, why are some periods deemed more important, or interesting, than others?
So, why do the poor old Anglo-Saxons not come through history to us as sexy and interesting? As it says in 1066 And All That (W.C Sellar and R.J. Yeatman) the period suffered from a “Wave of Egg-Kings – Eggberd, Eggbreth, Eggfroth etc. None of them, however succeeded in becoming memorable, except in so far as it is difficult to forget such names as Eggbirth, Eggbred, Eggbeard, Eggfish etc.”
As I found when writing To Be a Queen, the names are tricky – to spell, pronounce, and identify. Those that survived became old-fashioned, for example, Ethel, Edith, Alfred, Edmund, Mildred, Audrey. They were not associated with the upper echelons of society, and that’s also true of a lot of Old English words. Many of the words for everyday objects came to signify lowly things: a stool became something less than a chair. This idea of being the down-trodden vanquished persists so that today the period remains somewhat drear, uninteresting.
But it is precisely because of that we need to look back and find out what was lost.
The Norman language, despite the lordly overtones, did not take hold; we do not speak a version of French. Nor, according to recent BBC research, did the Norman bloodline. Is is important to know about the Government of the Anglo-Saxons, their administrative systems, their laws and justice? I think so. When university undergraduates debate whether or not the Normans introduced the Feudal system at all, then there is an argument for saying that we should understand what it was that they were trying to replace, subdue, change. It’s worth noting that whilst many people accept the ‘truth’ that in the middle ages, wives were legally beaten by their husbands and treated as his property, the Anglo-Saxon women were not.
So why don’t we know more? Why aren’t we taught more about it? Is it all just too far in the past?
But if that’s true, why is the Roman period so popular?
Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s popular in the sense that there are many books, fiction and non-fiction, and telly programmes (Thanks, Professor Mary Beard!) But it’s still not routinely taught in schools. The Tudors and the Egyptians are. So is the second World War. Diverse topics, spanning great distances in terms of years.
So maybe it really does, as Fay Weldon said, come down to the costumes. In my Ladybird book, The Story of Clothes and Costume, the illustrations lump the Saxons and Normans together. There are no illustrations between 500BC and the Anglo-Norman period, apart from the Romans. And on the cover? Yes, you guessed it – those wonderfully ‘gussied up’ Tudors …
Maybe those Anglo-Saxons should have designed the bodice – then they could have them ripped!!
[all the images used here are in the Public Domain]
Last time, I introduced the Celts and who they were.*
I explained that there were three phases of Celtic settlement in Britain, beginning in around 500-450 BC (perhaps earlier in Scotland), with settlers from France and the Low countries, continuing around 250 BC, and then a third phase, in around 100 BC, of Belgic peoples settling in southern Britain.
This time I’m taking a look at how they lived, although, given the paucity of the sources, it’s sometimes necessary to look at those still living in Europe, in order to build up an adequate picture.
Firstly, what kind of housing did they have?
According to Polybus  the people who settled in Cisalpine (the Roman side of the Alps) Gaul lived in scattered villages without walls. Their houses were probably wooden, which could easily be burned down and destroyed.
Gaulish houses were usually thatched and dome-like, and built of planks and willow supports. Some had an outer facing of mud, while others were covered with oak shingles, or straw mixed with earth. The Bretons built similar houses of reeds and wood. The Caledonii still had neither fortified walls, nor towns, as late as the second century of the Christian era.
In wartime, the Gauls used to take refuge in the fortified camps known to Caesar as ‘Oppida’. The oppida of the Bretons were nothing more than retrenched camps defended by a ditch and a mound of earth with a stockade, within which they erected temporary huts. The Belgian people who inhabited the Ardennes Forest used to take special precautions in times of war by weaving the branches of thorny bushes into a mesh of thorns, so that invaders would find all paths blocked. In certain places, they would retreat with their families to small islands in swamps deep in the forest, having first driven stakes into the ground along potential paths. The oppida of Gaul were towns which could also offer shelter to the inhabitants of neighbouring areas but which also had a permanent population themselves.
Caesar described the walls of Gaulish fortifications: solid beams were laid out on the ground about two feet apart; they were joined by transverse struts, and the cavity thus formed was filled with earth. Large stones were used to face the front. A second layer was then added, and so on until the desired height was reached. These interwoven layers of stone and wood had major military advantages as the stone was a protection against fire, and the wood against the danger of the battering ram.
The Gauls described by Polybus were not familiar with the idea of furniture and their beds were apparently nothing more than grass.
Posidonius,  quoted by Athenus,  noted that at mealtimes the Celts used to sit on bales of hay around low circular tables of wood. They used neither spoons nor forks; they simply grabbed chunks of meat and tore them apart. Their dishes were made of silver, copper, or earthenware. Their goblets were of earthenware or silver.
A Belgic bronze tankard was found in Trawsfynydd in Wales, and has been dated to the mid-first century AD. Its base was made of turned wood. Two more tankards were found at Shapwick Heath in Somerset, and one was recovered from the River Thames, at Kew. Belgic wrought iron ‘fire dogs’, would have been used to spit-roast meat at feasts, and examples have been found at Great Chesterford, Essex and Capel Garmon, North Wales.
Dairy products were much used among the Gauls. (The remains of vast cheese-making installations have been found at Mont Beuvray- also known as Bibracte.) 
The Calednoii and the Maeatae apparently made no use at all in their diet of the abundant stocks of fish in the waters of their region.
For their daily sustenance, the Bretons used to shell the oldest ears of cereal in their barns. Some of their tribes were so lacking in industry that although they had plenty of milk, they never made cheese from it. Others lived off bark and roots, and devised a type of food which was so filling that a very small amount was enough to serve as a meal. The fore-runner of the breakfast bar, perhaps? (More about farming in a later episode.)
The standard drink of the Gauls was at one time a beer made from grain. This drink was called ‘corma’. The guests all drank out of the same goblet, which was passed round by a servant.
In the first century BC, wine brought from Italy was the drink of the rich. Some Gauls would lie down on their shields, and, in exchange for wine or money, would allow their throats to be cut, as long as the wine or the money should go to their descendants after their death.
The Celts held ceremonial dinners; the guests sat in a circle, and the man who was the most distinguished in terms of military prowess, birth, or wealth, sat in the middle of the assembled company. The master of the household sat next to him, and the others sat on either side, their position depending on their rank.
So, as they sat there, what would they have been wearing?
It would seem that many of the Celtic tribes were comparatively sophisticated in their dress. Diodorus  described the Gauls as having worn tunics and trousers, with striped sashes over their shoulders. Pliny  suggested that the Gauls were the inventors of checked cloth; they extracted a purple dye from the bilberry, scarlet from the hyacinth, and colours from various other plants.
The Celts of the La Tène culture had highly developed weaving and dyeing techniques. The men wore close-fitting trousers and pullovers, while the women wore freely-flowing cloaks of the same material.
In Ireland, the men liked to wear woollen cloaks, pinned together at the neck by a brooch. Trousers were worn only by the poor, noblemen preferring ‘Léine’, knee-length linen tunics.
The Celts wore sandals, which left much of the upper foot exposed. These sandals were tied up with leather.
Some Celtic tribes, however, seem to have been quite unaware of the use of clothes. In the second century AD, the inhabitants of Northern Brittany went completely naked. Some Gaulish tribes also were in the habit of undressing completely before battle.
When they were clothed, though, did they wear any other adornments?
Strabo  said of the Celts: “to the frankness and high spiritedness of their temperament must be added the traits of childish boastfulness and love of decoration. They wear ornaments of gold, torcs on their necks, and bracelets on their arms and wrists.”
These torcs were heavy rings of solid gold, richly decorated, and with a finger-sized opening at the front. Gerhard Herm points out in The Celts, that they must have been put on with great difficulty, being too small to push over the head, and yet too thick to bend open. Perhaps the most famous of the Celtic torcs were discovered at Snettisham in Norfolk between 1948 and 1968. The largest was 20cm in diameter and made of electrum. It was dated to the mid-first century BC
Besides jewellery, the Celts also used the tattoo as a form of personal adornment. Caesar wrote that all the Bretons used to dye their bodies with pastel, thus turning their bodies a bright blue colour, which made them look particularly horrible in battle. It is possibly from the addiction to his habit that the dark-age Picts acquired their name, ‘painted men’.
A brief note on hygiene: Personal hygiene among the Celts cannot have been overly sophisticated. They did, however, make soap from tallow or ash. This was, according to Pliny, a Gaulish invention. In order to preserve the freshness of their complexions, the Celtic women used beer foam. The cleaning of teeth, among the Celtiberians (the Celts who invaded Greece) was done with urine, stored for a long time in special tanks.
Next time: The role of Members of the Community
* Read the first in this series, Who Were the Celts?
 Polybus, or Polybius, was a Greek historian who was born between 210 and 205 BC, in Arcadia. He wrote a general history of his time, and died around 125 BC
 Posidonius, or Poseidonius, was a Syrian born historian. He was a Stoic philosopher, and emphasised the interrelation of all things in the universe.
 Athenus, or Athenaeus, was a Greek writer born in Egypt. He wrote in the end of the second century and the third century AD
 The world of the Celts – G.Dottin
 Diodorus (Sicilus) of Sicily was a Greek historian who used literary sources with little judgement of his own, but for certain periods he provides the best evidence available.
 Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) was born in Northern Italy and wrote 37 books of natural history. The eruption of Pompeii claimed his life.
 Strabo was a Greek geographer, who lived from about 58 BC – AD 25. Lloyd Laing (1979) attributes this translation to S. Piggot (1970)
The Celts – Gerhard Herm
Pagan Celtic Britain – Anne Ross
Celtic Britain – Lloyd Laing
The World of the Celts – G Dottin
(all images are in the public domain unless otherwise attributed)
This article first appeared on the EHFA Blog 29th July 2016
In a previous post, I looked at duties and obligations in tenth-century England and this time I’m concentrating on military service.
Land granted by the king was known as ‘bookland’ and was absolved from all service with the exception of three. According to a grant by King Edgar  those three things were fixed military service, the restoration of bridges, and of fortresses. A grant by Aethelred II  calls for national military service, the construction of fortresses and the restoration of bridges. The Thegn’s law  tells us that:
“He be entitled to his book right, and that he shall contribute three things in respect of his land: armed service, and the repairing of fortresses and work upon bridges. Also in respect of many estates further services arise on the king’s order, … equipping a guardship, and guarding the coast, and guarding the lord, and military watch …”
The king was prepared to grant away rights privileges but not, it seems, his right to military service. The exact nature of the service is not stipulated, but it must have been important. Archbishop Wulfstan and Aelfric the Homilist divided Anglo-Saxon society into three orders: those who fight, those who labour, and those who pray. This would mean that the aristocracy was a warrior class. The nobility was required to provide military equipment  and there can be no doubt that a substantial part of their service was of a military nature.
Just as the heriot (war gear) varied according to rank, so the military service requirement differed for men of varying resources. The king had at his disposal his household troops.* Mercenaries were employed, (the career of Thorkell the Tall is evidence of this) but in essence the composition of the fyrd was based on a territorial levy. The requirement was for one man from every five hides of land. Service was basically for sixty days, in a system of rotation, but only in times of war. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 920 tells us that “when this division of the English levies went home, the other came out on military service and occupied the fortress at Huntington.”  A landowner with more than five hides of land would be responsible for providing the requisite number of men.
A fine was payable for neglect of military service, and this ‘fyrd-wite’ was set at around forty shillings per man. Commutation, a payment in lieu of service, was lower, at around twenty shillings per obligation. A thegn liable to service could have his lands confiscated if he defaulted.  This did not necessarily mean that a thegn had to fight. He could send the required number of men without going himself; he would still be fulfilling his obligation.
Mention is made of two types of fyrd (army), the select fyrd and the gelect fyrd. The distinction between the select fyrd and the great fyrd might have been thus: the select fyrd consisted of soldiers who fought in battle, and the great fyrd may have been the back-up, repairing bridges and fortresses. 
The expensive equipment of the ealdormen, king’s thegns and the lesser thegns would have set the aristocracy apart from the ordinary fighting ceorl. The Battle of Maldon describes the ornate trappings of a nobleman in battle:
“An armed man then went to the Earl,
Wanting to strip him of his armbands, armour,
Ring-mail and ornate sword.”
Clearly the nobility who fought did so with expensive war gear, but to fight was not their only obligation. As landlords, they were responsible for the organisation, summoning and assembling of the fighting forces. They were also involved in the essential organisation to ensure that competent levies turned out to perform military duties on behalf of their estates.
The military crisis precipitated by the resumption of Danish raiding served to place emphasis on the fighting role of the thegn. But was the aristocracy a warrior class?
Their military equipment set them apart in wealth and status from the rank and file, and their bookland was held from the king immune from all except military service. Yet if this was a warrior aristocracy one would expect to see them holding their land as a reward for military service, and their status deriving from their military rank. This was clearly not the case; that land was not held as reward for military service is a major stumbling block for any historian trying to prove that pre-Conquest England was feudal.
Land was granted for many reasons. King Aethelred II granted Aethelwig land because he did not wish to sadden him.  Apart from his being a servant of the king there seems to be no other reason for the grant. A ceorl could amass all the weapons of a thegn and still remain a ceorl if he did not possess five hides of land.  Land remained the source of wealth and the indicator of status. Military service was an important part of a nobleman’s duties, but, as we have seen, it was only one of many.  One might also expect that in times of peace less emphasis would be placed on the thegn as a warrior than in times of war.
*During the time of Cnut, the household troops were referred to as housecarls. Cnut’s reign was not in the tenth-century, though, and Nicholas Hooper’s article  provides, for me, compelling argument to suggest that the housecarl differed little from the English thegn.
 Grant by King Edgar to his thegn Aelfwold 969 EHD (English historical Documents) 113 p519
 Grant by King Aethelred to his thegn Aethelwig 992-995 EHD 117 p525
 Origins of English Feudalism 61 p145 “The Rights and Ranks of People”
 For more on this, see Defining ‘Nobility’ in Late Anglo-Saxon England
 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (A) 921 (920)
 This point is discussed by DJV Fisher in the Anglo-Saxon Age Ch13
 See Warren hollister, Anglo-Saxon Institutions. There is also a possibility that the Select fyrd served locally, and that the Great fyrd was the national army
 EHD 117 p525
 See HR Loyn The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England p167
 See the previous article on duties and responsibilities – link at top of post
 The Housecarls in England in the Eleventh Century – N Hooper
Further General Reading:
The Foundation of England – HPR Finberg
The Beginnings of English Society – D Whitelock
Anglo-Saxon England – FM Stenton
From Roman Britain to Norman England – PH Sawyer
(Above illustrations – public domain unless otherwise accredited)
This article originally appeared on the EHFA Blog Site 22nd July, 2016
Placing oneself under the protection of a lord was a solemn and ceremonious affair. In England it took the form of a hold-oath, or fealty oath. The physical act of bowing was accompanied by the oath:
“By the lord before whom this relic is holy, I will be to N [name of lord] faithful and true, and love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to God’s law, and according to secular custom; and never, willingly or intentionally, by word or by work, do aught of what is loathful to him, on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and all that fulfil that our agreement was, when I to him submitted and chose his will.” 
Essentially this is a negative commitment, a promise not to act against the lord’s interests. Nevertheless, a personal bond of this nature carried with it certain positive obligations.
For the king’s thegn, lord and king were the same person. A thegn whose lord was not the king still had a duty to the monarch. (It should be remembered that the king’s title was “Cynehlaford” or lord-king.) Thegns in turn would have men who called them lord. The role of lordship entailed a dual responsibility, that of serving one’s lord, and that of protecting one’s men.
The king was ever mindful of the need to control his ealdormen. Their attendance at the royal council was one way of ensuring their co-operation, and failure to attend a summons to the witan was punished severely. The witan had the right, rather than the privilege, to advise the king, and at times it acted on its own; following the death of a king the election process for his successor was carried through in the witan. It was in the royal council that the laws were promulgated. Its members met indoors, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells how, in 978, “the leading councillors of England fell down from an upper storey at Calne, all except the holy Archbishop Dunstan, who alone remained standing on a beam.”  Business transacted in the witan included general, financial and judicial matters. Essentially though, its function was of a deliberative and consultative nature.
The test of royal authority is how effectively it is felt in the localities. The law codes abound with directions to individual ealdormen to ensure that laws are enforced. King Edgar commands that:
“Earl Oslac and all the host that dwell in his aldermanry are to give their support that this may be enforced” and that “Many documents are to be written concerning this, and sent both to ealdorman Aelfhere and ealdorman Aethelwine, and that they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” 
There is some evidence to suggest that the ealdormen disliked the king’s reeves (administrative officials.) A breach of the law by a reeve could only be dealt with by the king  and when Aethelred II adopted the policy of appointing reeves instead of ealdormen, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 1002 Ealdorman Leofsige slew Aelfric, the king’s high-reeve. The grant of Aethelred’s explains why these men were disliked. The reeve broke the law by giving Christian burial to those who had forfeited the right. Instead of punishing him, Aethelred granted the reeve their land. To the ealdormen it must have seemed that the reeves were above the law.
Naturally the king’s officials were instrumental in the enforcement of law and order, and their duties included presiding over the shire and hundred courts. The hundred ordinance  directs that the hundred court is to meet every four weeks. II&III Edgar acknowledges this and states that the borough court is to be held three times a year and the shire court twice a year. It also succinctly sets out the duty of those presiding over the courts:
“And the bishop of the diocese and the ealdormen are to be present, and there to expound both the ecclesiastical and the secular law.” 
The shire court was unspecialised in the tenth-century, and did not develop into a full royal court until after the Norman conquest. It had a variety of functions, including procedures in outlawry.  It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, and the shire-reeve gradually became recognised at the chief executive royal officer.
The hundred court met on an appointed day, and anyone who failed to appear had to pay thirty shillings compensation. Each man was to do justice to another. Great concern was shown over theft. Compensation had to be paid to the victim; half of the offender’s remaining property went to the hundred, and half to the lord. Aethelred II’s reign saw an emphasis placed on the importance of oath-taking, and the origins of the jury of presentment.
“The twelve leading thegns are to come forward and swear on the relics … that they will accuse no innocent man nor conceal any guilty one.” He who pronounced a wrong judgement could forfeit his thegnly status, and “A sentence where the thegns are unanimous is to be valid.”
The importance of all courts was to provide a place where good witness could be obtained. King Edgar ordered thirty-six witnesses in each borough, and twelve in each hundred. 
By the middle of the tenth-century it was becoming customary for lords, ecclesiastical or lay, to receive grants of jurisdiction from the king. Many hundreds fell into private hands; a lord often had considerable rights here and in his own lands. The grants were usually laid down in the charters as rights of “sake and soke”, these being rights of jurisdiction and to the profits of justice.
This usually meant the control of a court. These rights were not granted lightly, and were really intended to emphasise royal authority rather than to weaken it. Grants of rights over a hundred court involved financial advantages, and the right to appoint hundredmen. HR Loyn suggests that the sheriffs (shire-reeves) played an important part in preventing the disintegration of royal power as private jurisdiction grew.  Landowners exercised other specific rights on their estates. They had a right to impose a toll on goods sold within the estate, the right (known as Team) to supervise the presentation of convincing evidence that goods for sale belonged to the vendor, and the right (infangenetheof) to hang a thief caught on the estate.
The nobility served the king, and were granted lands and privileges as a reward for that service. As lords they could expect service from their own men, and in turn they had a duty to protect those who called them ‘lord’.
 Origins of English Feudalism 59 p145 – Of Oaths (c.1920)
 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) 978
 IV Edgar 15. & 15.1
 EHD (English historical Documents) 117 p525
 This document is often called I Edgar, but was possibly written before Edgar’s reign. It was definitely in existence during Edgar’s reign.
 II&III Edgar 5.2
 HR Loyn – The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England p138
 III Aethelred 3.1 & 13.2
 IV Edgar 4. & 5.
 HR Loyn Op Cit p163. By 1086 approx. 130 hundreds were in private hands.
All images used above are copyright free in the Public Domain
This article first appeared on the EHFA Blog 16th July 2016
I had cause, a few years ago, to try to find out about the slightly mythical Celts. Who were they, where did they really come from, what do we actually know about them and how they lived? In this, the first of a series, I will attempt to answer the first question – Who were they?
The Celts in Europe
The origin of these peoples seems to lie partially in the inhabitants of north-Alpine Europe. The people here are known to archaeologists as the ‘Urnfield People’ because of their burial rites. They cremated their dead, and buried the ashes in cemeteries known as ‘Urnfields’. Their culture is spread from about 1300-700 BC and there is evidence to suggest that they spoke a recognisably Celtic language.
Between 700 and 600 BC, there seems to have been a partial change in burial rite in central Europe, connected with the iron-using ‘Halstatt’ culture. The graves which gave their name to this phase were found at Halstatt in the Salzkammergut in Austria. (Painting of grave goods shown above – image Public Domain) Much of the wealth of these people came from salt mines and saline springs; salt was a much valued commodity, and could be traded for rich articles associated with burials. The burial rite changed in that the bodies were laid out un-burnt on four-wheeled chariots, and covered by an earthen mound.
In about 500 BC, further changes apparently took pace. The centre of Celtic power moved to the Middle Rhine. At burials, the bodies were now laid out in the light, two-wheeled chariots which were to become typical Celtic vehicles of war. This second, and most typically Celtic phase, is known as ‘La Tène’. The name was taken from the discovery of a (presumably ritual) deposit of metalwork in the lake at La Tène (The Shallows) on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The La Tène culture brought with it a glorious new art style.
From about 450 BC, movement and expansion of these barbarian people can be traced. It seems that bands of these people made their way down into the Italic peninsula, over-running Etruria,  settling there and further south, and, in 390 BC, pushing into Rome. Others went further east, into Asia Minor (Turkey), and in 279 BC they made an unsuccessful attack on Delphi.
The Classics tell us that the Celts were organised into tribes. The Greeks and Romans make comments on their social organisation, and some of their habits and customs, and much of this information can be regarded as genuine.
After the fatal attack on Delphi, it would seem that the Celtic retreat commenced, although a few Celts remained in the east for many centuries.
The Celts in Britain
There is archaeological evidence to suggest that there were Celts of Halstatt ancestry in north-eastern Scotland as early as 600 BC and settlements of people of Halstatt origin from France and the Low Countries would appear to have taken place about 500-450 BC. The initial settlement of these people occurred on the east coast of Yorkshire, and in the south and east. These Halstatt derived cultures are grouped by archaeologists under Britain Iron Age A.  *
Although elements of the La Tène culture were present from the first, the next movement into Britain seems to have taken place about 250 BC. These settlers came across to the east and south coasts, and spread to the south and west. It was these people who introduced the two-wheeled war chariots and, of course, the La Tène art style. It is not known however whether it was these people or their Halstatt predecessors who introduced the Druidic priesthood to preside over religious rites. These, and other bearers of La Tène derived cultures, are contained within the British Iron Age B.
The third phase of Celtic settlements is contained within British Iron Age C. It consists of the influx of Belgic peoples who settled in southern Britain. This movement can be dated to around 100 BC. These people may have introduced the art of enamelling, and brought over the gods and cult symbols from Gaul. It would appear that it was the hostility of this group of people towards the Romans, that was the main reason for Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC. Between this date and Claudius’ conquest in AD 43, further Belgic settlements took place.
The south soon settled down to Roman rule, although the north put up opposition, and in the years between the two Roman invasions there was a great deal of movement to the north by those anxious to escape the Roman domination.
Scottish versions of the Iron Age A cultures of England were present, and trade relations show some connection between southern Scotland and the Iron Age C (Belgic) area of southern England. After the establishment of Roman rule, restless tribes beyond Hadrian’s Wall put up resistance, especially the Maeatae, and the Caledonii, who were the fore-runners of the historical Picts.  (Information on Celtic settlement in Scotland was and remains, for the time being, somewhat confused.)
Certain Celtic Peoples
Information about which Celtic tribes settled where is confused, because for much of the Celtic era, the results of archaeology and history cannot be made to coincide. More is known about certain tribes than others. The La Tène culture was certainly important and, as we have seen, was known for its art. Yet these people were masters of many other techniques. Not only could they inlay metals, but long before the invention of the necessary rolling equipment, they were also capable of producing the finest iron. They even seem to have mastered the art of casting soft iron, a technique once thought to have been perfected only in the nineteenth-century. They could boil ornamental glass, coloured and white, and they knew how to enamel. They could cover copper objects with tin, and may have been the first people in the world to silver them with mercury. They devoted much care to the manufacture of weapons. the chain-mail of Celtic princes could have stood comparison with those of the high middle ages, if stone representations have been correctly interpreted.
The Celts of Gaul were apparently most hospitable people, never locking their doors, and always welcoming passers-by. The Gauls were known to Caesar as ‘Galli’ and to the Greeks as ‘Galatae’.
On the other hand, the Cisalpine (on this side, i.e. the Roman side of the Alps) and Transalpine Gauls (across the Alps, i.e. the other side) used to cut off the heads of defeated enemies and hang them up, like trophies, outside their houses.  The Gauls were described by Diodorus  thus:
“They are very tall in stature. Their hair is blond, but not naturally so; they bleach it, washing it in lime and combing it back from the foreheads. Some of them are clean-shaven, but others, especially those of high rank, shave their cheeks but leave a moustache that covers the whole mouth.”
According also to Diodorus, the Transalpine Gauls were men of few words who spoke in riddles, leaving most of their meaning hidden, and he thought them intelligent and capable of learning. Yet Strabo  found these same Transalpines simple-minded and limited. Much of what we can learn about the Celts is, of course, subject to such opinion.
 Etruria – a former region of Italy between the Tiber, the Apennines, and the River Magra. The Etruscans were a superior intellectual Aryan race originating from Asia Minor. Although they settled in Italy, they were different from and far more advanced than their Italian neighbours. They spoke a strange language, all traces of which have unfortunately been lost.
 More on these groupings can be found in Pagan Celtic Britain – Anne Ross p39
 Generally regarded to be Celts – they could merely have been Picti – the painted people (more of which in the next part of this series) or they could have been Pictones, a conquering aristocracy from Pictavia, or Poitou. Anne Ross believes they originated form the Caledonii Op cit p41
 Diodorus says that they preserved the heads in wooden boxes.
 Diodorus (Sicilus) of Sicily was a Greek historian. His 40 books were a universal history from mythical beginnings to the time of Caesar. He used varied literary sources with little judgement of his own, and often without regard to exact chronology. For certain periods, though, he provides the best evidence available.
 Strabo was a Greek geographer. He lived from about 58 BC-25 AD. He spent his life in travel and study. His Geographica in 17 books included in Book 4 a study of Gaul, Britain and Ireland, although the countries he travelled through were not described with equal accuracy and fullness. (Below – Strabo’s map of Europe – Public Domain)
The Celts – Gerhard Herm
Celtic Britain – Lloyd Laing
The World of the Celts – G Dottin
*The classification of the Iron Age is, according to archaeologist and author Louise Turner, in a state of ‘flux’ at the moment. For more information visit Here
This article first appeared on the EHFA Blog Site on July 1st, 2016
It is not often that the early medieval chroniclers provide us with specific dates. And of a period about which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is almost silent – Aethelflaed’s ‘reign’ – we are incredibly lucky to have not one date, but two, while the second date enables us to identify a third. The Chronicle tells us that she died on June 12th, 918. But the third, implied, date is the one that interests me today: June 19th, two years before her death, and exactly 1100 years tomorrow.
The ‘C’ Chronicle of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, incorporating the annals known as The Mercian Register, tells us:
“In this year before midsummer, on 16th June, the day of the festival of St Quiricus the Martyr, abbot Ecgberht, who had done nothing to deserve it, was slain together with his companions. Three days later Aethelflaed sent an army into Wales and stormed Brecenanmere [at Llangorse lake near Brecon] and there captured the wife of the king and thirty-three other persons.”
We cannot know much about the unfortunate abbot, (a search of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England [PASE] reveals only that single mention of him) save that he was sufficiently dear to Aethelflaed that she was prepared to avenge his life in such a forceful manner.
So what can we discover about Brecenanmere, and the unnamed king, whose wife was captured?
In his book, The Making of Mercia, Ian Walker says that the Mercian Register “… records the destruction of the royal crannog of Tewdr, king of Brycheiniog, on Llangorse lake in Brecon and the capture of his queen.”
PASE lists two kings named Tewdwr. One of them is the father of Elise and both of these men are mentioned in Asser’s Life of Alfred  as having submitted to Alfred. Alfred died in 899 so either of these men could, in theory, have still been alive and militarily active in 916.
The other Tewdwr is listed as Tewdwr ap Griffi ab Elise, who, as Teowdor, Subregulus, witnessed a charter of King Athelstan in 934.  The Welsh system of patronymics suggests that he must have been the grandson of Elise, although Kari Maund names him as Tewdwr ab Elise, suggesting a closer consanguineal relationship 
We cannot know why this abbot was killed, or why a king who had submitted to Alfred the Great chose to anger Alfred’s daughter in this way. Perhaps he fancied his chances against a weak female ruler. At this time, the king of Wessex was Alfred’s son, Aethelflaed’s brother, Edward the Elder. He and his sister were engaged in an active campaign of building fortified towns, such as the fortress at Chirbury (on the Welsh/English border, in 915) and perhaps there were hostilities between the English and the Welsh which have gone unrecorded.
In 916 Edward is recorded as being engaged in Essex, building a fortress at Maldon. Is it possible that this King Tewdwr thought that Aethelflaed, a mere woman, would do little in retribution while her brother was busy elsewhere? We cannot know, because as previously mentioned, we have few specific dates and only know that Edward was in Essex in ‘the summer.’ Tempting as it is to join these two facts together, we cannot be certain.
There can be no doubt, though, that Edward was busy, and that he trusted his sister with power and authority. Her husband, Ethelred of Mercia, had died in 911 but had, for some years before that, been incapacitated in some form. Edward, whilst minting Mercian coins in his name, had allowed Aethelflaed to lead Mercia during her husband’s prolonged illness and in 911, although Edward took control of London and Oxford, previously handed to Mercia by Alfred, he left his sister as nominal head of Mercia.
Brother and sister worked as a team in 917: while Edward built fortresses at Towcester and Wigingamere (unidentified), and received the submission of ‘Viking’ armies of Northampton, East Anglia, and Cambridge, Aethelflaed took the borough of Derby, one of the prized ‘five boroughs’ which Edward had vowed to prise back out of the invaders’ hands.  In 907, Chester had been ‘restored’  although no mention is made of the person who led the army which starved the occupying Vikings out. Professor Simon Keynes confirmed my suspicion that it is safe to assume that Ethelred was, by this point, unwell, and that in all likelihood it was Aetheflaed who took the fight to the walls of Chester.
We have therefore, enough evidence, however scant in detail, from 907 and 917, to be comfortable with the notion that she led an army into Wales. What would she have found there?
The ‘crannog’ mentioned above probably looked something like this:
It seems likely that this was the only crannog in Wales and the museumwales website  has this to say:
“The crannog was carefully constructed of brushwood and sandstone boulders, reinforced and surrounded by several lines of oak plank palisade. Tree-ring dating of the well-preserved timbers has established that they were felled between AD889 and AD893. The site seems to have been influenced by Irish building techniques, and was possibly constructed with the assistance of an Irish master craftsman.
The kings of Brycheiniog claimed to be descended from a part-Irish dynasty, and their use of such an unusual and impressive construction may have enhanced their political standing and strengthened their claims to Irish ancestry.”
Of Aethelflaed’s attack, the site says: “This record of an attack probably refers to the crannog, and the capture of the wife of king Tewdwr ap Elisedd. During excavation, a charred, burnt layer was uncovered – probably representing this attack.”
If this was indeed the structure which Aethelflaed attacked, and where she took a queen prisoner, then this place was being used at a royal ‘llys’, a high status secular site. Tewdwr himself obviously survived this battle, but of course we cannot be sure if he was even in residence on the day in question. The only information we have is that his wife and thirty three other persons were captured. Conjecture is the preserve of the novelist, and I had a lot of fun filling in the gaps of this particular incident, but the historian cannot afford such luxuries.
What we can infer, though, is that retribution was swift but relatively merciful. The Chronicle mentions the killing of the abbot, but no revenge killings of any high-status Welsh. Aethelflaed had no further trouble from beyond the border. As we have seen, she went on to retake Derby (although the chronicle laments the loss of “four of her thanes, who were dear to her.”)
Early in 918, she obtained control of Leicester (another of the five boroughs and, later in the year, the second battle of Corbridge, involving Ragnall against the Scots with the English Northumbrians, seems to have brought the people of York, wishing for a strong southern ally against Ragnall and his Norse Vikings, to Aethelflaed’s court, seeking her assistance.
What at first glance seems an unlikely entry in an 1100-year old chronicle, that a woman marched into another country to avenge a death of a friend, seems more plausible when we piece together all we know of Aetheflaed’s life. However few those facts are, they add up to one – that she was indeed, a remarkable woman.
 Asser Vit.Alfredi 80
 Charter S425 King Athelstan to Ælfwald, minister; grant of 12 hides (cassatae) at Derantune. (probably Durrington, Sussex)
 The Welsh Kings – Kari Maund (Tempus)
 the five boroughs: Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.
 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
(all images in the public domain, unless credited)
This article first appeared in the EHFA Blog on June 18th 2016
The treatises discussed here were modest products of the age of high scholasticism and of the heydey of high farming on the estates of the great English landlords. The development of education in the 12th century meant that every aspect of life was potentially a subject for study. The more scientifically oriented scholars led the field in writing treatises on practical matters, and it comes as no surprise that Robert Grosseteste was the author of the first known treatise on estate management, for as a bishop he was himself faced with the problems of the duties of a great landlord.
The subsequent literature on estate management, (the Seneschaucy, Walter, and the Husbandry,) were written really for a rising profession of estate administrators who were learning outside the universities by studying practical manuals.
Literate administration is typical of the 12th and 13th centuries. It developed in the royal exchequer where the earliest surviving accounts date from 1130, and a treatise of exchequer methods was written in the 1170s. From there it spread to the estates of the great magnates.
The Rules –
Was compiled in French, for the use of the Countess of Lincoln, from 1240-42. It was based on a set of Latin rules which Robert Grosseteste had issued for his own officers of household and estate. It consists of two sets of rules, one for the management of estate, and one for the seignorial household. Grosseteste is named as the author but the deep knowledge shown within it suggests that someone else was brought in to expand the bishop’s ideas. The larger part of the treatise, dealing with the supervision of a baronial household, was not suitable for application to monastic households, and this may explain the limited circulation of the Rules at first.
“Here begin the rules that the good bishop of Lincoln, S. Robert Groseteste, made for the Countess of Lincoln to guard and govern her lands and hostel:
The first rule teaches how a lord or lady shall know in each manor all their lands by their parcels, all their rents, customs, usages, services, franchises, fees, and tenements.”
In the later half of the 13th century, six copies were included in legal compilations however, and, translated into Latin, the treatise was revised to apply to clerical households.
The Seneschaucy and Walter –
Are the most widely known representatives of literature on estate management. They are closely linked, and it has been argued that Walter was in fact based on the Seneschaucy. Both were compiled for the legal public. The author of the Seneschaucy was unknown when the archetype of the principal tradition of copies was written. The author of Walter is known by name and calling, but there is still uncertainty about his background or the estate where he gained his experience as a bailiff. Both treatises were compiled for use on estates in the Midlands, because Walter of Henley refers to the two and three-field rotations of cultivation in some of his comments to the Seneschaucy; some information in Walter suggests a possible link with districts of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The author of the Seneschaucy described the management and procedure of accounting on large seigneurial estates known to us from surviving records; Walter of Henley commented on certain points in the Seneschaucy, keeping to the same order; he outlined practices of Husbandry, some common but others unusual and apparently drawn from personal experience. He also taught the costing of certain principal expenses on the estate, such as ploughing and the keeping of plough-beasts; or the methods of assessing and checking certain yields, such as that from the dairy.
“It is usual and right that plough beasts should be in the stall between the feast of St Luke and the feast of the Holy Cross in May, five and twenty weeks, and if the horse is to be in condition to do his work, it is necessary that he should have very night at the least the sixth part of a bushel of oats…”
His advice was often difficult to accept, even to understand. To make his points he chose round figures, and his examples must not be taken at face value. For his advanced knowledge, Maitland called him a reformer, (The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland) and many of his contemporaries called him a ‘wise man’.
Neither treatise was written for the lords of manorial estates. Few landlords with sufficient land to employ a staff of officers, including stewards and bailiffs, would themselves have had time or inclination to take an active part in the administration and farming of their manors, while lords of small estates would have no need for an account of the duties and qualifications of high-ranking estate officers whom they would not wish to employ; but this did not stop some copyists from advocating the perusal of the texts by manorial lords.
The Seneschaucy was copied within the legal circle for which it had been compiled and is found hardly anywhere else. Walter appealed to a larger audience. Although written for and copied by lawyers, its instructions on farming attracted the monastic lords, among them especially Canterbury Cathedral Priory, and it aroused the interest of agriculturists, naturalists and antiquarians long after the Seneschaucy had gone out of circulation.
The plan of the Seneschaucy has a clear division into three parts. The office of steward, the work of bailiff and reeve, and the supervision of the manor by auditors and the lord. Walter of Henley, known to have become a friar preacher in middle life, cast his text in the form of a sermon, the advice of a father to his son.
“The father having fallen into old age said to his son, Dear Son, live prudently towards God and the world … if you can approve your lands by tillage or cattle or other means beyond the extents, put the surplus in reserve … why? I will tell you …”
The construction of the treatise is precise, even within the three main divisions – prologue, text and epilogue – and the phrasing and the use of proverbs show that the author had undergone his training as a preacher before he wrote the book.
“For it is said in in the English proverb, One year or two, wrong will on hand go, and ever at an end, wrong will wend.” And “The English proverb says, He that stretches farther than his whittle will reach, in the straw his feet he must stretch.”
The careful arrangement of both treatises suggest that their authors had been trained in the construction of texts, possibly at a university, where teaching was of a precise character and pupils were asked to copy and learn by heart the compositions written by their masters; a method advocated in the introduction of one tradition of the Seneschaucy.
It is doubtful whether the anonymity of the author had any influence on the more drastic treatment afforded to the Seneschaucy as compared with the given to Walter, since plagiarism had been accepted practice. It is more likely, however, that the central theme of the Seneschaucy, a discussion of the offices of the estate personnel n one type of estate, could easily be adapted to suit others by merely altering the details. Two revised versions of the Seneschaucy made during its early history are known. One, made c1290 by a lawyer imprisoned in the Flete Prison, and included in the extensive legal compilation known as the Fleta, is a conflation of the Seneschaucy and Walter. This revision was adapted for use on a small lay estate, smaller than that described in the Seneschaucy. Only one steward was in charge of the estate and household and the bailiff had for this reason greater independence.
The other revision, presumed to have been written by John of Longueville, a Northampton lawyer, c1300 for the use of lay lords, enlarges on the duty of the auditors. Although several copyists had very early, in the history of Walter, made deliberate omissions, additions, or alterations, no revision was made of the treatise apart from Fleta before the 15th century. At that time, long after the interest in the literature on estate management had waned, Walter was still copied, translated into Latin or English, and rewritten for its naturalist or farming content as well as for its antiquarian interest.
The Husbandry –
And 34 other texts deal with different aspects of accounting, such as the form of the account, the auditing, the procedure of compiling the data for the account, the assessment and the check of yields or profits etc.
Typical chapter headings in the Husbandry include: “How one must pay labourers in August and in time of haymaking” and “How the land ought to be measured.”
The Husbandry, that is to say a revised version of the treatise, is extant in many copies. The original consisted, first, of a collection of memoranda, yield tables, ready reckoners, and advice on auditing obtained from different sources, and grouped as an auditor would have wished in order to consult them at the audit; second, of some chapters discussing various duties:
“The provost must cause all the hairs of the avers to be gathered to make ropes for which he shall have need, and he must cause hemp to be sown in the court to make ropes for the waggons, for harness and other necessary things, and an allowance must be paid for making them, if there is anyone in the court who knows how to do so. For repairing houses, hedges, walls and ditches if need be an allowance must be paid according to what is right. And the provost must not buy, sell, receive or deliver anything unless by tally and good witness. And the provost must make all the servants of the court when they come for their labour work in the court in threshing corn or making walls or ditches or hedges or other works in the court to save money. And if there is a servant who knows how to do work in the court for which it would be necessary to pay another highly, let him do the work and pay another in his place. The seneschals or head-bailiffs ought to see all purchases and all sales that the provosts or under-bailiffs make to see that they are well made and to the lord’s profit.”
Author and date are unknown but it appears from the date of the extant copies and from internal evidence that the author apparently knew Walter, and that the compilation was made after Walter, but before 1300, by someone familiar with the conditions on the estates of Ramsey Abbey. The original version is transmitted only in the copy included in the remembrancer of the Abbot of Ramsey; The revision – extant in several copies – circulated with few exceptions among monastic houses.
The value of these treatises to the historian cannot be underestimated – they contain a wealth of information about ideas on estate management. They were written at a time of great learning, and reflect how widespread this renaissance had been – stretching into every field of learning. This is especially true when we consider that these treatises were indeed written to be studied and not just observed. If followed, these treatises would provide invaluable help to those faced with the duties of estate management.
This article first appeared on the EHFA Blog site on Thursday June 9th 2016