Wednesday 9 June 2021

Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship

In my ongoing quest to try to work out what happened in the north of England after the Norman Conquest, I have come to the following tome:

Dalton, P. (1994). Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship: Yorkshire 1066 - 1154. Cambridge: CUP.

The book does divide, as the title suggests, into three sections. The first is about the responses to the Norman Conquest in Yorkshire, the second about how Yorkshire fared during the reign of King Stephen, and the final bit about what the concept of ‘lordship’ really meant in the century after the Conquest.

If Kapelle was a maximalist with respect to the Harrying of the North, arguing that it disrupted northern society almost totally, the Dalton would probably count among the minimalists. He sees the Normans dividing up the land in Yorkshire far earlier than other historians do, so that some lordships, particularly in the south of the county, were well established by the time of the Domesday Inquest (1086). The evidence counted towards this seems to be the number of demesne plough teams recorded in the Book, that is, plough teams (oxen in this case, of course) which worked the Lord’s own lands, the produce of which went either to the Lord’s table or into his coffers.

On the other hand, the Yorkshire entries in Domesday Book do look a bit like an administrative fiddle. As both Dalton and Kapelle acknowledge, the Yorkshire Domesday Book looks more like someone compiling a list of lands and rents from the safety of York Castle, rather than actually going out and seeing what was going on, summoning Wapentake juries and so on. Certainly for some parts of the county, particularly Cleveland, the quantity of information is rather thin.

Dalton takes ‘waste’ entries in Domesday Book to mean administrative failure to account for. Thus the extensive waste in Cleveland is not related to the Harrying of the North and the destruction twenty years before the Inquest, but to the fact that the lords of the lands were not really in possession of them, had not put in place full lordship, and were not exploiting them in terms of Eleventh Century agriculture. The fact that many of the lords of lands in Cleveland were certainly absentee, probably never visited them and had little interest in them would support Dalton’s position.

For example, the main manor in West Cleveland, Acklam, was owned by Hugh, Earl of Chester. It was mostly recorded as waste. But Hugh’s main lands and main interests were in Cheshire, where he owned most of the county. Acklam would have been of peripheral interest to him. Similarly, a major landowner was Bill’s half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain. He hardly ever left Normandy and the furthest north he is recorded as having come is Lincolnshire in 1069, suppressing rebels there.

Dalton’s argument might hold some water in these cases. He suggests that between 1086 and 1100, and more so between 1100 and 1135, the Normans in the North got organised. There were various issues, mostly to do with the Scots who, under Malcolm Canmore and then David I regarded parts of the north as parts of Scotland. Canmore raided Cleveland from the west, along the line of the modern A66, in 1070. William Rufus established Carlisle and its castle, as well as Newcastle, to try to stake some claim to the north. He also started to divide lands up among Norman lords, a process accelerated under Henry I.

After Henry, of course, royal authority fell apart, particularly in the north which Stephen had few opportunities to visit or defend. He appointed an Earl of York to see to the royal interests there, but William of Aumale rather looked after his own interests instead, sparking a number of small wars in the region. These were nothing much to do with the Anarchy, most of which was played out further south, but to do with the aspirations of the local barons.

Another factor was the Scots, of course. While the Battle of the Standard was won in 1138, Scottish interest and influence did not cease. David I kept on interfering in the north, and his son, Henry, was Earl of Northumberland. Both held courts in the north and extended their lordship and authority south of the Solway – Tweed frontier. A number of northern lords gave allegiance to David, and gained lands in Scotland as a result. It all got rather complicated, as you can imagine.

The book has an extensive chapter on the Scots in the north, and it rolls, as I might have just hinted, into the concept of lordship, as it was experienced in the north and specifically in Yorkshire. There were two competing factors: good service and good lordship. The tenants required good lordship of their lord – that is protection, both physical and legal, and not too harsh terms of service. The lords required support and loyalty from their tenants and the performance of service, that is things like castle guard and payment of taxes and fees, the use of the baronial court for their suits and so on.

This was further complicated by the fact that, within a generation of the Conquest at most, landholding among tenants was complicated: many held lands of more than one lard. This might have come about through subinfeudation, marriage, division of land between heiresses, gift of land to religious houses and about as many reasons as you, or the medieval mind, might be able to imagine. Thus a lesser baron might hold lands, and different terms of service, from two or more tenants in chief and a religious house, which they may well have endowed. The rendering of service was not going to be simple under these circumstances and the lesser barons could, and did, play one tenant-in-chief off against another.

A lot of these disputes landed up in court, of course. And the courts were not the courts of the tenant-in-chief. Appeal was often made to the king’s court and Dalton, among other things, argues that the advances in law under Henry II, specifically the advent of English Common Law, was a consequence of the situation that emerged under his grandfather, not something that suddenly came to be in the years post-1154.

So a good, interesting book. The possibilities of Norman feuding and Scottish intervention are endless. I am getting tempted to buy some Normans, but am manfully resisting, at present.

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