Domesday Book is one of the most famous documents in English history, and arguably one of the most important. It is widely regarded as the product of a great survey of the landed resources of England set in motion at a council held by William the Conqueror with his magnates at Gloucester during Christmas 1085.Footnote 1 While the survey was in progress in 1086, William held his Easter court and wore his crown at Winchester; he celebrated Whitsun at Westminster and there dubbed his youngest son, Henry, a knight; and he then traveled around (it is unclear where) before arriving on 1 August (Lammas) at Salisbury. His “council came to him there, and all the landholding men of any account throughout England, whosesoever men they were, and they all bowed to him and became his men, and swore oaths of fealty to him that they would be faithful to him against all other men.”Footnote 2 This major assembly can be regarded as the Domesday survey's closing ceremony. Domesday Book and other written outputs of this survey cast enormous light on the nature of late Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman society and on the tremendous impact of the Norman Conquest. However, while Domesday Book's historical importance is unquestionable, there is much debate about how and why it was made. This article offers to the debate about its purpose discussion of what some of William the Conqueror's royal acta reveal about the movements, actions, and concerns of the king and his advisers close to the time when the great survey of 1086 was undertaken.
A detailed discussion of the relevant historiography would require an article in itself.Footnote 3 Only some of the views relating to Domesday's purpose can be sketched here. For example, it has been interpreted as a royal tax or geld book, probably intended to facilitate fiscal reassessment and efficiency, partly by reforming anomalies and iniquities in the tax system;Footnote 4 as a register of the value of the royal demesne and the honors of tenants-in-chief and their greater sub-tenants, better enabling the king and his officials to extract, at appropriate levels, a variety of revenues, including “feudal” incidents and geld;Footnote 5 as a record of land transfer, tenure, and annual values and a method of increasing taxation and effectively raising other royal income (including profits from vacancies and wardships), identifying encroachments and fixing King Edward the Confessor's death in 1066 as a legal baseline;Footnote 6 as a record of shire and borough customs and of royal and tenant estates and their value and potential, intended to help resolve conflicting claims and promote better administration and accountability by various agencies of royal government;Footnote 7 as an attempt to increase royal revenues and to adjudicate claims relating to title or to the extent of properties and their rights;Footnote 8 as a means (partly) of raising the revenue required to pay the troops needed to stave off foreign invasion and ensure that they were equitably billeted in the households of the tenants-in-chief;Footnote 9 and as a product not of the survey of 1086, which had different objectives, but of the revolt against William Rufus in 1088.Footnote 10
In addition to interpretative conflict, there has also been a measure of consensus, albeit incomplete. As David Bates notes, one “area of common ground . . . is that the [Domesday] survey and Domesday Book were political and multi-functional, with the meaning of both of these words then being subject to different definitions.”Footnote 11 In addition, several scholars have argued, in diverse ways, that the survey was connected with a threatened invasion of England by Denmark and Flanders in 1085, or with a wider emergency facing King William, then in his late fifties.Footnote 12 Furthermore, a number have believed or considered it possible that the survey was linked to the great assembly William held at Salisbury on 1 August 1086, although interpretations of the nature of this link vary.Footnote 13
Along with this partial consensus about the context of the Domesday survey, four major contributions to the debate about Domesday's purpose are particularly germane to the themes explored below. The first is by Sir James Holt, who argued that in return for the homage and fealty performed to William the Conqueror at Salisbury, and for the survey of royal and aristocratic resources that strengthened the implementation of William's “feudal rights,” England's landholders “got a record of their tenure, in effect a confirmation of their enfeoffment.”Footnote 14 In this view, the proceedings at Salisbury were contractual and confirmatory: “As regards the tenant-in-chief, Domesday Book was a vast land book which put a final seal on the Norman occupation.”Footnote 15
The second contribution is that of Sally Harvey, who argues that the Domesday project sought to consolidate the Norman Conquest and regime in a different way.Footnote 16 Harvey considers that the Conqueror and his advisers might have regarded the threatened invasion of 1085 as God's punishment for the heinous sins that accompanied the brutal and legally dubious conquest of England. Facing the prospect of losing England to Flemish and Danish invaders and his soul to the devil on Judgment Day, and listening to episcopal advice, William launched the Domesday survey in part to counter these threats. The survey sought to identify, check, and record England's resources; generate additional revenue for military reinforcements; draw on greater manpower and traction power to strengthen the country's defenses; promote the fiscal accountability of tenants-in-chief; restore stolen ecclesiastical estates; reassess more realistically and extend income from “feudal” incidents and other “feudal” dues (based on annual manorial values) and from national taxation (geld); facilitate more assiduous extraction of public dues and other income; and expose the misdeeds of royal officials and reinforce their accountability, thereby increasing royal revenues and offering Englishmen the hope of rent reductions and recovery of title, reconciling them with the Normans, stifling their support for invaders, and promoting stability.
Harvey places considerable emphasis on Domesday's spiritual and legal dimensions. “It was vital to appearances, and to his [King William's] relations with churchmen, who were the lawyers in his council as well as the spiritual advisers, that he should not appear as a conqueror, but as the legal successor to his kinsman King Edward, for although King William's chroniclers had long claimed that his victory at Hastings demonstrated that God was on his side, this circular argument was in danger of going into reverse.”Footnote 17 If William “could establish his parcelling-out of English land and English rent-payers on a more convincing legal basis, while holding his officials in tight check, perhaps the men of England would stand by him after all, despite the treatment they had received at his hands, and perhaps God would judge his stewardship charitably and assist his cause.”Footnote 18 This concern for the appearance of legitimacy in the hope of obtaining English and divine support was in part why William had the massive land transfer confirmed by the oaths of Englishmen (and others) in courts and duly recorded. The outcome was “written evidence of recent possession thereby transformed into proprietary right,” and the conversion of “the conquering elite . . . into the establishment.”Footnote 19 Domesday sought to “set a final seal on what was still an unpopular conquest” and was “designed to give an authoritative legal framework and some permanence to the subjugation of a peace-hungry and productive society.”Footnote 20 It was “William's last great endeavour to legitimize his actions.”Footnote 21And the oath of Salisbury was integral to the whole process. The high and heavily fortified site of Old Sarum conjured “apocalyptic expectations” and “lent itself to an element of coercion.”Footnote 22 Some of Domesday's regional returns were presented to the king there on 1 August, a date possibly chosen to facilitate the survey's reconciliatory purpose.
The third major contribution to understanding Domesday's purpose is that of David Bates, who endorses the multifunctionality of the Domesday project and advocates its legitimizing, consolidating, transformative, and stabilizing role.Footnote 23 Bates draws analogies between the Domesday survey and Carolingian and Roman inquests and notes the proximity of these surveys to times of crisis but regards them as more than attempts at crisis management: “Their essential aim was to record the present in order to stabilize the future.”Footnote 24 For Bates, the rationale of Domesday Book is to be found in “the social interactions and exchanges around the survey.”Footnote 25 It was not just about “resources and dues owed to the king” but about “the multiple human investments in these” and the ongoing “dialogues around property, tax, and mutual obligation.”Footnote 26 Noting that many who gave testimony during the survey helped legitimize recent harmful events, Bates considers these experiences as central to a process that sought “to transform conquest into government.”Footnote 27 The survey's implementation could be viewed by contemporaries “as bringing communities together in an acknowledgement that a regime imposed by violence had secured its victory and was going to last, a landmark in the creation of a new world and a launching-pad for what it was hoped was going to be a better one. Viewed idealistically, the traumas of the past were being absorbed into a new and peaceful present symbolized by a record of resources and rights to which all of the free population had in theory agreed by taking oaths, or having their representatives do so.”Footnote 28
Bates considers that from the ruling elite's perspective, the Domesday project sprang from more than a “claim to legitimacy.” Its “comprehensiveness and theatrical solemnity made all the free classes of society accomplices and participants in the new world.”Footnote 29 Domesday Book served not as a register of title but rather as “a record from which discussion of title could proceed.”Footnote 30 It did not formally confirm tenure because this issue had largely been settled, but did establish “a record against which all could be assessed if required.”Footnote 31 Vital to the logic that inspired it was the recording of land transfer in a kingdom where newcomers were settling into English society and where a desire existed to define this transfer as orderly.Footnote 32 For Bates, the Domesday project and the oath of Salisbury were “landmarks in the consolidation and transformation of conquest.”Footnote 33 The oath, “a dramatic demonstration of majesty,” confirmed the status quo, included Domesday sub-tenants (who were often vital to local government), controlled them, “affirmed a solemn relationship which encapsulated responsibility that had to be reciprocal,” and “flattered everyone” by associating them with royal power.Footnote 34 That power was linked to the “notion of William as patronus and rex,” and this notion “and Domesday were demonstrations of rule that consolidated and sought to lay a new foundation for social and personal relationships including the inter-ethnic.”Footnote 35 The making of Domesday Book, argues Bates, “is the ultimate monument to William's belief that he was a responsible ruler and to the attempts of Lanfranc and others to shape him as one.”Footnote 36
The fourth major contribution to the Domesday debate relevant to the argument below is that made by Stephen Baxter.Footnote 37 Building on a detailed review of scholarship extending back to ca. 1750 on how and why Domesday was made, Baxter presents a new interpretation informed by this and by a recent, collaborative, and ongoing examination of Exon Domesday, the earliest extant manuscript of the survey. With regard to Domesday's purposes, Baxter maintains, “the survey was carefully designed, from the inception, to generate several different outputs, each intended to serve a specific purpose.”Footnote 38 One output, “cadastral documents, organized in the same way that the geld was assessed and collected, hundred by hundred,” served to make geld administration more efficient by canceling both exemptions enjoyed by tenants-in-chief on their demesne manors and “artificially low geld assessments” granted to royal favorites.Footnote 39 It sought to undertake “a comprehensive reassessment of geld liabilities, targeting anomalies by aligning them more closely with manorial realities.”Footnote 40 It also “created the potential to effect more complex reassessments at the level of the hundred or the shire.”Footnote 41 Another output, “records of contested property,” “created considerable potential for him [the king] to generate financial and political capital” by exploiting these property disputes; he could charge his barons for judicial assistance and choose the pace of payment “as the logic or whims of patronage dictated.”Footnote 42 A further output, produced by reconstituting records organized in terms of hundreds and wapentakes into “feudal” order, gave the king and his officials a detailed record of the lands of each tenant-in-chief, and probably a summary of what they possessed. This was useful to them when these lands came under direct royal control, through escheats or forfeitures, for example. They could speedily determine the annual value of honors, which was advantageous when negotiating “feudal” incidents such as reliefs, in administering the lands more efficiently, and in determining if more income could be extracted from them.Footnote 43 Domesday also gave the king detailed information on his own royal demesne estates and their yields, increased the accountability of sheriffs, identified potential for raising income from the demesne and escheats, and “supplied all the information the king needed to auction the right to ‘farm’ royal property to the highest bidder.”Footnote 44 In short, Domesday was “intended to maximize royal income from every conceivable source.”Footnote 45
Baxter maintains, further, that the great survey “was an extraordinary, carefully choreographed assertion of royal might, designed to make the king's authority manifest in every honour, shire, hundred, manor and household in the kingdom.”Footnote 46 Like Holt and Harvey, Baxter also believes that the major landholders received greater security for their tenure of land:
The Domesday survey embodied virtually all the ritual and documentary elements of contemporary land conveyance customs. Stage 2 grew out of geld lists and proceeded in tandem with a major geld levy, and English law privileged the rights of those who, in Domesday parlance, “defended” their land to the geld. Stage 3 ensured that property rights were witnessed in public courts. It also drew upon sworn testimony, and like charters, invoked the sanction of divine retribution. Stages 4 and 5 reconstituted this matter into feudally-arranged lists, like giant confirmation charters or pancartes, and the survey reached a ritual climax with the performance of homage at Salisbury. This amounted to just about the most comprehensive package of security that was conceivable within the framework of dependence that the survey enshrined.Footnote 47
Although Harvey's view that the Domesday survey sought in part to benefit the English and promote reconciliation is questionable,Footnote 48 there is much to be said in favor of the other arguments relating to royal income, security of tenure, confirmation, consolidation, legitimization, transformation, and stabilization that Harvey, Holt, Bates, and Baxter discuss.
Important evidence that strengthens the argument that Domesday's purpose was connected, in part, with the legitimization and stabilization of the Norman regime in England is to be found in four of William the Conqueror's royal acta: a record of a plea heard before William concerning Steyning (Sussex), and three charters issued by William for the Norman abbey of Le Bec, the priory of Lewes (Sussex), and the abbey of Malmesbury (Wiltshire). In studying these documents, Bates's splendid edition of William's royal acta, a major feat of scholarship, is indispensable.Footnote 49
In line with best diplomatic practice, Bates carefully assigns firm date ranges to these acta, in many cases adding narrower speculative dates where supportive evidence exists. The purpose in this article, however, is not to question correct procedure of this kind but to discuss evidence suggesting that these four acta were possibly linked to each other, the Domesday survey, and the oath of Salisbury and that they throw important additional light on the thinking of the king and his chief advisers in 1086 and on the survey's nature and purpose. A case can be made that these acta support the argument that although William and his closest confidants were unquestionably concerned with the legitimacy and security of his kingdom throughout his reign, these concerns intensified in the period 1085–86. Nearing sixty, William was faced by the threat not only of a Danish and Flemish invasion of England but also by the rebellion of his eldest son, Robert Curthose (which must have raised questions about the stability of the succession), and other challenges, such as the hostility of the French king. The gravity of the situation is reflected by the fear William is said to have felt; by his holding of a special council in autumn 1085 to decide how to deal with the invasion threat;Footnote 50 and by his bringing into England “a larger force of mounted men and infantry from France and Brittany than had ever come to this country”Footnote 51 and his dispersal of it among his magnates, towns, and royal ministers. The seriousness of the threat is also reflected by his ravaging of coastal lands to prevent them being of benefit to invaders; his strengthening of town and castle walls and replacement of abbots and filling of a bishopric in regions where the Danes might find Anglo-Danish support; his launch of the Domesday survey intended (partly) to raise the revenue needed to pay defensive troops and to provide a more equitable billeting system for them; and his levying of a heavy six-shilling geld while the Domesday survey was in progress.Footnote 52 There are also signs in his acta that he sought to manage this crisis, “potentially the greatest . . . which Norman rule had faced in England,” by fulfilling the duties expected of a good Christian king and further strengthening the legitimacy and stability of his regime.Footnote 53 In what follows, each of these acta is considered in turn.
Number 146: A Record of a Plea Concerning Steyning, Heard before King William at “La Choche”
The first of the four acta records a plea heard by King William at the manor of “la Choche” in 1086.Footnote 54 Bates notes that
the earliest surviving text, an early thirteenth-century Cartae Antiquae Roll, shows that it [Acta William I, no. 146] was once followed on the lost original parchment by an account of a second plea heard in the late eleventh century before king William II. The text of the record of the first plea was clearly amended in the light of subsequent events. Both are obviously partisan records . . . Both set out the terms of the settlement in detail and both conclude with a list of testes; the only difference of any note is that 146 . . . concludes with a large collection of witnesses of very high status.Footnote 55
The text of no. 146 “was written some time after the plea it describes . . . at the abbey of Fécamp . . . the up-dated account of the plea . . . cannot have been written until the last years of the eleventh century,” but the “date of the plea must be in or after April  when bishop Maurice [of London, who was present at the plea] was consecrated to the see of London and before William crossed to Normandy in late 1086.”Footnote 56
The plea concerned a dispute between Fécamp Abbey and the Norman lord William de Briouze over rights and possessions in Steyning (Sussex). The king sat in judgment from morning until evening on a Sunday. The record of the plea was drawn up in a partisan manner that favored Fécamp Abbey's perspective rather than that of Briouze. The king's judgment set out the equal division of a wood between the abbey and Briouze; protected the burial rights and revenues of the abbey's church of St. Cuthman in Steyning against Briouze's church nearby; ordered the destruction of a park and other encroachments by Briouze on the abbey's land; prohibited him from taking a toll from the abbey's men at his bridge that had not been owed in King Edward's time; limited payments extracted from ships sailing to and from St. Cuthman's harbor in Steyning; and confirmed that marshland, gardens, and tolls belonged to the abbey. The plea was heard before “a veritable gathering of the royal court as William perambulated southern England during the period of the Domesday survey.”Footnote 57 The description of the plea states that those present included the king, his sons, and all his barons. It later states that those who saw the plea included two of the king's sons (William and Henry), the archbishops of Canterbury and York, eight other bishops, two abbots, three men of comital rank, eighteen barons, three monks of Fécamp, and six others.Footnote 58 This was a remarkable assembly. The inhabitants of “la Choche” had probably seen nothing like it.Footnote 59
William de Briouze's ambition is easy to understand. In 1086 Steyning was a very large estate, and William was one of two lords with interests there; the other was the abbot of Fécamp. The abbot held the lion's share, assessed at sixty-seven hides (half in the rape of Arundel and half in that of William de Briouze—that is, Bramber), incorporating a borough, and rendering nearly £122. William held the smaller portion, assessed at twelve hides and valued at £25. In addition, a berewick of Steyning, assessed at six hides, valued at £4, and located at Goring, was held from Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury, by a tenant named Robert.Footnote 60 In 1066, the abbot's portion of Steyning had been held by Harold Godwineson, and the smaller portion by King Edward, who also held the berewick in Goring. However, as Harold is described as holding it “at the end [of the reign] of King Edward,” and as Fécamp appears (from evidence discussed below) to have acquired its portion from Edward rather than Harold, it is possible that Harold dispossessed the abbey shortly before or after Edward died, and that Edward had once held all of Steyning.Footnote 61
Steyning was clearly not just large but also important. It was a small town with the jurisdiction of a hundred attached, a port on the Adur estuary, and a market, mint, and minster church.Footnote 62 The church had been for a time the resting place of King Alfred's father, King Æthelwulf (d. 858).Footnote 63 Steyning offered much to fuel William de Briouze's ambition. He established his rival church within its parish at Bramber. There also he founded a borough and built a substantial castle on a hill dominating Steyning.Footnote 64 Doubtless under much pressure from him, Fécamp Abbey turned to King William for help.
There are signs that either the abbey or the king chose very carefully the occasion on which help was given. Bates argues convincingly that some of the tenurial encroachments, claims, and disputes recorded in the Domesday survey gave rise early in William II's reign (1087–1100) to royal writs commanding tenurial inquiries, pleas, and restorations or confirmations that show the team that managed the making of Domesday Book, including William, bishop of Durham, still at work after the Conqueror's death.Footnote 65 The Steyning plea might provide another earlier example of this remedial labor. However, there is no evidence in Domesday Book that Fécamp Abbey complained about the encroachments that generated the Steyning plea; some of the matters addressed in the plea were ones that did not concern the survey, and while others did involve land, this was not land assessed in hides, the usual focus of disputes recorded in Domesday. Nevertheless, several considerations suggest that the assembly that heard the plea, at which William, bishop of Durham, was present, was an extension of the great assembly at Salisbury (also attended by the bishop) where the great oath to the Conqueror was sworn, and that it occurred very soon afterwards.Footnote 66
One such consideration is the location of “la Choche.” J. H. Round tentatively proposed that this was “Laycock” (actually Lacock) in Wiltshire,Footnote 67 an entirely understandable suggestion as Lacock appears as “Lacoch” or “Lacoc” in Domesday Book.Footnote 68 However, Round's suggestion was challenged by H. W. C. Davis because the record of the Steyning plea states that “la Choche” was a manor of William of Eu, whereas in Domesday Book William held no possessions in Lacock.Footnote 69 But Domesday shows that William of Eu, who attended the Steyning plea, held land in Lackham (“Lacham”), immediately north of Lacock and within its parish but treated by Domesday as a distinct holding from Lacock.Footnote 70 The closeness of Lacock and Lackham is further reflected in the fact that in Henry II's reign (1154–1189), the advowson of Lacock's church was shared between the descendants of Edward, the sheriff of Wiltshire (also known as Edward of Salisbury), who held land in Lacock in 1086, and the lords of Lackham, suggesting that the sharing might date back to William the Conqueror's reign.Footnote 71 It is possible that the representation of Lackham as “la Choche” sprang from this closeness, or from scribal error, or confusion or inaccuracy regarding the tenurial geography within Lacock parish.Footnote 72 The key point is that Lackham and Lacock were less than thirty miles (as the crow flies) north-northeast of Salisbury, a distance that could be covered in less than a day's ride.
Another consideration indicating that the king was at Lackham very soon after the Salisbury oath is the identity of Lacock church's patron saint, Cyriac. Although Domesday Book makes no mention of a church at Lacock, one could have existed there in 1086: “Churches are not regularly enumerated in the folios for Wiltshire, and they are mentioned in connection with only 29 out of the 335 places recorded for the county.”Footnote 73 The dedication of Lacock's church to Saint Cyriac was unusual in England, and probably owed much to Salisbury connections.Footnote 74 By 1220 a book containing a life of Saint Cyriac was kept at Sonning (Berkshire), an important manor of the bishops of Salisbury.Footnote 75 Saint Cyriac was a citizen of the Roman Empire, executed for refusing to abandon his Christianity.Footnote 76 His feast day, kept at Salisbury Cathedral (possibly as early as the pontificate of Bishop Osmund, 1078–1099), was celebrated just one week after the oath of Salisbury, on 8 August, a Saturday. Although King William might, as Bates suggested, have heard the Steyning plea either shortly before several bishops set out to undertake their work on the Domesday survey or as they were convening to consider its results,Footnote 77 it is tempting to envisage a different scenario. This would see the king celebrating Saint Cyriac's feast day on 8 August 1086 in the church of Lacock, attending mass there the following morning, and spending the rest of Sunday, 9 August, just a mile away at the manor of Lackham, hearing the Steyning plea and dispensing the justice he owed the landholders of England for the oath recently sworn to him at Salisbury.
The links between the Lackham assembly and the oath of Salisbury are further strengthened by the close association that several magnates present at Lackham had with the Domesday survey. As Bates noted, a number of these magnates were also with the king during the Christmas council of 1085 where the survey was launched. This group included the king's sons William Rufus and Henry; Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury; Thomas, archbishop of York; Geoffrey, bishop of Coutances; the Domesday commissioner Remigius, bishop of Lincoln; Robert, Count of Mortain; Roger de Montgomery; and Alan, Count of Brittany.Footnote 78 It also included three more bishops linked in other ways to Domesday.Footnote 79 One, William, bishop of Durham, regarded by some historians as the mastermind of the Domesday survey, certainly had links with the main scribe of Domesday Book, was probably present at Salisbury on 1 August 1086, and may have been one of the Domesday survey's commissioners.Footnote 80 Another, Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, had a cathedral in the fortification where the Salisbury oath was sworn, possibly served as a Domesday commissioner, might have had connections to Domesday Book's main scribe, and at some point possessed books written by scribes who helped to write Exon Domesday.Footnote 81 The third was Walchelin, bishop of Winchester, another possible attendee of the oath of Salisbury, whose episcopal city possibly housed the writing office where Domesday Book was (partly at least) compiled; it certainly incorporated the royal treasury where Domesday eventually came to reside.Footnote 82 Present also at Lackham, but perhaps not at Gloucester, were Henry de Ferrers, another Domesday commissioner, and Robert, bishop of Hereford, who wrote a description of the Domesday survey and might have been connected with it and Domesday Book's main scribe in other ways.Footnote 83
The connections between the Steyning plea, the Domesday survey, and the oath of Salisbury are reinforced by other links associated with the theme of legitimacy. As Baxter notes, “Paul Hyams, Patrick Wormald and Robin Fleming and others have followed David Douglas by exploring the corpus of Domesday disputes, debating whether Maitland was right to deny that Domesday was, inter alia, a register of title.”Footnote 84 Baxter is probably correct in arguing that Domesday was not intended to resolve disputes relating to title, but, as noted above, there is much to be said for the view expressed by Holt, Harvey, and Baxter that it greatly strengthened the security of the property rights of landholders.Footnote 85 In doing so, it effectively reinforced the legitimacy of the vast transfer of land to King William and his followers. One dimension of this reinforcement, as Harvey observes, was Domesday's adoption of “the last day of King Edward's reign rather than that of Harold II as the departure point for tenurial rights, by establishing who held the lands in the time of King Edward and to whom the king had subsequently gifted them.” This “largely bypassed the difficulty of supplying a legally acceptable date for William's slaughter of the crowned king,”Footnote 86 although in linking title to King Edward's time Domesday was not prescriptive.Footnote 87 A related dimension of the treatment of title in Domesday is its use of the canon law term “antecessor.” As Harvey notes, the term was used
to denote an accepted Edwardian landholder from whom the king [William] or his deputies had transferred the land. Most importantly, it was Domesday Book's acknowledgement of the Edwardian holder, if only to confirm his replacement, that gave a superficial appearance of lawful sequence to the land transfer, and to the whole Domesday edifice . . . Thus, through calculating premeditation, the lawyer and theologian Lanfranc was prepared to transform the Conqueror's takeover and re-dispersal of land into a legal succession allegedly derived from moral authority, in which Domesday was to play its effectively crucial part.Footnote 88
In addition, Domesday also recognized that title to land could be affected by the grants, writs, and warranty of King Edward or King William.Footnote 89
Legitimacy and security of title and possession were central to the Steyning plea. William was preoccupied there with providing justice to Fécamp Abbey by confirming and protecting against Briouze's encroachments the possessions granted to it by King Edward, grants possibly withheld by Harold. During the plea, William explicitly recognized Edward's reign as the benchmark of legitimacy, judging that Briouze's extraction of toll from Fécamp's men should cease, as it had not been granted in King Edward's time.Footnote 90 William also appears to have been reinforcing two of his earlier charters confirming Edward's grant of Steyning to Fécamp, exhibiting the same logic of legitimacy.Footnote 91 One, drawn up at some point between ca. 1070 and 1077 or 1078, shows William's fear of God, refers to Edward as his “dominus et antecessor,” and makes it clear that William was concerned about souls: King Edward's, his own, and those of his predecessors and successors.Footnote 92 The second charter (of which two originals survive), issued in 1085, the year of the Domesday survey's launch, granted Steyning to Fécamp as King Edward had given it and declared that if the abbey had not held Steyning in King Edward's time, William granted it and whatever Fécamp had possessed there in his own reign.Footnote 93 This grant was made for the health of the soul of King Edward, and the souls of William, his wife Matilda, and their sons. In the same charter William added a gift of the manor of Bury as compensation for the abbey's loss to him of Hastings, which it held in Edward's time. As Harvey noted, this charter “suggests that thoughts of reparation to the Church were evidently in the Conqueror's mind at this time of crisis . . . William's belated attempts to reconcile his military takeover with the historic landholding rights of Churches hinted of his awareness of his own ultimate Judgement Day.”Footnote 94 There are, therefore, clear indications in William's charters for Fécamp that, in addition to his own grants, possession in King Edward's reign was a touchstone of legitimate tenure and that Edward, William, and William's wife and sons were regarded as members of the same legitimate royal dynasty. But this argument must not be pushed too far.Footnote 95 Only one of the three acta discussed above (Acta William I, no. 144 version A1) appears to have been drawn up by a royal chancery scribe, whereas nos. 146 and 144 version A2 were produced at Fécamp, which might have had a particular devotion to King Edward, a generous benefactor.Footnote 96 Moreover, as Bates notes, “a significant number [of William's Old English writs] . . . call Edward William's kinsman . . . A considerable number of others refer to tenurial and legal conditions existing in king Edward's day . . . The manner in which the documents were almost immediately adapted to the drastically changed political circumstances of the Conquest and the way in which they very soon began to stress the kinship ties between William and Edward bespeak a well-nigh universal acknowledgement of a well-versed argument and a strong central control over the drafting of documents.”Footnote 97
It is also important to note, however, that Fécamp Abbey might have been a ducal chancery before 1066, and that the phraseology of William's 1085 charter for the abbey, with its reference to Edward's soul and its association of Edward with William, his wife, and sons, is very rare and closely (though not identically) matched in only one other extant royal acta of William, charter William I, no. 176, discussed below and possibly issued in 1086.Footnote 98
In emphasizing Norman dynastic unity, continuity, and legitimacy, Fécamp Abbey was a natural ally for William. It was intimately connected with his family and ducal rule. Duke Richard I, William's great-grandfather (d. 996), refounded the abbey, and Richard's son Duke Richard II (d. 1026) richly endowed it, held Easter courts there, and brought William of Volpiano from the Cluniac abbey of St.-Bénigne of Dijon to rule it, after which Cluniac influence spread widely in Normandy.Footnote 99 The remains of both Richard I and Richard II were interred at Fécamp.Footnote 100 It was there that Duke Robert I, William's father, gave refuge to King Henry I of France, and there also that Robert appears to have summoned his magnates to swear fealty to William before going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1035.Footnote 101 Later, Fécamp was deeply involved in the Norman Conquest of England. Its probable almoner, Remigius, provided William with a ship and twenty knights for his invasion, attended the battle of Hastings, and secured promotion to the bishopric of Dorchester in 1067.Footnote 102 In the same year, William held a great assembly at Fécamp to celebrate Easter and display his royal magnificence.Footnote 103 In 1072, Bishop Remigius's episcopal seat was moved to Lincoln, which for William “became a bulwark against Danish threats,” and Remigius later served as a Domesday commissioner and attended the Steyning plea.Footnote 104 In 1076, William appointed Vitalis, abbot of Bernay and a former monk of Fécamp, on which Bernay was dependent, as abbot of Westminster.Footnote 105 He informed the abbot of Fécamp of this appointment in a letter referring to the burial of his lord and kinsman King Edward and Edward's queen, Edith, at Westminster, and to his own receipt there of the crown and scepter of England.Footnote 106
William's confirmation and restoration of land, rights, and revenues in Steyning and elsewhere to Fécamp Abbey shows him fulfilling, as King Edward's rightful successor, his fundamental royal responsibilities of providing justice and protection to a religious community that was a powerhouse of Norman ducal authority and legitimacy and that played an important spiritual and practical role in the conquest of England. If the Steyning plea was heard by William just a week after the oath of Salisbury, in which all the landholders of England swore fealty to William as their king and submitted to him for the lands recorded in the Domesday survey and (we may reasonably expect) promises of good government, it would have been an entirely appropriate act for a ruler intent on living up to this agreement. It would have been a further reaffirmation of the legitimacy of his invasion of England and the regime to which it gave birth. And it would doubtless have secured the prayers of Fécamp's monks in obtaining God's support for this regime at a time when it had recently been threatened by invasion from Denmark and Flanders and other challenges easily perceived to be the instruments of divine wrath against the sinful Normans.
For all his efforts, William's resolution of the Steyning plea did not endure. Conflict continued into and beyond the reign of his son, William II. On 13 January 1103, William, the abbot of Fécamp, and Philip de Briouze, William de Briouze's son, made a concord related to some of the matters at issue in Steyning in 1086. It is significant that they did so before the Conqueror's youngest son, King Henry I, his queen Matilda, and “numerous barons” at Salisbury.Footnote 107
Number 167: A Charter for the Abbey of Notre-Dame, Le Bec
At some point between 1081 and 1087 King William confirmed and attested a record of grants to the Norman abbey of Le Bec.Footnote 108 Bates carefully demonstrates that dating the event is complex. Bates observes that a letter was sent by Anselm from England to Le Bec about the king agreeing to confirm one of his charters to it only in the presence of the donors, and that as not all donors were present at court during Easter, the confirmation would take place when they assembled at Whitsun. Bates also notes that F. S. Schmitt and Walter Fröhlich regard this letter as issued during Anselm's second visit to England (1086); that Sally N. Vaughn offers an alternative date for the letter of 1081 (though the letter might refer to a different charter of King William, Acta William I, no. 166); that some of the grants in Acta William I, no. 167, appear to either postdate or predate the Domesday survey; and that Marjorie Chibnall points to William's absence from England in 1087, indicating that no. 167 “must therefore have been confirmed before the survey was complete.” Having said this, Bates considers it
much more likely the charter must be treated as a typical Norman pancarte or confirmation and it must be accepted that its contents are likely to be a compilation of material assembled over a period of time . . . The fact that the charter does not describe all the grants which Le Bec had come to possess by the time of Domesday Book is a strong argument in favour of a date earlier than 1086 for the compilation of the initial text . . . What is beyond doubt is that the charter was confirmed in England, since the array of English episcopal signa make this a near-certainty. This means that it must date to 1080 x 1081, 1082 x 1083 or 1085 x 1086. The charter's contents—and in particular the point that they do not include all Le Bec's 1086 endowment—point to an earlier date for the confirmation of the earliest draft. [Queen] Mathilda's absence and bishop William of Durham's presence perhaps point to 1086, since the former attests the Whitsun 1081 diplomas referred to above and the latter does not (see [nos.] 39, 255). It is safe only to assign the charter to the broader limits of 1081 x 1087 and to recognise that amendments were being made to it in the 1090s.Footnote 109
A case can be made, within the secure dating limits Bates establishes, that some elements of no. 167 might indeed belong to 1086. It is possible that no. 167's signa were present when the transactions it refers to occurred before the king, or when a version of the charter was confirmed and attested by William.Footnote 110 Nine of them were present at the Steyning plea (Acta William I, no. 146, discussed above), which certainly dates from 1086.Footnote 111 It is also significant that no. 167 is one of just three extant royal acta of the Conqueror (the two others being nos. 146 and 176, discussed above and below) in which his sons William and Henry appear together but without their brother Robert. As all three acta date from after 1080, when Robert's first rebellion against the Conqueror came to an end, this suggests, though it does not prove, that no. 167 was issued later than the start of Robert's second rebellion against his father, which probably began sometime after 9 January or 31 March 1084 and likely continued until William's death.Footnote 112 It is tempting, but hazardous, to see the well-attended Whitsun meeting referred to by Anselm in his letter to Le Bec as that held on 24 May 1086 at which William's son Henry was knighted, and to regard no. 167, or at least elements of it, as belonging to this assembly held just under ten weeks before the oath of Salisbury and regarded by Baxter as one of a series of great assemblies that structured the Domesday survey.Footnote 113 It is hazardous because the list of signa could have been amended over time, might not reflect those in attendance on the king, and is quite short.Footnote 114 Nevertheless, the status of the signa is consistent with a great court assembly. They include the king, two of his sons, William and Henry, the two English archbishops, two more English bishops, and a Norman bishop.Footnote 115 Moreover, given that the charter's text derives from a fifteenth-century cartulary copy, the list of signa as we have it might have been abbreviated.Footnote 116
Further evidence indicating that no. 167, or elements of it, date to the mid-1080s is the appearance of Miles Crispin among its signa. He was probably the same man as Miles Crispin, lord of Wallingford, a probable kinsman of the Norman Crispins who were possibly related to the ducal family and had close ties with Le Bec.Footnote 117 Miles attested only two other extant royal acta of King William (if this was the same man in each case).Footnote 118 One is no. 176, discussed below, which might also be linked to 1086. The other, recording grants to Le Bec, was issued in 1077.Footnote 119 We know that King William's son Henry spent the days leading up to Easter 1084 at Abingdon Abbey, when Miles and Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, are described as attached to him, and it appears that Henry (then aged about sixteen) was in their charge as he made the transition from boy to man.Footnote 120 His young age might explain the unconventional location of Henry's name at the end of the signa to no. 167, immediately after the name of Miles, although it could have resulted from the process of amendment discussed above. Other Crispins received significant responsibilities from William relating to family matters in the mid-1080s. In ca. 1085, Gilbert Crispin, a monk of Le Bec, was chosen by Archbishop Lanfranc to be abbot of Westminster Abbey, William's coronation church and Edward the Confessor's mausoleum.Footnote 121
Number 176: A Charter for the Priory of St. Pancras, Lewes
The third document under consideration was granted by King William in favor of the priory of St. Pancras, Lewes (Sussex), founded by the Norman magnate William of Warenne and his wife, Gundrada, in the late 1070s or early 1080s.Footnote 122 It concedes the manor of West Walton (Norfolk), held by Warenne of the king, and is probably therefore a confirmation of Warenne's gift. Its signa, who were all quite possibly present when the transactions recorded in the charter were made or when King William confirmed the document, include the king, his sons William and Henry, William of Warenne, Thomas, archbishop of York, the bishops of Salisbury, Winchester, Lincoln, and Durham, Edward the sheriff, and Miles Crispin.Footnote 123 Bates established firm date limits of 1081 and 1086 for the charter, based on the consecration of William, bishop of Durham, in 1081 and the fact that Little Domesday Book, which can be dated with a reasonable degree of certainty to 1086, records that Cluny Abbey, Lewes Priory's mother house, held West Walton from William of Warenne.Footnote 124
Within these secure dating limits, a narrower possible chronological envelope can be suggested. A date after the commencement of Robert Curthose's second rebellion against his father (which began sometime after 9 January or 31 March 1084) is suggested by the fact that Acta William I, no. 176, is one of the three extant acta of King William in which his sons William and Henry appear together but without their elder brother, Robert, one of which (no. 146) was issued in 1086.Footnote 125 Added to this, nine of no. 176's sixteen signa were present at the Steyning plea (no. 146), four of them (the bishops Osmund of Salisbury, Walchelin of Winchester, Remigius of Lincoln, and William of Durham) being closely associated with the Domesday survey.Footnote 126 Moreover, Walter Giffard, whose name also appears among no. 176's sixteen signa, was a Domesday commissioner.Footnote 127 No. 176 might even have been issued at Salisbury; this is suggested by the precedence given in its list of signa to Osmund, bishop of Salisbury (consecrated bishop in 1078), over his senior bishops Remigius of Lincoln (consecrated possibly in 1067) and Walchelin of Winchester (consecrated 1070), and by the appearance in this list of Edward the sheriff, probably Edward, sheriff of Wiltshire, also known as Edward of Salisbury.Footnote 128 As noted above, Edward held land in Lacock. He also had links with Domesday Book beyond the conventional recording of his lands. He was connected with Salisbury, and Domesday Book respects his desire to articulate in his testimony how proud he was of his Wiltshire manor of Wilcot, which had “a new church, and an excellent house, and a good vineyard.”Footnote 129 It is also significant that no. 176 uses Domesday language. It refers to West Walton as a mansionem, the normal word used for an estate in Exon Domesday, and it speaks of “my” (that is, the king's) barons (barones mei), which is the equivalent of the term commonly used in the geld accounts in Exon to describe those who held land directly of the king. The same terms were used in the record of the questions asked by those who conducted the Domesday survey.Footnote 130
It is also significant that no. 176 reflects the logic of legitimacy evident in the Conqueror's acta relating to Fécamp Abbey and in the Domesday survey. King William granted West Walton to Lewes Priory for the soul of his lord and “antecessoris” King Edward, the soul of his father, Robert, his own soul, the souls of his wife, his sons, and successors (indicating that his family and Edward's were one and the same), and those of William and Gundrada of Warenne, who were the donors. As another section of this charter, dealing with “the privileges of baronial religious foundations,” is “much more likely to be the formulation of the king's will than a mere monastic scribe working for the beneficiary,” it is probable that the king's will also influenced the clause concerning souls.Footnote 131 In granting West Walton to Lewes Priory, the king, it appears, was greatly concerned with the spiritual welfare and legitimacy of his dynasty.
Further light on the nature of William's patronage of Lewes Priory is cast by other royal charters for the house. One is a diploma that William issued at some point between 1078 and 1080 or 1081, possibly at a time when Robert Curthose was first in rebellion against him. In it William declared that, moved by divine inspiration, he agreed to grants made by the Warennes to Cluny, including the church of St. Pancras, Lewes, for the safety of his realm and the health of his soul.Footnote 132 The diploma was written by the same chancery scribe, the only one known from William's reign, who also wrote two more charters for him, including one version of the charter granting Steyning to Fécamp Abbey in 1085.Footnote 133 Another royal charter for Lewes Priory, issued by Henry I between ca. September and Christmas 1100, shortly after his questionable and soon to be contested accession, was granted for the health of Henry's soul and those of his parents and faithful men, and for the state of his realm.Footnote 134 Commenting on Anglo-Norman royal charters linking the souls of the ruling family with the safety of the realm, Emma Mason argues that “Dangers to the cohesion of the Anglo-Norman regnum correlate to a marked extent with the fluctuating patronage extended by the Anglo-Norman kings towards Westminster Abbey, and other religious houses, in their search for one which would symbolize and enhance the stability of their dynasty.”Footnote 135 Mason points out that after the death in 1120 of his only legitimate son, William, a deeply destabilizing event, Henry I was keen to make benefactions to Westminster Abbey “for the souls of . . . himself, king Edward his kinsman, and those of his antecessors and successors,” and (separately) for his own soul and those of Edward, his father, William, his mother, Matilda, his brother, William Rufus, his wife, Matilda, and his dead son, William.Footnote 136
It is also significant that in the year following his son William's death, Henry founded a new abbey at Reading that was closely linked with Lewes Priory. Although the surviving text of Henry's foundation charter for Reading might be an improved version of the original,Footnote 137 his concern there for his own soul, that of his wife, Queen Matilda, and the souls of the members of his dynasty (William I and his queen Matilda, William II, and his predecessors and successors) rings true.Footnote 138 Reading Abbey was staffed with monks drawn not only from Cluny Abbey but also from Lewes Priory whose prior, Hugh of Amiens, became Reading's first abbot.Footnote 139 It is clear, therefore, that during the reigns of William the Conqueror and his youngest son, Lewes Priory was closely linked at times of crisis with the spiritual welfare of the Norman royal dynasty and the stability of the realm it ruled.
Two more considerations support the argument that no. 176 reflects (in part) an attempt to support the legitimacy and maintain the stability and security of the Norman regime and dynasty during the troubled political circumstances of 1085–86. The first is that Lewes Priory's patron saint, Pancras, might have been used by the Normans to help justify their conquest of England.Footnote 140 The twelfth-century Warenne Chronicle, a source linked closely to the Warenne family, depicts Harold Godwineson swearing his famous (allegedly broken) oath to Duke William on sacred relics and an amulet of Saint Pancras called “the bull's eye.”Footnote 141 Although the presence of this amulet has rightly been questioned, it cannot be ruled out.Footnote 142 From the sixth century at least, Saint Pancras was regarded as an avenger of perjurers and swearers of false oaths.Footnote 143 He would have been a logical spiritual ally for William the Conqueror against Harold and against Robert the Frisian, Count of Flanders, who threatened to invade England in 1085. Like Harold, Robert was an alleged perjurer, accused of breaking an oath renouncing his claim to Flanders and another oath (of fealty) to his nephew and lord, Arnulf, Count of Flanders, whom he subsequently fought at the battle of Cassel in 1071 (during which Arnulf was killed) and then superseded as count.Footnote 144
The second further consideration supporting the argument that no. 176 reflects an effort to support the legitimacy, stability, and security of Norman rule in England stems from evidence that earlier attempts were made by the ruling family to use benefactions to Lewes Priory as a means of expiating political and military sins committed by some of its members. Although the priory's foundation certainly involved conventional piety,Footnote 145 there are signs that it was also influenced by the ramifications of the death of Arnulf, Count of Flanders, during the battle of Cassel. According to some accounts, Arnulf was killed (perhaps murdered) by one of his own men, Gerbod (brother of Gundrada of Warenne), who sought papal forgiveness and was sent to Cluny to do penance as a monk.Footnote 146 It has been suggested that the foundation of Lewes Priory was part of a deal in which the abbot of Cluny promised in return to care for Gerbod, “and by implication” accepted “a settlement for the atonement of his [Gerbod's], and by extension, his family's culpability” in Arnulf's death.Footnote 147 It has also been proposed that William the Conqueror's willingness to support Cluny Abbey and Lewes Priory might have been influenced by his wife Matilda's position as Arnulf's aunt and his own possible kinship with Gerbod.Footnote 148
When considering King William's patronage of Lewes Priory, it is also noteworthy that the abbot of Cluny and other Cluniac monks were involved in negotiating the peace between William and Robert Curthose established by Easter 1080, after Robert's first rebellion against his father.Footnote 149 With Robert probably again in rebellion against William in 1086, at a time when England had recently been threatened by foreign invasion, it is quite possible that the Conqueror looked once more to Cluny to promote the peace and stability of his dominions, and to his relative and stalwart supporter, William of Warenne, to help him.Footnote 150 As with the holders of other honors along the south coast, Warenne with his castle at Lewes and lands in Sussex was well placed to help defend England's southern shore against invasion.Footnote 151 His main Norman lands were in northeast Normandy, not far from Flanders.Footnote 152 His wife, Gundrada, was a daughter of the Gerbod who was a hereditary advocate of the monastery of St. Bertin at Saint-Omer and a sister of the Gerbod who took refuge at Cluny, and her Flemish relations were certainly “players in the politics of the marcher counties between Flanders and Normandy.”Footnote 153 And the priory that William and Gundrada had founded at Lewes was a daughter house of Cluny.
Number 195: Charter for the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Aldhelm, Malmesbury
Another document of William the Conqueror, possibly issued in 1086, is a writ notifying his grant to St. Aldhelm—that is, to Malmesbury Abbey, which was dedicated to Aldhelm and Saint Mary—of a three-day fair on Aldhelm's feast day (25 May), the day before it, and the fourth day after it. It was witnessed by the king's son Henry, the counts of Mortain and Meulan, Hugh of Montfort-sur-Risle, Edward the sheriff, and “R. filii Alwart,” who were quite possibly present when it was issued;Footnote 154 Bates has firmly dated it between 1080 or 1081 and 1087, partly on the basis of the date at which one of the witnesses became Count of Meulan.Footnote 155
There are good reasons for suggesting that this writ was issued soon after Whitsun (24 May) 1086. They emerge from a story told by William of Malmesbury, of Saint Aldhelm's miraculous cure at Malmesbury of a boy named Folcwine, who is described as having physical disabilities. William placed the story after the translation of Saint Aldhelm's relics at Malmesbury in 1078 and during Osmund's tenure as bishop of Salisbury, which began in the same year.Footnote 156 William also states that the cure happened on Saint Aldhelm's feast day (25 May) when it coincided with the first day of Whitsun, the ceremonies of the feast having been postponed until the following day. After the cure, the monks of Malmesbury wrote to inform their abbot, who was attending the royal court and brought the miracle to Archbishop Lanfranc's attention. Lanfranc duly promulgated a law throughout England ordering that Aldhelm be worshipped as a saint. An annual market was then established, to be held on Aldhelm's feast day. These events occurred at a time when Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, was trying to secure some of Aldhelm's relics, received the saint's left arm bone, and paid for a silver casket to house it.Footnote 157 As it appears likely that this market was the same institution as the fair granted to Malmesbury Abbey by the Conqueror, the Folcwine miracle occurred at some point between 1078 and the king's death in September 1087. The key to a narrower dating is provided by William of Malmesbury's statement that the miracle happened when Saint Aldhelm's feast day (25 May) coincided with Whitsun, the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday. If the dates of Easter Sunday and Whitsun between 1078 and 1087 are tabulated, the results are revealing (table 1).Footnote 158
The table shows that in the period 1078–1087, Whitsun never fell on 25 May. However, in one year it did fall on 24 May: 1086. It is quite possible that William of Malmesbury was wrong about the coincidence of Saint Aldhelm's feast day and Whitsun but correct in stating that the feast day celebrations were held the day after Whitsun. If this view is accepted, the miracle occurred on 25 May 1086, and its timing was significant. The king's court that the abbot of Malmesbury attended would have been the Whitsun court held at Westminster in 1086, where the Conqueror, together possibly with Lanfranc, knighted his youngest son, Henry, the first witness to no. 195.Footnote 159 The monks of Malmesbury and their abbot appear very keen in 1086 to bring the power of their patron saint, a probable relative of the West Saxon kings, to the attention of the royal court at a time when it was much concerned with the future stability of the Norman dynasty.Footnote 160 It also appears that Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, who is very likely to have been present at the oath of Salisbury a little less than ten weeks after Whitsun in 1086, was alert to the advantages of sharing in Saint Aldhelm's reinvigorated, and now royally sanctioned, cult.
Other considerations support a connection between no. 195 and the events of 1086. This writ is linked with some of the acta considered above. It was witnessed by Edward the sheriff of Wiltshire, also known as Edward of Salisbury, doubtless because it concerns the establishment of a new fair in the shire where he was sheriff. But Edward and two more of its six witnesses—the king's son Henry, and Robert, Count of Meulan—were among the sixteen signa of the Conqueror's charter for Lewes Priory (no. 176).Footnote 161 The recipient of no. 195, Malmesbury Abbey, was only eleven miles (as the crow flies) from Lackham, the location of the Steyning plea (no. 146), and had held land in Lacock.Footnote 162 And the abbey and its saint, Aldhelm (d. 709/10), had strong links with Salisbury. In addition to being abbot of Malmesbury, Aldhelm was also, from 706, the first bishop of Sherborne, a see that amalgamated with that of Ramsbury in 1058 and whose center then moved (at some point between 1075 and 1078) to Salisbury.Footnote 163 Before 1066, Bishop Hereman of Ramsbury tried to relocate his episcopal seat to Malmesbury.Footnote 164 In 1078, the translation of Saint Aldhelm's remains at Malmesbury was presided over by Osmund, bishop of Salisbury.Footnote 165 And, as noted above, Osmund successfully acquired Aldhelm's left arm bone as a sacred relic.Footnote 166
It is not certain that Osmund did so by 1 August 1086, but the presence of relics of Saint Aldhelm at the oath of Salisbury would have been particularly apposite in view of the great store placed by Aldhelm on loyalty to lords in the face of adversity, knowledge of which was preserved by William of Malmesbury. William's Life of Aldhelm cites a letter written by Aldhelm to the abbots subject to the episcopal authority of Saint Wilfrid after Wilfrid was expelled from Northumbria by King Ecgfrith in 678. Its purpose was to persuade the abbots, who were thinking of deserting Wilfrid and allying with his enemies, to remain loyal to their bishop. It poured scorn on those who loved their lords during good times but deserted them during periods of adversity.Footnote 167 In the light of this letter, William the Conqueror's writ announcing that he had granted St. Aldhelm's abbey of Malmesbury a fair, close to the time of the oath of Salisbury and the recent military emergency, would have been entirely pertinent, as would Lanfranc's decision to have Aldhelm worshipped as a saint.
The lives of Saint Aldhelm and Saint Wilfrid suggest further links between no. 195, the Steyning plea (no. 146), and the Norman Conquest. They partially overlapped chronologically with the life of Saint Cuthman, the probable founder of Steyning's church, who might, like Saint Aldhelm, have been related to the West Saxon kings.Footnote 168 This church was also dedicated by the thirteenth century if not earlier to Saint Andrew, a focus of Saint Wilfrid's devotion.Footnote 169 There is evidence, though late and problematic, that Saint Cuthman was born at Chidham, just twenty-five miles from Steyning and only eight from Selsey, Saint Wilfrid's base when converting the South Saxons.Footnote 170 Chidham was just a mile from Bosham, the site of another monastery probably involved in this conversion.Footnote 171 It was from Bosham that Harold Godwineson, who held a manor there, embarked on the fateful journey that led to his swearing his famous oath to Duke William.Footnote 172 We can only guess if Harold included Saint Cuthman and Saint Wilfrid and King Edward, who held a college of secular canons and land in Bosham, in the prayers he said at Bosham's church before sailing across the Channel.Footnote 173 But we can be certain, from the record of the Steyning plea, that William the Conqueror and Fécamp Abbey honored and respected Saint Cuthman and King Edward in 1086 when the Norman regime, whose legitimacy owed so much to Harold's oath and to Edward's status as William's kinsman and antecessor, had recently been seriously threatened.
The links suggested above between the four acta under review, the Domesday survey, and the oath of Salisbury support the argument that William the Conqueror was much concerned in 1085–86 to respond to a crisis he and his advisers easily perceived to be God's punishment for the sins of the Normans. These sins included the invasion of a Christian kingdom to which the Normans had a dubious claim, and the killing of a Christian king, “the Lord's anointed.”Footnote 174 William and his supporters took steps to justify their actions and atone for the violence used in their invasion campaign,Footnote 175 but the bloodshed and the oppression of the English continued long after 1066.Footnote 176 In 1085, the crisis was manifest in a threatened invasion from Denmark and Flanders, the hostility of the French king, the rebellion of William's eldest son, and other challenges to the aging Conqueror.Footnote 177 The situation was so serious that William brought a large army from the continent to defend England and kept an element of it there even after he learned that his enemies could no longer invade.Footnote 178 The need to raise money to pay for troops and improved defenses for England was a major stimulus for the Domesday survey, which was intended (partly) to provide William with more information about England's resources and to generate increased income from them. But the survey was also concerned with recording, legitimizing, reinforcing, and stabilizing the transfer of these resources from the English to their conquerors, a transfer threatened by the crisis of 1085–86. The same concern probably inspired the major assembly at Salisbury on 1 August 1086, where the transfer was made even more secure by the homage performed by the landholders to William for the lands recorded in the Domesday survey, and by the sacred oath they swore to be faithful to him against all other men. Together with the demonstration of royal majesty, the promotion of legitimacy, unity, loyalty, and stability was at the core of this great ceremony, the survey's remarkable finale.
Viewed against this background, the four acta of William considered above, one of them (no. 146) certainly issued in 1086, align with his efforts in the Domesday survey and the Salisbury oath to strengthen his earthly and heavenly support and the legitimacy and stability of his regime, in the face of threatened invasion and the wrath of God. No. 146 refers, as Domesday Book commonly did, to the situation in King Edward's day and is linked to another charter that depicts Edward as William's lord and “antecessor.”Footnote 179 It was also closely connected to a charter (no. 144) that articulates dynastic ties between Edward, William, and William's wife and sons. Another of the four acta (no. 176) uses Domesday language and indicates that Edward, William, and William's immediate family were part of the same legitimate royal dynasty. Three of the four acta (nos. 146, 176, and 195) honor or are associated with three saints especially renowned for their commitment to faithfulness (Cyriac, Pancras, and Aldhelm), two of them (Cyriac and Aldhelm) having close links with Salisbury. And two of the acta (nos. 146 and 195) concern saints (Cuthman and Aldhelm) probably related to the West Saxon royal house.
Further considerations link these four acta to 1086 and Domesday. No. 195 could well have been issued at the Whitsun court held at Westminster in 1086; no. 176 was possibly issued at Salisbury; and no. 146 describes a plea heard by a great assembly (attended by several men present at the Gloucester council of Christmas 1085) at Lackham, less than thirty miles from Salisbury, and possibly only eight days after the assembly held there on 1 August 1086.Footnote 180 Lackham was situated in the parish of Lacock where Edward of Salibsury, sheriff of Wiltshire, held land and possibly shared (with Lackham's lord) the advowson of Lacock's church, dedicated to Saint Cyriac. Edward also attested two of the four acta under review (nos. 176 and 195). And the presence at the Steyning plea (no. 146) and among the signa of no. 176 of four bishops (those of Salisbury, Durham, Lincoln, and Winchester) closely associated with the Domesday survey further reinforces the possible connections of these acta with 1086, as does the attestation of no. 176 by the Domesday commissioner Walter Giffard.Footnote 181
This is not to deny the dangers of assuming that the signa or witnesses to acta were present when the acta were drawn up, or the likelihood that a number of the signa witnesses of the four acta under review were probably together with the king on numerous occasions. However, given that it is quite possible that all of the attesters of the four acta were present when the transactions recorded in them took place and/or when the acta were granted or confirmed by King William, it is reasonable to suggest that the significant overlaps in the attestation of these documents reflect chronological and other connections between them.Footnote 182 Other features of these attestations also suggest links with the mid-1080s. One is the appearance in three of these acta (nos. 146, 167, and 176) of the king's sons William and Henry without their older brother Robert—the only genuine acta of William I in which these younger sons feature in this way. As all of these acta postdate 1080, this suggests that they were issued after Robert's second rebellion against his father, which began sometime after 9 January or 31 March 1084 and probably continued until William's death. In the case of nos. 167 and 176, which share a good number of signa (seven, out of ten and sixteen, respectively), a date in the mid-1080s is also indicated by the attestation of the king's son Henry and Miles Crispin, who was attached to Henry by Easter 1084.Footnote 183 A further narrowing of the possible date of these two acta to 1086 is indicated by the significant proportion of their signa (nine, out of ten and sixteen, respectively) who were also present at the Steyning plea (no. 146).Footnote 184 And if no. 176 was issued in 1086, the appearance among its signa of three of the six witnesses to no. 195 adds to the impression, given by the account of the miraculous cure of the boy Folcwine, that the Conqueror's charter for St. Aldhelm also belongs to this year.Footnote 185
Of the four acta discussed here, the one that brings us closest to the rationale of the Domesday survey and the Salisbury oath is the record of the Steyning plea (no. 146). This record shows King William behaving as a truly responsible ruler, eschewing resting on a Sunday and preferring instead to work overtime worshipping God through the fulfillment of his God-given royal duties. These included exercising justice and protecting an abbey intimately connected with his dynasty and the conquest (as well as a church subject to this abbey and dedicated to an Anglo-Saxon saint possibly of the royal blood) from encroachments by one of his Norman followers. These duties also included confirming grants to this abbey and church made by the Conqueror's legitimate royal predecessor, King Edward. In this it is easy to see William promoting and consolidating the strength, security, stability, and legitimacy of the Norman Conquest and the Norman regime and ruling dynasty to which it gave rise. And it is significant that he set this example of good kingship, which resonates with what happened at Salisbury on 1 August 1086, before another great assembly of magnates, including two of his sons and potential heirs (William Rufus and Henry) at Lackham in 1086, not far from Salisbury and possibly within a few days of when the great oath was sworn there. If, as is very likely, William Rufus and the recently knighted Henry were also with their father at this oath, it is even possible that this magnificent occasion also involved the establishment of loyalty to them as their father's heirs.Footnote 186
This interpretation suggests a further link between the Salisbury oath and Henry's knighting less than ten weeks earlier, a ceremony marking his coming of age and ability from this point to inherit, defend, and rule dominions.Footnote 187 If, as seems probable, Robert Curthose was still in rebellion against his father in 1086, there was all the more reason for the aging Conqueror to make the Salisbury oath and the Steyning plea dramatic demonstrations not only of royal majesty,Footnote 188 but also of royal dynastic strength, unity, continuity, and stability. William could send, thereby, a message to the political community of England and his enemies that, although Curthose had rebelled and England was threatened with invasion, the king still had two loyal adult sons able to succeed him and rule, and that this community had been extended, unified, and reinforced by its overriding loyalty to him as the legitimate ruler of England. William's success in sending that message might well explain why, not long after the Salisbury oath, Edgar Ætheling, a grandson of King Edmund Ironside who had periodically challenged William's authority before joining his court in 1074, “left him [William] because he did not have much honour from him,”Footnote 189 and remained a threat to the Norman regime after William's death.Footnote 190
The questionable legitimacy of the Norman Conquest, the survival of Edgar and his claims to the crown beyond William's reign, and (by 1086) the birth of several sons to Edgar's sister Margaret, queen of Scots, underlines Harvey's point that in “the Danish crisis, it was fundamentally the Conqueror who needed his charter, even more than the magnates did theirs.”Footnote 191 William also needed the support of these magnates and their followers who doubtless expected something in return for their submission and oath at Salisbury. Holt saw this as confirmation of their tenure, enshrined in Domesday Book, which “put a final seal on the Norman occupation.”Footnote 192 This view is not inconsistent with that of Harvey that, threatened by a Danish and Flemish invasion, the Norman settlement was legitimized during the Domesday survey by the oaths of Englishmen sworn in public courts that transformed recent possession into proprietary right and “the conquering elite . . . into the establishment,” and that the oath of Salisbury helped to serve these ends.Footnote 193 Nor is it incompatible with Baxter's views on Domesday promoting security of tenure, or with Bates's arguments that Domesday was an attempt to stabilize the future, legitimize harmful events, depict the transfer of lands from the English to their conquerors as orderly, “transform conquest into government,” and absorb past traumas into a peaceful new order sanctioned by all the free population.Footnote 194 Bates rightly regards the oath of Salisbury as confirming this new order, demonstrating royal majesty, associating the oath-takers with royal power, and affirming “a solemn relationship which encapsulated responsibility that had to be reciprocal.”Footnote 195 Indeed, if the reciprocity and the religion at the heart of what happened in England in 1086 are further explored, we may yet achieve an even deeper understanding of the ultimate purpose of both the oath of Salisbury and the magnificent Domesday Book with which it was so intimately connected.Footnote 196
Appendix 1: The Attestation of William's Acta
In discussing William I's acta, David Bates makes a series of important and incontrovertible observations relating to the caution required in using attestations as evidence. Among them, he notes that
counting attestations is of only limited value; both documentary loss, which could affect the conclusions in an obvious way, and documentary survival, which could give unjustified prominence to a particular kindred group, can . . . drastically distort the picture. The statistics of attestations have meaning only on the basis of a full understanding of documentary form and its implications. It follows that all attestations do not necessarily have equal significance either for an understanding of politics and power or for an individual's career . . . The Anglo-Norman world which I am discussing was one in which the inter-play of “public” and “private” forms of power were reflected in documents whose form was structured by lordship, family and custom. All documents must be evaluated with this statement in mind.Footnote 197
Bates also observes that William's acta also reflect “several diplomatic traditions—of which the Norman and the English are of course the dominant—and have to be analyzed according to different principles.”Footnote 198 Whereas “the vast majority of Norman and continental acta are diplomas followed by signa, a very high proportion of the English are writs that have few or no witnesses.”Footnote 199 It is possible that a short witness list might not represent all those present.Footnote 200 Different versions of the same document might be produced, and the attestations added to and otherwise changed, sometimes over considerable periods of time, especially in the case of long confirmation charters and pancartes, which were edited composite texts often containing multiple, and originally distinct, benefactions. Thus, “we can no longer assume that those who attested were in the king's presence at the moment that the confirmation was made. Rather they must represent individuals whose confirmation the beneficiaries of the document believed to be desirable.” Texts the of confirmations, pancartes, conventiones, reports of pleas, and cartulary copies might be partisan and written long after the transactions or events they described, and could evolve over time, distorting what originally happened.Footnote 201 Even short diplomas, the most common form of William's Norman acta, might go through a process of evolution. The “signa of the majority of the diplomas give the impression of being chosen with the contents of the diplomas in mind.”Footnote 202 The choice was often determined by authority/lordship, kinship, locality, and interest in the document; it could be reflected, for example, in the attestation of King William, his wife and sons, the archbishops, the diocesan bishop, prominent magnates, the donors and their family and lords, and neighbors. Moreover,
The appearance of the surviving originals of both short diplomas and confirmations suggests that they were written in advance of confirmation, that a considerable amount of parchment was left blank to accommodate the signa and that the scribe inserted the names of the signa after the crosses had been made. Their production probably took the form of negotiation between the beneficiary and the grantor which, when concluded, was followed by the writing of the document and its presentation to William for confirmation . . . The dominant influences in the making of most diplomas were clearly those of lordship and kinship. Very few among the signa appear to have been selected at random. Very few are therefore a direct commentary on an individual's power-relationship with the king/duke; instead they are a direct comment on his or her relationship to the gift or agreement being recorded.Footnote 203
Bates also observes that many Norman diplomas “passed through several stages of authentication.”Footnote 204
It is clear, therefore, that considerable caution must be exercised when using attestations as evidence for the presence of attesters at transactions recorded in acta or on the occasions when the acta were granted or confirmed. The same caution applies to arguments that might derive from this one, such as the political and administrative relationships between attesters and the king, and the links between different acta. However, Bates does not rule out the possibility that attesters could be present at some of these transactions or occasions, stating that some of the Conqueror's acta “demonstrate beyond any doubt the presence alongside the king of large numbers of high status signa,” and eschewing the establishment of “any unbreakable rules.”Footnote 205 In line with correct diplomatic practice, where appropriate Bates often uses attestations to help date William's royal acta. Moreover, a recent study of private charters from a British context argues that the “overwhelming likelihood is that witnesses were normally present together on the occasion when their names were recorded,” either at the event or ceremony when the transactions eventually recorded in charters were made, or later when the charters were drawn up, granted, or confirmed.Footnote 206 It remains possible that this was also the case in the four royal acta under review here. To support this contention, the attestation of each of these acta is considered more closely below.
This record of a plea heard before King William lists the names of forty-four individuals who saw the plea, including two of the king's sons, two archbishops, eight bishops, three men of comital rank, eighteen barons, two abbots, three monks, and six laymen. Can we accept this at face value? As Bates noted, this is a partisan document written at Fécamp Abbey.Footnote 207 It is possible that some of the forty-four individuals might have been chosen for the list according to the principles relating to authority/lordship, and kinship discussed by Bates. This might apply, for example, to the king's sons, William and Henry, the two English archbishops, the eight other bishops, the three men of comital rank (one of whom, Roger of Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, held land attached to Steyning), the long list of barones (including William of Eu, who had interests in Lackham where the plea was heard), and the three monks of Fécamp.Footnote 208
However, the list of attendees is so lengthy and, for the most part, distinguished that there is probably more to its composition than this. As Bates notes, there is “a strong tendency for the Norman reports of pleas and conventiones from William's reign to have a larger number of more prestigious testes and signa than the majority of Norman diplomas . . . These documents indicate that there were occasions on which the full weight of the ‘public’ authority of William's Normandy—that is, of the king/duke and his great men—was brought to bear”; however, “Prosopographical analysis of them needs to bear in mind earlier remarks about the way in which signa could be accumulated.”Footnote 209 Bates also appears to consider no. 146 to be among the “diplomas for English and Norman beneficiaries concerning English property, which date from the last seven years of William's reign, and which demonstrate beyond any doubt the presence alongside the king of large numbers of high status signa.”Footnote 210 In addition, Bates regards the appearance of Maurice, bishop of London, among the “barones” of no. 146 as evidence for establishing the earliest dating limit of the plea.Footnote 211 Moreover, in his recent biography of William the Conqueror, Bates notes that the gathering at Steyning had “a remarkably prestigious attendance,” adding that some of those present were “the same group that had been present at Gloucester at Christmas.”Footnote 212 There are good grounds, therefore, for regarding the individuals named as witnessing the Steyning plea as actually present when it was heard.
As noted above, this is a complex document, regarded by Bates as most likely a pancarte or confirmation incorporating “material assembled over a period of time,” possibly compiled in its initial form before 1086 and confirmed at some point between 1080 and 1081, or 1082 and 1083, or 1085 and 1086. Queen Matilda's absence from the list of signa and Bishop William of Durham's inclusion might point to 1086, “since the former attests the Whitsun 1081 diplomas referred to above and the latter does not (see [nos.] 39, 255 [for these diplomas]),” but it “is safe only to assign the charter to the broader limits of 1081 x 1087 and to recognise that amendments were being made to it in the 1090s.”Footnote 213 The amendments referred to relate to grants contained within the charter, rather than to its signa.Footnote 214 It is possible that at least some of these signa were added to the list over a period of time (although most likely before 1087), and also that some of them were chosen according to the principles suggested by Bates. Anselm “took the diploma from Normandy to England ready prepared for William's confirmation.”Footnote 215 It might be, therefore, that the names of the signa had already been included in the diploma before Anselm arrived in England but the king refused to confirm the diploma until all of its donors were present at Whitsun.Footnote 216 As Whitsun was one of the three occasions each year when the king held a great court assembly, it remains possible that the signa of no. 167 were present when the transactions referred to in the charter occurred before the king, and/or when a version of the charter was confirmed and attested by William. Bates regards the bishop of Durham's attestation of no. 167 as evidence for the charter's earliest possible date.Footnote 217
It is possible that some of the signa to this charter were chosen according to the principles considered by Bates, as there are several figures of authority among them, and they also include the donor William of Warenne, who was the co-founder of the beneficiary, Lewes Priory.Footnote 218 However, it might not apply to them all and need not, in any case, rule out the possibility that all of them were present when the transaction recorded in the charter was originally made or when the charter was granted or confirmed. Although Bates notes that the text “may be an early copy, rather than the original,” he does not explicitly question the reliability of the list of signa, and he regards the appearance of William bishop of Durham there as evidence for establishing the earlier dating limit of the document as William's episcopal consecration in 1081.Footnote 219
It is possible that at least some of the witnesses to this Latin writ issued at some point between 1080 and 1087 were chosen according to the principles considered by Bates, as there are several figures of authority among them, including the king's son Henry, his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, another Norman count, and Edward, the sheriff of Wiltshire, the county in which Malmesbury Abbey was located.Footnote 220 However, it might not apply to them all and does not exclude the possibility that all of the witnesses were present when William issued the writ. Bates does not explicitly question the reliability of the witness list, and he regards the appearance of the count of Meulan's name there as grounds for establishing the writ's earliest dating limit. Pertinent here also is Bates's observation that “towards the end of the reign [of William I] . . . the pattern [with regard to the witnessing of Latin writs] is changing; witness is evidently borne not by an interested party, but by someone known to be prominent in the king's entourage.”Footnote 221
Appendix 2: The Attestations