A Potted History of England during the Norman and Angevin Periods

What do I mean by a potted history? At one end of the spectrum, there are very brief histories on the Internet of perhaps a couple of pages of A4. At the other end, there are comprehensive papers and books that have been written by academics and professional, or sometimes amateur, historians. My potted histories sit somewhere in between the two extremes.

I regard them as tasters, for want of a better word. They vary in size from 5-6K words at the bottom end up to 20k+ at the top end. I hope that they provide a solid core of information, along with some context. And of course, I hope that they are readable.

For readers who want more information, I provide a modest bibliography and a reasonable set of links to information on the Internet. Anybody who is really keen will naturally progress beyond my simple offerings, no doubt being eminently capable of finding their own material.

Questions and feedback are welcome via the Contact Me page.

Abstract

If you plan to read the full history then you may wish to bypass this abstract.

Historians differ in the dates which they attach to the Angevin period. This history covers the period from 1066 to 1227, when Henry III, son of king John, became old enough to dispense with his regent.

William the Conqueror followed on his success at the battle of Hastings in 1066 by replacing the vast majority of English nobles, living or dead, with Norman nobles, and by awarding land to other faithful knights and supporters.

The early years of his reign saw various uprisings in different parts of the country, some of them aided by the Danes, but a significant programme of castle building helped to fend off these insurrections. There were subsequent attempts to overthrow William, first by some of his own earls, and then by his eldest son. However, none seriously threatened his position as king of England.

Late in his reign, when there was relative peace, he commissioned what was effectively a national audit to better understand the country that he had acquired. He was interested to know the position in 1066 when Edward the Confessor was ruling and the current position in 1086. The output from this study was the Domesday Book, a work which has provided subsequent historians with much useful information.

His death in 1087 began a recurring theme of battles for the succession which continued through much of the Norman and Angevin period. This was at variance with the Capetian dynasty in France where primogeniture – eldest son automatically succeeds – was the norm. The various English monarchs in this period, including William himself, have often been described as absentee kings on account of the time that they spent in France, looking after Normandy and their other territories.

Relations with other parts of the British Isles varied. The Norman earls whose territories bordered Wales largely kept those areas quiet, while the Welsh princes went about their business in the north and centre, largely unhindered so long as they recognised the English king. The Scots, possibly because they were so distant from the south of England, were able to be more troublesome, often coveting Cumbria and Northumbria. Meanwhile, Ireland was relatively quiet until the infighting between Rory O’Connor and Dermot, along with his Norman mercenaries, provided Henry II with a plausible reason to invade and ultimately establish his lordship.

Feudalism, which was at its height between the 10th and 13th centuries, dictated the hierarchy of English society with the king at its apex. The earls came next, followed by the greater and lesser barons, then lords of the manor including knights, and finally peasants of various types.

Just as the Normans filled the nobility with their own men, so they replaced English bishops with clerics of their own choosing, usually those of French descent or those who had served in France.

The 11th century onwards saw increasing conflict between Church and State over the division of powers. The Church’s claim of independence and its insistence on the ultimate authority of the pope clashed with the king’s view that he was omnipotent. Such clashes were not limited to England. They could be found in most parts of Western Europe.

Church politics during the period centred on the battle between the sees of Canterbury and York for primacy in England. Canterbury was usually in pole position, but York fought hard and did not give up easily. In fact, it was not until 1352 that the squabble was ultimately resolved in Canterbury’s favour.

This period saw a growth in monasticism across Europe with the arrival of a range of new orders, including Cistercians, Augustinian and Carthusians, coupled with mendicant orders such as the Dominican and Franciscan friars.

The king’s council was known as curia regis. There were two variants: the inner council which consisted of his major officers of state and magnates who were part of the royal court; and a broader council which included earls and the more important barons and clergymen. The inner council was what we would think of nowadays as the Privy Council, while the broader council was effectively the forerunner of Parliament.

Two notable parts of early royal administrations were the Exchequer and the Chancery: the former ensuring that the king received all monies that were due to him; while the latter was the office which was responsible for the production of documentation such as charters and writs. The volume of documentation that was produced by the Chancery, by the Church and by others all increased significantly during our period.

Although the king’s court sat at the apex of the justice system, there were many other courts, including manorial, hundred, feudal, borough, county and ecclesiastical, although cases could move between them. Henry II sought changes to the legal system to reduce the powers that had been gained by the Church and by the barons during the period of the Anarchy in the 1130s and 1140s. His attempts to control the power of ecclesiastical courts led to his rift with Thomas Becket. Henry is arguably better known for his changes to the secular system, including the setting up of the assizes system, the adoption of Common Law, and preparation for eventual trial by jury.

Education was in its early days with a modest number of schools, typically attached to monasteries and cathedrals, where Latin was the main subject. While the first colleges began to appear at Oxford and Cambridge in the 12th century, Paris and Bologna tended to be the preferred higher education establishments for the elite during this period.

Finally, England was considered to be the most prosperous country in Western Europe in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Perhaps this was part of the attraction to William the Conqueror. The export of wool was the main trade in our agrarian economy, notably to Flanders where finished cloth was made.

Contents

Aftermath of the battle of Hastings

Uprisings
Castles
Domesday Book

Dynastic Politics

The Rulers
Summary of the Main Events

Feudal Society

Aristocracy
Barons
Deemed Feudal Barons
Knights
Freeman
Peasants

Places

Shires
Hundreds
Towns and Boroughs

Other Parts of the British Isles

Wales
Ireland
Scotland

The Church

Archbishoprics and Primacy
Bishops
Appointment of Bishops
Growth of Monasticism

Church Issues

Celibacy
Simony
Ecclesiastical Property
Justice
Temporal vs. Spiritual Power

The King and Government

Royal Finance
Exchequer and Chancery
Assemblies
Records and Documents

The Legal System

Courts
Assizes and Common Law
Oaths and Ordeals
Juries

Culture

Written and Spoken Word
Education and Libraries

Economy

Odds and Sods

Feudalism
Magna Carta
The Crusades
The Medieval Knight
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Development of the English Language
Historians of the Period
Glossary of Terms

Bibliography and Further Reading

Acknowledgements

Version History

Aftermath of the Battle of Hastings

Uprisings

William the Conqueror was crowned king of England in 1066 after his victory over king Harold at Hastings. While most surviving English nobles submitted shortly after the battle, 1067 saw short-lived uprisings in places such as Dover, Exeter, Hereford, Mercia and Northumbria.

1069 proved to be a particularly troublesome year with further uprisings in Exeter, Mercia and Lincolnshire. However, it was two incidents in Northumbria which provoked particularly strong action from William: the massacre of his newly-appointed earl of that region, Robert de Comines, along with several hundred of his soldiers at Durham; and the capture of York by rebels and the Danes who had joined forces with them. William retaliated by instigating a scorched-earth policy in Northumbria, known as the Harrying of the North. It is said that 75% of the population either died or fled as a result.

The Danes, bought off by William, were once again in evidence in 1070 when they teamed up with Hereward the Wake, known to us through various fictional works, who was based on the Isle of Ely at the time.

The final rebellion occurred in 1075. The Revolt of the Earls, as it is known, primarily involved Ralph de Gael, the earl of Norfolk, and Roger de Breteuil, the earl of Hereford, who conspired to overthrow William. As with all the other uprisings, it was put down fairly quickly.

Castles

William built many castles and garrisons across the land to combat the threat of rebellion with Windsor, Berkhamsted and London being particularly noteworthy. The White Tower was started in 1078. It formed the innermost section (or enclosure) of what would become the Tower of London, the remaining sections being added in the reigns of Richard I and Edward I.

Many of the Norman castles were of the motte-and-bailey design which had begun to appear in Northern Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. They consisted of a wooden or stone keep, built on an area of raised ground (motte), surrounded by a walled courtyard (bailey) and a protective ditch and palisade. They were quick and easy to construct, not especially requiring skilled labour.

The Domesday Book

William, who was spending Christmas in 1085 at Gloucester, met there with his royal council and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “Then sent his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out how many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.”

William was keen to understand the situation in the country at the time of Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066 and at the current time. The scope of the survey covered the area of land held by each man, the stock on that land, and the overall value.

The project had been completed by the time of William’s death in September 1087. Its output consisted of two volumes: a detailed account of East Anglia, the most heavily populated area at the time; and a more condensed survey of the rest of England. The content was ordered by landowner (king, ecclesiastics and laymen by rank) within county. No similarly comprehensive survey was carried out again until the late 19th century, making the Domesday Book an extremely valuable resource for historians. The Open Domesday website provides a very useful summary of the content.

Dynastic Politics

The Rulers

This potted history covers the years from 1066 to 1227, the latter being the year when the young Henry III was able to dispense with his regent. Let us begin by listing the English monarchs in this period:

  • William the Conqueror (1066-1087), duke of Normandy
  • William Rufus (1087-1100), the third son of William the Conqueror
  • Henry I (1100-1135), the fourth son of William the Conqueror
  • Stephen (1135-1154), whose mother was Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror. His reign was marked by the Anarchy, a civil war waged with the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I
  • Henry II (1154-1189), the son of the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou
  • Richard I (1189-1199), the third son of Henry II known as the Lionheart
  • John (1199-1216), the youngest surviving son of Henry II
  • Henry III (1216-1272), the eldest son of John.

A note on dynasties and royal houses. This is a slightly confusing picture. The Plantagenet dynasty ruled from 1154 right through to the death of Richard III in 1485, starting with the reign of Henry II, his father Geoffrey being known as Plantagenet, which was a nickname. However, the reigns of Henry II, Richard I and John are also known as the Angevin period (the house of Anjou). And to make it even more confusing, some historians call John and his son Henry III the Poitevins, on account of the fact that John lost his northern French territories, including Anjou, but hung onto parts of Aquitaine.

Viewed as a group it can be said that the kings in our period were largely absentee monarchs. France, although it had a king, was dominated by the rulers of the individual regions who were constantly in conflict with each other, and with the French king. The turmoil meant that the English kings frequently needed to be on hand to deal with ongoing problems in their French territories. Initially, it was just Normandy, but by the time we reach Henry II, he also controlled Anjou, Aquitaine and Gascony. Note that Gascony, which is not shown separately on the map, covers the area to south and west of Bordeaux.

From 1075, when the uprisings in England had abated, William the Conqueror probably spent 75% of his time in Normandy, while Richard the Lionheart only resided in England for 6 months during his entire reign. Overall, you could probably generalise that the kings in our period spent approximately 50% of their time out of England.

Summary of the Main Events

Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow his father in 1077. It may be for this reason that William left the English crown to William Rufus, his third son, while Normandy was left to Robert. It will be noted that this is the first of several instances when primogeniture (eldest son automatically inherits) was not followed during our period. This compares to the French Capetian dynasty (931-1328) where primogeniture was the norm.

Needless to say, Robert was not happy and he attempted to take the throne from William Rufus in 1088, but he failed. When William Rufus died in a hunting accident in 1100, Henry, William the Conqueror’s fourth son, seized the crown. Robert tried yet again to take the throne in 1101, but was unsuccessful. Continuing attempts by him to sow discord and basically to undermine Henry I eventually led Henry to invade Normandy, defeating Robert’s army in 1106 and taking control of the region. Robert was imprisoned, and remained so until his death in 1134.

Henry I died in 1135 with no surviving sons and one legitimate daughter, Matilda, who he wished to succeed him. However, the throne was quickly seized by Stephen, a grandson of William the Conqueror through his mother Adela. There followed a long period of civil war, commonly known as the Anarchy, when Matilda struggled, in the end unsuccessfully, to gain the throne.

Matilda had married Geoffrey of Anjou, and it was to be their son, Henry of Anjou, who subsequently pressed his family’s claim to the English throne after his father’s death in 1151. Meanwhile, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the heiress of the House of Poitiers, in 1152 and acquired her lands in the process. He invaded England in 1153, and after a stand-off with Stephen’s forces at Wallingford, forced Stephen to accept him as his successor. Stephen died in the following year and Henry was duly crowned king, the second of that name. He was now king of England, duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou and Maine.

Henry II subsequently had troubles with his sons in his French territories as they grew up during the 1170s and 1180s, starting with his eldest son Henry who revolted in 1173-74, persuading his mother Eleanor and his brothers Richard and Geoffrey to back him. Eleanor was captured and effectively put under house arrest in England by Henry II from 1173 until his death in 1189. Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted again in 1183, after which the young Henry died. Although Henry II put down these two rebellions, he could not manage it a third time. In 1189, he was embroiled in negotiations with Richard and Philip II of France where it appeared that he did not want Richard to succeed him. The talks broke down and they attacked him, besieging Le Mans. Having managed to retreat to Chinon, he died shortly afterwards from a bleeding ulcer.

Richard the Lionheart, the third son of Henry II, succeeded to the English throne in 1189. He is most noted for his active participation in the Third Crusade. Eleanor was appointed to act as regent in England in his absence. While he was away, John, the youngest brother, tried unsuccessfully to take the Crown.

Richard had no children and was succeeded by his brother John in 1199 who managed to lose his French possessions in 1204, except for parts of Aquitaine. His ultimately unsuccessful and costly attempts to regain those territories, culminating in defeat at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, contributed to unrest among the English barons which led to Magna Carta in 1215 and to the first Baron’s War (1215-1217).

John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his eldest son Henry who was only 9 years old. Regents were appointed until 1227: William Marshal (1216-1219) who fought off the barons and the French to keep Henry III’s crown and Hubert de Burgh (1219-1227).

As mentioned earlier, France was a hotbed of intrigue, exacerbated by the power of the nobles. Normandy had to be wary of its neighbours: Brittany, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Vexin and the king of France’s territories. Conflicts were usually short-lived, often affecting villages and towns in border areas, and were followed by truces.

All the French nobles seemed to be constantly conspiring against each other, often in conjunction with another noble. It was all very opportunistic .. your ally one day might be your foe the next. Arguably the classic example was Philip, the future king of France. He conspired with Henry II’s sons against Henry; subsequently with John against Richard; and finally, with Arthur, the son of Geoffrey and grandson of Henry II, against John.

Feudal Society

The outline structure of society in our period is described below. However, it should be noted that the reality was far more complex than the relatively simple picture which is painted.

Aristocracy

In the Anglo-Saxon period, ealdormen, the highest lay officials, had been the king’s companions. The Vikings used the word jarl to signify a similar position, and they employed it during the period when Cnut and co. ruled England in the early 11th century. The name stuck, becoming earl in Old English. Count was the term used by the Normans to indicate the same position, but it is said that they chose to stick with earl in England because count sounded too much like a certain four-letter English word.

There were only seven earldoms during the reign of William the Conqueror, but Stephen tripled this number. Earls came to be associated with counties. For example, the Norman de Warenne family were the earls of Surrey and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and William’s half-brother, was the earl of Kent. One third of the profits of the county court and of royal boroughs went to an earl.

Barons

Those Anglo-Saxon nobles who were not killed at Hastings or who had not fled the country were mostly stripped of their lands. William distributed them to his favoured Norman followers, although he was careful to not to give them large individual pieces of territory. Rather, he provided them with multiple lands that were scattered around the country. Roger the Poitevin was an Anglo-Norman aristocrat who ultimately came to hold lands in Lancashire, Essex, Suffolk, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and North Yorkshire. At the other end of the spectrum, Turstin FitzRolf, a relatively humble knight who had accepted the role of William’s standard-bearer at Hastings, was awarded a barony which consisted of more than 20 manors.

Some barons had land in both England and Normandy. In fact, William Marshal, the eventual regent of Henry III, had estates in England, Normandy, Wales and Ireland. Having estates in multiple lands inevitably brought some problems: the need for multiple administrations; while absenteeism could encourage others who had designs on your possessions.

Baron is a somewhat confusingly general title. Some historians divide them into greater and lesser barons, while others simply refer to barons and lords of the manor. By the middle of the 12th century there were 270 tenants-in-chief, that is individuals who were granted land directly by the king. This land could be sub-let. It is here that the term knight’s fee is often found. A knight’s fee is sufficient land to provide the necessary produce and income to support a knight. Robert Bartlett states that around half of the 270 tenants-in-chief had 10 or more knight’s fees, and that therefore they can be definitely be regarded as barons. Some other historians use 20 knight’s fees as their dividing line.

Deemed Feudal Barons

Archbishops and bishops were deemed to hold per baroniam, and were therefore regarded as feudal barons. As members of the baronage, they were entitled to attend the king’s assemblies.

Knights

Knights were heavily armed cavalrymen, as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry. In our period knighthood was regarded as a lower class of nobility, below a baron but above a freeman. He provided military service to his lord, usually a baron, in return for a land holding, called, as we have seen, a knight’s fee. They were typically lords of the manor in the feudal hierarchy. Such men with a manor or two might attend the county court, act as a coroner or as a tax collector in their shire. Their estates could be passed on to their children, thereby creating county families. It should be noted that lords of the manor were not simply limited to knights. The position could be attained by other means.

Freeman

A freeman with 16 marks or more in chattels / income was roughly on a par with a knight. He might be a sergeant, holding land in return for a civilian service that he provided to his lord. A military sergeant was regarded as a junior knight.

Peasants

The relationship between lords of the manor and their peasants was not actually part of the feudal system; the term manorialism tends to be used to describe it.

Various titles appear in the Domesday Book to describe the holders of relatively modest areas of land. They include: a villein or virgate-holder who might have 30-40 acres; a half virgate-holder; and a bordar or cottar with a smallholding of (say) 5 acres.

Approximately 10% of the rural population were slaves in the late Anglo-Saxon / early Norman period. They were more numerous in the western counties where there was a trade in human beings with Ireland. Slavery largely disappeared by the early 12th century, in part due to the opposition of the Church. However, the term unfree labour then came into general usage, indicating that it was actually in part a rebranding exercise. An unfree man was a bonded tenant. He was allocated some land to grow his own crops in return for giving his lord a percentage of his produce and for working on the demesne (the land of the lord of the manor). Importantly, an unfree man was unable to leave. If he did so then he was treated as a fugitive who had to be returned. He could be bought and sold. Slavery in all but name?

Places

Shires

Shires were smaller areas than the regions which had previously been controlled by ealdormen in Anglo-Saxon times. A sheriff (shire-reeve) was effectively the CEO of a county. His duties were primarily judicial and financial. He presided over the county court and was responsible for making payments which were owed to the king. Sheriffs were largely drawn from the ranks of barons, royal administrators and the local gentry. The position could be bought, thus providing a useful source of revenue for the king. If there was an agreed fixed annual payment for the monies due to the king from the county then the sheriff would pocket the difference between it and what he had actually collected.

Hundreds

A Hundred, also called a Wapentake in areas of the Danelaw, was a division of a shire which dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Domesday mentions 730 of them, although by the 13th century the number had been reduced to 628. Each Hundred had its court which met every two to four weeks, and was attended by local landowners. Every six months, the sheriff presided over an inquiry to check that every free adult male within the Hundred was enrolled in a tithing – a body of ten men who were each held responsible for the actions of the others.

Towns and Boroughs

Domesday lists 112 boroughs, a new term at the time for an urban settlement. They included old Roman towns, Anglo-Saxon burhs, places near important abbeys and coastal trading places. The estimated population of England around this time was in the region of 1.5 to 2 million. The sizes of individual towns, estimates once again, included: London 12k, Winchester 6k, and Oxford / York / Lincoln and Norwich, all at 5k.

125 new towns were created between 1066 and 1220. A borough was a town that had been granted a degree of self-governance by its lord via a charter. By the middle of the 13th century, 40% of boroughs were royal, 35% baronial and 20% ecclesiastical.

A charter was effectively an invitation for individuals to purchase a burgage in the new town, a burgage being a small plot of land within the town’s boundaries, large enough for a house with premises for trade. In addition, the holder of the burgage, called a burgess, was usually allocated a modest area of land (two acres?) to cultivate in the fields outside the town. Charters also usually granted the right to hold a weekly market, along with an annual fair. They were yet another source of revenue, notably to king John when he was in the process of funding his failed attempt to regain Normandy.

No services were provided. They were the responsibility of the burgesses themselves, e.g. they had to take turns to guard the town at night; pursue thieves; act as firemen, et cetera. Boroughs had their own courts which had extensive civil jurisdiction, although serious crime was reserved for royal justices.

Other Parts of the British Isles

Wales

William the Conqueror gave Hugh d’Avranches, Roger de Montgomerie, and William FitzOsbern, as earls of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford respectively, responsibility for containing and subduing the Welsh. The Norman lords occupied the Marches and the southern part of Wales, the Marches being the term which described the English – Welsh border area, the size of which varied over time. The term “March of Wales” first appeared in the Domesday Book. The remainder of the territory, viz. the north and centre of Wales, was the preserve of the Welsh princes.

Conflicts, when they arose, could be Welsh vs Welsh, Norman vs Norman or, more obviously, Welsh vs Norman. English kings generally allowed the March lords a fair degree of independence, and they were similarly tolerant of the Welsh princes, so long as they recognised the monarch.

Ireland

Dermot, the king of Leinster who had been forced into exile in 1167 by Rory O’Connor, the High King of Connacht, obtained permission from Henry II to recruit Norman knights from Wales to help him to regain his position. However, he died in 1171 shortly after achieving his aim.

The Norman soldiers promptly decided to remain and create their own lordship over Leinster and Dublin. Henry II was distinctly displeased at this turn of events and launched an expedition which led to the Normans and the Irish submitting to him, thereby creating the foundation for the lordship of Ireland, a title which John was given, and which was borne by all future English kings until Henry VIII adopted the title of king of Ireland.

Scotland

Lothian and Northumbria were very similar, including their use of the same language. There was a much greater divide that separated them from the Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland. However, the Scottish border, as we know it today, was very gradually defined during the course of the 11th and 12th centuries, although control of Northumbria was frequently contested. Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland, raided Northumbria on five occasions in the 11th century, and later incursions tended to coincide with civil strife in England when the Scots would side with whoever who opposing the English king.

David I of Scotland (1124-1153) was one of the country’s most successful kings. He had spent part of his formative years at the English court of Henry I, and he was in fact given the earldom of Huntingdon in 1113. As Scottish king, he recruited Anglo-Norman knights which eventually led to the creation of a new section of Scottish aristocracy. Both Clan Bruce and Clan Stewart were of French ancestry.

Competing territorial claims over Cumbria, Westmorland and Northumbria were a constant theme both during and after David’s reign. They were only formally settled in 1237 with the Treaty of York which affirmed that they were subject to English sovereignty.  

The Church

At the time of Domesday, the Church owned around 20% of the wealth of England and laid claim to 10% of the income of all lay people, typically that which was derived from agricultural produce. This was known as the tithe, a concept which dated back to Old Testament times and can be found in many religions.

The Church’s wealth and power made it an attractive career option to many, particularly the younger sons of nobles who were unlikely to inherit their fathers’ estate(s). You could say that it was probably their only career option at the time.

The sees of Canterbury and York were at the top of the Church hierarchy in England. Between them, they had jurisdiction over 14 other sees. There were two types of clergy, regular and secular. Regular, more usually referred to as monastic clergy, took oaths of obedience, poverty and celibacy and lived in religious houses, typically Benedictine at the start of our period, whereas secular clergy lived out among the lay community. There were roughly equal numbers of regular and secular clergy at the start of our period.

Archbishoprics and Primacy

As with the nobles, the Normans sought to populate the main offices of the Church with men of their own choosing. Stigand, the Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Norman invasion, was eased out of his position in 1070 with the help of the papacy. Officially, he was “canonically deposed”.

He was replaced by Lanfranc, an Italian Benedictine monk who had served as the abbot at Bec in Normandy. He was followed by Anselm, another Italian who had also been the abbot at Bec. Anselm, who was canonised after his death, had an uneasy relationship with both William Rufus and Henry I, which included two periods in exile.

Church politics in England concerned the conflict between the sees of Canterbury and York over the primacy of England. Both sides claimed the title. At the time of the Conquest, York had jurisdiction over Worcester, Lichfield, Lincoln, the Northern Isles and Scotland. The conflict was initially resolved in 1072 in favour of Canterbury. However, this decision was subsequently reversed by Pope Calixtus II in 1118; and the squabble continued until 1352 when Pope Innocent VI settled it by declaring the Archbishop of Canterbury to be “Primate of All England” and the Archbishop of York to be styled “Primate of England”, quite a diplomatic choice of words.

With respect to the rest of the British Isles, Canterbury had jurisdiction over the Welsh Church, a position which continued until 1920, while York had primacy over Scotland, although the Scots refused to accept this, and eventually they managed to report directly to Rome. Scottish archbishoprics for St. Andrews and Glasgow were not created until the 15th century. Meanwhile, the Irish Church, which was older than its English counterpart, was not affected by the English politics. In 1152 it was split into four archbishoprics, Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam. They had their own internal squabbles over the primacy of Ireland.

Bishops

The bishop was the chief officer of a see (or diocese). His duties included: acting as a feudal lord and landlord; managing benefices (livings provided to clergy in return for services); ordaining priests; consecrating churches; and confirming the faithful.

The average size of a diocese was in the region of 3,000 square miles. It was split into a number of archdeaconries to ease its management. London had four while Lincoln, the largest diocese at the time, eventually had eight.

As with the archbishops, the Normans replaced English bishops with their own people. Certainly, as far as the 1130s bishops were typically French, e.g. William of St Carilef, the Bishop of Durham, and while subsequently some were of English birth, they were often of French descent.

Appointment of Bishops

The king invariably had the final say with respect to the appointment of new bishops. The monarch’s chancellor received a bishopric almost by right, Thomas Becket being the most notable example. Other royal clerks were frequently rewarded in a similar manner.

In some of the monastic sees, such as Canterbury, it became common to appoint a monk. Lanfranc, Anselm and Theodore all hailed from the Norman abbey at Bec where they had served as prior or abbot. The secret was for the monks to choose a person that the king would be comfortable with.

Growth of Monasticism

Celtic monasticism dates from the 4th and 5th centuries, followed by the order of St. Benedict in the 6th century. Benedictine monks then dominated the scene until a rash of new religious orders began to appear from the 10th century onwards, including the Cluniacs, Cistercians, Augustinians and Carthusians, plus various mendicant orders such as the Dominicans and Franciscans.

At the time of the Conquest Bartlett estimates that there were 39 male religious houses and 10 female houses in England. By the middle of the 13th century, these figures had grown to 550 and 150 respectively.

Church Issues

Celibacy

While the Catholic Church was always constant in its view that priests should be celibate, clerical marriage was common among the secular clergy, reaching a peak in the 10th century. One of the side-effects of clerical marriage was the inheritance of benefices (livings). It was natural that a father would seek to pass his position on to his offspring.

The Second Lateran Council (1139) made clerical marriage invalid, not merely forbidden. However, it was a very slow process to get priests to tow the line. It was to be after the English Reformation in the reign of Edward VI that Anglican priests were once again allowed to marry. 

Simony

Simony is the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges or benefices. It is named after Simon Magus who offered money to two disciples of Jesus in return for empowering him to impart the Holy Spirit on any individual who he laid his hands upon.

It is regarded as a sin. Sin or not, it became widespread during the 9th and 10th centuries. Walter de Gray, ex chancellor of King John, reputedly spent £10k oiling the palms of the papal court in his quest to get the pope to depose Simon Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and award him the position.

Ecclesiastical Property

The Church became significant land holders, helped immeasurably by bequests from rich individuals who thought that such gifts would ease their way into heaven after their deaths.

There was much debate concerning the nature of Church property with the king claiming that the greater ecclesiastics held their baronies from him.

Justice

This was arguably the greatest area of conflict between Church and State. The Church had its own courts which commonly dealt with spiritual and moral matters, as well as marriage and wills. However, the issue involved “crimonous clergy” with the Church insisting that they also be tried in ecclesiastical courts. Henry II considered that their courts were too lenient and wanted them to be tried in secular courts.  This was one of Henry’s Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) which sought to curb the power of the Church.

Some senior members of the clergy were actively involved in the administration of the royal justice system. In the later years of Henry II’s reign, out of 13 royal justices, three were bishops, two were canons and one was an archdeacon. However, the involvement of clergy in royal justice gradually dwindled during the course of the 13th century.

Temporal vs. Spiritual Power

Conflict between Church and State became common in many countries, the rulers’ views on the limits of the Church’s powers being at variance with the Church’s. Arguably the most famous example was the rift between Henry IV, German king and Holy Roman Emperor, and pope Gregory VII which resulted in Henry’s brief excommunication in 1076.

There were various examples in England. As mentioned earlier, Anselm quarrelled with both William Rufus and Henry I, resulting in periods of exile, although Becket’s rift with Henry II is the most famous. He had been Henry’s chancellor and friend, and Henry had obviously hoped that he would fall into line with his wishes. He did not, leading to a series of conflicts between them, including that concerning the jurisdiction of secular courts over clergymen. Becket ended up spending six years in exile. His return was short-lived. He was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights who, it is said, took Henry’s words (which he probably did not say) quite literally “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Thomas Becket was immediately venerated as a martyr by the faithful, and he was canonised just over two years after his death.

Stephen Langton was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Innocent III in 1207. King John, who considered that he should appoint the Archbishop, selected his own man. This led to a papal interdict (no sacraments were allowed in the country) and eventually to John’s excommunication in 1208, a situation which was not resolved until 1213 when John yielded. This particular conflict between Church and State was one of the contributing factors which resulted in Magna Carta.

The recurring issues between Church and State were: control of church appointments; the nature of ecclesiastical property; and the demarcation of judicial powers.  

The King and Government

Royal Finance

In brief, the king’s revenue came from crown lands, feudal overlordship, taxation and profits from justice.

The monarch was a substantial landowner, holding 18% of landed estates (by value) at the time of Domesday. He could expect produce from farms, plus income from rents and from the sale of crops and livestock. He would typically sub-contract work to the likes of sheriffs, middlemen and other entrepreneurs, often receiving an agreed fixed sum from them. Other forms of income included tallage (an arbitrary payment which he could levy on the men in his various estates) and payments due to a lord from the rights to consent to a marriage.

Geld (as in Danegeld) persisted. This was in essence a land tax, which in the Norman period was 2 shillings per hide. Exemptions could be granted by the king, which made for a relatively painless way of exercising royal patronage.

There were also taxes on movable wealth and income. The Saladin tithe of 1188 was intended to support the Third Crusade, and such taxes were also used to pay Richard the Lionheart’s ransom after he was detained by Leopold of Austria on his way back from the Third Crusade.

Finally, justice was a useful source of income. For example, charges were levied on the production of royal writs. Richard de Anstey spent 5 years going through the courts to claim his uncle’s lands. Although significant litigation took place in Church courts, the case started and ended with the king. The total cost to Richard was £344 7s 4d, of which £66 13s 4d went to the king.

Exchequer and Chancery

Both were originally part of the royal household. The Exchequer was set up to ensure that the king received all monies that were due to him. It is first mentioned in 1110, although the earliest surviving audit is contained in the Pipe Roll from 1130 when the total revenue was £24k. A table was used for the audit. It was 10 feet by 5 feet with a raised edge, and covered by a black cloth with green stripes about the width of a human hand which resulted in a chequer-like pattern, hence the name. Counters were placed on this cloth in a manner which allowed arithmetic to be performed. The audits were initially discrete exercises until the Exchequer became an institution. By the reign of Henry II, it had its own building in Westminster where the Barons of the Exchequer carried out the audits, and also acted as a court of law.

The Chancery was the medieval writing office, being responsible for producing all charters and writs which were sealed by the Great Seal. The Chancellor of England, forerunner of the present-day Lord Chancellor, headed this office which was staffed by royal clerks. As an aside – the word clerk is derived from the Latin word clericus, meaning cleric. Clerics were typically the only people who could read and write, and hence it was natural that they became responsible for producing documents, and ultimately this is where the word clerk comes from. The Chancery office just predated the Norman Conquest. By the 13th century, it had also become a separate department in Westminster.

Assemblies

The king had his own council of advisors. During the Anglo-Saxon period it was called the Witan (or Witenagemot). The Normans introduced the Curia Regis (Council of the king) which was similar in concept to the Witan. There were in fact two forms of Curia Regis, the lesser and the great. The lesser Curia Regis was in constant session, its members consisting of the king’s officers of state and those magnates who were at court. It can also be called the royal court, the king’s court or the inner council. Examples of inner councils include: Gloucester in the winter of 1085 which resulted in the commissioning of the Domesday survey; and the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) whose main purpose was to limit the powers of the Church.

The greater Curia Regis was periodically summoned by the king. Its members included the great officers in the king’s court, the tenants-in-chief (or greater barons), and clergymen including archbishops, bishops and certain abbots. At these meetings, individuals spoke for themselves. However, after Magna Carta there are the first signs of representation when notes are sent to sheriffs, saying “bring four prudent knights from your county”. The term Curia Regis disappeared around this time (1215) and the word Parliament was first used to describe a great council in 1236. The lesser Curia Regis eventually morphed into what we would now know as the Privy Council.

Records and Documents

There was a significant growth in the number of subjects which were addressed in our period. For example, surveys of land and of tenants’ obligations became common. This obviously resulted in an increase in the volume of documentation that was produced. For example, statistics from the bishopric of Chichester show a twenty-fold increase in document production over the period from 1066 to 1220.

At the Royal Chancery there were usually two working scribes in action at any one time in 1100. This increased to four or five by the reign of Henry II. Pipe Rolls, the output from the annual Exchequer audits, were produced in an unbroken sequence from 1156 to 1832.

Copies of outgoing documents from the Chancery, such as charters and letters, were made from 1199, while three copies of legal judgements were produced, one for each party plus an archive copy. These changes are attributed to Hubert Walter who was the king’s Chancellor at the time.

Numerous cartularies were produced from the 10th to the 13th century. A cartulary was a portable volume or roll which contained a transcription of charters / documents concerning the foundation, privileges and legal rights of an institution or family which could travel with the people concerned, thus providing a degree of security.

The Legal System

Courts

As previously mentioned, the Church had its own courts. In addition, there was an array of secular courts:

  • Hundred courts, which had existed in Anglo-Saxon times, handled lesser cases relating to property and wrongdoing. They also performed the six-monthly tithing checks
  • County courts handled property disputes between lords, the majority of serious criminal cases and also passed sentence of outlawry. They had originally met twice a year in Anglo-Saxon times, but this had increased to every 3 or 4 weeks in some places by the 13th century. The 1217 version of Magna Carta stipulated that they should meet no more often than monthly
  • Feudal courts saw lords sitting in judgement over their vassals. They handled cases of petty theft and affray, and they had the right to hang thieves who had been caught red-handed
  • There were also honor courts. An honor was the term used to describe a collection of disparate estates which were held by a tenant-in-chief
  • As previously mentioned, borough courts had extensive civil jurisdiction.

These various courts were interlinked, that is cases could be passed between them.

The king was the ultimate source of justice. His court, the lesser curia regis that we have mentioned, travelled round the country with him. However, it was not a dedicated court of law. Early judges, some of whom were part of the curia, could also be sent out to deal with particular cases.

The Court of Common Pleas originated in 1178 when Henry II assigned five members of his council to hear civil disputes which did not involve the king. The court travelled with the king until after Magna Carta, at which point it came to be based in Westminster. Cases which did involve the king were heard by the King’s Bench.

Assizes and Common Law

Henry II set significant changes in train with the Assize of Clarendon in 1166. This was intended to reduce the power of local magnates which had grown during the period of the Anarchy. Judges who were not required by the King’s Bench were sent out to tour the country to hear the more serious cases. For this purpose the country was split into circuits (groups of counties) and the entire set up was to become known as the assizes system. Circuit judges gradually used laws which had been made by those judges who were travelling with the king, laws that relied heavily on precedent. These national laws replaced local ones and came to be known as the Common Law. Henry also initiated the system whereby 12 local knights settled disputes over land ownership.

Oaths and Ordeals

The use of oaths in cases to establish the truth of a matter is with us today when perjury is regarded as a criminal offence. However, the religious beliefs in medieval times made lying much more serious, as it was considered to be an offence against God, as well as the court. Swearing on the relics of saints was thought to confer an extra degree of truthfulness.

Ordeals were also used to establish the truth, principally in criminal cases. Ordeal by hot iron was where the accused had to hold it while walking a prescribed number of steps. If the wound healed cleanly then the defendant was innocent – Henry II dispensed with this particular ordeal. Ordeal by water was where the defendant was thrown into a pool of water. Somewhat counterintuitively, if he floated then he was guilty and if he sank then he was innocent. Ordeal by water was still being used during the 17th century witch-hunts, but otherwise it was becoming rare. Finally, but less frequently, there was ordeal by combat which was not made illegal until 1819.

Juries

A jury was initially a body of men who took an oath to give a truthful answer to a question that was put to them by an authority. That is, they were witnesses. They were used in civil cases, more commonly called inquests, and were the prototype for the grand jury. From 1215 trial by jury began to be used in criminal cases after the 4th Lateran Council prohibited clerical participation in ordeals. The move from juries being witnesses to acting as adjudicators in trials appears to have been gradual, happening over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries.

Culture

The Written and Spoken Word

With the arrival of the Normans, Latin soon replaced Old English in official documentation, the latter being gradually confined to copies of old texts. The low point for written English probably occurred between 1150 and 1200, after which Middle English began to appear in some literary texts, notably the poem The Owl and the Nightingale in the early 13th century. Little survives of early Middle English literature because a trend was established for such works to be written in French, which would appeal to the upper echelons of society. However, despite this, the majority of literary works in our period were still written in Latin, notably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain which popularised the tales of King Arthur.

With respect to the spoken word, the ordinary people naturally spoke in the vernacular which gradually moved from Old to Middle English. Latin was used in the fields of the Church, justice, administration and education, while royalty and people at the top of society spoke Anglo-Norman French. It is thought that Richard the Lionheart, who spent such little time in England, may not have spoken English at all.

Only a very small number of individuals were trilingual, thus resulting in the need for interpreters and translators. For example, the 1106 inquiry into the rights and privileges of the Church of York was led by five royal justices, all of French birth or ancestry. A jury of twelve local wisemen were called to make a true statement as to the Church’s customs. Ansketel of Bulmer, reeve of the North Riding, acted as the interpreter at the inquest. Similarly, the abbots of Ramsey had an interpreter in their entourage during the first half of the 12th century.

Useful glossaries of terms were produced to help those who were not multilingual, a sort of very rudimentary early French-English dictionary, one might say.

Education and Libraries

It is estimated that there were 30+ schools in the Norman period, and that Latin was the primary subject, typically being taught by a parish priest or other cleric. It was a prerequisite for careers in the Church, government and the legal system. Schools were often attached to cathedrals such as St. Paul’s in London and monasteries like Huntingdon and Dunstable. St. Paul’s controlled teaching in London. With the exception of St. Mary le Bow and St. Martin le Grand, anyone who taught without the permission of Henry, Master of the Schools, was to be excommunicated.

In the field of higher education, Paris and Bologna were the great centres of learning. They were initially called Schools, the term university not coming into use until the 1220s. The trivium was an introductory course which consisted of grammar, rhetoric and logic. The teaching of these subjects actually dates back to Ancient Greece. The quadrivium followed on from the trivium. It comprised arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Some students went on to study law, medicine or theology. Science is notably missing, a situation which existed in European universities for a number of centuries, only appearing in some establishments in the 17th century. It was the Islamic world where the study of science had been evident from the 8th century, and which blossomed through to the 13th century.

Although the first colleges appeared at Oxford and Cambridge in the 12th century, the Continent remained the favoured location for some time, particularly Paris for those who wished to become clerks. Bologna taught Roman Law which was less applicable in England.

Nigel, nephew of Roger of Salisbury (Henry I’s chief minister) was taught at Laon, going on to become royal treasurer and then bishop of Ely. Bishops with a French scholarly training became very common. In 1167 Henry II put a temporary ban on students going to Paris during his spat with Becket who was in exile in France at the time under the protection of King Louis VII.

Libraries were very few in number initially, being mainly confined to Benedictine establishments such as Abingdon and Rochester Cathedral Priory which had both been established in Anglo-Saxon times.

The Economy

The economy was principally agrarian in nature, the first essential being to produce food to eat. Farming had been carried out in small fields, known as Celtic fields, which dated back to the Bronze Age. Two or three of them might fit on to a full-size football pitch. They were gradually replaced in good arable growing areas by large fields (100 acres+) from around the time of Alfred the Great. In the Open Field system, as it was known, a three-crop rotation system was developed: wheat in field one; oats and barley in field two; while field three lay fallow. In addition, there was an area of common waste where livestock may be grazed and turves may be cut for fires.

Open fields were ploughed in long narrow strips, because turning oxen teams was not easy. The strips were divided up into selions which were typically one furlong in length and one chain wide. Each grower would be allocated multiple selions, spread across the field(s) in an attempt to ensure that no one person got all the good (or poor) land.

The production of grain was obviously important for making bread and beer. Weak beer was often drunk instead of water, whose purity could seldom be relied upon.

Fish was plentiful, particularly herring in the North Sea, for those living near the coast. Salt production was an important trade, simply because it was a necessity, not least for its use in preserving meat and fish. It was either mined or made by the use of sea salt-pans. Places with names that have the “wich” suffix are indications of locations where it was mined, e.g. Droitwich, Middlewich, Nantwich and Northwich. Salt-pans could be found along the Lincolnshire and Essex coasts.

Although there is little available information, what there is appears to indicate that England was regarded as the most prosperous area of Western Europe during the late Anglo-Saxon period, despite paying onerous sums of Danegeld to the Vikings. Perhaps this was part of its attraction to William the Conqueror.

Wool was the main export trade, principally to Flanders where it was made into cloth. Apart from Southampton, the most important ports were along the east coast which serviced that trade. Smaller volumes of other trade occurred between the South West and Western France, and between Chester / Bristol and Ireland.

England had modest supplies of metallic ores: iron ore could be found in places such as North East Northamptonshire and the Forest of Dean; lead in Derbyshire, the Mendip Hills and Alston (South Tyne); and tin which was probably the most valuable export from Cornwall and Devon.

Apart from luxury goods which the well-to-do could afford, the most frequently mentioned import is wine. While some came from Germany, the vast majority was shipped in from Western France. Occasionally, grain was imported but only when there were harvest failures. Otherwise, England was self-sufficient and was more likely to export it.

Odds and Sods

Feudalism

Feudalism is a subject which generates much debate (and disagreement) among historians although it is a reasonable way of describing the social hierarchy in Western Europe from the 10th to the 13th century.

Its beginnings go back to the late Roman Empire when large landowners across Western Europe were faced with labour shortages, partly due to a fall in the birth rate. At the same time, small farmers and growers were living in a period of relative insecurity with significant levels of disorder that were attributable to weak government and to barbarian invasions. An arrangement whereby they exchanged their land or freedom and pledged their services, typically labour, to large landowners in return for the latter’s’ protection was mutually beneficial to both parties. This was the beginning of what became known as the manorial system.

Moving on to the 8th century, Charles Martel, the de facto leader of Francia, needed to finance an army to help him with his expansion plans, and to stop the advance of Muslim invaders from Spain (battle of Tours, 732CE). He achieved these aims by granting the rights to tracts of land to his nobles. They could derive an income from this land which they could then partly use to recruit soldiers that Charles could call upon. In this arrangement Charles was the lord and each noble was his vassal, swearing an oath of fealty to him. Charles came to be seen as playing a pivotal role in the subsequent development of feudalism.

Feudal societies arguably date from the 10th century in Western Europe. As the simple diagram indicates, there was a hierarchy with the king at the apex. Nobles who received their land, usually referred to as a fief, directly from the king were called the tenants-in-chief. They were vassals of the king, their lord, providing service to him, usually military service, and swearing an oath of fealty to him. They in turn could grant parts of their holdings to other individuals. Once again, lord-vassal relationships existed between the two parties with the vassals providing services to the lord in return for his protection. The diagram shows knights being vassals to the nobles who granted them land, typically one or more manors, and finally there are free and unfree men at the base of the pyramid. Knights would typically provide military service to their lords while others would provide a percentage of their revenue, either in terms of money or produce. The term “feudalism” was not generally applied to the relationship between peasants and the lord whose land they laboured upon – rather the term “manorialism”  tended to be used.

There is a debate as to when feudalism arrived in England. Some say that the Normans introduced it after 1066, while others hold the view that elements of the system were already in place before they arrived. Ignoring this debate, one undisputed Norman introduction was that the king was the sole landowner. Everybody else in the feudal hierarchy was a landholder. This meant, among other things, that when a noble died with no heir, his land would revert to the monarch.

As an aside – the pope is shown at the apex of the feudal hierarchy in some diagrams. This is an indication that on certain occasions a ruler accepted that he held his realm as a fief from the pope, and did homage to him as his liege lord. In England, king John did just this in 1213 to end his quarrel with the pope over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, during which he had been excommunicated.

Feudalism slowly began to decline from the 13th century with an increasing use of money in transactions rather than service. Scutage, as it was called, was money paid by a vassal to his lord in lieu of the provision of service. Similarly, the monarch could distribute money rather than land when rewarding his faithful followers. Feudalism was eventually abolished in England with the Tenures Abolition Act of 1660.

Magna Carta

King John’s general unpopularity with the barons was arguably exacerbated by the taxes which he levied in his attempts to regain Normandy after he lost it in 1204, especially as they failed with the defeat of his forces at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, after which he was forced to pay reparations.

He was also in conflict with the Church, notably with the pope over the appointment of the archbishop of Canterbury.

With the looming threat of rebellion, he was compelled to agree to Magna Carta, a document which was signed at Runnymede in 1215. In essence, it sought to: protect the rights of the Church; prevent the illegal imprisonment of barons; provide swift access to justice; and limit feudal payments to the Crown.

However, although Magna Carta has always been associated with Runnymede and 1215, neither side actually adhered to its contents, and in fact Pope Innocent III annulled it, leading to the First Barons’ War (1215-17). After John’s death in 1216, the regency government of young Henry III re-issued it, removing some of its more radical content. This document formed part of the peace settlement at the conclusion of the war.

The Great Charter, as it is sometimes known, was re-issued by Henry III in 1225, and again by Edward I in 1297. The later version is still on the statute book although most of the articles have been repealed. It is reasonably claimed that Magna Carta led to Parliament and to trial by jury.

Although Magna Carta dealt mainly with specific issues between the king and the barons, it acquired a general iconic status in later centuries, influencing America’s founding fathers, among others, when formulating laws concerning the rights of the common man. Its importance to the American legal system was signified when the American Bar Association erected the Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede in 1957.

The Crusades

England did not play a significant role in either the First or Second Crusade. That is to say, while individuals took part, there was no official royal backing. Robert Curthose, the duke of Normandy and the eldest son of William the Conqueror, was one such combatant in the First Crusade.

This changed with Richard the Lionheart’s full-blooded participation in the Third Crusade (1189-92). He put everything in England up for sale to help fund his expedition. For example, he sold the rights to the tidal section of the River Thames – which went up as far as Staines in those days – to the Corporation of London. He also sold sheriffdoms and other offices.

His main success on Crusade was the capture of Acre which had previously been unsuccessfully besieged for almost two years. However, he and his Christian forces were subsequently unable to retake Jerusalem which Saladin had captured in 1187. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Christian state which had been established by Geoffrey of Bouillon in 1099 after the First Crusade, was now confined to a narrow coastal strip, based at Acre.

One important result from the Crusades was the creation of several Catholic military religious orders which were committed to discipline, poverty and celibacy on the one hand, coupled with the violence of the knight on the other. It started with the Knights Hospitaller which was formed by Gerald Thom in 1099 to care for the sick in Jerusalem, subsequently becoming a military religious order with its own papal charter.

It was followed in 1120 by the Knights Templar who were based on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with the task of protecting pilgrims. They became the most successful Christian charity. Hugh de Payns, its first grandmaster, came to England in 1128 to raise money and find recruits. Donations and support soon poured in. Its non-combatant members formed a sophisticated financial structure which is regarded as an early form of banking. By 1185 they had manors or revenues in 32 English counties, and by 1225 there were between 30 and 40 Templar houses across the country, and indeed several hundred across Europe. The Temple Church in London was established in 1185, and the knights had two halls, their modern-day successors being Middle Temple Hall and Inner Temple Hall. The order was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312.

The Medieval Knight

The title of knighthood was first conferred on mounted warriors in Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Knights at this time tended to be violent men. Perhaps, some of them could be described as little better than thugs? Certainly, the Church often opposed the practices of knights because of their abuses against women and civilians. Some individuals, such as St. Bernard, were in fact convinced that they served the devil. Whatever, there was a general call to reform them.

This started in the 12th century with the introduction of a chivalric code, which included the expectation that knights would fight bravely, display military professionalism and show courtesy. This later grew into the values of gentility, nobility and treating others reasonably. The code grew further as time passed and the means of warfare placed less of a reliance on cavalrymen.  

Those who were granted land in return for military service became lords of the manor, and as such they tended to get involved in local and county matters, and possibly being involved in the county court, acting as coroners, tax collectors, et cetera.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

As the heiress to the House of Poitiers, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after becoming duchess of Aquitaine, she married Louis VII of France who she accompanied on the Second Crusade. Fifteen years of marriage produced two daughters but no male heir, and so Louis agreed to the annulment of the marriage, and her lands were restored to her.

This prompted Theobald V, count of Blois and Geoffrey, count of Nantes, to attempt to kidnap and marry her in a bid to obtain possession of her lands. She contacted Henry of Anjou, who was to become Henry II of England in 1154, asking him to come immediately and marry her. This he did. They were married at Whitsun in 1152, just 8 weeks after the annulment of her marriage to Louis.

She subsequently bore Henry 5 sons and 3 daughters, but the marriage gradually failed, not helped by Henry’s consistent unfaithfulness, notably with the Fair Rosamund, a renowned beauty of the day. It appears that Eleanor and Henry were separated from 1167 to 1173 with Eleanor living in Poitiers. She subsequently conspired with her sons to overthrow Henry in the revolt of 1173-74. It failed, and Henry captured Eleanor and sent her to England where she was put under house arrest until his death in 1189.

Eleanor subsequently acted as regent in England while Richard, arguable her favourite son, was away at the Third Crusade. She lived until 1204, well into the reign of John, one of her other sons. She is buried at Fontevraud Abbey, next to Henry II and close to Richard the Lionheart and his wife.

As an aside – The Lion in Winter, originally a play, was turned into a film in 1967. Set at Chinon over Christmas 1184, it starred Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Kathrine Hepburn as Eleanor. While there are historical inaccuracies – there was a Christmas court at Caen in 1183 but not at Chinon in the following year – the film does accurately portray the troubles between Henry and his scheming family.

Development of the English Language

From the 5th century onwards Old English had developed from North Sea Germanic, Norse and Celtic. After the Conquest, Anglo-Norman French, an amalgam of languages including Old Norman French, gradually appeared in England. It was principally to be found in literary works and in administrative documents. It is unclear to what degree it was actually spoken, probably just in the higher echelons of society.

Early Middle English (c. 1150-1350) was based on Old English with additions from Old Norse and Anglo-Norman French plus some Latin-derived words. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was written in Middle English in the late 14th century. This was followed by Late Middle English (c. 1350-1540). Chancery Standard English (c. 1430) began to be used in official documents, gradually replacing Anglo-Norman French.  

Early Modern English began to make an appearance with the introduction of Caxton’s printing press in the 1470s.

Historians of the Period

The works of a number of chroniclers from this period are used by modern historians as part of their primary sources. The following are noted in chronological order.

Orderic Vitalis (1075-1142) was a Benedictine monk. He was born in Shropshire and became a monk at the abbey of Saint-Evroul in Normandy. He is renowned for his Historia Ecclesiastica, and is regarded by historians as a reliable source.

William of Malmesbury (1095-1143) was another Benedictine monk. He was born in Wiltshire of a Norman father and an English mother. He spent his adult life at the abbey of Malmesbury. He is regarded as the foremost English historian of the 12th century. His works included Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops) and Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of the English).

Gerald of Wales (1146 -1223) was a royal clerk to Henry II and two archbishops. He travelled widely in this role and was a prolific writer. He is particularly noted for works on Wales and Ireland.

Matthew Paris (1200-1259) was yet another Benedictine monk who was largely based at the abbey of St. Albans. He was a renowned writer, illustrator and cartographer. His works included Chronica Majora and Historia Anglorum.

Glossary of Terms

I started off by compiling a brief glossary of medieval terms. However, I then located superior offerings. I therefore point you in the direction of said glossaries on the historyofengland and scriptorium websites.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Books are listed according to how much I have used them, i.e. the most-used work is at the top of the list.

Bartlett, R., England under the Norman and Angevin Kings: 1075-1225 (new Oxford History of England), 2003

Clanchy, M.T., England and Its Rulers:1066-1307  (Blackwell Classic Histories of England), 4th edition, Wiley Blackwell, 2014

Weir, A., Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God Queen of England, Vintage, 2007

Knowles, D., The Monastic Order in England, Cambridge University Press, 1940

Links

Aftermath of the Norman Conquest

Harrying of the North
Revolt of the Earls
Motte-and-bailey Castle
Domesday Book Online

Rulers

William the Conqueror
William Rufus
Henry I
Stephen
Henry II
Richard I
John

Feudal Society

Feudalism
Baron
Medieval Knight

Places

Hundred
Sheriff in Norman Times

Church

History of the Church of England
The Church in Norman England
Lanfranc
Thomas Becket
History of Monasticism
Celibacy
Simony
Ecclesiastical Court

Royal Offices

The Exchequer
The Chancery
Curia Regis

Legal System

History of the Judiciary
History of Trial by Jury

Language

Old English
Anglo-Norman French
Middle English

Culture

Medieval University
Medieval Monastic Libraries

Economy

Open Field System

Odds and Sods

Magna Carta
The Third Crusade
The Knights Templar
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Orderic Vitalis
William of Malmesbury
Gerald of Wales
Matthew Paris

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Peter Jackson and Janet King for reading and commenting on the initial drafts.

I have located the various images in this potted history on the Internet. Captions typically contain links to information on the source / attribution of each image. Please contact me if you consider that I have infringed any copyright.

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Version History

Version 0.1 – September 28th, 2020 – very drafty
Version 0.2 – October 2nd, 2020 – less drafty
Version 1.0 – October 6th, 2020.