Harold is crowned King
January 1066

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From the Norman Conquest to Magna Carta
1066 to 1216

Please click here to look back at events leading up to the Norman Conquest.
1066 The year 1066 was momentous for England and the English. It would see three major battles take place, itself an extremely rare occurrence. Pitched battles were rare in any event, and three in a year would leave the country weakened and exhausted, whatever the outcome may be. In an agricultural society the disturbance of the farm year by fighting would result in lost or reduced harvests, and the loss of foodstores to hungry armies, whether friend or foe.

It all began when King Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066. The Chronicles say that he committed the kingdom to Harold Godwinson. The Witan had gathered to Westminster for the Christmas crown wearing ceremony, and so were on hand to deal with the succession. Within 24 hours the matter was settled, and Harold Godwinsson was crowned on 6th January 1066 in Westminster Abbey. The ceremony was carried out by Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Harold Godwinson had been the second most powerful man in England after the King. King Edward had produced no heir to challenge his position, and Harold was on the spot. The other claimants to the English throne were either Norman or Scandinavian, leaving Harold to seize his opportunity.

He had been given the title Dux Anglorum, a title created for him by Edward the Confessor. On the death of King Edward, Harold was apparently the choice of the Witan and the people of the south. The north and Midlands under Earls Morcar and Edwin, may not have been so supportive, as Harold, in fact, had no royal blood.

England just before the Conquest
blank Morcar was at this time the Earl of Northumbria. He was given this Earldom after Tostig, one of King Harold's brothers, had been exiled. Tostig had ruled Northumbria so badly that his own people rebelled against him, and threw him out in 1065. Harold had been sent to stop this rebellion, but found that there was no way in which the people of Yorkshire would take Tostig back again. Thus he recommended to Edward the Confessor that Tostig be exiled. Tostig never forgave Harold for this.
Morcar's own brother, Edwin, was the Earl of an enlarged Mercia. Gyrth, one of King Harold's brothers, was Earl of East Anglia, and another brother, Leofwine was Earl of Essex. Harold himself held the Godwine family Earldom of Wessex.
The map shows the jurisdictions in England on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. You can click on the map to see more of the country.

Duke William of Normandy now demanded the English throne, claiming that he had been promised the succession by Edward the Confessor, and that Harold had sworn a holy oath to accept him as king, back in 1064. Harold had already broken with the Pope by appointing Stigand as Archbishop and the Pope now issued a Bull in favour of the claim of Duke William.

In April, Tostig left Flanders with a fleet of about 60 ships and his Housecarls to raid, terrorize and plunder England's south-east coast. King Harold pursued him, and believed that this was part of Duke William's plan to invade. He expected a summer invasion fleet to follow from Normandy, and sent his own fleet to the Isle of Wight to await William's force.

Tostig, meanwhile sailed to Northumbria to continue his attacks. Harold decided to leave Tostig to Earl Morcar and Earl Edwin. They drove Tostig away, and he now sailed to Scotland and sent to Norway to see what help he could rally with King Harald Hardrada. He wanted to get his old Earldom of Northumbria back from Morcar at any price.

King Harald Hardrada was king of Norway. He came to rule the whole of Norway when Magnus the Good died in 1047. The Danes, who had also been ruled by Magnus, refused to accept Hardrada as King. Hardrada spent twelve years trying to conquer Denmark, latterly in the hands of Ulf, cousin to Harold Godwinsson. In the end, he failed and signed a pact with King Swein of Denmark in 1063.

Harald Hardrada believed that King Magnus of Norway and Harthecanute, King of England, had agreed in 1038, that each would inherit the other's kingdom, depending on who died first. This was the basis of his own claim to England.

Tostig, the renegade brother of King Harold of England, now sent word to Norway and persuaded Hardrada that he would be supported by English Earls if he would only invade England.

Soon after, Hardrada and Tostig invaded in the North from Norway. First they burned Scarborough. The attack and burning of Scarborough occurred on Friday, 15th September 1066. Messengers, riding their small ponies, brought the news to Harold within four or five days, probably by the 19th or 20th September.

Meanwhile, on 19th September, the Norwegian fleet anchored in the River Ouse at Riccall, 12 miles from York. York was the capital of the Earldom of Northumbria at this time. The Earl of Northumbria, Morcar, as well as his brother, Edwin, Earl of Mercia, were both present in York. Edwin only had a small force with him, and together they could only muster a force of a few thousand to intercept the invasion, which they did on 20th September at the Battle of Fulford Gate, also called Gate Fulford, just outside York.

Tostig had been Earl of Northumbria until his exile, when Morcar had been invited in to replace him, and he was determined to take it back. Although Earls Edwin and Morcar chose the battlefield, they were defeated by the invaders. York now gave up without further fighting, and agreed to support Hardrada in return for not being sacked by the Vikings. They also agreed to deliver 100 hostages to Harald Hardrada on Sunday, 25 September, at Stamford Bridge.

In the south King Harold of England had to decide whether to continue waiting for the Norman invasion, or to ride north against the vikings. He knew that on 12th September, a storm in the channel had damaged his own fleet, and probably William's as well, and perhaps he gambled that there could not be an invasion from Normandy for some weeks yet.

On 20 September, the day of the battle of Gate Fulford, Harold and his army of 6,000 set out for Yorkshire. They must have been mounted as they reached Tadcaster On Saturday, 24th September, only four days after leaving London. This was just 10 miles from York, meaning that they must have made 50 miles a day. They rested, and then moved into York, where they heard all about the surrender and its terms, and also that the invaders did not know they were here. The King decided to let the enemy go to Stamford Bridge, where he would attack them.

The vikings only had two thirds of the army at the Bridge, and they had mostly left their heavy armour at Riccall. They were taken by surprise, and overwhelmed. Harald Hardrada and Tostig were both killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Hardrada's fleet of 300 ships was captured, and only 24 ships escaped. The Norwegian invasion was defeated.

King Harold now set to, and rested his men, and prepared the captured ships to sail back south. While making preparations, on the evening of 30 September or in the early hours of 1st October, he got the shock of his life. News came that Duke William had landed on 28th September.

Williams invasion force
blank By late September Duke William had assembled a fleet of 700 ships, enough to transport approximately 12,000 troops and 4,000 horses. The ships had no oars, and only simple sails, in order to carry as many men as possible on a one way trip across the Channel.

On 27th September, the long feared attack of Williams' fleet had been launched from the Somme estuary. They landed 7,000 men unopposed at Pevensey but quickly moved to a new base at Hastings.

William feasts at camp in Hastings
blank Arriving at Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry shows that at least part of the town was burnt. But William took it over, and new fortifications were built at Hastings. William now had time to celebrate a successful landing in England. William knew that the English army was in the north to fight off a Norwegian invasion. Indeed, for some time William did not know if he would be fighting the English for the crown, or the Norwegians. In any case, he had at least a fortnight before either defending army could reach him.

King Harold, camped outside York, had no choice but to rouse his men from their victory celebrations and return south on 1st October. He reached London on 5th October, and sent out for the fyrd to gather. His army which had followed him up to York slowly made its way south to catch up with him over the next few days. Morcar and Edwin stayed in the north. No significant number of men from north of the Humber would fight at Hastings. They came from the south to join Harold for this battle. A later cleric, Wace,wrote in his "Roman de Rou" (1160-1174) that
"they came from ....Bury St Edmunds and Suffolk, ..Norwich and Norfolk, ..from Cambridge and Stamford." They were led by the Earl of East Anglia, who was Gyrd or Gerth, the brother of King Harold.

King Harold left London with a mounted force on 11th October. The footsoldiers followed on. It was not until 14th October that he could get the army assembled at Hastings. He had perhaps 8,000 men, and gained a good position bottling William up. William was taken by surprise, but quickly moved to accept battle, something Harold had not expected.

Harold's heavily armed Housecarls and thegns made up the front ranks with their shield wall. They had two handed axes, kite shaped shields and armour. The fyrdmen were the lesser men, called from their homes to fight in great numbers, and were armed with home-made swords, maces, spears, daggers, and sharpened farm tools and clubs. Their armor usually consisted of straw stuffed under their shirts. The English, even those with mounts, fought on foot. The French had 3,000 knights who fought on horseback. The French had 1,000 archers, the English had none. With 4,000 infantry, the French numbered 8,000 in all.

Count Alan Fergant of Brittany commanded his 2,500 Bretons on the left flank.
Roger de Montgomerie commanded the 2,500 French and Flemish troops on the right flank.
Duke William took the 3,000 Normans in the centre, giving some to his brothers, Robert, Count of Mortain and Bishop Odo.

Harold had 8,000 infantry along Senlac Ridge. He might have hoped for more if he had more time for them to arrive. He intended to let the enemy wear themselves out attacking up a slope, until he could counter attack.

Just after 9 a.m. on 14th October 1066, the French attacked. They had heavy losses and fell back, but some of the Saxon fyrd foolishly broke ranks to chase them, and were slaughtered.

The second attack came at noon, and attacks now continued. Harold's younger brothers, Earl Leofwine and Gyrth, Earl of East Anglia, were both killed by Norman cavalry breaking into the lines. By 5pm they had fought for seven hours, and the French were achieving their aims.

So far the French archers had been firing at the shield wall, getting nowhere. They were now told to fire up into the air, with devastating results for the English. The shield wall was effectively destroyed from above, and a band of French knights broke through, reached King Harold, and hacked him to death.

Death of King Harold
blank The fighting largely ended when Harold was killed, but whether he was ever hit by an arrow is uncertain. He was hacked to pieces by Norman Knights who punched through the arrow weakened shield wall. The Bayeux Tapestry shows a figure under the word "Harold" with an arrow in the eye, but next to him another figure is attacked by mounted knights, under the words "is killed" or "interfectus est". The housecarls seem to have fought on to the death, while the fyrdmen fled.

Duke William had won the battle, and awaited a counter attack. Earls Edwin and Morcar were finally marching south, but turned back when they got the news about Hastings.

Leaving Hastings with his army, William proceeded east up the coast to Romney, which he burned, then to Dover, which he plundered, and then to Canterbury, which surrendered to him and which he did not burn or plunder. Winchester then surrendered so he moved towards London. As he approached, he was met by a delegation of Londoners, by Earl Edwin and Earl Morcar, English nobility and Bishops. They decided to submit at Berkhamstead to avoid further destruction. Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester was in the party that surrendered, and by the time of William's death in 1087, he would be the only English Bishop left in his post.

On 25th December 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England by Aldred, Bishop of York, but apparently he still expected trouble. At his coronation in Westminster Abbey, his soldiers were so on edge, that they mistook the acclamation of the king to be war cries, and set fire to the city. William was said to have trembled at the smell of smoke, and the sounds of confusion outside. He had conquered a rich and well organised country with the minimum of bloodshed, although it must be said that he had several lucky breaks along the way.

The surviving hierarchy of the south of England quickly submitted to the new King. The office of Staller, or Constable, had been instituted by King Canute, and Edward the Confessor had six stallers. These were men whom he trusted to be his representatives in the provinces. Ralph the Staller now threw his lot in with William. Robert Fitzwymark of Essex was another staller who had even given William military advice before Hastings ever happened.

In 1066 William was glad to have their support. England generated large tax revenues, and was well governed, and he wanted to let this continue. But he had to reward his own men for coming to England. They had largely financed themselves, and at first only those lands of English who died at Hastings was parcelled out to his Norman followers.

By 1066 the Abbey of St Edmund in the town we now call Bury St Edmunds was in possession of large numbers of landholdings throughout the Liberty of St Edmund, and much further afield in other parts of Suffolk, and in Norfolk and Essex. The Abbot Baldwin would, no doubt , have immediately pondered how best to preserve those possessions from the depradations of the new king and his supporters. By 1086 he would find that although a few of the abbey holdings would be lost, new donations would continue to come in.
You can see maps of the Abbey holdings, both in 1066 and by 1086, by clicking here:

Maps of Abbey Landholdings 1066 and 1086

William was not known as the Conqueror until much later. At the time he was known as William the Bastard. His father was Robert, Duke of Normandy, but his mother was the daughter of a prosperous, but socially inferior, Falaise tanner. After bearing Duke Robert two children, she was married off and produced two more sons by her new husband, one of whom was Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.

When William was born, in 1027, Church teachings were making bastardy a handicap, but Duke Robert had no legitimate sons and so in 1034 he had to recognise William as his heir. William became Duke at the age of nine in 1035 and experienced twenty years of bloodshed and intrigue before he emerged as undisputed ruler of Normandy.

The Abbot Baldwin at St Edmund's Bury was a French monk and a noted physician. He was royal physician to Edward the Confessor and was to perform the same function for William. Not only did William the Conqueror leave him in his post, together with all existing rights and privileges of the Abbey, but there was no Norman Castle built to dominate the town, and no disruption of the sort suffered elsewhere in Saxon England.

Bury 1066 by Bernard Gauthiez
blank Bury's population was probably about 1,500 with possibly 20 monks in residence. According to the Domesday Book, Bury was valued at £10 in 1066 with at least 310 householders worthy enough to be recorded. The relevant extract is as follows:

"14, ('Lands of St Edmund')

In the town where St Edmund the glorious King and Martyr lies buried, Abbot Baldwin held 118 men before 1066 for the monks' supplies.
They could grant and sell their land.
Under them, 52 smallholders from whom the Abbot could have a certain amount of aid.
54 free men, somewhat poor;
43 almsmen; each of them has 1 smallholder.
Value of this town then £10; now £20.
It has 1½ leagues in length and as much in width.
When the Hundred pays £1 in tax, then 60d goes from here for the monks' supplies;
but this is from the town as it was before 1066."

The arithmetic is 118 plus 52 plus 54 plus 43 plus 43 equals 310.

The illustration shows the old Saxon town layout as envisaged by Bernard Gauthiez before Abbot Baldwin embarked upon major construction works both at the monastery site and in the town.

The Normans brought their forms of government which we would call feudalism. The abbot became a tenant in chief of the king and a baron of the realm. Under this system he would be obliged to supply the king with 40 knights in time of war, and to meet other feudal duties to the king.

It does, however, seem likely that whatever privileges and rights were still enjoyed before 1066 by the family of Bederic in and around Bury, these would have been lost by right of the conquest. The new King took over all such rights and it appears that he would have given them to the church of St Edmund or to the abbot. In other places he would have given such rights to one of his Norman Lords who had helped with the invasion. However it is not at all clear whether Bederic's kin still had many local rights following the grants made to the church by Cnut and the pre - conquest kings.

The convent of monks retained their rights over the town of Bury, outside of the abbot's barony, and the abbot's connection with the town itself was therefore nominal. The Sacrist represented the convent and was therefore, in practice, the lord of the borough. The Cellarer was the lord of the manor of Bury, and exercised the convent's rights over the town fields and agriculture, rights to the market, and control of the digging of chalk and white clay. His job was to provide provisions for the abbey. These rights often came under dispute over the years because of their complex nature, and often obscure origins.

Most of the town now apparently belonged in one way or another to the abbey. We know that in later years there were some land holdings within the town which were owned by external landlords. These included the Manor of Maydewater, in the area known today as Maynewater Lane. This was made part of the Honour of Clare, and a smaller holding belonged to the Manor of Lidgate. However, it is unclear when these landholdings were ceded to outsiders. There will be no mention of these in the Domesday Book.

The continuity around Bury contrasts with the more widespread disruption of land ownership around Haverhill and Clare. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror granted lands in Haverhill to the Bishop of Bayeux, from Normandy, to Richard son of Gilbert (also later to become known as Richard of Clare), to the "Lands of St Edmund" and to Tihel of Helean (Helion), who was also granted Helions Bumpstead.

There was already a church in Haverhill owning five acres of land. This must be the Burton End church, dedicated to St Mary.

The population of Haverhill, however, was small and out of the 54 male inhabitants only 19 were free men. There were 25 smallholders and "always ten slaves", and 27 pigs were recorded.

Ipswich was the largest town in Suffolk in 1066, but by 1086 it would be severely depopulated, probably because it was associated with resisitance to the Norman Conquest.

Thetford was also a town of first rank at this time, with a population of 4,000 to 5,000. It had a monastery and a mint for which it paid the king £40. It had twelve churches, but, like Ipswich, it would not prosper after the conquest, and would decline from the 943 burgesses it had in 1066 to 720 by 1086.

Norwich was by 1066 one of the largest and most important towns of Saxon England. It had 1320 burgesses, which is thought to indicate a population of about 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. It was, like Thetford, a busy inland port, but much larger, with extensive river wharves and storehouses.

1067 William soon left England with hostages and treasure, to return to Normandy to mind his affairs at home. Laws, wills, and legal writs continued to be written in Old English, and the English administration was left largely in place.

Gyrth, the Earl of East Anglia, had been killed at Hastings, but his title was now given, not to a Norman invader, but to Ralph the Staller, who was a high official of the conquered English court. Ralph was part Breton, and had French lands, so this may have helped his position. Ralph was born in Norfolk and already held land in that county, in Suffolk and in Essex. Men like him had been close to Edward the Confessor, who himself had spent so long in Normandy, that when he became King of England, he had filled his court with Normans and Bretons.

William did, however, insist upon one legal technicality. This was that his reign had begun, de facto, back in January, 1066, upon the death of Edward the Confessor. He regarded Harold as an illegal usurper, and therefore he could regard all of Harold's followers as traitors to him. Later he would build on this fiction to justify widespread confiscations.

Following the conquest in 1066 there was some rearguard opposition. Winning the Battle of Hastings had not persuaded everybody that William was rightful King, or that he controlled the whole country. For most of 1067, William was back in Normandy, leaving Odo of Bayeux and William FitzOsborne in charge. There were risings on the Welsh border and in Kent. William had to return to England to subdue a more serious uprising in the West Country.

The wild woods and fens were used to hide bands of men, while Norman soldiers roamed freely in these places, looting, confiscating lands, and killing. In return, individual Normans were being attacked and killed by English outlaws. A mass uprising seemed possible.

At Bury we can assume that the town was safely held by Abbot Baldwin for King William for a number of reasons. Firstly Baldwin was himself a Norman, and so could negotiate freely with the King and Norman nobles. He got all the Abbey's privileges confirmed, and so could afford to sit tight. In turn the King could trust Baldwin because of his background. The monks could accept the authority of the new King because he had been properly anointed before God, and, in any case, it could be argued that Victory by Arms proved that this was God's will. Elsewhere, Abbots were disposessed, and replaced by Normans, and transition was more painful.

It is assumed that the king started to build a great keep or castle at Norwich. Work was said to have begun by destroying 100 houses in that thriving saxon town to make room for it. Work probably went on for about four years until this first wooden castle was completed. It seems that the stone keep was not built until the 1120's by Henry I.

Wooden Motte and Bailey
1068 With lawlessness growing, William returned from Normandy and issued a decree asking for the formal submission of the northern magnates. Failing to receive this, King William raised his army and went on campaign. Wherever he stopped, he built a new castle. 1068 saw hastily erected defences thrown up by the conquerors on all sides. There was no time to build in stone. Earthworks and wooden palissades were the order of the day.

William's campaign went to Warwick, Nottingham, York, Lincoln, Huntingdon and Cambridge, building an earthen mound, or motte, with a wooden castle, or bailey, at each location. At York, William Malet was made Sheriff. Malet had apparently not yet been given his lands in Suffolk.

Part of these first attempts to subdue the countryside took place at Cambridge, when the king destroyed 27 houses to erect a castle on the north bank of the river there. The motte or castle mound remains today next to the Shire Hall.

Towns now became centres for Norman control of the countryside. At Thetford the town was viewed, not as a rich trading asset, but as a hotbed of Danish sympathisers. A huge motte, or mound, was built within the old Iron Age fort's earthworks, topped by a bailey. A completely new Norman suburb was built to the west of the castle, and on the northern side of the town river. The older borough to the south of the river would fall into decay. By 1086 the town of Thetford would have lost a quarter of its population.

Ipswich had also had Danish sympathies, and a Norman castle was also erected there, probably near today's Elm Street.

At Castle Camps, Aubrey de Vere built a large moated earthwork to enclose his headquarters.

The revolt was stamped out from these strongholds. The lands of defeated rebels were confiscated and given legally to William's followers.

In East Anglia the towns of Bury St Edmunds, Norwich and Dunwich would become prosperous as favoured Norman strongholds, while Ipswich and Thetford would be deliberately downgraded and neglected. French settlers were encouraged to come to these towns and set up trade links with home.

After this campaign, William again returned to Normandy.

Hereward the Wake was not one of the Wake family of Northamptonshire. The Wakes seem to have "adopted" him into the family some centuries later. Trevor Bevis says he was the son of the Saxon lord, Leofric of Bourne, following the "De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis" but Peter Rex dismisses this idea. As the nephew of Abbot Brand or Brando of Peterborough, Rex argues that Hereward had Danish blood, and that Brand's older brother, Asketil of Ware, was likely to be Hereward's father. He was also said to be a nephew of Ralph the Staller, who was part Breton. Either way he had noble relatives and was heir to a very rich and powerful man.

It is agreed that Hereward was an unruly youth, stirring up "sedition and tumult," even to the extent that his father had him thrown out of the country in 1063. Hereward made his name as a soldier fighting in Flanders and the Low Countries, and was out of the country when the Norman invasion occurred. The Norman Conquest would have threatened his inheritance, and he needed to check up on it.

It is likely that Hereward the Wake returned to England in 1068 to visit his uncle, Abbot Brand of Peterborough. He may have got involved in some attacks on Normans in this visit. He found that some of the family estate was safeguarded by Abbot Brand taking it over for the Abbey at Peterborough, but much was given to Hugh de Beauchamp by King William.

But he soon went back to fulfill commitments to fight in Flanders. Hereward came home for good in 1069 when Abbot Brand died in that year, putting his remaining fortune in peril.

1069 In January, William's newly appointed Earl of Bamburgh was killed by local people. They had installed Aedgar the Atheling as their "king", calling upon York, and Swein, king of the Danes, to help them establish a free kingdom of the north.

England still had a strong Danish presence, particularly in East Anglia, the old Danelaw. Danes were dispossessed by Normans even more readily than Saxons, and so there was some local support for the three sons of Swein of Denmark when they attacked England in 1069.

The Danish fleet landed first at Sandwich in Kent. They sailed on to Ipswich, then Norwich, and into the Wash. They proceded into the Humber, and up the River Ouse to attack York. At York, William Malet was holding the castle built there in 1068 by the King. The Danes attacked York and killed many people, capturing William Malet in September, 1069.

King William marched to York, and built a second castle there. He stayed until Christmas, where he wore his royal crown to emphasise that he was King in Northumbria, as well as in the south.

At some point, William Malet escaped from Danish captivity, and it seems that in late 1069, or in 1070, he found refuge in East Anglia.

Another Danish force invaded East Anglia. Despite the remaining Roman defences at Colchester, the Danes captured and burnt the town. Finally they were defeated near Ipswich.

By the end of 1069, the attitude of King William to England had hardened considerably. He had been dragged back here several times to put down one uprising after another, and he was losing patience. He mounted a punitive expedition after Christmas 1069 which has been called the Harrying of the North.

He first marched on Durham and retook it from the rebels.

1070 After recapturing Durham and pacifying the area of Northumbria, King William extended his reprisal march to the West. By February he had marched across the Pennines to take Chester, where he built yet another castle.

William's march through the north was said to have devastated thousands of square miles. By the time of Domesday in 1086 the north still apparently remained a depopulated wasteland. Just how much destruction occurred is difficult to assess.

After 1069 William started to depose some Bishops and Arch-bishops, where he thinks they have not been active enough in helping his cause. He abandoned the use of Old English in his writs and laws, bringing over French clerics, who were used to using Latin. He decided to treat England as a conquered land, to be governed by force if they would not accept him as lawful ruler.

At Lent in 1070, King William decreed that all monasteries should be plundered of the riches placed there by the local nobilities. This included Ely, which showed no willingness to co-operate, as well as at St Edmundsbury, where things had been very quiet under Abbot Baldwin, the French Benedictine, who had ruled there since before the conquest. Bury has no record of having been plundered under this ruling, but it seems likely that Baldwin must have quietly gone along with the decree.

Archbishop Stigand now deposed
blank At Easter 1070, the King set about deposing Bishops and Abbots. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had crowned Harold at Westminster Abbey, and had been close to Canute's Queen Emma, but was now evicted. Stigand had angered the King by placing his treasury at Ely, for the moment out of William's reach. Stigand's brother Aethelmar was Bishop of East Anglia, and would soon suffer as well.

King William's new heavy hand provoked further local resentment. Part of this rebellion was an attack on Peterborough by Hereward the Wake. Hereward was by now a seasoned campaigner, having been fighting in Flanders for the last seven years. His Uncle, Abbot Brand of Peterborough, had been safeguarding what he could of the family lands, but had died in 1069. As was his new policy, King William now installed a French abbot, called Turold, to hold Peterborough.

Part of the Danish fleet had left the Humber, and now entered the Wash. The rebels in the Fens made contact with them, hoping to enlist them in actions which would help their cause. They would be paid by the plunder they took. Turold was a fighting monk, and he was sent to Peterborough with 160 knights, expecting trouble. Tenants of the abbey, which included Hereward, invited the Danes to help seize the monasteries treasures to avoid them falling into Norman hands. When Turold arrived he found the abbey stripped of its possessions. The rebels had directed the Danes to attack Peterborough, rather than Ely, which remained sympathetic. The abbot of Ely was Thurstan, who had been appointed by Edward the Confessor, and was close to the now deposed Archbishop Stigand.

Turold soon got Peterborough abbey functioning again, but it was now to supply 60 knights to support the King. In order to fulfill this duty Turold handed out fiefdoms around Peterborough to Turold's family and Officers of his force. Herewards fears for his lands were thus confirmed.

William's new policy of heavy handedness extended everywhere, whether there had been local rebellion, or not.

The Anglo - Saxon Bishop of East Anglia had been Althelmaer since 1052, with his simple wooden cathedral and headquarters in the obscure and remote village of Elmham. It had been there for centuries. The post conquest Norman Archbishop Lanfranc now had carte blanche to sack him, and replace him by Herfast, or Erfast, a Norman royal favourite. Norman religious ideas were to decry simple worship, and they demanded great stone churches in the heart of the largest towns.

Archbishop Lanfranc also issued an injunction that bishoprics would now only be assigned to major towns.

For the new Bishop Herfast, this meant choosing between Thetford, Norwich, Ipswich and Bedericsworth, or St Edmund's town, as it was now thought of. Thetford was the safe bet, but Erfast had his eyes on the established and wealthy abbey at Bury.

This conflict between the Bishopric and the Abbot of St Edmunds would rumble on for several decades.

St Etheldreda
1071 The revolt of Hereward the Wake in 1070 and 1071 has been said to be a minor affair by contrast to the northern revolts, but has attracted more attention from some writers. Trevor Bevis thinks that of all the revolts, "that occurring in the fens was the most serious." Peter Rex calls Hereward "the last Englishman."

Following his raid on Peterborough in 1070, Hereward was a hunted man. He believed that he could seek refuge on the Isle of Ely, and that he would be accepted by the monks there. The monastery at Ely was very old, and was founded by St Etheldreda, or Audrey, in 673. Ely had been besieged by Norman nobles, on and off, for three years, but they had made little effective progress. By now King William had decided to strip the monasteries of their wealth and charters, together with any wealth deposited there for safe keeping by English landowners and merchants. There were no banks, and often the local abbey was the only place thought safe from banditry of any kind.

The Fens in 1071
blank At this time the water table in the Fens was probably 30 feet higher than it is today, with swamp and marshy, reedy waterways the norm. There was no agriculture of the type seen today. Instead it was a vast fishery, with some reed cutting where possible, and grazing in the summer months. Eels were widely trapped, even giving Ely its name. Ely was an island with four main landing places or hythes. Even at Bury the River Lark was deeper than it is now, with the town almost surrounded by the waters of the Lark, Linnet and Tay Fen, and their flood meadows. The River Lark then joined the Ely Ouse at Prickwillow.

The Isle of Ely itself was a haven by comparison to the surrounding Fen. The isle covered seven miles by four miles and enjoyed a high standard of farming on its drier rich soil. The Abbey itself was a rich endowment, and the town of Ely was substantial.

When Hereward arrived it seemed possible that Ely could become a centre from which England could be regained. A Danish fleet had landed on the Humber under King Swein, and been welcomed by the English at Ely. Hereward added his own force to the garrison, and may even have used Ely as his base when he had earlier attacked Peterborough, and sacked the abbey with the Danes.

Once King Swein had loaded up with treasure from Peterborough, it seems that he left Hereward and Ely in the lurch. King William promised King Swein of Denmark that he could keep the Peterborough spoils without fear of reprisals, if only he would return to Denmark with his force. By this arrangement Ely was in practice reduced from a national threat to a regional problem.

All Hereward could do was call upon his friends and relations to come and help him defend Ely. Among them was Ordgar, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and in some authority over the Liberty of St Edmund under Edward the Confessor and King Harold. Others were Thorkell of Northamptonshire, son of Thurkill the Tall, Siward of Maldon, Thorbert of Freckenham, and even monks like Brother Siward from St Edmund's town, and Archbishop Stigand. Hereward's followers all had to swear an oath of loyalty to St Etheldreda, or St Audrey, the patron saint of Ely. Even the Earls Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia, who had been somewhat shaky followers of the King, joined Hereward. Bishop Aethelwine, the outlawed Bishop of Durham, also arrived with men. They all dug in at Ely and prepared their defences.

King William knew he had to finish the matter. He had seen off the Danes, and had made a peace with the King of France to safeguard his homeland in Normandy. In the Autumn of 1071 he ordered out an army and some naval forces to blockade the Isle of Ely, and began work on a Causeway across the Fen into the Isle. From Norfolk and Suffolk came William de Warenne, from Castle Acre, Richard FitzGilbert from Clare, and William Malet from Eye. Earl Ralph Wader, a Breton, holding Norwich for the King, does not seem to have been summoned. King William mustered his army at the new castle at Cambridge, then sailed up the River Granta to Reach and then to Aldreth. He may also have sent a force to try to attack via Stuntney.

Early attacks failed, and a knight called Deda was taken by Hereward, entertained and then sent back to King William. While a new causeway was being built Hereward counter-attacked and set fire to the reeds, causing the Normans to scatter, and some to drown in the swamps. But it was clear that the King meant to see it through.

Hereward's allies now gradually deserted him. The King may have tried to arrange deals with them. He also began to confiscate Church lands. Hearing of this, Abbot Thurstan secretly switched sides to support the King to avoid further loss of his abbey's wealth.

It seems that Thurstan waited until Hereward went out on a raiding party, then allowed the King to be directed through the Fens with a thousand knights and associated baggage. A defended position quite close to the Isle of Ely took seven days to break through, using siege engines mounted on flat bottomed pontoons or barges. This attack probably took place along the Aldreth Causeway, an obvious approach that would have been strongly defended. As William now started to enter the Isle itself, Earl Morcar surrendered himself, hoping for a deal, only to be eventually thrown into prison. After a few more skirmishes, the 3,000 defenders fled or surrendered. Edwin, it seems, also surrendered but was killed. William had some imprisoned, others lost eyes, hands or feet, but the ordinary people were unharmed, as part of Thurstan's arrangement beforehand.

Hereward himself was not captured at Ely. He may not even have been present when William finally attacked, otherwise resistance might have been stronger. His fate is quite obscure. One story is that he was forgiven by the King, and went on to serve him well for many years. Given William's propensity for punishing his enemies, this seems unlikely. Perhaps he fled back to Flanders, where he was well known, and had friends.

William Malet died in the marshes on this campaign helping King William in his blockade of the Isle of Ely, where Hereward had set up his stronghold. Followers of the King like the Malets needed their rewards for their losses in these battles, and these would soon follow.

By 1071, Erfast had been consecrated as Bishop of Elmham. The diocese was due to move its headquarters to Thetford, but Erfast wanted to move in on Bury. Baldwin went to Rome to defend his abbey against this takeover. The Pope gave the abbey the privileges it sought, as well as a porphyry altar but the dispute continued. Erfast only withdrew his demand after his eye became septic and Baldwin, who had been royal physician to three kings, would only help him in return for withdrawal of his claim to Bury.

Up until this time the abbey of St Edmund had felt under the special protection of the English Crown. Its greatest privileges over the town and the area of West Suffolk had been granted by successive Kings. Now, in 1071, the Abbot felt that he needed to appeal to the Pope to defend his position. Pope Alexander II merely seems to have confirmed those privileges already granted to the Abbey by the Crown, but perhaps the Crown was by now becoming unreliable as a protector. The Pope confirmed the Abbey's exemption from episcopal authority, effectively bypassing the English Bishops and Archbishops, and giving St Edmund's a direct line to the Papacy itself.

The headquarters of the East Anglian diocese would remain at Thetford until around 1098 when it moved to Norwich.

In Thetford it is believed that Erfast set up his cathedral on the site where Thetford Grammar School stands.

1072 By 1072 William was in full control of all England.

At Ely he extorted a thousand marks from the Abbey to restore them to his favour, as punishment for harbouring the rebels. No doubt the result would have been worse for them had Abbot Thurstan not switched side and helped the King in his final assault. After this Abbot Thurstan embarked on his own extortion, recovering some of the Abbey lands for Ely by threats of excommunication and curse.

There was now another round of land confiscations to punish those who had been in the resistance at Ely. In East Anglia this may have meant that the aftermath of the battle for Ely had a bigger impact upon the local population than did Hastings. King William was no longer in a mood to be reasonable, and he had his own men to reward for the capture of Ely. It was not just dead enemies who lost out.

Hereward's lands went to Ogier the Breton. Siward of Maldon lost his property. Aedrich of Laxfield lost his property to the Malets. William Malet was dead by this time, so he may have gained Laxfield a little earlier, but his son, Robert Malet, was ready to take over.

How much land Malet owned in East Anglia before 1071 is unclear. He probably came here after his escape from the Danes at York. He was a trusted henchman of King William and owned estates in Suffolk taken over from the Saxon, Edric of Laxfield. Certainly his memory was rewarded by further lands after Ely, and his great estate now established. It was called the Honour of Eye and contained over 200 manors in Suffolk as well as a number in other counties. After the death of William Malet it passed to his son, Robert Malet.

Malet had built a Castle at Eye by this time, complete with a town layout and a new Eye market, ruining Hoxne market in the process by the competition. In order to slip into the shoes of the previous Saxon overlords, many of the new castles built by the Norman aristocracy were placed on the site of the older Saxon manor houses. It is very likely that remains of Edric of Laxfield's manor house lie below the motte and bailey built by William malet at Eye.

Another estate in Suffolk, the Honour of Haughley, was probably also set up after the land forfeitures following the Ely uprising. Guthman of Haughley lost his estates to Hugh de Montfort.

Lawsuits between 1071 and 1075 show that the Abbey at Ely lost many small parcels of land to encroachment by the new Norman Lords, and to neighbours, like Finn the Englishman, taking advantage of the confusion. One case was over six acres at Rattlesden.

We can also expect that St Edmund's Abbey also lost out during this period, to some degree, but Abbot Baldwin did not attempt to regain these by going to law, and upsetting his new neighbours. Most of Bury St Edmunds had belonged in one way or another to the abbey, but the largest exception to this was the Manor of Maydewater, in the area known today as Maynewater Lane. This was made part of the Honour of Clare, and a smaller holding belonged to the Manor of Lidgate. It may have been at this time that these exceptions came about.

Of the 10,000 men who crossed the Channel with King William, some 2,000 were rewarded with grants of land. Within a short time, ten of King William's relatives owned 30 per cent of English land. Prominent among them in Norfolk were the Bigod and Warenne families. The Bigods also had great estates in Suffolk.

The Normans could now begin to enjoy their new estates.

The 1066 invasion of England had been financed by the Jewish moneylenders who lived in Normandy. Although they were a necessary part of the King's economy the Jews lived under many restrictions. They were necessary to an ambitious king as the Bible forbade Christians from lending money in order to receive interest. The Jews could therefore make a living by becoming moneylenders, an occupation despised by the Church, but necessary for a developed economy. The Jews could not bear arms or own freehold land.

Once the Norman way of grandiose living came to England, the King and nobility needed ready cash to pay for the building of their castles and churches. It is supposed that the Jewish communities in England came here in the wake of the Norman Conquest in order to provide the finance for the massive redevelopment of English architecture presided over by the King William I. The Jews did not have a place in the feudal hierarchy as such. They were under the direct protection of the King, thus avoiding the need to give feudal duty to the local barons.

However, when a Jewish financier died, most of his estate was forfeit to the king, and in life, the king could direct him to go anywhere in the country to provide financial services to his lords. The king also taxed their profits, and might at any time make over a tenth of his income from the jews. Jews were expelled from Bury St Edmunds in 1190, and from the whole country in 1290.

1073 Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII and he tried to cleanse the church of corruption but also intended to spread papal authority throughout Europe. In effect, he wanted a united Europe, but the secular kings had no wish to be stripped of their power.

He also threatened to anathematize any priest who failed to give up his wife. By 1075 he decreed that no person should attend a service by a priest who was married.

1075 The first post-Hastings Earl of East Anglia was Ralph Wader, or Guader, also called Ralph the Gael. Although he was at least part Breton French, he had been a Staller, an important official at the court of Edward the Confessor, and had been quick to acknowledge William as the new King. Ralph the Staller had been made Earl of East Anglia after 1066, but died in 1069, when the Earldom passed to his son, also called Ralph.

Ralph, the son of Ralph the Staller, held Norwich castle for the crown. He had not been called to the fight with Hereward, and thus missed out on the victors' spoils. Possibly his being Breton, rather than Norman, may have meant that his loyalty was in some doubt. There is also the possibility that he was related to Hereward, and thus not to be trusted. In 1075 he proved William right by joining with two other of William's Earls to challenge the King's authority.

This event is known as the Rebellion of the Earls, but it included a major contribution by the Danes once again.

In 1075, King William was abroad, as he usually was from 1071 to 1075. The country was left in the hands of Archbishop Lanfranc. The absence of the King encouraged plotting. The plot seems to have begun with a wedding ceremony held at Exning, where Ralph married Emma, the daughter of William FitzOsborne, and the brother of Roger FitzOsborne, Earl of Herefordshire.

William FitzOsborne had died in 1071, and had been King William's most trusted right hand man. The King would have taken the wardship of FitzOsborne's unmarried daughters, and so his permission was necessary before a wedding could take place. While the Anglo Saxon Chronicle says that permission was given, the Chronicle of John of Worcester says that Earl Roger gave his sister away in contravention of the King's orders. Likewise the ASC says the wedding occurred at Norwich, while John places it at Exning.

Exning was a good location to hold a wedding attended by representatives from far and wide. It was the land of Edith the Fair, and many landowners and Abbeys held property nearby, and could easily attend.

Earl Ralph naturally sent an invitation to Earl Roger of Hereford, whose sister he was marrying. Also invited to the wedding to be included in the conspiracy, was Earl Waltheof of Northampton. Many other wedding guests were there to cover up the plot.

Waltheof was a son of Earl Siward of Northumbria and became Earl of Huntingdon and Earl of Northumberland about 1065. After the Battle of Hastings he submitted to William the Conqueror; but when Sweyn II of Denmark invaded Northern England in 1069 he joined him with Edgar Ætheling and took part in the attack on York, only, however, to make a fresh submission after their departure in 1070. Then, restored to his earldom, he married William's niece, Judith, and in 1072 was appointed Earl of Northampton. By now he was the only surviving Anglo-Saxon Earl, but must have already been under suspicion by the King. He was better known for his physical strength than for his strength of will.

The three earls discussed rebellion, but Waltheof was unsure, and later he betrayed the plot to Lanfranc. Lanfranc tried to warn off Earl Roger, and sent Waltheof to Normandy to tell King William. But both Roger and Ralph raised armies to march on London, Roger at Hereford, and Ralph at Norwich.

Lanfranc sent Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, and the Abbot of Evesham and Walter de Lacy to head off Roger's force at the River Severn. By the time Earl Ralph and his force had reached Cambridgeshire, he was met by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutance and their armies. There was a battle at a place called Fayeduna or Fagedun, or Whaddon in South Cambridgeshire.

Earl Ralph lost the battle at Whaddon, and fled back towards Norwich Castle with the rest of his men. It may be that he could not get to Norwich before the forces of William de Warenne, Robert Malet or Richard Fitzgilbert cut him off. He may have taken refuge in his castle at Thetford, a mound still visible in the town today. In any event the forces of these men now besieged Norwich Castle, probably led by William de Warrene.

Somehow Earl Ralph fled the country to Brittany, leaving his wife besieged in Norwich. Earl Ralph's new wife, Emma, seems to have held Norwich castle for him against King William while he led East Anglia into rebellion.

It seems that Norwich castle held out for three months until Lady Emma surrendered. This was one of the longest sieges recorded at this time. Eventually she was given terms which allowed her and her garrison to flee abroad to be with her husband.

The king installed his own force of over 300 men in Norwich castle and Earl Ralph's lands were given to Count Alan of Brittany.

Along with William de Warrene, one man prominent in defeating Earl Ralph's rebellion was Richard Fitzgilbert, son of Count Gilbert de Brionne. He ended up with 170 English lordships, 95 in Suffolk. He made Clare his headquarters and his lands became known as the Honour of Clare. He would have been called Richard Fitzgilbert at first and possibly de Clare later. Certainly the family was using the name de Clare by 1120.

Another Norman, Roger Bigod, got 117 manors in Suffolk,and was made Earl after Ralph Wader. He also took charge of Norwich castle.

Robert Malet, son of William Malet ended up with 221 holdings in Suffolk based in Eye, where his father had quickly built a castle, the only one to be specifically mentioned in the Domesday Book for Suffolk.

These families had all participated in the earlier suppression of Hereward's revolt at Ely, and profited by it, but there was another large scale transfer of lands in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in the aftermath of the Earls' Rebellion.

1076 Earl Waltheof paid for his involvement in the Rebellion of the Three Earls in 1076. Having betrayed the rebellion to the King, he was returning to England with King William, when he was arrested. After being brought twice before the king's court he was sentenced to death. On the 31st of May 1076 he was beheaded on St. Giles's Hill, near Winchester. This is said to be the first be-heading of its type in England.

In 1070 Waltheof had married the King’s niece Judith and became the Earl of Northumberland in 1072. At his execution in Winchester in 1076 it is recorded that “before the Earl had completed the Lord’s Prayer his head was cut from his body in a public execution. The final words of the prayer were said to have been uttered by his disconnected head.” Devout and charitable, he came to be regarded by the English as a martyr, and miracles were later said to have been worked at his tomb at Crowland Abbey in the Fens.

His wife Judith inherited Waltheof’s estates, but the land in Barnack that he had previously given to Crowland Abbey in 1061 was confiscated by King William, and given to Bury St. Edmunds Abbey. This may well have included rights to quarry the famous Barnack stone, which was the perfect medium for the Norman building ambition.

1078 King William began building the magnificent White Tower in London. This stone keep was the beginning of the Tower of London, still standing today.
1080 It is believed that from about 1075 to 1080, King William had a castle built at Colchester over the site of the old Roman temple to Claudius.

By this time the castle at Norwich was in the custodianship of Roger Bigod.

Baldwin's new Abbey Church
1081 By this time, the Bishop of East Anglia, Herfast was increasingly aware that the Abbot of St Edmunds had more income, power and prestige than he did. He had tried to set up his headquarters at Hoxne on the northern boundary of the Liberty of St Edmund, justifying this by claiming it to be the site of St Edmund's martyrdom. The Abbot of St Edmunds objected to this.

The King again had to stop Bishop Erfast from trying to move in on the abbey at Bury. So in 1081, William the Conqueror confirmed the freedom of the abbey of St Edmund from episcopal control. On 31st May he issued a grant of privileges to "Edmund, the Glorious King and Martyr." According to a copy reproduced in Yates's History, the Bishop's case "was altogether destitute of writings and proofs". Baldwin had produced charters from Canute and Edward in support of the claim to be free of "dominion of all Bishops of that county". William also confirmed all the charters, or precepta, of earlier Kings that "this church, and the town in which this church stands, should be free, through all ages, from the jurisdiction of Bishop Arfast, and of all succeeding Bishops."

Abbot Baldwin had successfully fought off the Bishop, and in the course of the dispute, he obtained exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, not just for the abbey, but also for the town of Bury itself. This resulted in the abbey sacrist being responsible for appointing the parochial chaplains and taking any tithes due to the churches of St James and St Mary. In practice the sacrist was the parson of both parishes, carrying out duties normally undertaken by an archdeacon of the diocese.

This ended the attempts by Bishop Erfast to turn Bury into the cathedral of his see.
This event probably helped to kick-start work on a great new Abbey church at Bury, supported by the Conqueror. Norman sensibilities demanded stone buildings of a size and style unknown to Saxon England before 1066. The separate chapels and churches and haphazard buildings had got to be sorted out and replaced to glorify the new order. The King advised Baldwin to build a new and magnificent church. The establishment of the monastery was also increased from twenty to forty according to Professor Eric Fernie.

So, from about this time, Abbot Baldwin and the Sacrist Thurston probably began to organise the first great re-building of St Edmund's abbey church. The old saxon town had probably been centred inside what today we would think of as the Abbey precincts, but at the time was probably thought of as a normal mix of church and commerce and residential. The Normans liked tidy streets in an orderly grid pattern, just as they had done in Normandy since the plan for Rouen was set in the early 10th century, followed by other similar plans in that Dukedom.

Layout of St Edmund's proposed new town
blank Now land which had been under the plough was laid out in a grid and Baldwin's new streets probably included families pushed out of the abbey precincts by its expansion. It was also a process of separating the religious establishment more clearly from the townspeople.

Eric Fernie has suggested that the plan for the new Abbey church was laid out using the proportion of one to the square root of two. He further suggested that this ratio was carried forward into the layout of the new grid pattern of streets.

It is not clear whether the Saxon Road directly linking Northgate Street to Southgate Street was fully deflected to the present configuration around the abbey precincts at this time, or not until Anselm's day. That part of Northgate Street from Pump Lane to Angel seems to have been called High Street in early days, which might echo the idea of it being the old main street running straight on through today's Abbey Gardens. Angel Hill itself was called The Mustowe until the seventeenth century, meaning a meeting place, and could have been Anselm's market place. The new abbey boundary was probably moated by Baldwin to give a more formal separation of abbey and town.

1084 In 1084, Herfast, Bishop of East Anglia, based at Thetford, died. He had amassed many estates and manors in his time since appointment in 1070, and helped to give Thetford a boost. He was succeeded by Bishop William de Beaufeu, also known as William Galfragus or Galsafus.

An exceptionally heavy geld was collected to help the King pay for a large army of foreign mercenaries to defend the realm against the Danes.

1085 The great army raised against threat of a Danish invasion was billeted on English landholders, "each according to his land". Tax gathering and billeting proved that valuations were out of date and there were disputes over land claims and exemptions. Action was needed to sort out these problems. While holding court at Gloucester the King decided to carry out a survey of the wealth of his new Kingdom. Officers were sent to all parts of the country to compile an inquest or survey of property, later known as the Domesday Book, which is still to be seen in the Public Records Office in London.

Click for more on Domesday
1086 The survey upon which the Domesday Book was based took place in 1086 and remains a valuable source of information about this period. The surviving Domesday Book probably took another couple of years to compile from the surveyors notes. One idea is that the surveys of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex were never properly compiled in this way, and the notes were just copied in their raw form into a separate volume which came to be called the Little Domesday Book. Another possibility supported by Dr Lucy Marten is that, on the contrary, perhaps Norfolk , Suffolk and Essex were completed first. These were the most prosperous areas, and the most important to survey. Perhaps the production of them as the first volume took so long to produce that the rest of the country was done using a much more abbreviated and standardised form.

You can find more about this survey by clicking on the illustration adjacent to this text.

By 1086 the Little Domesday tells us that the Abbey of St Edmund's owned estates, chiefly in Suffolk, but stretching through several counties. Under Norman rule these properties of the Abbey were referred to as the Barony of St Edmund whereas the Liberty was the area of jurisdiction covering West Suffolk. Like all property owners, William the Conqueror required the Abbot to provide a certain number of knights for the Kings Army. This baronial obligation brought the Abbot into the royal circle, to be consulted on matters of state. If an Abbot died the Barony passed into Royal custody until a successor was elected. The feudal quota due from St Edmund's Barony was forty knights. Like other Barons, the Abbot installed tenants on the estate and in return for their property rights (their fees) they were obliged to perform this knight's-service, usually of forty days duty at their own expense. This could be on active service or later by guard duty at Norwich Castle. Although the Abbot owed the King 40 knights, he had let 50 fees by the time of Samson, hoping to keep the 10 for himself as Abbot.

This military service could be avoided by payment of scutage money.

Many of the best manors were not let as Knights' fees but directly run by the Abbot and were called demesne manors. Many of these Manors were held by the Abbey since before 1066, and these are identified in the Domesday Book. Although the Abbot was deprived of Mildenhall by 1086, one of his most prosperous holdings, others, like Chevington and Saxham were acquired by Abbot Baldwin since the Conquest. Chevington, formerly owned by Britulf, was given to the Abbey by William I. Future abbots would have an important Hall here, and Chevington Hall Farm survives on this site.

You can see maps of the Abbey holdings, both in 1066 and by 1086, by clicking here:

Maps of Abbey Landholdings 1066 and 1086

At St Edmund's Bury town itself the Domesday book recorded 500 dwellings, and many of the inhabitants depended on the monastery for a living. Some 75 bakers, ale brewers, tailors, washerwomen, shoe and robe makers, cooks, porter and purveyors "daily wait upon the Saint, the Abbot, and the Brethren." The Domesday Book recorded 30 priests, deacons and clergymen in Bury together with 28 nuns and poor people who "daily utter prayers for the King and all Christian people". Bury's population might have grown to 2,250 by 1086. The town was now valued at £20, or twice its value in 1066.

Dr Lucy Marten has pointed out that the entry for Bury is quite unlike other entries. It rambles on about "praying for the king", and lists all the traders etc., and she suggests that the entry was written, not by the Commissioners, but by the monks themselves, or even directly by Abbot Baldwin.

Bury 1086 by Bernard Gauthiez
blank Baldwin was Abbot of St Edmunds from 1065 to 1097 and Domesday credited him with building 342 houses by 1086 on land which used to be under the plough. The relevant extract is as follows, taken from the Phillimore translation:

"14, ('Lands of St Edmund')

In the town where St Edmund the glorious King and Martyr lies buried, ........................
Now 2 mills; 2 ponds or fish ponds.
Value of this town then £10; now £20.
It has 1½ leagues in length and as much in width.
When the Hundred pays £1 in tax, then 60d goes from here for the monks' supplies;
but this is from the town as it was before 1066 and yet it is the same now although it is enclosed in a larger circuit of land which then was ploughed and sown but where now there are 30 priests, deacons and clerics, and 28 nuns and poor persons, who pray daily for the King and all Christian people.
Also 75 bakers, brewers, tailors, washers, shoemakers, robemakers, cooks, porters, bursars; all these daily serve St Edmund's, the Abbot and the brethren.
Besides these, there are 13 reeves in charge of the land who have their houses in the same town;

Alternative translation by Domesdaytextbase: "Besides these, there are 13 [men] on the reeve's land who have their houses in the same town;"

under them, 5 smallholders.
Also now 34 men-at-arms, including French and English; under them, 22 smallholders.
Now in all there are 342 houses in lordship on land which was St Edmund's arable before 1066."

This building was probably arranged in five new streets to the west of the Abbey, running north to south in a grid plan, still clearly visible today. These houses generated rents and the market generated tolls and fees for the Abbey. The convent held 400 acres of arable land within the Banleuca, or the town boundary which lasted up to the 1930's. Nothing could be built in the Banleuca without the permission of the Abbot and the Convent. The town was recorded at 2.5 miles long and the same length wide.

However, the town ditch enclosed a tighter, urban area with its South, North, East, West and Risby gates. The people living inside the ditch enjoyed more privileges than the suburban dwellers in the Banleuca outside. The town ditch was probably not replaced by a wall until about 1136.

The Sacrist of the Abbey controlled the borough court and appointed the town reeves or bailiffs, administering justice and running a gaol right up to 1539.

The main Borough Court at this time was the portman-moot, which administered the borough's old customs. The burgesses were exempt from going to either the Shire Court or to the Hundred Court. The portman-moot pre dated the local monastery's rise to power, and as years passed, its influence was to wane as the abbot's power grew.

The first mention of Haverhill proper occurs in 1086, when the Normans carried out their famous Domesday survey. They recorded that a market was operating and as only eleven such markets are recorded for Suffolk, it would appear that Haverhill was of considerable importance. The local Norman lord of the manor was Tihell de Helion, although to call him a Norman may not be strictly true, as, in fact, he came from Brittany and took his name from his native village. The Domesday Book recorded that he owned one third of the market, the remainder being given to the Gilberts of Clare. The Saxon Clarenbold was dispossessed in 1066. The market was valued at 13s 4d and was situated at Burton End.

At Clare, the "comes famoses" (or renowned magnate) Aelfric had been an important Saxon thegn, owning estates in Suffolk and Essex. Domesday recorded that Aelfric had given the substantial 24 carucate (2880 acres) manor of Clare to the religious house of St John before 1066. He had placed therein a certain Ledmer the priest and others with him. When a charter had been made, he committed the Church and the whole place to the custody of Abbot Leofstan and into the protection of his son Withgar. The clerics could not grant this land or alienate it from St John's. But after King William came, he took possession of it into his own hand.

It is not clear why the manor was confiscated from St John's, or exactly when, but by 1086 it was in the hands of Count Gilbert, then passing to his son. Also by this time it was endowed with 5 arpents of vineyards, and 12 beehives, speaking of a high status vill, suitable for an abbot or a major Norman lord.

The religious foundation of St John's seems to have survived this loss of its wealth by way of the patronage of Count Gilbert himself. Their church was incorporated within the castle grounds, but their religious life was placed into the hands of the Monastery at Bec, in Normandy, in France. This act would have established St John's as a Benedictine order, if it were not so already. Gilbert himself now endowed the church with a number of his newly acquired assets in Norfolk and Suffolk, and the pastures of Horscroft and Waltuna in Clare.

Count Gilbert's son, Richard FitzGilbert, would build his own castle at Clare to demonstrate to the Saxons that all their old duties and dues would now be payable to him as the new Lord. By about 1120 the family were using the name de Clare.

Hundon Parks
blank Part of FitzGilbert's landholdings included Hundon, and although not mentioned in Domesday, we know that by 1090 the Stoke by Clare cartulary was referring to deer for the sick monks being taken from FitzGilbert's parks there. In fact, FitzGilbert had three adjacent, but separate, parks in Hundon. To the west was Broxtead Park, to the east was Easty Park, and between them stood Hundon Great Park, as large as the other two put together. Each park had its own central lodge. These were areas on the high boulder clay soils, which were less suitable for farming using the methods available at the time. They were cold and ill drained, and had been left as forest by the Saxons. Under Aelfric these parks may have been more or less open, but were probably used by him for the sport of hunting, just as the Norman FitzGilbert would continue. Under the FitzGilberts the land probably became more closely defined and enclosed by banks, ditches and hedges.

The Normans were responsible for introducing two new animal species to the British record. These were the fallow deer and the rabbit. Having set up his parks, FitzGilbert was part of this introduction so far as the fallow deer was concerned. They were kept within his own enclosures for hunting by himself and those honoured guests whom he wished to impress. Rabbits were prized for both meat and fur, but the cold clay soil conditions at Hundon were probably unsuitable for the rearing of rabbits here at this time.

The village of Woolpit is recorded in the Domesday record, spelled Wlfpeta, or Wolf Pit. The use of baited pits to trap wolves was the usual method of destroying the wolf, which was regarded as a frightening predator. Wolves survived in England until about 1550, but in the more populated areas like East Anglia, it was probably more or less eradicated by 1086.

It is interesting that the only castle in Suffolk actually mentioned in the Domesday Book was at Eye. Here, Robert Malet had been granted the lands of the Saxon lord, Eadric of Laxfield. Malet set up his home estate here, and his holdings became known as the Honour of Eye. Malet was landlord number 6 in the Domesday Book for Suffolk, and his lands took 27 pages to record. However, this reference to his castle does not appear under Malet's own record at Eye, which is 6,191; but under section 18,1 part of the lands of William, the Bishop of Thetford. Under the heading for the Bishop's manor at Hoxne, the Domesday Book noted that Hoxne had had a market on Saturdays since before 1066, as follows:

"W Malet made his castle at Eye and, on the same day that there was a market on the Bishop's manor, W Malet established another market in his castle. Because of this, the Bishop's market declined so that it is worth little; and it now takes place on Fridays. However, the market at Eye takes place on Saturdays."

Eye itself consisted of 12 carucates, where one carucate was equal to 120 acres, and so was a large holding in its own right. The Honour itself included many other estates such as Rishangles, Brundish, Dennington and Leiston. By 1086 there was also one Park recorded within the estate of Eye.

At Thetford the survey showed that it was divided between King William and Roger Bigod, and they may both have begun to build castles there.

In England as a whole, the Domesday Book showed that by 1086 20 per cent of the land was owned by the King, 25 per cent by the Church, 50 per cent by Norman Barons, and only 5 per cent by Anglo-Saxons. Suffolk itself had 2,400 land holdings, apparently one of the wealthiest and most densely settled counties of late Saxon and early Norman England, averaging 10 to 12 households per square mile.

In 20 years the locals had been dispossessed, and with French now the official language, the thriving Anglo-Saxon culture of pre-1066 suffered badly.

The scholarly Norman Lanfranc had been made Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church hierarchy had been Normanised thoroughly with his help.

Anglo Saxon Earls were replaced by Norman Barons, and a new hierarchy was set up below the King with land tenure based on military service. It was a society based upon the pursuit of war.

In 1066 Ipswich had been the largest town in Suffolk. By 1086 Ipswich had suffered severe depopulation and destruction, as it was implicated in resistance to King William. Norwich also suffered in the same way. By contrast, Bury St Edmunds and Dunwich had flourished under Norman rule. Dunwich had been promoted as a port to rival Ipswich, and would continue to flourish until natural disasters eventually destroyed both port and town.
Some estimated population figures for 1086 are as follows:

  • London - 15,000
  • York - 8,500
  • Winchester - 8,000
  • Norwich - 6,500
  • Lincoln - 6,000
  • Thetford - 5,000
  • Dunwich - 3,000
  • Ipswich - 2,500
  • Cambridge - 2,250
  • Bury St Edmunds - 1,500
Beccles, Clare, Eye and Sudbury were smaller important centres in Suffolk, and were credited with burgesses in the Domesday Book. Burgesses were free to pursue trade and industry without the obligations of manorial and agricultural life.
1087 King William I died in Normandy after a year of fighting rebellions there, including his eldest son Robert Curthose. He was succeeded by Robert's brother William, known as William Rufus, or King William II, who ruled until 1100.
1088 The King's brother Robert, supported by many Barons, was in rebellion. They seized land, and at Norwich the locals rose up to attack Roger Bigod in the great keep. They succeeded in expelling him.

Following such seizures the Domesday survey became needed to sort out those possessions that the King wanted back. William II therefore either encouraged completion of the great book or in the view of one historian, actually caused the survey to be written up into the Domesday Book.

In 1088 William de Warrene died. He seems to have been holding Thetford Castle at this time, and on his death it reverted to the crown.

1089 At some point, possibly between 1087 and 1098, Abbot Baldwin produced his own Feudal Book. Like the Domesday Book, it listed all the property that the Abbot considered belonged to him and the Monastery of St Edmund. It has been transcribed by Professor D C Douglas and published in his 1932 work entitled, "Feudal Documents from the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds." It was substantially reproduced in the Pinchbeck Register, a list of the abbey's privileges produced much later, in the 14th century.

Professor Douglas decided that the Abbot's book was not just a copy of Domesday, but relied upon other supplementary information, not included in the Domesday Book. The introduction states that it was intended to state the landholding position at the time when William I made his description of all England; ie Domesday Book.

The first section of his book is laid out like the Domesday Book. It lists holdings under each Hundred, and then under each vill. The second section proceeds tenant by tenant. The third section which survives covers only Thedwestry, Blackbourn and Cosford, where entries are vill by vill again, but lists all the tenants with a summary of their holdings and amounts due. The other Hundreds appear to be missing or lost.

Fenland waterways 1604 redrawn by M Chisholm
1090 By 1090 work had begun on the great new church for the abbey of St Edmund. Most of the stone was to come by river boat from Barnack quarries near Peterborough.

In his Opera Posthuma of 1745, "Antiquitates S Edmundi Burgi", John Battely, the late Archdeacon of Canterbury, discussed the shipment of stone from Barnack, and referred to a an order to Peterborough, issued by William the Conqueror, that Abbot Baldwin of Bury, be permitted to have as much stone as needed for the monastic church 'as he has had up till now and not to make any further hindrance for him in bringing stone to the water which you have formerly done.'

Batteley refers to Gunwade as being the location where the stone was loaded on to boats on the River Nene. Professor M Chisholm argues that it would have been cheaper to load stone at Pilsgate on the River Welland and take the 9 mile longer river route, via the Crowland Cut, but obviating the shorter, but much more expensive 4 mile land route to Gunwade.

Barnack,Gunwade and Pilsgate are all visible on the attached map by M Chisholm, published in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 2010 and 2011. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version. Chisholm suggests that both routes may have been used at different times.

According to John Lydgate writing in 1430 some stone came from Caen in Normandy by sea and landed on the strand at Rattlesden. If this ever was the case, it may have happened two centuries later when Barnack quarries were becoming exhausted.

Baldwin built St Denis's church for use by the town on the site of the chancel of the present cathedral. This was to compensate them for losing the right to worship in the abbey church.

1091 The second Bishop of Thetford, William de Beaufoy died. In the Domesday book his bishopric was shown to own more than 70 manors. He was succeeded by Bishop Herbert de Losinga.
Ther is some suggestion that de Losinga continued Erfast's attempt to set up headquarters in Hoxne. However the see had already been granted 14 mansions in Norwich to set up the bishopric there.

In addition, the judgement of 1081 meant that the Abbey of St Edmund held sway right to the edge of Thetford, which was too close for comfort. It would also seem that Thetford was starting its decline from the major centre it had so recently been, while Norwich was growing more powerful.

So Bishop Herbert de Losinga was forced to consider setting up his Priory at Norwich instead. Meanwhile he retained his Hoxne manor house, and still dreamed of St Edmunds.

1094 The Chancel of the great new Abbey church was completed. King William Rufus was asked permission to consecrate it to St Edmund.

In April, 1094, the Bishop of East Anglia, Herbert de Losinga formally moved his throne from Thetford to Norwich. Work was begun on a great new cathedral at Norwich for him, and it seems likely that a complete physical move awaited some completion of works in 1098. The dates surrounding this move are confused in many texts, as are the exact details of the wranglings over the attempted takeover of Bury by the Bishops.

King William had given the church some houses in Norwich, so that the bishopric could have a prestigious new site, and promised the Bishop the right to mint coins to provide another source of income. A huge cathedral thus began to rise in Norwich from 1094 to 1098.

William was genuinely pious, and favoured the church, but he may also have become fed up with the constant pressure put on him by the disputes between the Bishop and the Abbot of St Edmund's. The price of packing the Bishop off to Norwich was probably well worth it in his eyes.

The castle of Richard Fitzgilbert had been built in Clare by this time. From here he ran the great estate known as the Honour of Clare.

Also built by a similar date was Hugh de Montfort's castle at Haughley. Like Clare, de Montfort's lands were directly taken over from the Saxon lord, Guthmund, and, just as at Clare, de Montfort built his castle on the site of the Saxon lord's great hall.

Existing tenancies and rents remained in place. Only the landlord was replaced, and the new order was emphasised by the new stone built castle complex. However, usually the new lord then handed over the existing tenancies to his own supporters.

Therefore, the Norman castle was not necessarily built in the most advantageous defensive position. It was built to demonstrate a continuity of rule, but under new lordship and so it was always more advantageous to supplant or replace the existing power centres by new structures.

Norman lifestyles also demanded dovecotes, rabbit warrens, fishponds, religious houses, chases and deer parks to be established around the castle. The dove, rabbit and fallow deer were reintroduced by the Normans, having been absent since Roman times. Rabbits at this time seem to have been less well adapted to the British climate than they are today, as they needed to be cossetted in specially built warrens.

The Normans also went in for town planning and Clare and Bungay were both given the grid iron layout most famously surviving today at Bury St Edmunds.

A summary of the best known castles of Norman Suffolk known to have been started by this time included the following:
ClareLiberty of St Edmundde Clare family
EyeGeldable SuffolkMalet family
HaughleyGeldable Suffolkde Montfort family
BungayGeldable SuffolkBigod family
FramlinghamLiberty of St EtheldredaBigod family
WaltonLiberty of St EtheldredaBigod family
At this date strongholds like Framlingham were only earthworks with wooden defences. The well known curtain walls which remain today at Framlingham date from after 1189.

By the end of the Norman period it is believed that about 28 castles had been built in Suffolk, ranging from the best known to small mounds with possibly only ever wooden defences.

1095 At last the Bishop of Winchester arrived in Bury with the King's chaplain and inspected the saints body, verified its condition and managed its move to the new shrine. The Bishop of Winchester then consecrated the large new abbey church of St Edmund. Herman, a monk of Bury, compared the presbytery of the new church to the Temple of Solomon. It was bigger than Durham Cathedral, which is 411 feet long, whereas Bury was 480 feet.

The remains of St Edmund were moved (the correct church term is 'translated') into the new stone church behind the high altar. The foundation at Bury had also acquired relics of other saints in the time of King Canute, so, at the same time the relics of St Botolph, and St Jurmin the Confessor, were also translated into the new church.

Under Abbot Baldwin the ancient timber church had been levelled and foundations laid, walls built and the presbytery completed in full so the saint could be housed in more suitable surroundings. This was part of a nationwide flush of Norman stone church building, after sweeping away the old fashioned Saxon churches. Phase one of the rebuild was complete and work now seems to have stopped for seven years.

A monk called Herman of Bury wrote a book called "The Miracles of St Edmund." In it he stated that the site of the first burial of St Edmund was at a place called Sutton close to the site of his martyrdom. It is believed that he wrote an earlier draft in 1071, but presumably he was well aware that Abbo of Fleury, writing in 985, had located Edmund's death at Haegelisdun Wood. If so, this leads us to conclude that Sutton and Haegelisdun Wood must have been two places located close together.

Apart from his history, Herman seems to have been important to the abbey as the start of its great literary tradition. Following him was a stream of material in French, Latin and English, both prose and verse, and this work would continue to the end of the Middle Ages.

Plan of ruins showing deviation
1096 Examination of the ruins of the great abbey church at Bury St Edmunds has revealed that the north wall of the nave seems to be misaligned to the main church axis by about three degrees. It gradually widens the church as it moves towards the West Front, leading some to suspect that a mistake has been made in the original layout, or in the execution of the plan. Professor Eric Fernie has suggested that this was, in fact a deliberate modification to the plan which was carried out after 1095 or 1096.

At Norwich the plans for a great new cathedral church were just being put into practice. The design was very similar to the successful chancel just completed at Bury, but it was deliberately larger. Abbot Baldwin, although nearing the end of his life, would not accept this, and so, (Fernie suggests), he had his building design quietly enlarged so that when completed, the West Front would be larger than the church at Norwich.

1097 Abbot Baldwin died on 4th January, 1097, acording to a document by Marianus Scotus. However, it is possible that this date was assigned under the new fangled Florentine usage. Over the next century there would be a gradual shifting away from the New Year beginning on Christmas Day, to beginning on Lady Day, the 25th March. The 4th January 1097 under this system would seen as 4th January 1098 under modern usage where the New Year begins on January 1st.

Baldwin had come over from France to the court of King Edward the Confessor, and became a man of great international experience and influence. He had the ear of kings, and was a great organiser and administrator. Once made Abbot of Bury in 1065, he soon doubled the size of the town into a flourishing trading centre. It was clear to him how this growth would generate income for the monastery, and he was able to attract merchants, both French and English, to come to the town. All this was carried out under the heel of a conqueror, and his influence with the Conqueror helped to give the town the secure conditions needed for safe trade. This contrasts with the decline of towns like Thetford and Ipswich after the Conquest.

By 1065 the convent was in possession of all of the profits of the town of Bury. It is likely that by 1097 the convent had assigned the work of collecting it all to the Sacrist. He was now potentially the lord of the Borough, and could pursue the monks' interests as if they were his own.

There is one account, related by Mrs Statham, which suggests that Abbot Baldwin established the Dussegild from local secular religious men who otherwise had their role usurped to some extent by the growing power of the monastery. They were given the task of training choristers, and given the right to control the Song School, set up for this purpose. Initially this was said to be based in the church of St Denis, which existed until the establishment of the first Church of St James by Abbot Anselm.

1098 Following Abbot Baldwin's death, there was a vacancy for Abbot which was not settled for some time. In 1100 the new King would try to impose his own choice of candidate.

In 1098 the Bishopric at Thetford was finally physically removed to Norwich by Bishop Herbert de Losinga, apparently giving up on the idea of taking over Bury St Edmunds. His great new cathedral which had started construction in 1094 was monastic and had room for 60 monks, and the Bishop got a fortified palace.

Incidentally, Herbert de Losinga is credited with establishing a market at the head of the Wash, at Lynn at around this time. Its charter was renewed or formalised by Bishop John de Gray of Norwich in 1204, when it seems to have become called Bishops Lynn. After the dissolution it became known as Kings Lynn.

1099 The First Crusade to the Holy Land was begun.
1100 Henry I became King and would rule for 35 years until 1135.

King Henry I now tried to ignore the Benedictine rule that monks elect their own abbot, and appointed his own nominee called Robert as fourth abbot. He was unqualified for this role and the monks of Bury did their best to unseat him. The monks at Bury had their own man, confusingly also called Robert, and we may refer to him as Robert II. The monks treated him as acting abbot.

Henry I now returned the whole of the Honour of Eye to Robert Malet who lost some of his estates under William II. Robert Malet seems to have been a troublesome subject, as he would again be dispossessed by Henry I in 1110.

Mark Bailey has pointed out that some of the Suffolk towns which are familiar to us today did not yet exist in 1100. Prime examples of this are Woodbridge, Newmarket and Needham Market. These would all come into existence before 1300 along with the rise in commerce and the specialisation of labour. These newer towns would be created by feudal overlords as money making enterprises based on trade, but nearly all the existing towns and their inhabitants were also still subject to feudal dues and duties owed to the local lord. The feudal overlord for Bury St Edmunds consisted of one or more of the officials of the Abbey of St Edmund.

1101 Church documents quoted in Yates's History of the Abbey at Bury say that Bishop Herbert de Losinga continued to try to gain jurisdiction over the Abbey of St Edmund. It was said that while in Rome to discuss a dispute between King Henry I (reigned 1100 - 1135) and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, he intended to approach the Pope on this matter. He was thwarted by needing to spend the necessary 40 marks earmarked for the legal expenses on a ransome from Guy de Lyons.

Having failed in this matter it is said that he got the abbey at Bury to assign some of its revenues to him to assist with building his new cathedral at Norwich. These were the carucutage or carvage, and this transaction led to more disputes when Bury claimed the money back at a later date.

1102 In 1102 Norwich received its formal foundation as a Bishopric. Bishop Herbert de Losinga had been forced to set up his Priory at Norwich instead of at Bury or even Hoxne, but in the foundation charter for Norwich, it was stated that St Edmund died at Hoxne. The church at Hoxne previously dedicated to St Ethelbert was re-dedicated to St Edmund and Herbert de Losinga retained his Hoxne manor house. The Bishop had tried to steal some of Bury's glory by this claim that Hoxne was the real site of St Edmund's martyrdom.

In the year 1100 King Henry I had imposed his own man called Robert upon the community of St Edmund as Abbot. The monks tried to overturn this appointment until at last, in 1102, either Robert left, or he was deposed by Archbishop Anselm.

At St Edmunds, Robert II was acting abbot, and because the King refused to accept the dismissal of his own choice, Robert I, Robert II was not consecrated as Abbot until 1107. Either as Acting Abbot or Abbot, Robert II is credited with building the Cloister, Chapter House, Refectory, Dormitory and his Camera. It is believed that the Sacrist in charge of the building work by this time was called Godfrey.

Under Henry I, Bury St Edmunds is said to have become a borough by prescription when the king issued its first charter, according to W B Faraday in his book, "The English and Welsh Boroughs", published around 1952.

1103 At Thetford Roger Bigod founded a Cluniac Priory, which would grow to great magnificence. At around this time he may also have taken over the king's castle there with its great motte, or mound.
1104 Abbot Robert II is credited with building the Cloister, Chapter House, Refectory, Dormitory and the abbot's Camera at Bury. It is believed that the Sacrist in charge of the building work by this time was called Godfrey. Remarkably this building work took place during a time when the abbot was officially in an acting capacity, as the King refused to allow him to be consecrated. It is not known exactly when these buildings were completed, but Robert II ruled the abbey from 1100 to 1107, officially accepted or not.

There is a question to be considered about the location of these new buildings. As William Spanton wrote in the 1920s, "The situation of the Cloisters and Monastic buildings north of the Abbey Church is unusual - The south side was commonly chosen." ('Bury St Edmunds Its History and Antiquities', page 13 footnote.)

Since the early 800s all continental Benedictine monasteries tended to follow a layout based upon a plan of St Gall, in Switzerland. Norman planners now brought these ideas more strongly into Britain. The classic layout was for the cloisters and the living quarters of the monks to be located to the south of the great church. This would place these buildings on the sunny side of the church. For some reason, at Bury the cloisters etc were placed to the north of the abbey church. We do not know if Sacrist Godfrey was following a layout already agreed under Baldwin, or whether this was his own idea.

In any case, we can speculate that there must have been a reason for this departure from established practice. One reason may have been that the topography favoured building to the north, perhaps because of soil conditions, or because of the issue of the water supply and management of drainage. Another reason may have been that the area today known as the Great Churchyard may have been occupied by townspeople's dwellings, or even by a market-place. Further investigation is needed into examination of these possibilities before reaching a conclusion.

1105 The mint at Bury, first granted by Edward the Confessor, had ceased to produce coin some time after the conquest. By 1105 it was back in production with all profits going to the Abbot.
1106 Abbot Robert was elected by the monks in 1100, but because of a dispute with the king, he ruled the Abbey unconsecrated until 1107. Because of these circumstances he was acutely concerned by the fact that during the vacant period after an abbot's death, all the income from his barony would go to the crown. This could leave the convent of monks penniless unless they had their own income clearly defined. So a division was made between manors assigned to the Abbot and those belonging to the convent ie the body of monks. They were separately administered and Convent property was not to form part of the Barony. This arrangement was a major step forward in abbey affairs, and Robert was often praised by monkish chroniclers for this formalisation in later years.

M D Lobel wrote that she assumed this convent property was administered in practice by the sacrist. This fact was also to prove important because there were many future disputes over who was responsible for meeting various financial obligations like paying for the feeding of guests, and from which income this was to be found.

1107 Robert II was finally consecrated as the fifth Abbot at St Edmund's, but he died two months later. He had ruled as de facto Abbot since 1102, following the dispute with the King over the eviction of Robert I by the Church hierarchy.

The King now had a chance to get his own back, as he effectively blocked the appointment of Prior Baldwin as Abbot by the Convent, causing another hiatus in control of St Edmund's Abbey, which lasted until 1114.

At Haughley, Robert de Montfort was banished by Henry I, leading to the loss of Haughley castle, and all his lands and properties, including his post as one of the four Constables of England. Haughley castle went to the king's sister Alice, who took it via marriage to both Simon de Moulins and Robert de Vere.

1110 Robert Malet lost the great estates of the Honour of Eye when it was forfeited to the crown for plotting against the King.
1113 In 1113 or 1114 Henry I granted the Honour of Eye to his nephew, Count Stephen de Blois. It is possible that he was even allowed to mint coins for a short period because in the year 2000 a new variation of a Henry I type penny was found, possibly reading 'ANDERAM (O)N EI'.

Eye or EIE in Suffolk was not previously thought to have issued coins as early as this, and it is only since 1980 that it has been suggested that King Stephen might later have a mint at Eye. Stephen de Blois held the Honour of Eye until he became King in 1135.

1114 By 1114 King Henry I formally confirmed the division of assets between Abbot and Convent at Bury, and such arrangements became the norm in all monasteries.

The sixth abbot to be appointed at Bury was called Albold. He seems to have been described as "a native of Jerusalem", and was previously Prior of St Nicaise at Meulan in Normandy. Albold seems to have been a compromise candidate in order to settle the dispute between the Convent at Bury and the King over the appointment of the new Abbot. In 1107 the vacancy had arisen and the monks elected Robert the Prior as their candidate for the post of Abbot. The King had blocked this appointment until finally he agreed to Albold in 1114.

1115 Some time in the reign of Abbot Allbold, in the years 1114 to 1119, he granted the Stewardship of the Liberty of St Edmund to Maurice de Windsor. Along with the post went the manors of Lidgate, and another in Bedfordshire. From now onwards the post of Steward became hereditary, by accident or design. When Maurice died, the post passed to his nephew, Ralph de Hastings.

Around 1115 a Priory cell of Benedictine monks was established at Sudbury. Its founder was Wulfric, Master of the Mint to Henry I and the Church seems to have been given to Westminster, where Wulfric was a monk. It was dedicated to St Bartholomew and was probably only a small grange by the church which itself was disused by 1830. The cell was dissolved in 1538. The Friary at Sudbury was probably later than this date. See 1248.

1119 Abbot Albold died at St Edmunds Abbey in Bury.
1120 Anselm was elected the seventh Abbot of St Edmunds in 1121, and was in post until 1148. He was the Italian Abbot of St Saba monastery, in Rome, and was to become one of Bury's great Abbots, responsible for some buildings like the Norman Tower, that still stand today. Anselm was in England as a papal legate from 1115 to 1119. Anselm's Italian sensibilities would have included a love of great plazas, and although Abbot Baldwin has been credited as the town planner of Bury, it is equally likely that Anselm had a hand in the Angel Hill and Cornhill areas we see today. The town walls and gates came about under Anselm.

Anselm was a nephew of St Anselm of Canterbury and was a friend of the King. He was often at Henry I's court.

The Jewish community in Bury seems to have established itself around this time. They were needed to provide the finance that any great building projects required.

1121 It is possible that Godfrey was succeeded by another Sacrist at this time called Ralph. Godfrey had by now overseen the building of the infirmary, the crypt (dedicated 1114), the transepts, the central tower to roof level and two bays of the nave.

Anselm and Ralph now had to plan for the completion of the great church. They wanted a magnificent approach to the planned West Front and decided upon a Great Gateway (The Norman Tower) opening upon a courtyard in front of it.

They also wanted a square in front of the gateway and it is likely that some demolition and re-development of properties was necessary at the Southern end of Angel Hill and around today's Chequers Square. The boundaries of the Abbey were probably extended again towards the town to accommodate the new building, and the roadway shifted accordingly. This probably all took the next 30 years to carry out.

In the town of Bury, the administration necessary had grown over the years and by this time it was normal for there to be two joint Town Reeves controlling the borough. They collected the rents and market tolls and enforced the law on behalf of the sacrist. The job became called Bailiff by the next century.

1124 The outer bailey of Clare castle had held a Benedictine priory up to this time. The Domesday Book recorded that the Anglo-Saxon lord Aelfric had given the substantial manor of Clare to a religious house or priory dedicated to St John before 1066. He committed the Church and the whole place to the custody of Abbot Leofstan and into the protection of his son Withgar. After the Norman Conquest, King William took possession of Clare, and by 1086 it was in the hands of Count Gilbert, then passing to his son.

The religious foundation of St John's seems to have survived this loss of its wealth by way of the patronage of Count Gilbert himself. Their church was incorporated within the castle grounds, but their religious life was placed into the hands of the Monastery at Bec, in Normandy, in France. Gilbert endowed the church with a number of his newly acquired assets in Norfolk and Suffolk.

In 1124 Richard of Clare decided to remove the monks to nearby Stoke by Clare. The existing foundation at Stoke was dedicated to St Augustine, but a new church to St John was erected at some later date. Today the church of St John the Baptist at Stoke by Clare is still in use.

1125 St James Church was dedicated at Bury St Edmunds in 1125. The old parish churches of St Denis and St Mary had been demolished to make way for the great abbey church. The new St James's was begun by Abbot Anselm as one of the replacements. The new St Mary's would be started about ten years later. The dedication to St James is thought to be the first such dedication in this country. It arose from Anselm's desire to visit the shrine of St James de Compostela, in Spain.
1130 At some point in his reign, probably in the 1130s, Abbot Anselm agreed a charter of rights with the burgesses of Bury St Edmunds. This charter was probably just a recognition of existing borough customs, rather than the concession of new privileges or powers. It was probably that for which the townsmen are recorded by Jocelin de Brakelond as purchasing from Abbot Sampson a confirmation in the 1190s. It covered the town's obligations to provide night watches and gatekeepers, the responsibility for repairing the town ditch, the burgage rents payable, their right to justice at the town's Portmanmoot, the sale of land, and the collection of debts.

You can view the details of this charter in translation by clicking here: Anselm's Charter

1132 Henry I visited the Abbey of St Edmund. In the previous decade he had replaced the old Norwich castle with a fine stone keep.
1135 By the year 1135, Abbot Anselm,in lieu of making a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella, had finished building the fine church of St. James within the abbey precincts; it was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the same time Henry I granted him the privilege of a prolonged fair at St. Edmunds on the festival of St. James, and on three days before and two days after.

This subsequently evolved into the Bury Fair and it may have always been held on the Mustowe, now called Angel Hill.

Anselm could now turn his finances and his attention to the rebuilding of a parish church for the parish of St Mary's. This was to be located at the south west corner of the abbey precincts.

King Stephen now came to the throne in the following circumstances. Count Stephen de Blois was the nephew of Henry I and had held the Honour of Eye since 1113 or 1114. Henry I had only one legitimate child, his daughter Matilda who was married in 1128 to Geoffrey Plantagenet, heir to the Countdom of Anjou.

As Henry I lay dying, his nominated successor, Matilda, was in Anjou, while Stephen was in Boulogne. Stephen hurried to London and grasped the throne by a mixture of political skill and trickery. King Stephen would have about two years of peace before Matilda moved against him.

Bury by 1150
1136 The threat of civil war in the reign of King Stephen lasted until 1153 and caused a spate of new castles and fortifications to be built or older ones strengthened. At Norwich, Hugh Bigod strengthened the castle, and refused to hand it over to the crown as he had heard a rumour that King Stephen had died. Stephen had to go himself to Norwich to take possession of it.

During March, 1136, Anselm was elected Bishop of London, which required him to be enthroned in London in 1137.

Remnants of town wall
blank Around this time, according to the Gesta Sacristarum, Harvey the Sacrist also built the town walls of Bury to replace the ditch from the West Gate to the North Gate. Remnants of the Town Wall, or perhaps, more accurately, remnants of the line of the town wall are best seen in St Andrews Street South. From the Black Boy Yard northwards, several yards still show evidence of a continuous wall line, in either freestanding walls or in building lines. Evidence probably recurs in Tayfen Road where the Gasworks stood. It then seems to disappear again. In 1993, masonry was excavated on the Northgate Street roundabout which seemed to be part of the North Gate. Excavations just south-west of the roundabout by Tayfen Road failed to find the town wall where it would have been expected to have run. We might conclude therefore that Anselm enlarged Baldwin's grid of streets and surrounded the urban area by a wall, except where there were marshes, to the north of Tayfen. The wall was more commercial than military as it had five gates where tolls were collected. Four of the gatekeepers were town appointees rather than the abbot's but the Abbey received all the income. The Abbey kept control of the Eastgate as it also regulated river traffic under the Abbot's Bridge.

The money for the walls came from the town rents paid to the sacrist, and also from a levy on the free tenants of the Liberty of the Eight and a Half Hundreds of West Suffolk.

Ezechial in the Bury Bible
blank Harvey the Sacrist at this time was also responsible for commissioning the Bury Bible, a masterpiece of Romanesque illumination. The history of the Bury Sacrists, Gesta Sacristarum, states:
"This Hervey, brother of Prior Talbot, met all the expenses for his brother the Prior to have a great Bible written, and he had it incomparably illuminated by Master Hugo. Because he could not find calf skins that suited him in our region, he procured parchment in Scotia." This probably refers to Scotland, although some scholars have suggested that it refers to Ireland. The work probably took about ten years. Hugo or Hugh was probably a professional artist-craftsman, who moved to wherever the work took him.

Anselm possibly also moved the Great Market from St Mary's Square to a large space inside the town wall at the top of Abbeygate Street. It is also possible that it had previously been held on Angel Hill before being moved to today's position. Burgesses paid no gate toll, so could sell at cheaper prices in the market than could outsiders.

1137 The reign of King Stephen from 1135 to 1154 was a time of political turmoil. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Peterborough manuscript, entry for the year 1137) recorded that:
"….each powerful man … filled the land full of castles. They greatly oppressed the poor men of the land with castle-work; [and] when the castles were made then they filled them with devils and evil men. I neither know nor may I tell all the horror nor all the pains that they did poor men in this land,… t’was said openly that Christ and his saints slept."

During the reign of King Stephen he needed to buy favours from the great magnates in the land, in order to command their support. A Royal Charter, (number 66 in Douglas 1932) granted the Hundred of Stow to the Abbey of St Edmund, enlarging the Eight and a Half Hundreds of the Liberty up to Nine and a Half Hundreds. Stow, nowadays the area of Stowmarket, was conveniently adjacent to the border of the Liberty. Sometime after 1142, King Stephen confirmed this grant, but as King Henry II refused to confirm it after his accession in 1155, the change was only temporary.

A similar situation would arise with the half Hundred of Harlow, granted to Abbot Ording around 1148, but not confirmed by Henry II.

Meanwhile, Anselm of Bury was enthroned as the Bishop of London, leaving Bury with a vacancy as Abbot.

1138 While Anselm was away on his duties as Bishop of London, Ording was elected Abbot. Unfortunately the Pope, Innocent II, decided to quash the election of Anselm to the Bishopric of London. Abbot Ording was summarily expelled from his post upon the return of Anselm to Bury St Edmunds. Ording had been a monk, cellarer and prior at Bury. Abbot Anselm resumed his active stewardship of the Abbey of St Edmund, while Ording had to wait until Anselm's death in 1148 before he could become Abbot once again.
1139 The Empress Matilda finally resolved to land in England at Arundel, and Stephen unwisely allowed her to join her ally Robert of Gloucester at Bristol. In practice there were now two royal courts in England, a sure recipe for civil war.

Walton Castle near Felixstowe was captured by King Stephen from Hugh Bigod. It was dismantled in 1175, but its site now lies under the sea.

1140 By 1140 the powerful Bigod family had definitely built their castle at Bungay, but it is likely that it was founded by Roger Bigod before 1100. It is recorded that in 1140 it was captured from Hugh Bigod by King Stephen. As Earl of Norfolk, Bigod later recovered this castle. The Bigod castle at Framlingham would also be built by 1157, although its origins were at least 50 years earlier.

Also around this time there were castles at Milden and Offton and their owners were thought to be antagonistic to the Abbey of St Edmund. The owner of Offton was one William de Ambli. The Abbot therefore granted Groton and Semer to Adam de Cokefeld, or Cockfield, because he had a castle at Lindsey and would defend these vills belonging to the abbey. This story was reported by William of Diss in about 1200.

King Stephen had granted Haughley Castle to Henry of Essex. It had been owned by the de Montforts until their banishment in 1107, when it reverted to the crown.

The Honour of Clare had an earthen castle at Denham. The Steward of the Abbey (Maurice de Windsor) had a ditched mound fortification at Lidgate. Lord Hastings extended the earthworks at Lidgate during the Anarchy of King Stephen into a massive motte and bailey construction, with a castle. A market seems to have been laid out as well. Lidgate castle seems to have become abandoned and neglected by the 1260s.

1141 King Stephen and the armies of Empress Matilda fought a battle at Lincoln and Stephen was imprisoned in Bristol. Although the Empress Matilda took London and expected to be crowned, Stephen's wife, confusingly called Matilda of Boulogne took an army to London and drove the Empress out. Stephen was later freed from prison in a prisoner exchange.
1143 Geoffrey de Mandeville rose in revolt against King Stephen and in 1143-1144 he led an armed incursion into Suffolk. The castles at Bungay and Framlingham were occupied by supporters of Empress Matilda. The stronghold of the Honour of Eye became vital to holding King Stephen's territory and it is possible that in the late 1140's some of his coinage was struck there. One or two coins have been found marked 'GILEBERT ON EI'. The civil war dragged on, based around the powerbases of individual castles.
1147 Robert of Gloucester died. He was one of Empress Matilda's greatest supporters.

Abbey precincts late 12th Century
by Norman Scarfe
1148 Disheartened by events, the Empress Matilda left England, never to return.

Abbot Anselm died. By this time, under his leadership, Ralph the Sacrist, followed by Hervey the Sacrist had virtually completed the nave and west transept. The west front, with its three great arches still lacked its three towers, which were added later by Abbot Samson.

The great gateway of St James's or the Cemetery Gate which we now call the Norman Tower was built between 1120 and 1148. It was also to serve as a belfry for the church of St James.

Anselm had also founded St James Church after he was forbidden to travel to St James at Campostella in Spain on pilgrimage.

Chequer Square was at this time called Paddock Pool and its swampy nature was a problem for the medieval builders.

St Mary's Church was built on its present site because the old St Mary's had to be demolished to make way for the north wing of the new transept of the great Abbey Church. The Abbey precincts were all surrounded by walls with just four gates; St James's Gate (the Norman Tower), the Court Gate (now called The Abbey Gate), Mustow Street Gate and St Margarets Gate opposite where the Manor House Museum stands today.

The west and north side of the abbey precincts also had a moat like ditch, outside the walls, with wooden bridges at the gates. This has been seen during various modern excavations for road or sewer works, and seems to run from St Mary's Church, along Crown Street and the Angel Hill, and probably fed into the river at Eastgate Bridge. It was about 15 feet wide, and is sometimes still visible in early prints or pictures of the Angel Hill. This ditch was probably necessary for drainage rather more than for defence.

Bury late 12th Century
by Bernard Gauthiez
blank The building of St James's gate, now called the Norman Tower, pushed the boundary of the abbey precinct westwards, and must have necessitated the demolition of properties along the old High Street, which had run along the line of the abbey church's west front. The Bury Customary recorded that during this time the Sacrist Hervey acquired 46 houses in the town. This may well indicate the new homes that would have been needed to house the people evicted from the High Street. The street which we call Abbeygate Street may have been part of this new development. Hitherto, Churchgate Street had probably been the principal east-west axis of the town since just after 1066, in the time of Abbot Baldwin.

Rattlesden figurine
blank Anselm had also recruited Master Hugo to work on the Church. He was a craftsman of genius, probably like Anselm, from Italy, and has been credited with creating a great painted bible of vellum, the Bronze doors of the west front, hung in about 1140, and later the Bury St Edmunds Cross referred to below. Professor Thomson has voiced the opinion that the walrus ivory cross may not be by Master Hugo, as it is not in a medium associated with him. Hugo was perhaps more likely to have cast a cross in bronze, as we know he was skilled in this art. The type of figure which may have adorned such a cast cross is illustrated here. This object was found at Rattlesden in the late 1990's. Scholars are, however, agreed that Hugo's bible is today known as The Bury St Edmunds Bible, and is held at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.

Abbot Anselm had also founded St Peter's Hospital in Out Risbygate as a leper colony.

Abbot Ording was duly elected as Eighth Abbot and would rule the abbey of St Edmund until 1156. Ording seems to have been the tutor of Stephen de Blois as a boy, and now as king, Stephen was generous to the abbey. The King granted to Abbot Ording and his successors the Half Hundred of Harlow, which together with his grant of Stow, would make the Liberty of St Edmunds a total holding of Ten Hundreds in total. However, it is unclear if Harlow was to become a part of the Liberty, or whether its proceeds were simply to be allocated for the Abbot's own usage.

This grant of Harlow, like the earlier grant of Stow, would fail to be confirmed by the next monarch, King Henry II after 1155.

King Stephen also granted a second and a third die for use in the mint at the Abbey.

The Burgesses of Bury St Edmunds were also declared free of any levies of money other than those they pay to the Abbot.

Some 280 years after St Edmund's death, details of his parentage and early life were still being written down, apparently for the first time. Geoffrey of Wells added many details to St Edmund's story at this time in the period of 1148 to 1156.

1150 A serious fire broke out in the Abbey of St Edmund damaging the abbot's hall, refectory, dormitory, chapter house and the old House of the Infirm. Abbot Ording spent the rest of his life repairing and re-roofing these buildings. His sacrist at this time was called Helyas, and would have supervised the continuing work of the great craftsman Hugo.

The Guildhall, which stands today in Guildhall Street, claims to be one of the oldest municipal buildings surviving in this country. The Guildhall sits on land that originally belonged to the abbey and in about 1150 was given, by Abbot Ording, to host the local Guild of Merchants. Initially the Guildhall was built as a long, rectangular building 38 metres long, with small thin windows, a thatched roof and doors in line with each other at the front and back of the building.
Hardly anything of this original construction remains today and the first surviving addition seems to have been the solidly built porch designed by John Wastell in the 1480s.

The "Bury" Cross
1150 About this time the monks also recorded that a cross for their monks choir was 'made incomparably by the hand of Master Hugo.' The monks choir referred to is the location in the abbey church where there was an enclosure for the monks to sing. The cross referred to is now thought to be on show labelled as the Bury St Edmunds Cross in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after it reappeared dramatically in 1963 from a Swiss bank vault. It is made of Walrus ivory, and several books have been written about its origin and history.

In the first half of the 12th century rabbit warrens were first recorded in manorial documents. Rabbits were bred for fur as well as food and are thought to have been brought to England by the Normans.

1152 The King of France, Louis VII divorced his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Within 8 weeks she married Henry Plantagenet, a political masterstroke for Henry. He sailed to England to fight Stephen.
1153 Eustace de Blois died while visiting the Abbey of St Edmund. He was the chief rival to Henry Plantagenet for succession to the throne, and with him out of the way, Henry had no more rivals of such power. Prince Eustace was the son of Empress Maud and was said to have been ravaging the possessions of the Abbey.

King Stephen seems to have held a now lost castle at Ipswich. This was captured by Hugh Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk. Hugh Bigod was a supporter of Henry Plantagenet as this was a good way to advance his own ambitions, giving him opportunities for plunder and reward.

In December 1153, in the Treaty of Westminster, it was agreed by war-weary rivals that Stephen could be King until his death, provided he adopted Henry Plantagenet as his successor. Stephen only survived for another 10 months before he would die in 1154.

1154 The year 1154 marks the ending of the work known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Peterborough Manuscript, referred to as Manuscript "E", ends in 1154.

Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II when he came to the English throne following the death of Stephen in October. He and his sons were known as the Angevin kings as his father was count of Anjou, but he was also the first of the Plantagenet dynasty. His empire stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, made even bigger when he married Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, in 1152.

He had great energy and travelled his whole Empire. Henry II was the great grandson of William the Conqueror, and when he took the throne, he was determined to get a grip on the lawless land which had resulted from the civil war under King Stephen.

Some time between 1145 and 1154, Pope Eugenius III issued a bull which confirmed the Sacrist Elias in his possession of the Borough. Its rents were for the service of the abbey church and the assistance of the office of Sacrist. This is the first surviving written reference to the Sacrist being in practice lord of the borough, but Lobel believed that this had been the case for at least 50 years already. As effective Lord of the Town, the Sacrist collected the various feudal dues payable to a Lord. In earlier times the tenants had to provide labour services to their Lord, such as a certain number of days work at harvest time. By this time, many of these dues were commuted to cash payments.

  • The harvest dues were now paid by Rep silver, or reaping silver, in lieu of reaping the corn physically.
  • Landmol was paid at the rate of two pence per acre for agricultural land within the 900 acre Banleuca.
  • Hadgovel was a ground rent paid for the right to occupy land for a home, or burgage tenement.
The Sacrist also directly owned his own 250 or so houses, which he rented out. Market tolls were also payable by stallholders, but might be exempted if they already paid Hadgovel. Much local law enforcement was also under the Sacrist, who took all the fines and court fees as income.
1155 Like all new kings, Henry II had to start by confirming or denying existing charters, rights and landholdings of his new subjects. Hugh Bigod was hoping for his reward for supporting Henry against earlier rivals, and the king did, indeed, confirm him as Earl of East Anglia. He failed to give Bigod what he really wanted, the wardship of the royal castle at Norwich, and the post of Sheriff.

The king was well aware that Bigod had the potential to challenge his power, and the basis of this was his formidable establishment of castles in Suffolk. Bigod already held the following castles:

  • Framlingham,
  • Bungay,
  • Walton
  • Thetford
Castles nominally held by the crown were:
  • Norwich
  • Eye - held by William de Blois, son of the recently dead King Stephen.
  • Haughley - granted to Henry de Essex, Lord of Rayleigh, by King Stephen.
Clare Castle was held by the de Clares. Suffolk was in danger of becoming a powerbase against the new king.
1156 Henry II began his programme of dismantling some of the castles which some Nobles had illegally built in England in the past twenty years. In 1156 the king confiscated Walton Castle from the Bigods and held it until it was dismantled in 1175.

He did not get his hands on Haughley Castle until 1163.

1157 In 1157 King Henry continued to demand the surrender of castles in the hands of his aristocracy. He confiscated Thetford castle from Hugh Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, and installed a royal garrison in his place. Eye was also confiscated from William de Blois in 1157.

Abbot Hugh was elected as Ninth Abbot to rule the Abbey of St Edmund following Ording's death in 1156. He was previously Prior of Westminster and it seems likely that he came into office and found the Abbey deep in debt. There had been a massive building programme under Abbot Anselm, and they probably borrowed money to pay for rebuilding the fire damage of 1150.

Jocelin was later to record a debt to Benedict the Jew of Norwich which had been outstanding for fourteen years.

Abbot Hugh I ruled the abbey until 1180.
There is an interesting charter granted by him during this period to the Guild of Bakers. This is the earliest known reference to a trade guild in Bury. It was to receive the privilege of an hereditary aldermanship, the first one being William, son of Ingered, and his successors. There were fines of ten shillings for anyone who baked bread and was not a member. If members broke guild rules they paid a fine to the guild of ten shillings and they also had to pay the same sum as a fine to the Sacrist.

1158 Brihtmarus de Haverhill moved to London and his son became Sheriff and an Alderman of the City.
1160 In about 1160 Samson of Tottington, in Norfolk, obtained the post of Master of the Scholars or Schoolmaster at Bury. He was not a monk in holy orders at this time, but was already well qualified to hold the post of Schoolmaster. Samson's father had died when Samson was a boy, and the boy had been lucky enough to be educated, at a reduced rate, by a local schoolmaster, called William of Diss. Although he had well-off relations, Samson had a struggle to pay for his education. However, after schooling he went to Paris to study under Peter Abelard. In Paris, although he later told Jocelin that he had an income of 5 or 6 marks a year, he was partly supported by a chaplain who sold holy water for a living. So by 1160, Samson was about 25 years old, highly educated and much more widely travelled than the average monk or abbey functionary.

Very shortly after taking up his post at Bury, Samson travelled to Italy, on behalf of the convent, to see Pope Alexander III in order to obtain a document stating the abbey's rights over the church at Woolpit. Apparently, this was an old problem, as the monks had lost the income from Woolpit before 1123. The living there must have fallen vacant, giving the monks an opportunity to regain control. Thus, Samson set out on his journey, accompanied by Roger of Ingham, one of the Bury monks. He succeeded in obtaining the Pope's supporting letter, but Samson would later relate how he was robbed and imprisoned and had to beg his way home.

At this time the emperor was installing his own Popes and there was a schism between Pope Alexander and the emperor's rival Pope, Cardinal Octavian, known as Pope Victor IV. Anyone, such as Samson, caught carrying letters from or to Pope Alexander, was subject to arrest. Samson reached Rome safely by pretending to be a Scottish pilgrim, but along the return journey, he was arrested as a spy. He managed to conceal the letter from the Pope by sleight of hand involving a cup, but even so, he was robbed and had to beg to survive along the way home.

Upon return to St Edmund's Samson found that he was too late. Despite the Pope's letter, the King had already given the benefice at Woolpit to a royal clerk called Geoffrey Ridel. Abbot Hugh, after taking advice, punished Samson for this failure by exiling him to Castle Acre, where he stayed "for a long while".

It was not until 1183 that Samson, now Abbot Samson, would be able to regain control of Woolpit benefice for St Edmund's abbey. Also it was not until 1183 that Samson related this story to the monks, and not until 1198 that it was written down, when Jocelin of Brackland began his Chronicle. This passage of time may have clouded the facts slightly, as Jocelin also recorded elsewhere in his Chronicle that Samson said he had been jailed by Abbot Hugh and banished to Castle Acre for criticising him and for standing up to him for the common good of the monks in convent.

1162 In 1162 Pope Alexander III pronounced that future Abbots of Bury were to be freely elected and might appeal to the Holy See on important matters. Strict adherence to this principle would inevitably bring the monks into conflict with the King, who felt it was the custom for him to officially confirm the election of any Abbot within his kingdom.

Thomas à Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II. He had already promoted him previously to be Chancellor of England. They would soon fall out over the respective roles and powers of King and church.

1163 During the years from 1160 to 1165 King Henry II granted to Jewish communities the right to acquire land for their own cemeteries outside the towns in which they lived. If this happened at Bury Robert Butterworth has suggested that a likely spot would be in todays St Andrews Street South, just outside the town wall.

At the same time the King himself owed large sums to Jewish moneylenders, and in 1163 he forced Abbot Hugh to pay off some of the royal debts. The King seems to have owed 200 marks to Isaac and Aaron of Bury St Edmunds, and it was this debt which he foisted on to Abbot Hugh.

In 1163 Jocelin of Brackland recorded that a judicial duel took place between Henry of Essex and Robert de Montfort. Jocelin got the story via Jocelin the Almoner, who claimed to have heard it from Henry of Essex when Henry was a penitent monk in the abbey at Reading. Henry had been the king's constable and standard bearer and a man of considerable power in Essex and Suffolk. One of Henry's possessions at this time was the castle at Haughley. However, he had failed to make any gifts to St Edmund's abbey, and had even cheated the abbey out of 5 shillings in annual rent. He had also, in the past, had a dispute with the abbey at Bury over the jurisdiction of a rape case of a girl born at Nayland. From the monk's point of view, he was a thoroughly bad lot.

Robert de Montfort had an existing grudge against Henry of Essex, because the Constableship, the castle at Haughley and some lands held by Essex had belonged to a de Monfort ancestor before 1107.

In March of 1163 Robert de Montfort had accused Henry of treason against the king during a Welsh campaign in 1157. During the battle Henry of Essex had mistakenly declared the King dead, leading the army to retreat. The day was saved by Earl Roger of Clare who rallied the troops, declaring that King Henry II was still alive. This led to the duel between Henry of Essex and Robert de Montfort on an island near Reading Abbey. Henry of Essex claimed to have seen a vision of St Edmund during the duel "gesturing angrily and indignantly in a threatening fashion." The saint was accompanied by Sir Gilbert de Ceriville, a a knight wrongfully tortured to death by Henry of Essex. This combined vision led to Henry's sound defeat in the duel in which he was so badly injured that he was given up to the monks at Reading for burial. However, he recovered, and "cleansed the stain of his early days by taking the monastic habit."

Robert de Montfort failed to profit from the duel as the King did not make him a Constable, and also kept all of Essex's lands, including Haughley castle, for himself. The incident of the duel took a prominent place in English jurisprudence, even being referred to in a charter of Richard I.

1164 Henry II promulgated the Constitutions of Clarendon, bringing his conflict with Thomas à Becket to a head. Henry's constitution included three key clauses:-
  • the king should have jurisdiction over church lands and patronage;
  • the clergy should no longer be immune from the laws of the land;
  • no clergyman should be able to appeal over the king's head to the Pope.
Becket publicly condemned these laws and was summoned to trial at Northampton. His reply was to flee the country.

Orford Castle
1165 Henry II now felt it expedient to return Framlingham and Bungay castles to the Bigods, in return for payment of a heavy fine. His nobles had become very angry at his policy of confiscation, so the king kept control of Walton and Eye, just in case of trouble.

Bungay Today
blank Sure enough Hugh Bigod quickly began to build a massive stone keep at Bungay, with walls 18 feet thick, and up to 90 feet high.

Henry II started to build his great royal stronghold at Orford to counterbalance the Bigod's powerbase at Framlingham. It was completed by 1173 at the massive cost at the time of £1,413. Most of this money had come from the fines Hugh Bigod had been forced to pay to regain his own property from confiscation by the king.

By this time the score for castle holding was six to the king and only two to Bigod.

Royal Castles in Suffolk:

  • Norwich
  • Eye
  • Haughley
  • Thetford
  • Walton
  • Orford
Castles of Hugh Bigod:
  • Framlingham
  • Bungay
In 1165 Master Samson, later to become Abbot Samson, finally became a monk at Bury at the comparatively late age of 31. Like all monks, he took the name of his home village in Norfolk, and was called Samson de Tottington. Today, Tottington is a deserted village about 6 miles north of Thetford. It lies within the Stanford Battle Training Area, and was taken over from the Walsingham estate by the army in 1943. Samson came from Norfolk, and could speak the local Norfolk dialect, although it would be very wrong to consider him a simple countryman.

By 1165, Master Samson was well known to the abbey and its monks, as he had been the Schoolmaster at Bury since 1160. Almost immediately after his arrival in 1160 he had travelled to Rome on the monks' behalf to ask the Pope to declare that Woolpit church should be in the gift of the monks. He had attended university in Paris, and must have been highly educated and worldly wise by monkish standards. Although he would later preach in Norfolk dialect, he was fluent in latin, and quite likely, Greek as well. Within the power structure of the abbey, he must have been a man to watch from the beginning. Like all monks, he had to swear a vow of obedience to the rule of the Abbot, who was Abbot Hugh at this time. Abbot Hugh had ruled St Edmund's abbey since 1157, and would continue until his death in 1180. There are some indications in Jocelin of Brackland's Chronicle that Abbot Hugh would imprison and exile Samson at some point in his career, leading Samson to become reluctant to speak out against later financial difficulties at the abbey under Abbot Hugh.

Guild of Bakers established
1166 Abbot Hugh ruled the abbey of St Edmund from 1157 to 1180. There is an interesting charter granted by him during the period of 1166 to 1180, to the Guild of Bakers. It was printed in 1932 in D C Douglas's "Feudal Documents of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds", and contains the earliest known reference to a trade guild in Bury. It was to receive the privilege of an hereditary aldermanship, the first one being William, son of Ingered, and his successors. There were fines of ten shillings for anyone who baked bread and was not a member. If members broke guild rules they paid a fine to the guild of ten shillings and they also had to pay the same sum as a fine to the Sacrist.

Although a few words are not decipherable, The Bakers' Charter can be examined by clicking where indicated.

1169 Henry II met Becket in France to settle their disputes as the king had been under pressure from the Pope for some years now. It failed and Becket excommunicated the English clergy.

Back in 1155 the Anglo-Norman Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Brakspear) had given Henry II the right to conquer Ireland because it had become out of Rome's control. Henry II did not organise the invasion of Ireland until 1169.

1170 Becket finally returned to England but continued to pressurise the king. In December Henry II had an outburst of temper. "Why will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

Four Anglo-Norman knights then murdered Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, outraging the whole of Christendom.

The kings' son Henry, born in 1155, was needing to be given a future, and in 1170 Henry II had him crowned King of England but gave him little authority to rule. England now had an old king, Henry II, (aged 37) and a young King (aged 15).

In West Suffolk, a priory seems to have been founded in 1170 by Augustinian canons at Ixworth sponsored by a member of the Blunt family. It was dedicated to St Mary and was dissolved in 1537. Today the site is occupied by a 19th century house and some remains are incorporated into it.

In 1170 it was the 200th anniversary of the re-founding of Ely as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Aethelthryth or St Audrey. To celebrate this event a monk of Ely was commissioned to produce a history of the Isle of Ely, and this is known today as Liber Eliensis, translated by Janet Fairweather in 2005. This history covers the period from the 7th century up to 1169, and probably included extracts from many separate old manuscripts in Old English, which the compiler translated into latin for his new manuscript work. This book contains several references to Bury St Edmunds under the old name of Bedericesworth, including the following:

Book I, chapter 7 : "There is in the same province a place called Blythburgh in the vernacular, in which the body of the venerable King Anna is buried, and to this day is venerated by the pious devotion of faithful people. In that place, too (Blythburgh) his son Iurminus, (St Jurmin) God's chosen one, was buried, but afterwards he was translated to Bederichesworthe, which they now call, Sanctus Edmundus, and given honourable burial."

Book I chapter 23 : "There was a man who, thanks to the merit of extreme sanctity, was the steward of her (Aethelthryth) farmlands, St Algetus by name; his body rests at Bedericesworthe which is the town of the blessed martyr Edmund....."

Book II, chapter 86 : "He (Aelfwine) also, by the decree of the King himself (Cnut), for the first time brought a contingent of monks to Bedericesworthe. He established there some monks from his own church of Ely, but others from Holm, and he supplied them with subsidies in abundance."

1172 In return for certain penances, Henry II and England were received back into the Church. The King had to return Canterbury lands to the Church and remove the offending clauses from his Constitutions of Clarendon.

All through 1172 the royal castles in Suffolk were put on to a war footing. Clearly there was rebellion in the air. The pipe rolls show the expenditure of large sums of money for repairs, and for the erection of timber "hourdings" over the stone battlements of the royal castles. These hourdings were only erected in time of war to protect defenders from enemy fire. Provisions such as 200 loads of corn, 500 cheeses, sides of bacon, quantities of lead, iron, salt and tallow were being laid in at Orford, Eye and Norwich.

King Henry II decided that Thetford castle was not to be defended, but to avoid it being taken by an enemy, he had it dismantled. This event marked the end of Thetford Castle as a defensive installation to the present day.

There is another castle site in Thetford, called Red Castle. Very little is known about the Red Castle, but it is possible that it was a campaign castle erected in 1172 or 1173 by Hugh Bigod in readiness for war. If so, then it was very likely built on the top of much earlier earthworks, possibly dating back to Iron Age times. Once built, it may never have been used during the 1173 rebellion.

At Bury the Abbot gained further privileges directly from the Pope, AlexanderIII, without consulting the king. The abbot gained the use of the dalmatic and tunicle, which were vestments only worn by Bishops at this time. Nobody but the Pope could excommunicate or suspend or interdict the monastery except the Pope or his Papal legate. No Bishop or Archbishop could enter the Banlieu without the Abbot's permission.

By 1172 Dublin and the part of Ireland known as the Pale was ruled by the English crown and the Irish church brought into line with the English. From this arose the phrase "beyond the Pale", meaning somebody felt to be outside civilised society.

Battle of Fornham
1173 By 1173 Henry II and his wife Eleanor had begun to lead separate lives. She held court in Aquitaine while he now preferred the fair Rosamund de Clifford. The year 1173 would prove to be the biggest crisis of Henry II's reign.

Henry II's son, the young King Henry, was just as ambitious as his father, and eager for more power, wealth and influence, he rose in rebellion, backed by his mother and King Louis of France. There were still many barons, earls and nobles who hated Henry II for his confiscations of their lands and castles. These men could be bought by young Henry with promises of restitution. He gained the support of the 80 year old Hugh Bigod by promising him the hereditary custody of Norwich Castle and returning the substantial castle and Honour of Eye. Bigod also expected the return of his old castle at Walton. The young Henry also persuaded the Earl of Leicester, Robert de Beaumont, to join his cause with similar promises.

With the continent at war, Henry II was spending the summer defending his possessions over there. The quarrel was turning into open rebellion. The Earl of Leicester was becoming too troublesome and found his castle at Leicester under attack by the old king's loyal supporters, Hugh Bohun and Richard de Lacey.

By late July, King William of Scotland, seeing the confusion in England, took his chance and invaded Northumberland. The king's forces besieging Leicester had to negotiate a truce in order to march north to defend the border. With the old King abroad and his Justiciar in the north, fighting the King of Scotland, the way was suddenly clear for a takeover bid.

Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, had been raising a combined force of French and Flemish mercenaries. On September 24th, (maybe 29th), they landed at Walton with a force of 1,400 Flemish mercenaries. Walton castle is now below the sea, but in 1173 it stood on the Brackenbury Cliffs overlooking the sea, between modern Felixstowe and Felixstowe Ferry. It was a Norman castle built within the concrete walls of a defunct Roman Saxon shore fort. If the invaders could take Walton Castle it would give them a secure bridgehead and port to bring in further reinforcements. The fleet was sent back to collect more men, and Walton was attacked.

Walton castle had been a stronghold of Earl Hugh Bigod, but was one of the castles which King Henry II had confiscated in 1156. Earl Hugh quickly met the invasion force and joined the revolt of the Earl of Leicester when he saw the chance of regaining Walton Castle. Walton was besieged. However, the castle seems to have held out during the four day siege.

Knowing that they could not afford to get bogged down so early in the campaign, the combined armies of Bigod and Leicester now marched inland. Needing a friendly seaport the fortified town of Dunwich was attacked during October, but its defences held. Dunwich seems to have suffered two assaults, but the townspeople fought back with bow and arrow, and the women and children brought stones to throw at the enemy. They abandoned the seige and set up a base at Bigod's strong and well provisioned castle at Framlingham. More Flemings arrived, and made frequent sorties into the Suffolk countryside for loot and plunder.

The serious campaign now began with Leicester, Bigod and the Flemish army marching to Ipswich where more Flemings joined them. Ipswich had a castle, although its location is uncertain. Keith Wade has suggested a location just above the junction of Elm Street and Museum Street. Ipswich castle seems to have been taken, even before the Flemish reinforcements arrived.

On 13th October, an army which by now was said to be 10,000 strong, then marched to attack Haughley Castle which was held for the crown by Ralph de Broc. Haughley seems to have had only a small garrison, and the King may have decided to effectively abandon it, as he had at Thetford. Haughley castle was besieged and captured after a short, but bloody battle, lasting just one afternoon. Things became worse after the castle was set alight and the garrison surrendered. The garrison commander, Ralph de Broc seems to have given up the castle in return for safe passage.Most of the soldiers left inside had their throats cut. Only the few remaining knights were kept alive for ransome. Following its capture by Robert, Earl of Leicester and Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, the castle at Haughley was destroyed. There is some evidence of rebuilding on the site in later years, but nothing now remains of any castle at Haughley, except for some moated earthworks.

At some point Eye Castle was attacked and was damaged, but continued in use. Orford castle was also attacked with little success. There is also evidence of war damage and plunder at Ipswich. It is unclear whether these actions took place in sequence, or whether the army divided into Flemings and Bigod's men, both with different agendas and striking in more than one place at a time.

The army now returned to Framlingham, where the Bigods were beginning to get cold feet about the amount of destruction in their home county, and particularly about the amount of plunder falling into foreign hands. The Earl of Leicester was persuaded to head for Leicester to recapture his home town, leaving Bigod to deal with matters in Suffolk. So Leicester's force of Flemings first headed west, through Suffolk, hoping to bypass trouble at Bury St Edmunds, on his progress to Leicester. Beaumont knew that Bury supported the old King, and so he aimed to avoid trouble by skirting north of the town.

Meanwhile Hugh Bohun and Richard de Lacey, the army commanders of Henry II in the north, had agreed a truce with King William of Scotland. They now regrouped and were marching south to meet the threat. Local Suffolk people joined them as they neared Bury, in particular those whose homes and families had been ravaged by the Fleming militias. Ralph de Broc joined them after his crushing defeat at Haughley. William d'Albini had also arrived back in this country from fighting in France accompanied by some of the royal army. The banner of St Edmund was their rallying point, and doubtless the abbey supplied its knights, servants and workmen to help in the fight. Roger Bigod, the son of the rebellious Hugh Bigod, actually fought on the King's side against the Flemish army. Jocelin of Brackland recorded that Roger Bigod, later Earl of Norfolk, claimed that he carried St Edmund's banner into this battle on the winning side. His father had stayed at Framlingham, so was not involved in this battle.

The usual role of untrained peasants around a battlefield at this time was to attack stragglers and butcher the wounded, or hunt down enemy soldiers who got cut off or who had tried to run away.

So, on October 27th (or, in some accounts, the 17th) 1173, the opposing armies met at Fornham St Genevieve on the River Lark, some four miles north west of the centre of Bury. The Flemish army was caught as it tried to cross the marshes down to the River Lark looking for a suitable fording spot. Fighting seems to have taken place from the Babwell hamlet, by today's Tollgate Inn, along the valley to Fornham. The rebels' strongest position was somewhere near Fornham St Martin Church, or Fornham St Genevieve church, depending upon which account you read. The Royal Army was led by Richard de Lucy, and the Flemish mercenaries were cut to pieces. It was said that 10,000 of the enemy were slain. The Earl of Leicester and his wife, the Countess Petronilla, were captured, but Earl Hugh Bigod escaped to Bungay. The Countess was said to have thrown her ring, and other jewels, into the river as a gesture of defiance. The Earl of Leicester and his Countess were later taken to Normandy as prisoners.

Bones and a few lost weapons have been found in the area of the battle, including the Fornham Sword, which is now in Moyse's Hall Museum, on loan from John Macrae, the landowner. This was found when a muddy ditch was being cleaned out near the water mill at Fornham St Martin around 1876. It was loaned to the Moyse's Hall Museum in 1966, and in 2007 moved to West Stow, returning to Moyse's Hall in late 2008.

Hugh Bigod was not safe for long, as a another vast army was raised at Bury and at Ipswich to crush him. When his castle at Bungay was besieged, Bigod had to make peace, only getting a truce in exchange for paying a heavy fine. Bigod was forced to take the 14,000 remaining Flemings, and sail to France.

With Leicester's defeat the rebellion failed, and old King Henry II regained control. In the autumn truce the young King Henry was to receive half the revenues of England and Normandy, which he would inherit. His brother Richard was to inherit Aquitaine and brother Geoffrey would have Anjou. Henry II's youngest son John was promised no land and was to become popularly known as John Lackland. Henry II ordered the Bigod's castles of Walton, Bungay and Framlingham to be destroyed. Bigod himself was to stay in resentful exile in France.

The town of St Edmund's Bury had a Jewish community which had become bankers to the Abbey. During the troubles of 1173 their wives and children were given shelter within the convent, and relations with the Abbey were generally good. Moyse's Hall, now a museum, was a stone house possibly associated with Jewish wealth, believed to date from this period, usually dated c1180. Some historians doubt this Jewish connection because Hatter Street was the Jewish quarter and they doubt that a Jewish family would chose to live by the pig market. They attribute its name to a butcher called Mose who lived there much later.

Norwich had one of England’s largest Jewish communities after the Norman Conquest, and one that would inadvertently shape history. In 1173 Thomas of Monmouth, a monk at the Norwich cathedral priory, accused the community of ritual murder. He wrote in The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich that a young boy’s death on March 24, 1144 was the result of Jews wanting his blood for a Passover ceremony.

William’s body had been found in Thorpe Woods. Thomas of Monmouth recorded a number of miracles alleged to have been brought about by the boy, and he was made a saint – as still marked by St Williams Way in Thorpe.

This case was the first recorded example of the anti-Semitic myth that came to be known as the blood libel; as such it helped perpetuate anti-Semitic violence down the centuries. Whether this idea was solely that of one monk, or was a more widespread rumour which he recorded, we do not know. Echoes of this idea would reach Bury quickly.

This was also the year in which Jocelin of Brackland became a monk at Bury, although he had probably attended the monastic school there as a boy. At this time, Samson was the Novice Master. Samson had been the Schoolmaster at Bury since 1160, and had taken his holy orders at Bury as a monk, in 1165. By 1198 Jocelin had decided to write a Chronicle about Samson, to highlight his bad points as well as his achievements. On the first page of his Chronicle, he wrote, "I begin in the year in which the Flemings were taken prisoner outside the town."

By this date the Abbey's demesnes were commonly leased out for fixed cash payments to simplify administration. These leases were called fee farms. Unfortunately by the later 12th century rapid inflation eroded the value of this income. Abbot Hugh had no idea how to deal with this and could only think to borrow heavily to fill the gap between these fixed incomes and his rising costs. Jocelin recorded Hugh's growing borrowings from 1173 to his death in 1180. Hugh even borrowed money to pay the interest owing every Easter and Michaelmas. So the abbey was deep in debt at this time.

Norwich Castle
1174 Earl Hugh Bigod of Bungay spent the winter in the court of Philip of Flanders. Despite the defeat of Leicester's Flemish army, Bigod continued plotting further attacks on Henry II. In the Spring he returned to England with yet another army of Flemings, and marched on the royal stronghold at Norwich . On the way, the army attacked the already badly damaged castle at Eye, and to Bigod's delight, he was successful in taking Eye. From there, they attacked Norwich and sacked the town. They also took the great keep of Norwich Castle, which looked impregnable, but had one hidden weak spot, which Bigod must have known about.

Henry II was still campaigning on the continent, and had pacified Normandy, Anjou and the Low Countries. He was now free to act against Sir Hugh. He sailed back from France, and raised troops at Bury, Ipswich and Colchester. His army marched on Framlingham, which soon gave up without a fight. Bigod was still in the field, so the King ordered both Walton and Framlingham Castles to be destroyed. The stones of Walton castle were supposedly used to make up the footpaths of Walton, Felixstowe and Trimley. Henry had decided to dispense with Walton castle, as he now had Orford as his local powerbase. Alnodus, the royal engineer, was paid to take down Framlingham's defences, and very little was left standing.

The King now pursued Bigod to his great castle at Bungay. The old Earl decided that he could not beat the king's army, and surrendered. The king decides to put pressure on Bigod, and orders him to report to Syleham Cross, where he will take his surrender. At Syleham, an ancient church on an island in the River Waveney, Bigod is found clutching the cross when the king arrives by boat. Henry ordered the castle at Bungay to be destroyed, but Bigod instead paid out 1,000 marks to avoid its destruction. Bigod was forced to give up his claims on Norwich castle and Eye castle, but was given his life, and allowed to keep his other lands.

1175 After his surrender to Henry II, Earl Hugh Bigod also had to pledge his loyalty to the king. As a further penance he was sent off on Crusade to the Holy Land.

At St Edmund's Abbey, Pope Alexander III exempted Bury from any visitation by the papal legate Richard of Canterbury. Abbot Hugh had paid heavily to receive this exemption. Possibly he feared that an inspection by such a powerful person as the Archbishop of Canterbury would expose the Abbey's debts. This exemption only applied to Hugh, and Abbot Samson had to renew it in 1188.

1178 Hugh Bigod, the treacherous Earl of East Anglia, died during his absence abroad on crusade. He had been involved in two attempts to overthrow Henry II, and had been party to a massive loss of life and destruction of property in Suffolk and Norfolk. By the time he died he was hated and despised. His son, Roger Bigod, succeeded to the title of Earl of Norfolk. He had fought on the winning side in 1173 and would later be allowed to rebuild the destroyed castle at Framlingham.
1179 By the end of Abbot Hugh's reign the abbey was deeply in debt. Not only had Hugh himself inherited debt, and borrowed more and more, but other monks in responsible positions had taken on debt using their own seals of office. Money was owed to many different lenders. There was Isaac, son of Rabbi Joce, (£400), Benedict of Norwich (£1000) and his brother Jurnet of Norwich, and Benedict of York (£880). Jocelyn blamed William the Sacrist for borrowing secretly at exorbitant rates of interest.

When a monk borrowed money by pledging altar vessels to the Jew Sancto of Bury, it was Sancto who was fined 5 marks for accepting the pledge. This was a form of pawn-broking which was another occupation which Jews could follow at this time. The Jew, Bennet of Suffolk, was similarly fined 30 marks for accepting certain holy vestments as a pledge against a sum of money.

At one point even the Jews were worried about the size of the debts. Benedict of Norwich complained about it to the King's representatives, but Hugh and William had managed to cover up the position.

It was this state of affairs which Samson would attack as part of his bid to become Abbot when Abbot Hugh died.

1180 In September Abbot Hugh fell from his horse and dislodged his kneecap so severely that the leg became infected and he died in agony in November.

When Abbot Hugh died the Prior Robert became temporary head of the Convent, and Jocelin of Brackland saw something of high office, when he was made Chaplain to the Prior. Unfortunately, until a new Abbot could be properly elected the Abbots' estate, and the associated income, were taken into the royal custody of Henry II.

The Sacrist at this time was William, and he had been sacrist for many years. He was on good terms with the Jewish community. He allowed them to keep their cash in the Abbey Treasury and allowed them to shelter in the Pittancery during times of trouble. The worst of these had been during the invasion and battle of 1173. The Jews also had easy access to the abbey precincts, but as the abbey owed them vast sums of money, it was not strange perhaps, that they got such favours in return. Thus William was associated with the mismanagement and debts of Abbot Hugh, and the status quo, according to Samson.

Samson was sub-sacrist at this time and began to gather a large store of stone and sand for building a tower over the west transept. He refused to borrow money for this purpose and, instead, collected donations from visitors.

With the abbey temporarily in the king's hands, some people thought that Samson was over-reaching his authority. The abbey's Jewish creditors naturally thought that the cash would be better spent on redeeming some of the abbey's long outstanding debts. They appealed to the King's representatives, who agreed, and Samson's cash was taken out of his hands.

When he was forced to divert these funds to pay some Jewish debts it is likely that relations between himself and the money lenders became strained to breaking point on Samson's side. He began a programme of anti-Jewish propaganda, including erecting a choir screen with his own anti-Jewish verses inscribed upon it.

Jocelin contrasted the care and maintenance work undertaken by Samson as sub-sacrist, with the 'foolish squandering of offerings and gifts' by the sacrist, William. However, this was written after Samson had come to power, and Jocelin relied upon him for his own position.

By 1180 Bury had a Bakers Guild, as Abbot Hugh had granted the guild exclusive baking rights in the town over the years since 1166. This arrangement also benefitted the abbey, as the Sacrist took half the fines imposed on people baking for sale outside the guild, and half of any fines imposed on guild members for for breaking the rules on the quality of their bread, or the price at which it was sold. The Guild received the other half of such fines.

At this time much of Haverhill and the Bumpsteads was owned by Robert de Helion who died in 1180. His lands were taken over by his son William.

From the late 12th century and into the early 13th century communications were improved by the building of stone bridges over some river crossings. At Cavenham Heath, the first record of Temple Bridge dates from 1180. This bridge carried the London road across the river now called the Lark, on to Thetford and Norwich. Some time within the next 50 years lesser so-called packhorse bridges were built at Moulton and Risby to make passage easier over old fords and streams. Perhaps these would also modify the line of the old Icknield Way by making for an easier and faster passage along these routes. Temple bridge seems to have been used as a toll bridge, giving its ecclesiastical landlord a return on the investment. Temple Bridge has been rebuilt several times since the 12th century, and today's version dates to the 20th century. Moulton bridge as seen today dates to the 15th century.

1181 Anti-Jewish feeling reached such a pitch that the Jewish community in Bury was accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy called Robert. On June 10th, the boy was found dead, and the authorities could find no suspects. It seems to have been a widespread practice at the time to accuse the Jews of any unsolved child murder, saying that it was a ritual re-enactment of the Crucifixion. Such incidents began with William of Norwich in 1144, another at Gloucester, one at Bristol, and a fourth at Winchester. Robert would be the fifth over these years.

Such accusations were expedient for the king when he was particularly in debt, and for an Abbey in the same boat.

Whatever the evidence, or their motivations, the Abbey accepted the accusation and venerated the boy as Little Saint Robert, a victim of martyrdom. The King banished some of Bury's wealthiest Jews and confiscated their assets. Those who remained were fined heavily.

St Robert was never officially canonised, but the monks buried him in the abbey crypt and made a shrine to him. Pilgrims were charged to visit it, and the monks claimed that the shrine could work miracles.

This event was apparently accepted at face value as literal truth, and it is not surprising that if such a ritual murder was truly what had happened, the position of the Jewish community would become untenable.

Abbot Samson's New Seal
1182 By now the monks had fallen into two camps. There were those supporting William the Sacrist for Abbot, and those who favoured Samson. William had worked closely with the Jews and had good relations with them, but he was implicated in reckless spending and debt. Samson was the dour businessman type, but he could point to the massive debts as being what really needed to be put right, and he had the irrational emotional appeal to those who felt the the Jews were the cause of all the abbey's financial problems, as well as being ready to commit ritual murder.

So, following a two year gap under the king's rule, Samson was eventually elected tenth Abbot at a gathering before King Henry II in his castle at Bishop's Waltham. He would rule until his death in 1211. The election was conducted in front of the King by the prior and twelve representatives of the convent. The King insisted on the three nominations from the Abbey being supplemented by three more from Bury and three from outside. In the end he accepted the monks' choice of Samson, although he seems to have been far from happy about it. Even warning Samson that "if you do ill, I will be at you".

The new abbot was 47 when elected. Abbot Samson was a good businessman in marked contrast to his predecessor, Abbot Hugh who had left him a legacy of enormous debts; altogether some £3,052, probably worth well over £1 million today.

To mark a clean break with the past he acquired a new seal of office. In addition, he collected in all the seals which the other office holders of the abbey had used to seal various pledge documents. By this means they had borrowed money without convent knowledge. Some 33 seals were found, and only the Prior and Sacrist were permitted to retain their personal seals. No official was now allowed to borrow more than £1 in total.

Samson also took the demesne manors back into direct management under his own bailiffs who accounted to him for all income and expenditure. He also travelled from manor to manor, living off the produce of the estates and the peasants to cut costs. There were often disputes as to the exact status of each manor. Some were held as knights' fees, some as fee farms, and some were claimed as hereditary rights by families who had held the land for two or three generations.

Some 65 Parish Churches were possessed by the Abbot and the Convent, giving them the right of patronage or advowson, as well as the 10 per cent tithes due. The Abbot had 36 churches and the convent held 29.

By this time the monks did very little agricultural labour themselves. The old ideal of a self-supporting community was totally obsolete. The Abbey was a vast corporation running the business of a landed estate throughout West Suffolk, but also being in control of the administration of justice.

  • The Cellarer ran the Abbey's manors, together with all the mills and sheep walks, taking tolls and having first pick at market to provide food and drink for the convent. When the Abbot was away, the Cellarer had to feed his guests.
  • The Sacrist was responsible for the fabric of the Abbey, but in Bury he also was lord of the borough of St Edmund, enforcing justice in his court.
  • The almoner dealt with charitable works,
  • The chamberlain looked after all the clothing,
  • The novice master ran the church training programme,
  • The second and third priors enforced discipline over the monks.
When Samson was elected Abbot, Jocelin of Brackland was appointed as his Chaplain for the next six years. This was a promising start to his career, but some believe that he never progressed higher than guest master. More recent research suggests that Jocelin became Cellarer, an important post in the Abbey. Samson was to become a distinguished Abbot and played a full part in his role as one of the great men of Europe, bringing the outside world to Bury.

Jocelin was later to record Samson's faults as well as his strengths, and these faults were to lie behind his decision to start his Chronicles. Samson had an angry and dark side to his nature, which sometimes led him into confrontation with his own monks, as well as with outsiders.

But now that he was abbot, Samson was to press ahead with the great tower in the centre of the west transept of the Abbey Church.

1183 The young King Henry died, and his father Henry II had to re-distribute the inheritances laid down in the truce of 1173. Richard was now to inherit England, Normandy and Anjou, Geoffrey would keep Brittany and John Lackland, by now Henry's favourite son, was to inherit Aquitaine. Richard had lived most of his life in Aquitaine with his mother Eleanor and swore never to part with it.
1184 In about 1184 Samson founded a new hospital called St Saviour's at Babwell. The site is on the Fornham Road, outside the old North Gate. Today it is adjacent to the railway bridge, next to Tesco's store.
1185 When Geoffrey Ridel was Bishop of Ely (1174 to 1189) he tried to acquire oak timber from Elmsett wood near Long Melford probably for enlarging Ely Cathedral. Ridel had secretly sent agents to scout for suitable timber in Suffolk, and they had located the best timber in Elmsett. However, when the Bishop asked Samson for permission to fell these trees, the messenger mistakenly asked for timber from Elmswell, which Samson gladly granted. Before Ridel could correct this mistake, Samson felled all the Elmsett oak trees "without delay for use at the top of the great tower." Samson had dreamed of completing the west front and was happy to win in this competition with Ely Cathedral.

But there was another reason why Samson was pleased to outsmart Bishop Ridel. Samson had a long memory for a grudge, and it had been Geoffrey Ridel who had acquired the living of the church at Woolpit in 1159/1160 effectively negating the fact that Samson had travelled all the way to Rome to ask the Pope to reserve the living into the gift of the abbey at Bury. Samson had incurred his Abbot's displeasure for this event, for despite the fact that Samson had succeeded in obtaining the desired letter from the Pope, he arrived home too late to stop Ridel from taking up the living.

Samson had always had it in mind to finish the Abbey church and to make the West Front even more imposing than Anselm's plan, in order to dwarf the Norman Tower. He wanted to rebuild the West Front to be 246 feet wide with a vast central tower, flanked by two smaller octagonal towers, crowned with spires. The result would be the greatest in England. It would take most of his 29 years as Abbot and most of the available cash.

1186 By 1186 Samson had written down all the income and rents due to the Abbey from all its possessions in the liberty. Very little documentation was available to him before this, and he called this new book his Kalendar.

At this time there was a dispute between St Edmunds and the monks of Canterbury over jurisdiction in Monks Eleigh. The manor of Monks Eleigh belonged to the monks of Canterbury, but it was within Samson's hundredal jurisdiction in the liberty. A murder had taken place and Samson intended to try the case in St Edmund's court. The Canterbury manor refused to give up its prisoners. Samson arranged for Robert of Cockfield to take 80 armed men to Monks Eleigh to seize the three murderers and bring them to Bury St Edmunds "into the deepest dungeon." The Archbishop of Canterbury and Abbot Samson had to argue their cases before King Henry II in February 1187 at Canterbury. According to Jocelin, the King lost his patience, said "May the best man win," and the case was never settled as he walked out on them.

Around this time the windmill was introduced to this country. Up to this time all mills were either animal powered or were water mills. A mill built on the Haberden in 1191 must have been one of the first in the country.

1187 Abbot Samson continued to approach the Pope, Innocent III, to seek new privileges for the Abbey of St Edmund and its Abbot. In 1172 he was the first among all the abbots of England to obtain the right to give the episcopal blessing within the Banlieu.

In the Holy Land, Jerusalem fell to Saladin producing the collapse of the Christian empire in the Holy Land, or Outremer, as it was known. The Crusaders had ruled in Jerusalem, where they guarded the Christian sites, from the time of the First Crusade in 1099 until 1187. It was to provide Richard with his mission in life, and within two years he launched the Third Crusade.

1188 King Henry II visited Bury to pray for success for his forthcoming venture on crusade. Samson asked for permission to join him but was refused as the Bishop of Norwich was going. It was felt unwise to leave both Norfolk and Suffolk without religious leadership, or the baronial control exercised by the abbot.

Samson succeeded in 1188 in obtaining an exemption from the Pope from the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Around this time there was a dispute between the Abbot and Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Lord of Clare. De Clare claimed he used to be paid 5s a year from the Risbridge hundred. Samson said that the whole hundred had been given to St Edmund by King Edward with no outgoings. De Clare then claimed it was for carrying St Edmund's banner in battle, but Earl Roger Bigod and Thomas de Mendham both claimed that they already had that job, so de Clare adjourned his claim.

Framlingham Castle
1189 King Henry II died, to be succeeded by King Richard I. At the end Henry II died in France after being defeated by his own sons siding against him with King Philip of France. Geoffrey had died in 1186 but had also allied himself with France. Even his favourite son, John, had turned against him.

Under King Richard Framlingham was restored to the Bigods, to be rebuilt in the next few years by Roger Bigod, a loyal supporter of King Richard.(This particular Roger Bigod died in 1220). It was at this time that the famous curtain walls, which still remain at Framlingham, were built. During the 1190s the walls and their 13 square mural towers were completed. Castle design by this time was abandoning the idea of a last bastion great Keep or Donjon. The outer walls now became the focus of the defensive engineers art. They were able to enclose and defend a larger space which could include stables, workshops and offices, as well as living space.

Richard was born at Oxford in 1157, but he was brought up in Aquitaine and had little interest in England and never learnt to speak English. He was a cultured man and a formidable soldier, brought up in the Aquitaine court where the cult of chivalry and romantic love was fostered by Queen Eleanor.

This cult of chivalry was expressed in writing by Chretien de Troyes in his book Percival or Parsifal. He was the first writer to refer to the Holy Grail. Hitherto the word meant a dish in French. He invented the whole story of the Grail being brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea in 70 AD and then lost. Using this idea he embroidered the story of King Arthur and his court. So one of the major legends of English life was, in fact, started by a Frenchman. Mallory's 'Morte de'Arthur' was based on this story several centuries later. This sort of fervour led to Richard becoming known as Richard, Coeur de Lion, or in English, Richard the Lionheart.

Richard was anxious to begin a joint crusade to the Holy Land, with King Philip of France, but first he had to go to England to be crowned, which took place on 3rd September.

In order to recruit men to go to the Crusades a great wave of feeling was generated against all non-believers, primarily the Moslems, but also the Jews. The Jews were forbidden to attend the king's coronation apparently for fear that they would bewitch him. Nevertheless the Jews wanted and needed to attend in order to show their loyalty. This caused a riot and a party of Jews coming to pay tribute to the new King in London were massacred as the fall of Jerusalem had inflamed feelings against all non Christians. Anti-Jewish attacks now took place all over England. The King was furious as Jews were under royal protection, as they were the only people able to provide banking services in those days. He needed their loans to finance his crusade.

Vill of Mildenhall
blank Mildenhall had been granted to the Abbey of St Edmund by Edward the Confessor in 1044, along with the whole of West Suffolk. During the upheavals following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Mildenhall seems to have been reclaimed by the Crown, along with many other usurpations of Saxon lands. The monks had long resented such losses.

On November 20th King Richard visited the Abbey of St Edmund. Abbot Samson knew that the King needed money and offered to pay 1000 marks to buy the Manor of Mildenhall from him. This was a bargain for Samson as the Manor brought in rents of £100 a year so it paid for itself inside seven years.

Samson donated his share of this Manor to the convent in return for part of Icklingham Manor. Having received Icklingham he promptly donated it to St Saviour's hospital to provide food and lodgings for the poor and for needy travellers.

King Richard took and sold everything that, as King, he could lay his hands on, and having raised enough money, left England for the crusade in December 1189.

Before he left he appointed his half brother Geoffrey Archbishop of York. His brother John was given the West Country, the counties of Nottingham and Derbyshire and overlordship of Ireland but banished from England for three years. William Longchamps was made Chief Justiciar and Chancellor and left in complete control of England.

1190 On Palm Sunday, March 18th 1190, riots broke out in St Edmunds town and 57 Jews were murdered in the frenzy. Following the national rise of anti- semitism, coupled with Samson's own feelings, it seems that a fiery anti-jewish sermon had been preached in the Abbey church to the townspeople of Bury. The sermon may have been made by Abbot Samson himself. After the service the congregation turned into a violent and murderous mob.

Before Samson was elected Abbot it was usual for the Jews to seek the protection of the Abbey when their lives were threatened. Sacrist William had let them seek shelter in the Pittancery on more than one occasion in past years. In addition any Jew could seek sanctuary on the King's property, but on the grounds that the abbey was not the king's property and that the Jews were not St Edmund's men, Samson now denied them the sanctuary of the abbey. Robert Butterworth has suggested that some of the slain may have been killed while hammering at the Abbey gate seeking sanctuary.

Jewish communities continued to suffer bloodthirsty attacks across the country until a final massacre took place in York in March 1190.

There is no record of any townspeople of Bury being prosecuted for these deaths, and, indeed, Abbot Samson's official response to this holocaust was to obtain the King's permission to expel the Jewish community from the town. This permission arrived on 9th October and was another bitter blow to the remnants of the Jewish Quarter in Hatter Street. The religious pretext was to keep the town of the Saint for St Edmund's men. The Jews lived mainly in Heathen Street, today known as Hatter Street, and many of their houses were stone built for safety.

The part of Abbeygate Street between Whiting Street and Hatter Street was called Spicers Row at this time. The spice trade was one of the few occupations allowed to the Jewish community, and it is likely that these were the shops and premises of Jews involved in importing, blending and retailing spices from the east.

Moyse's Hall is outside the area known to have been the Jewish ghetto in Bury, but it was in a prime place for a bank or finance house also practicing pawnbroking, who wished to deal with the wider population coming to Bury market. It is dated to around 1180, and although there is no contemporary evidence that it was a Jewish house or business, nevertheless it has been attributed to a Jewish businessman since the 17th century. Its stone construction was ideal for the protection of the large amounts of cash held by a moneylender, and also to provide safety against the outbreaks of sporadic anti-semitic violence. However, even stone was no protection once the abbot had pronounced their expulsion.

The Rabbi in Bury at this time was Yechial Sancto, and the synagogue was probably located at numbers 25 and 26 Hatter Street. Almost certainly the Jewish Synagogue was never at Moyse's Hall.

Bodleian Bowl
blank In 1696 a bronze alms vessel of Jewish origin, with a hebrew inscription, was recovered from the River Lark at Bury. It was 5 kilos in weight and had a nine litre capacity. It has been suggested by Robert Butterworth that this may have been discarded following the looting and extreme violence against the Jews in Bury in 1190. He suggests it was made in France for Joseph Sancto, son of Bury's Rabbi, to collect offerings at the door of Bury Synagogue. This vessel is now known as the Bodleian Bowl and is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

At some point around this time we know that Abbot Samson gave some stone buildings to support the abbey school, so that the school teachers could have somewhere to live. Robert Butterworth has suggested that these buildings may have been the Jewish houses in Hatter street which were forcefully purchased from the Jews. He also suggests that the old Jewish Synagogue was turned into a Chantry for Little St Robert of Bury. The King would allow them to be evicted from Bury, but not to be completely ruined financially as he still needed the cash flow the bankers could provide. Therefore the Jews were allowed to realise the value of their houses.

Money owed to the Jews became due to the King when they died, but the King had rarely enforced collection of such debts. Being able to redeem a mortgage by killing the lender may explain some of these murders.

On Crusade, English ships entered the Mediterranean for the first time in history. King Richard made an alliance with the great maritime republic of Genoa and Richard adopted St George as his patron saint as a symbol of this pact.

In the winter of 1190-91 King Richard and King Philip were in Sicily where they stormed Messina. Prince John was allowed to return to England from his three year banishment, where he found the Barons extremely hostile to the rule of William Longchamps. John now took up the cause of the Barons, which was quickly to have violent consequences. This period is the time in which modern stories of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest have been set, but there is no evidence that Robin Hood and his merry men ever existed at this time.

1191 By this time the vast open market place at Bury St Edmunds had been considerably encroached upon by permanent buildings, shops and booths. The burgesses avoided the normal market tolls by doing this, and claimed that the town reeves had given them permission. However, the reeves should have been answerable to the convent, but seem to have just continued paying the sacrist the old rent roll of £40 a year. Samson had to agree that the burgesses had acquired legal rights to hold these properties, despite the fact that the original grants had probably being made illegally.

The Crusaders reached Cyprus and in May King Richard married Berengaria of Navarre at Limassol. In June the Crusaders landed in the Holy Land at Acre which was captured and after the garrison surrendered they were massacred. They marched on to Jerusalem, but Richard was distracted by disputes in England between Prince John and his supporters and the Chief Justice Longchamps. Things became so tense that Longchamps fled the country in September.

Windmill dated 1349
blank One consequence of the Crusades was that foreign ideas were being brought back into England. Windmills were frequent in the arabic world, and it is said that the idea of wind power for milling, instead of water power, was introduced to England in these years. There are said to be only three windmills dateable to the 1180s in England, and about 15 are known from the 1190s. English windmills were said to differ from the continental models by the use of shafts and gearing adapted from existing known watermill technology.

Around 1191 Herbert the Dean erected a windmill at the Haberden, off Southgate Street, in Bury St Edmunds. The Guinness Book of Records for 1964 claimed that this was the first recorded Post Mill in England. The post mill was built around a central column or post which allowed the mill to be turned to face into the wind whenever the wind direction changed. If this was the country's first post mill, it did not last very long. To protect his own income from the milling fees, which he charged at his own watermill, the Abbot forced him to take it down. Windmills were the latest technology at this time. Hitherto the watermill had reigned supreme, and it seems that the Abbot had a Water Mill based on the River Lark, within the Abbey precincts. Water power itself had replaced the animal power long used in earlier times to grind corn.

1192 By October it was clear that Jerusalem could not be taken from Saladin and a treaty was signed and Richard sailed back to Europe. A storm separated his ship from the fleet and he landed and decided to travel overland through hostile territory. In December he was recognised and handed over to Duke Leopold of Austria who imprisoned him at Durnstein.

Back in England, John now tried to take over the country and captured some castles, as nothing had been heard of the King since the storm. Jocelin recorded that civil war occurred throughout England during King Richard's captivity. Abbot Samson and the convent of the monks at Bury excommunicated all those who were responsible for violence and conflicts, "fearing, not Count John the King's brother, nor anybody else." When John became King in 1199 no doubt he remembered this insult, as well as other opposition to him by Samson. Samson also declared that he was ready, secretly or not, to seek his lord the king until he found and had sure knowledge of him.

1193 Samson not only opposed the rebels in words. Churchmen were also ready to use force when necessary. In March 1193 Samson took up arms, along with some other abbots, at the siege of Windsor, leading many knights which was a very costly operation. Windsor was held by John's supporters.

Finally a ransom demand of 100,000 marks was received from Emperor Henry VI who had seized Richard from Duke Leopold. John was persuaded to make a truce at the end of March and try to raise the money by imposing massive taxes on the country. The whole Angevin Empire contributed to the ransom but there were counter-offers from Philip of France and the price continued to rise.

After the truce Abbot Samson travelled to Germany to visit King Richard taking many gifts with him. It is likely that these gifts were to be part of his ransom money. It has been supposed that the Bury St Edmunds cross was one of these gifts.

At St Edmundsbury, Jocelin of Brackland recorded that the silver frontal of the altar and many other precious ornaments, had been disposed of firstly to pay for the recovery of the manor of Mildenhall to finance Richards' crusade in 1189, and now for King Richard's ransom. "Indeed when King Richard was a prisoner in Germany there was not one treasure in England that was not given or exchanged for money, and yet the shrine of St Edmund remained intact." The Abbot swore he would never give permission for the saint's shrine to be despoiled but offered to open the church doors so that the Barons of the Exchequer could help themselves. None dared to do so because of fear of the Saint's power.

1194 King Richard was finally released following payment of 150,000 marks represented by about thirty four tons of silver or roughly three times the King's normal annual income. This was a massive drain on his Empire with most of it coming from England. On 13th March he landed in England to a generally good reception, but he had to storm Nottingham.

He raised further taxes on the country and in May 1194 left England, never to return. Before he left, King Richard made five places available to knights to hold tournaments, one of which was at Stanford Heath about 13 miles north of Bury St Edmunds. Jocelin recorded the drunken aftermath of one such tournament when 80 knights rampaged through abbey and town. The very able Hubert Walter was this time left in charge of the country.

By 1194 Abbot Samson had managed to pay off all the debts of the Abbey inherited from Abbot Hugh. However his determination to control the town and retain as many of the old abbey privileges as possible, led him to enact a charter which contained the seeds of a century of discontent and, eventually, rebellion by the townspeople.

The burgesses had acquired certain legal rights by prescription. For example, they had long paid annual rents for tenements in the market, instead of by the day, and thus could not be easily disposessed. Samson knew this, even if his monks did not. They had also had to pay Rep-selver, or reaping silver, as a substitute for the harvest labour the lord of the town was entitled to exact in the 11th century. By now, even this commuted payment was irksome, and Samson agreed that they could pay the Reeve a joint 20 shillings a year instead. Similarly the old sor-peni was exchanged for an annual payment of 4 shillings. The townspeople thus exchanged levies previously made upon individuals, for one payment made in common from joint resources. This points to an advanced corporate life in the town, whether the formal mechanisms of local self-government existed or not. The burgesses also jointly paid Samson £40 to get a charter confirming these rights. Unfortunately such charters were personal to each abbot, and did not absolutely bind their successors.

Samson's charter of 1194 was, on the face of it, a concession to the town as he also gave the wardship of four town gates into the hands of the burgesses. However he retained the right to veto their choice, and kept the East Gate in his own hands. He also compelled the Burgesses to conduct their legal affairs in the borough court or Portman-Moot, which met in the Tollhouse and was under the Abbot's control. They could not use their own court in the Guildhall, or go to the Shire or Royal courts. Not only did this mean being judged by the Port Reeve, appointed by the Abbot, but even the costs and fines would go to the abbey, and not to town funds. At this time the Burgesses had to put up with it, but in the next seventy years they would get stronger and come to resist these impositions.

The whole episode might be seen as Samson doing a balancing act between the town's demands for some independence and the convent's demands for more income from the town. It staved off trouble for the time being, but led the town to want more in the future.

1195 We believe that Jocelin of Brackland began to write his Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds around this time. The Chronicle ends in 1202, but covers events not only for the period of 1173 to 1202 when Jocelin was a monk, but often refers to or describes events earlier in the 1100's. Much of what we know of the abbey as a centre of power and influence and the conduct of its inhabitants comes from Jocelin's Chronicle.

The Archbishop of Canterbury at this time was Hubert Walter. From March 1195 until January 1198 he was also Papal Legate, and he began a series of visitations of churches and monasteries to promote changes and innovations. He now wrote to Abbot Samson at St Edmund's to ask if he could visit as Legate. Samson quickly forwarded the letter to the Pope in the hope of avoiding such a Visitation.

1196 In January 1196 the Pope wrote to Archbishop Hubert Walter forbidding him to visit either St Edmund's or any other exempt church in England. He would permit such a Visitation only from a Legate sent by himself with express authority to do this. Abbot Samson had successfully defended the independence of his Abbey and Convent.

The power of the Abbot and the struggle of the great knights to break free of this was illustrated in 1196-97. Knights occupied abbey lands in return for knights fees, and there were officially 40 fees in the Liberty but 50 had been created by the Abbots. Earl Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk had three fees, Earl Aubrey de Vere, Earl of Oxford held 5½ Knights' fees of the Abbot and so on. They argued that they should not be held liable for the extra 10 fees and the case went before Bishop Hubert Walter, the King's justiciar, who found for the Abbot.

1197 King Richard ordered one in every ten knights to join him in fighting in Normandy. St Edmund's Abbey had always supported 40 Knights' fees for 'castle-ward' at Norwich but the knights refused to travel overseas. Samson tried to get out of the King's demands by visiting him in Normandy, but in the end decided to hire four knights and pay for them himself.
1198 The abbot and the officials of the abbey had tremendous amounts of income from the various fees and tolls they could charge. The 70 or so monks of the convent who had no office of profit only got about £40 between all of them. In 1198 the burgesses claimed that they should no longer have to pay these tolls, because they were out of date and did not suit the current economic climate. They suggested that only those properties that existed before the conquest should be held liable for tolls first granted before that time. While Samson was away, the burgesses struck a deal with the monks, and paid them a large cash sum, which they readily accepted, as they too had a grievance. When Samson returned he was presented with a fait accompli, and was given the same deal. He took a large lump sum, but also had to agree to fixed stall rents rather than to receive a percentage of the take, as he had enjoyed up to this time. Thus from 1200 onwards the value of stall rentals would dwindle whenever inflation reduced the value of these fixed tolls. However this was good for the tradesmen of the town, who could now amass more wealth for themselves rather than for the abbey.

When Adam of Cockfield died, Abbot Samson as usual, gave wardship of her fee as he chose. King Richard sent word that he wanted to award this fee to one of his courtiers, but Samson refused. Things began to look ugly for the Abbot until the King asked for some of his hunting dogs. Samson sent him dogs, horses and other valuable gifts and perhaps surprisingly, the King backed down and commended the abbots' staunchness.

On St Etheldreda's night of June 22nd, a fire broke out at St Edmund's shrine, as a candle set fire to drapes. Fierce flames engulfed the shrine and even the water from the water clock was used to stem the fire. This served to hasten the work to instal a safer and more spectacular shrine in a higher position.

By November the Abbot said all was ready to transfer the saints' body to the new shrine. On 23rd November, the coffin of St Edmund was formally examined by the Abbot and all the monks of the convent. Several layers of cloth had to be removed to reveal a wooden coffin with iron rings at each end, "like those found on a Norse chest." A parchment, which Jocelin thought was some salutations of the monk Ailwin, was found beneath the wrappings. Also fixed to the coffin lid was the image of a golden angel, holding a sword in one hand, and a banner in the other. Below the angel was a hole in the lid through which, in the past, the wardens of the shrine used to touch the body. The words, "Behold, Michaels's image guards the sacred corpse" were written above the figure.

Abbot Samson wanted to open the coffin, and decided to inspect the saint's body with only twelve monks to attend as witnesses and to instal the body in its new shrine. He intended to do this quietly and during the night of November 25th, while the convent slept, he opened the coffin with his 12 witnesses. Sixteen nails had to be removed from the coffin. Samson removed layers of material from the body, and touched it all over. He decided to summon six other monks to bear witness to the saint. Six more turned up as well, one of whom was Jocellus the Cellerar, and Jocelin recorded how their names were listed as witnesses to the body of the saint.

A new document was drawn up with the names of the 18 monks as witnesses that Abbot Samson had seen and touched the body of the saint. This was added to Ailwin's document and placed in a box to be wrapped up together with the coffin.

Samson had to explain to those monks excluded from this ceremony his reasons for carrying out his examination in front of so few of their number. Three days later he dismissed the wardens of both St Edmund's shrine and St Botolph's shrine, replacing them with new men, and new regulations to better protect them. The shrines were filled with stone in all the cavities to avoid the fire risk of the spaces being used for storage.

Also in this year Samson arranged for the schoolmaster in the town of St Edmund to receive an income from the Church at Wetherden. This was sufficient to provide free tuition at school for the town. He had already provided rent-free stone houses for the school so the poor clerks could be free of any rental burden.

1199 King Richard spent the rest of his life after 1194 recapturing parts of France taken by Philip. He built the famous Chateau Gaillard on the Seine, but was shot by a crossbowman at a minor siege at Chabus. He died on 6th April 1199 at the age of 41.

Jocelin recorded Abbot Samson's sorrow at this event in these words, "When the Abbot had bought the grace and favour of King Richard with gifts and money, and accordingly believed that he would be able to bring all his plans to a successful conclusion, King Richard died and the Abbot's labour and expense were wasted."

By this time Samson had tried to sort out some of the chaotic web of fees and dues payable to all the officer holders of the Abbey by the town. He could see the unfairness of the privileges which people living inside the walls enjoyed but were unavailable to those outside the walls but inside the Banleuca. In the process he upset the monks, including Jocelin.

Later in the year the Abbot quarrelled with the convent over their treatment of Ralph the gatekeeper. Jocellus the cellarer had stopped Ralph's wages as punishment for pursuing certain cases and lawsuits against the convent. Samson saw this as flouting his authority and even claimed that the monks were planning to stab him to death! There was a tearful reconciliation on both sides but Samson quietly restored Ralph's wages, and the convent submitted. Since 1954, some historians have believed that Jocellus the Cellarer was Jocelin of Brackland himself.

King John took the throne and reigned until 1216. He inherited the kingdom from his brother King Richard who had been king for 10 years, but of this time spent only six months in the country. Their mother was Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, their father was King Henry II. Richard had bled England white to finance the crusades and considered himself ruler of the Angevin Empire, of which England was only a small part. He taxed the whole Empire, but England, with a widespread and efficient tax system, suffered worst.

Immediately after his coronation King John came to St Edmund's "impelled by a vow and out of devotion" (Jocelin of Brackland). He immediately blotted his copybook with the Church by not making a sizeable donation, as expected, but gave only a silk cloth which his servants borrowed from the abbey's sacrist, and thirteen shillings.

Dunwich in the 12th century
blank One of the ways in which King John raised money was by granting borough charters to various towns. These rights had to be paid for, so only wealthy towns could apply for this small measure of self government. One town granted a charter in 1199 was Dunwich, on the Suffolk coast. By the end of the 12th century it was a busy port with a spacious harbour. Its population of perhaps 4,000 people were involved in merchant shipping, fishing and shipbuilding. Over the next two centuries the town would be largely swallowed up by the sea. The yellow line on the attached reconstruction, held in Dunwich Museum, shows the coastline in the year 2000,

Thetford became the first Mayor Town when King John granted it Borough status, and the right to have a mayor and corporation. There was no way that Bury could obtain such independent status as the Abbot was Lord of the whole Liberty covering all West Suffolk. Up to around 1200 it would seem that the protection of the abbot and his lordship of the town had generated many commercial privileges to the men of Bury. They were probably quite happy to live under such exemptions from royal power when it meant more favourable treatment for men of Bury than for outsiders. But once the king had started granting similar rights to other towns, like Thetford, the rule of the abbot did not seem quite so attractive any more. These new boroughs could hold markets, perhaps, or could set up guild merchants. Bury men thought they would also like to run such things for themselves, in place of the abbot. But the best that the leading townsmen or burgesses could do was to grant their own rights to the Head of the Town Guild. This man was expected to stand up to the Abbot's Port Reeve, who had responsibilities from the Abbot for the town's government. Later, from 1292, this would become the Alderman's Guild, led by a man with the grand title of Alderman.

Thus despite the privileges, hospitals, schools and library available to townspeople from the presence of the abbey, resentment of the abbey's power, its taxes and exactions, strengthened. Abbot Samson had kept the lid on the town's resentments, often by upsetting his own monks in convent, who felt the town was only there to provide for them and St Edmund.

1200 King John granted a charter to Ipswich, giving it Borough status, just as Thetford had enjoyed a year earlier. King John was responsible for setting up many new charter boroughs in his reign.

King John was not just being magnanimous with his favours. His treasury was empty, drained dry by King Richard's Crusades, and John desperately needed money. To obtain a Charter a town had to pay handsomely for the privilege.

The king was the sole lord of Ipswich and self-government was given to the town in his charter dated May 25, 1200. This also gave the townsmen responsibility for the collection and payment to the Exchequer of Ipswich's fee farm of £40. Ipswich also got the broad grant of all liberties and customs that the king's "free boroughs" in England had (excepting only those particular to London). A number of specific rights were spelled out, including:

  • the right of a town court to hear most cases to which townsmen were party, including pleas of related to debts, mortgages and real estate;
  • quittance from having to pay tolls on merchandise taken anywhere in the realm (with the heavy fine of £10 on anyone exacting tolls from Ipswich men);
  • the right to have a Merchant Gild;
  • the right to "elect, by decision of the community of the town, two of those townsmen who are law-abiding and of sound judgement" as bailiffs; those elected were to be presented to the Chief Justice at Westminster, for royal approval, and could not be removed from office if they performed their duties well, except by a common decision of the burgesses;
  • the right to elect four coroners to deal with crown pleas outside the jurisdiction of the borough court, as well as to ensure that the bailiffs dealt impartial justice to poor and rich alike.
These rights granted to both Ipswich and Thetford made the leading men of Bury feel even more keenly their subservience to the Abbot of St Edmund's Abbey.

The Jews had been evicted from their homes under King Richard, but now King John permitted the exiles to return home. King John also encouraged Jews from the Continent to come to England to settle, and granted them Charters to carry out business. It does not appear that the old Jewish Quarter in Bury ever attracted any number of returners. Perhaps while Abbot Samson lived, there was no money lending business to be had there, and certainly no welcome.

Through the 1190's and early 1200's, the new technology of the time in the wool trade was the invention of the water driven Fulling Machine. This was to turn England from being an exporter of raw wool to Flanders and the Low Countries, into a manufacturer of textiles on an industrial scale. This needed fast flowing water to drive the machines and new centres would grow up in the Cotswolds, and also in and around the Stour Valley, not far from Bury, over the next hundred years.

1201 At this time you might have thought that King John was popular with the Abbot of St Edmunds as he issued a charter forbidding anyone other than the Abbot from holding a market within the area of the Liberty of St Edmund, now known as West Suffolk. However, this arose because John had infringed the Liberty's existing rights by granting the Prior of Ely the right to a market in Lakenheath.
The king had given a charter to the monks of Ely whereby they could hold a market at Lakenheath, on condition that it did not harm neighbouring markets.

The abbot laid out 50 marks to pay for an inquisition into whether his market had in fact suffered harm from Lakenheath. His case was proved that it had and that it conflicted with the abbot's existing rights within the Liberty of St Edmund, granted in 1044 by King Edward the Confessor and confirmed by Henry I.

It cost the abbot a further " promise of a mere 40 marks", and two palfreys, and the king issued the new charter and ordered the market at Lakenheath to close.

The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brackland explains how the king wrote to his Justiciar to discontinue the Lakenheath market. The Justiciar wrote this to the Sheriff of Suffolk, who, knowing that he could not enter the Liberty of St Edmund, or exercise any power there, ordered the abbot by writ to implement the king's command. The bailiff of the hundred went to carry this out but was met by insults and injuries. The abbot then sent six hundred well armed men who destroyed stalls and seized livestock. This illustrates the jealousy with which market rights were protected because of the importance of the income they could generate.

Also in 1201 the Abbot of Flay visited our abbey from France. He was promoting a new crusade and was travelling around England also preaching against Sunday trading. Abbot Samson agreed with him that all the market trading which took place on Sundays would be transferred to Tuesdays.

From 1201-1300 was a peak period for new markets and 47 new ones arose in Suffolk, presumably mostly outside the Liberty.

King John granted a charter of incorporation to Cambridge in 1201. Naturally, the town of Cambridge had to pay the king for these privileges.

1202 The Angevin Empire began to crumble. Philip of France invaded Normandy.

At Bury the unofficial Chronicle of Jocelin of Brackland ended abruptly. He may have died, or he may have been warned off his writing or he may just have taken on other duties and given up his diary.

In his translation of "Electio Hugonis", Professor R M Thompson identifies a monk called Jocelin of the Alter as Jocelin of Brackland. In this case, Jocelin was still alive and well and involved in the election of the Abbot Hugh in the years 1212 to 1215. Thompson records Jocelin as Cellarer from 1198 to 1209.

1203 King John visited St Edmund's Abbey and scandalised the monks by borrowing the jewels his mother had presented to the church.
1204 King John was finally driven out of Normandy when Chateau Gaillard fell to the French. After John killed Arthur of Brittany, the Bretons also attacked him from the West. Philip of France began to mould a French consciousness, and in England the Anglo-Norman Barons were forced to choose between the new France and their estates in England. Most chose England.Eleanor of Aquitaine died but John arranged a truce with Philip and managed to retain these lands and the rest of the Angevin lands.
1205 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Hubert Walter, died. John now quarrelled with the Pope over his successor, but the real issue was the old one of the boundaries of power between Church and King.

In around 1205 the Lord of Exning decided to apply to the king to purchase a new market charter. He saw the possibility of making money from travellers along the Icknield Way, which had been used to mark the boundaries of the manor and parish of Exning with the parish of Wood Ditton. For the last 200 years there had been only a few scattered inns across this heath, and it had been a haunt of highway robbers and cut throats. As travellers increased in numbers there had been a rise in ad-hoc wayside stalls, whose owners had avoided paying any feudal dues because of their ability to dodge from parish to parish. The new market charter allowed the Exning lord to clamp down on this and exact his own market tolls, and run his own market courts. By 1400 the town of Newmarket would eclipse Exning to become a staging post on the roads from London and Cambridge to Bury and Norwich.

1207 King John introduced a tax of one thirteenth or 1s on each mark (13s 4d) of income from rents and moveable property. He is said to have doubled his income to £60,000 by this measure. It was the first income tax, of about 5p on every 67p income in today's coinage, or 7.5%.
Within the Liberty of St Edmund, however, taxes were due to the Abbot, not to the King.
1209 John was excommunicated because he would not make terms with Pope Innocent III over the Canterbury issue. England suffered a papal interdict.
1210 In 1895 M R James published his work "On the Abbey of St Edmund at Bury." It was divided into two sections. The first section discussed the Library of the Abbey, and the second part concentrated upon the structure and furnishings of the Abbey church. M R James recorded that on 23rd September, 1210, the central tower of the church collapsed. He pointed out that it was a calm day, and was not due to a storm, as the Chronicles recorded.

Abbey Church completed by Samson
by Norman Scarfe
1211 Abbot Samson died at Bury on the 30th December, 1211 and the local consequence of the Papal interdict was that he could not be buried in the Abbey grounds. It was to be three years before his body could be re-interred in the chapter house. It would also be a year before his successor was elected, but it would not be until 1215 that his successor was approved by the King, and subsequently anointed.

Building work on the great Abbey Church seems to have been at a standstill for about forty years after the time of Abbot Anselm. Samson was responsible for initiating the next phase of building development. As Sacrist from 1180 to 1182, Samson had built one extra storey on the major west tower. When Samson became abbot in 1182 he apparently embarked upon a plan to enlarge the whole west front of the church, adding towers and the octagonal structures at each side. One of these survives as 'Samson's Tower' today.

West Front
(modern reconstruction)
blank When Abbot Samson died it is believed that he had finished his great project of enlarging the West front of the Abbey Church. He has been not only a great building abbot, but an able administrator of abbey and town, and managing the conflicts between their commercial interests as best he could. Sometimes he had upset the monks in his judgements in favour of the town burgesses, and it was possibly this which initially caused Jocelin to embark on his chronicle.

Within a few days of his death the monks went to the King, gave him gifts, and received his agreement to a free election of Abbot Samson's successor. The meaning of free election was to prove a contentious issue between monastery and king in the coming years.

The King would refuse to approve the Abbot's successor for three years, events recorded in Electio Hugonis, a record made of these events a few years after they took place. Meanwhile, without an Abbot, all revenues due to him from the Liberty (ie West Suffolk) now went to the Crown.

1212 The surviving records of the main Bury Chronicle, known as Annales Sancti Edmundi ended during 1212. It covered the period from the incarnation up to the time of the writer, ie 1212 or shortly thereafter. The only known manuscript seems to have lost the leaves for the period from mid 1212 onwards.

The second chronicle is more important, but written later. It contains details of the years after 1212, but is sketchy until it becomes contemporary with its author.

The Chronicle of Bury St Edmunds which covers these years from 1212 to 1301 was written in about 1265, many years after some of these events took place. This may be significant in that there is today a grave lack of corroborating evidence for the part the Abbey of St Edmund was to play in the next few years leading up to Magna Carta.

The third Chronicle which covers the years 1212 to 1215 is concerned with the election of a new Abbot, and is called "Electio Hugonis", or the Chronicle of the Election of Hugh. It was not written at the same time as the events took place, but was certainly written shortly afterwards, most likely in the 1220s. R M Thomson has concluded that its author was probably the Bury monk Master Nicholas of Dunstable, who was the Abbey's Cellarer by 1220.

According to "Electio Hugonis", the Prior now had custody of the Abbey estates, having paid the King 400 Marks for the privilege. Together with the Sacrist, the prior did nothing to promote the election of a new Abbot. However, this may have been due to the Papal Interdict in force at the time. This situation continued all through 1212, into 1213.

At the same time it seems that the King was extracting a tax of 4,000 marks from the Abbey. The monks in turn were taxing the town of Bury. The burgesses went to court to try to avoid this imposition by the abbey, but they lost the case.

1213 King John finally accepted Stephen Langton, the Pope's nominee as Archbishop of Canterbury, and in return, he was received back into the Church, and the Papal interdict on England was lifted. Archbishop Stephen Langton would play an important part in bringing King John to sign the Magna Carta.

According to Roger of Wendover there was a big meeting at St Pauls, in London on 25th August 1213 concerning the ending of the papal interdict. Archbishop Langton is said to have called the barons to one side and revealed that he had discovered a Charter of King Henry I whereby they might achieve their liberties. Wendover says the Barons swore in Langton's presence to fight for these liberties unto death. Like his record of a later meeting in Bury St Edmunds, this is felt to be an implausible idea by many modern historians.

Because history at this time was written in monasteries, John's quarrels with the Pope meant that he would never again receive a favourable report in these quarters.

The English Barons had supported King John against the Pope, although he had to suppress the Scots, Welsh and Irish who did not. As John was concentrating on home matters he spent a lot of time on the affairs of the kingdom. The Barons particularly in the North, saw this as interference as for many years John, and Richard before him, had concentrated their efforts abroad.

John reorganised the tax system, introduced a property tax and encouraged civic life, granting charters to many English towns. He was aiming to raise revenue but in the process extended the power of the state.

John had built up the navy and this proved its worth when the French invasion fleet was smashed in 1213, aiming to conquer the excommunicated England, which was fair game under the international (i.e., Papal) law of the time.

Meanwhile, there had still been no election of a new Abbot at St Edmund's Abbey. In July 1213 the King wrote to the Convent at Bury from Corfe, ordering them to send to court as many wise monks as necessary to allow a new Abbot to be elected. He even offered to pay their travelling expenses if he was out of the country. He also wrote in a similar vein to the other 9 vacant houses in the realm. The election process then began at Bury in August.

The Bury Chronicle recorded that Hugh de Northwold, a monk of St Edmund's was elected abbot of Bury, by all the monks together. Electio Hugonis, however says there was seven electors using the method of compromise.

The Electio records that the convent selected three of its number, who in turn selected seven electors. There were objections to Robert the Sacrist being one of the Seven, and he was replaced by the Chamberlain. By the 7th August they had chosen Hugh of Northwold as Abbot, and he was accepted by the Convent. A delegation now went off to see the King and present Hugh as their choice.

This is where the trouble began. The king refused to accept only one candidate for the post, having ordered them to send him men to conduct the election under his jurisdiction. As the king pointed out, previous elections of Abbot of Bury had usually been carried out under some form of royal oversight, if not control. The convent now received the backing of Archbishop Stephen of Canterbury, but at home in the Abbey the monks now split into two factions.

The Chronicle records that there was now a dispute in the convent over the election. Jocelin the Almoner, supported by the sacrist, Robert of Graveley, objected to Hugh's election, saying that it had ignored the traditional customs, and offended the dignity of the king. A straw poll soon found 40 monks who wished to continue to support Hugh as Abbot, and about 30 were therefore ready to repudiate the election of Hugh, thus supporting the King's opinion.

The problem continued for the rest of the year. From 19th November to 21st November, Archbishop Langton was at Bury Abbey trying to get the monks to unite behind their choice of Hugh for Abbot. Langton was clearly trying to assert the power of the church, and hoped to get these elections made free of royal intervention. He seems to have used the gathering for the Feast of St Edmund for some additional political purposes. Also present was Earl Roger Bigod, and a large number of other clerks, laymen, and Brothers from other houses. Robert Fitzwalter, who held one knight's fee in the Liberty, would be there as a matter of course. We might expect all the nobles whe could attend to make the effort, so important was St Edmund's at the time. Langton undoubtedly took council with them about the election and the general state of the nation. Although there is less evidence for such a gathering in 1214, it was a well established routine.

The king demanded to know why the Prior had not sent him the dues from the Abbey, and there was another dispute over who should go to the King to explain things. The Prior refused to travel with Hugh, and so two parties set out to visit the King. Despite attempts by Bishops to appease the king, he refused to see anyone from St Edmund's until they agreed to an election according to ancient and well tried custom. The King dismissed the Sacrist's request for a new die for the abbey mint on the same grounds.

Outside the Abbey, and apparently to spite Robert the Sacrist, the burgesses of the town responded by supporting Hugh. Hugh was not finally installed as abbot with royal approval, until 1215.

1214 In February 1214, Robert the Sacrist had returned to Bury from his unsuccessful attempt to obtain a new die for the abbey mint from the King. He had used this excuse as an attempt to advance his own cause with the King, but John had refused to see anyone from Bury until they denounced Hugh as Abbot, and held a new election under his ancient rights and custom. Robert the Sacrist now tried to frighten the monks into repudiating the election, and a series of manouvres and strategies took place between the monks to achieve this. However by the middle of 1214 only five of Hugh's supporters had changed sides, so that 35 monks were in favour of supporting him, and 35 wanted to run a new election as demanded by the King.

The Electio now records a series of manouevres by the anti-Hugh faction to persuade or coerce more monks to support a new election before the King. Appeals to the Pope produced a letter in May to his Legate, instructing him to investigate the election, and "if you find the election to have been celebrated canonically in a fit person, you are to confirm it by the Papal authority."

Abbot-elect Hugh now judged it safe to return to England and the Abbey. When he was about 10 miles outside the vill, the clerks and burghers of the town went out to meet him. No monks cared to come except the Chamberlain. The abbey officials also refused to eat with him when he arrived. The Legate's judges spent several days investigating the election process. They set deadlines for the monks to agree amongst themselves to confirm the election.

Meanwhile the King's Justiciar wrote to John de Cornard, Sheriff of Suffolk and Norfolk, ordering him to take the abbey into Crown control. This was an attempt to force the Abbey to annul the election of Hugh, and undergo a new election under the King's oversight. William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, called all the convent together, and made them divide themselves into two groups, those in favour of the king, and those in favour of the existing election. Names were taken to emphasise the pressure being brought to bear. Pembroke demanded to know who had called in the Pope, and Earl Roger Bigod and Robert Fitzwalter also appealed to them not to incur the king's ill will, by resisting further. The Cellarer was now put on the spot as the man most against revoking the election. He said that the monks were bound by oath to accept the election as it stood, and could only change their minds if the Prior could, or would, absolve them of that oath. Pembroke gave them three days to change their minds.

There now existed the extraordinary situation whereby the Abbey was host to a party of major Barons demanding loyalty to the King, and a party of Bishops sent by the Pope to support a canonically correct election. The monks themselves were split down the middle, with about half supporting each side. The papal Judges set another date on 26th July to consider their decision at St Albans.

In July the pope's judges duly met at St Albans, and three Bury monks from each side were delegated to present the case for each side. Those supporting the election of Hugh of Northwold were Peter the Cellarer, Richard of Hingham and Master Nicholas of Dunstable, the latter the author of Electio Hugonis. Those ready to defer to the King's demands were represented by Richard the Precentor, Robert the sacrist and Adam the Infirmarer.

In August the judges sent Abbot-Elect Hugh to the King in Poitou, with a letter from them urging him to accept Hugh or give them reasons, as they were bound by the Pope to settle the matter.

John had sailed to Poitou on 9th February to attack France to regain the lost parts of his Empire. He was stopped in his tracks by a defeat at Les Bouvines, and the cost of this latest French war was to finally goad the Barons into open resistance.

The Barons resented the King's Chief Justiciar, Peter Des Roches, because he was from Poitu, and the Barons decided to see him as a foreigner. But what they really resented was the increased scutage money the king demanded to pay for the war. Scutage was the established method by which those who were liable for feudal military service, could pay a fee to avoid it and stay at home.
Had he won the war, the glory and booty resulting would have settled them down, but the Barons were arming their castles in resistance.

Graves of Five Abbots
blank The Bury Chronicle says that on 2nd July, by order of Pope Innocent III England was released from the general interdict which had already lasted 6 years, 14 weeks and 3 days. This meant that England was again part of the accepted world community, but for Bury it meant that Abbot Samson could be reburied within the Chapter House along with his notable predecessors. This was carried out while Abbot-elect Hugh was in France, under the control of Robert the Sacrist. The coffin was removed from the Cloister Garth and re-interred in the Chapter House. These graves were excavated in the early twentieth century following some extraordinary detective work by M R James. Five Abbots were identified from a Register found in Douai in France.

Despite further letters sent to the King by the Sacrist, Hugh was finally received with good grace by King John, but he pleaded that pressure of business prevented him from actually confirming Hugh as Abbot at that time.

On 13th October, according to David Carpenter, King John landed back in England. At about that time, possibly on 19th October, Carpenter suggests that the famous Barons meeting took place at Bury St Edmunds, rather than on the oft quoted date of 20th November. The October date seems to fit in much better with what happened next.

By 23rd October, Hugh was back in the Abbey at Bury, and he looked out all of the ancient charters supporting the right to a free election. By the 28th October he had taken these to the King in London. The Sacrist and some of his supporters had meanwhile beaten Hugh to reach the King, and by putting their case, had prevented Hugh from getting a favourable response from the King. The King saying, "You have stirred up rebellion against me from which you can expect no good result.... I do not say this with reference to you in particular but on account of certain others as well." This reference may have been to the Archbishop and Bishops who supported the Pope on the issue of free elections, and who favoured the Baronial cause. Carpenter suggests that, in fact, the King was referring to the Barons' meeting at Bury, and that he had heard about it from his supporters.

At the beginning of November 1214, possibly on the 4th, King John visited the Abbey of St Edmund, and as soon as he arrived he addressed the monks in their Chapter House, saying that provided they agreed to hold a new election, he would accept whoever they chose, even if it were to be Hugh. If they refused to do this they risked three consequences. These would be that the house would be divided against itself and might fall into poverty, that their reputation would be besmirched, and that they would incur their ruler's hatred. He appealed to Hugh to resign his election to allow a new vote. King John now asked the convent to divide to show who was in favour of his proposal. Expecting only a handful of monks to oppose him, the King was amazed when the majority stood against him.

All this was recorded in the Electio Hugonis, a detailed chronicle probably written by Master Nicholas of Dunstable, a monk at the Abbey, in the 1220's. This chronicle related to the disputed election of Abbot Hugh following Samson's death in 1211 and contains no obvious reference to a gathering of rebellious Barons.

However, the Chronicle of the Election of Hugh does contain veiled references to activities contrary to the King's interests. On 5th November, 1214, the abbey's sacrist, Robert of Graveley, attempted to denounce Hugh of Northwold's activities to the king. The 'Electio' uses these words, as translated by R M Thomson,

"My Lord King, this man assisting you and conducting himself as abbot elect, is working with might and main to deprive you of your royal crown. And unless he is quickly persuaded by the royal provision to abandon this wicked idea, it is to be feared that within a short time he will accomplish what he has already set in motion against the royal dignity."

The Sacrist was personally jealous of Hugh because he had expected to become Abbot after Samson. Nevertheless this would be an extraordinary statement to make about a fellow priest unless Hugh and the Abbey had been involved in some way in the baronial plot.

Hugh's reply to the accusation was to say:

"All cunning and falsity turned in upon itself harms its own lover dreadfully with the blows of its perverse intention. Do you not realise how many others you harm by treating one as near you as your own self with manifest falsehood? For in this you are only wounding yourself, aggravating what you are trying to prevent, just as you are right now. And know this, that over the years I have repeatedly been of more use in all the king's business and realm than you; and I have no intention of letting you get your own way today."

This denial is not exactly as full and wide ranging as one might expect if absolutely nothing at all had been going on behind the king's back. After this exchange, the King left the Abbey and town of St Edmund on his other royal business.

There is no other record of the Barons gathering at Bury St Edmunds except for a detailed account produced some year later at St Albans by the monk Roger of Wendover.

Unfortunately, Roger is regarded as a rather unreliable historian but in the words of Lord Bingham, Lord Chief Justice, speaking in 1996, "It is not easy to think of a good reason why he should have recorded this story unless he heard it from someone, and not easy to imagine how he came to hear the story if it was entirely false ... there is likely to be at least a germ of factual justification for the story." In any case, there are other examples of incidents in Bury which were recorded in other places, which also never appeared in Bury records.

It should also be noted from the description of the Feast of St Edmund shown under 1213, that a gathering of nobles at this annual event was a matter of routine, and not something requiring undue comment. This does not rule out the possible attendance of a group of nobles at an earlier date in the year.

Memorial tablets of November 1214 at Bury
blank The meeting has been attributed to St Edmund's Day, 20th November 1214, but Wendover's account of the date is not so specific. It reads as follows:-
"About this time the earls and barons of England assembled at St Edmund's as if for religious duties, although it was for some other reason; for after they had discoursed together secretly for a time, there was placed before them the charter of King Henry first, which they had received, as mentioned before, in the City of London from Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury. This charter contained certain liberties and laws granted to the holy church as well as the nobles of the kingdom, besides some liberties which the king added of his own accord.All therefore assembled in the church of St Edmund the king and martyr, and commencing from those of the highest rank, they all swore on the great altar that, if the king refused to grant these liberties and laws, they themselves would withdraw from their allegiance to him, and make war on him, till he should, by a charter under his own seal, confirm to them every thing they required; and firmly it was unanimously agreed that, after Christmas, they should all go together to the King and demand the confirmation of the aforesaid liberties to them, and that they should in the meantime provide themselves with horses and arms so that if the king should endeavour to depart from his oath, they might by taking his castles compel him to satisfy their demands; and having arranged this, each man returned home."

The names of the Barons involved are recorded on the stone tablet shown here. The names can be read by clicking on the thumbnail picture, but this is not a reliably accurate reckoning of who was there.

Astonishingly King John now issued a charter on November 21st, 1214, which granted the right of free election to all the churches in his realm. However, this must have meant different things to different people, as John still objected to Abbot Hugh's election.

In the winter of 1214-1215 scribes were set to work to copy out the Coronation charters of previous English kings probably in London. They used the charter of King Henry I, the charter of King Stephen issued in 1135 and a charter of King Henry II. These were translated from Latin into Anglo-Norman, as the barons lacked a classical education. They wanted to establish the affirmation of existing rights and good practices and not to appear new or revolutionary.

Through December the King's officials continued to put pressure upon the monks at Bury to accept the King's authority over the election of their abbot. Royal officials demanded 4,000 marks for the expenses of the case, and the Sacrist also tried to further arouse the King to take a much harder line with those monks still supporting Hugh's election.

Modern Runnymede Memorial
1215 In January, the Barons met the king with their draft charter at the Temple, but negotiations failed.

At Bury in early January, the Monks were summoned to the court held at Catteshill, just outside Bury, before Richard Marsh and Henry de Vere, for the king. Appeals and accusations were levied on all sides, and another hearing was fixed for 15th February. Arguments continued, and yet another hearing was fixed for 10th March. Meanwhile, the supporters of Hugh in the convent at Bury had appealed to Rome for help, and this letter also became a source of dissention. The papal judges now received a letter from the Pope ordering them to settle the decision with no further delay or outside hindrance. The Pope was clearly supporting Hugh's election. The Pope's judges, Henry, abbot of Wardon, Richard, prior of Dunstable, and Adam, dean of Salisbury, declared that Hugh had been rightfully elected Abbot, and ordered the Sacrist and his supporters to renounce their objections. So Hugh of Northwold was finally confirmed in his election as Abbot of St Edmunds. The Bury Chronicle says that on 11th March Hugh, the abbot elect of St Edmund's, was confirmed by the papal judge-delegates and blessed by Benedict, bishop of Rochester. However, all this was done under the Pope's authority, which still left King John completely out of the decision.

Hugh knew he had to appease the King, and went to find him in Sherwood Forest in the last week of March, where he and his monks knelt before the King begging him to accept him as Abbot. Although John was pleased with the display of humility, he still hedged, saying,"Welcome, lord abbot elect, saving the rights of my realm." By 17th April, Abbot Hugh had been dragged about the countryside trying to get a firm answer from the King. When the King announced that he himself would write to the Pope about all the vacancies to be filled in the realm, Hugh went back to Bury. He made some new appointments within the Abbey, and acted as Abbot. He was consecrated by the Bishop of Rochester at Halling on May 19th, but because of the growing civil unrest, he gave up trying to see the King again for the moment.

By May 1215 the Country was in a state of Civil War. King John wanted to annul the Coronation charter of Henry I, and we have seen that the Barons wanted him to agree to a new Charter of Rights. The northern Barons were mostly united against the King. Elsewhere he was not so solidly opposed.

On 17th May the Barons seized London giving themselves a decisive bargaining counter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, mediated between the parties, while trying to maintain church privileges. He tried to help Hugh return to the King's good graces, and urged him to act before it was too late. After sending Richard of Saxham to plead for him, Hugh was sent a conciliatory letter by the King, asking Hugh to attend upon him without delay. By the evening of 9th June, Abbot Hugh and the main Abbey officers were at Windsor with the King. Hugh had to attend the King next day at Staines meadow, and he was finally accepted by the King on 10th June. Hugh was to be Abbot of Bury until 1229, when he became Bishop of Ely.

Archbishop Langton had also arranged for a meeting of the King and his Barons to try to settle the uprising, and a parley was arranged for 15th June in a meadow called Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames and 'a sort of peace' was concluded.

This peace treaty meant little at the time and was not regarded as Magna Carta, the cornerstone of English liberties until the 17th Century.

Copy of Magna Carta
blank Archbishop Langton worked hard to make the 63 clauses acceptable to both sides while ensuring that the Church's interests were fully safeguarded. It was a last minute amendment that made it applicable not to 'any baron' but 'any freeman'.

You can read the provisions of the Magna Carta in a short form in modern English, by clicking here:
Translation of Magna Carta.

A serious fire broke out in St Edmund's Bury in the summer of 1215 which was said to have destroyed a third of the town and no doubt led to much redevelopment. It is unclear where this fire was located. The Bury Chronicle only records that on 3rd June a fire broke out and burnt a great part of St Edmund's. The Chronicle "Electio Hugonis" does not mention it at all.

In August 1215, John appealed to the Pope who denounced the Great Charter, annulling it by a papal bull and excommunicating the Barons who tried to press for its clauses to be carried out. The original Magna Carta was thus in force for only two months.

By September, civil war had broken out again because of this. The civil strife encouraged the French to take advantage of the country's disunity.

In the winter, Bury lay in the path of the raid by the Frenchman, Savoric de Mauleon, but like the raid by the Dauphin in the following Spring, we do not know exactly what consequences this had for the town, if any.

1216 John marched through the eastern rebel territories. The Bigod's great modern castle, built in the latest style with its curtain walls, fell to King John after only two day's siege.
The barons even asked France for help and Prince Louis landed in England and had himself proclaimed King. The Bury Chronicle says that the city of London was made over to Louis, and that the Pope excommunicated the Barons and laid another interdict on England in their presence, because they had rebelled against the king.

John relieved his loyal town of Lincoln in September and marched on Kings Lynn. While crossing the Wellstream which flowed into the Wash, his baggage train got lost in the mists and swallowed by quicksand. His royal jewels and treasures were lost.
In October 1216, John died in Newark and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. He had caught dysentery in the Fens and died at 49 years old.
He was the first king in the 150 years since 1066 to be born and buried in England.
The country was in chaos, with about two thirds of the Barons up in arms, and Louis of France claiming the throne.

According to Matthew Paris, writing much later, Louis, the son of the French King Philip, miserably despoiled the towns and villages of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk in 1216. There has grown up a suggestion that in these attacks, he came to Bury in the Spring, and stole the relics of St Edmund and carried the bones off to France. The story goes that eventually the remains were placed in the crypt of the basilica of St Sernin, in Toulouse. This story is best told in the book "St Edmund King and Martyr" by Father Bryan Houghton in 1970, and best refuted in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology Volume 31 Part 3 (1970) by Norman Scarfe. In 1901 the relics from St Sernin were even returned to England, destined for Westminster Cathedral, being newly built. They were deposited at Arundel, and there they remain, despite an attempt to bring them to Bury in 1965.

King John's 9 year old son, King Henry III came to the throne on 18th October and was crowned on the 28th of that month. He ruled until 1272. In November 1216 the great charter was reissued in an interim form of 42 clauses.

Quick links on this page
Top of Page 1066
Harrying of the North 1069
Hereward at Ely 1071
Revolt of the Earls 1075
Herfast's takeover bid 1081
Domesday Survey 1086
New abbey church started 1090
New chancel consecrated 1095
Abbot Anselm installed 1120
Bury Bible and town walls 1136
The Bury Cross 1150
Battle of Fornham 1173
Samson becomes Abbot 1182
Jews expelled from Bury 1190
Jocelin begins his Chronicle 1195
Death of Abbot Samson 1211
Barons swear an oath 1214
Please click here to follow our Chronicle into the rest of the 13th century and beyond.

Originally produced for the St Edmundsbury Local History Project
by David Addy, October 1998 - October 2006
Amended and updated since

Books consulted:
Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds by Jocelin of Brakelond trans D Greenway and J Sayers
Chronicle of the Election of Hugh, translated by R M Thomson, 1974
The Sacred and Profane History of Bury St Edmunds by Peter Bishop
The Book of Bury St Edmunds by Margaret Statham.
Hereward of the Fens by Trevor Bevis 1995
Hereward, the last Englishman, by Peter Rex 2005
A History of Suffolk by David Dymond and Peter Northeast.
The Borough of Bury St Edmund's by M D Lobel
A Guide to late Anglo-Saxon England by Donald Henson
Jocelin of Brakelond by Norman Scarfe, 1997
The Castles of Suffolk, by Peter Tryon, 2004
Not St Edmunds Men by Robert Charles Butterworth, 2004
Liber Eliensis, translated by Janet Fairweather in 2005
Lectures by Dr Lucy Marten, '1066 and all that', 2006 Wuffing Education
Lecture by Dr Robert Liddiard 24th October 2009 'Castles of East Anglia', Wuffing Education
Magna Carta - Penguin Classic with introduction by Professor David Carpenter, 2015

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