Chronicle Logo by Helen Macildowie

Clues to the early development of
Bury St Edmunds

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons and the Danes to 1065

Bronze head of Emperor Claudius. Thought to have been looted from Colchester, and dumped in the River Alde at Rendham.
Emperor Claudius
60 AD Boudicca of the Iceni now allied with the Essex and East Suffolk Trinovantes to attack the Romans. Following a two day siege they took Colchester, smashed the temple of Claudius and destroyed the garrison.

The rebellion of Boudicca against the Romans brought reprisals and the firm establishment of Roman rule. Roman reprisals were at first extreme. It is significant that the Iron Age settlement at West Stow ended about this time; but it is not known just what happened. The Iceni religious wooden timbered henge at Thetford was also demolished around this time. Iceni coinage production also ceased or was suppressed at this time. The Iceni were eventually allowed to survive ruled from Venta Icenorum (Caistor St Edmund), near Norwich.

A new seven acre Roman fort was established at Pakenham on the Peddars Way to control the ford across the River Blackbourne and maintain control over the locals. Peddars Way was built from Chelmsford through Long Melford, Pakenham and Ixworth and Knettishall towards the Wash at Holme-next-the-Sea. The old A45 (now A14) from Kentford to Bury was probably a link road from the prehistoric Icknield Way at Icklingham to the Romanised Peddars Way linking via Fornham and Great Barton.

Another road probably already ran from Cambridge to Haverhill and Clare and on to Long Melford on the northern side of the River Stour. It would become less important as a frontier road once the Iceni came under Roman military occupation.

It is important to realise that the description 'Roman' really equates with Romanised Britons. So 'Roman' settlements flourished in the river valleys and light soils but continued the iron age penetration of the heavy clay soils as well. Roman kilns have been found at Wattisfield, West Stow and Icklingham etc, where the local clay was suitable.

The Romano-British landscape was ordered much like the medieval one with open market centres in an agricultural landscape. In our area such centres were Icklingham, Pakenham, Wixoe and Long Melford. Coddenham was a major centre to the east. Sicklesmere was a smaller settlement.

Location of Roman town of Camborito at Icklingham. From 'The Suffolk Landscape' by Norman Scarfe.
Camborito at Icklingham
100 AD By the end of the 1st century there were six small "Roman" towns in Suffolk. Their inhabitants would have been largely the native inhabitants, but with officials answerable to the Roman Empire, and a smattering of peoples from across the countries of the Empire. Administration of the area was probably from either Venta Icenorum, (Caister by Norwich), or Colchester.

Most, if not all, of these towns would have been existing settlements of the existing celtic tribes.
The six towns, from west to east, were:

  • Icklingham
  • Long Melford
  • Pakenham
  • Coddenham
  • Scole
  • Hacheston
Roman Villa at Lidgate found by aerial photography of cropmarks in 1971. From 'The Suffolk Landscape' by Norman Scarfe.
Cropmarks of Lidgate Villa
blank By the second century brick and stone was used in building. A villa has been identified at Rougham together with pottery and glass finds from burial sites in nearby tumuli. Villas have also been found at Ixworth, Pakenham, Mildenhall, Stanton and Lidgate.
Roman roads in Suffolk. From 'The Archaeology of Roman Suffolk' by Moore, Plouviez, West.
Roman roads

210 AD All free born men in the Provinces, including Britain, were declared full Roman citizens, rather than subject peoples.

Around this time the 'Antonine Itinerary' was drawn up which named locations in Britain and their distances apart. This is the main evidence for suggesting that Icklingham was known as Camboritum and Coddenham was called Combretovium. The location of the Villa Faustini remains uncertain but Scole is the most favoured possibility today.

In the past there was a long running feeling locally that Bury was the Villa Faustini, and it featured in the pageant of 1907. However by that date, local historians had largely accepted that there were no Roman remains at Bury. So it was also supposed that perhaps the Villa Faustini was at Sicklesmere, where there were some Roman artefacts. Twentieth century archaeological discoveries at Scole have provided new evidence that now shifts the likely site to that vicinity.

The later Roman Fenland . From Stonea and the Roman Fens by Tim Malin. Picture by Caroline Malim.
Fens in late Roman times

350 AD By late Roman times the settlements which were successful had expanded. In West Suffolk the development of Camborito at Icklingham probably indicates a west facing town, with its lines of communication concentrated on the waterways of the fens. The fenland edge continued to be a centre of Roman prosperity in Suffolk.
410 AD The emperor Honorius issued an edict to the cities in Britain instructing them to take responsibility for their own defences. In practice Britain had been undefended by the Roman army since 406, and seriously undermanned since 383.

On 24th August, 410 AD the gates of Rome were opened to Alaric the Goth. He withdrew in a week with a waggon train of loot and prisoners.

Britain became effectively an independent part of the empire when Honorius declined to send men or money to defend the island. There was thus no imperial governor appointed by Rome. The succession of power was broken, and for the next 200 years Britain lacked any central, stable government that everyone could accept. However, Roman civilisation lasted another 30 years, towns, villas, agriculture and trade carrying on, but the written record ceased, hitherto produced by Roman historians.

Roe deer footbone with a runic inscription, used as a gaming counter.
Runic gaming counter
430 After a short time the number of Saxons allowed to settle increased and new areas were penetrated. Very early remains have been found at Caistor by Norwich, Luton and Abingdon. This roe deer foot bone was excavated at Caistor by Norwich, and was used as a gaming counter. The runic inscription indicates that it was of north german origin, showing evidence of the new language penetrating British life.

These were strategic defensive settlements, established to protect the Cotswold heartlands, and Norfolk was particularly well settled. Because the north still had the army in place, there was less need for reinforcements to be sent there. Forces were placed to protect the North road, the Thames estuary and the major intersections of the Icknield Way. These inland posts were really a defence line of last resort.

One of these posts might have been at West Stow, sitting on the River Lark crossing of the Icknield Way.

A sprawling half mile long Romano-British settlement known as Camborito had been long established at adjacent Icklingham, and a Roman villa has also been identified there. Finds have been made here over many years and four lead water tanks have now been discovered in Icklingham bearing Christian symbols. In 1974 an apparently Christian cemetery was found with a possible Christian chapel.

Around this time it thus appears that the Anglo-Saxon village Stowa was first established just the other side of the Icknield Way from Camborito. How they interacted and how relations changed over the next 50 years we do not know. The Romano-British were Christian at this time and the Anglo-Saxons were pagans.

Anglo Saxon settlers from the continent. From 'The North Folk' by Bond, Penn & Rogerson
Anglo Saxon settlers
450 For the next hundred years it seems likely that more settlers from northern Europe moved into Britain.
Anglo-Saxon settlements along the River lark. Map by Stanley West EAA24.
Anglo-Saxons along the River Lark
460 The Lark, Blackbourne and Ouse valleys of West Suffolk had been settled by these mixed Angles, Saxons and Friesians by this time, including at West Stow.

The Central Suffolk clay soils do not seem to have attracted the Anglo-Saxons. They preferred the river valleys, and more easily worked soils. Other settlements have been excavated at Honington and Grimstone End in Pakenham. We do not know exactly when Bury or Haverhill were first settled by Anglo-Saxons, but we have a better idea of where it took place. In Haverhill the first settlement was at Burton End. In modern Bury we have evidence of several Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, so there were probably at least four small villages within the area of today's town. One was probably where the Abbey's ruins remain today, one near Barons Road, one at Westgarth Gardens and one near Northumberland Avenue.

The major dykes defending the south west borders of East Anglia. They straddle the Icknield Way. Taken from Dr Sam Newton's Wuffing website. www.wuffings.co.uk
Defensive dykes on Icknield Way
c.575 The Devil's Dyke at Newmarket, and the Fleam Dyke, a few miles further to its south west have long been believed by some historians to date from around this time to defend from attack from the west. Recent detailed work has confirmed that these earthworks date from the 5th to the 7th centuries. They are also aligned to face an attack from the south west.

The Devils Dyke is the largest of these works, at over seven miles in length.

The Wuffing kingdom of East Anglia.  Taken from Dr Sam Newton's Wuffing website. www.wuffings.co.uk
Wuffing kingdom of East Anglia
600 By this time, the East Anglian kingdom of the Wuffinga dynasty was independent, powerful and economically successful. But the threat from Mercia in the west was increasing. Gipeswic, or Ipswich, was probably set up as a trading post around 600, and would quickly develop through the century, becoming a major port and industrial centre. Raedwald may have been involved in establishing Ipswich.
605 Raedwald of East Anglia and his new wife had two sons together, named Raegenhere and Eorpwald. Raedwald's wife had another son, called Sigeberht, by her first husband. Sigerberht seems to have spent much of his life in Gaul once Raedwald had his own heir, where he was safe from Raedwald.

Although the Wuffings stronghold was in south-east Suffolk, they probably had royal outposts or vills at places like Exning, Coney Weston and Bedericsworth in West Suffolk.

629 It is considered that Ricbert ruled East Anglia from 627 to 629.

As he took over by murdering Earpwald, and had rejected Christianity, this may have led Sigeberht, to consider claiming the throne himself and proclaiming Christian principles in the kingdom. Sigeberht seems to have been a stepson of Raedwald's, and son of Raedwald's queen, deriving his royal claim from this fact.

By 629 some unknown events transpired that allowed Sigeberht to take power, and he ruled East Anglia until about 636. According to Bede, Sigeberht had been in exile in Gaul, and there had been baptised into the Christian faith. Until this time the English kings do not seem to have accepted baptism until after they became kings. Sigeberht was the first man to already be a Christian before taking up power.

The site of Walton Castle, now under the sea off old Felixstowe. Taken from Dr Sam Newton's Wuffing website. www.wuffings.co.uk
Walton castle below the waves
631 Bede wrote that Sigeberht "laboured to bring about the conversion of his whole realm", and brought or encouraged Bishop Felix to provide a Christian education in East Anglia.

Bede devoted a chapter in Book III, chapter 18 of his history to the life and death of the devout King Sigeberht. Note that in this version of the succession, Bede ignores Ricbert, who, according to Book II, chapter 15, had succeeded Earpwold, ruling for three years before Sigeberht.

"After the death of Earpwald, successor of Raedwald, the kingdom of the East Angles was ruled by his brother Sigbert, a good and religious man who had been baptized long previously in Gaul while he had been living in exile to escape the hostility of Raedwald. When he returned home and became king he wanted to copy Gaul and founded a school for the education of boys in the study of letters. In this project he was assisted by Bishop Felix, who had come to him from Kent and provided him with teachers and masters according to the practice of Canterbury."

An infrastructure to support Christianity was thus introduced into the countryside of Saxon East Anglia when Bishop Felix established his see at a place called Dommoc.

635 In his later years Sigeberht was reported by Bede, to have handed over all his authority in East Anglia to King Egric, probably the man known to other historians as Aethelric. Aethelric had already been ruling over part of the territory of East Anglia in a joint arrangement with Sigeberht. Sigeberht himself thus appears to have been the first English king to abdicate. His reason was in order to become a monk.

Around 635, Sigeberht had founded a monastery at Bedericsworth, today called Bury St Edmunds. Bede states that he built the monastery for his own use. It was one of the earliest schools of English literacy, but it was not the type of structure whose ruins we see today, but was probably made of wood. The site may have been very close to the later abbey site at Bury. Bede recorded that Sigeberht now retired to live in his monastery. A marginal note made in the 12th century book, the Liber Eliensis, is the only evidence we have which identifies its location as Bury. He entrusted his earthly kingdom to his kinsman, Egric, (or Aethelric), who had already governed part of the kingdom , and "devoted his energies to winning an everlasting Kingdom".

Both Ipswich ware and Thetford ware have been excavated from the site of the Bury monastery, indicating an occupation here between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Why would Sigeberht have chosen this location at Bedericesworth? Did the Wuffing royal family perhaps own, or have rights over, land in the area? Did a relative already live on the site? Or was it a site of wilderness and marsh, peopled with demons and spirits, sorely in need of a holy presence?

The site was bounded by the River Linnet to the South, the River Lark to the east and the marshes of Tay Fen to the north. In reality it was probably surrounded by marshy pools and waterways, and quite isolated. As far as we know the Romans had failed to be attracted to Bury, and by this time there were a few anglo-saxon villages occupying the river banks in the area nowadays covered by the town. It was a good place to seek isolation, far from the royal court at Rendlesham, but safely inside the Wuffing kingdom.

With an abdicated king in residence, this would have been the start of the settlement as a villa regia or royal town. Over the years it was possibly able to acquire such rights as holding a market, but more importantly, charging market tolls.

Eventually the rivers may well have been used to transport some goods to and from the small market. The first market place was believed to be located around the area of today's St Mary's Square, being the junction of a North-South Road (Northgate Street and Southgate Street) with modern Westgate Street. The North-South road was in effect the High Street and probably ran in a straight line through the modern Abbey Gardens before the growth of the Abbey caused its diversion around the abbey walls.

640 Penda of Mercia had a vision to establish Mercia as the most powerful state in the land. Mercia was landlocked, with no obvious physical boundaries. This meant that the kingdom was surrounded by potential hostile alliances. To counteract this threat, Penda had pursued a policy of establishing warlike supremacy over any other territory that he could. In 628 he had defeated the West Saxons. In 633 he had attacked and killed Edwin of Northumbria at Hatfield. The exact date when Penda attacked East Anglia is unknown to us, but D P Kirby has established that it must have been in about 640.

The location of Penda's attack upon East Anglia is also unknown, but it is likely that he attacked up the Icknield Way, exactly where the Fleam Dyke and Devil's Dyke were built for protection. King Aethelric was now in charge of all East Anglia and would have mustered an army in defence at the Dykes. His brother Anna, living at Exning, would be expected to play a major part in defending this area.

It seems likely that the Mercians made a first attack which was held back, probably at the Fleam Dyke. The defenders would then fall back to the stronger position at the Mickle Dyke, the Great Ditch running seven miles from Reach to Newmarket, now known as Devil's Dyke. Aethelric believed that he needed Sigeberht's help to stand with him and help rally his forces. Perhaps a deputation rode to Bedericsworth to persuade Sigeberht to help. The round trip from Devil's Dyke to Bury to fetch him could be done easily in a day on horseback.

Thus, according to Bede, Sigeberht did not die peacefully in his monastery at Bury, but was killed in battle.
"The Mercians led by King Penda attacked the East Angles who, finding themselves less experienced in warfare than their enemies, asked Sigbert to go into battle with them and foster the morale of the fighting men. When he refused, they dragged him out of the monastery regardless of his protests and took him into battle ... in the hope that their men would be less likely to panic ... under ... a gallant and distinguished commander. ... Mindful of his monastic vows, Sigbert ... refused to carry anything more than a stick ... both he and King Egric were killed and the army scattered. These kings were succeeded by Anna, son of Eni."

The 34 mm square plaque of St John from Brandon. Picture by British Museum.
St John Plaque from Brandon
830 The monastic foundation at Brandon was at the height of its prosperity at this time. This gold plaque was found by a fisherman by the River Ouse at Brandon in 1978. It comes from what was a high-status Saxon settlement with strong religious connections. It is likely that Sigeberht's royal monastic foundation at Bedericesworth would have been the equal to the Brandon site.

831 In the heroic poem "Beowulf", the hero has a companion called Wiglaf. The poem includes reference to Offa of Angeln. In 1982 James Campbell suggested in "The Anglo Saxons", that the poem originated in Mercia around this time at the court of Wiglaf. Sam Newton's "Origins of Beowulf" contradicts this idea, pointing out the many more affinities with the Wuffings and the Sutton Hoo and Snape ship burials of East Anglia.

Beornwulf himself king of Mercia from 823 to 825 also seems to have had a claim to East Anglia in his own right. Steven Plunkett has suggested in "Suffolk in Anglo Saxon Times", that Beornwulf may have been part of a 'B' dynasty in East Anglia, tracing back through King Beonna, perhaps even to Beodric of Beodricsworth. This idea relies upon the propensity for royal families to use the same initial letter in naming their offspring as themselves.

The Iken Cross shaft, as depicted in the Saxon Centre at West Stow.
Cross shaft at Iken
841 Viking raiding parties hit Lindsey, East Anglia and Kent. Others landed at Dublin, and Rouen was sacked. The Chronicles say that many men were slain by the assault of the host on East Anglia.

Ipswich and Norwich may have been targets for these attacks in East Anglia. All of the coastal monasteries like Dommoc and Iken, with their valuable trappings donated by the faithful, must have been vulnerable, and too numerous to be properly defended when attack came from out of the blue.

The site of the minster at Brandon, and the subsequent town. Picture from The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair.
Site of Brandon minster
849 By about 850 it seems that the thriving monastic institution at Brandon, located in Staunch Meadow, was abandoned. The site was surrounded by marsh and water, reached by a built up causeway. The town grew up to its east side, and the site reverted to grazing marsh. A later chapel marked the site. Excavations on this site do not reveal a Viking destruction, but rather, one of those shifts of settlement which seem to have occurred in Saxon times. The new site was probably more comfortably away from the marshes, and their periodic floodings.
865 Modern historians refer to the 200 year period after 865 as The Late Anglo-Saxon time. This is because the year 865 heralded disaster for Anglo-Saxon England. It was the year of full scale invasion by the Great Army of the Danes.

The year began with a Danish army having over-wintered at Thanet. The men of Kent promised to pay them off, but the Viking host went inland and attacked the eastern part of Kent anyway. By the end of the summer, more vikings were to arrive in England, this time led by royal princes determined to do more than hit and run.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said that these Danes took winter quarters in East Anglia:
"And the same year a great raiding army came to the land of the English and took winter quarters in East Anglia and were provided with horses there, and they made peace with them".

According to Aethelweard writing 100 years later, the Danish leader was Igwar or Ivar, one of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar Lothbrok or Lodbrok, (Leather Britches), was the most famous viking of his day. He had two sons involved in these first raids. One was called Ubba, and the other was known as Ivar the Boneless. "Boneless" probably refers to the snake, a creature thought to be full of cunning and fearless in battle.

This first attack took place at Harwich, and the area around was held by the Danish army for their winter stronghold, both for ships and men. The name Harwich itself could derive from Here Wic, or Army Port. If Dommoc was located, not at Dunwich, but at Walton Castle, it seems likely that this was the city or civitas first burnt down by the vikings in this attack as described by Abbo of Fleury.

The chronicle implies that King Edmund now paid them off in money, horses and supplies to keep the peace in East Anglia, and prevent further destruction. Rather than return home with Edmund's payoff, as they had done in the past, the Danes stayed put and would proceed to move against other parts of Britain.

The banner of St Edmund by Sybil Andrews, 1930 to 1975
Death of Edmund
by Sybil Andrews
869 From York the Great Army of the Danes marched back into East Anglia, but this time they attacked Thetford. Thetford stood on the Icknield Way, at an important crossing point of the Rivers Little Ouse and Thet. The town could be reached not only by the army on horseback but, most importantly, their ships could reach Thetford by sailing into the Wash and then following the rivers through the Fens.

The Chronicle reads as if the Danes had already taken Thetford, intending to settle there for the Winter, when they were attacked by King Edmund, and his Anglo-Saxon fyrd, or army, in late November.

Version E, copied at Peterborough in 1103 also added that they destroyed, or did for, (fordiden) all the monasteries to which they came, one of which was Peterborough itself.
" The Danish took the victory and killed the king and conquered all that land, and did for all the monasteries to which they came. At the same time they came to Medeshamstede (Peterborough) : burned and demolished, killed abbot and monks, and all that they found there, brought it about so that what was earlier very rich was as it were nothing."

The Danes also attacked Crowland Abbey in the Fens, and burned it down. Other monasteries assumed to have been destroyed around this time include Beodericsworth at Bury St Edmunds, Ely and Soham. Iken, Brandon and Burrow Hill were deserted, and may well have already been destroyed in the earliest attacks. Dommoc disappeared so completely that we are still debating its exact location.

This destruction of monasteries would be very significant because it implies a wholesale destruction of written records and literature in East Anglia, as well as the looting of the valuable trappings of the churches, and their physical destruction as well. Steven Plunkett wrote that "The impact of the ninth-century Viking conquest of East Anglia was not superficial: in many ways it was cataclysmic."

Later stories were to tell how Edmund was captured in battle, and was offered his life to share his kingdom and renounce his Christian faith. This he refused to do and was shot with arrows and his head was cut off and thrown away.

According to Abbo of Fleury, writing in 985, the death of St Edmund occurred at Haegelisdun Wood. According to Herman of Bury, writing in 1095, the saint was then buried nearby at Sutton. Aeldorman Aethelweard, writing at the end of the 10th century said "and his body lies entombed in the place which is called Beadoriceswyrthe".

Some modern writers now support the ideas of Dr Stanley West that the location of Edmund's death was at Bradfield St George, rather than at Hoxne, which had been the claim of the medieval bishops after 1101. Dr West has noted that there still survives an old field name Hellesden, close to a Sutton Hall six miles south of Bury St Edmunds. Two miles north are Kingshall Farm, Kingshall Street and Kingshall Green. It seems likely that St Edmund's death would not have been far from his eventual resting place.

The town of Thetford seems to have been attractive to these invaders as a base in East Anglia. They could bring their longboats up the Wash and follow rivers into the Little Ouse, and on to Thetford. Thetford also had ancient iron age earthworks which could be pressed into service as a camp and horse stockade. Thetford was certainly revived in importance from these beginnings as a Danish winter stronghold. For the next fifty years, East Anglia was under viking control.

The fate of the old monastic foundation at Beodericsworth, (Bury St Edmunds), is not known, and although the Chronicle says that they overran the whole kingdom, there does not seem to be any archaeological evidence yet found of any wholesale destruction by them.

878 On the feast of Twelfthnight the Vikings surprised Alfred's army at Chippenham.

Much of Wessex was taken by the Danish and their territory was expanded to its greatest ever extent. Alfred even took refuge at Athelney in Somerset, later founding a monastery there in gratitude.

By May, Alfred rallied the army and won a decisive battle over King Guthrum, or Godram, at Edington near the Bristol Channel.

The Peace of Wedmore was made following Alfred's victory at Edington, 15 miles from Chippenham. Under the Treaty the borders of Danish rule were rolled back and established east of Watling Street, along a line from London to Chester. Essex was ceded to the Danes.

The powerful kingdom of Mercia, which had dominated the country on and off for two centuries, was now divided down the middle. Mercia as a power was now finished. It would be Alfred and Wessex which would eventually rise to prominence henceforth.

Godrum converted to Christianity and changed his name to Athelstan, his new Christian name. He also agreed to pull his army back into East Anglia. Various ranks of Danish and Saxon citizens and their values were set out in this Peace, and the country was now officially partitioned. The Danish held area was to become called the Danelaw.

As Athelstan, Godrum would start to issue coins in his new name, based upon the coinage of Alfred. For a viking, this was an adoption of English ways, as the traditional viking medium of exchange had always been hack-silver, for exchange by weight.

Edmund memorial penny, found in Thetford, 2002
Memorial Penny from Thetford
blank Viking coinage of Danish East Anglia was issued from 885 to 915. St Edmund memorial coinage was produced, as was coinage in memory of St Martin of Lincoln.

The coin shown here was found at Thetford in 2002. J North in his English Hammered Coinage describes this as possibly dating to the later period of Viking occupation of about 905 to 910, because the legend or lettering is "blundered", that is to say that it looks plausible, but makes no sense that we can discern today.

Another memorial coin, with a better legend in memory of Edmund, was copied for the 1907 Bury Pageant medallion. The moneyer was OTBERT, but the location of the mint is unknown.

It is entirely possible that the mint was in Thetford, a major town at this time. Possibly it was as big as, or bigger than, either Norwich or Ipswich in the late 9th Century.

Meanwhile Beodricsworth, the settlement to become Bury St Edmunds eventually, was probably a small community, possibly living on its memories of being a royal vill from the time of Sigbert, but now of no real importance.

906 St Edmund's remains were moved to Bedericsworth from their original burial place in a small chapel at Sutton near to the site of his martyrdom. This must have happened with active Danish involvement and support. At Bedericsworth, (Bury St Edmunds) the wooden church of St Mary was enlarged and improved to hold the new shrine for St Edmund.

Back in the days of King Sigbert he had set up a small monastery there, but it seems unlikely that the monastery still remained from 630 as local lay volunteers had to guard the shrine.

The acquisition of so notable a relic as a royal saint was to make the small town a place of pilgrimage and recipient of many royal grants for over 500 years.

912 King Edward the Elder, the son of Alfred the Great, took an army to Maldon in Essex and built a stronghold at Witham,
"and a good part of the people who were earlier under the control of the Danish men submitted to him".

Fortifications were also built elsewhere, and it is possible that Bedericsworth was made into a fortified burh at this time, although this privilege is also attributed to King Cnut over a century later than this. Bungay and Sudbury may have been likewise fortified. At places like Thetford and Cambridge, where the Danes already had forts, Edward may have built his own burhs or forts to face them.

917 This was a turbulent year. Danish controlled Colchester was overcome by the army of Edward the Elder and many of its inhabitants killed. Edward was making it his mission to recover the Danelaw from the Danes, ignoring the peace treaty set up by his father, King Alfred the Great.

Hundreds were killed in a siege at Maldon when the vikings fought back.

King Edward the Elder then repaired and restored Colchester as part of the peace now agreed. The Danes decided to avoid a full scale invasion from Edward and his Wessex men. The chronicles say that many people submitted to him from both East Anglia and Essex which had been under Danish rule. The Danish controlled force from Cambridge also accepted Edward as Lord and Protector.

This peace treaty is interesting in that the Danes of East Anglia do not agree to surrender. They agree to "annesse", or oneness. A union of the two peoples is agreed. This allows East Anglian Danes to retain their lands and their laws, whereas the Cambridge and Essex Danes have to submit. Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire had already capitulated in 912.

925 According to Yates' Antiquities, monastic papers recorded that in 925 the ecclesistical votaries of St Edmund were incorporated into a college of Priests, either by King Aethelstan, or by Bederic, under royal protection. Bederic was, or had been, the local chief lord, and he or his descendants may have supported the new shrine by giving it land for the clergy to live off. This story is merely reporting a more formal arrangement being put in place to maintain the shrine of St Edmund.
940 King Edmund (NB not our St Edmund) succeeded Athelstan and continued the war with the Danes. Edmund was grandson of King Alfred the Great and ruled Wessex from 939 to 946. Because he was named after St Edmund he took a great interest in his shrine at Bedericsworth.

Edmund was also interested in the church in general and wanted to help the monasteries in any way he could.

The boundary of King Edmund's grant, later called the banleuca. Map by Cyril Hart 'The Danelaw' 1992
Banleuca Boundaries by C R Hart
945 According to an Anglo-Saxon Charter, in 945 King Edmund gave up his royal rights to taxes and all feudal dues and fees in the area of Bury St Edmunds for about one mile around St Edmund's shrine. M. D. Lobel was not the first writer to consider that this charter was spurious, invented by the monks at a later date to bolster their claims. Their reason for doing this would be that this was the first charter to grant many of the privileges claimed by the monastery. As such, its existence needed to be established, because later grants and charters tended to confirm existing rights, while in some cases, extending them.

There is no original of this document as it had been replaced by fresh versions. In later years it was normal practice for well worn and faded old records to be copied in the monastic scriptoria for everday use. So we have only a few of these later copies to consult, and they are not all consistent.

Since Lobel's day there has been much research into these early charters, and in 1968 P H Sawyer produced a catalogue called "Anglo-Saxon Charters: an Annotated List and Bibliography". This replaced earlier lists by J M Kemble, published in 1839-1848, and W Birch in 1885 to 1893. This charter of 945 is now catalogued as S 507, and further details can be seen by clicking on that reference.

Dr Cyril Hart largely accepted the authenticity of this charter and other recent research has described the content of this charter as "worthy of favourable reconsideration."

Translation from Yates of the Charter (pt 1) of 945, granting the town to St Edmunds Abbey
The charter exemptions by Yates
blank Cyril Hart summarised the charter as, "a statement that the land surrounding the monastery is to be free of all tribute, such payment being rendered solely to the monastery. This appears to represent exemption from the three common dues - a rare privilege - together with exemption from from the payment of taxes into the royal fisc; when a national tax is levied (based on the hidage) the inhabitants are to pay their levy to the monastery, and not to the king."

In 1805, the Reverend Richard Yates provided his own translation of this charter, which may be read by clicking on the thumbnail shown adjacent to this paragraph. According to Yates, the monks stated that this was their first charter, and that, "This has the priority of all our charters." This translation does not refer solely to the freedom from taxation, but actually appears to include a gift of the land itself. If so, we must assume that the land was in the king's ownership to enable such a gift to be made. Yates's translation for this section is as follows:

".....I freely give to the monastery situated in the place called Bedericheswyrthe, where rests the body of St Edmund, King and Martyr, the land around the same place, in such a manner that the family of that monastery may possess it and eternally continue to do so; and, by the same authority, transmit it to their posterity......free from every worldly obstacle......and let it not pay any tax except to the use of the family of that church......"

Exactly what happened to Bederic's own rights as the local lord, at this time is not known. Although the documents do not seem to imply that he, (or his rightful successors), lost any of their old rights in 945, perhaps he had already lost his lands. Thus Bederic may, or may not, have continued to receive his own local dues. These may have included Landmol, a rent on farmland in the town fields, which lay outside the town boundary. Jocelin tells us that by his time, from every acre of the nine hundred that had been Bederic's, the payment was two pence. By the time of Jocelin of Brackland, in the late 12th century, this rent was collected by the reeve and paid to the sacrist. Jocelin also reported that by his time, (c1198) the Cellarer of the Abbey held a messuage and barns near Scurun's Well, "which had been the manor house of Beodric, lord of this town in ancient days, after whom the town used to be called Beodricsworth. His fields are now in the demesne of the cellarer, and what is now called averland was the land of his peasants. The total estate which was held by him and his men consisted of 900 acres, and these lands are still the town fields." According to Antonia Gransden the cellarer's manor was known as the grange of St Edmund, or Eastgate Barns. The Scurun's Well messuage and barns therefore seems to be identified with Eastgate Barns, sometimes referred to as Holderness barns along Holderness Lane, off Eastgate Street. On the OS map for 1955 it is named as Grange Farm.

Moving on now to the area which was included within this grant of privileges, this was described within the otherwise latin charter as a perambulation in Old English, which reinforced Hart's view that this part was, indeed, genuine. The part of the charter which deals with the boundaries of the granted area is very confusing to modern eyes. We cannot recognise many of the landmarks. One text goes as follows:

"This sindon tha land gemere the Eadmund king gebocade in to sancte Eadmunde . thonne is thær ærest suth be eahta treowen . 7 thonne up be Alhmundes treowen . 7 swa forth to Osulfes lea . 7 swa forth on gerihte be manige hyllan . 7 thonnen up Hamarlunda . 7 swa forth æfter than we se Lytlantune . 7 thonen ofer tha ea æfter than wege to Bertenedene . 7 swa on gerichte east to Holegate . 7 swa forth an furlang be easten Bromleage 7 thonan suth to niwantune meaduwe."

This list of landmarks may be translated as follows:

  • First south by the Eight Trees
  • Then up by Ahlmunds trees
  • So forth to Osulf's meadow
  • So forth on the right by many hills
  • Then up Hamarlunde
  • So forth after we see Little Town
  • Then over the running water
  • After then the Way to Berten or Barton Valley
  • So on right east to Hole Gate
  • So forth one furlong by Eastern Bromleage
  • Then south to Nowton Meadow
Dr Cyril Hart has produced the attached map which plots his interpretations of these landmarks. Such a boundary description is known as a "perambulation", and was the normal method of describing a location at this time. Oliver Rackham has pointed out how often major trees or woodlands were regarded as permanent landmarks in these perambulations.

Incidentally Dr Hart has also pointed out that this charter contains the earliest known reference to a unit of length called a furlong. A furlong was later fixed as 220 yards, or about 201 metres, but how precisely this distance was measured or understood at the time is unclear. Later there would be 8 furlongs to a mile. The word was said to derive from the words Furrow Long.

Translation from Yates of the Charter (pt 2) of 945, granting the town to St Edmunds Abbey
The charter town boundaries in Yates
blank In Richard Yates "Antiquities of Bury Abbey" of 1805, Yates gives a different latin text, and provides his own English translation, which is shown here. However, once again, there is an inconsistency over dates. In the monastic copy of the decree cited by Yates, and pointed out by him, the date of the copy charter he saw was referred to as 945 at its start, and 942 at its end. The ending of the copy denoted as Sawyer S507 gives the date as 945, as follows:

"Acta est hæc præfata donatio anno ab incarnatione domini nostri Jhesu Christi . DCCCC . XLV . Indictione . III . "

The record states that King Edmund gave these rights to the collegiate church (also called the convent) of St Edmund. It would appear that by now, the lay volunteers who had first tended the shrine since 906, had been incorporated into a college, or body, of priests.

985 In 985 Abbo of Fleury wrote his 'Life of St Edmund' at Ramsey Abbey, near St Ives. The significance of this event has caused some discussion amongst historians. Was this evidence that Ramsey had some form of oversight and control of the foundation of St Edmund's community at Beodricsworth, as has been suggested? If not, then why was St Edmund's story not written up at Bury?

The answer to this may simply be that Abbo was already well known as a very learned man in a wide variety of subjects, who was eager to become an hagiographer, or writer of saints' lives. He was the best man for the job, and the job was probably commissioned by a major patron of the abbey, such as Ealdorman Aethelwine, the most important Ealdorman in the whole country, who also lived nearby. The country was being raided by Danes on an annual basis, and it would help to improve morale if the story of St Edmund's own resistance to the Danes could be more widely known.

Abbo's book was based on a story told by Archbishop Dunstan as an example to his young monks. Dunstan said that he got the tale from the eye witness report of an old soldier who claimed to have fought for St Edmund. Some translations have described this witness as armour bearer of the King himself, but another reading of "sword bearer", is simply that he carried arms into battle.

Abbo's "Life" was written 116 years after the events which it described. Nevertheless, this was to become the basis of all future lives of the saint, which were reworked many times in years to come.

The earliest texts of Abbo do not appear to mention any locations for the battle or for where the saint was laid to rest in a fine church. What he does imply is that the fine church, endowed with many gifts, was erected at the marker at which the saint was originally buried. Like Abbo, we know that the saints remains were by this time at Beodricsworth, now called Bury St Edmunds,

In other texts it is said that Abbo described Beodricsworth as as having been a villa regia, or kinges tun.

991 By 990 a version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle has survived from London. This recorded more news from East Anglia and it would seem that suddenly a second wave of Danish attacks assailed East Anglia. In reality it seems likely that raids had been going on here since 980, but had not been recorded in the Wessex Chronicles.

In 991 a large, well organised army led by Olaf, later King of Norway, defeated the English at Sandwich, then attacked and ravaged Ipswich. Olaf Tryggvason of Norway seems to have masterminded this attack along with Svein Forkbeard of Denmark. This led finally to the famous Battle of Maldon, commemorated in an epic poem. Olaf had 93 ships and having over-run Ipswich defeated Ealdorman Byrhtnoth or Brihtnoth of Essex at Maldon. At this time Ealdorman Aethelwine was the chief man in East Anglia, but he was probably lying ill at home in Ramsey, as he would die in 992 of an affliction of the feet.

The early endowments of St Edmunds. From 'The Danelaw', by Cyril Hart
St Edmund's Endowments
1000 In the years from 1000 to 1002, Aelfflaed, the sister of Aethelflaed of Damerham, drew up her will. She was probably the younger of the two sisters, and both women were daughters of Aelfgar, Ealderman of Essex around 946 to 951. Aelfflaed herself had been married to Byrhtnoth, also Ealdorman of Essex, from 956 until his death at the Battle of Maldon in 991.

The will of the Lady Aelfflaed still exists, and is catalogued as Sawyer S 1486. In this will, estates at Cockfield and Chelsworth are left to the monastery of St Edmund. Land at Nedging is left to her kinswoman Crawe in her lifetime, after which it will pass to St Edmund also.

The religious foundation of St Edmund at Bedericsworth had, by now, already built up a substantial endowment of valuable estates. Those nearest to the shrine are illustrated on this map by Cyril Hart, taken from his book, "The Danelaw".

Aerial view of Rymer Point in modern times. Shows relic mere and diagram of nine parishes converging on the old mere. From St Edmundsbury Borough Guide, 1976
Rymer Point today
1010 A large Danish force under Thurkill the Tall landed at Ipswich and sacked the town in the Spring, just after Easter. The force then moved towards Thetford. They marched to meet the Anglo-Saxon forces, led by the man who was effectively Ealdorman of East Anglia, Ulfcytel, at a place called Hringamere, (or Ringmere), on a date between 10th and 18th May, 1010.

The battle was described as a 'bed of death', and despite help from Cambridgeshire, whose men alone stood firm, the East Anglians were defeated and fled. "It was Thurcytel 'Mares Head' that first started the flight", says the Peterborough Chronicle, (ASC version E).

This location may well have been at Rymer Point, near Honington, about four miles south of Thetford. Rymer Point, near Honington, is illustrated here by an aerial photograph which shows only a relic of the mere that gave the place its name. This location is also extremely unusual in that nine parishes converge on the old mere, presumably to give watering, or fishing, rights to every parish in an area otherwise devoid of standing water. This would have been a well known place at which to call a rallying point for the fyrd.

Another possible location has been cited at Ringmere, four miles north-east of Thetford, but it seems more likely that an army that was intending to defend Thetford, would meet an attack from the Ipswich direction to the south of Thetford. This argument also supports an idea put forward by Alan Crosby, that part of Barnham Common was until recent times called Ringmere, and so this must also be considered a strong contender.

After the battle the Vikings got horses, and ravaged at will for three months, burning Thetford, and penetrating the Fens to burn Cambridge. In Essex, the village of Balsham was destroyed by the raiders. The village sign still commemorates the only survivor who hid in the church. Fighting also occurred at Nacton and Hadstock.

As the Peterborough Chronicle says:

" The Danes had possession of the place of slaughter, and then they were horsed and therafter had possession of East Anglia, and for 3 months raided and burned that country. They even travelled into the wild fens, and they killed men and cattle....and burned down Thetford and Cambridge."

As a symbol of a previous East Anglian resistance to Danish invaders, it was imperative to avoid the relics of St Edmund being defiled by the latest attackers. So while the Danes were moving on Thetford, the remains of St Edmund were taken to London for safekeeping out of harm's way by a clerk of the community at Bedericsworth called Egelwin or Ailwin. London had already demonstrated that its stone walls could resist Danish attackers. In London the body was lodged at the church of St Gregory the Great.

Ther are some accounts reported by Yates in his 1805 book on Bury Abbey, that Turchill, one of the Danish leaders under Sweign, having harassed and devastated the whole of East Anglia, burnt and plundered Bury. This does not seem to be an unreasonable supposition, given that the Danes spent three months raiding and burning throughout East Anglia. Bury was, after all, only a few miles south of Rymer Point. Ailwin presumably got away before this happened.

1011 The Danes attacked once again, led by Thurkill, or Torkyl, the Tall. From September 8th to 19th, Canterbury was besieged and taken. The Archbishop Aelfheah was murdered by the Danes for refusing to pay a tribute.

A source from Scandinavia recorded a battle in 1011 at Newemouth, thought to be near Orford, in which the Danes suffered a defeat at the hands of Ulfcytel of East Anglia. Nevertheless, the tide of war was flowing in their direction.

The Chronicles listed all the shire counties where the Danes had effectively seized control by 1011. However, there are significantly neither Norfolk nor Suffolk so named, but instead, East Anglia. So the list begins;

"They had then overrun: (i) East Anglia, and (ii) Essex, and (iii) Middlesex,and (iv) Oxfordshire, and (v) Cambridgeshire, and (vi) Hertfordshire, and (vii) Buckinghamshire, and (viii) Bedfordshire, and (x) half Huntingdonshire, and to the south of the Thames all the Kentish and South Saxons, and the Hastings district, and Surrey, and Berkshire, and Hampshire, and much in Wiltshire."

Dr Lucy Marten has pointed out that this could be strong evidence that East Anglia had still not yet been divided into shires by the Kings of England, despite the fact that this arrangement was clearly well established everywhere else in the kingdom.

The Danish forces now left, only to return with Swein the next year.

1013 England was again under Danish rule.
By now it was judged safe to return the remains of St Edmund to the monastery at Bury. On the journey back, the body passed through Stapleford, and miraculously cured the local Lord. The manor of Stapleford was given to St Edmund in gratitude.

This journey was said to pass through Edmonton, Chipping Ongar, Greenstead, Chelmsford, Braintree, and Clare. An overnight stay took place at the wooden church at Greenstead, which remarkably survives today with many wooden features still in evidence. At the time it was probably entirely made of wood, as were most saxon buildings.

St Edmund 'impales' Swein. Picture from Lidgate's Life of St Edmund, of 1434. Facsimile by the British Library, 2004
St Edmund 'impales' Swein
1014 Following his great triumph King Swein Forkbeard had little time to savour his victory. On 2nd February he died suddenly at his headquarters at Gainsborough.

He was said to have been struck dead while threatening to sack St Edmund's town or extract a heavy ransom from it. It did not take long for the idea to circulate that he had been struck down by St Edmund himself.

The local people of Bedericsworth were said to have been so pleased to be spared Swein's extortions that they voluntarily agreed to pay a carucagium, or local land tax, to the monastery. The levy was four pence on every carucate of land. In later centuries no doubt this story was produced to answer local critics who questioned why this tax should be paid.

On 28th September, 1014, a natural disaster occurred when "that great sea flood came widely throughout this country, and ran further inland than it ever did before, and drowned many settlements, and a countless number of human beings." Low lying settlements in the Fens and the Broads areas were especially vulnerable, just as they still are today.

1016 Cnut continued his assault on England, with 160 ships, including those that joined him with Eadric. They went over the Thames into Mercia at Cricklade, and thence to Warwickshire, and "killed all they came to."

After fierce fighting at Assendun in Essex, Cnut emerged as the victor. Ealdorman Eadric was blamed by the Chronicle as being the first to flee from the battle. Ulfcytel, Ealdorman or Minister of East Anglia was killed, along with "all the chief men in the English race." This battle took place on October 18th, 1016. Ulfcytel Snilling was remembered at the Abbey of St Edmund, as he had given them lands at Rickinghall and Woolpit.

Ulfcytel left the manors of Redgrave, Rougham, Rickinghall, Woolpit and six others to the monastery at St Edmund's. He may have left us the villages now called the Ilketshalls in East Suffolk, in which case, he probably had a home manor and powerbase at Bungay.He was called "snilling", meaning "the valiant", and East Anglia had by now become popularly known as Ulfcytel's Land in the Skaldic verses of the time. His origins are obscure as he does not seem to have had any relatives within the local aristocracy. Like Thurkill the Tall, he may have been a mercenary, brought over to provide an army to defend East Anglia in return for lands and position.

After the Battle of Assendun, King Cnut followed Edmund into Gloucestershire. Ealdorman Eadric and the councillors now tried to broker a peace between the two kings, and the kings agreed to meet at Ola's Island in the River Severn. It was agreed that King Edmund kept Wessex and the land south of the Thames, and the rest went to King Cnut. The Danish raiding army was paid off, and their ships went to London.

Detail from Boots shopfront, (now W H Smith), showing Canute seated on the beach with his court.
Canute at W H Smith's
blank King Edmund Ironside died on 30th November, St Andrews Day, within a month of the Battle of Ashingdon, and so Cnut received all the kingdom. He was the first Danish King of all England, and was 23 years old.
1017 Cnut was now officially accepted as King of all England. He had to find a form of government for his new kingdom which gave him overall control. He decided to divide it into four parts. He created four new earldoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. He kept Wessex for himself, and Thurkil the Tall was made Earl of East Anglia, for his part in the invasion.
Silver penny of King Canute. The portrait shown here is attributed to the period from 1029 to 1036. Portraits from 1020 were enclosed in a quatrefoil, and from 1024 to 1030 included types of pointed helmet.
King Cnut or Canute
1020 Cnut built a church dedicated to St Edmund at the site of his victory at Assendun, in Essex, which was consecrated in 1020. Stigand was installed as the Priest in charge of this new foundation. The location of Assendun is still in doubt, but may have been at Ashdon in Essex. The round towered Bartlow church has been given this attribution in the past, and the church of St Botolph at Hadstock has also been considered a likely candidate. Whatever the location, this act of Cnut confirms an existing interest in St Edmund which was to help the development of St Edmund's shrine at Bury.

Canute was interested in religion and had already supported the cult of St Edmund. In 1020 he made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Bedericsworth.

Cnut was now consolidating his hold on the country. He had neutralised the old royal family by his marriage to Emma. He had killed off many of the old aristocracy who had opposed him. One possible issue was the cult of St Edmund. The saint had resisted previous Danish invasions by Cnut's own ancestors. There were whispers about the fate of his father Sweyn having been struck down by St Edmund. As an English martyr, Cnut needed to ensure that St Edmund did not become the focus of resistance to his rule. Having already dedicated a church in Essex to St Edmund, Cnut turned to St Edmund's shrine in Bedericsworth. He needed to embrace the saint as his own, by enriching his shrine, and gaining control over it.

At Bury, King Canute had to settle a dispute between the shrines' priests and the Bishop of Elmham whose diocese included Bedericsworth. The priests refused to pay over the normal tithes etc due to the Bishop, believing that St Edmund was exempt from such dues. Possibly in consultation with his new wife, Queen Emma, Canute tried to sort out the situation. Bury's own records state that Cnut, Emma, and Thorkill or Torkyl the Tall, now Earl of East Anglia, were all involved in this process.

Cnut and Emma endow a monastery, in this case at Winchester.
Cnut and Emma
blank To appease the Bishop, the dozen secular priests, or clerks, at Bedericsworth were sacked, but the Bishop did not get control of the shrine. King Cnut arranged for the building of a rotunda to the church of St Mary at Bury. Bishop Ailfric of Elmham then granted the monastery freedom from episcopal control and replaced the secular priests guarding the shrine by 20 Benedictine monks, 13 from St Benet Hulme in the Broads near Norwich and 7 from Ely. The Benedictines were financially and spiritually independent of the Bishop. Uvius, the Prior of St Benet's, was made the first Abbot of St Edmundsbury.

The 12th century Liber Eliensis, or Book of Ely, reported this event as follows:

Book II, chapter 86 : "He (Bishop Aelfwine of Ely) 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, with Earl Thorkell providing assistance, and, in addition, himself, for his own part, supplying the place with a collection of a great many goods and ornaments. He made a grant assigning it to eternal liberty and he appointed in authority over them as father and abbot, a humble, modest, pious man, named Uvi. As for the priests who used to live there without subjection to a rule: he either raised them up to the highest level of religious life in in that same monastery, or transferred them, provided with other possessions, into other monasteries."

According to William of Malmesbury, King Canute also allowed the town of maybe a thousand people to be surrounded by a ditch and ramparts, becoming a burh or borough. However the town was of less significance than others in Suffolk. Ipswich already had a mint and had been a large trading centre for centuries. Thetford had been issuing coinage for years, and other towns important enough to have burgesses were Dunwich, Eye, Beccles, Clare and Sudbury.

Canute had given the town of St Edmunds a terrific leg up by his local reforms, and had endowed the new religious house with lavish gifts. If the name of the saint had now begun to define the town as well as the religious house, then it is likely that its new status as a burh would result in the name St Edmund's Burh now starting to be used over the next few years.

The exact organisation of local government at this time is extremely vague to us today. However, we need to remember that anglo-saxon England was a highly structured and organised society. Administration seems to have been very efficient by the standards of the time. We know that by 1097, the rents for burgage tenants, called hadgovel, had to be paid to the Reeve. This office later became called the Bailiff, and certainly by 1097, the Reeve was appointed by the abbot, and so the rents accrued to the abbey. So it is highly likely that a Town Reeve was appointed as part of the setting up of a burh.

The new burh dues payable to the town Reeve may have included Hadgovel, or the rent of one penny for each measure of land inside the town, probably for the right to occupy a burgage tenement or dwelling. This land could be inherited by its occupier's kin, but only on payment of a lump sum.

The Hundreds of Norfolk and Suffolk, by Dr Sam Newton
Norfolk and Suffolk
1021 In 1021 Thorkell the Tall, the Earl of East Anglia, fell out of favour with King Cnut. We do not know the reason for this, but he was exiled, and returned to Denmark. The Earldom of East Anglia was now vacant, and Cnut could chose what to do about it. Rather than give this powerful area to another Earl, he chose to leave the post vacant and it would remain so until 1042. He now made radical new arrangements.

Peter Warner (The Origins of Suffolk, 1996), has argued that the county boundaries of Norfolk and Suffolk did not exist until the Norman Conquest. But Dr Lucy Marten suggested in 2006 that the Shiring of East Anglia actually took place in or around 1021, instituted by King Cnut. Cnut wanted to get a firmer grip on East Anglia, which had always been somewhat apart from the rest of England. Because of the region's trade, resources and strategic location, its Ealdormen had become of the highest importance in the land under the English kings, and Torkyll had been the foremost Earl in his turn. Such powerful men were always a potential threat to any monarch.

Shires had been set up in most of the country after 917, and a century later, East Anglia was still one unit. By breaking it up, Cnut could increase his own control over it. This would mean that Suffolk and Norfolk had their official birth at this time as units of administration.

Each shire was usually made by grouping together the existing Hundreds. A hundred was an area consisting of 100 hides of land for taxation purposes.

Each shire was normally put under the jurisdiction of a Shire Reeve, (later to evolve into the word Sheriff). However, the earliest records of Norfolk and Suffolk indicate that the two Counties were under the same Sheriff until Elizabethan times. He was there to make sure local dues were paid to the King, and that the royal writ was obeyed locally. He was the King's representative in the Shire, a post which still survives today as the High Sheriff in each County. Technically it is to the Sheriff that the monarch sends a writ to institute the calling of a parliamentary election within that county in modern times.

Having decided to break up East Anglia, Cnut had to decide upon a boundary line. Thetford was the capital and was in the middle of the old Kingdom, and had long been an important powerbase in the region. Perhaps Thorkill had installed himself there, and grown too powerful. Cnut could weaken Thetford as a centre of potential resistance by putting his new shire boundary through the middle of it. By using the line of the Rivers Ouse and Waveney, Cnut not only cut East Anglia in half, but neutered the towns along their length. Thetford, Bungay and Eye were transformed from being centres of powerful hinterlands to being border towns divided between two administrations.

In the absence of an Earl, Cnut could also dispose of the Earl's assets. He wanted to ensure that St Edmund's shrine did not become the focus of dissent. So the western part of his new Suffolk county was handed over to his Queen, Emma, to administer as if she were the Earl. Cnut could now keep a close eye on the shrine, while associating the royal family closely with it.

Queen Emma now held the Eight and a Half hundreds of West Suffolk, and set herself up in the 12 carucate Manor of Mildenhall, a large and prosperous estate. From here she controlled the patronage of St Edmund, and seems to have also been a patron of the whole of East Anglia. In practice she had all the privileges of the Earldom, as well as the specific control of the Eight and a Half Hundreds.

1023 There is a charter which was issued to St Edmunds Abbey by King Canute in 1022 or 1023, which purports to give the Abbey a list of important privileges. This charter is in the Sawyer catalogue of Anglo- Saxon charters as reference S 980. Most authorities have considered that this document is spurious, and is therefore a forgery. However, Cyril Hart in "The Early Charters of Eastern England", 1966, believed that its content at least should not be lightly dismissed. His rough translation now follows below.

"The monastery at Bedericesworth shall always be inhabited by monks, and free from domination by the bishops of that shire; the monks are to elect their abbot freely, as granted by King Edmund. When censum danis is levied, either for ships or arms, the inhabitants of Bury are to pay their share to the monastery, for its own use. He grants the fish due to him annually by way of fine, and the fishery which Ulfketel had in Welle, and the profits of justice from all the vills belonging to the monastery, now or in the future. He confirms the queen's annual gift of 4,000 eels to the monastery, which was rendered to her from the villa called Lakenheath."

1027 Cnut visited the Pope and various shrines and was an enthusiastic Christian and patron of the arts, giving many splendid gifts to other religious houses, as well as to Bury.

Around this time King Cnut gave permission for the remains of St Botolph to be translated to the Abbey church at Bury. St Botolph had died in 680 and been buried at his church in Ikenhoe. In 970, King Edgar had given permission to move the remains, and they were taken to Burgh near Woodbridge. St Botolph's church still stands at Burgh. From Burgh they were now taken to Bury, and apparently some parts of the saint also went to Ely and Thorney.

At some point in the 11th century, the remains of St Jurmin were also removed to a new shrine at St Edmunds. They had lain at Blythburgh since 654. This is how this event was recorded in the 12th century Liber Eliensis, or the Book of Ely:

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."

Diagram showing Canute's round church as it was eventually incorporated into the bigger Abbey Church by C12
Location of the Rotunda
1032 The new round church of stone, dedicated to St Edmund, was consecrated at Bury, situated to the north of where the Chancel of the Norman Abbey would later be built. When the new Abbey church was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, Canute's Rotunda was incorporated as the Rotunde Chapel of St Edmund. This diagram by Norman Scarfe shows how this may have been done. However, in 1032, this Round Church of stone stood alone, and would have been a wonder to the people of Bedericsworth.

King Canute himself attended the consecration, having insisted that it be inaugurated on October, 18th, on the anniversary of his victory at the battle of Assendun. This took place in 1016 somewhere in Essex. The monks themselves would probably have hoped that the ceremony could take place on November 20th, St Edmunds Day, the anniversary of the Saint's martyrdom. This was Canute emphasising his attachment to St Edmund, but also making sure that it was understood that he was the power in the country now.

1035 King Cnut died and was buried at Winchester. Emma herself wanted her own son with Cnut, called Harthacnut, to inherit the crown. Indeed, she believed that she had an agreement with Cnut that her sons would inherit the crown. Unfortunately Harthacanute was in Norway, fighting Magnus, and when Cnut died unexpectedly he was too far away to to do anything.

Harold Harefoot seized the crown despite severe opposition from Earl Gowine of Wessex. Harold Harefoot was the son of Cnut and his first wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton in Mercia.

Queen Emma took up residence at Winchester, believing herself safest in the heart of Cnut's Wessex. However, the Chronicles say that Harold had taken away from her all the best treasures which King Cnut had.

Although viking influence lingered on, the Viking Age in England really died with Canute.

1037 Queen Emma was now a widow living in Winchester. She still had the Eight and a Half hundreds of west Suffolk , and her jewels. In 1037 she was evicted from Winchester in the cold mid-winter, and had to run away to Bruges in Flanders.
1040 King Harold Harefoot died and was succeeded by Harthacnut who was summoned from Bruges where he had joined his mother, Emma.

There is a Land Grant (Sawyer Reference S 1225, and Thomson ref 112), dated to around 1040, whereby one Thurkytel granted to the Abbey of St Edmund lands at Culford, (Culeforde), Wordwell, (Wridewelle), and Ixworth, (Gyxeword).
Interestingly the grant is to "God and St Mary and St Edmund", and not just to St Edmund. The dedication to St Mary was apparently a very old one at Bury. The original foundation there, before St Edmund, was said to have been dedicated to St Mary.

Edward the Confessor depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry
Edward the Confessor
1042 Danish rule finally ended when Harthacnut collapsed and died "as he stood at his drink, and he suddenly fell to earth with an awful convulsion.... he spoke no word afterwards... and he passed away on the 8th June." He was succeeded by King Edward the Confessor.
Edward was an Anglo-Saxon, being Aethelred's son, but his mother was Emma of Normandy. For 25 years he had lived in Normandy, safely away from the reach of the Danish kings.

Edward was also responsible for first bringing French ideas and Norman noblemen into English life. One such Norman was his Physician, Baldwin, eventually to become Abbot at Bury St Edmunds.

Silver penny of King Edward the Confessor. This example was minted in Thetford.
King Edward the Confessor
1043 Edward was crowned King on Easter Day, April, 3rd, 1043, at Winchester by Eadsige, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Stigand the priest was made Bishop of East Anglia, probably as a favour to his mother, Queen Emma.

The Worcester Chronicle gives us more details, saying that in mid-November the King took Earl Leofric, Earl Godwine and Earl Siward and their band, from Gloucester to Winchester to take Emma by surprise and to rob her of all the treasures which she owned. The reason given here is "because earlier she was very hard on the king her son, in that she did less for him than he wanted before he became king, and also afterwards." However, they let her stay there inside afterwards.

Thus did West Suffolk pass back from Queen Emma into the hands of the crown.
Since Canute divided up East Anglia in 1021, the area of West Suffolk had been administered as a unit by Queen Emma, the mother of Edward the Confessor.

Edward the Confessor was Queen Emma's second son by King Ethelred. Emma had married Canute after Ethelred died and had other sons with Canute. Emma had supported Canute's son over Edward for the succession, and so when Edward came to the throne, he stripped his mother of her jewellery and her lands and income from West Suffolk.

It was first suggested that Emma owned West Suffolk since 1017, as part of her dowry from Cnut by Davis in 1909. If it had come to her as part of her dowry it is very doubtful whether the King could seize it back. Dower lands were part of the whole legal structure of the time, and they were held absolutely by the wife, whatever then happened to her husband.

1044 Some time during 1044, Abbot Uvius of Bury died, after 24 years service in that post. Leofstan, another of the original Benedictine monks of the abbey, was elected Abbot as his successor by the monks. Leofstan would rule the abbey until 1065.

When Leofstan took over, he found that the church contained ten books, consisting of 4 Gospels, one Missal, one book of Epistles, one Psalter, one gospel-book, one capitulary, and one Life of St Edmund. The Treasury contained 12 Cloaks, 9 copes, 7 stoles, 33 "costly robes", and many other items. Some of the monks had their own vestments, and occasionally a missal.

A further 30 books were recorded at the Abbot's country house, but these were noted as "not church books."

King Edward the Confessor now handed all of former Queen Emma's West Suffolk income over to the monastery at Bury under Abbot Leofstan, who was only the second Benedictine abbot there. The Writ which the King issued to carry this out may be viewed in Old English, by clicking on its Sawyer Reference number here, which is S1069.

In modern English it includes the following clauses:

"Edward the King greets Bishop Grymketal and Aelfwine, and Aelfric and all my thanes in Suffolk friend-like; and I make known to you that I wish that land at Mildenhall and the nine less a half hundreds in sanctuary to Thinghoo belong unto St Edmund with soke and sack as full and as forth as it stood in my mother's hand...."

Lands granted to St Edmund according to later monks. Taken from Yates Antiquities of Bury Abbey, 1805, page 77.
Edward's land grant to St Edmund
blank The area of land which this grant refers to is somewhat problematic because of the old English form of "nigen half hundreda". Monks who compiled lists of property after Domesday must have had some difficulty with this writ. They believed that they had jurisdiction over eight and a half hundreds, and so their summaries of old charters stated this fact. In 1805 Yates published one such summary with his own English translation, which can be read by clicking on this illustration. You can see that the monks interpreted "nigen half hundreda", as referring to the Half Hundred of Thingoe.

There is a recent article by Professor Richard Sharpe (Oxford) in which he discusses the Bury writs and gives his own translation and interpretation of them from the point of view of the charter diplomatic forms. He notes that the Old English is slightly confused and inconsistent in the grammatical treatment of the word 'socne' or 'soke' in all the various versions of this that still exist. His translation of this writ goes as follows:

"Edward king greets Bishop Grimketel and AElfwine and AElfric and all my thegns in Suffolk friendly. And I make it known to you that I will that the land at Mildenhall and the sokes of the eight and a half hundreds pertaining to Thingoe shall belong to St Edmund with sake and soke as fully and completely as it was in my mother's possession. And I forbid anyone to take away from them any of the things that I have already granted to them."

Here we see "nigen half hundreda" translated as "nine less a half hundred". This was a crucial issue for the abbey as this writ underpinned all of its other privileges.

The Kalendar of Abbot Samson was drawn up from 1186 to 1191, and listed all the hundredal rights which the King gave to St Edmund. The land area concerned was usually later described as 8½ hundreds in size, and its shape was confirmed and fixed firmly when, with this gesture, the area became known as the Liberty of St Edmund and thus placed completely under the rule of the Abbot of the Abbey of St Edmund.

The area of the Liberty of St Edmund. Taken from Bury and the Urban crisis by Robert Gottfried.
Map of the Liberty after Domesday
blank The Eight and a Half Hundreds were as follows:
  • Thingoe (with Sudbury)
  • Thedwastre
  • Lackford
  • Risbridge
  • Blackbourne
  • Broadmere or Bradmere
  • Babergh (valued at a double hundred, but excluding Sudbury)
  • Cosford (valued at a half hundred)
The map shows the position some time after 1086, as in later times the Hundreds of Blackbourne and Broadmere were merged into the double hundred of Blackbourne. Bury itself was excluded from any hundred as it was exempt from the taxation system of the hundreds.

However, it is clear from the many attempts made to list out the Hundreds of the Liberty, that we cannot rely totally upon this list being the eight and a half hundreds as they were understood at the time. Boundaries and names have probably changed more than once since 1042, perhaps driven by the administrative needs and financial realities of the taxation systems imposed upon the Hundreds.

Abbot Samson's Kalendar includes implications that Sudbury was excluded from the double hundred of Babergh, and included in the valuation of Thingoe. It is suggested that this transfer was made to compensate Thingoe for the loss of the Banleuca of St Edmund when it was exempted from paying any geld. This could have been as far back as 945, when King Edmund gave the town to the shrine. On the other hand, Warner thought that Bury itself was valued at one and a half hundreds, in order to get his total up to eight and a half.

The meeting place of the soke was at the Thinghoe, a hill to the north of the town. Today we locate it in the area of Northgate Avenue. It is likely that a court or courts of law for the surrounding hundred were run from here, the town itself having its own burh court. The Liberty remained as an administrative unit until 1974. It was said that when Edward the Confessor visited the Abbey he always walked the last mile on foot as a pilgrim.

The old word hadgovel or hawgable dates from the Danish years, and supports the idea that the town had an administrative life at least as old as Cnut. Hadgovel was the Bury form of the word and represents the penny rent paid for each measure, or burgage plot, of town land. This rent persisted into medieval times and was often the cause of disputes with the abbey. It was payable only in the oldest parts of the town, which dated back to the old Anglo Saxon layout, around the area of the old market, what we now call St Mary's Square.

It is not clear what portion of local rents had previously flowed through to Emma, as part of her West Suffolk income, and therefore it equally unclear which local income streams were now diverted into the abbey of St Edmund. But at some point in time the hadgovel rents were assigned to the abbey and this is a point in time at which this could have happened.

Bury by about 1066
Bury in 1066
blank The High Street of Bury was probably parallel with the river in 1044, running more or less straight from Northgate Street to Southgate Street, without the dogleg shape only introduced into it by the expansion of the abbey after the Norman Conquest. The old market place was where Westgate Street joined these two streets. Raingate Street, Sparhawk Street and Maynewater Lane would thus have been part of this anglo-saxon area.

By contrast with West Suffolk, East Suffolk apparently had no such administrative unity until the formation of the two county councils in 1888. It contained the Liberty of St Etheldreda with only 5½ hundreds based around Sudbourne before its headquarters moved to Wickham Market, then Melton, then Woodbridge, where the Shire Hall still overlooks Woodbridge Market Hill. This liberty was an endowment by King Edgar to St Etheldreda (or St Audrey) to endow her monastery at Ely in 970.

As St Edmund's Liberty was to be outside the jurisdiction of the Shire Reeve, or Sheriff, a Steward was later to be appointed to represent the interests of the Crown within it, liasing with the Sheriff, but working to the Abbot. He had to ensure law and order within the Liberty. Such a function had been held by Aelfric of Clare for Queen Emma, and it seems likely that he carried on with these functions under the Abbot. Despite this, it is not clear when a Steward was first appointed by this name, but by the time of William the Conqueror, a man called Ralph was appointed and he also held the Manors of Lidgate and Blunham in Bedfordshire as his remuneration for the job. The Stewardship of the Liberty later became in the Abbots gift, and by 1120 it had become an hereditary position.

The Sheriff of Suffolk was left with the eleven hundreds remaining in East Suffolk over which he exercised the powers of taxation, and this area became called the Geldable, and its tax revenues went to the crown. Because geldable Suffolk was so small, Norfolk and Suffolk shared a Sheriff until the time of Elizabeth I.

England after 1045, showing the Earldoms. From M. Swanton's Anglo Saxon Chronicle.
England after 1045
1045 It seems that by 1045 or late 1044 Stigand was reinstated as the Bishop of East Anglia, with his see at North Elmham in Norfolk.

The Earldom of East Anglia was given to Harold Godwinson, son of the powerful Godwin, Earl of Wessex. This took place when his sister, Edith, married King Edward the Confessor. Harold would eventually become King Harold.

The earliest coin minted at Bury. From R J Eaglen Abbey and Mint of BSE to 1279
First coin minted at Bury
1048 By 1048, Edward the Confessor must have granted the town of St Edmund its own mint, and its currency bears the first documented use of the name St Edmunds Bury. The first coin types struck at Bury under King Edward are described as small flan, and only 3 examples are known. This series is dated by Seaby's as beginning in 1048, and running for two years. Five more patterns were struck at Bury from 1052 to 1065. North states that the legend was EDMUND and the moneyer was Morcere. R J Eaglen quotes variations like ED, EDHUN, EDM, EADM, EADVM, and EAD.

The evidence of the coinage clearly exists, and presumably it must have been authorised by royal writ, but none survives. The first surviving writ granting the Abbey a mint comes in 1065, as part of the authorisation of Baldwin to take up the post of Abbot after the death of Abbot Leofstan.

The name Bury is derived from the word byrig or burh, meaning a fortified town. Therefore, by now, the town had built a ditch and ramparts on its borders where it was not protected by the River's Lark and Linnet and the Tayfen. Canute had given permission for such fortifications in 1020. The town wall itself would not be built for perhaps another hundred years.

Over the next century the rise of Bury St Edmunds would be mirrored by the decline of Thetford. With an increasingly powerful resident abbot, Bury would benefit from the market privileges, royal sponsorship and powerful donors which flowed to the abbey, while Thetford had no powerful resident lord to advance its position.

When Abbot Athelstan of Abingdon died, he was replaced by Sparhawk, or Sparrowhawk, a monk from Bury St Edmunds. This man may well have been the same Sparhavoc who was one of the original 20 Benedictine monks brought into Bury in 1020 from St Benets.

1051 In 1051 King Edward the Confessor issued a writ that gave all the lands held by the Abbey of St Edmund an exemption from the payment of heregeld, and all other renders. Heregeld was the tax levied to pay the 'here', or Danish army their Danegeld, but they were also exempted from taxes of all sorts by this charter. This writ is referenced in the Sawyer list of Charters as number S 1075, and can be viewed by clicking on this reference.
1060 Abbot Leofstan of Bury built the church of St Benedict by the river at some period in his reign. However, the legend gives him a role in the miracle of St Edmund.

At some time around 1060, Abbot Leofstan decided to ensure the saints' body was still clean and not being neglected. The old monk Ailwin was called to verify the body, as he had taken charge of it back in 1010 when he took it to London. Leofstan decided to pull at the head to see if it was still miraculously attached to the body. Shortly afterwards Leofstan suffered a stroke, losing the use of his hands. The kings' physician, a French Benedictine called Baldwin was sent to give him medical aid.

Apparently, once at Bury, Baldwin the physician stayed on, eventually to succeed Leofstan as Abbot in 1065.

Installation of Baldwin as Abbot. Picture from Lidgate's Life of St Edmund, of 1434. Facsimile by the British Library, 2004
Baldwin installed as Abbot
1065 At Bury, Abbot Leofstan died and Baldwin was appointed to the post of Abbot. Baldwin was a French monk from St Denis, outside Paris, from whence he became Prior of Leberau in Alsace. He had come to England at the persuasion of King Edward the Confessor to be his personal physician. Baldwin had been sent to St Edmund's by the King to treat Abbot Leofstan for his stroke in about 1060. Baldwin was so impressed by St Edmund's power that he had decided to stay in the monastery there. He was now only the third Abbot at Bury. The fact that such a learned and able Frenchman was given the Abbey at Bury at this time was to be of immense importance to the town in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. He would be Abbot until 1097.

King Edward issued his writ appointing Baldwin as Abbot, (S 1083), together with a writ confirming to the monastery the sokes of the eight and a half hundreds, (S 1084) and a further writ granting Abbot Baldwin the right to one moneyer in the town. This last writ is reference number S 1085 in Sawyer's catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters and can be viewed by clicking on that reference.

From the coin evidence shown above, it is believed that a royal mint must have already existed in Bury since about 1048, and that this writ was merely to transfer the power into Abbot Baldwin's jurisdiction. This confirms Bury's importance as a trading centre before the conquest. At first it seems possible that the mint was located close to the Sacrist's office within the Abbey. In later years the mint was set up in Le Mustowe, or today's Mustow Street, and seems to have operated here, with a break, until during the 14th century.

Bury by 1066. Speculative map by Bernard Gauthiez published in 'Bury St Edmunds Medieval Art, Architecture, Archaeology and Economy' editor A Gransden.
Bury by 1066 by Bernard Gauthiez
blank Bernard Gauthiez has suggested that before the Norman town planning of Bury St Edmunds was carried out, the town had a reasonably regular layout during late Saxon times. This idea was published in 1998, in the volume entitled 'Bury St Edmunds Medieval Art, Architecture, Archaeology and Economy' edited by Antonia Gransden for the British Archaeological Association. Gauthiez laid out his reconstructions with east at the top of the plan to be consistent with the Warren map of 1776.

This hypothetical reconstruction is based around the area now called St Mary's Square, which can be made out to the right hand side, (south), of the plan. He suggested that a street extended from today's Raingate Street northwards to run along the western side of Canute's rotunda to join Eastgate Street. This street is now lost below the later abbey extensions.

Similarly, another street ran from Sparhawk Street and continued northwards to join up with Northgate Street, which may at some point have become called the High Street. Historians like Margaret Statham have previously suggested the existence of this road from the obvious alignment of today's Sparhawk Street and Northgate Street. This street was lost when the Abbey precinct was enlarged in the late 12th century, but there is now also considerable archaeological evidence for its existence. The earliest plans for the great new abbey church would respect this street line so that the abbey's west front would be built to end at this street line.

In addition, Gauthiez suggested that the line of Crown Street may also be a Saxon survivor, but that it probably veered westwards along Angel Lane and then along the western edge of Angel Hill.


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