Archive for August 2014

‘Out of Darkness Cometh Light’: Wolves celebrate 125 Years at Molineux.   1 comment

Mercian Origins

A century and a quarter ago, on Monday 2nd September 1889 at 5.30 p.m. a crowd of around 3,900 spectators gathered at ‘Molineux’ (pronounced ‘MOL-i-new’)the new home ground of Wolverhampton Wanderers to watch a friendly game against their Midland rivals Aston Villa. The previous year, ‘Wolves’ had joined the Football League for the 1888/89 season, playing their first ever league fixture on their sloping pitch at Dudley Road on 8 September 1889, a 1-1 draw, also with the Villa.

 The club had come into being in 1877 when St Luke’s school in Blakenhall formed a football team, which became Wolverhampton Wanderers a couple of years later when it merged with Blakenhall Wanderers cricket club. They soon became known popularly as ‘The Wolves’, since the town’s name comes from the Mercian royal Saxon name of Wulfrun or Wulfhere, derived from the totemic Wolf symbol, the townspeople are known as Wulfrinians, and the town’s nickname is ‘Wolftown’ (the suffixes ‘ham’ and ‘ton’ referred to a fortified farmstead, or manor in Saxon times).

 The Molineux Family

In simple terms, Molineux takes its name from the family that owned and lived on the site in the eighteenth century. The ancestors of the Molineux family brought their name to England in the wave of migration after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and, like many Norman-French noble names, is a reference to the family’s place of residence prior to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Moulineaux-Sur-Seine, near Rouen, in Normandy, which is the site of Castle Molineux. The Norman-English family settled on the manors they were given and developed into two branches, one in Lancashire, around Merseyside especially, and the other throughout Nottinghamshire. A third branch settled around Calais and settled in Staffordshire as merchants and makers of woollen cloth in the time of Isabella of France’s reign over England, during the first half of the fourteenth century, first as wife of Edward II and then as Regent to her son, Edward III, whose taxes on the wool trade brought Flemish weavers and wool-workers to settle and begin the domestic industry and trade in woollens in England. Wolverhampton then became an important wool town and, as the trade progressed, famous throughout Europe.

The dawning of the industrial era created a great deal of wealth for those who had the vision, craft and acumen to capitalise on the the technological innovation that followed the Quaker ironmaster, Abraham Darby’s successful introduction of coke smelting in 1709.  In these early stages of the revolution in iron production in Shropshire and Staffordshire, which led to the area becoming known as ‘the Black Country’, John Molineux (b. 1675) was an ironmonger, supplying manufacturers with their raw materials, then selling their finished goods. He became an extremely successful and wealthy businessman. He began by selling Black Country hardware such as brass and iron in Dublin, then returned to Wolverhampton and set himself up as an ironmaster in Horseley Fields, where he had two houses with workshops at the back. John and his wife Mary had five sons and three daughters. Their fifth and youngest son, Benjamin, became an ironmonger like his father, and ran his uncle Daniel’s warehouse in Dublin, where he stored and sold all kinds of goods such as locks, hinges, tools, and saddler’s goods. He also sold Birmingham-made steel toys. At the time, the trade between Britain and the West Indies had  increased greatly, and so Benjamin exported many of his goods to that region. He also imported Jamaica rum, and in 1775 opened a Jamaica rum warehouse in Wolverhampton, where he also became a banker. He invested in the local canals, and made many astute loans, becoming one of the most successful businessmen in the area. Another of their children, Thomas, also became wealthy and built himself a large house in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton. The house, which was built in 1751, had imposing entrance gates, and an ornamental garden that extended to Pipers Row. Thomas married Margaret Gisborne on the 5th August, 1732, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. They had nine sons and three daughters, most of whom died in infancy.


001The family residence in Tup Street, Wolverhampton, which became known as ‘Mr Molineuxe’s Close’, came into the possession of the family in 1744 after the death of the original owner, John Rotton, who owed Benjamin Molineux £700. The beneficiaries of his will (his wife, and his business partner Richard Wilkes), agreed to sell the property, and around eight acres of surrounding land, to the Molineux family to pay off the debt. Little is known about the original property, which was probably built around 1720. 001 (2)The Molineux family extended the house, and added a fine rear extension, which looked even better than the main façade. What is certain that by 1750 work had finished on the house, and the rear formal garden, because they appear on Isaac Taylor’s map (see opposite), which was drawn during that year. By the time the ‘Tithe Map’ was published, in 1842, it had become known as ‘Molineux House’. It stood proudly on a hill overlooking extensive gardens, with delightful views of the Clee Hills and the Wrekin, together with panoramic views of Chillington and the woods. one of the largest houses in the town.

Benjamin Molineux died in 1772, by which time the family had already become accepted into the ranks of the local gentry.  They continued to reside in Molineux House until 1856, the last family occupant being Charles Edward Molineux. On 6 April 1859, the house was advertised for sale by private treaty, being described as ‘a handsome and spacious mansion, with extensive out-offices, buildings, coach-houses, stabling, and beautiful grounds, plus gardens, pool, elegant conservatory and greenhouses, four and a half acres within the walls.  A further three-and-a-half extending from the grounds of Molineux House and fronting the Waterloo Road could be purchased separately.

002So it was that the estate was bought in 1860 by Mr O E McGregor, obviously another man with a vision. He retained the name ‘Molineux Grounds’, spending seven thousand pounds on returning the house to its former glory, and converting the rest of the estate into a pleasure park, which he then opened to the public for a small admission fee. The ‘Grounds’, the first park of its kind in Wolverhampton, boasted a number of different attractions, including a skating rink, a boating lake with fountain, croquet lawns, flower-beds, walkways and lawns, plus amenities for football and cricket, and soon became established as a popular place of recreation, with many fetes and galas being held there, including the 1869 South Staffordshire Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition.

The Wolves arrive at the Molineux Grounds, 1889

003By 1872, the grounds had been further developed to include a number of other attractions, and the arena facilities were used to stage a number of sporting events including cycle racing, football and cricket matches. When, subsequently,  Northampton Brewery acquired the entire site, they converted Molineux House into a hotel and, in 1889 rented the grounds to Wolverhampton Wanderers for a very low annual rent of fifty pounds.

They calculated that they could make many times that from the thirsty thousands who would attend each match. By 1901, the building was purchased by W. Butler & Co., the Wolverhampton brewers. It still maintained it architectural attraction when I went to watch games with my father in the 1960s and 70s (see photo left), but closed in 1979 and the fine old building was allowed, tragically, to fall into dereliction.

005The Wolves had first played a game on ‘The Molineux Grounds’as they were then known, in 1886, losing 2-1 to their neighbours, Walsall Town in the final of the Walsall Cup. In 1888, the club reached its first FA Cup final, losing 1-0 to Preston North End. The new grounds matched the growing aspirations of the committee members who decided to accept the offer to move to the Molineux Leisure Grounds, and so the ‘legendary’ Molineux story began.

Prior to playing on the Dudley Road pitch, from 1881, Wolves had played on three other sites, starting at Windmill Field, Goldthorn Hill, from 1877 to 1879, then John Harper’s Field, Lower Villiers Street, from 1879 to 1881, and occasionally at the cricket ground of Blakenhall Wanderers, one of the founding clubs. The quality of all these pitches left a great deal to be desired, so now the team had a far better surface on which to match themselves against the best opposition in the new Football League.

However, before Wolves could move into their new home, the land between the house and the track had to be cleared of trees, fencing had to be removed and the bandstand had to be pulled down. The lake was drained and filled in and the iron bridge that spanned its narrowest point was dismantled. The brewery paid for the construction of players’ changing rooms, refurbished the existing three hundred-seat grandstand and built a shelter alongside this to house a further four thousand spectators on a raised embankment, with a further narrow cinder bank on the north side of the pitch. Thus, MOLINEUX was built and opened.

004 (3)From the grandstand and the new embankments, the spectators watched ‘The Wolves’ beat ‘The Villa’ 1-0, with centre-forward Wykes scoring the winning goal with a low shot. Of course, there were no floodlights then, hence the 5.30 kick-off, allowing just enough time for the local supporters and players to walk or cycle there from work. Apparently, upon entering the ground, many could hardly recognise the place. The freshly-laid 115 x 75 yard pitch looked as level as a billiard-table. Chairman of the Wanderers Committee, Councillor Hollingsworth, kicked off for Wolves. After the game, seventy people, players, friends and officials, were entertained to dinner at the Molineux Hotel. Five days later, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, at 4.20 p.m. (the game having been delayed by the late arrival of the visitors), Wolves kicked off their first League fixture at the ground.

Their opponents that day were Notts County, whom they beat 2-0. Once again, the turn-out was below capacity, at only four thousand. This shows that ‘Association Football’ had not yet captured the imagination of the people of Wolverhampton, especially with the cricket season not yet over. Throughout the first part of that season, the ‘gates’ only rarely reached five thousand, but the Boxing Day match against Blackburn Rovers attracted nineteen thousand, vindicating the faith of both the Committee and Butler’s brewery.  Interestingly, yesterday’s clash (30 August 2014) with Blackburn in the Football League Championship attracted just over 21,000 to the new all-seater Molineux, whose capacity is 32,000.  Wolves went on to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup in their first season at Molineux, and eventually won the FA Cup in 1893, reaching the final again in 1896.

During these pioneering years, the Molineux Hotel hosted a number of meetings for the Football League, and in March 1891 the ground played host to England’s international with Ireland, which the home nation won 6-1. It was also chosen to host the 1892 FA Cup semi-final, and three more semi-finals and a further international match followed, but its basic facilities for spectators soon fell behind those of its neighbours, including West Bromwich Albion. It changed little until a curved roof was built over half of the north end, in 1911, made from corrugated iron, earning it the nickname ‘the Cowshed’, which was where I stood as a boy, the name still in use then, despite the demolition of the original structure in the 1920s.

Molineux in the Twentieth Century

006In 1923, the club bought the Molineux freehold from the brewery and Wolverhampton Wanderers Limited came into being.  However, they had to wait another thirty years to win the old First Division Championship (now replaced by the ‘Premiership’). Following their title-winning season in 1953-54, Wolves played hosts to a number of European club sides under the new floodlights at Molineux. The most famous of these was the game against Budapest Honved, the crack team of the Hungarian Army, eight of whom, including captain Ferenc Puskás, had been in the team which had beaten England 6-3 at Wembley (the first time England had lost to a continental side on home soil), and 7-1 in Budapest in the previous season.

T011he Hungarian national team should have won the World Cup that summer in Switzerland, but were beaten in the final by a West German side which came from 2-0 down at half-time to win 3-2. The England team did not meet the Hungarians in the finals, so this club match at Molineux was billed as the chance for revenge for Billy Wright (Wolves and England captain) and his boys. Again, Honved went 2-0 up in the first quarter of an hour, but Wolves came back to win 3-2 in a match which was televised live (my cousin watched it in his national service barracks). The Hungarian uprising of 1956 put paid to this magnificent Magyar team, who were touring at the time, but two years later, almost to the day, a benefit match was played, again floodlit, with MTK (Red Banner) Budapest. The team included Hidegkuti at centre-forward, and three other internationals, and raised 2,300 pounds for the Hungarian Relief Fund. The 1-1 scoreline was largely irrelevant, and the match did not live up to the heritage of the Hungarians, no matter how hard they tried, though Hidegkuti and Palotas combined brilliantly at times. What may better be remembered was the speech of the Wolves Chairman, James Baker, at the pre-match banquet, when he referred to the Wolves’ motto ‘out of darkness cometh light’, and hoped that very soon that would be the way in their native land.

006‘Fast-forward’ nearly forty years, to December 1993, and the Hungarians were again in town, having emerged from more than three decades of ‘darkness’ into the light in 1989. To mark the opening of the stand completing the ‘new Molineux’ on 7 December 1993, a capacity crowd of 28,245 watched the visitors, Kispest Honved, hold Wolves to a 2-2 draw. For the first time in nine years, Molineux was once more a four-sided stadium. Interestingly, just prior to kick-off there was a short delay due to problems with the floodlighting. Once again, the message went out (with a touch of Black Country humour this time!): ‘Nothing to worry about, for as all Wolves fans know – Out of Darkness Cometh Light!’ In this 1993/94 season, on the fiftieth anniversary of their first floodlit games at Molineux, it was fitting that Wolverhampton Wanderers were back again in the top flight of English football.

014Twenty seasons later, and Wolves are already in third place in the Championship, promising an early return to the Premiership, after dropping two divisions and gaining promotion last season. Let’s hope that after celebrating 125 years at Molinuex, Wolves can again return to the top flight, where a club with such a great history as theirs, truly belongs. But then, success in the modern game is no longer based on heritage and tradition, if it ever was.

 Printed Source:

John Shipley (2003),  Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1953-1980. Stroud: Tempus Publishing.




The Lives and Times of the Chaucers… Part Two   Leave a comment

The Earls and Dukes of Suffolk and the later Chaucers

003 (2)The Earldom of Suffolk was first created in 1336 for Robert de Ufford, a great landowner in the east of the county and, of course, a close attendant of the king, but the Ufford line failed after only two generations and, in 1385, the title was revived for Michael de la Pole. Despite their name, the de la Poles were not soldier-landowners of Norman stock; they were merchants from Hull, originally named Poole, who had added the French prefix in order to become landowners. They rose to prominence by lending money to Edward III. Michael’s father had bought land in Suffolk and married his son into the great local family of Wingfield. Michael won the confidence of the ten-year old Richard II and used his position to extend and consolidate his Suffolk estates. At Wingfield he built an impressive, new, fortified manor house (see above). Still standing, it is the oldest castle in England to have been continuously occupied to this day. However, in 1387 he was hounded out of office by jealous rivals and had to flee to France disguised as a peasant. His son waited eight years to succeed to the title and then held it only for five weeks, before perishing during Henry V’s Agincourt campaign of 1415. The de la Poles were part of the small army which seized Harfleur, but the elder Earl died of dysentery a few days later. His son, the third Earl, then became one of the few English aristocrats to be killed at the Battle of Agincourt. His cadaver was returned for burial at Wingfield.

The lands and dignities of Suffolk now passed to the third Earl’s nineteen-year-old brother, William. As fourth Earl, he played a leading part in the power struggle which broke out at the accession of the infant Henry VI.

William became constable of Wallingford Castle in 1434. In 1437 the Duke constructed the God’s House at Ewelme, a reminder of the de la Pole’s Catholic devotions. William married Thomas Chaucer’s only daughter Alice, by whom she had a son John in 1442 (who became 2nd Duke of Suffolk in 1463). Alice could be both ruthless and acquisitive in pursuit of her son’s inheritance. She was a lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou in 1445, and a patron of the arts.

William worked his way into a position of almost supreme power,  bringing about a marriage between the King and Margaret of Anjou, whom many believed to be his mistress, and dominating the pious, weak-minded Henry. His only strong opponent was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. He removed that obstacle in 1447 by summoning a parliament to meet at Bury St Edmunds, a town which the Earl could easily pack with his own supporters. When Gloucester arrived he was arrested and confined to his lodgings. The following morning the Duke was found dead. Lands, offices and tithes were now de la Pole’s for the taking, and he became the first Duke of Suffolk in the following year.

William was steward of the household to Henry VI, and from 1447 to 1450 was the dominant force in the council and chief minister to the king; as such he was particularly associated with the unpopular royal policies whose failures culminated in the anti-court protest and political violence of Cade’s Revolt in 1450. Drunk with power, de la Pole had pursued his own policies, accrued further wealth, harassed his enemies and was quite open in his contempt for public opinion, which was running strongly against him. He was accused of usurping royal power, committing adultery with the Queen, murdering Gloucester, despoiling men of their possessions, giving away lands in France and plotting to put his own son on the throne.

By 1450 Suffolk’s opponents were strong enough to force him to stand trial and William was impeached by the Commons in parliament, but Henry VI intervened to exile his favourite rather than have him tried by the Lords. Instead, he was banished for five years. Dissatisfied with this, his enemies had him followed to Calais. On his way across the Channel his vessel was intercepted by The Nicholas of the Tower whose crew subjected him to a mock trial, after which the Duke’s head was hacked off by an inexpert sailor with a rusty sword and his body was thrown overboard, a scene made even more gruesome by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part II, in which the bard also makes fun of the name of the great family. William’s remains were recovered from a beach at Dover, and Alice had her husband buried at the Carthusian Priory in Hull, founded in 1377 by his grandfather, Michael de la Pole, first Earl of Suffolk.

After William was killed, his properties including the castle and Honour of Wallingford and St Valery passed to Alice. She lent the Crown 3500 Marks and the king spared the fate of attainder of title. She survived many challenges to her position, including a state trial in 1451. Whilst Alice had benefited from Lancastrian connections, she switched to supporting the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. In 1455 she was custodian of the Duke of Exeter at Wallingford Castle. After her husband’s death, Alice had become even more ruthless and took back many of her friend’s Margaret Paston’s manors in Norfolk, with dubious title deeds. The Pastons now grew to loathe the Yorkist family, notorious for their corruption. William’s heir, John, was the greatest landowner in Suffolk and Norfolk and kept an army of retainers to enforce his will. The Paston family were among those who fell foul of the second Duke on more than one occasion. In 1465 de la Pole sent men to destroy the Pastons’ house at Hellesdon. Margaret Paston reported the incident to her husband:

There cometh much people daily to wonder thereupon, both of Norwich and of other places, and they speak shamefully thereof. The duke had better than a thousand pounds that it had never been done; and ye have the more good will of the people that it is so foully done.

024The second Duke of Suffolk could afford to upset farmers, merchants and peasants. He was married to Elizabeth, the sister of King Edward IV (right). His mother, Alice, remained castellan at Wallingford until at least 1471 and possibly until her death in 1475. In 1472 she became custodian of Margaret of Anjou, her former friend and patron. A wealthy landowner, Alice de la Pole held land in 22 counties, and was a patron to poet John Lydgate, no doubt playing a role in having his poetry printed by William Caxton, along with her grandfather’s works.

005 (2)At a time when unscrupulous men like the Dukes of Suffolk held sway and when feuding, rustling and brigandage were common, householders had to take greater care in protecting their families and property. Given the turmoil of the Wars of The Roses, it is therefore not surprising that, by their end in 1487, with the defeat and death of the second Duke of Suffolk’s son, also John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln, at Stoke Field, there were over five hundred moated houses throughout Suffolk alone. At the upper end were stone fortresses like Framlingham and Wingfield, but a great many were timber-framed farmhouses of quite modest proportions, like Gifford Hall, Wickhambrook (left). The majority were probably built on traditional defensive positions occupied almost continuously since Saxon times. As well as providing security they had a good, well-drained base, important for building in clayland areas. Solid and functional to begin with, they are now picturesque gems and probably the most typically Suffolk items in the county’s architectural treasury. These include Parham Moat Hall and Little Wenham Hall, England’s oldest brick-built house.

The Wool Trade


027The dynastic struggle which engaged the energies of the nobility had little to do with the real history of Suffolk, and indeed that of much of southern England. However, warfare did provide the catalyst for the rapid industrialisation of these parts in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In Edward III’s reign, the government realised that the flourishing trade in wool with the continent could be used to raise money to fund its wars with France as well as an economic weapon in them. It levied swinging taxes on markets and customs duties on ports. The results were dramatic: English merchants quickly turned to more profitable trade and foreign merchants sought more valuable markets. Wool exports, standing at 45,000 sacks in 1350, were halved in thirty years and continued to decline.

010In some wool-producing areas the result was catastrophic, but in Suffolk it was the opposite. The decline in the trade in cheap wool brought about a decline in the Flemish textile industry and the migration of weavers from their depressed homeland. Many of them made use of their contacts in Suffolk and settled there, where the drop in wool exports and cloth imports was already invigorating the local cloth industry. The county not only had sufficient sheep to produce the quantities of wool required, but it also had the skilled labour and the trading network. It also acquired the technical expertise of the Flemish master craftsmen and weavers. Within a generation Suffolk, Essex and parts of Wessex had taken over as Europe’s principal exporters of fine cloth.

Suffolk became a boom area, with insignificant market towns and villages, like Lavenham, being put on the map. Ipswich and Sudbury became busy, populous towns. Over the county as a whole average wealth increased fourfold in the century after 1350. In the centres of the new industry the growth of personal prosperity was much more marked. Lavenham’s assessment for taxation in this period increased eighteen-fold. The annual export of cloths increased throughout the fifteenth century. However, industrial growth was not steady and there were setbacks.

The intermittent upheavals of the Wars of the Roses created difficulties. The Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Norfolk were leading figures in the conflict and this meant that the East Anglian tenants of these great landowners were regularly pressed into fighting for either Lancaster or York. But the real history of the region during this period was being woven on the looms of Lavenham, Clare and Sudbury.

Church-builders, Martyrs, Pilgrims and Puritans

023The evidence for much of this wealth is still to be seen in the merchants’ half-timbered town houses and guildhalls and, above all, in Suffolk’s magnificent wool churches. The lynchpins of the cloth trade were the entrepreneurs, the clothiers, men like Thomas Spryng of Lavenham whose tomb is in the church to which he contributed so heavily, so that it became the finest church in the county. Carved on its south porch, and repeated many times throughout the building, are the boar and molet, the heraldic devices of the de Vere family. They remind us that the rebuilding of this magnificent church was begun as a thanksgiving for the victory of Henry Tudor over Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was Henry’s captain-general and largely responsible for the successful outcome of the battle. When the earl returned shortly afterwards to his manor of Lavenham he suggested to the great clothiers and other leading worthies that a splendid new church would be an adequate expression of gratitude for the new dynasty and era of peace it was ushering in. The shrewd merchant community may well have been sceptical about this. For half a century Yorkist and Lancastrian forces had chased each other in and out of power. There was little reason to suppose that the latest victor would not, in his turn, be removed from his throne. Two years later, a rebellion led by Richard’s nephew, another John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, almost succeeded in doing just that.

053Besides Lavenham, there are also many less well-known, but very fine examples of churches begun in the fifteenth century, the building of which was financed by rich merchants. St Mary’s Woolpit was built on the site of a Saxon church given to St Edmund’s Abbey by Ulfcytel, Earl of East Anglia. The first Norman abbot had the timber church pulled down and a new church built. By the thirteenth century, Woolpit had many well-to-do farmers and prosperous merchants who were organised into two guilds. They collected and distributed alms, caring for the poor and needy, and supervised the upkeep of the church fabric. Early in the fourteenth century the guilds, the patron and the rector agreed that Woolpit needed a new church. Preserving little but the foundations of the Norman building, they rebuilt in the prevailing Decorated style using Barnack stone from Leicestershire and Suffolk oak for the roofs and doors. They added side aisles, partly to accommodate two chantry chapels. In the Mary Chapel, the statue of the virgin became a famous object of devotion, attracting pilgrims from a wide area. The decoration of the new church was completed with a profusion of stained glass, and a variety of wall paintings covering almost every free surface.

001In the fifteenth century, the parishioners, perhaps spurred on by the Perpendicular splendours of nearby Rattlesden, subscribed to extensive alterations in the latest style. They installed a magnificently intricate rood screen and loft, surmounted by a carved canopy, which is still in place. This meant raising the height of the nave which now gained a clerestory and a new roof. The superb double hammer beams with their angels were well illuminated by new windows and originally glowed with poly-chromatic splendour. The north aisle was rebuilt at the same time and, to add the finishing touches to the new church, a beautiful south porch was added with statues of Henry VI and his queen above the doorway.





DSC09849The parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge was begun in about 1400 when Woodbridge was an extremely prosperous port. It rises high on a hill overlooking the town, close to the old market place, with its group of medieval houses. The church suffered desecrations at the time of the Reformation and in the Civil Wars, but the beauty of the original fine craftsmanship can still be viewed. It has an impressive tower which is lavishly patterned in flushwork flint and stone and stands 108 feet high. It was completed in about 1453 when perpendicular architecture was at its zenith.The parapet is considered to be one of the finest in Suffolk. The eight bells inside the tower were originally hung on a massive timber frame with louvred windows, which deflected the sound down over the town.

The magnificent porch was begun in 1455 with a bequest by Richard Gooding and donations by other rich townspeople. Inside, there are fine traceried panels and emblems from the period. In the baptistery there are fourteen preserved panels of the fifteenth century rood screen, which originally comprised as many as thirty-four panels, stretching the entire width of the church.

DSC09854The growth of trade, especially in woolen cloth, the building of stone castles, moated manor houses and magnificent churches, have all shaped the townscapes of much of central and southern England. The growth of important centres of pilgrimage also contributed to the concentration of population in towns and, as had been proved in the case of Bury St Edmunds in the first part of the thirteenth century, it was now impossible for feudal law and custom to apply in urban communities proudly seeking their independence from powerful magnates, be they temporal or spiritual, and no matter how good or bad they seemed.

021002It was not one of the ancient shrines that brought pilgrims from all over Christendom to England, but the drama of the quarrel between Henry II and his former friend and Chancellor, Thomas á Becket, which culminated in Becket’s murder in his own cathedral at Canterbury. It was the starting point for other tales of the performance of many miracles in his name, or by his spiritual intervention. These led on to the canonisation of the martyr. The story of their quarrel and of Becket’s death is full of contradictions and mysteries, belonging to the period of the re-establishment of order after the anarchy of the civil war between supporters of Stephen and those of Matilda, in which Becket was one of Henry’s chief aides. Part of this new order was the founding of an English legal system, the split between the two men coming over whether a cleric committing a crime should be tried in a civil court, or whether he could only be held to account by an ecclesiastical court, with its milder forms of correction, as Becket demanded. This conflict, as at Bury St Edmunds, was one which regularly played itself out in real life. For many then, as now, it seemed that no man, not even a king, could place himself above the law of the land, but in pre-Reformation England, clerics and nuns were set aside through the rites of ordination from their lay brothers and sisters. They were sacramentally different, owing their chief allegiance to the Catholic Church, which alone had the power to judge them. Although this was a mid-twelfth century quarrel, it was one which was not settled four another four centuries, after it had claimed the lives of many more martyrs on both sides.

 003In 1174, four years after Becket’s murder, in the year of Henry II’s penance at Canterbury, a great fire destroyed the choir of the cathedral which had been built by Prior Conrad earlier in the century. Rebuilding started almost immediately and in 1220 the choir was finished, the body of the saint being transferred from the crypt to its new home in a great ceremony in the presence of King Henry III. There it became a treasury of gold and precious stones donated by kings, emperors and nobles. The approach to the high altar and the shrine was by means of a series of steps up from the old Norman nave. In the fourteenth century this was made more magnificent by the rebuilding of the nave and the redesigning of the transepts. With its huge aisle windows flooding the interior with light and its immensely high vaulting, Yevele’s nave is one of the masterworks of the later Gothic in England.

DSC09542The final addition, that of the central tower, Bell Harry, was begun in 1496. By this time, generations of pilgrims had made their ways, by various means, from Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester, Farnham, Sandwich and, of course, from London, taking the route of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, down the Roman road known as Watling Street. The pilgrims would travel together for companionship, for safety, and out of a spirit of common devotion. Other holy places and hostelries (left) en route provided rest and consolation for them on their journeys. Those coming from Southampton would travel via Winchester where the shrine of the Saxon saint, Swithin, had been restored in the thirteenth-century retrochoir within the Norman cathedral. Nearer Canterbury they would sojourn with the Carmelites at Aylesford. The route from London by way of Greenwich and Deptford led to Rochester Cathedral, where the tomb of the Scottish pilgrim, saint William of Perth, murdered on his way to the Holy Land, attracted special veneration. In 1420, a hundred thousand pilgrims visited the shrine.

012The attraction of St Thomas’ shrine was for people of all classes and nations. Among the early Hungarian visitors was the Emperor Sigismund (1387-1437), the Holy Roman Emperor. His sister, Anne of Bohemia, married Richard II at the instigation of Michael de la Pole, the first Earl of Suffolk. She arrived in England in a light-weight covered carriage, or Kocsi (named after the village in Hungary where it was invented), and its relative comfort made it popular with ladies, giving English the word coach, one of the few Hungarian words in English, but one still used frequently both as a noun and a verb. Though the marriage, which took place in 1382, was unpopular at the English Court, for financial reasons, there is evidence that Anne became more popular with time, especially with the ordinary citizens of London, for whom she interceded with her husband. Anne of Bohemia died of plague in 1394, aged only twenty-eight. She is known to have visited Norwich, where a ceiling in a hospital was dedicated to her, and in All Saints Church, Wytham, in Oxfordshire, there is a late-fourteenth century stained glass window depicting royal saints, thought to be likenesses of Anne and Richard. Golafre, like his illegitimate cousin before him, had begun his career in the service of Richard at court, and he paid for the windows to be made in Oxford. Like Richard, Golafre was a great lover of Gothic art forms from across Europe. The church also contains a memorial brass and stone to Julianna Golafre, who married Robert Wytham, probably given by their grand-daughter, Agnes Wytham, who was named by John Golafre as his heir, though she died soon after him in 1444.

009017Anne of Bohemia took a great interest in the writings of John Wycliffe, the reforming cleric from Lutterworth, and in the Lollards, his itinerant preachers. She is said to have introduced Wycliffe’s work to Prague, where it had a strong influence on the Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus. By the end of the fourteenth century, Wycliffite heresies had taken firm root in Suffolk, as they had throughout much of the East Midlands and East Anglia. In villages and towns throughout the county there were groups of Wycliffites, or Lollards who met in secret to study the Bible in English, the well-worn, often-copied tracts which condemned transubstantiation, the orthodox doctrine of the mass, pilgrimages, veneration of images, relics and other superstitions. Beccles and Bungay were centres of vigorous Lollardy, but there was also intermittent activity in Ipswich, Bury, Sudbury, and numerous towns and villages along the Essex border. These probably drew their inspiration from the Lollard group in Colchester, which was, for more than a century before the Reformation, a persistent centre of heresy.

018The Lollards were reacting, in part,to the revival of what they felt were superstitious rites and cults within the church, such as the cult of the Virgin Mary. Only one English shrine equaled that of St Thomas of Canterbury in international fame, that of Walsingham in Norfolk, though St David’s Cathedral in Wales, St Mungo’s in Glasgow Cathedral and St Brigid’s at Kildare in Ireland all attracted pilgrims down the centuries, in addition to serving as centres of holiness and learning.

Walsingham’s fame was based on a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1061 in which the lady of the manor was carried in the spirit to Nazareth and shown the house where the Archangel Gabriel had appeared to Mary. She was told to build an exact copy of the house at Walsingham. She then employed skilled joiners to construct the Holy House of wood, a task which they completed (apparently) with the help of a further intervention by Our Lady and her angels.


004In 1169, the Holy House and the stone church which had been built around it came into the possession of Augustinian canons. They popularised the legends still further and pilgrims began to come from many directions. As with the routes to Canterbury, sojourns were made for them along the way. At Houghton St Giles, a mile outside town, on the road from London known as Walsingham Way, there is a charming,
small chapel, known as the Slipper Chapel (see photo above). Here the pilgrims would hang up their shoes before walking the remaining length of winding road into Walsingham to receive their blessing in the ruins of the abbey and in the shrine where the cult of Mary had been revived.


In Chaucer’s pilgrims, whether on their way to Canterbury or Walsingham, and Wycliffe’s Lollards in Suffolk, we have two distinct pictures of mixed gatherings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These centuries were still about great castes and manor houses, cathedrals and abbeys, but as the language and literature of the English developed, we are able to trace the lives of a greater range of classes and characters.

In the following century, these competing cultures of pilgrimage and the itinerant preaching of the word were destined to come into open conflict with each other, sometimes violently, but also creatively, especially in poetry, drama and music.

Printed Sources:

Derek Wilson (1977), A Short History of Suffolk. London: Batsford.

Robert McCrum (1986), William Cran, Robert MacNeil, The Story of English. London: Penguin.

William Anderson (1983), Holy Places of the British Isles. London: Ebury

The Lives and Times of the Chaucers… Part One   Leave a comment

The Making of The Mother Tongue: The Emergence of Middle English


The making of the English language is the story of three invasions and a cultural revolution. In the simplest of terms, the language was brought to Britain by Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, subtly enriched by British, influenced by Latin and Greek from the Lindisfarne and Augustinian missions, contributed to by Danish, and finally supplemented from Norman French and Flemish.

002From the very beginning it was a crafty hybrid, made in war and peace. By the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, it had become an intelligible common language, one that can be interpreted by modern scholars. Native English-speakers in the British Isles have always accepted the mongrel nature of the language as, in the words of Daniel Defoe,   “Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman English”. There was, alongside this, a vague understanding of its membership of a European language family.

The Hundred Years War with France (1337-1454) provided a major impetus to speak English rather than French. At the same time, the outbreak of The Black Death made labour scarce, thereby accelerating the rise in the status of the English labourer, culminating in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. It caused so many deaths in the monasteries and churches that a new generation of semi-educated, non-French, Latin-speakers took over as abbots and prioresses. After the plague, English grammar began to be taught in schools, to the detriment of French. In 1325, the chronicler William of Nassyngton wrote:

Latin can no one speak, I trow,

But those who it from school do know;

And some know French, but no Latin

Who’re used to Court and dwell therein,

And some use Latin, though in part,

Who if known have not the art,

And some can understand English

That neither Latin knew, nor French

But simple or learned, old or young,

All understand the English tongue.


English now appeared at every level of society. In 1356, the mayor and aldermen of London ordered that court proceedings there be heard in English; in 1362, the Chancellor opened Parliament in English. During the Peasants’ Revolt, Richard II spoke to Wat Tyler, their leader, in English. In the last year of the century, the document by which he was deposed was written in English. Henry IV’s speeches claiming and accepting the throne were also in English. The mother tongue had not only survived, but had become the recognised language of state in England.

001By this time, it had taken the form now known by scholars as Middle English, a term devised in the nineteenth century to describe the language from 1150 to 1500. However, this was not a development from Old English writing, like Beowulf, but rather a written form of a more standardised colloquial English, written as spoken, without the inflections and suffixes of the older form, but with prepositions. There were also a great many variations in pronunciation and spelling, especially with vowel sounds. For example, in the case of byrgen, Modern English has kept the western spelling, bury, while using the Kentish pronunciation, berry, while the same noun can also be spelt burgh or borough and pronounced burra in British English and burrow in American English. The language map of England and northern Britain had not changed much from Anglo-Saxon times, though when written down, it developed strong local forms, which in turn reinforced the variety of speech. Early southern authors who wanted their stories to be read in the north as well as south, had to translate for northern people who could read no other English.

Even Chaucer launched his litel book of Troilus and Criseyde with a prayer that all might understand it, for ther is so great diversite… in writying of oure tonge.


Spoken English differed from county to county, from Essex to Suffolk, as it does today, at least in rural shires. The five main speech areas of Middle English; Northern, West and East Midland, Southern and Kentish, are very similar to contemporary English speech areas. Within the Midlands, the areas around and between Oxford, Stratford and Cambridge shared roughly the same kind of English, which became the standard British English of the last six hundred years.

The First ‘Foundeur’… of our English: Geoffrey Chaucer

002 (2)The career and achievement of one man, Geoffrey Chaucer, exemplifies the triumph of Midland English. By making a conscious decision to write in English, he symbolises the rebirth of English as a national language. Born in 1340 in London, of a middle-class family from Ipswich who had become wealthy in the wine trade, he was educated as a squire in a noble household, later joining the king’s retinue. He began his writing life as a translator and imitator. From 1370 to 1391, Chaucer was busy on the king’s business at home and abroad. He is recorded as negotiating a trade agreement in Genoa, and on a diplomatic mission to Milan, from which he acquired a taste for Italian poetry at a time when Renaissance poetry was in full flower in Florence and other cities. It is likely to have been around this time that he began work on his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, poems which he would either read aloud, as was customary, or, as was increasingly the practice, pass around for reading. In the final years of his life, Chaucer’s career at court faltered, like many others, due to the divisions into Yorkist and Lancastrian factions. The last reference to him comes in December 1399, when he took a lease on a house in the garden of Westminster Abbey. He was buried in the Abbey in 1400.

012He was recognised as a great poet in his lifetime, in both France and England. He took as his subjects all classes of men and women: the Knight, the Prioress, and the famous Wife of Bath. He was alive to the energy and potential of everyday speech. Chaucer wrote in English, but the language of government was still French. Yet, only seventeen years after his death, Henry V became the first English king since Harold Godwinson to use English in official documents, including his will. In the summer of 1415, Henry crossed the channel to fight the French. In the first letter he dictated on French soil, he chose, symbolically, not to write in the language of his enemies. Henry’s predecessor, Edward III, could only swear in English; now it was the official language of English kings. His example made an impression on his people. In a resolution made by the London brewers in the year of Henry’s death, 1422, they decided to adopt English in written form.

013The next step was the adoption of the language in printed form, and for this development we must look at the life and work of William Caxton, who printed the work of Geoffrey Chaucer. Caxton was born and learnt his native tongue in the Weald of Kent, where I doubt not is spoken as broad and rude English as in any place of England. He had a career as a merchant and diplomat, learning the art of printing on the continent and then retired, introducing the press into England around the year 1476, setting up the first one in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. Besides Chaucer, he printed the works of other poets like Gower, Lydgate and Malory; but he also translated best sellers from France and Burgundy, and also wrote and printed his own works. When Caxton settled for reproducing the idiosyncrasies he heard in the streets of London, he and other printers helped to fix the written language before its writers and teachers had reached a consensus. It is to this that English owes many of its chaotic and exasperating spelling conventions.

The Golafres of Suffolk, Berkshire and Oxon.

014Chaucer might very well have based the fictional elements of his knight in The Canterbury Tales on Sir John Golafre, keeper of the King’s Jewels and Plate, and the closest friend and confidant of Richard II. Sir John was the bastard son of Sir John Golafre junior of Fyfield Manor in Berkshire, by his mistress, a leman called Johanet Pulham. His father, Sir John senior was fourth in succession from Sir Roger Goulafre, who had acquired the Manor of Sarsden in the reign of King John. By the fourteenth century, besides continuing to hold the manors granted to them by the Conqueror, the Golafre family had acquired lands in Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. They appeared on the Swan Rolls, which was a sign of great wealth and heritage. Sir John Golafre senior lived on the manor of Fyfield (then in Berkshire, now Oxon).

In 1336, he had inherited the manor from his mother-in-law, Juliana, widow of Sir John de Fyfield. His father, Thomas Golafre, of Sarsden, had been MP for Northampton. The manor house on the village green was probably mostly built by this Sir John Golafre senior, who became an MP for Oxfordshire in 1334, then for Worcestershire in 1337-8, where he seems to have inherited lands at Nafford, becoming the member for Oxon once more in 1340. He died in 1363, leaving the estate to his son, Sir John Golafre (junior). Sir John junior’s relationship with his mistress must have lasted a number of years, since there were also, apparently, two daughters by her, Alice, who became the Prioress of Burnham Priory in Buckinghamshire, and Juliana, who married Robert de Wytham (see below). Sir John Golafre junior died in 1378, leaving no legitimate children, so that Fyfield passed first to his brother, Thomas, and then, when he died the following year, it came eventually to Thomas’ son, John Golafre, who occupied it from 1406.019

However, despite Sir John junior having no other offspring by his two marriages, his legal heir was his nephew, also John, so his bastard son stood little chance of inheriting any of the widespread estates in the southern Midlands and northern Wessex. John the bastard therefore looked to a career in Royal service to make his way in life and he was probably helped in this by his stepmother’s brother, the Master of the King’s Horse, Sir Bernard Brocas. He almost certainly started out as a soldier in the King’s army, serving in France. By 1384, however, John had obtained a placement in the household of King Richard II and was made an Esquire of the King’s Chamber. The following year, John fought bravely with King Richard’s forces during their invasion of Scotland and, there, he was knighted. This clearly brought him to the fore in the King’s favour and, in 1387, he was sent on Royal diplomatic missions, as well as being appointed to the trusted position of Keeper of the King’s Jewels and Plate. Although Sir John was illegitimate, he married one of the co-heiresses of Dunster, Philippa de Mohun. He may have hoped that such a good marriage would help him acquire land. However, when he married Philippa, her mother, Lady FitzWalter, sold off most of her daughters’ inheritance before she could claim it.

Golafre was employed in an embassy to France, in 1389 where he was to act on behalf of King Richard to organise peace negotiations with King Charles VI. However, this brought him into conflict with the Duke of Gloucester and the other English nobles opposed to the ending of War. In the December, orders were issued for his arrest and he was obliged to stay abroad for some time. The eventual French truce agreed in 1389 meant there were now limited opportunities for armed campaigning, but he kept his hand in on the tournament circuit. In March/April 1390, he is recorded amongst the English knights at the famous St. Inglevert tournament near Calais, where Jean Boucicault and his friends challenged all comers, and he rode against Sir Reginald de Roye. They smashed each other’s helmets in the first round, but neither was unhelmed and their lances also survived serious damage. In the second, their horses refused to charge, but, in the third, they struck shields and broke their lances. There were no strikes in the last round and the two retired from the tilting yard.

Back in England, Sir John managed to acquire positions controlling more static military installations. He was appointed Constable of Wallingford Castle in 1389, followed by Flint Castle in North Wales and Nottingham Castle in the Midlands by 1392. In that year, he was also made responsible for ensuring that all yeomen in the King’s household had bows and regular archery practice, so they could act as Richard’s personal bodyguard. Sir John was also made Captain of Cherbourg and continued with his diplomatic duties abroad. In 1394, he was sent to Poland to gather support for the Anglo-French crusade against the Turks. He was away from home for a whole year but, while the exact results of his mission are unknown, few Poles appear to have joined the cause. The following year, he accompanied the King’s forces on their two expeditions to Ireland.

Sir John eventually died at Wallingford Castle on 18th November 1396, aged only about forty-five. He had asked to be buried in the family mausoleum at the Greyfriars’ Church in Oxford but, on his deathbed, King Richard persuaded him that Westminster Abbey was a more fitting site. He was therefore laid to rest under a fine memorial brass adjoining both the shrine of St. Edward and the plot allocated to the King. He left no children but, in his will, he remembered a number of family members, as well leaving the King his best horse, his white-hart badge, gold cup, gold chain and sapphire encrusted stone.

Above left: A 1912 plan of Wallingford Castle: A – Wallingford bridge and ford; B – River Thames; C – city defences; D – bailey; E – motte

The career of Sir John Golafre (junior) overlaps with that of his bastard cousin, and his life runs in parallel with the continuing rise of the Chaucer family and their intermarriage with the de la Poles. This Sir John was the only son of Sir Thomas Golafre (d. 1378) of Radley Manor in Berkshire, by his wife, Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Foxley of Bray, Constable of Windsor Castle. He was the nephew of Sir John Brocas, the Master of the King’s Horse. As his father was a younger son, he, at first, was set to inherit only modest estates in mid-Berkshire but, upon his Uncle John’s death in 1378, followed by his father’s death the next year, he was given considerably more, centred on Fyfield Manor. Through his bastard cousin, King Richard II’s closest friend, he also obtained a position as a squire at the Royal Court in 1395. Unfortunately, his cousin died the following year, but his widow, Philippa (de Mohun), remarried to the King’s cousin, Edmund, the 2nd Duke of York. John was therefore able to retain close connections with the Royal family.

In 1397, after the King’s revenge had been acted out on the Lords Appellant who had tried to curtail his power, John was appointed Sheriff of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. He was elected Knight of the Shire (MP) for Oxfordshire in the same year and, subsequently, became one of the commissioners exercising parliamentary power after Parliament’s dissolution. During the troubles of 1399, John initially continued to support King Richard and he was thrown in prison when the monarch was captured by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. However, when he took the throne as King Henry IV, John found himself obliged to accept the situation and he was allowed to remain sheriff until a successor was found. His various Royal annuities were also quickly re-confirmed, though he was dropped from the Oxfordshire Commission of Peace.

John was elected Knight of the Shire (MP) for Berkshire in 1401, a position he held twelve times over the next thirty years. That same year he married the Earl of Suffolk’s niece, Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Edmund de la Pole of Boarstall Castle in Buckinghamshire. It was the first of three very lucrative marriages for John, although this one did not last long. Elizabeth died, possibly in childbirth, in 1403. The following year, he married Nicola, the daughter & heiress of Thomas Devonish of Greatham in Hampshire and widow of John Englefield (d. 1403) of Englefield House.

By 1408, John had become a close associate of perhaps the most influential man in the local area, Thomas Chaucer, the Constable of Wallingford Castle (in succession to John’s cousin) and sometime Speaker of the House of Commons, as well as his future son-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury. They were involved in numerous land deals together and Chaucer appointed Golafre as Controller and Overseer of Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire. By 1416, John had risen, not only in the estimations of Royalty and nobility, but also in those of all local people, for he was one of the members of the Fraternity of the Holy Cross who made a large contribution to the building of the first Abingdon Bridge. This greatly boosted trade in the town as merchants no longer had to cross the Thames at Wallingford.

Thomas Chaucer (c. 1367 – 18 November 1434), the son of Geoffrey Chaucer and Philippa Roet, seems to have done well from his father’s standing (as both a poet and also an administrator), despite suggestions that Geoffrey Chaucer fell out of favour with Henry IV. Early in life Thomas Chaucer married Matilda (Maud), second daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Burghersh. The marriage brought him large estates, and among them the manor of Ewelme, Oxfordshire. His connection with the Duke of Lancaster was also profitable to him: his mother’s sister, Katherine Swynford, was first the mistress of John of Gaunt, and then his third Duchess of Lancaster. She had four children by John of Gaunt. While Thomas became Duke of Exeter, Joan became Countess of Westmorland and was grandmother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III. Thomas Chaucer’s Beaufort first cousins became even more powerful when their half-brother Henry IV became King. Thomas was able to buy Donnington Castle for his only daughter Alice.

He was Chief Butler of England for almost thirty years, first appointed by Richard II, and on 20 March 1399 received a pension of twenty marks a year in exchange for offices granted him by the Duke, paying at the same time five marks for the confirmation of two annuities of charges on the Duchy of Lancaster and also granted by the Duke. These annuities were confirmed to him by Henry IV, who appointed him constable of Wallingford Castle, and steward of the honours of Wallingford and St. Valery and of the Chiltern Hundreds. At about the same time, he succeeded Geoffrey Chaucer as forester of North Petherton Park in Somerset. On 5 November 1402 he received a grant of the chief butlership for life.

He served as High Sheriff of Berkshire and Oxfordshire for 1400 and 1403 and as High Sheriff of Hampshire for 1413. He attended fifteen parliaments as knight of the shire for Oxfordshire between 1400 and 1431, and was Speaker of the House five times, a feat not surpassed until the 18th century.

In 1414 he also received a commission, in which he is called domicellus, to treat about the marriage of Henry V, and to take the homage of the Duke of Burgundy. A year later he served with the king in France, bringing into the field 12 men-at-arms and 37 archers, and was present at the Battle of Agincourt. In 1417 he was employed to treat for peace with France. On the accession of Henry VI he appears to have been superseded in the chief butlership, and to have regained it shortly afterwards. Thomas Chaucer died at Ewelme Palace in the village of Ewelme, Oxfordshire on 18 November 1434 and is buried in St Mary’s church in the village.

Land transactions with the great and the good continued throughout the 1420s and 30s, including with Chaucer’s daughter, Alice (right), and her third husband, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, a cousin of John’s first wife. The later transactions, releases and demises for the Suffolk manors are listed in Copinger (1905), and include the following:


Wingfield Old Hall Manor:

1408 – vested in Michael de la Pole and included in the release and demise of 1430-31 (above) in which John Golafre is again included. 1415 – Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, died at Harfleur, of plague, just before the Battle of Agincourt (25th October), aged 23, with no male heir. The manor passed to his brother who became fourth earl of Suffolk, created Duke of Suffolk in June 1448. Foeffees included John Golafre. William de la Pole was beheaded and buried at sea in May 1449, so the manor passed to Alice, grand-daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer (his son Thomas, was powerful in the realm).

Manor of Stradbroke with Stubcroft:

1430 – Manor passed into De la Pole family by marriage prior to death of Michael de la Pole in 1415. In 1430 it was included in a release of all right from Henry Beaufort, Cardinal; Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick; …. John Golafre. It was also included in a deed of 1431 by which they were granted a demise of this and other manors (a demise is the agreed transfer of an estate, especially by lease, with a covenant for quiet enjoyment).


The continuing De la Pole connection soon led, in 1434, to Sir John Golafre’s third marriage to Margaret, daughter of Sir John Heveningham and widow of Sir Walter de la Pole of Dernford at Sawston in Cambridgeshire, who was his first wife’s half-brother. In old age, John was again one of chief members of the Fraternity of the Holy Cross in Abingdon who funded public works, this time the erection of the famous Market Cross in the town in 1438. It is said to have been designed by his friend, Thomas Chaucer, who had died four years earlier. Lysons records the following details:

Fyfield church.jpg Sir John died seised of the manor of Fyfield, in 1442. The same year a licence was granted by the Crown, for the foundation of a chantry, at the altar of St. John the Baptist, pursuant to the will of Sir John Golafre, who is styled in the charter servant to King Henry V and King Henry VI. … In the N. aisle of the parish church is the monument of this Sir John, who died in 1442. His effigy in armour lies on an open altar tomb, beneath which is the figure of a skeleton in a shroud. The common people call it Gulliver’s tomb, and say that the figure on the top represents him in the vigour of youth; the skeleton in his old age; the arms of Golafre are on the tomb, and in the windows of the church.

Margaret, his third wife, appears to have survived, and the property seems to have passed briefly to Agnes Wytham, who died in 1444. In 1448, it came through the former in-laws of the Golafres, Wiliam and John de la Poles, to John, Earl of Lincoln. Born some time between 1462 and 1464, the son of John, second Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth of York, he had been created Earl of Lincoln by his uncle, Edward IV. After Edward’s death, his other royal uncle, Richard III, made him heir to the throne in the last year of his reign. He was also grandson of Alice Chaucer, grand-daughter of the great poet. Lincoln was killed at the Battle of Stoke Field of 1487, which ended his Yorkist Rebellion against Henry VII, and with it the Wars of the Roses. He was posthumously attained for treason and his estates, including both Fyfield and Ewelme, the main seat of the Oxfordshire de la Poles, were confiscated by the crown.

(to be continued…)

Sources (see part two)


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 AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

1066-1086 And All That: Conquest and Continuity: Part One.   1 comment

Freeborn Englishmen and Norman Yokes



This comic-strip image of the Norman Conquest, based partly on its tenth-century equivalent, the Bayeux Tapestry, is of yet another a smash and grab raid by another group of land-hungry and bloodthirsty Vikings who, this time, had ominously settled just across the English Channel and were looking for an opportunity to enslave the freedom-loving Anglo-Saxons in an iron system of feudal dues. The legendary story continues with their tireless, heroic and ultimately cataclysmic cavalry charges on the Saxon shield wall at Senlac Hill, near Hastings, followed by their ruthless mopping up the resistance by Hereward the Wake in the soggy Fens of East Anglia, and their terrorising, or harrying of the north with fire and sword. They then forced the defeated peasants to build castles and manor houses, from which they could supervise the whole business of collecting taxes, stealing what little surplus food the Saxons were able to produce for banquets held in their great halls. This went on for the next two hundred years or so, so we are told, until Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart helped the Saxons to throw off the Norman Yoke, after which the new lords learnt English and began to show some respect for their peasantry.

This was not simply the view lampooned in the popular book, 1066 and All That, published for the nine hundredth anniversary of Hastings, but was the one taken quite seriously by many of Cromwell’s soldiers in their quarrel with Charles I, who, among other blunders, made the mistake of reviving ancient royal rights from the days of bad King John. The latter, after all, had been forced to agree to a list of the people’s demands in Magna Carta.

This comic-strip, super-hero and super-villain version of events is an important part of English mythology, but it does not match much of the written record, let alone the architectural and archaeological evidence spanning the early middle ages, from the reign of William I to that of Edward I. All these sources of evidence need to be evaluated in the context of local, national and international narratives and contexts, if we are to understand how a united English nation state came about by the early part of the thirteenth century, the leading but not all-powerful kingdom within the British Isles, if not on the immediate continent as well.

More than conquerors, less than strangers…


To begin by focusing on the local, which was, after all, the way that most people organised and made sense of their lives in the eleventh century, by the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) the population of the County of Suffolk was 20,491, which made it the most densely populated populated county in England with the possible exception of Middlesex. However, the Survey tended to underestimate the total population, because the numbers of unfree villeins, cottars and bordars among the peasants were not always counted, and the numbers and proportion of freemen were greater in Suffolk than elsewhere. Rich soil, the influx of Saxon settlers from elsewhere, and the long period of peace at the turn for much of the tenth century help explain why the county recovered its population more quickly than most from the nightmare ninth century.


These conditions helped to establish the tradition of fierce independence of the people of Suffolk, since it became known as a shire of freeholder and smallholder farmers. According to Domesday there were nearly 7,500 freemen in Suffolk, compared with under a thousand serfs. The proportion of independent landholders to unfree peasants was quite different in Suffolk and Norfolk from that in other shires. Although the average freeman could boast only a few acres, far fewer than in a carucate, he could call himself his own man, something which has always been important to East Anglians. He could also join together with other freemen to farm the land together, particularly at more labour-intensive times of the year, like ploughing and harvest. This was because the land holdings were not scattered around the village, but concentrated in compact blocks edged by markers, if not hedges. On them the farmers were able to make teams of oxen to drive their ploughs, and to pasture their sheep, pigs and cattle together. They would also enjoy grazing rights on nearby heath and woodland. Every autumn they slaughtered most of their beasts and preserved the meat with salt from the saltpans of the Wash or Stour estuary. Fowls, river fish and sea fish supplemented their diet, and their own flocks and herds provided them with a good supply of clothes. Most of these people were self-sufficient and produced a surplus for market.


The ducal family of William of Normandy claimed descent from Rollo, a Viking leader who was ceded lands in northern France by Charles the Simple in 911. Rollo and his followers were Scandinavians, like those who had been settling in eastern England, so Normandy takes its name from them, Normannia. However, unlike the Danes, whose invasion of England fifty years previously had placed their King Cnut on the throne, the conquerors this time were seen as Frenchmen, rather than Norsemen. On the Bayeux Tapestry the battle is seen as being between Angli et Franci. Examining the place-names, we can tell that, just as with the Danes who settled in eastern England, or the Norwegians who settled in Cumbria, the Scandinavian element in the population, though significant in pockets, was not overwhelming. Eleventh-century Normandy preserved many of the institutions of Carolingian France and was in many ways simply another part of the patchwork of principalities which developed after the waning of Charlemagne’s empire.

Normandy was better organised and stronger militarily than many of the other fragments, especially under Duke William. He may have owed his toughness to Viking ancestors, but successive dukes had married into other French and Breton ruling families, while William himself was the illegitimate son of a Falaise serving girl about whom we know very little. Within two generations even the dukes themselves had ceased to speak Norse as their native language, while the natives of Rouen spoke Roman rather than Norse at the time of the Conquest.

Archaeological evidence for the Norsemen is even harder to come by in Normandy than it is in Britain. A few Viking burials have been discovered or discerned from finds of jewellery or weapons. Some of the latter seem to have been forged in Britain, suggesting they had been acquired on previous campaigns there. There are also some camps, earthworks which have been excavated, with the conclusion being drawn that they were earlier fortifications which were possibly reoccupied and reused by Vikings.


In any case, the army which invaded England in 1066 were by no means exclusively Norman, nor were the new aristocrats after 1066. It included men from many parts of France, who traced their ancestry to Flanders or Aquitaine, Anjou or Brittany, rather than to Normandy. Some of this can be seen in relation to my own family history. The Gullivers, who later gave their name to one of the best-known books in English, were originally known by the French name, Goullafre, since they really did come over with the conqueror from St Evreux in Normandy where they were Lords of Mesnil Bernard. There is still a small town, or large village there called La Goulafriere. The word apparently means caterpillar in French, which is why it later became a synonym for glutton, though it originally had a non-pejorative meaning. Guillaume Goullafre’s name can be found in the archives of Bayeux Cathedral (Chronology of the Ancient Nobility of the Duchy of Normandy, 1087 – 1096) where it appears on a list of lords who accompanied Robert Duke of Normandy on the first crusade to Palestine in 1096. He is also listed as one of the Knights Templar. Gulefrias is recorded as surname in France in 1106, and a further French record, Persée’s Armorial de France has a Goullafre as one who fought against the Turks in Hungary in 1509. In England the name goes through several mutations and variations between 1086 and 1654 (Goulafre, Gulafra, Golafre, Golefer, Gullifer, Gulliford, Galover) until it eventually emerges as Gulliver in common usage.

Leland also refers to a Guillaume Goulaffre (Dives Roll) and a Roger Gulafre, who claimed property from St. Evroult in Normandy, where a great Abbey still stands. It is Roger who is referred to as Lord of Mesnil Bernard. William Gulafre, as he seems to have become known in England, had great estates in Suffolk in 1086 (Domesday) and gave tithes to Eye Abbey. William’s son, Roger Gulafre, was also of Suffolk in 1130 (Rot. Pip.), and Philip Gulafre held four fees in barony in the same county later in the twelfth century, as well as manors in Essex.

These names and details are confirmed, briefly, in other manuscript sources from the period, and the printed versions of the manorial records furnish us with more details, which I shall return to later. Although themselves French-Norman in origin, they seem to have married into both French and Breton noble families who also came to Suffolk during the Conquest.

Just as before the Conquest, where there were markets, market-towns grew around them, but a growing central government now began to regulate this in order to ensure that there was a network of defensible towns, or burghs, with, wherever possible, gates, towers and solid stone walls, capable of withstanding any further incursions. In order to standardise administrative procedures throughout the newly-united country, kings and councillors needed local strongholds from which taxes could be collected securely and markets and trade properly overseen. Ipswich, Dunwich, Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Thetford were the first centres which could be described as towns. Sudbury, whose importance was essentially military, was the smallest, with a population of only five hundred, while the ports of Dunwich and Ipswich could boast 3,000 and 1,300 respectively. Bury, with its revived monastic life, also had about three thousand souls, while Thetford, already an important monastic centre, had 5,000, about the same size as its population today. All of these were of sufficient importance to have royal mints established in them.

It couldn’t have happened on a nicer day… 23 August, last century.   1 comment

The Battle of Mons and the Massacre at Dinant, Sunday 23 August 1914

In their first major battle, the BEF faced the Germans at Mons. The advancing Germans were unaware of either the strength or position of the British and were unable to press home their numerical advantage. The experienced and well-trained British fought a strong defence but had to withdraw; a French withdrawal on their right flank had left them exposed.

At first the Germans thought they were facing machine guns, so rapid was the rifle fire they faced. The British soldiers’ ability to sustain rapid fire resulted in many casualties. A British NCO said later that the worst marksman could not miss, as he had only to fire into the masses of the unfortunate enemy. It was all so easy.

The first Victoria Cross (VC) medal of the war to be awarded to a private soldier went to Sidney Godley of the Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment. He was severely injured while operating a machine gun to help slow the German advance. At the last moment he threw the weapon into the water to prevent it falling into German hands. Godley’s officer, Lieutenant Maurice Dease, who commanded the machine-gun position, was fatally injured and succumbed to his wounds at the scene. He was also, posthumously, awarded the VC. Godley was taken prisoner and survived the war.

British troops walked 175 miles in the two-week-long fighting retreat from Mons, in the blazing hot summer. The soldiers experienced shortages of water and food and were near to exhaustion; three hours’ sleep in a 24-hour period was common. At times they were so exhausted they preferred to turn and fight.

On that same Sunday morning, in the Belgian town of Dinant, German soldiers forced worshippers out of their church. They were lined up and over six hundred men, women and children were shot dead. The Germans claimed they were rooting out resistance fighters. At Louvain, the university library was set on fire. German atrocities, both real and fictitious, were used heavily in Allied propaganda, but 6,427 Belgian and French civilians were killed by invading German troops.

On 23 August, 1944, Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, met with his advisors at the Royal Palace in Buda to consider the news of Romania’s defection from the Axis powers.

Domokos Szent-Iványi, a diplomat working inside the Regency Bureau, recalled that throughout that summer,

… ‘the Jewish Question’ had again become one of the most burning issues between Hungary and Germany, and Horthy again concentrated on the problem of replacing Sztójay, who proved insufficiently resistant to German demands. The final decision came when the news of Romania’s defection from the Axis became known in Budapest on 23 August… Believing as he did – and now more firmly than ever- that Germany’s defeat was inevitable and  near at hand, Horthy rejected the idea of fighting on through thick and thin.  But neither could he make up his mind to proclaim Hungary’s immediate surrender.  Considerations of these categories held him back. Firstly, a moral scruple. He could not regard it as consistent with Hungary’s honour … to desert an ally – even a hated one – without warning.; ‘a  fortiori’  suddenly to turn against him. Secondly, the practical difficulties… to proclaim immediate surrender would be ‘a leap in the dark’ … more likely a jump down a visible precipice. He did not doubt that Miklós would obey his orders, and the First Army those of Miklós. But the First Army was still outside the frontiers and the German troops inside the country still numerically stronger than the Hungarian. Moreover, the civilian Government was still of Sztójay; and he could hardly hope to carry through a surrender policy until he had a Minister President who would obey his orders.

But the overriding consideration was, no doubt, his still unconquered repugnance to the idea of throwing Hungary’s frontiers open to the Russian Army alone. His belief was unshaken that Hungary’s true salvation lay in Kallay‘s policy of holding out defensively in the east and opening the frontiers to the west; and he had not yet abandoned hope that this might be achieved.

Dőme Sztójay (1883 – 1946) was Hungary’s Envoy in Berlin from 1936 to 1944 and was appointed Prime Minister by Horthy after Hitler’s decision to occupy Hungary, from 19 March to 29 August 1944, when he resigned under pressure from Horthy. He was the PM in charge of the mass deportation of the Hungarian Jews during these months, working directly with the German occupying envoys and officers, including Adolf Eichmann, and disobeying Horthy’s orders to cease the transports in July. The Szálasi cabinet, which came to power in October 1944,  promoted him to the rank of retired Colonel General. He was found guilty of war crimes by the Hungarian People’s Tribunal in 1946, condemned to death and executed.

Col. Gen. Miklós took over the post of Commander of the First Army on 6 August 1944, supported by the Regent. The First Army had reached the Carpathians in July and was well-established along the Hunyadi Line, outside Hungary’s borders, by the time he took command. 

Miklós Kállay (1887 – 1967) was Prime Minister of Hungary between 1942 and 1944. Although publicly supporting the Axis alliance, his ultimate goal was to break with Germany and seek an armistice with the western allies, whilst continuing to fight the Russians in the east. Hitler considered him as his main enemy by March 1944 and the occupation of 19 March led to his capture and deportation to Mauthausen. After his liberation he settled in the US and wrote his memoirs in English, publishing them in New York in 1954.

Twenty-five Years Ago: 23 August 1989: People Power breaks through…

The way 1989 began did not bode well for the proponents of reform socialism or nationalist change. At a demonstration in Prague, eight hundred protesters were arrested – including Václav Havel – for inciting protest against the government. In Georgia and throughout the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia there were demonstrations and rumblings of protest against Soviet rule.

However, seeds of radical change were being planted in other parts of the Soviet ‘Empire’. In Hungary, in early January, the parliament voted to allow freedom of association and assembly. It permitted the establishment of political parties, opening the way for multiparty elections, scheduled for the following year. In May, in a symbolic gesture, Hungarian soldiers began to pull down the countries barbed-wire border fences with Austria, opening the first chink in the iron curtain. When an anxious East German foreign minister telephoned his ‘opposite number’ in Hungary to enquire as to what on earth was going on, he was assured by Gyula Horn that the sections of the fence needed repairing and would soon be replaced to do an even more effective job in preventing East Germans holidaying in Hungary that summer from escaping to the west! Then came Beijing, and the crushing of the protests in the bloody massacre at Tiananmen Square at the beginning of June. Following Solidarity‘s victory in the Polish elections later that month, President George Bush paid visits to Poland and Hungary, praising their first steps towards democracy in front of large crowds. In Budapest, he was genuinely moved when he presented with strands of barbed wire torn down from the fence with Austria.

During August, Poland reached crisis point: the Communists were negotiating with Solidarity about their membership in the new coalition government. At the peak of the crisis, on the evening of 22 August, the secretary-general of the Polish Communist Party , Mieczyslaw Rakowski, telephoned Gorbachev to ask his advice. They talked for forty minutes, Rakowski explaining how deeply divided the Polish communists were. Gorbachev told him bluntly, the time has come to yield power and that they should join a coalition government as part of a process of national reconciliation. Two days later the Solidarity leader, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected prime minister of a new Solidarity-led coaltion. The unthinkable had happened, the Communists had given up power with Soviet encouragement. It was later acknowledged that it was during Rakowski’s call to Gorbahev that the Rubicon was crossed.

Only hours after that phone-call between Warsaw and Moscow, on 23 August, Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn spent a sleepless night worrying about the changes going on around him. The dismantling of the border fence in May was of only symbolic importance in Hungary itself, since Hungarians already had the right to go West, if they could afford it and had a sponsor there.  But thousands of East Germans, far more than the usual holiday-makers at Lake Balaton, had been making their way into Hungary to escape from their own unpopular regime. The Hungarians had signed a treaty in 1968 not to allow East Germans to leave for the West through their territory. Now Horn sounded out Moscow for its likely reaction if Hungary abandoned this undertaking. The Soviets did not, and would not object, he was told. So Horn resolved to open the border for the East Germans. He later said that it was quite obvious to me that this would be the first step in a landslide-like series of events. On 10 September, despite strenuous objections and even thinly-veiled threats of invasion from the East German government, the border to Austria was opened for the East Germans, and within three days of that, thirteen thousand of them, mostly couples with young children, had indeed gone West.

Like the cutting of the barbed wire in May, the Pan-European Picnic, held at the border on the 22nd, played only a small, symbolic part both in the Downfall of the Wall and in the transition to democracy in Hungary.

Posted August 23, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

August 22, 1914   Leave a comment

Hungarian Spectrum

A change of pace. What else can we say about Viktor Orbán after his three recent public appearances and his decision to share his vision and wisdom with the world? Instead, let’s talk about history.

I must have mentioned how great the interest is in Europe on the 100th anniversary of World War I. German and Austrian papers in particular have been spending considerable time and energy telling their readers about events a hundred years ago. Often on a daily basis.

Hungarians who are so terribly interested in history seem to spend less time on the Great War, as it was called at the time. However, there is a company called Arcanum Adatbázis Kft. that specializes in the digitization of documents, maps, paintings, etc. They just offered free access to the issues of five Hungarian newspapers published one hundred years ago. I took advantage of the offer and read the August 22, 1914 issue…

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Posted August 23, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

The House of Árpád and the House of Wessex: Early Magyar – Saxon Relations.   Leave a comment

Andrew James



The Work of Sándor Fest:

This year sees the seventieth anniversary of the death of Sándor Fest (1883-1944), who wrote a book (in Hungarian) entitled From the Scottish Saint Margaret to the Bards of Wales, detailing the historical and literary links between the Anglo-Saxons, Irish, Welsh and the Magyars over the eight and a half centuries between the first contacts between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the newly-established Kingdom of Hungary at the beginning of the eleventh century and the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-9, which led János Arany’s to write his epic poem, Walesi Bárdok, the ‘Welsh Bards’. His book was re-published in 2000 with an English language appendix, containing translations of selected chapters from the Hungarian version.


Earliest Traces of Magyar-Saxon-Viking Relations:


In the eighth and ninth centuries, England did not exist, neither did Hungary. However, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Heptarchy were never in danger…

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Posted August 19, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

St. Stephen’s Day (Szent István Nap), 20th August, Hungary   1 comment

Andrew James

Hungary was established as a Christian Catholic kingdom under Stephen I (István), a descendant of Árpád, the Magyar leader who united the tribes into one nation in the Carpathian Basin. Stephen was crowned on Christmas Day 1000 AD in the then capital, Esztergom, where he was born. He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin, establishing Christianity in the region and is generally considered to be the founder of Hungary. He was canonised in 1083, becoming the most popular saint in Hungary and its patron saint.

According to tradition Pope Silvester II, with the consent of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, sent a magnificent jeweled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross. The crown that survives today was probably never worn by the king himself, as it has been dated to the 12th century. It was removed from the country in 1945 and entrusted…

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Posted August 19, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

Out of the North they Came: Narratives of the Norsemen   Leave a comment

Introduction: Pirates or Merchant Adventurers?

021Out of the North they came, more warriors from the fringes of the Baltic. Norsemen, Vikings, Danes, many names, but one overriding characteristic – they came first to raid and plunder in tall-prowed sailing ships that had carried these sea-rovers to the Mediterranean and the coasts of a new world across the northern ocean. For fifty years their sporadic visits devastated small coastal areas as they probed the strengths and weaknesses of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In 793, they attacked the monastery on Lindisfarne, burial-place of St Cuthbert (634-686).  Alcuin of York heard of the catastrophe in France, and wrote anguished letters home. never before has such terror arrived in Britain… the church of St Cuthbert splattered with the blood of the priests of God. He was clear that the reason for the visitation was the wickedness of the English, the explanation Gildas had given three centuries earlier, except that then it was the Englische who had been the instrument of God’s wrath upon the British, and now, according to Bede’s prediction, it was the peaceful, Christian English who had, within one generation, laid aside their weapons, preferring… to take monastic vows rather than study the arts of war and whose pacifism, or lack of preparedness, was to be rewarded by northern sea pirates assailing them in the next generation. With the benefit of hindsight, later chroniclers expressed a similar view, as the raids spread all around the coasts of Britain, Ireland and France. This was the beginning of what has been called the Viking Age, which lasted from the end of the eighth century until well into the eleventh century.

013The popular image of the Vikings has followed that of the Christian chroniclers in painting them as wholly savage pagan marauders and murderers, whose only aims were slaughter and pillage, and whose path could be tracked and traced by the burning churches and the blood of martyred saints. These warriors fought without fear, since death in battle was their desired end, rewarded by eternal feasting in Valhalla. The familiar picture (above right) used to be of a giant axe-wielding Scandinavian, complete with winged helmet, blood dripping from his fulsome blonde moustache, with captive women slung over his shoulder, appearing suddenly out of the sea mist, then disappearing with equal speed to his wild northern homeland. The bias of the monastic commentators were even more biased than they had been about previous incursions and invasions, since they were naturally especially appalled by the pagan raiders’ totally indiscriminate violence at holy places. Of course, in this respect, and in their own terms, they were very discriminating, since these places were full of wonderfully undefended heaps of loot for the taking. Accounts of numbers of ships and men were often also exaggerated by the chroniclers, especially when recounting defeats of the defenders, which they made seem less ignominious by laying stress on the overwhelming odds against their faithful few. In Anglo-Saxon law, the definition of an army was more than thirty men, so the Danish armies which later began to invade eastern England and France probably numbered only hundreds, not thousands or tens of thousands, such as those mustered by the French-Norsemen, or Normans, at the end of the eleventh century. There is also the question as to how many warriors could fit into a ship, particularly relevant to the period of invasion and settlement, rather than that of the early raids. A ship bearing wives and property, bags and baggage, would not have had room for many warriors and their weaponry. Excavations of various Scandinavian towns and settlements have focused attention on domestic life, and the achievements of craftsmen and artists, while their travels have been redefined in terms of merchant adventure rather than piracy.

Chronicles, Legends and Other Narratives


In 865, they came to stay in East Anglia. Ivan the Boneless and his brother Halfdene landed on the Suffolk coast at the head of the great heathen army. The terrified Anglo-Saxons fell back before the invaders. King Edmund sought peace and by the terms of the treaty the Danes were allowed to winter in Suffolk and given horses to carry their baggage. Edmund’s speedy capitulation may have lacked valour, but it saved his people much suffering. For several months the Norsemen consolidated their position and prepared for the next campaigning season. In the Spring, Edmund and his subjects watched as their unwanted guests went westwards to attack Northumbria and Mercia. However, in 869 they returned laden with spoil, flushed with triumph and heedless of their former treaty with the East Anglians. They wintered at Thetford and used it as a base from which to ravage the monasteries and countryside of the region. Now Edmund could not honourably allow this rampage to go unchecked. He came forth to do battle and thus an insignificant king became a martyr, saint and a legend, achieving greater fame in death than life. According to Roger of Wendover, a great battle was fought near Thetford, lasting from dawn till dusk, till the stricken field was red with blood of the countless number who perished. Edmund, seemingly, won the day, but not long afterwards he and his bodyguard found themselves besieged in the Saxon fort at Framlingham, on top of the mound where the Norman stone-built castle now stands. He escaped northwards, and the rest is the stuff of legend, much of it confused. Some accounts portray him as a deliberate martyr, surrendering himself to save his people further suffering. Others recount how he escaped his enemies by cunning, but before long was caught, tortured and executed. Historians seem to agree that the site of his martyrdom was Hellesdon near Norwich. However, the people of Hoxne claim that their village was the scene of the sainted king’s last days. Apparently, he was hiding beneath a bridge when a bridal party happened to cross it, and the bride noticed a golden gleam in the water below, the king’s spurs. She exclaimed, and the king was taken by the Danish warriors guarding the bridge.

The details of Edmund’s death are clearer. The King’s standard-bearer was with him to the end and related the events to Bishop Dunstan, so that they were then incorporated into the tenth-century Passion of St Edmund, according to which, Edmund was brought to a tree in the neighbourhood, tied to it, and for a long while tortured with terrible lashes. Despite this brutal treatment, the Bishop relates that his constancy was unbroken, while without ceasing he called on Christ with a broken voice. This offended the pagan sensitivities of the Danes still further, apparently, and they began shooting arrows at various parts of his body, demanding that he renounce his faith. Know you not that I have the power to kill you?, demanded the Danish warlord, to which Edmund replied, know you not that I know how to die? At last they silenced him by cutting off his head, at which point legend takes over again. When the body was moved to Beodericsworth, or Bury St Edmund’s, in the tenth century, it was claimed that the head and body had somehow perfectly reunited themselves, neither showing any signs of decomposition. By then, Edmund had become a folk hero for all the ‘oppressed’ Anglo-Saxons. Churches were dedicated to him and King Alfred issued memorial coins bearing his image. These stories surrounding Edmund reveal the apparent barbarism and ferocity which accompanied the Danish invasion, a savagery made worse by the clash of religious cultures. Certainly, the two decades after 865 were truly terrible for the Christian English of eastern Britain. Churches and monasteries were razed to the ground all along the east coast; holy books were burned and torn (the recently discovered Lindisfarne gospel of John survived in Cuthbert’s grave); wayside altars were broken; monks, nuns and priests became fugitives; the Anglo-Saxons either abandoned their Christian faith or met in secret to celebrate the holy mysteries in what could still be made to look like pagan shrines from their pre-Christian period.

004005003However, there is another side to the Viking story. Quite naturally, modern Scandinavians have preferred to stress the more constructive aspect of their ancestors’ lives, and many British scholars have followed suit, especially the archaeologists who excavated the Viking settlement of Jorvik in York’s Coppergate in the 1970s. The excavations produced a sequence of buildings dating from the time when York was under Viking rule, from 866 to 954 (with a gap from 927 to 939). After the excavation, the York Archaeological Trust managed to persuade the developers to incorporate the imaginative Jorvik Museum in the basement of their new buildings. Visitors can experience a literal journey back in time into a recreation of part of the tenth century city, with its authentic houses, shops, pots and pans, people and clothes, animals and even part of a ship. There are even attempts to replicate sounds, speech in Old Norse, and smells of all kinds of rubbish, even human excreta. In the 1980s this kind of museum was an entirely new experience, and a remarkable one too.

It certainly changed our view of the Vikings. It also demystified the work of archaeologists for the general public, showing the exact processes of excavation and scientific analysis of finds.

024It was followed by Viking exhibitions in the British Museum and elsewhere which have pursued the same theme of the domestic Viking life with accounts of Scandinavian towns and trade, craft, industry and art. Excavations in Scandinavia itself, like those in Britain, have begun to show a much clearer picture of what life was like in the ninth and tenth centuries. The small populations of Sweden and Norway mostly lived in farmsteads scattered along the shores of lakes or fjords, communicating by boat rather than overland. In Denmark there were larger villages, neatly laid out along streets. There were also some more extensive settlements, which might even be described as towns. It is possible, therefore, to write books about the Vikings which concentrate on such things as their hoses, art, and skill in woodcarving, with foreign travel thrown in as mostly peaceful trade or exploration. However, we know that whole families migrated and settled in Britain and Ireland and that armies of various size, marauded across Britain and Europe for generations. Why did this happen and what was their impact on the countries they invaded and settled in?

There is no clear, agreed answer to the first question. Medieval Norse sagas tell of oppression by kings which drove men from their homes, and centralisation of authority under stronger royal dynasties might well have led to conflicts as a result of which the unsuccessful contestants could well have decided to make their fortunes elsewhere. There may also have been pressure on land, caused either by rising populations or fluctuations in climate. The realisation that there were richer and more fertile lands of the British Isles and France which could not just be raided for wealth, but taken over altogether, would have been a powerful motivating factor for the younger sons of farmers scratching for a living on a narrow strip of land on a fjord.

This would have been less true of Denmark, where the pressure might be better seen in terms of political or population pressure. In many cases, as with later great migrations, there was probably a complex of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors at work. Eventually, the invasion of eastern Britain became part of an expansionist, imperial exercise on the part of the Danish kings.


In 878 the Danish host, led by Guthrum, came face to face with the armies of Alfred of Wessex, and the Anglo-Saxons realised for the first time that the Danes were not an irresistible force when matched with an immovable obstacle. They had overrun  the kingdoms of Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia and were only prevented from engulfing the whole of England  by the heroics  of the west Saxon king.  Slowly the tide of battle turned. Alfred forced them into a truce in 880 by which the greater part of eastern and northern England was recognised as Viking land, the Danelaw. with an agreed frontier with Anglo-Saxon England along the Watling Street (see sources below). Then, a steady offensive under Alfred and his son, Edward, brought all England under one internal ruler for the first time, by 920.  Linguistic and place-name evidence suggests, nevertheless, that there was considerable Scandinavian settlement both in the north-east and, to a lesser extent, in the east Midlands/ East Anglia. However, this evidence is unclear, since even where Scandinavian place names survive, the numbers of settlers have been disputed and archaeological evidence is also inconclusive. During this period, those Danes who remained became settlers rather than raiders. Guthrum rewarded his followers with land, instead of booty, and the newcomers settled down beside the Anglo-Saxons to form common communities. Guthrum ruled from Hadleigh and kept for himself a territory which included most of Suffolk. Throughout the Danelaw the two cultures merged, with the Danish contribution to the English way of life stronger in some areas than in others. Place names like ‘Monks Kirkby’, just over the other side of the Danelaw in North Warwickshire suggest such a fusion in equal measure. In Suffolk, the Danish part seems to have been far less significant, despite Guthrum’s rule.


The Danes settled almost exclusively in areas bordering the coast and river estuaries. Throughout the whole county there are only about fifty place names which derive from Old Norse, many in the north-east corner of the county, whereas Norfolk has four times this number, such as Lowestoft. As part of the treaty of 880 Guthrum had agreed to receive Christian baptism, so that even in those Anglians who found themselves under new Danish landlords were able to practice their faith freely.


Elsewhere in Britain, settlers of Norwegian origin colonised the northern islands, the Shetlands, Orkneys and Hebrides and also the Isle of Man. They founded towns in Ireland, including Dublin, and settled in parts of northwestern Britain, including Cumbria, and round the Welsh coast to Swansea (Swain’s Isle). In the Orkneys, the archaeological evidence shows that the Norwegians integrated with the native Picts, although on the Hebridean island of Uist, however, the evidence shows that the natives were displaced or suppressed. In the north of England there is surprisingly little direct evidence of Viking violence in the later Saxon period. There are signs of burning on the Bishop’s Chair from North Elmham, and an ingot mould from Whitby might have been used in melting down loot. There is a stone from Lindisfarne which seems to commemorate a raid, and the monasteries at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth seem to have been burnt down at some stage. At Repton in Derbyshire, archaeologists  found evidence of a fortified gatehouse and fort with a great bank and ditch, possibly dug by the Danes who wintered there in 879, according to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, taking over the royal burial-place of the Mercian kings, including Wiglaf and Wystan. A Viking axe was also found in the churchyard, probably according to pagan burial-rite, and coins and other metal-work turned up nearby confirms the late-ninth century date for Danish occupation.

027There was little fighting on Suffolk soil for another century, though 884 witnessed the first major English naval victory, fought in the Stour estuary, when Alfred’s new fleet pursued homeward a party of Danish raiders. He caught up with them at the point where the Stour and the Orwell meet together to pour into the North Sea and captured sixteen long-ships. He slaughtered their crews while Guthrum’s men watched helplessly from the headland still known as Bloody Point. In 918, when the final confrontation between the two kingdoms began, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex surrendered to Edward without a battle. With peace came renewed prosperity and the chance to develop the economic potential of the county. Now that Suffolk was part of a unified kingdom it was no longer ruled by hereditary East Anglian kings but by viceroys or earldormen, who collected taxes and raised the local militia, the fyrd, when the king needed it. The shire was divided into hundreds, each with its own court. Each hundred was composed of approximately a hundred ‘carucates’, the equivalent to the unit of land called a ‘hide’ in other parts of the country, defined as the amount of land which could be cultivated with one plough in the course of the year. It was approximately 100-120 acres, enough land to keep a self-sufficient family, the number of which increased rapidly in the late Anglo-Saxon period.

All this was achieved at great cost in terms of population and prosperity, and it took a century until, in 973, Alfred’s grandson, Edgar, was crowned King of all England in Bath and received the submission of even the Welsh and Scottish kings. And even then, it was less than another forty years before his grandson, Edmund II (Ironside), was defeated in another battle, the final one, with the Danes, in 1016.  The Kingdom was then divided between Cnut and Edmund, but when he died the following winter, Cnut took over Wessex as well, sending Edmund’s two young sons into exile to the King of Sweden, to whom he sent a secret message asking for them to be killed. The King refused, and instead they were taken to Kiev, then a Viking settlement. From there they made they were taken to Hungary, where Edgar died (of natural causes), but Edward the Exile prospered, married Agatha, the daughter of the first Hungarian King, István and his Queen, Gizella. There he had a son and two daughters, Edgar, Margaret and Cristina. Returning to England following Edward the Confessor’s decision to receive him as heir in 1056 (The Confessor himself was childless and feared for the future of the Wessex dynasty), he was (probably) murdered almost as soon as he arrived. His son, Edgar Aetheling should have been proclaimed King after the Confessor’s death, but was too young to resist the power of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex. He was proclaimed after Harold’s death at Senlac Hill, near Hastings, but was then forced into exile in Normandy by Duke William, to whom he was forced to do homage, not returning to England until 1086.

Edward the Exile’s daughter, (Saint) Margaret (of Scotland) married the Scottish King Malcolm III (Canmore), and their daughter, Matilda, married Henry I of England, becoming Queen in 1100, and ensuring the continuity of the Saxon (Wessex) line in the English monarchy (I have written in detail about this elsewhere on this website*)

028The church in Suffolk was a persecuted church for much of the ninth century, the ravages of which left it leaderless and put a permanent end to the Bishopric of Dunwich. Even after the treaty with Guthrum, the Christian faithful cannot have felt truly secure until they came under the control of the Christian kings of Wessex and the East Anglian diocese was recreated in 956. Even then, their troubles were far from over, as in 981 fresh Viking raids began. A decade later, ninety-three boat-loads of them landed in Suffolk, burned Ipswich to the ground and then marched to Maldon in Essex, where they metthe English forces in the most momentous battle  of the Anglo-Saxon period. In 1004 the invaders were back again and this time it was the turn of Thetford to be ruthlessly destroyed. However, before they could ravage further they were confronted by the Earldorman Ulfcytel and the East Anglian fyrd. After a bloody battle the Danes withdrew. Six years later they returned for a final encounter. Thorkell the Tall landed at Ipswich and marched across Suffolk to meet Ulfcytel’s force at Ringmere Heath near Thetford. The East Anglians stood little chance against Thorkell’s highly disciplined army. Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the battle, but during the following months Suffolk and the surrounding lands were totally devastated. Crops, herds and flocks were so ravaged that even the invaders couldn’t find food. They moved into Essex pursued by Ulfcytel. The last battle was fought at Ashingdown, at which the English were defeated and Ulfcytel was slain. East Anglia was then once more under Danish domination and was mercilessly harried by  the followers of King Swein Forkbeard. In 1016 the whole of England fell under the sway of his successor, Cnut, and was annexed to the Danish Kingdom. For a second time in a century and a half the Christian culture in East Anglia came under a determined Danish control, but this time not wholly pagan, as the following example shows.

Suffolk had England’s most important Christian shrine at this time, at Beodricsworth, or Bury St Edmunds. The remains of the saintly king were moved to the Abbey about 902 and remained there in a specially built shrine for many years. Thousands of pilgrims came to pray and make offerings at the tomb of the national martyr-hero. The community prospered and soon owned a great deal of land around the town. The cult of the saint had taken such a firm hold in the hearts of the English, that when Swein Forkbeard died suddenly, they believed that Edmund had struck him down. Cnut, who succeeded him and became the first Danish king of England, realised that he had to respect the feelings of his English subjects, and so lavished generosity he bestowed upon St. Edmund’s shrine. He contributed liberally to the construction of a new church and founded a new community of Benedictine monks to guard the shrine. He made reparation for the sins of his father at the altar when the new church was consecrated in 1032. Edward the Confessor also felt a great reverence for the Abbey. He exempted it from royal taxes and gave it eight hundreds of land, virtually the whole of western Suffolk.

018The one straightforward sign of Scandinavian settlers in the north of England is rather surprising. This is stone sculpture, usually in the form of crosses belonging to a Christian tradition dating back to Celtic times in Britain and Ireland. The form is Christian and derives from native traditions, but the crosses are decorated with Scandinavian animal figures from pagan mythology as well as Christian iconography. The armed warriors painted on some crosses, like the ones from Middleton in Teesdale, North Yorkshire, might be seen as a substitute for the deposition of weapons in a grave. Norse sagas of Odin and Thor may have been reinterpreted in terms of Christian beliefs. If the mythology of one culture could be explained as a symbolic representation of the religion of the other, this is a powerful indication of the integration of the two. In particular, the most characteristic monument of the Viking Age is perhaps the runic stone, a great stone boulder with a snake-like inscription running around it, written in the runic script Germanic peoples had devised for cutting messages in wood, all in straight lines. Some record the taking of Danegeld, the tribute paid to the Vikings. Ethelred the Unready is infamous for paying Danegeld, though he may have had little option but to pay up. The ornament, letters and language of the rune stones are Scandinavian, but some of their sentiments show Christian influence, and include references to the Christian God. The crosses of northern England lie firmly within the native traditions of both Denmark and the British Isles, but they also show signs of a relationship between the pagan Vikings and the Christian Saxons, a dynamic relationship which was able to breathe new life into old forms, and which must have been far more complicated than the simple overrunning of one people by another.

Interpreting the Evidence: Raiders into Traders?

014 (2)020In order to understand this more symbiotic relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, we need to take a step back into the gap we left in the history of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy which had emerged by the time Bede was writing at the beginning of the eighth century. The seven main kingdoms were Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. Under the rule of King Offa, from 757 to 796, Mercia became very large, taking over the whole of East Anglia and Kent, and even threatening Wessex. According to Bishop Asser, writing his biography of Alfred a century later, Offa built a great dyke along the frontier between Mercia and Wales, from the Severn estuary to that of the Dee in the north.Offa was also important for the English economy. He issued coinage on a larger scale than his predecessors. The silver penny which he minted was to remain the standard unit of English currency for many centuries, until long after the Norman Conquest. Many of these coins have been found abroad, evidence of the increasing volume of trade with the continent.

019The political and economic power exercised by Offa was so great that the Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled a territory in Europe larger than that seen since the days of the Roman Empire, wrote to Offa about such matters as the length of cloaks exported from the Mercian overlordship, and the protection of traders from both countries.

British historians have usually seen London and York as the important trading ports in the eighth century, but archaeological evidence has recently challenged this view. The Roman walled circuits which later became the nuclei for the medieval cities of London and York were not where the merchants that Bede records were carrying out their trade. Most of the middle Saxon objects found in London have come from the district of Aldwich, ‘wich’ meaning a port, and excavations in 1985 confirmed its importance in the Kingdom of the East Saxons (Essex). In the days of King Offa, who had gained the overlordship of Essex together with East Anglia, ships were tying up along the Strand, outside the walled city of London. Similarly, excavations conducted in the same year outside the walled city, near the confluence of the Ouse and Foss, turned up more eighth-century material in a few weeks than has been found in the whole city during two centuries of excavation (below right).

017Archaeologically, until quite recently, we knew more about both Southampton and Ipswich as ports than about London. At Southampton the large eighth-century trading settlement again lay to the east of the later medieval city centre, around the church of St. Mary. Extensive excavations of Saxon pits there revealed a great deal of datable pottery, much of it imported from northern France, and some of it high quality table-ware, suggesting that foreign merchants had lived in the settlement. Hamwith, as it was named by the archaeologists, was shown, by 700, to have covered at least a hundred acres, or forty hectares, populated by thousands of inhabitants. The people living there were carrying on the usual food-producing and manufacturing activities, working bronze and iron, making bone combs and leather objects, as well as making glass, which was previously thought to have been all imported from the continent during this period. The presence of traders, both local and foreign, at Hamwith, is shown not only by pottery but also by finds of hundreds of early Saxon coins; sceattas. 


At Ipswich, it has also been shown that a large area was occupied in the eighth century. Fewer wooden houses and streets have been found than in Southampton, though recently some later Saxon houses have been excavated. Many sites have produced finds of the local pottery, known as Ipswich ware, and kilns have been found where this was made. Although not elegant, Ipswich ware does mark a transition from earlier hand-made, idiosyncratic pots, many of which had been made, on a small-scale, for use in burial, to something closer to specialised industrial production for everyday use.  This pottery has been found all over Suffolk and Norfolk, but only very occasionally elsewhere, suggesting that production and distribution was limited to the Kingdom of East Anglia, perhaps by the kings of Mercia who were overlords of the East Anglians, but keen to protect their immediate sources of revenue within their own kingdoms. At the same time, foreign goods were coming into Ipswich from the Rhineland, rather than from France, as were barrels of wine. The cloaks Offa was asked to ship to Charlemagne were probably made from English wool. Evidence of spinning and weaving comes from every Anglo-Saxon site. Spindle-whorls must have hung from every woman’s belt or girdle, and when not doing anything else with her hands, she was probably twisting  yarn.  Wool is known as the basis of English wealth in later medieval centuries, but this was probably already the case in the second half of the eighth century.

001The story of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England to Christianity has continued to be dominated by its skillful and diplomatic telling by Bede in 731. It may be that the coherence and persuasiveness of Bede’s account have led us to believe we have a complete picture of what happened than is in fact the case. Even though Cedd of Northumbria, whose biography he also wrote, baptised the King of the East Saxons at the Royal House of the East Anglian king, his sponsor, and went on to become Bishop of London, before returning to northern England, there are large gaps in our knowledge of a the continuity of Christianity in the east at a time when the Gregorian mission withdrew from London and Canterbury. Apart from the missions of the Celtic Northumbrian saints, neither was he interested in chronicling the survival of Christianity among the descendants of the Romano-British in other parts of England where the Anglo-Saxons came to predominate, such as Wessex. Perhaps he did not wish to admit that the Britons had any influence on the Anglo-Saxons before the mission of Augustine, since the relationship with Rome and Catholic Christendom seemed far more crucial to the survival of eighth-century Christianity in north-eastern England than it had in the middle of the previous century he was writing about. The detail of the conversion of ordinary people, as opposed to that of the ruling élite, is also not easy to establish from Bede. Either people followed their leaders with perfect docility into the new religion, or they remained very far from true believers, whatever their nominal faith. Or, as may well have been the case in large parts of Wessex, as well as Northumbria, the majority British population remained Christian in sympathy, if not in open worship and practice.

It is clear that by the end of the seventh century all of English Kingdoms had become officially and, as far as their kings could foresee, permanently Christian.  Odd pagan practices might have survived locally among ordinary people, as they still do in many rural parishes today, and in those places in the west where British culture remained strong, practices of the Celtic Rite may have survived, despite Bede’s representation of the Synod of Whitby as a complete capitulation by the British monks, or, in his terms, a victory for the Roman Church. The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity was marked by changes in burial ritual, new styles of art, fusing with the revival of old Celtic ones, the appearance of types of object not seen before, and the reappearance of stone architecture. The jewellery which survives from the eighth century shows how continental styles, deriving from Byzantium, replaced many of the older Germanic brooch types.

004 (2)There are also specifically Christian artefacts, including cross-shaped pendants. In addition, there are the illuminated manuscripts produced in Britain and Ireland during the late seventh and eighth centuries. All the skills which had gone into creating a piece of convoluted animal ornament on something like the golden buckle from Sutton Hoo were redeployed in the creation of these iluminations.  Gold and enamel-working techniques were used for making the fittings for the covers of books, and the leather was probably also ornamented. Looking at a carpet page from one of the Lindisfarne Gospels, it can be seen that the overall pattern is made up from many tiny, intertwined animals. The manuscripts represent a fusion of Celtic, Germanic and classical styles, with ornaments of beasts and spirals. Similarly, the sculptured stone crosses carry ornament of vine-scrolls, clearly Mediterranean, with Germanic beasts sitting in their branches. Churches of this period may have been built of timber, much like ordinary houses: traces of post-holes under later stone-built churches are all that remain of these. A handful of stone buildings remain from the period, mostly in Canterbury or Northumbria, though it’s difficult to be sure which parts of these can really be eighth-century.

By the end of that century, England had become a united, prosperous country, with towns and major ports, literature and liturgy, churches and abbeys, kings and bishops. If we ‘fast-forward’ to the tenth century, following the Viking raids, invasions and settlements, given that it is not possible to date with certainty much of the archaeological evidence precisely, it is clear that the ninth century was a period in which much was destroyed and lost.  What had emerged by the tenth century, however, was a whole network of defensible towns, across the south of England, into the Midlands and extending northwards. In many cases, Roman city walls were rebuilt, as in York, Winchester and Canterbury, and new hill-top fortified towns were built, known as ‘burghs’, by King Alfred and his successors, such as Shaftesbury (Dorset).  Tenth-century towns were forts, first and foremost, whereas larger eighth-century settlements had been largely undefended ports and market-places.

The conversion Alfred forced on the Danish leader Guthrum and his followers must have been reasonably effective for burial practices to have changed so completely . We have two changes of burial rite which seem to suggest different things: on the one hand, in the seventh century the pagan Anglo-Saxons became Christian and ceased to bury grave-goods. On the other, we have newcomers taking over the native burial-rite and becoming archaeologically indistinguishable from the local people. In addition, there are tenth-century wooden houses which have been found in excavations in towns conventionally described as ‘Viking’: York and Dublin, so the temptation is to describe everything found in these sites as ‘Viking’, including the houses. In fact, these towns are not very similar.

In Dublin, the type of house construction shows strong signs of native Irish carpentry, while the sunken houses of York might owe something to Anglo-Saxon sunken buildings. It is possible that the tenth-century houses of York owed something to indigenous traditions. The houses and the population were probably of more mixed origin than the Norse speech of the Jorvik Museum sound-track might suggest. Perhaps they should have been speaking Old (Northumbrian) English as well as Old Norse.

002If Offa had had an equally vigorous son and grandson, Mercia might have swallowed up the whole of England earlier than Wessex actually did. In fact, the idea of fortifying towns may have begun in Mercia, with towns like Hereford and Tamworth predating Alfred’s burghs. Taken alone, the Anglo-Saxon evidence might be interpreted simply as a demonstration of the strong and weak points of the Wessex dynasty over its century and a half fighting for hegemony over All England with the Danes. However, put in the context of the North Sea Empire which the Danes eventually created, the Viking threat becomes much clearer. It is interesting that a stronger political unit should have appeared in Denmark as well as England. It is worth speculating as to whether the English and Danish states would have developed anyway, without the stimulus of the need to organise, whether for attack or defence. Taken altogether, however, the nature of the archaeological evidence for the North Sea region from the eighth to the tenth centuries does show that it was a time of great insecurity, and that that threat came from Scandinavia and was directed against the relatively peaceful and wealthy lands of Britain and the Carolingian empire. However, the lack of direct evidence for settlement reflects the fact that there was not very much, although the historical and linguistic evidence does point to a notable influx in certain localities.

We also know, from both written and archaeological evidence, that under the latter Kings of Wessex and England, the whole country used the same coinage for the first time. It was of a standard quality, regularly recalled and re-minted, despite the fact that there were mints in almost every burgh. However, it had been under Offa that the coinage was reorganised. At the turn of the tenth-eleventh centuries, many more churches were built, some in stone, and there was a renewal of the eighth-century art associated with the Church.

Cnut, already nominally Christian before his takeover, made peace with the British Church by having all the churches destroyed or damaged in the Vikings’ ravages, rebuilt  or repaired.  Again, it can be seen that the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia and the appearance of Christian burials and churches were both the result and cause of a combination of foreign contacts and peaceful missions, like those which had converted other Germanic peoples, including some of the Anglo-Saxons. Perhaps, in becoming increasingly Christianised and controlled, the Vikings left less of a distinctive imprint upon the English landscape, at least until the next generation of Norsemen, or Normans, launched their successful invasion fifty years after that of Cnut.


Derek Wilson (1977), A Short History of Suffolk. London: Batsford

Catherine Hills (1986), Blood of the British. London: Guild Publishing.

Jorvik Viking Centre (1992), Guide Book. York Archaeological Trust.

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