Doomsday (1066 – 1086)




Following the invasion by the Normans in 1066, Cheshire had remained under the control of Saxon Earl Edwin. However, in 1069 he took part in the rebellion of the north, laying siege to the King’s forces in Shrewsbury. As punishment for this Cheshire was slighted during the winter of 1069/70. The slighting army moved south from Chester, and completely laid waste the whole area of south Cheshire around Malpas. It moved south through Shropshire and killed the remaining rebels at Shrewsbury. William replaced the Cheshire landlords with his own men, and built a castle at Shrewsbury in 1074. The ‘Harrying of the North’ around Northumbria, York and East Riding had been an act of genocide, with an estimated 100,000 killed. In contrast, the devastation in Cheshire and Shropshire was much more selective, predominantly Edwin’s lands and those freemen that were presumably loyal to him. Whitchurch seems to have been spared completely, probably because it did not take part in the rebellion. The Lordship of Whitchurch had belonged to Earl Harold in 1066, and included many surrounding hamlets. By 1085 this had been broken up into separate lordships and Whitchurch was alone; it included a lot of forest for the rearing of pigs.

In 1085 William the Conqueror commissioned an inventory of England for taxation purposes. It was to have 3 values: (1) at the time of Edward the Confessor in 1066 (2) after the slighting in 1070 (3) its present value in 1086. It was to include all lands that had belonged to the Saxons ‘in living memory’. It is very interesting both for what it does say, and for what it does not say. In Saxon England, the bearing of arms had been permitted by the lowest member of the Ffyrd militia. In the Fuedal Norman hierarchy arms bearing was restricted to certain classes of freemen, not to bondmen. The Marcher counties are unique for listing categories of people not found elsewhere in England. Whilst their duties are unclear, it may be surmised that they were able to bear arms and help defend the counties against Welsh incursion. Radmanni (riders?) had horses to help raise the alarm, and Bovarii (ploughmen?) to defend their teams of oxen from cattle rustlers. The general picture of Cheshire at the time of Domesday is that it was underdeveloped and poor.

The only 3 communities mentioned in Domesday for English Maelor are: Worthenbury, Iscoyd and Bettisfield, which had belonged to Earl Edwin and were slighted. The most northern reach of Shropshire to the south was Ellesmere and Welshampton. Oswestry is not mentioned, only Maesbury and Oswestry hill fort. Settlement appears to be only on the east side of Wats Dyke. Bettisfield was a particularly wealthy community in 1066, so it is possible that this included the area of Bronington and Hanmer. This leaves a gap in the community where there is no reference at all to Bangor-on-Dee, Overton and Penley. There are three possible explanations (1) it was uninhabited, which seems unlikely, (2) it was waste, which again is unlikely because Doomsday would have described it as waste, or (3) in living memory this area had not paid tax to English lords – i.e. it was settled by the Welsh from the kingdom of Powys. It is unlikely that it was the Welsh from Gwynedd, because if so then it would have then been recovered by Earl Harold in 1063. Also, Domesday says of Welsh Maelor that King Edward gave to King Gruffydd all the land beyond the Dee, but when King Gruffydd wronged him he gave it back to the Bishop of Chester and its other former owners.

After the rebellion of 1069 was put down, Mercia ceased to exist as a separate Earldom. The local power seat moved to Chester, and the Earl of Chester.
Areas of Shropshire remained empty waste in 1085, and Shrewsbury had many empty houses. This could have arisen from a variety of causes: attacks by the Welsh, attacks by the rebels, and attacks by the avenging Norman army.

The Viking presence in west and south Cheshire was minimal. Land was measured in Viking Carucates at Hawarden and Handbridge. Taxes were paid in Viking Ora at Worthenbury. But north-eastern Cheshire towards Manchester appears to have a large number of Vikings. Lancashire and modern Cumbria was almost exclusively measured in Viking Carucates.




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