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Cheshire Mediaeval History

This is a first attempt at the Mediaeval history of the area. The content will be expanded and edited at frequent intervals.

This page will give some information, hopefully interesting and entertaining, about the Normans and their successors in Cheshire.

The Scandinavian Vikings had made raids on the Seine valley from the middle of the ninth century onwards and gained land in Northern France from the local inhabitants, the Franks, who had been there since the Romans left in the fifth century. In 911, the Viking leader, Hrolf Ragnvaldsson, known as Rollo, legally acquired these lands by making an agreement in Paris with the leader of the West Franks, Charles the Simple. You couldn't make these names up. This part of the world was named Normandy, land of the North Men. William, Duke of Normandy, was a descendant of Rollo.


Bayeux St Peter's

Here They Are Carrying King Edward's Body to St Peter's Church

A lot happened in England between the 5th January 1066, when Edward 'the Confessor' died, and Christmas Day of the same year when William of Normandy was crowned king.

In 1064, Harold Godwinson promised, either willingly or under duress, that when King Edward died, he would support William, Duke of Normandy, in his claim to the English throne. Edward died on the 5th (maybe the 4th) of January 1066, and Harold promptly seized the throne on the 6th. William was 'dismayed' to hear of this, since he expected to be offered the job, and during January began making plans to invade England and take the crown himself. Some of the facts presented here are from History on the Net, and the image shown above is a low-resolution reproduction of an image on this Bayeux Tapestry / Hastings 1066 site.

Harold found time to get married to Edith, daughter of Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia - Aelfgar's mother was the famous Godgifu, otherwise known as Lady Godiva. This Earl of Mercia died in 1062. He was succeeded by Earl Edwin, who figures prominently in the Cheshire section of the Domesday Book, mainly because much of his land was taken from him by the new regime, against which he had mounted a rebellion in Mercia in 1068. Harold and Edith's marriage did not last very long.

Outside this relationship, Harold appears to have made enemies with ease. One was his own brother Tostig (who was exiled to Scotland in 1065 after the Northumbrian people rebelled against him). Tostig returned in September 1066 and with Harald Hardrada, King of Norway (also a contender for the English throne) and an army of Scots, Norwegians, Flemings and Vikings from Orkney, defeated earls Edwin (Mercia) and Edwin's younger brother Morcar (Northumbria) on 20th September at the Battle of Fulford, outside York. Harold had to rush north to face them. The Battle of Stamford Bridge (again near York) was won by Harold on 25th September. His brother Tostig and King Harald Hardrada both died there. On hearing that Harold had been forced away from the south coast, William set sail on 27th September from St-Valéry-sur-Somme. (Somme is a Celtic word, it appears, meaning tranquility!). William landed at Pevensey Bay (between Beachy Head and Hastings) on 28th September and marched to Hastings, where a wooden fort was built. The Battle of Hastings was fought (at Battle, a few miles inland) on 14th October. Harold Godwinson was killed. The Normans won. The rest is history.

William took control of the English Treasury and spent a month quelling opposition that was growing around London. His coronation was on 25th December 1066, in St Peter's Abbey, London. The rebuilding of an older abbey here had been started by King Edward in the 1040s and, though unfinished (it wasn't finished until about 1090), had been consecrated shortly before his death in January and was the place of his burial (it was the first recorded ceremony). This took place a week after his death and therefore a few days after Harold's coronation. It seems that Harold's coronation is not recorded, so we do not know for sure where it took place. William's coronation certainly is recorded in this church of St Peter's (which later became the site for Westminster Abbey). As the ceremony was progressing, the nervous guards took the cries of acclaim from within the church to be an attack by marauding hordes outside, so they set fire to the buildings round about (apparently a standard response to attack). Simon Schama, in his History of Britain TV series and book, quotes contemporary reports that William was pale and trembling violently as he was crowned by the few terrified clergy who remained - everyone else had flown from the church, maybe to bravely fight the flames or maybe to loot the ruined buildings. The English people thought the whole burning business was a Norman plot and became even more angry and suspicious. William responded by immediately (straight after Christmas) building the Tower of London, a stone castle of unprecedented strength, to ward off any threat of attack by his unhappy new subjects and because, after all, it had been quite a year.

Hugh Lupus and the Cheshire Barons

Norman Places

1066 Dates and Places of Relevance to Cheshire

The Battle of Hastings was not the end of the Norman invasion. William's first task was to quell rebellion around London and then to push out into the rest of the country. It took a good few years before you could say that things were under control. The North of England was proving difficult, Cheshire in particular. Resistance was stopped in the east and north-east in 1069 and then attention was focussed on Cheshire, where a rebellion had broken out in the Autumn. Facts here are from A History of Cheshire, Alan Crosby, 1996, Phillimore & Co.Ltd. The Norman forces arrived in the county in the Winter of 1069/70 via the Woodhead Pass through the Pennines, and the Longdendale valley (the pan-handle in the north-east of the county), through what is now Mottram to Macclesfield and present-day Stockport. Alan Crosby points out that the Domesday Book shows that the area around these eastern towns was particularly hard hit. The concentration of Waste around here (Macclesfield in particular) was severe. Much of the rest of Cheshire was put to waste, as recorded by the Domesday Book, and Chester was virtually destroyed, as mentioned below. What was actually meant by It Was Waste needs answering, and I hope I can do that one of these days. I take it to mean that crops and farm animals were destroyed, houses and farm buildings razed to the ground and the people left to starve and fend for themselves with nothing.

As well as the local people, William had a big problem with the Welsh. To deal with trouble, he created three earldoms along the border, at Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford. The first Earl of Chester was Flemish and was called Gerbod (or Gherbaud). He was not happy with the job - there was far too much trouble from the citizens around him for his liking, so he resigned, relinquishing his Cheshire lands and retiring to a nice, comfy life in Flanders. A brutal replacement was required and was found in the second Earl, Hugh d'Avranches (Avranches being a town on the Cotentin peninsula, near Mont Saint Michel). He was savage in battle against the Welsh people and became known as Hugh Lupus (Hugh the Wolf) because of this and he took as his banner a wolf's head on a blue background. He was also known as Gros Venator - Fat Hunter (so fat, it is said, that he could hardly walk). The Gros Venators became the Grosvenor family, with the symbol of one golden Cheshire wheatsheaf on a blue background. This family eventually became the Dukes and Duchesses of Westminster.

Lupus Arms

Hugh Lupus Arms

Cheshire Arms

Cheshire Arms

Grosvenor Arms

Grosvenor Arms

Hugh and his fellow border-country Earls, Roger de Montgommery in Shrewsbury and William FitzOsbern de Breteuil (succeeded by his younger son Roger in 1071) in Hereford, were granted huge amounts of land by the King. Hugh Lupus was given, essentially, Cheshire, together with immense power, equivalent to the power of the king himself within his county. Cheshire became, in time, a County Palatine, which meant it was virtually a kingdom in itself. It had its own parliament and its own courts with the power of life and death over offenders. The Earl could not run the county by himself, so he created seven barons to help him do so, each given charge of a part of the county with land to go with it. The parliament in Cheshire was held in Chester and run by the Earl and his Barons.

The creation of the Earldoms and the Baronies happened very soon after the invasion of 1066. Twenty years later, in 1086, the Domesday Book appeared by order of King William, who wanted to know exactly what land in his country was owned by whom and how much tax he should be receiving from it. He also wanted to know who owned it in the time of King Edward (Tempore Regis Edwardi or T.R.E. as it is frequently abbreviated in the original text), what state it was in after the conquest (much of the county was devastated in acts of retribution against landowners who dared to resist the invaders) and how it had developed in the 20 years that followed. The words Wasta fuit (It was waste) appear time and time again throughout the Cheshire volume of the book. Chester was the last city in the country to hold out against the Norman invaders. In the same way, Chester was later, in 1645, the last city to hold out against the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. There are some tough cookies in this part of the world. Or daft. There's an old saying: Cheshire born, Cheshire bred, Strong in the arm and Wick in the head, which is fine except that the word Wick is always spoken or heard as Weak.

Chester itself was a disaster area. Before 1066, there were 431 houses paying tax to Edward, plus 56 in the Bishop's hands and paying tax to him. It paid ten and a half silver marks in tax (£7 according to Wikipedia). Afterwards, it became Earl Hugh's, but half of the houses had been destroyed. It seems that the Earl may have built the city up again over the next twenty years (though there is some doubt about this) and made a tidy living out of it, the deal being that William took two thirds of the tax and Hugh one third. This division seemed to apply to all financial gains (goods entering and leaving the city, fines and so on). Domesday Book describes the laws governing the city at the time. Click Laws of Chester for a resumé. This opens a new window, so close it to come back here. The law implies that if you want to kill someone or shed blood, you should do so before Saturday afternoon or after midnight Sunday, when you can do it half price. For a similar reason, insist that you've never been married and you're a girl.

The Barons' Lands

The Cheshire Barons about 1072
(There is doubt about a Barony in the Stockport area)

The barons created by Hugh d'Avranches were:

  • Halton: Nigel de Cotentin
  • Mold [= Mo[nt]alt]: Robert Montalt
  • Nantwich [Wich Malbank]: William Malbank (Giberville)
  • Shipbrook: Richard de Vernon
  • Malpas: Robert FitzHugh (d'Avranches) [Fitz = fils de]
  • Dunham: Hamo de Masci (de la Ferté-Macé)
  • Kinderton: Gilbert Venables (sometimes Hunter)
Robert Fitzhugh was Hugh Lupus's son. Robert de Rodelent (Rhuddlan) was a cousin and friend of Hugh's and proved to be as brutally savage in battle as Hugh himself. He was well rewarded but did not become one of the Earl's barons. Rodelent is a Frenchified version of 'Rhuddlan', rather than the other way round.

Whatever land did not belong to the Church or had been gifted to his trusty barons, Hugh Lupus kept for himself, and this land tended to be dotted around the county. He had, for example, Weaverham (which he took over from Earl Edwin and which appears to have been a large and lucrative manor at the time), Helsby, Trafford, Elton, Frodsham (these and several others in Eddisbury hundred, around Delamere Forest). A hundred was a division of land in a county, originally 100 households, or 100 hides, a hide being 120 acres. To calculate his dues, the King sent to each county a clerk and a knight, who would discuss matters with the shire-reeve (who later became the sheriff) and two knights from each hundred. The two knights went back to their hundred to collect the taxes. In other hundreds, Hugh had, again a sample: Eaton (by Aldford, site of Eaton Hall , still the family home), Rushton (by Oulton Park motor racing circuit), Little Budworth, Over (by Nantwich), Eastham (on the Wirral), Macclesfield, Sandbach, Upton (Wirral), Stanney (by Ellesmere Port). He started his son, Robert off with a few places in Broxton and Maelor Saesneg, two hundreds south of Chester, straddling the Welsh border, including places such as Bettisfield and Iscoyd (near Bangor-is-y-Coed or Bangor-on-Dee racecourse).

Among other land granted to Robert FitzHugh were Malpas, Tilston (near Broxton), Christleton and Cholmondeley (Calmundelei in the book, but nowadays pronounced Chumly). You can hear their guns banging away on the Cholmondeley estate on a sunny afternoon as you take that quiet, peaceful stroll through the hills or mellow out with a cracking pint of Weetwood at the Pheasant at Burwardsley. A distant voice comes to you in your haze. 'What a fine day it is. Let us go out and kill something.' The old reproach against the English. The Squire has just gone by with a shooting party. [Rev. Francis Kilvert, Clyro, Monday 13 November 1871]. Things don't change, do they? The pig-headedness of the hard-skinned landed Squire has lingered for centuries, along with the discord it provokes. Souls drift across time as clouds across the sky, and you don't need a Cloud Atlas to see them.

I suspect the Pheasant is called the Pheasant for a reason, which means the shooting could be coming from closer than I thought... Yes, I should keep my thoughts to myself. Time to moove on, I think. This is an entirely non-commercial site, I should reiterate, despite the obvious plug for the Pheasant Inn and Weetwood Ales.

What emerges strongly from the Domesday Book is a sense of great loss: the names disappeared. We ended up with a country of Hughs, Roberts, Richards, Walters, Williams, Gilberts, Ranulfs, Ralphs, Reginalds and Nigels. Hugh and his son Robert took the lands that belonged to, among many others, Wulfheah, Aescwulf, Toki and Grim, Ernwy Foot, Wulfgeat, Erny, Ansgot, Dot and Arni. Hugh's barons took lands from men like Drogo, Fulk, Fran, Wulfsi, Ulf, Tosti and, yes, Baldric's in there as well.

To Be Continued...

Peckforton Cows

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