For some half a century East Anglia remained in the hands of the Danes, and of such as they suffered to continue in their possessions. The proverbial happiness of those without annals cannot be claimed for these parts. The little glimpses afforded to us by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are not bright. If we may judge by the analogy of Northumbria, lands were portioned out and tilled 47. As settlement went on, fresh bands from the teeming population of the home country were invited over 48 and in all parts of England the struggle with the Danes was carried on with little intermission. In A.D. 885 King Alfred, who had relieved Rochester from its besiegers, sent his fleet on to East Anglia. At the mouth of the Stour it encountered and defeated sixteen ships of pirates, but suffered defeat immediately afterwards, at the hands of a larger fleet. Next year he repaired to London, and received the submission of all the English, ‘ except those who were under the bondage of the Danish men,’ and before long he had six hostages from the East Angles, by whom we must understand Danes settled in East Anglia. Nevertheless, they as well as those from Northumbria were constantly taking hostile action in concert with their brethren, using the ports of Norfolk and Suffolk as places of retreat in case of being hard pressed. Thus we read that after a desperate fight on the South coast in A.D. 897, the single ship which escaped of the Danish six came to East Anglia, the men being sorely wounded. In 901 the Great Alfred died, and his cousin-german Ethelwald seized the castle at Wimborne Minster in Dorset, but on the approach of Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, as near as Badbury Rings, he retired to the Northumbrian Danes, who received him as King. This renegade Saxon encouraged the men of Norfolk and Suffolk to a general raid in Mercia. Edward followed them as far as the dikes of Cambridgeshire on their return, dealing retribution on their own lands.
The Kentish men in his army disobeyed the order for a general retreat, and somewhere in this district they attacked the Danes, but were unable to drive them from the field. The slaughter was great on both sides, but greater among the Danes, who lost both their kings, Eohric of East Anglia and the traitor Ethelwald. This was in the year 905. Edward’s necessities compelled him to make peace with their army in the next year, a peace which seems to have been the endurance of unavenged injuries. At last, after serious reverses at Tempsford and at Maldon, the army of East Anglia, in the year 921, swore union with Edward, who died King of England, shortly after the fruition of his struggles, four years afterwards. “The land had rest (comparatively) forty years and something more.
Then set in slowly and irregularly a kind of granulation, if we may use a comparison from the healing of a wound. Dane and Angle were after all of a common stock, and there were no radical incongruities of character to be got over. By degrees ancient wrongs came to be forgotten, and even wrongs of later date to assume a less odious aspect. The sons of the Dane saw the daughters of the Angle that they were fair, and merry blue eyes and flaxen locks played no inconsiderable part in consolidation. Grandfathers made friends in the common delight of the gambols of grandchildren. Peace gradually brought prosperity, and prosperity dignity. The state of a Thane became attainable, and to my mind many of the round towers of Norfolk and Suffolk mark the progress of Christianity, as well as the material advance of civilization.
Among the laws passed by Athelstan in the year 937, after the battle of Brunanburg, Brumby or Brunton, with the advice of Wulfhelm, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other bishops, was one which necessitated the building of a bell-tower on the estate of a Thane. This wise regulation I regard as having given rise to many of those round towers which are hardly to be found out of East Anglia. One of them, Eccles Tower, a well-known object on the Norfolk beach, fell in the terrific gale of Wednesday, January 23, 1895, and in its fall revealed its wheat-stalk-like construction. From its appearance it was evidently built in sections of about 10 or 12 feet. Each portion is perfectly smooth where broken off in its fall, as if the builder allowed one portion to firmly settle before another was added. This is observable throughout the circular portion. The walls of this part are exactly 5 feet in thickness. The massive tower-arches, always on the east side, testify to the ecclesiastical nature of the structures, evidently intended to open into a church, and the frequent contiguity of church and landlord’s homestead rendered tower and bell useful for many mixed purposes. Many of the old moated farm-houses now standing bear the name of ‘hall,’ a term strictly more applicable to the moat than to the house enclosed by it.
Some of the round towers stand near the halls ; others, marking possibly the joint action of the village community, rather than the mandate of an incepting thane, are more in the little street of the parish. Of the whole number in Suffolk, forty-five, some may date after the Conquest ; many have received subsequent additions, occasionally octagonal. I append a list of them, those marked with the letter o being of the last description :
|Ashby, o.||Gunton.||Rushmere, All Saints.|
|Barsham.||Hasketon, o.||Rushmere, St Andrew, o.|
|Blundeston.||Holton, St. Peter.||Southelmham, All Saints.|
|Bradwell.||Ilketshall St. Andrew.||Syleham.|
|Bradley, Little.||Ilketshall St. Margaret.||Theberton, o.|
|Bruisyard, o.||Mutford, o.||Thorpe, St. Peter.|
|Burgh, St. Peter.||Nowton.||Weybread.|
|Bungay, Holy Trinity.||Onehouse.||Wissett.|
|Frostenden.||Rickinghall Inferior, o.||Westleton.|
It will be seen that these structures thicken as we approach the coast, where in all probability the Scandinavian population most abounded. I would especially name Bungay, Holy Trinity ; Southelmham, All Saints ;Syleham and Wissett, as possessing marks of high antiquity. Bramfield Church is now detached from the tower, and Little Saxham in all likelihood dates entirely from Norman times.
This more settled condition of the country draws me to speak of the names of parishes as now existing, the majority of them mainly of Teutonic, if not of Angle, character. It is only with hesitation that one dare speak of Combs, with its falsely-added s, as equivalent to the Wessex Combe, and the Welsh cwm, as first a hollow, and then a village in a hollow. There is some encouragement in thinking of a similar history in other languages. Lin in Linstead and Linburne (in Homersfield) suggests a gully, of which there are traces. Burgh or Bury is indeed cosmopolitan, but comes to us through a German channel49. There are about a dozen of these in the county, and the position of the earthwork in each should be, if possible, recorded, as spade and pickaxe are fast obliterating these precious parcels of the past. Ton and ham muster about a hundred each, the former perhaps rather denoting equality, and the latter ascendancy, in a community. Ford claims about five-and-twenty. Field falls mainly into two groups, one in the hundred of Hoxne, with ramifications into Loes and Blything; the other in the Suffolk Woodlands. By, connected with biggan, to build, is very Danish, and mainly affects the coast hundreds, but Risby lies further inland. These, with stead, worth, hall (always spelt hale in old documents), thorpe, which is the German dorf, and denotes a satellite to some superior village planet, and a few more, will be found to complete our Suffolk terminations of local names.
Remains of Saxon architecture are scanty enough. Here and there, as at Syleham and Holy Trinity Church, Bungay, the well-known “long and short work may be seen, and St. Nicholas’s Church, Ipswich, is thought by some to claim a like antiquity.
Many of the moats surrounding our farm-houses; are due to the energy of the Saxon landowners, for the houses are named in Domesday Book in such a way as to indicate habitations of no recent settlement. What has been said about ‘hall’ and I hale ‘ may surprise some readers, but Suffolk people are still familiar with the Hord in the form ‘holl’ for a ditch.
The history of St. Fursey has already introduced us to the monastic life. His, indeed, was strictly a monastery or hermitage—the abode of a solitary man. And Bede’s words about King Sigebert point to a similar life, that he entered ‘ a monastery which he had made for himself.’ But man is a social animal, and the law that I it is not good for man to be alone ‘ wrought at this time for the aggregation of men apart from women, as it did afterwards for the destruction of that system.
St. Benedict himself began his ascetic life in solitude, but early in the sixth century formulated the rule which goes by his name. Pope Gregory the Great being a Benedictine, his emissary Augustine naturally brought the Rule to England ; and though Suffolk can show but little of early Benedictine history, it is not quite destitute, even in the Saxon period, of traces of that great system which in its day so remarkably nursed literature as well as theology.
We can only note the early destruction of small Benedictine houses at Hadleigh, Hoxne and Stoke-by-Nayland, as recorded by Tanner, and turn to the establishment of that rule at Bury St. Edmund’s.
The body of St. Edmund, which had remained there till A.D. 1010, when it was temporarily removed to London, had been guarded by a college of secular canons. These seculars did not renounce private property, though living according to rule in other respects. They were accused of negligence in keeping the records of miracles – an offence which will be variously estimated in later ages and of carelessness about the shrine itself.
In A.D. 990 Athelstan, Bishop of Elmham, transferred the guardianship to one who had left them for the Benedictine rule, Ailwin, from St. Bene’t’s-at-Hulme. Twenty years afterwards the later Danish troubles forced Ailwin to seek a more sure resting-place for the martyr’s body than East Anglia could afford, and he carried it to London by Stratford, his difficulties at crossing the Lea being graphically told by Lydgate. But in the course of three years, in a brief political calm, he returned with it to Bury St. Edmund’s, whither Canute brought, in A.D. 1020, Uvius, Prior of Hulm, who was consecrated the first Abbot of St. Edmundsbury. From him and his eleven companions grew that grand abbey, of which the remains are still one of the great sights of the county.
The sudden growth of St. Edmundsbury is marvellous, and testifies to the great popularity of the memory of the martyr-King, and to the profound regard for his uncorrupt body. This epithet of itself is not inconsistent with embalming, but the popular belief invested it with a miraculous character, which does not seem borne out by the evidence adduced, as that of the woman Oswene, who used ‘with holy temerity’ on every Maundy Thursday to comb the saint’s hair and to pare his nails, or of the youth Leofstan, who was struck with madness for his bold attempt to gaze on the remains of the saint, and appears to have seen nothing, and through his insanity to have been incapable of recording anything which was to be seen. It is to be noted that the incorruption of the body is not mentioned in the account of the town in Domesday Book.
Now, from the appointment of Abbot Uvius to the accession of Edward the Confessor the period is only twenty-one years. Put ten or twelve years to this, and we shall not be far out for that undefined ‘ time of King Edward’ which all Domesday readers know by the letters T.R.E. (Tempore Regis Edwardi), and it is instructive to see the progress of the abbey up to that time. Two specimens shall be taken : the hundred of Risbridge in the Suffolk Woodlands for the south-west, and the hundred of Wangford for the north-east. In the former under St. Edmund there were 12 freemen in Poslingford, 7 in Stansfield, 9 in Thurlow, 18 in Bradley, 5 in Kedington,1 in Wratting, and 2 in Haverhill. In the latter the abbey practically held the town of Beccles, save that the King had a fourth part of the market ; also thirty acres of land, two of meadow and the fifth part of a mill in Linburne, which is now in Homersfield ; and half a church, valued at 12d., in Worlingham. If we travel into other districts, the result is the same. Chepenhall, now a farm in the parish of Fressingfield, was given to St. Edmund by its Saxon owner Swartingstone, and formed a convenient halting-place for pilgrims on the I broad road leading from Dunwich to Bury St. Edmund’s 50.
For a long time we have a blank record in the chronicles. The turn of Ipswich to be plundered came in the year 991, when Brihtnoth, the Ealdorman, probably of East Anglia, was slain at Maldon. Tribute was recommended by Archbishop Siric of Canterbury, and yielded with the usual result.
Ethelred ‘the Unready,’ ‘unstable in all his ways,’ in the same year (1002) paid £24,000 to the fleet, and treacherously massacred the Danes in England on St. Britius’s Day, November 13. For this Sweyn took an ample revenge, burning Norwich within two years, and striking such terror into the country that Ulfketyl the Ealdorman counselled another purchase of peace.
During the truce the army stole up from their ships and marched on Thetford. The Ealdorman, who by this time appears to have recovered some courage, attempted to cut off their retreat by breaking up their ships, but those to whom he trusted this work failed in it. However, the Norfolk and Suffolk men came round him and gave a good account of themselves when Sweyn’s men were falling back, after having burnt Thetford. Many chiefs fell in the fray, in which their foes said that ‘they had never met a worse hand-play.’ The cycle of ravage had returned. Ipswich saw further trouble in A.D. 1010, preliminary to a general harrying of East Anglia, which was repeated three years afterwards. Next year Sweyn died ; but the struggles with Canute swept off many of the Angle nobility, especially at Assandun (Ashdon in Essex), where he built a minster of stone and lime, appointing to it Stigand, one of his priests, who became Bishop of Elmham in A.D. 1038, and in A.D. 1052 was promoted to Canterbury. Our divisions into hundreds are said to date from Alfred the Great, but perhaps some more settled districts got into shape earlier than others less favoured. Including the liberty of Ipswich, there are twenty-three hundreds. Seven of them are named from fords, Carlford, Cosford, Sampford, and Wilford in the south ; Mutford and Wangford in the north-east ; Lackford in the north-west. These fords, no doubt, were convenient for a hundred-mote hard by, but we can assign localities only. to the last two : Wangford, the ford over the Waveney, already treated of in Chapter III.; and Lackford, the ford over the Lark, just where that parish now joins Icklingham All Saints. Two are meres, Bosmere and Hartismere, the latter perhaps the small lake from which Redgrave Water was developed. Blything takes its name from the river which flows through it. The origin of the rest I leave to conjecture.
The county is not rich in discovered interments of the Anglo-Saxon time. The sexton of Hundon some years ago is recorded to have come upon a hoard of Saxon coins in that churchyard 51, which looks like an instance of ‘grave goods 52, and some of the stone coffins found at Icklingham and elsewhere may be those of ante-conquestal ecclesiastics.
Clarke of Easton, in his uncouth doggerel, often gives valuable information, in spite of his mixing up all periods in a fashion peculiar to himself :
Ipswich, an ancient borough town ;
Here Woolsey’s college was pulled down :
Nothing remains but entrance gate
And royal arms in mouldering state.
This town once had a royal mint,
Sipold on Gipespic coin’d in’t
For King Etheldred the Second:
Sparrowe’s house quite antique reckon’d. 52,
He is sceptical about a mint at Dunwich, but the same rhyme comes in conveniently :
’Tis said that Dunwich had a mint,
But not much faith is placed in’t ;
The coin that has made so much talk,
There’s little doubt was struck at York. 53
Among the larger possessions of Saxon thanes, may be mentioned those of Edric of Laxfield, about the time of Edward the Confessor, an example of that tendency of property of which Tennyson’s Northern Farmer speaks with such intense feeling :
But proputty, proputty sticks ; and proputty, proputty graws.
Reckoning the carucate at 120 acres, this man owned some 6,000 acres, chiefly in the hundreds of Hartismere and Hoxne ; besides possessions of great value across the Norfolk border, dotted about from Kilverstone to Dilham, freemen and freewomen ‘commended’ to him all over the two aforesaid hundreds, and ‘ soc and sac ‘in Bading¬ham, Stradbroke, and Chepenhall54. These ‘commended’ persons were such as lived under a great man’s protection. and owed him service, as it were deposited with him for his keeping, as the great Roman lawyer Ulpian explains the word55. ‘Sac,’ which exists in our’ sake,’ equivalent to cause, and ‘soc,’ from soca, a plough, are terms belonging to the patriarchal justice then administered by the lords of the soil, the value of which consisted in ‘forfeits, fines and fees.’
Stigand, Bishop of Elmham, when he was translated to Winchester, was succeeded by Grinketyl, who held the see for four years, giving place to Bishop Ailmar, whose name so often occurs in Domesday Book. He was too much of a Saxon for William the Conqueror, who took an early opportunity of getting rid of him.
With regard to the earldom, the old Saxon family dis¬appears from the scene. Perhaps all perished at Assandune, or in subsequent troubles, or a remnant may have preferred a safe skulking to a hazardous eminence. Canute, in 1017, divided the realm into four parts, appointing Thurkill to East Anglia. His short rule of four years is followed by a period of more than twenty years of which we have no account56. In 1045 Harold, the son of Godwin, seems to become Earl, but only an occa¬sional flicker of his earldom shows itself We catch a glimpse of him and his East Angles marching down from the Cotswold into the Vale of Gloucester, under Godwin’s command, to plead with that cogency that pertains to an armed array, in the presence of Edward the Confessor, for justice on Eustace of Boulogne and his followers for their ravages committed at Dover. The intervention of Leofric of Mercia warded off the struggle, and the Suffolk homesteads received back their men unscathed. Five years afterwards Harold took flight, and after some delay Alfgar, the son of Leofric, succeeded him, holding the earldom till the memorable Mickle Gemote of London, in September, 1052, restored the Godwin family to their old position.
Next year Godwin died, and Edward the Confessor and his Witan transferred Harold from the more ancient earldom of East Anglia to the more extensive one of Wessex. The general joy at this promotion seems to argue favourably for the state of East Anglia under Harold. Alfgar now sought and obtained restitution to that post which he had occupied for so short a period. Indeed, the earldoms changed hands about that time with a velocity which could not have proved beneficial either to ruler or ruled. Alfgar’s father, the great Leofric, died on the last day of August, 1057, and his French successor, Ralph, followed him before the year was out. In spite of serious faults in his character, Alfgar was allowed to succeed his father in Mercia, and Harold’s younger brother Gurth became Earl of the East Angles. But the territory was cut short by the subtraction of Essex, which helped to create an earldom for another brother, Leofwin, Oxfordshire being added afterwards for important political reasons, as well as by compensation. Gurth remained Earl till the day when he and his brothers fell at Senlac, and the Saxon gave way to the Norman.
- In Northumbria in A.D. 876.
- See Anglo-Saxon Cbronicle for A.D. 921.
- Vegetius Renatus, writing about the end of the fourth century, defines it as a small fort ; Isidore of Seville as dwellings within an enclosure.
- So frequently termed in deeds.
- J. Clarke of Easton, Suffolk Antiquary, P. 22.
- Suffolk Antiquary, p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 13.
- Now in Fressingfield.
- Commendare nihil aliud est quam deponere!
- Freeman’s ‘Norman Conquest,’ ii. 572.