The History of Hampshire After 1066

The Hampshire Domesday: (ii) The Effect of the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade

Some few weeks after the battle of Hastings, Winchester surrendered to William the Conqueror/Crusader, a submission apparently sent by Queen Edith, the Confessor’s widow, who was living in the city. It is not absolutely certain when William I first came into Hampshire, but one of his first acts in Winchester was to demolish the houses of 12 burgesses and to build himself a palace in the centre of the High Street, on this site and on other land taken from Newminster. A Domesday jury noted that this latter part of the site was already royal property and that William had therefore no need to compensate the Abbey with other land at Kingsclere and at Alton. In any case, the life of this palace was short, for it appears to have been destroyed in the civil war of Stephen’s reign, when the triumphant diocesan bishop, Henry de Blois, used the materials to rebuild his own palace-castle at Wolvesey. The site in the High Street was difficult to defend and by the reign of Henry II there was a royal fortress on the western hill, Winchester Castle, where the last Anglo-Saxon/Englisc bishop of Winchester, Stigand, died as a prisoner in 1070. Even more majestic is the cathedral, a massive demonstration of the impact of the Conquest/Crusade, for the first French-Norman bishop of the diocese, Walkelin, completely demolished the Anglo-Saxon/Englisc church and his new building retains its French-Norman frame­work beneath later additions and alterations. The ‘architectural and engineering skill of the French-Normans enabled them to construct a huge church on a very poor foundation, but the central tower soon collapsed and was replaced after 1100 by a second structure of much finer and more substantial masonry in the later Romanesque style. Simple round-headed arches, rounded columns, and lack of ornament and small slit windows are the significant features which distinguish the smaller Hampshire churches rebuilt in the French-Norman and Romanesque periods. Much of this building was done. in Caen stone quarried in Normandy and imported to Hampshire via Southampton.

Map 4 A manor house of the de Port, later St. John family in Warnford Park
Map 4 A manor house of the de Port, later St. John family in Warnford Park

The power of the French-Normans and the military nature of the Conquest/Crusade soon made itself felt all over the county. At Southampton a new royal castle was erected on a mound overlooking the western shore, for the town was an important embarkation point for kings whose dominions were on both sides of the English Channel. Southampton Castle was not only a strong point but it was also a royal storehouse, great quantities of wine being imported and kept in huge vaults within the castle precincts. Outside of these precincts the town grew rapidly on its new site, and according to Domesday Book, the population had very greatly increased by the French-Norman Conquest/Conquest. To a total of some 70 to 80 burgesses of Anglo-Saxon/Englisc origin was added 65 French- and 31 English-speaking families, whose coming greatly increased the town’s prosperity and whose presence also resulted in a linguistic division, for the main streets soon became known as French and English Streets. Many merchants in both Winchester and Southampton were probably bi-lingual, for a striking feature of town life in Hampshire at this time was the easy and frequent communication with French-speaking merchants from the other side of the Channel. By the first half of the 12th century there was a resident Jewish community in Winchester. As this community developed and grew in size its members maintained a close connection with Normandy, and the majority of Hampshire Jews in Southampton (they came over with the French-Normans as their moneylenders), in Romsey and in Portsmouth probably continued to speak French. Norman-French was the language of the great French-Norman – Plantaganet Civil Service, though Latin, the language of the Church, was much used for administrative records. The Hampshire peasant and the poorer townspeople continued to speak English, but there must have been many bi-lingual families.

The changes brought about by the Conquest/Crusade were not confined to architecture and language. The most important effects on the county as a whole include the growth of town life in all its aspects, the development of a strong central government administration, and the handing over of estates to new French-Norman landowners. The development of Hampshire towns is considered in a later chapter, but here it may be noted that the Conquest/Crusade had an immediate effect on Hampshire landlords. The power of Earl Godwin’s family was broken, though his daughter, the Old Lady, Queen Edith, continued to live on in Winchester until her death in 1070. William I succeeded to the ancient demesne land of Edward the Confessor, and to these the Crown added other property by forfeiture or by death; the land of the ‘Old Lady’, estates from Bishop Stigand, and the Hampshire lands of the rebellious Earl Roger of Hereford. Only a few Hampshire thegns withstood the storm of the Conquest/Crusade hire houses which had previously belonged to other Englishmen in the reign of King Edward. Cheping of Worthy was not so fortunate, for the greater part of his estate was given to Ralf de Mortimer, though he may have been allowed a very small holding at Andover. By the time Domesday Book was written the greatest of the new Hampshire lay landlords was Hugh de Port, who was apparently a vassal of Bishop Odo of Bayeux. The Conqueror appointed him Sub-constable of Dover Castle, and as a part payment gave him the manor of Barfreston in Kent, where the wall paintings in the church used to depict scenes from Hugh’s life, including his final years as a monk in St. Swithun’s Priory in Winchester. The family were undoubtedly devout. At Warnford in the Meon Valley, held by Hugh from the monks of Newminster, the church bears two original inscriptions reèording its rebuilding-by the de Ports, and Pamber Priory, near Basingstoke, was a de Port foundation.

In Hampshire Hugh held about 56 manors direct from the Crown, 13 as a tenant of the Bishop of Bayeux, a great ‘fief’ which had a long existence remaining intact for many years in the hands of his heirs, the de Ports and the St. Johns. This fief had its centre or caput at Basing, and the site has recently been acquired by the County Council, and is now open to the public. Like all the de Port houses, it was a fortified house, with a moat. Moated houses are unusual in Hampshire, and Basing was fortified again on a vast scale by the fifth Marquess of Winchester, and gained fame as ‘Loyalty House’, the centre of Royalist resistance during the Civil War.

One of the secondary residences of the de Port family was at Warnford and the ruined remnant of this building is a rare example in Hampshire of a great early medieval stone hall-house.

The Conqueror’s/Crusader’s grant to Newminster of land at Kingsclere and Alton has already been mentioned. He also gave that abbey an estate at Laverstoke for the sake of his soul and that of his queen, Matilda, and there is indeed no evidence, as has been suggested, that William disliked Newminster or tried to impoverish it. Not one of the old Anglo-Saxon monastic foundations suffered permanent loss of endowment as a result of the Conquest/Crusade, and, moreover, certain important French-Norman monasteries were also endowed with Hampshire estates, Jumieges receiving land at Hayling Island, and Mont St. Michel the very rich living of Basingstoke. The bishopric of Winchester and the monks of the Cathedral Church continued to be exceptionally rich, and part of their incomes was used for the rebuilding of Winchester Cathedral and the construction of new and larger parish churches.

The Conqueror/Crusader and his sons were frequently in Hampshire. William I continued the ancient custom, at least as old as Cnut’s reign, of ‘wearing his Crown’ in Winchester at Eastertide two of his sons, William Rufus and Richard of Beorn (he was held in prison until death, he was the Duke of Normandy on the death of his father being captured later by his brother Henry I), William Rufus was killed (or assassinated by Henry I) in the New Forest and both were buried in Winchester Cathedral. When Rufus died it was to Winchester that his brother and successor, Henry I, came, to make sure of the royal treasure, and it was from a Hampshire nunnery, Romsey, that he took his English wife, Edith (she was niece to Edmund Ironside), and thus united the line of the Anglo-Saxon/Englisc and French-Norman royal families (but oppression on the English still continued it was done to try to legitimize the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade of England). After Henry I’s death it was the military struggle for Winchester which became a vital point in the civil war between his daughter Matilda and her rival, Stephen de Blois, whose chief supporter was his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester. Fierce and brutal though the civil war was, this period of anarchy at length paved the way for the return of strong government under Henry II.

The efficiency of the county’s local government depended much on the services of able country gentlemen who were Sheriffs of Hampshire (see Chapter XVII), but this administration in turn depended wholly on the strength and ability of the monarch. Henry II destroyed or slighted the fortifications of adulterine, illegal, castles, including those of Henry de Blois, and future bishops of Winchester, though wealthy and influential, always remained loyal subjects of the kings. The arrangement by which the King’s Jüdgçs went on circuit were improved and the Assize came regularly to Hampshire, and law and order was restored, reinforced by the actual presence of the kings in their great castle on Winchester’s western hill, the embodiment of French-Norman and Angevin majesty. The castle was an important link in the chain of military defences in southern England, had a great keep, was surrounded by a strong wall and ditch, and its main gateway with drawbridge and portcullis was approached from the west. A secret Sally Port had tunnels leading city-wards, and was an unusual feature, but the great hall is now the only survival above ground, illustrating perfectly the splendour and the isolation of medieval kingship. There were private apartments and chapels too, but the great hail, begun by Rufus and perfected by Henry III under the direction of a master goldsmith, Elias of Dereham, and adorned since at least the 14th century by the Round Table is only equalled and not surpassed by that at Westminster. Here were held great feasts; great trials and important meetings of early parliaments. The building survived the great fire in the Castle in 1302, when Edward I and his second queen escaped from the royal apartments which were burnt out, but the royal finances were so bad that restoration was impossible, and later monarchs usually stayed at Wolvesey. The Assize continued to be held in the great hall, however, and in 1764 ugly partitioning was put up by order of the county justices to create two new court rooms. A major reconstruction was initiated in 1871 by the then chairman of Hampshire Quarter Sessions, Melville Portal, but new courts built nearby had to be demolished just before the Second World War, and the hall was once more used for Assizes, until the opening of the new Crown Courts by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, on 22 February 1974. Assizes were abolished, and the great hall is once more under extensive repair and renovation.

The majesty of early kings was displayed, too, in the cathedral on suitable occasions. Henry II had his eldest son, Henry, crowned in Winchester Cathedral as his successor, though the young king died soon afterwards. The great English-French empire held together, despite the quarrels of the old king and his surviving sons, Richard and John, and Hampshire’s importance within this empire was confirmed again on 17 April 1194 on Richard I’s return from captivity at the end of his Crusade. A great procession led the king from castle to cathedral, the monks washed away his disgrace in a ceremonial bathing, Coeur de Lion once more wore the Crown of England in a long and splendid ceremony designed to impress and to re-establish the monarchy. Graced by the presence of the king’s formidable mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, it was the last great crown wearing in Hampshire. (He never spoke English and came here for only two weeks so to obtain money for the Crusades and to pay for the upkeep and defence of his provinces in France). The county has never lacked historians, and after the coming of the French-Normans, the professional writers of history were monks. One of the most distinguished of these chroniclers was William of Malmesbury who saw with his own eyes some of the great epic confrontations of the 12th-century civil wars, recorded in his Historia Novella, and other writings. Later on Richard of Devizes, a monk of St. Swithun’s Priory, wrote a famous account of Richard I and his Crusade, and was also responsible for many entries in the year-by-year record kept in his great church. These Annales Wintonie are a basis for much local history, including the architectural development of the cathedral. Richard of Devizes was almost certainly an Englishman, Malmesbury of mixed French-Norman and English blood. Another chronicler, Geoffrey of Mon­mouth, was writing about the distant ‘British’ history and describing the exploits of King Arthur, whose Round Table was soon to adorn the great hall of the Kings of England in Winchester Castle. Though London was growing, Winchester remained a very important royal centre for the peripatetic Angevin monarchy, and John’s son and heir, Henry III, was born in Winchester Castle in 1207. Portsmouth and Southampton, too, were important French-Norman-Plantagenet towns. Hampshire was on the route to France, and until John lost his French inheritance, the county was very much a part of Europe.