The Norman Conquest in 1066? Not Here is Wasn’t.

 I was taught, as I feel you must have been, that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 and our English King Harold was killed by an arrow through his eye, and the Normans Conquered England.  But that is not strictly true…

 Following the Battle of Hastings William the Conqueror went on to occupy all the central and southern counties of our country, but not the north.

 In 1067 William heard that the peoples of the north would stand against him and marched a large Norman Army to occupy Nottingham and Lincoln where he built castles and placed strong garrisons.  He finally took York but here he found it necessary to construct two strong castles and placed extremely strong garrisons in them both.

 When this was discovered a diversion by the English, under the son of Harold, landed a huge army at Bristol and took the city by storm.  But the Normans were made wise to this diversionary tactic, to attract their attention to the west of the country, and continued their campaign to Northumberland where they took Durham.

 The following year there was an uprising in Durham, where the Norman garrison was slaughtered.  Edgar AEtheling, who had been nominated by King Edward the Confessor as heir apparent and proclaimed king after his death, without any other support, marched his army from Scotland to York where the people welcomed him.  But the conqueror gave them little time to arrange a resistance and marched a large army to Yorkshire recapturing the city.  Edgar then had no alternative but to retreat to Scotland, where the king, who was related to him by marriage, gave him shelter.

 In 1069 Edgar AEtheling returned, but this time he was not on his own, he arrived at the spearhead of an invasion.  He brought his army from Scotland to Northumbria where he met with the Earls Waltheof and Gospatric.  Their combined forces then marched on York where they were joined by three sons of King Svein and two Norwegian Jarls that had sailed up the Humber with 240 ships carrying men from Denmark and Norway.  York was stormed, the Norman Castles demolished and hundreds of Normans killed or taken prisoner.

 William’s repose was savage, he matched north with the whole Norman Army, and all the other forces he could gather, and reduced the greater part of Yorkshire to a wilderness.  They practised a ‘Burned Earth Policy’ this was where: every person, which was found, was removed, enslaved, or killed; when a village or town was reached it was reduced to ash; every animal, including the wild ones, were slaughtered; and all the crops burned.  They left nothing behind them but a burned wasteland and for some time the wretched inhabitants, those that were left, struggled against famine, misery, death and a reign of terror.

At William’s coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 he informed the Saxon Dignitaries present that he would respect the Anglo-Saxon people, their laws and customs.  But within a couple of years he had moved to live in Normandy, where he ruled from, disregarded his promises and reduced England to a province ruled by two regents, these being Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother, and Earl William.  The two regents oppressed the English still further and things went from bad to worse.

 For some years Yorkshire, and areas of the north, were battlegrounds fought over by the English, Normans, Danes, and Norwegians and in 1070 Earl Waltheof, at last submitted to the Conqueror.

 Following his submission, disaster for the population of the north came.  In the same year two of the sons of King Svein of Denmark sailed up the Humber with a fleet of ships and an army.  The people, believing that their salvation had arrived, rush out to greet them, but the Danes had come to plunder, and did so until defeated by the Normans.  It was following this devastating act that Edgar AEtheling had no alternative but to submit to Norman rule and was ordered by William to live out his days in his court at Normandy being allowed only the rights William would allow.  But his exit from this country was not that of a broken man, rather the leaving of a proud, valiant, successful, and much loved king.  He was: personally escorted to the court in Normandy by the Sheriff of Yorkshire; he stayed, not in inns or houses as many of the dignitaries did while travelling, but in castles where he and his followers were attended upon and given the best of food, even their horses were given priority stabling; and the populous cheered him along his way.

 But although AEtheling had submitted to Norman rule this did not stop others from continuing the fight and the unrest did not cease until 1100 when a Yorkshire born king was on the throne, this was Henry I, younger son of William the Conqueror.

 As he was born in our county he was held in great affection here, and the people of the north willingly submitted to his rule and later, in the twelfth century they went on to support his daughter Matilda (Maud) and later her son Henry II during the first Civil War.

 How Did This Effect Mexborough and District?

In Yorkshire, and the north of the country, the Normans practised what we would now call genocide leaving areas of Yorkshire looking like a wilderness.  Thomas Baine, in his book ‘Yorkshire Past and Present’ informs us that the ravages of Yorkshire were so extensive that it was still evident, twenty years later, as there was little worth placing in the Doomsday Book, north of the River Humber.  Hunter also states that in the Reign of Edward the Confessor Mexborough was worth £6.00, a considerable amount in those days, but by 1086, when the Doomsday Book was written, its value had fallen to 40s (£2.00).

 This now posses a few questions to the local historian.  Was Mexborough, as it was situated on one of the main roads through the county, ravaged as so many seem to have been?  Also I discovered, some years ago, that Mexborough had a church in Saxon times, prior to the Norman Conquest but that, surprisingly there is no mention of it in the Doomsday Book and assumed that the lack of registration, of our church, in this national survey, was because the church at Mexborough came under the jurisdiction of Conisbrough.  The church now standing, was founded by the Normans in the eleventh century, shortly after the Norman Conquest, and the question is now posed was our original church burned to the ground by a Norman Raid on our town thus necessitating the construction of a new church by them a few years later?

 Information obtained from:

Yorkshire Past and Present by Thomas Baine.

Hunter’s South Yorkshire

Mexborough Trade Directories.


News From the Local History Room


Summer Excursion.

At our last meeting you, the members of Mexborough and District Heritage Society, voted to visit Lichfield on your Summer Excursion.  Details are as follows:

                                                            Adult               Concessions

Friday 18th May 2007.  Lichfield      £10.00            £9.50

To include a guided tour that will be undertaken on foot, and I am assured that it will be undertaken in as gentle a manner as possible, without any steep hills.

 As this excursion is to be undertaken in May the full details of those wishing to attend, and amounts owning, have to be paid to the coach firm by April.  Could all those wishing to attend this excursion please ensure that their seat is paid for within the next few days.

 The internet describes Lichfield as follows:

‘The three spires of Lichfield Cathedral, known as the Ladies of the Vale’, peep above the rooftops of a city whose streets still follow the plan devised by Bishop Roger de Clifton, the cathedral’s Norman founder.  Two small lakes close to the city centre provide walks of a decidedly rural character, though lying only minutes from the busy Market Square.  Nowadays the buildings that line the medieval streets are predominantly Georgian, but this is by no means inappropriate to a city whose extraordinary 18th-century flowing brought forth men such as Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first dictionary, David Garrick, of theatre fame, Daniel Defoe, who wrote of Georgian England and called Lichfield “a place of conversation and good company’.

 Items of Interest in Lichfield:

St. John the Baptist Hospital founded in 1135

Birthplace of Samuel Johnson.  The Dictionary was one of his greatest achievements and his birthplace can be found at the corner of Market Square.

Lichfield Heritage Centre.  St. Mary’s Centre, off Market Street.

The Birthplace of David Garrick

Erasmus Darwin’s House.  The grandfather of Charles Darwin.

Lichfield Cathedral.  Off beacon Street.

Cathedral Close. 

 For the local historian there is a connection with Mexborough and The South Yorkshire Times.  As you may know in its early days the newspaper did not just write and publish the paper but was also a travel agency and sold tickets for certain shipping companies.  As a result, when it sunk in 1912, there were many local people on the Titanic and a statue of its famous Captain Smith who, on that fateful night, tried to save so many people, can be seen in Beacon Park.