1066 to 1086

The Norman Conquest

I have persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason. Whether gentle or simple I have cruelly oppressed them; many I unjustly disinherited; innumerable multitudes perished through me by famine or the sword.

William the Conqueror’s death-bed confession according to Ordericus Vitalis

The Norman Conquest was not the result of a single battle at Hastings, but rather achieved over a nine-year period from 1066 to 1075. A combination hard-fought battles, castle building, land redistribution, and scorched earth tactics which led to starvation for many ensured the Norman victory.

The south and midlands though undoubtedly seriously affected, but the period known as the Harrying of the North (1069-1070), saw an estimated 75% of the population die through starvation, disease, often deliberate massacre, and war.

The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change. To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation.

Ordericus Vitalis

The conquest of England by the Normans started with the 1066 Battle of Hastings when King Harold Godwinson was killed and ended with William the Conqueror's defeat of Anglo-Saxon rebels at Ely Abbey in East Anglia in 1071 CE. In between, William had to defend his borders with Wales and Scotland, repel two invasions from Ireland by Harold's sons, put down three rebellions at York, a number of revolts by his own Earls, lead the final suppression of the English at Ely in 1070, the last substantial challenge was a failed invasion by the Danes in 1075 combined with an attempt by three of William's Earls to overthrow him.

The conquest saw not only the redistribution of land and wealth to the Norman elite, it also saw the restructuring of the Church, new architecture was introduced in the form of motte and bailey castles and Romanesque cathedrals and churches, feudalism became much more widespread, inheritance was changed so that only the eldest son could inherit lands, and the English language absorbed thousands of new French words.

In much of England the Anglo-Saxon churches and cathedrals, many beautifully built in stone, were systematically demolished and rebuilt in acceptable Norman style over the next 150 years. This is no doubt what happened to Great Addingtons original Anglo-Saxon church. Only a few Anglo-Saxon churches remain, including Earls Barton and Brixworth in Northamptonshire. Brixworth is a leading example of early Anglo-Saxon architecture. It has been described as "perhaps the most imposing architectural memorial of the 7th century yet surviving north of the Alps". It is the largest English church that remains substantially as it was in the Anglo-Saxon era.

The Domesday Survey

Many of William’s troops at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 were from outside of Normandy and had joined on the expectation of rich rewards of land and titles. The only way that William was going to be able to deliver on this expectation was through dispossessing large number of the English, often ending land ownership that had been in place for centuries.

England at the time of the Norman Conquest was the wealthiest and most densely populated country in Europe. It also had a highly sophisticated system of land ownership, with the King's administrators able to assess the amount of geld (tax) that could be raised when necessary down to the individual manor level.

The re-distribution of land quickly became chaos with some Normans complaining of being given barren farms and domains depopulated by war, whilst others were wealthy beyond their imaging.

At the same time the powerful Abbeys wanted to reinforce their pre-existing land claims, and the original English land-owners also lodged claims. Land disputes - even amongst Normans who held competing claims - was the result.

The Domesday Survey would act as both a basis for the settling of all land disputes and as the means to estimate the wealth of Williams new lands following 20 years of . The system of hides, manors and the geld (tax assessment) which had been refined over the proceeding two centuries would be used by the Norman Conquers. In 1086 William’s commissioners travelled across England (south of the Tees). In each shire at the shire court local juries were required to:

“testify to the possessions of the king, the church and all the magnates; to enumerate the number of hides, the state the amount of ploughland, wood, and meadow, number of mills. To give the taxable heads of households, freemen, sokeman, villeins, bordars and serfs; to state the number of cattle, pigs and other livestock.”

The result of the Domesday Survey was the manuscript we call the Domesday Book. This reveals an elaborate feudal structure of landholding from the King down. The King stood at the top of the feudal ladder and all land was held from him, either directly or indirectly. The King granted parcels of land called fiefs to the tenants-in-chief beneath him - his chief barons, bishops and abbots. This was partly as a reward for helping him to conquer the kingdom, partly to keep their loyalty, and partly to ensure that certain difficult geographical areas were being securely held for him. In return he received their loyalty and service. This service usually came in the form of supplying the King with a number of men-at-arms and knights for a specific period should he wish to raise an army. In turn the barons could parcel out the land given to them to their own sub-tenants who likewise owed them loyalty and service – again usually military. Domesday is thus more than a legal and fiscal document. It is also a record of the new feudal system of landholding imposed by William on his new kingdom.

The word ‘Domesday’ does not appear in the book itself. A book written about the Exchequer in c.1176 states that the book was called ‘Domesday’ as a metaphor for the day of judgement, because its decisions, like those of the last judgement, were unalterable.

For many centuries Domesday was regarded as the authoritative register of ancient landholding and was used mainly for that purpose. In the medieval period Domesday was also known as the Winchester Roll or King’s Roll, and sometimes as the Book of the Treasury.

The Hundreds of Northamptonshire in 1086.

The Addingtons was part of Navisland

Peterborough Abbey land in Edintone

Croyland Abbey land in Edintone

The Bishop of Countances holdings, one in Edintone and the second "in alia Edintone"

Medieval Watermill

Fish and Eel traps are shown in the millpond

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry

The Addingtons in 1086 - Edintone

​Great and Little Addington were listed in the Domesday Book under the same name - Edintone - making it challenging to separate the details of the two villages. However the Domesday Survey refers to “the other Addington”, in Latin, in alia Edintone, just as the earlier Anglo-Saxon charters had, which is taken to be Little Addington.

​At the time of the Domesday survey, the Addingtons’ was in the Hundred of Navisland, an administrative subdivision of Northamptonshire. Most of the counties of England were divided into Hundreds during the late Saxon period. These administrative areas were largely abandoned in the 19th century.

​The term Hundred is first recorded in the laws of Edmund I (939–46) as a measure of 100 hides of land. Each hundred has its own hundred court. A Shire was made of a number of Hundreds and had its own Shire Court.

​The Hundred of Navisland was merged around 1300 with the Hundred of Huxloe, and thereafter simply referred to as Huxloe. The Huxloe court met at a meeting place near Drayton, in a field still called Huxlow, a name deriving from the Saxon Hoc's hlaw (barrow or hill). It is not known where the Navisland Hundred met.

When the Domesday survey was taken Navisland was an area of ten villages. Addington was, in terms of households, bigger than Kettering and Irthlingborough; and Finedon was the major community in the Hundred and would remain so for several centuries. In fact, Finedon at this time is the biggest town in Northamptonshire. The county town itself only managing third place with 87 households to Finedons 105. Second largest was Empingham with 101 households.

Each household may have represented on average about 4 or 5 persons – late Anglo-Saxon and Medieval families were on average 2 children – which would give Addington a population of circa 185. This would put the Addingtons in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday.

The land in Great Addington is held by three separate land owners, the Abbey of Peterborough, the Abbey of Croyland (Crowland) and the Bishop of Coutances. Little Addington is held by one land owner, again the Bishop of Coutances.

The four Domesday entries are:

  1. ​Great Addington: Land of the Abbey of Peterborough: In Addington Hugh holds of the abbot 3 hides. There is land for 8 ploughs. In demesne are 2(ploughs), with 1 slave; and 8 villeins and 4 bordars and 1 sokeman with 4 ploughs. There is a mill rendering 12d and 200 eels, and 8 acres of meadow. It was worth 10s; now 40s. (Northamptonshire Folio Page 7)

  2. Great Addington: Land of the Abbey of Croyland: In Great Addington the abbey holds 2 hides. There is land for 4 ploughs. In demesne is 1(plough), and 2 slaves; and 6 villeins and 3 bordars, with 1 sokeman, have 3 ploughs. There are 6 acres of meadow, and a mill rendering 13s4d. It was worth 15s; now 40s. (Northamptonshire Folio Page 8)

  3. Great Addington: Land of the Bishop of Coutances: Of the Bishop’s fief, Hugh holds 1.5 hides in Great Addington. There is land for 2 ploughs. In demesne is 1(plough?); and 6 villeins, with 1 bordar, have 3 ploughs. There is a mill rendering 16d and 4 acres of meadow. It was worth 10s; now 40s. (Northamptonshire Folio Page 4)

  4. Little Addington: Land of the Bishop of Coutances: Of the Bishop’s fief, Osmund holds 1 hide and 1 virgate of land in another Addington (Little Addington). There is land for 3 ploughs. In demesne is 1 (plough); and 4 villeins have 2 ploughs. There are 2 acres of meadow. It was worth 10s; now 20. Azur held it of King Edward. (Northamptonshire Folio Page 4)

​There are a few interesting aspects to these simple entries that are worth understanding better.

  • ​In all four entries the value of the land holding had increased very significantly, "was worth 10 shillings; now 40 shillings". For such large increases in land values to have occurred is probably linked to the fact that in 1065/66 the area was probably devastated in the war of rebellion and succession which saw armies from the north of England travel through Northamptonshire, no doubt along the Nene valley. The town of Northampton was destroyed and it is not unreasonable that much of the county was also affected. This would have led to the low value assessment of 1066, rising back to a "normal" value by 1086. The Domesday entry for Woodford states "that the land was waste".

  • ​​There is a reference in Great Addington to two Sokemen. This is a specific Danelaw term found in the eastern counties, as opposed to Freemen, which was used in the Midlands and West. It originated as a member of the rank and file of the Danish army who had settled in the area. Sokemen, whilst subservient to their lord, owned their own land and paid taxes, and did not provide services or work the lords land (Demesne).

  • ​In the two villages there are 3 slaves. Slaves were still common in England at this time, though analysis of the Domesday Survey shows that slaves were far more common in western counties of England (perhaps a legacy of the later continuation of the Roman-British way of life in the western counties) whereas the areas of the Danelaw saw far fewer slaves.

  • ​There is land for ploughing and also meadows for grazing, probably the water meadows near the river. Meadow was more valuable than pasture land and was land bordering streams or rivers, it which was used to produce both hay for storage and for grazing. There are three mills - at least one of them was a water mill, the others could have been watermills or donkey mills. One of the mills is mentioned as "rendering 12d (pence) and 200 eels". There is a good chance this is the same as the "fishery" that is mentioned in the earlier Anglo-Saxon charters to Croyland Abbey, as fisheries were often manmade ponds created by weirs, and a water mill would have needed a weir to create the mill pond.

  • Of the two specific names mentioned in the text, Hugh and Osmund, were holding the land on payment of a fee to the Tenant in Chief. It appears that Hugh paid a fee for lands in Great Addington to both the Abbey of Peterborough and the Bishop of Coutances; to whom Osmund also paid a fee for Little Addington. A Hugh is also mentioned in the Woodford entry, also paying a fee to the Abbey of Peterborough - perhaps this is same person? The name Hugh is a Norman name and would therefore have been one of the 1st or 2nd generation Normans. Osmund however is Anglo-Saxon in origin and he may therefore be one of the pre-conquest inhabitants.

  • ​The land holding of the two Abbeys’ had barely changed from before the Norman Conquest. However in both Great and Little Addington, the Bishop of Coutances is now a land owner, with a mention at the end of the Little Addington entry that before the conquest the land was held by Azur, who would have been an Anglo-Saxon who had lost his lands to the Normans.

  • The last phrase, "...held it of Kind Edward" is a common reference used throughout the Domesday book to the time of King Edward (Edward the Confessor) who ruled from 1042. When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans never accepted Harold as having any legitimacy as King and refer to land ownership before the Conquest as being in the time of King Edward. Harold is only mentioned as a Duke.

The Manor

In the medieval period (1066-1500) the dominant form of land ownership was the manor, which was concerned with land, with rights and with civil administration. The manor is not the same as the village or the parish, in modern terms the manor was an estate of lands and buildings. In some places manors shared the same boundaries as parishes, but this was rare in the former Danelaw territories of the Midlands. As a result, there might be several parishes in a manor, or alternatively several manors within a parish. A manor might spread across more than one parish. It might be a single piece of land, or several fragmented pieces which were not physically connected.

We know from the Domesday Survey in 1086 that there were 4 separate land holdings across Great & Little Addington. We also know that there was a medieval manor house, perhaps on the site of an earlier Saxon hall that predated the existing manor house which was built in 1610. The manor house would have had fish ponds, a dovecote, stockyard, barns, granary, stables and other sheds for animals and equipment. We know that in Great Addington the Medieval Manor also had a mill.

The manor was an administrative and economic unit of landed estate, which included the demesne - the land used to supply food for the manor - which the lord farmed by paying wages or by requiring labour services. Produce of the demesne would be used to feed the lord and his family, while any surplus grain or livestock would be sold at the market. The rest of the land was farmed by tenants or used as common pasture and waste. Villagers occupied their lands in return for certain defined services to the lord, and freemen paid a nominal money rent to the lord. The system of labour services - known as feudalism - declined from the mid-14th century.

There was a manor court to uphold the customs, rights, obligations, and rules which governed the manor, such as pasture rights, the maintenance of roads and bridges, resolved disputes over property rights, damage, trespass, debt and defamation, and also regulated local agricultural practices where this was appropriate. Punishments were imposed for failure to perform services or disputes, or simply failure to attend the court. Manor courts would be held at least once a year, and sometimes more often on large manors. The Court would have a jury, sometimes known as the homage, and anyone who was unable to attend had to pay a fine. Jurors were drawn from among the leading tenants, and they could demand that their lord carry out duties such as repairing the animal pound or repair the roads.

Some manors also had a court leet which dealt with community business such as nuisances or disputes; and dealt with local policing and more serious offences such as breach of the King’s peace. It was also responsible for regulating the price, quality and the measure of bread and ale.

During the Tudor period many of the civil administrative functions of the manor were transferred to the parish. As a result, from about 1600, the main benefits enjoyed by lords of manors were land (the ‘demesne’), sporting and mineral rights, and the revenue from tenants. The decline of the manorial system forced the Elizabethan central government to give civil responsibilities to the townships and parishes - care of the poor, maintenance of highways, law and order. Feudal tenures were formally abolished in 1660 and all remaining manorial rights in 1926

Village Life in 1086

Villages in the 11th century were comparatively undeveloped. Many were still little more than scattered hamlets, not yet settled into the nucleated pattern of the medieval village that we still see around us today. However, some settlements like Isham, Northamptonshire, had been replanned by the lord and peasants, with a green and a church in the centre, surrounded by houses, with arable land combined into two or three large open fields.

Peasant houses were primarily made of wood, wattle and mud and needed frequent rebuilding. People shared a single large room with their animals for warmth in winter, and cooking was over an open fire.

​Village lives revolved around the agricultural calendar. In spring the animals grazed in the pasture, and seed was sown. Summer was the busiest time, particularly when the harvests of wheat, barley, rye, hay, vegetables and fruit were being gathered. In autumn the animals grazed on the remains of the crops, providing manure for the fields, which were then ploughed. Winter was the time when family and those animals not killed for meat stayed indoors.

The Normans inherited the Anglo-Saxon framework of shires and hundreds as the basis of their administration. This provided a structure through which the King could maintain administrative control. The courts in the hundreds met every four weeks – in the open air- while those in the shires met twice a year. The manor, an economic, political and judicial unit, was the basic unit of the Domesday survey. The manor was controlled by a ‘lord’, which might be the King, a baron, a bishop or religious house. Manors varied in size, ranging from just a couple of farms to vast estates.​

The feudal system is reflected in the arrangement of Domesday Book, which groups holdings, manor by manor, under the main landholders, the tenants-in-chief. The medieval manor often contained two elements. The demesne land was held by the lord of the manor for his own use and support –though the villagers had to work the demesne land for the lord as part of their obligations. Other land in the manor could be leased to lesser tenants, usually Norman or Anglo-Saxon nobles.

Class System in 1086

Every household was classified in the Domesday Survey. This was now a deeply entrenched social system that had its roots in the economic and societal collapse at the end of the Romano-British period, and had been further developed through the upheaval of invaion, collonisation, and warfare of the Anglo-Saxon period. It was rare for people to rise out of the class, though still possible at this time. The major peasant classes were:

  • ​Sokeman - Freeman of peasant status, free to leave and often to sell his land. Most likely to owe services or rent to the lord of the manor. Sokeman is a danish term and is mainly found in areas originally within the Danelaw, such as Lincolnshire and eastern Northamptonshire.

  • Freemen - not free as we would understand it, but not owned by the lord, but would owe rent and services.

  • Villein - the highest class of dependent peasant, holding between 30 and 100 acres but not owning the land. They owed services or rent to the lord and would have to work 2 or 3 days per week on the lords lands.

  • Bordars - lower than a Villein, holding smaller amount of land, owed a greater service to the lord and had to work more days per week, but better than a Cottar.

  • Cottar - lowest of the peasant class (before a slave). May hold 4 acres or less of of land, again owed service and/or rent to the lord.

  • Serf or Slave - property of the lord.

​Though Villein, Bordars and Cottars were not Slaves, they were often treated as such, in some cases relocated between manor holdings in different areas at the whim of the lord. The lord exercised other controls over unfree peasants. He could move them between estates and had the power to approve or prevent a marriage.

The Value of Land

The amount of money that a lord could gain from a manor, or the amount of tax that the could be taken by the king, was determined not by the value of the land but rather by its productivity, its ability to support a household; which was measured in hides. The tax rate was set at the same for each hide, regardless of how big or small the hides was. It was up to the lord and the peasants to make the most of the land that was managed. It also recognised that poor quality soil would require larger hides to support a family. As well as hides, land was also measured in the following ways:

  • Acre - a days ploughing for one plough team. Though now standardised as be 220 yards x 22 yards.

  • Demesne - land devoted to the lord’s profit, whether a manor, or a portion of a manor, worked by peasants as part of their obligation (service) to the lord.

  • Furlong - 220 yards long, the average length of a furrow in a ploughed field.

  • Virgate - a quarter of a hide, often 20 to 30 acres.

​Other taxable resources were also recorded, including:

  • Woodland - Usually quantified by the number of pigs it supported, as pigs roamed in the woodlands rather than in fields or pens as we are perhaps more used too.

  • Meadow and pasture - Used to graze animals, typically sheep.

  • Mills - Water mills were the main source of power besides oxen: more than 6,000 are recorded in Domesday. There were also Donkey mills (mills driven by a Donkey walking in a circle). Windmills were not to appear in England until the 12th century.

  • Fisheries - Tax on fisheries was often paid in fish.

​Most Domesday entries record the total annual value of the estate in 1086 and also in its value at the time of the Conquest in 1066. This enabled a calculation of how much tax the lord should be charged. Some estates gain in value between 1066 and 1086. Others lose value, and some are wiped out entirely, and are often listed as "waste".

Domesday carefully records the owners of each manor (estate) in 1086, as they were liable to pay the geld (tax). All land was ultimately owned by the Crown, but held by lords or Abbeys, who provided military resources or tax in return.

​The Survey refers to the Tenant-in-chief in 1086, these are the main landholders; either King William himself, or one of around 1,400 people who held land directly from the Crown, by 1086 there were mostly Norman knights. Also detailed is the Lord in 1086. This is the immediate lord over the peasants after the Conquest. Sometimes the same as the tenant-in-chief, sometimes a tenant granted the estate in return for tax.

Geoffery de Montbray the Bishop of Countances & Aubrey de Vere

​The Bishop of Coutances, Geoffrey de Montbray, who held land in both Great and Little Addington is an interesting historical figure. Geoffrey was from Montbrai, in the region of the former Duchy of Normandy. In 1049 he obtained the title and lands of the Bishop of Coutances, arranged by his brother Malger. He was consecrated at Rouen on 12 March 1049, presumably by Malger who was Archbishop of Rouen at that time. Later that year he was accused of having purchased his title rather than being granted it for services to the church. Geoffrey claimed that without his knowledge his brother bought the bishopric for him. He was allowed to keep his title on giving of an oath of his good faith. Bishops at this time were often both religious leaders and also warriors, and Geoffrey de Montbray was better known for his ability to lead troops than for his piety. He was one of Williams key advisors and would have led Norman troops at the Battle of Hastings. His reward in England was an enormous landholding scattered over 12 counties.

​He took a leading role in suppressing the wave of English rebellions which erupted in the late summer of 1069. While William marched north against the uprisings in Mercia and Northumbria, Geoffrey gathered troops from the forces occupying London, Winchester and Salisbury and led them to victory against the rebels besieging Montacute Castle in September 1069. In 1075 he again took the field against the Revolt of the Earls, leading with Bishop Odo a large army against Ralph de Guader, the rebel Earl of Norfolk, besieging and capturing his stronghold at Norwich, and in the process thwarting the plans of the Danes who had arrived on the Norfolk shore in a fleet of 200 ships.

Meanwhile, the Conqueror had invested him with important judicial functions. In 1072 he presided over a number of significant land disputes - often between the great religious houses. It is likely that he acted as one of the Domesday commissioner in 1086, and was placed about the same time in charge of Northumberland.

​Geoffrey, attended the Conqueror's funeral, but then joined in the rising against King William II (Rufus) in 1088, making Bristol, with which he was closely connected and where he had built a strong castle, his base of operations. He burned Bath and ravaged Somerset, but submitted to the King before the end of the year.

​Because of his actions against the King he was forced to give up much of his land holding and returned to Normandy where he died in 1093. It is probably at this time that Aubrey de Vere took possession of his Geoffery's land holdings in Great & Little Addington. He is mentioned as Tenant-in-Chief directly from William the Conqueror in 37 places in England, as well as Lord of the Manor in another 20 locations. In a number of those locations his overlord was Geoffrey de Montbray, including Scaldwell and Wadenhoe in Northamptonshire.

​Aubrey de Vere was another one of the profiteers from the invasion. His origins are obscure but probably from the Ver region of Normandy, and was at the Battle of Hastings. In the Domesday Survey he is listed as "Aubrey the chamberlain" and also "Aubrey the queen's chamberlain" as well as under his own name. By 1086 he and his wife held land in nine counties in nearly fifty separate locations. Aubrey's estates were valued at approximately £300, putting him in roughly the middle ranks of the post-conquest barons of England in terms of landed wealth. Aubrey and his wife, Beatrice, were later both accused by Domesday jurors of illegally seizing land, in Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire. This doesn't seem to have hindered his career and he served King Henry I, in the first decade of his reign as a chamberlain and was local justiciar in the counties of Berkshire and Northamptonshire. His descendants established two branches of the family; one as Earls of Oxford, Lord Chamberlain, and the other as Knights of Northamptonshire.

The de Vere family were to hold Great Addington (and a number of other manors in Northamptonshire) for the next 400 years until Henry de Vere died in 1493 without a son leaving his estate to be divided amongst his four daughters.