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The Norman Conquest
and Following Years

Map of Medieval Townships Value of Medieval Townships in 1066 Value of Medieval Townships in 1086 Owners of Medieval Townships in 1166

The information for the maps was taken from
West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to AD 1500 [4].

In October 1066, William, Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold and his army at Hastings and on Christmas Day, he had himself crowned King of England. Amongst those paying homage to him were some "English" (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) earls, but many northern earls refused to accept him as king and for the next three years defied him.

In 1068 and 1069, the northern earls were in revolt, compelling William to bring his armies north to restore order - known as the "harrying of the north". The chronicler of the day records the devastation wrought by Williams advancing army:

Terrible indeed it was to see the open places and along the roads the bodies of men left to rot on the ground or be eaten by worms for there was none left to bury them; all had been cut off by the sword or famine or through famine had fled from the land ... So terrible was the famine that men ate the flesh of horses, of dogs, of rats, and even of other human beings.

Having achieved victory William granted to his principal followers huge areas of land as reward for their loyalty.

From 1066 onward, the feudal structure of Norman England, was based on the assumption that all lands were in the possession of the king. Then, following the dispossession of the Saxon owners, the land was granted by William to his principal followers, who became tenants-in-chief. The tenants-in-chief held their land by military tenure, each having to provide for the kings service, a fully armed mounted soldier to serve for 40 days each year; known as the "knights fee". Upon the death of a tenant-in-chief, his lands reverted to the king. The king, however, was bound to re-grant the land to the tenant-in-chiefs heir upon the payment of a "relief" [death duty]; tenure of the land was effectively hereditary. If the heir was a minor, the king enjoyed ownership of the land until the minor came of age. If the heir was a girl, the king had the right to marry her to whoever he wished provided that the man was of equal social status; in effect the king controlled the disposal of the land. If a tenant-in-chief died without an heir, the lands reverted to the king, "escheated", for a tenant-in-chief could not will his lands except to an heir without the king's permission and only on payment of a "fine", which was to compensate the king for the loss of relief due at death. Rebellion, committing a serious crime or failing in his feudal duties, were all grounds for the confiscation of a tenant-in-chiefs land and it becoming forfeit to the king.

In turn tenants-in-chief, or "Lords of the Manor", sublet their lands to lesser lords of the manor; "Mesne Lords". They again held their lands on terms of military service and similar conditions of tenure has the tenants-in-chief held their lands of the king. By the mid-1100s military service was replaced totally by a monetary payment, compelling the crown to use mercenaries in time of war.

In 1086 William proceeded to survey his newly-conquered kingdom; known as the Domesday Book. Within its pages we find Ilbert de Lacy, one of 29 tenants-in-chief in Yorkshire. The book also reveals the devastation of northern England inflicted some 17 years previous by its constant reference to "waste" after the names of towns and villages; and closer to home:

As many as 196 places were wholly waste and 71 partly waste, a total of 267 out of 719 places recorded in the text. In other words between 36% and 37% of vills [townships] in the West Riding [of Yorkshire] were wholly or partly waste and this figure is certainly on the conservative side..... [1]

It is in the Domesday Book that we come across the township [vill] of Middleton, situated within the lands of Ilbert de Lacy, within the Honour of Pontefract. Middleton is listed with 4 other townships (and together these were to form, sometime after 1086, the Parish of Rothwell):

In Rodewelle [Rothwell], Loftose [Lofthouse], Carlentone [Carlton], Torp [Thorpe] and Mildetone [Middleton] there are twenty four caracutes and a bovate of land for geld, and twelve ploughs may be there. Haraldr (fourteen caracutes), Baror (seven and a half caracutes), Alric (ten and a half bovates) and Steinulf (ten and a half bovates) had halls there. Now Ilbert has two ploughs there, and sixteen villeins and one bordar with eight ploughs, and one mill of two shillings [annual value] and nine acres of meadow. Wood, pasturable, two leugae in length and two in breadgth. The whole manors two leagae in length and two in breadgth. T.R.E. they were worth 8 pounds, now sixty five shillings." [2]

and the Domesday Book Summary states:

In Rodowelle and Carentone, Locthuse, Torp and Mildentone:-Ilbert 24cara[caracutes]. [3]

By way of explanation: Rothwell includes the townships of Oulton, 3 caracutes and Woodlesford, 3 caracutes. A caracute is a unit of land equal to approximately 120 acres, a bovate being one-eighth of a caracute. Geld was the principal royal tax, while T.R.E. means in the time of King Edward the Confessor (i.e. prior to 1066).

In 1066 then, the five townships together comprised four manors held by four Saxon Theigns (Lords); these Theigns had halls there. Since Lofthouse and Carlton in later years came together to form one township, it is likely that one hall served these two townships. While none of the townships are described as waste, their value had decreased by two thirds.


[1] Derby and Maxwell. Domesday Geography of Northern England.

[2] Skaife. Domesday Book for Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.

[3] Skaife. Domesday Book for Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.

[4] West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to AD 1500. ISBN 0 86181 001 5; West Yorkshire MCC 1981.

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