Folio 281 - Suffolk Landhiolders

Suffolk Tenants in Chief
A few of the Suffolk Landholders

Introduction to Suffolk Tenants in Chief
The disruption to the landholding structure in Suffolk after the Conquest was relatively severe, partly because many thegns and upper-ranking free men from the county fought at Hastings and forfeited their lands as a consequence and partly because of the continuing political instability in East Anglia. Numerous disputes over land are recorded in Suffolk Domesday, and, in some cases, difficulties of resolution are apparent.

The Hundred courts acted as a vital source of collective memory and were called upon by the Domesday commissioners to testify in disputes over landholding, but on several occasions they were unable to provide the necessary information. For example, at Hemingstone, LDB (folio 338, 338v) records that Roger of Rames claims the whole of Wigulf's lands, but "The Hundred does not know how to give a verdict from this."

Such ignorance may have been the consequence of the widespread dislocation of higher-ranking free men from their Suffolk lands after the Conquest, since the jurors of Hundred courts were largely drawn from this social group.

Phillimore's translated Suffolk Landowners
St Edmundsbury and the Little Domesday Book
In Suffolk there were 77 different landholders. In the original index of Suffolk Landowners in the Little Domesday Book, each landowner is numbered, as seen in the adjacent facsimile of the original page. Also shown below it is the Phillimore translation of the the landowners, with their reference numbers.In the Phillimore edition of the Domesday Book, these Landholder numbers are used, together with a land parcel number, to develop a comprehensive referencing system to individual land holdings. The Phillimore edition also contains references to the folio (or page) number in the original Little Domesday document, using (a) to refer to the front and (b) to refer to the back of each vellum sheet.

Unfortunately, the Alecto edition prefers to refer to each parcel of land only by reference to the page (or folio), number in the original Domesday Book. The back of a folio page is referred to as "V", meaning verso or reverse.

A few examples of those local landowners are as follows:

  • Number 1 was "Lands of the King, belonging to the realm".
  • Number 14 was recorded as the Land of St Edmund's.
  • Number 25 was Lands of Richard, Son of Count Gilbert.
  • Number 42 was Tihel of Helléan.
  • Number 43 was Lands of Ralph of Limésy.
  • Number 76 was a curious conglomeration called Annexations in the King's Despite. This refers to land judged to have been taken over unlawfully, without the King knowing about it.
  • Number 77 is headed "Concerning the Disputes between The Bishop of Bayeux and Robert Malet's Mother".
A few more details on some of the most important individual landholders appears below, largely extracted from Mark Bailey's essay on Suffolk contained in the Alecto edition of Little Domesday:
Lands of the King, William I (Suffolk Landowner 1)
The lands of the king were managed differently from other lay estates in Suffolk. Rather than retain a direct interest himself, William entrusted the management of his 122 holdings to either local magnates or royal officials. The first 60 royal holdings listed in Suffolk Domesday, comprising the Crown's hereditary lands, were administered on William's behalf by the sheriff of Suffolk, Roger Bigod, together with the valuable and politically-sensitive holding of Ipswich (LDB 281v-284v, 290).

The remainder of William's were holdings largely composed of lands forfeited by those magnates who had fallen into disgrace since the Conquest. The successive rebellions against William after 1066 significantly disrupted the landholding structure among the higher nobility of much of East Anglia. Earl Ralph lost 35 holdings through confiscation after the 1075 rebellion, and other lands were forfeited by Earl Morcar (in 1071) and Archbishop Stigand (LDB 286v, 288).

In the case of Archbishop Stigand, it seems that William was merely recovering lands which Stigand had somehow seized previously.

The acquisitions made since 1066 were managed by royal officials, the most notable of whom was a high-ranking Englishman, Godric Dapifer. Godric Dapifer is referred to as Godric the Steward in the entry for Lands of the King at Little Domesday reference LDB 284v. Godric himself was also listed as Landholder number 13 in his own right. (See below)

Lands of Robert Malet (Suffolk Landowner 6)
In 1086 Robert Malet held 221 scattered holdings in Suffolk and administered them from his manor of Eye.

Malet's estate had been acquired en bloc from the powerful Eadric of Laxfield, and quickly established its administrative centre at Eye. As its name suggests, Eye (meaning `island') was surrounded by water and so provided a natural defensive site. Malet had certainly created a stronghold there by 1086, because it is mentioned in an incidental reference at Hoxne (LDB 379).

Many of these higher-ranking sub-tenants were professional Norman soldiers who had accompanied the greater Norman lords in 1066 with the expectation of sharing the spoils of conquest. Such close relationships are evident here. The Walter de Caen, William Goulafre, and Gilbert de Wissant who in 1086 held land from Robert Malet in Plomesgate Hundred were almost certainly his close accomplices. The cementing of these personal loyalties by close landed ties was vital in ensuring Norman survival in the early years of the Conquest and to administering the newly-won estates.

Lands of Roger Bigod, (Suffolk Landowner 7)
Another important lay estate comprised the 117 holdings of Roger Bigod, which included the future earl of Norfolk's strongholds at Bungay, Framlingham and Walton. Bigod probably utilised the fortifications of an existing shore-fort at Walton to build a castle by 1086, and houses were demolished to insert a castle at Ipswich in the area now known as Elm Street.

Richard Fitzgilbert's management was also evident on Roger Bigod's estate, where direct interest was retained over a core of sizeable demesne manors in east Suffolk, centred on the sheriff of Suffolk's ancient seat at Kelsale, while his smaller holdings in the Stour valley were sub-tenanted.

Lands of Godric the Steward, (Suffolk Landowner 13)
Godric the Steward is referred to as Godric Dapifer in Little Domesday, as Dapifer is latin for steward. He was the King's steward in Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. At folio reference LDB 284v, he appears as follows:
"Lands of Earl Ralph which Godric the Steward keeps in Suffolk, in the king's hand", followed by a list of the 35 parcels of land taken from Earl Ralph by the King.

Unlike the new Norman aristocracy, Godric Dapifer was an Englishman. Godric himself had seven small holdings in north-east Suffolk (LDB 355v, 356), but his status derives more from the fact that he was effectively a professional estate manager for King William in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.

Lands of the Abbey of St Edmund (Suffolk Landowner 14)
In both Suffolk and Norfolk Domesday, the Abbot of St Edmund's is recorded as landholder 14. In Essex he appears as landholder 11.

By 1086 the abbey of Bury St Edmunds was established as one of the greatest landlords in England, and the bulk of its estates lay in Suffolk. At the time of the Conquest, Bury had a French abbot. Abbot Baldwin naturally welcomed King William I and , in return, he was able to procure further patronage for the abbey from the new king.

It appears that the larger manors of Chevington and Saxham were added to the abbey's estates through William's intervention, and the lands of a number of lesser free men who had fought at Hastings were granted to the abbey.

Despite the manor of Mildenhall being part of Queen Emma's holdings, which the abbey had acquired from in 1044, by 1086 it had lost control of this particularly large and valuable manor. Although granted to the abbey by Edward the Confessor, it was held by Archbishop Stigand in 1066 and had then reverted to the Crown after Stigand's disgrace in 1070. The abbey did not regain Mildenhall until 1189 when the cellarer of the abbey regained the manor, following the payment of 1,000 marks to the king.

We do not know how this huge estate was split internally in the late eleventh century between the abbey's various officers or obedientaries. Some division had taken place, because the manor of Southwold was held `for the supplies of the monks', indicating that in 1086, as in later centuries, it was allocated to the monastic community rather than to the abbot (LDB 371v).

Overall, it is obvious that the abbey had prospered between the Conquest and the Survey, since its Suffolk holdings had increased in value by around thirty per cent.

The abbey enjoyed special privileges in the town of Bury St Edmunds itself, for the Survey notes that `when the Hundred pays £1 in geld, then 60d. goes from this for the supplies of the monks' (LDB 372): in other words, one quarter of the town's tax went to the monastery rather than to the king.

Other privileges over the town also existed, although these are not documented in Domesday, and remained the source of much friction between the townsmen and the abbey.

Elsewhere on its estates, however, the abbey of St Edmund had suffered some encroachment of its rights. In Thurston, for example, it held the commendation (patronage) of eight free men in 1066, only to lose it subsequently to Earl Ralph.

Lands of the Bishop of Bayeux (Suffolk Landowner 16)
Landholder Number 16 was the Bishop of Bayeux, a very significant man called Odo, who was half brother to King William the Conqueror. He had run the country for periods after 1066 while William was abroad, but from 1082 to 1087 he was in prison. He had 48 entries in the Suffolk part of the Domesday Book. In Haverhill his lands were held by Tihel de Helléan, who also appears as Landholder number 42.
Lands of the Abbot of Ely (Suffolk Landowner 21)
Although the bulk of the estates of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds were contained within Suffolk, those of Ely Abbey were distributed more widely throughout East Anglia. Like Bury, Ely was one of England's wealthiest landholders, despite a notable decline in the value of its estates after 1066.

Evidence of a fall in both plough-teams and value is clear at Barham and Drinkstone, and in plough-teams only at Rattlesden and Hitcham (LDB 381v, 383v, 384v). Such difficulties were probably the result of Ely abbey's complicity in Hereward's resistance to William I in 1071 and the inevitable retribution that followed.

Ely had 105 holdings in Suffolk in 1086, many in small land units such as the twenty-two acres in Hasketon and the fifteen acres in Foxhall (LDB 386, 386v). But the most significant of its estates were twenty-one manors, spread mainly across the south and east of the county and centred on the Liberty of St Etheldryda, also known as the Wicklaw.

Ely also possessed the manors of Lakenheath and Undley, and their proximity to St Edmunds was to lead to trouble in later years over the market dispute which erupted under King John.

Lands of Richard Fitzgilbert, (Suffolk Landowner 25)
Richard FitzGilbert held 170 lordships in Suffolk and Essex which soon became known as the Honour of Clare. An "Honour" was a collection of manors held by one landlord.

The early development and administration of these lay estates was complex. Richard fitzGilbert (or of Clare as Domesday occasionally refers to him, LDB 389v) advanced rapidly in William's service and probably gained his Suffolk lands after helping the king to suppress the Earls' Rebellion of 1075. By 1086 his demesne manors were valued at over £400, together with subinfeudated land at £185. The most valuable manors were kept under his direct control, although they were probably leased rather than exploited directly. The largest example was Hundon, which at 25 carucates was the highest rated, and therefore probably the largest manor in Suffolk (a carucate is 120 fiscal acres).

The smaller land parcels on these estates were mainly granted to vassals in return for military service, because the administration of many small and dispersed landholdings created obvious difficulties.

The interwoven and arcane landholding structure of late eleventh-century Suffolk must have made estate administration appear a complex business to the Norman newcomers. For example, 272 free men and 44 sokemen were attached to the Clare estate in a complex system of sub-tenancies, and so Richard of Clare transferred the allegiance of many of these to his vassals (LDB 392v). In alleviating the burden of estate administration, Clare was simultaneously forging closer links between his supporters and the highest surviving layer of Anglo-Saxon society.

Lands of Hugh de Montfort, (Suffolk Landowner 31)
A prominent landholder called Guthmund held Haughley at the Conquest, and Domesday's casual remark that there were `then as now 6 horses at the hall' (LDB 408v) might imply a sizeable residence. Haughley was the principal seat of Hugh de Montfort in 1086 (jointly with Dover) and gave its name to his Honour of 114 holdings, of which 51 were situated in Suffolk. A twelfth-century castle was built at Haughley, although the circumstantial evidence just cited led Mark Bailey to conclude that some defensive structure was in place by Domesday.
Lands of Tihel of Helléan, (Suffolk Landowner 42)
While Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, was in prison, his lands in Haverhill were put into the hands of Tihell de Hellean. Bishop Odo was half brother to King William the Conqueror. He had run the country for periods while William was abroad, but from 1082 to 1087 was in prison. He had 48 entries in the Suffolk part of the Domesday Book.
In Haverhill his lands were held by Tihel de Helléan who appears in his own right as Landholder 42 with a holding in Haverhill.

Tihel of Helléan was also known as Tihel the Breton. His name survives at Helions Bumpstead in Essex where he also held land. Parts of Haverhill which today are in Suffolk would have been in Essex in 1086.

Lands of Ralph of Limésy, (Suffolk Landowner 43)
Landholder 43 was Ralph of Limésy, a Norman from the Seine Inferior province of France. He appears at Cavendish involved in one of the land disputes in that vill.

Prepared for the St Edmundsbury History Project
by David Addy, April 2010

Books consulted:
The Domesday Book - Facsimile with Translation, published by Phillimore Suffolk volume
The Domesday Book - Alecto Edition on CD-Rom

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