Eudo Dapifer and his elder brother Ralph

My starting point for this post is Ralph FitzHubert who was one of Wiliam the Conqueror’s tenants in Derbyshire. He made his home at Crich even though the majority of his Derbyshire manors were closer to Chesterfield and he held other estates in Nottinghamshire – Crich was perhaps convenient to access his manors. Crich, with its woodland pasture, was home to the king’s deer – which all belonged to the Crown. So far so good. Ralph is sometimes called Hubert of Ryes because he was the eldest son of the lord of Ryes near Bayeux and in Derbyshire he had six under tenants and was required to put a total of 30 knights in the field in return for all his land holdings.

Rather unexpectedly I found his younger brother was someone I’ve written about before. Ralph’s brother Eudo, who along with his three other brothers and father, arrived in England after 1066. Eudo held extensive lands in ten counties and by 1072 he was the steward or dapifer to the royal household. He was with William the Conqueror in Rouen when he died and he accompanied William II or William Rufus as he’s better known back to England. He continued as dapifer. Basically, he was a very powerful man and he married into a powerful family – his wife was Rohese de Clare.

He is also part of the group of men suspected of having William Rufus assassinated in August 1100. As conspiracy theories go the idea that the de Clares and their extended kinship network gave William’s little brother Henry a helping hand to the throne is not a new one and like all good theories there’s not a lot of evidence kicking around. Nor should it be added that he was ‘heaped with rewards’ if he did play a part in William’s demise (Frank Barlow, p.172).

Dapifer held extensive estates in East Anglia and played an intrinsic part in the building of Colchester Castle. His only child, a daughter called Margaret, was married to William de Mandeville. Eudo was the grandfather of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. After Eudo’s death his estates largely reverted to the Crown – which led to a disagreement between the king and Geoffrey in the matter of who owned Saffron Walden, Sawbridgeworth and Great Waltham. The case was only resolved during the Anarchy when King Stephen granted Geoffrey the estates that he claimed the Crown had taken unlawfully.

All in all, I’m a long way from brother Ralph in Crich. His descendants took on the name FitzRalph and his son Odo FitzRalph of Bunny in Nottinghamshire inherited the lot. However, the estates were broken up by female inheritance. And as a final aside, the place name has nothing to do with bunny rabbits – I was always taught that the Normans introduced rabbits to Britain but it turns out from archaeological finds at Fishbourne Roman palace that it was the Romans and even more amazing it wasn’t lunch – it seems to have been someone’s pet lepus.

Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, (2008)

Warren Hollister, C, ‘The Strange Death of William Rufus’, Speculum, Vol 48. no.4 (Oct 1973), pp.637-653

Hunters and gatherers in Cresswell

Engraved bone depicting a horse, Cresswell Crags,, British Museum

Here we are for the History jar advent calendar 2022 – where did the year go? It’s going to be a bit random this year but I will attempt to sneak something festive into each post – ok very tenuously- which is why we’re starting 800,000 years ago during the Ice Age which is well outside the History Jar’s usual remit.

For much of the ice Age, ice sheets several meters thick covered Derbyshire so people could not live in the area. These ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere – further south the conditions were more akin to the tundra of Siberia. However, as the ice sheets retreated the conditions became sub-Artic or if you want to call it by the right name periglacial. This resulted in very cold winters but milder summers. Occasional finds of flint hand axes show that people hunted in the area.

Thor’s Cave in the Manifold Valley – which is in Staffordshire rather than Derbyshire yielded stone tools, pots and amber beads when it was excavated by the Victorians and again during the 1920s. These finds are thought to come from the end of the Palaeolithic Period.

Even more spectacular are the limestone caves at Creswell Crags on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border which is believed to be among the most northerly of dwelling places during the last Ice Age. Finds included stone arrowheads, woolly mammoth bones, woolly rhinoceros and giant deer bones – yup- all this for giant deer –

Evidence suggests that hunters moved into the caves before the ice sheets advanced south and that the people who lived there were forced south themselves along with the rhinoceros, horse and bison that they hunted. They returned when the ice sheets retreated. Eventually the woolly mammoth and rhinoceros disappeared as the climate grew milder. Hunters relied on deer for their meat and the tools that archeologists have discovered changed as well.

The earliest British art comes from Cresswell Crags – the British Museum is home to a bone discovered here engraved with a drawing of a horse. The walls of Church Hole Cave contain marks that are deer and bison.

Whitaker, P.D. Early Settlement in Derbyshire