Tag Archives: The Normans

Eleven Days – from Julian to Gregory

the-melting-watch.jpgI’m about to launch myself into the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 but before that I thought I’d take the opportunity to get my head around the calendar switch that occurred in England in 1752.

Prior to that date in England we followed the Julian Calendar.  The Julian Calendar had a leap year every four years which it turns out is far too many. This system had quite been around since the Romans had been in charge.  The formula for calculating leap years was developed by Julius Caesar (squashed his nose in a lemon squeezer- an unhelpful childhood rhyme) who was trying to reform a system that had somehow got itself approximately three months ahead of what was actually happening to the seasons- unfortunately this meant that in 46 B.C. or B.C.E. the year ran to a whopping 445 days in a bid to get the months synchronised with what the sun was doing.  Unsurprisingly the calendar then took approximately the next forty years for everyone who was using it to be singing from the same ..er..calendar.

Sadly Julius had been advised by a bloke who got his maths ever so slightly wrong to the tune of eleven minutes and 14 seconds per year.  This meant that by the 1500s the dates and the seasons were squiffy once more in that the vernal equinox when the sun shines directly on the equator (the point where day and night are more or less of equal length) was off by ten days which didn’t help if you were trying to work out when to plant your crops.

As a consequence Pope Gregory XIII issued an edict in 1582 declaring that hence forth we should all use a new calendar which made the necessary adjustments and matched the months to the seasons once more. He also decreed that in future a centenary year would not be a leap year unless it was divisible by four hundred. If only it had been that simple.  Sadly the first problem arises for us with the name of the calendar.  It can also be known as the Western Calendar or the Christian Calendar.

This leads us to the second problem that in 1582 not everyone was paying much attention to the edicts of the Pope and some of the Protestant countries actually believed that it was a devious and nasty trick on the part of the papacy. The day after the 4th of October 1582 in Catholic countries such as Spain, Portugal, France and the Vatican was the 15th October 1582 meaning that if historians studying Anglo-Spanish relations between October 1582 and September 1752 want to match dates in the English Archives with those in the Spanish Archives they need to add on ten days increasing to eleven days by the end of the period. Not to do so means that when studying primary materials such as letters it can sometimes appear that replies were sometimes sent from England before the original letter was even penned in Spain or France.

And the third problem was that losing ten days caused riots. Of course by 1752, more time for a leap year every four years had elapsed so the mismatch was even greater than it had been in 1582 so eleven days had to be dropped.  If you’re feeling pedantic and want to calculate the current date on the Julian Calendar you have to knock thirteen days off the Gregorian date now. There was a 1st and 2nd of September 1752 but the next eleven days simply disappeared meaning that you went to bed on the evening of the second and woke up on the 14th of September- which must have been really irritating if you had a birthday during the missing days. Revisionist historians don’t believe that many folk took to the streets demanding their eleven days back but you can imagine the havoc it played with things like pay.

Interestingly the Jacobites seemed to have tried to avoid a date related disaster by dating their cross Channel letters with both dates as do other writers during the calendar mismatch period.

There’s one final difficulty – New Year.  Under the Julian Calendar although the calendar for the year began on the 1st of January just to make life really difficult the actual legal New Year was celebrated on the 25th of March thanks to the Normans. 1752 made it very clear that the start of the year was the start of the year but for reasons beyond my comprehension the financial year  in the United Kingdom still begins on the 6th April (count back eleven!)

 

 

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Rochester Cathedral

DSC_0466.jpgIts that time of year again when my mind turns to teaching.  This term I’m back with Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses; the Norman Conquest and the English Reformation so that should keep me out of mischief for a while, though thankfully Henry’s love life is rather closely bound to the progress of the English Reformation.  Today though I’m sticking with cathedrals: Rochester Cathedral to be specific – it has links with all the courses I have just mentioned one way or another.

In the aftermath of the conquest Rochester found itself in the hands of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Once Lanfranc of Bec was created Archbishop of Canterbury the territory around Rochester was wrested from Odo’s control and given to the newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, who at this stage we could think of as a kind of deputy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that the influence or power lasted very long.

Both the cathedral with its Benedictine abbey and the early castle at Rochester, an important crossing point for the Medway,  were the work of this bishop.  Bishop Gundulf was a Norman appointment well known to Archbishop Lanfranc.  Like Lanfranc, Gundulf was a monk at Bec before being summoned across the Channel to help reform the English Church along Norman lines.  Gundulf turned out to have been a bit of a builder having a hand in the building of the Tower of London as well as the castle and cathedral at Rochester. He began work on Rochester Cathedral in 1080 using imported stone from the quarries at Caen. By 1083 his workmen had started on the nave which still stands despite a fire in 1138 which saw the monks made homeless for a time. The crypt is also a good example of the Romanesque or Norman style of architecture.

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The problem for later Bishops was that the cathedral’s powerful neighbour in Canterbury owned more of the land around Rochester than Rochester did.   Not only was Rochester a cathedral being the seat of the bishop it was also an abbey.  Inevitably with the passage of time there were ructions between the needs of the more worldly bishops and the more inward looking monks and their prior especially when the bishop was not selected from one of their number.

The first instance of this occurred in 1124 when the monks, fearful of their position, did a spot of creative thinking and miraculously discovered some long lost saintly relics and Bishop Gundulf who was by then a saint was remembered in a new book, the contents of which did’t bother unduly with the actual facts. Whilst they were at it, the monks set about creating a dossier of charters and rights that resulted in the monks and the bishops barely being on speaking terms. Nor did it go down well in Canterbury.  Words like forgery were bandied around.

However, the death of Thomas Becket improved the relationship between the monks and the bishops of both Rochester and Canterbury primarily because the monks now discovered that they were on a booming pilgrim route – think of Rochester Abbey as offering a medieval ‘good night guarantee’.

Just when things couldn’t have been more eye-brow raising a pilgrim who’d managed to get all the way to Jerusalem and back without mishap was murdered in Rochester.  William of Perth arrived in 1201, got himself murdered by his servant and then performed a miracle by curing a woman who touched the body.  She was mad before but apparently became completely sane afterwards. William of Perth, a baker by trade, became an overnight success and a saint. The money that accrued from pilgrims flocking to William’s shrine paid for a new gothic east end to the cathedral.

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We’ll move on from King John who looted the cathedral in 1215.  Things went from bad to worse. In 1264 the cathedral and abbey fell victim to England’s civil war with soldiers stabling their horses in the cathedral.

The later monks didn’t seem to have the same inventive spirit of the earlier ones and by the end beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was very badly in debt.  Fortunately Prior Hamo came along and gave the monks and the cathedral a badly needed injection of energy.  He launched a new period of building work in 1320.

There remains one more Bishop of Rochester who is impossible to ignore.  He was executed on Tower Hill in June 1535 for failing to accept the supremacy or the fact of his monarch’s new marriage.  His name was John Fisher. The monks at Rochester had all taken the oath of supremacy in 1534.

The following year Dr Layton arrived to visit the abbey as part of Thomas Cromwell’s Visitation of the Monasteries.  In 1539 the monks of Rochester Abbey were shown the door and then allowed to return as the dean and chapter of six canons of one of Henry VIII’s new cathedrals.

 

Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Greatest English Cathedrals. London: Constable

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of St Andrew, Rochester’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 121-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp121-126 [accessed 17 August 2016].

Edward Hasted, ‘The city and liberty of Rochester: The priory and cathedral church’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 4(Canterbury, 1798), pp. 86-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol4/pp86-110 [accessed 16 August 2016].

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Norman crossword

knigh21066 is a date that most people know.  It marks the Norman conquest of England – though it would have to be said that William had his work cut out in the opening years of his reign putting down rebellions in Exeter, the West Country, the Welsh Marches, Kent and ‘the North’ as has been covered elsewhere win this blog.  The Normans gave us castles, cathedrals  and a new influence on the development of English as well as a new set of people in charge although they used much of the administrative system that was already in place – hence words such as ‘wapentake’ and the shire system.

I’ve actually been working on my ‘Rulers’ page and to celebrate the fact that my brief biography of each monarch is nearing conclusion  (note the key word nearing) I’ve started to create some crosswords to add to some posts.  Open the page by clicking  ‘Rulers’ in the menu bar at the top of the page to read more about the Norman kings of England.

 

In the coming weeks I want to find out about King Stephen’s daughter Mary who became an abbess but was then abducted by a distant cousin and bore him two children before she was allowed to return to a nunnery; Hamelin de Warenne who was Henry II’s half-brother ( so a Plantagenet but married to the widow of King Stephen’s son William)   and also Sybilla who married Robert, William the Conqueror’s eldest son.  Apparently she was poisoned by a love rival.  It reads more like a soap opera than a history blog!

Click on the word ‘puzzle’ to open up the grid.  The clues follow on in the body of this post as I haven’t quite worked how to present them all in a pdf format (no doubt I’ll get there eventually).  The answers are at the bottom of this post.

puzzle

Across

3) Surname of Royal Family that came after the Normans, descended from Matilda.
5) William I defeated which king in order to claim the English crown?
7) William created his half-brother earl of which region?
8) William I’s mother.
10) Name of Henry I’s second wife.
11) King Stephen was created Count of _________ by right of his wife.
13) Henry I’s queen was known as Matilda but what was her real name?
14) The title which Henry’s daughter took when she married Henry V of Germany.
20) City where Henry I was initially crowned following the death of his brother.
23) Daughter of King Stephen who was elected an abbess at this important monastic house. She was abducted from here and forced to marry Matthew of I of Flanders ( another descendent of William the Conqueror).
25) King who usurped the throne from his cousin upon the death of Henry I.
26) Wooded area where William II met with an unfortunate ‘accident’. (3, 6)
27) William I whom we call ‘the Conqueror’ was often known during his life time as William the ______________.
28) Matilda’s son Henry was known as Henry _____________ until he came into the titles of his father and then his mother.
30) The name of King Stephen’s heir who died but not before his father had signed a treaty bypassing his claim to the throne.
31) Place where William I was born.
Down

1) Henry I’s legitimate heir drowned when which vessel sank as it crossed The Channel? (3, 5, 4).
2) Treaty of __________passed over Stephen’s heirs in favour of Matilda’s heirs bring the civil war of the period to a conclusion.
4) The name by which Henry I’s daughter was known during her childhood.
6) William I’s wife was known as Matilda of ______________.
9) Henry I’s illegitimate son Robert was an important baron during the civil war that raged between the king and his cousin. He was the earl of __________.
10) Matilda’s second husband was count of this territory.
12) William I’s half-brother who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry.
15) Nickname given to William II on account of his florid complexion, hair colouring and temper.
16) Yorkshire town where Henry I was born in 1068.
17) Before they became Normans the people who settled in the region that became known as Normandy were known as what?
18) Nickname given to William I’s eldest son.
19) Abbey in Kent favoured for burial by the family of King Stephen. The royal monuments were destroyed during the Reformation.
21) Isabella, the wife and then widow of Stephen’s son William married for a second time. She married Henry II’s illegitimate half-brother who was called what?
22) The name of William I’s eldest son who went on to become Duke of Normandy after his father’s death.
24) The number of Henry I’s children who drowned in the disaster that killed his heir.
29) Stephen’s son William became Earl of this location when he married the daughter of William de Warenne.

puzzle

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Rebellion in the North

Clifford's TowerWilliam faced a rebellion each year for the first five years after his conquest of England in 1066.  The problem for the Saxons was that their uprisings from the West Country to Northumbria via Herefordshire were localised.  There was no one central figure to unify and organise resistance.

Earls Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia were powerful and politically dangerous men.  In part their failure to march south to support King Harold in 1066 had led to his defeat. They’d submitted to William along with Edgar the Atheling in late 1066 at Berkhamstead but they swiftly became dissatisfied with their new lord and rebelled against him in 1068.  It couldn’t have come as much of a surprise to William given that he’d taken them with him to Normandy in 1067 amongst the hostages he demanded. Perhaps it was his suspicions about the northern earls that led to him not promoting a marriage between Edwin and one of his daughters and perhaps (that’s many perhaps’s) it was for this reason that Edwin and Morcar decided to revolt, although it could have been William’s new taxes that did the trick.

In any event, William marched north via Warwick and Nottingham.  Resistance crumbled and the two earls submitted again. There is no evidence that the two men took part in any further uprising in the north.  Edwin managed to get himself killed by his own men in 1071 when he left William’s court once more and headed off towards Scotland.  Morcar took part in the uprising in Ely and ended his days a prisoner of the Normans.

The inhabitants of York seeing which way the wind was blowing in 1068 sent hostages and the keys to the city before William could arrive to express his irritation.  William  did what he always did when he wanted to stamp his authority on an area.  He built a motte and bailey castle in York and left a garrison of five hundred men to guard it.

The north did not remain at peace for long.  In January 1069 William’s man Robert de Commines  was burned to death in the Bishop of Durham’s house by an angry mob who had already slaughtered his men according to the Orderic Vitalis.  The people of York were not slow in getting in on the act.   The garrison withstood the attack. The Victoria County History for York records,  “Edgar and his supporters began an attack on the castle, whence the sheriff William Malet reported to the king that in default of assistance he would be driven to surrender.”

If one castle is good then two must be better!  William had a second castle built (Bailes Hill) which he gave into the care of William Fitz Osbern (the Earl of Hereford) before heading back south to Winchester.

There was a brief third uprising that was swiftly suppressed by Fitz Osbern.

At this point you’d think that the citizens of York would have had enough but in August 1069 King Sweyn of Denmark,  who had formed an alliance with Earl Waltheof of Northumbria, anchored his  fleet of 240 vessels on the Humber. This was a much more sustained and serious attack upon William’s rule.

The Normans facing the combined forces of the Danes and the northerners took refuge in their two new castles.  They attempted to clear a field around the castles by burning the nearby houses.  It has to be said that it doesn’t seem wildly clever to believe that in a city of wood and straw that fire can be controlled.  It certainly wasn’t in this case.  Even the Minster found itself being scorched.  According to Florence of Worcester the town was still burning two days after the initial conflagration.

 

But then again the Normans knew that they were fighting for their lives.  One of the castles sheltered the sheriff’s wife and children.  The slaughter was terrible.  Waltheof  was remembered by later generations in song for slaying Normans one after another with his battle-axe. William of Malmesbury’s account is according to the Cambridge History of English Literature taken from a ‘ballad’ or rather from a professionally worked song written by a Scandinavian scald or storyteller. William’s nice new castles were both destroyed.

Quite what the alliance of Danes and Saxons expected William to do next is unclear.  The Danes took themselves back to their boats with their booty and then set about a spot of ‘viking’ – William found one party of them plundering Lindsey but sent them scuttling back across the Humber.

What followed next wasn’t particularly pleasant if the chroniclers are to be believed and although William kept Christmas on 1069 in York there was little cause for celebration amongst the locals.  However, the North had been put in its place.

Not that their problems were over, far from it.  Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, took the opportunity to do a spot of his own harrying in the summer of 1070 and would return several times more before his death at the Battle of Alnwick.

For a chronology, which remains ongoing – I add dates as I come across them- double click on the picture.

 

 

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Pontefract Castle

DSC_0001Wolsey, on his way back to London in disgrace commented of Pontefract Castle, “Shall I go there, and lie there, and die like a beast?”  Perhaps he was thinking of King Richard II who starved to death in the great fortress.

The Normans built their motte and bailey on the Anglo-Saxon Royal Manor of Tanshelf.  It’s builder was Ilbert de Lacy.  Ilbert and his brother arrived in 1066.  The new Lord of Pontefract had done well out of the conquest and didn’t forget to show his gratitude by making gifts to both Selby Abbey and St Mary’s Abbey in York.  DSC_0004

As the centuries progressed so did the castle until its eight towers dominated the town and the landscape beyond. Edward I described it as ‘the key to the north’.  The de Lacy’s continued to be its custodians until Henry de Lacy  (Earl of Lincoln) lost his male heir when he fell off the battlements in 1310.  His daughter Alice an important heiress was married to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster so it was he who became the next custodian of the castle.  He was Edward II’s cousin and it would be fair to say that they didn’t see eye to eye.  By 1318 Alice and Thomas were separated – possibly because of the fraught political situation of the period or perhaps because they just didn’t like one another.  Alice spent most of her time in Pickering while Thomas lived a bachelor life.  Thomas eventually revolted against his cousin on account of the Despencers, made an alliance with the Scots and then rather unfortunately lost the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.  He was taken back home to Pontefract and unceremoniously executed looking towards Scotland which was the direction of his treachery.  DSC_0021

Eventually the castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt and from there to his son Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV when he usurped his cousin’s throne.  Richard II found himself locked in one of Pontefract;s dungeons and that was the end of him.  Pontefract was now a royal castle and its prisoners reflected its importance and its security.  In 1405, Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York was imprisoned here before his execution.  James I of Scotland spent some time here as an unwilling guest as did the Dukes of Bourbon and Orleans after their capture at Agincourt.  Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury was executed here in 1460 and in 1483 Richard of York had Earl Rivers and Lord Richard Gray imprisoned here and executed – which was one way to reduce the Woodville influence at court but hasn’t reflected well on the man who became Richard III mainly because the two half brothers of the boy king Edward V were executed without trial.

The castle had a grim reputation which is perhaps something that Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s Fifth wife) ought to have reflected upon before she started her affair with Thomas Culpepper during a Royal Progress.DSC_0011

Pontefract Castle’s days of greatness  and terror drew to a close with the English Civil War.  After the Battle of Marston Moor the castle became a Royalist stronghold.  Parliamentry forces besieged it and when it finally fell in 1648 the mayor of Pontefract petitioned on behalf of the townspeople that the castle should be destroyed.  Work began  in April 1649.

Today a few fragments of the castle remain.  The curtain wall encloses a park which hides a grim secret.  Some thirty-five feet beneath the grass there lurks a network of  cellars and magazines which were once Pontefract Castle’s dungeons.

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