Chapter 4

S. A. Reilly

The Times: 1066-1100

William came from Normandy to conquer the nation. He claimed that the former King, Edward, the Confessor, had promised the throne to him when they were growing up together in Normandy if Edward became King of England and had no children. William's men and horses came in boats powered by oars and sails. The conquest did not take long because of the superiority of his military expertise to that of the English. He organized his army into three groups: archers with bows and arrows, horsemen with swords and stirrups, and footmen with hand weapons. Each group played a specific role in a strategy planned in advance. The English army was only composed of footmen with hand weapons and shields and was inexperienced.

Declaring the English who fought against him to be traitors, William declared their land confiscated. As William conquered this land, he parceled it out among the barons who fought with him. They again made oaths of personal loyalty to him [fealty]. They agreed to hold the land as his vassals with future military services to him and receipt of his protection. They gave him homage by placing their hands within his and saying "I become your man for the tenement I hold of you, and I will bear you faith in life and member [limb] and earthly honor against all men". They held their land "of their lord", the King, by knight's service. The King had "enfeoffed" them [given them a fief: a source of income] with land. The theory that by right all land was the King's and that land was held by others only at his gift and in return for specified service was new to English thought.

The Saxon governing class was destroyed. The independent power of earls, who had been drawn from three great family houses, was curtailed. Most died or fled the country. The people were deprived of their most popular leaders, who were excluded from all positions of trust and profit, especially the clergy of all degrees.

William was a stern and fierce man and ruled as an autocrat by terror. Whenever the people revolted or resisted his mandates, he seized their lands or destroyed the crops and laid waste the countryside and so that they starved to death. He had a strict system of policing the nation. Instead of the Anglo-Saxon self- government throughout the districts and hundreds of resident authorities in local courts, he aimed at substituting for it the absolute rule of the barons under military rule so favorable to the centralizing power of the Crown. He used secret police and spies and the terrorism this system involved. This especially curbed the minor barons and preserved the public peace.

The English people were disarmed. Curfew bells were rung at 7:00 PM when everyone had to remain in their own dwellings on pain of death and all fires and candles were to be put out, This prevented any nightly gatherings, assassinations, or seditions. Order was brought to the kingdom so that no man dare kill another, no matter how great the injury he had received. William extended the King's peace on high roads to include the whole nation. Any individual of any rank could travel from end to end of the land unharmed. Before, prudent travelers would travel only in groups of twenty.

The barons subjugated the English who were on their newly acquired land. There began a hierarchy of seisin [rightful occupation] of land so that there could be no land without its lord. Also, every lord had a superior lord with the King as the overlord or supreme landlord. One piece of land may be held by several tenures. For instance, A, holding by barons's service of the King, may enfeoff B, a church, to hold of him on the terms of praying for the souls of his ancestors, and B may enfeoff a freeman C to hold of the church by giving it a certain percentage of his crops every year. There were about 200 barons who held land directly of the King. Other fighting men were the knights, who were tenants or subtenants of a baron. Knighthood began as a reward for valor on the field of battle by the King or a noble. Altogether there were about 5000 fighting men holding land.

The essence of Norman feudalism was that the land remained under the lord, whatever the vassal might do. The lord had the duty to defend the vassals on his land. The vassal owed military service to the lord and also the service of attending the courts of the hundred and the shire, which were courts of the King, administering old customary law. They were the King's courts on the principle that a crime anywhere was a breach of the King's peace.

This feudal bond based on occupancy of land rather than on personal ties was uniform throughout the realm. No longer could a man choose his lord and transfer his land with him to a new lord. He held his land at the will of his lord, to be terminated anytime the lord decided to do so. In later eras, tenancies would be held for the life of the tenant, and even later, for his life and those of his heirs.

This uniformity of land organization plus the new requirement of every freeman to take an oath of loyalty directly to the King that would supersede any oath to any other man gave the nation a new unity.

English villani, bordarii, cottarii, and servi on the land of the barons were subjugated into a condition of "villeinage" servitude and became "tied to the land" so that they could not leave the land without their lord's permission. The villeins formed a new bottom class as the population's percentage of slaves declined dramatically. They held their land of their lord, the baron. To guard against uprisings of the conquered people, the barons used villein labor to build about a hundred great stone castles, with moats and walls with towers around them, at easily defensible positions such as hilltops all over the nation.

A castle could be built only with permission of the King. A typical castle had a stone building of about four floors on a small, steep hill. Later it also had an open area surrounded by a stone wall with towers at the corners. Around the wall were ditches and banks and perhaps a moat. One traveled over these via a drawbridge let down at the gatehouse of the enclosing wall. On either side of the gatehouse were chambers for the guards. Arrows could be shot through slits in the enclosing walls. Inside the enclosed area might be stables, a granary, barracks for the soldiers, and workshops.

The castle building was entered by an outer wood staircase to the guard room on the second floor. The first floor had a well and was used as a storehouse and/or dungeons for prisoners. The second floor had a two-storied great hall, with small rooms and aisles around it within the thick walls. There was also a chapel area on the second floor. There were small areas of the third floor which could be used for sleeping. The floors were wood and were reached by a spiral stone staircase in one corner of the building. Sometimes there was a reservoir of water on an upper level with pipes carrying the water to floors below. Each floor had a fireplace with a slanted flue going through the wall to the outside. There were toilets in the walls with a pit or shaft down the exterior of the wall. The first floor had only arrow slits in the walls, but the higher floors had small windows.

The great hall was the main room of the castle. It was used for meals and meetings at which the lord received homages, recovered fees, and held the view of frankpledge. At the main table, the lord and his lady sat on chairs. Everyone else sat on benches at trestle tables, which could be folded up, e.g. at night. Lighting was by oil lamps or candles on stands or on wall fixtures. The residence of the lord's family and guests was at a screened off area at the extreme end of the hall or on a higher floor. Chests stored garments and jewels. Iron keys and locks were used for chests and doors. The great bed had a wooden frame and springs made of interlaced rope or strips of leather. It was covered with a feather mattress, sheets, quilts, fur covers, and pillows. Drapery around the bed kept out cold drafts and provided privacy. There was a water bowl for washing in the morning. A chamber pot was kept under the bed for nighttime use. Hay was used as toilet paper. The lord's personal servants slept nearby on benches or trundle beds. The floor of the hall was strewn with straw, on which common folk could sleep at night. There were stools on which to sit. Cup boards (boards on which to store cups) and chests stored spices and plate. Cooking was done outside on an open fire, roasting on spits and boiling in post. One-piece iron shears were available to cut cloth. Hand held spindles were used for weaving. On the roof there were rampart walks for sentry patrols and parapets from which to shoot arrows or throw things at besiegers. Each tenant of the demesne of the King where he had a castle had to perform a certain amount of castle-guard duty for its continuing defense. These knights performing castle- guard duty slept at their posts. Bathing was done in a wooden tub located in the garden in the summer and indoors near the fire in winter. The great bed and tub for bathing were taken on trips with the lord.

Markets grew up outside castle walls. Any trade on a lord's land was subject to "passage", a payment on goods passing through, "stallage", a payment for setting up a stall or booth in a market, and "pontage", a payment for taking goods across a bridge.

The Norman man was clean-shaven and wore his hair short. He wore a long-sleeved under-tunic of linen or wool that reached to his ankles. Over this the Norman noble wore a tunic without sleeves, open at the sides, and fastened with a belt. Over one shoulder was his cloak, which was fastened on the opposite shoulder by being drawn through a ring brooch and knotted. He wore thick cloth stockings and leather shoes. Common men wore tunics to the knee so as not to impede them in their work. They could roll up their stockings when working in the fields. A lady also wore a long-sleeved linen or wool tunic fitted at the waist and laced at the side, but full in the skirt. She wore a jeweled belt, passed twice around her waist and knotted in front. Her hair was often in two long braids, and her head covered with a white round cloth held in place by a metal circlet like a small crown. Over her tunic was a cloak fastened at the front with a cord. The Norman knight wore an over-tunic of leather or heavy linen on which were sewn flat rings or iron and a conical iron helmet with nose cover. He wore a sword at his waist and a metal shield on his back, or he wore his sword and his accompanying retainers carried spear and shield.

Norman customs were adopted by the nation. As a whole, Anglo-Saxon men shaved their beards and whiskers from their faces, but they kept their custom of long hair flowing from their heads. But a few kept their whiskers and beards in protest of the Normans. Everyone had a permanent surname indicating parentage, place of birth, or residence, such as Field, Pitt, Lane, Bridge, Ford, Stone, Burn, Church, Hill, Brook, Green. Other names came from occupations such as Shepherd, Carter, Parker, Fowler, Hunter, Forester, Smith. Still other came from personal characteristics such as Black, Brown, and White, Short, Round, and Long. Some took their names from animals such as Wolf, Fox, Lamb, Bull, Hogg, Sparrow, Crow, and Swan. Others were called after the men they served, such as King, Bishop, Abbot, Prior, Knight. A man's surname was passed on to his son.

The Normans washed their hands before and after meals and ate with their fingers. Feasts were stately occasions with costly tables and splendid apparel. There were practical jokes, innocent frolics, and witty verbal debating with repartee.

Those few coerls whose land was not taken by a baron remained free and held their land "in socage" and became known as sokemen.

Great stone cathedrals were built in fortified towns for William's Norman bishops, who replaced the English bishops. Most of the existing and new monasteries functioned as training grounds for scholars, bishops, and statesmen rather than as retreats from the world's problems to the security of religious observance. The number of monks grew as the best minds were recruited into the monasteries.

William made the church subordinate to him. Bishops were elected only subject to the King's consent. Homage was exacted from them. William imposed knight's service on bishoprics, abbeys, and monasteries, which was commuted to a monetary amount. Bishops had to attend the King's court. Bishops could not leave the realm without the King's consent. No royal tenant or royal servant could be excommunicated, nor his lands be placed under interdict, without the King's consent. Interdict could demand, for instance, that the church be closed and the dead buried in unconsecrated ground. No church rules could be made without his agreement to their terms. No letters from the Pope could be received without the King's permission.

Men continued to give land to the church for their souls, such as this grant which started the town of Sandwich: "William, King of the English, to Lanfranc the Archbishop and Hugoni de Montfort and Richard son of Earl Gilbert and Haimo the sheriff and all the thegns of Kent, French and English, greeting. Know ye that the Bishop of Bayeux my brother for the love of God and for the salvation of my soul and his own, has given to St. Trinity all houses with their appurtances which he has at Sandwich and that he has given what he has given by my license."

When the land was all divided out, the barons had about 3/7 of it and the church 2/7. The King retained 2/7, including forests for hunting, for himself and his household, on which he built many royal castles and hundreds of manor houses throughout the nation. He built the White Tower in London. He and his household slept on the upper floors and there was a chapel on the second floor and a dungeon below the first floor for prisoners. The other castles were often built at the old fortification burhs of Alfred. Barons and earls had castle-guard duty in them. William was constantly moving about the land from castle to castle, where he entertained his magnates and conducted public business, such as deciding disputes about holding of land. Near these castles and other of his property, he designated many areas as royal hunting forests. Anyone who killed a deer in these forests was mutilated, for instance by blinding. People living within the boundaries of the designated forestland could no longer go into nearby woods to get meat or honey, dead wood for firing, or live wood for building. Swineherds could no longer drive pigs into these woods to eat acorns they beat down from oak trees. Making clearings and grazing livestock in the designated forestland were prohibited. Most of the nation was either wooded or bog at this time.

London was a walled town of one and two story houses made of mud, twigs, and straw, with thatched roofs. There were churches, a goods market, a fish market, quays on the river, and a bridge over the river. Streets probably named by this time include Bread Street, Milk Street, Honey Lane, Wood Street, and Ironmonger Lane. Fairs and games were held outside the town walls in a field called "Smithfield". The freemen were a small percentage of London's population. There was a butchers' guild, a pepperers' guild, a goldsmiths' guild, the guild of St. Lazarus, which was probably a leper charity, the Pilgrims' guild, which helped people going on pilgrimages, and four bridge guilds, probably for keeping the wooden London Bridge in repair. Men told the time by sundials, some of which were portable and could be carried in one's pocket. London could defend itself, and a ringing of the bell of St. Paul's Church could shut every shop and fill the streets with armed horsemen and soldiers led by a soldier port-reeve.

William did not interfere with landholding in London, but recognized it's independence as a borough in this writ: "William the King greets William, Bishop of London, and Gosfrith the portreeve, and all the burgesses of London friendly. Know that I will that you be worthy of all the laws you were worthy of in the time of King Edward. And I will that every child shall be his father's heir after his father's day. And I will not suffer any man to do you wrong. God preserve you."

So London was not subjected to the Norman feudal system. It had neither villeins nor slaves. Whenever Kings asserted authority over it, the citizens reacted until the King "granted" a charter reaffirming the freedoms of the city and its independence.

William's reign was a time of tentative expedients and simple solutions. He administered by issuing writs with commands or prohibitions. These were read aloud by the sheriffs in the county courts and other locations. Administration was by the personal servants of his royal household, such as the Chancellor, steward, butler, chamberlain, and constable. The constable was in charge of the knights of the royal household. Under pressure from the ecclesiastical judges, William replaced the death penalty by that of the mutilation of blinding, chopping off hands, and castrating offenders. Castration was the punishment for rape. But these mutilations usually led to a slow death by gangrene.

The Normans used the Anglo-Saxon concepts of jurisdictional powers. Thus when William confirmed "customs" to the abbot of Ely, these were understood to include the following: 1) sac and soke - the right to hold a court of private jurisdiction and enjoy its profits, 2) toll - a payment in towns, markets, and fairs for goods and chattel bought and sold, 3) team - persons might be vouched to warranty in the court, the grant of which made a court capable of hearing suits arising from the transfer of land, 4) infangenthef - right of trying and executing thieves on one's land, 4) hamsocne, 5) grithbrice - violation of the grantees' special peace, for instance that of the sheriff, 6) fihtwite - fine for a general breach of the peace, 7) fyrdwite - fine for failure to appear in the fyrd [national militia].

Every shire had at least one burh, or defensible town. Kings had appointed a royal moneyer in each to mint silver coins for local use. On one side was the King's head in profile and on the other side was the name of the moneyer. When a new coinage was issued, all moneyers had to go to London to get the new dies. William's head faced frontally on his dies, instead of the usual profile used by former Kings.

William held and presided over his council three times a year, as was the custom, at Easter, Christmas, and Whitsuntide. This was an advisory council and consisted of earls, greater barons, officers of the King's household, archbishops, and bishops. It's functions were largely ceremonial. William's will was the motive force which under lay all its action. When it was administering royal justice, it was called the Royal Court. The justiciar was the head of all legal matters and represented the King in his absence from the realm. The Treasurer was responsible for the collection and distribution of revenue. The Chancellor headed the Chancery and the chapel.

Sheriffs became powerful figures as the primary agents for enforcing royal edicts. They collected the royal taxes, executed royal justice, and presided over and controlled the hundred and shire courts. They also took part in the keeping of castles and often managed the estates of the King. Most royal writs were addressed to the sheriff and shire courts. They also led the shire militia in time of war or rebellion.

Royal income came from customary dues, profits of coinage and of justice, and revenues from the King's own estates. For war, a man with five hides of land was required to furnish one heavy-armed horseman for forty days service in a year. A threat of a Viking invasion caused William to reinstitute the danegeld tax. To impose this uniformly, he sent commissioners to conduct surveys by sworn verdicts of appointed groups of local men. A detailed survey of land holdings and the productive worth of each was made in 1086. The English called it the "Doomsday Book" because there was no appeal from it.

The survey revealed, for instance, that one estate had "on the home farm five plough teams: there are also 25 villeins and 6 cotters with 14 teams among them. There is a mill worth 2s. a year and one fishery, a church and four acres of meadow, wood for 150 pigs and two stone quarries, each worth 2s. a year, and two nests of hawks in the wood and 10 slaves." This estate was deemed to be worth 480s. a year.

Laxton "had 2 carucates of land [assessed] to the geld. [There is] land for 6 ploughs. There Walter, a man of [the lord] Geoffrey Alselin's has 1 plough and 22 villeins and 7 bordars [a bordar had a cottage and a small amount land in return for supplying small provisions to his lord] having 5 ploughs and 5 serfs and 1 female serf and 40 acres of meadow. Wood [land] for pannage [foraging by pigs] 1 league in length and half a league in breadth. In King Edward's time it was worth 9 pounds; now [it is worth] 6 pounds."

Ilbert de Laci has now this land, where he has twelve ploughs in the demesne; and forty-eight villani, and twelve bordars with fifteen ploughs, and three churches and three priests, and three mills of ten shillings. Wood pastures two miles long, and one broad. The whole manor five miles long and two broad. Value in King Edward's time sixteen pounds, the same now.

That manor of the town of Coventry which was individually held was that of the Countess of Coventry, who was the wife of the earl of Mercia. "The Countess held in Coventry. There are 5 hides. The arable land employs 20 ploughs. In the demesne lands there are 3 ploughs and 7 ploughs. In the demesne lands there are 3 ploughs and 7 bondmen. There are 50 villeins and 12 bordars with 20 ploughs. The mill there pay[s] 3 shillings. The woodlands are 2 miles long and the same broad. In King Edward's time and afterwards, it was worth 22 pounds [440 s.], now only 11 pounds by weight. These lands of the Countess Godiva Nicholas holds to farm of the King."

The survey shows a few manors and monasteries owned a salt-house or salt-pit in the local saltworks, from which they were entitled to obtain salt.

This survey resulted in the first national tax system of about 6s. per hide of land.

The survey also provided William with a summary of customs of areas. For instance, in Oxfordshire, "Anyone breaking the King's peace given under his hand and seal to the extent of committing homicide shall be at the King's mercy in respect of his life and members. That is if he be captured. And if he cannot be captured, he shall be considered as an outlaw, and anyone who kills him shall have all his possessions. The King shall take the possessions of any stranger who has elected to live in Oxford and who dies in possession of a house in that town, and without any kinfolk. The King shall be entitled to the body and the possessions of any man who kills another within his own court or house excepting always the dower of his wife, if he has a wife who has received dower.

The courts of the King and barons became schools of chivalry wherein seven year old noble boys became as pages or valets, wore a dagger and waited upon the ladies of the household. At age fourteen, they were advanced to squires and admitted into more familiar association with the knights and ladies of the court. They perfected their skills in dancing, riding, fencing, hawking, hunting and jousting. Before knighthood, they played team sports in which one team tried to put the other team to rout. A knight usually selected a wife from the court at which he grew up.

These incidents of land tenure began (but were not firmly established until the reign of Henry II). Each tenant, whether baron or subtenant, had to pay an "aid" in money for ransom if his lord was captured in war, for the knighthood of his lord's eldest son, and for the marriage of his lord's eldest daughter. Land could be held by an heir only if he could fight. The eldest son began to succeed to the whole of the lands in all military tenures. An heir of a tenant had to pay a heavy "relief" on succession to his estate. If there was a delay in proving heirship or paying relief, the lord would hold the land and receive its income in the meantime, often a year. If an heir was still a minor or female, he or she passed into his lord's wardship, in which the lord had guardianship of the heir and possession of the estate, with all its profits. A female heir was expected to marry a man acceptable to the lord. The estate of an heiress and her land was generally sold to the highest bidder. If there were no heirs, the land escheated to the lord. If a tenant committed felony, his land escheated to his lord.

Astrologers resided with the families of the barons. People went to fortune tellers' shops. There was horse racing, steeple races, and chess for recreation. Girls had dolls; boys had toy soldiers, spinning tops, toy horses, ships, and wooden models.

The state of medicine is indicated by this medical advice brought to the nation by William's son after treatment on the continent:

"If thou would have health and vigor Shun cares and avoid anger.
Be temperate in eating And in the use of wine. After a heavy meal
Rise and take the air Sleep not with an overloaded stomach And
above all thou must Respond to Nature when she calls."

Many free sokemen were caught up in the subjugation by baron landlords and were reduced almost to the condition of the unfree villein. The services they performed for their lords were often indistinguishable. They might also hold their land by villein tenure, although free as a person with the legal rights of a free man. The free man still had a place in court proceedings which the unfree villein did not.

William allowed Jewish traders to follow him from Normandy and settle in separate sections of the main towns. They loaned money for the building of castles and cathedrals. Christians were not allowed by the church to engage in this usury. The Jews could not become citizens nor could they have standing in the local courts. Instead, a royal justiciar secured justice for them. The Jews could practice their own religion. Only Jews could wear yellow.

William was succeeded as King by his son William II, who imposed on many of the customs of the nation to get more money for himself.

The Law

The Norman conquerors brought no written law, but affirmed the laws of the nation. Two they especially enforced were:

Anyone caught in the act of digging up the King's road, felling a tree across it, or attacking someone so that his blood spilled on it shall pay a fine to the King.

All freemen shall have a surety who would hand him over to justice for his offenses or pay the damages or fines due. Also, the entire hundred was the ultimate surety for murder and would have to pay a "murdrum" fine.

William made these decrees:

No cattle shall be sold except in towns and before three witnesses.

For the sale of ancient chattels, there must be a surety and a warrantor.

No man shall be sold over the sea. (This ended the slave trade at the port of Bristol.)

The death penalty for persons tried by court is abolished.

Judicial Procedure

"Ecclesiastical" courts were created for bishops to preside over issues concerning the cure of souls and criminal cases in which the ordeal was used. When William did not preside over this court, an appeal could be made to him.

The hundred and shire courts now sat without a bishop and handled only "civil" cases. They were conducted by the King's own appointed sheriff. Only freemen and not bound villeins had standing in this court.

William held court or sent the justiciar or commissioners to hold his Royal Court [Curia Regis] in the various districts. The commissioner appointed groups of local men to give a collective verdict upon oath for each trial he conducted. A person could spend months trying to catch up with the Royal Court to present a case.

William allowed, on an ad hoc basis, certain high-level people such as bishops and abbots and those who made a large payment, to have land disputes decided by an inquiry of recognitors.

A dispute between a Norman and an English man over land or a criminal act could be decided by trial by battle. Each combatant first swore to the truth of his cause and undertook to prove by his body the truth of his cause by making the other surrender by crying "craven" [craving forgiveness]. The combatants used weapons like pick-axes and shields. Presumably the man in the wrong would not fight as well because he was burdened with a guilty conscience. Although this trial was thought to reflect God's will, it favored the physically fit and adept person.

London had its own traditions. All London citizens met at its folkmoot, which was held three times a year to determine its public officers, to raise matters of public concern, and to make ordinances. It's criminal court had the power of outlawry as did the shire courts. Trade, land, and other civil issues were dealt with by the Hustings Court, which met every Monday in the Guildhall. The city was divided into wards, each of which was under the charge of an elected alderman [elder man]. (This was not a popular election.) The aldermen had special knowledge of the law and a duty to declare it at the Hustings Court. Each alderman also conducted wardmoots in his ward and decided criminal and civil issues between its residents. Within the wards were the guilds of the city.

William made the hundred responsible for paying a murder fine for the murder of any of his men, if the murderer was not apprehended by his lord within a few days. The reaction to this was that the murderer mutilated the corpse to make identification of nationality impossible. So William ordered that every murder victim was assumed to be Norman unless proven English. This began a court custom in murder cases of first proving the victim to be English.

The Royal Court decided this case: "At length both parties were summoned before the King's court, in which there sat many of the nobles of the land of whom Geoffrey, bishop of Coutances, was delegated by the King's authority as judge of the dispute, with Ranulf the Vicomte, Neel, son of Neel, Robert de Usepont, and many other capable judges who diligently and fully examined the origin of the dispute, and delivered judgment that the mill ought to belong to St. Michael and his monks forever. The most victorious King William approved and confirmed this decision."

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