THE thrilling events of the Norman Conquest told on Suffolk chiefly by change of proprietorship. The men whose names ended in wulf, ketyl, bert, and win went out, and the men whose names began in Fitz, De and Le came in. One remarkable survival is that of the ante-conquestal Toelmag in the Tollemaches of Helmingham. What Edric of Laxfield had done we know not ; but, as a rule, we know that Robert Malet, or the Hammer, held the broad lands that were Edric’s in the days of Edward the Confessor. Roger of Poitou, Ralph Baynard, William de Varennes, and other friends of the victor, eminently Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, appear as the new owners. No earl held Suffolk as his sole jurisdiction, Norwich in the course of a little time becoming the civil and ecclesiastical centre ; and from the well-known hill of that city was wielded the rod of county authority till the reign of Richard II.
The fortunes of the Malet family may serve as a comment on those days.
The family was founded by William Malet, of Graville, in Caux, Normandy. He married Hesilia Crispin, descended from Crisping, daughter of Rollo, first Duke of Normandy. He took part in the battle of Hastings, where his rashness nearly lost him his life. According to most of the chroniclers of the time whose accounts are accepted by Freeman, he was entrusted with the burial of Harold’s body on the sea-shore, before its removal to Waltham. He was made Sheriff of York, and placed in charge of the city when it was taken by William in 1068; but only a year later he was made prisoner by the Danes when they recaptured the city. Probably, soon exchanged, he died during the campaign against Hereward the Wake in 1071. He was one of the few nobles allowed to build a castle, which he did at Eye. He also established a market there by the King’s leave. It is recorded in Domesday that this market rendered quite valueless that of the Bishop established at Hoxne. There is no account of the amount of his very large possessions in England, but besides those into which he entered without question, his son Robert laid claim to many lordships in York and Lincolnshire ; but the chief bulk of his property was undoubtedly in Suffolk.
In the King’s grant to Lanfranc of the manor of Fracenham 57, Robert Malet is styled Vicecomes. There is no mention of him in the reign of William Rufus, but in Henry I’s reign he was Grand Chamberlain of England. Unfortunately, he joined Robert de Bellesme, Earl of Shrewsbury, and others, in inviting Robert Duke of Normandy to invade England. In the treaty between Robert and Henry it was stipulated that Robert’s adherents should not suffer for joining his cause ; but notwithstanding this agreement Robert Malet was banished from the country, and all his English possessions were confiscated. He retired to his Norman estates, where he passed the rest of his life. He was supposed to have been killed at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106. His forfeited estates were granted to Stephen of Blois, while his office of Grand Chamberlain was given to Aubrey de Vere, in whose family it became hereditary. He married Elisée de Brionne, daughter of the Count of Brionne. His son William went as a banneret to the first Crusade in the train of Duke Robert. In 1109 he was banished, like his father, for participation in the rebellion of Helias, Earl of Maine, and, like his father, retired to Normandy. Of his two sons, one founded the still existing French family ; another, Hugh, remained in England, where he married an heiress and settled in the West. Robert Malet had a brother, Gilbert, the last of whose descendants, William Malet, was one of the guarantors of Magna Carta.
To revert to the earldom: East Anglia was destitute of such a dignitary till nine years after the Conquest, when the North-folk and the South-folk were united under the title of the former. There was a certain Ralph de Guader, to adopt the best known form of many spellings, a Breton on his mother’s side, though his father was a Norfolk man named Ralph. Like most of the military adventurers of the day, he was not averse to a good match, and found one in Emma, daughter of the powerful William Fitz-Osberne, Earl of Hereford, and joint-Regent with Bishop Odo during the Conqueror’s absence in Normandy. So far as conflicting authorities may be reconciled, it seems that the King’s consent to the marriage had been obtained and withdrawn. The great Earl William died about this time, and his second son, Roger, a young man, took his place. The marriage took place at Exning, but according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there was a bridal feast at Norwich :
Then was that bride-ale
The source of man’s bale.’
Ralph de Guader, newly-created Earl of Norfolk, had amongst his guests his young brother-in-law, Earl Waltheof, son of the great Siward of Northumbria, and bishops and abbots. There seems to have been good cheer and strong talk, and in the end a dangerous con spiracy, which broke up through the defection of Waltheof. Ralph de Guader escaped from Norwich by water, got out to sea, sailed to Brittany; and thence to Denmark, where his later plottings resulted in failure. With his departure the East Anglian earldom collapsed for some sixty years, when it was renewed in the Bigod family. However the realm in general may have suffered at the hands of the lordly owners of castles in those days when ‘men openly said that Christ and His saints slept,’ the scourge was comparatively lightly laid on in Suffolk. There are but six castles to be ascribed to this period Framlingham, Haughley, Bungay, Eye, Clare, and Orford. The first has already been mentioned in the account of St. Edmund, the Martyr-King. It has but little advantage of natural position. Uncertain, but not improbable, tradition represents it as a stronghold of King Redwald, what time he held Court at Rendlesham. The first and second Norman kings are said to have held it in their own hands. Shortly after his accession, Henry I. granted it to Roger Bigod (A.D. 1103). The present building arose on its ruins.
In the other instances existing earthworks appear to have been utilized. Haughley and Eye stand upon high artificial mounds, which may have been memorials to mighty men, unrecorded in the history of their remote times. The keep at Bungay is well protected on the west by a great earthen vallum, apparently forming one side of a large rectangular enclosed space, of which a small part of the north boundary also remains on Outney Common, as yet not quite obliterated by the operations of the Great Eastern Railway.
After awhile this keep received an outer fence of curtains and round towers, so that each tower could be defended separately, and in case of all surrendering, the keep itself might prolong resistance. And here a remarkable discovery was made in 1891. In the bailey, or enclosure between the keep and the outer walls, was found the square well, its sides properly plastered, and a grim underground apartment about 14 feet square, with two square shafts through which a scanty supply of air and a hardly perceptible modicum of light would be admitted. A more effectual comment on the condition of captives within these walls could hardly be afforded than by the inspection of this dreadful hole. Many have been the vicissitudes of Bungay Castle. At Whitsuntide, 1140, Stephen came with his army on Hugh Bigod, and took ‘Castellurn de Bunie,’ which he soon restored. This policy of deprivation and restoration was repeated by Henry II., but Bigod a third time defied the reigning sovereign, taking the side of the King’s rebellious sons in 1174, It was on this occasion that he is said by tradition to have uttered the well-known words : “Were I in my castle of Bungay, upon the river Wavenay, I would not care for the King of Cocknay.” He that seeks the origin of this story is not so likely to find it, as to find the origin of the modern-antique ballad, which appears for the first time in the pages of Suckling. The ruined site and the earldom were restored to Roger, son of Hugh, in 1188, by Richard I., but the place remained desolate for nearly a century. In 1281 Edward I. issued to another Roger Bigod, now not only Earl of Norfolk but also Earl Marshal, the usual license to crenellate his mansion of Bungay.
It is remarkable that the latter part of the eleventh century witnessed no independent monastic foundations in Suffolk. It is not till A.D. 1120 that the Benedictine nuns, non-affiliated, were settled at Redlingfield. There were, however, three cells to abbeys, in Normandy by the end of William the Conqueror’s reign, two of them to Bernay (Creting. St. Mary and Eye), and one to Greistein (Creting St.Olave), besides Rumburgh, which Blakere and other Benedictine brethren from St. Bene’t’s-at-Hulm formed about the same time.
The learned and wealthy abbey of Bec, in Normandy, over which Archbishops Lanfranc and Anselm presided in their earlier days, had cells at Blakenham and Clare. William Martel founded Snape, A.D. 1099, dependent on St. John of Colchester; and Felixstowe, which is supposed to have been removed to the neighbourhood of Walton Church, was made a cell to Rochester by Roger Bigod early in the reign of Henry I. The foundation at Hoxne originated from the gift of the church there, and the chapel near the spot where St. Edmund was slain, to the Norwich priory by Bishop Herbert de Losinga, A.D. 1101. Thus arose a small cell in that village, charged with the care of the lamps before St. Edmund’s image, to which pilgrimages were constantly made.
Colne Priory in Essex, a daughter of Abingdon, was in charge of the small house at Edwardstone, which does not appear to have lasted quite half a century (1114- 1160), at the expiration of which time two secular priests were appointed to pray in Edwardstone Church for the founder’s soul, Hubert de Montchensy, and the possessions passed to Colne.
Another little house, Wickham Skeith, founded by Sir Robert de Salcovilla, or Sackville, belonged, like Snape, to Colchester.
If Norman influence is felt in the foregoing instances, it may well be expected in the Cluniac and Cistercian foundations. We have two of each in Suffolk, all cells: the Cluniacs, Mendham and Wangford ; the Cistercians, Sibton and Coddenham. The glories of the great abbey of Cluny have departed. The little ‘one-horse’ town on the higher ground which forms the watershed between the Saone and the Loire is to most people nothing more than a name, if so much ; and of the multitudes who visit the Mus6e de Cluny in Paris, a small percentage indeed will think of it as the former palace of the wealthy Abbots of Cluny.
Wealth, learning, and state, characterized this Order, and each showed its reproductive power. The great house at Lewes, with its Cluniac double transepts, was founded by William, Earl of Warenne, and his wife, Gundrada, considered by the late Professor Freeman as a daughter of the Conqueror’s Queen, Matilda, by her former husband, Gerbod 58,’ in the year 1077. The gratitude for their kindly reception at Cluny did not exhaust itself in Sussex. The next year saw the Castle Acre Priory begun, with the help of four monks from Lewes, and more of the same Order appeared at Thetford, A.D. 1104. Mendham was a cell to Castle Acre, and Wangford to Thetford, both being, as it were, grand-daughters of Lewes, and great-grand-daughters of Cluny. The traveller along the Waveney Valley will see on the Suffolk side of that river, between Shotford and Mendham bridges, a ragged but venerable mass of masonry “in the place called Hurst or Bruninhurst, being then a woody isle.” It is so little above the river as to raise a feeling of surprise how these Cluniacs could have escaped the floods to which the Waveney has been at all times subject, and certainly to dispel the idea that the water-level used to be higher than it now is. Much of the beautiful Norman arcading has been removed to Mendham Place, a mile or two distant, where it stands as a curious comment on the taste and fancy of those who transplanted it. The foundation dates from 1140, when William, son of Roger de Huntingfield, gave the isle of “Medenham”, or the place of meadows, to the Castle Acre Cluniacs, on condition that they should build a house and place at least eight of their monks there.
About 30 feet of wall on the south side of Wangford Church will be all that a visitor can see of that Cluniac cell, founded by a steward of the royal household, whom Bishop Tanner takes to be identical with Eudo, Dapifer, founder of St. John’s, Colchester, though Leland’s ver sion of the name is Doudo Asini. The date is circa 1160. Contrasting itself with the Cluniacs stands before us the severe Order of Cistercians, ascetics to the core. They had existed at Citeaux only thirty years, when they came to England in 1128, backed by the great name of St. Bernard. Wealth indeed was theirs. They could not have avoided it. Learning was theirs in abundance, but not state. The “cell” system was replaced by visitations from the abbey from which the house originated. Thus Sibton, being an offshoot from Wardon in Bedford shire, was liable to a visitation by that Abbot, and, in like manner, Wardon could be visited by the Abbot of Foun tains, Fountains by Clairvaux, and Clairvaux by Citeaux, the mother of them all . 59
The Sibton house was founded in 1149 or 1150 by William de Cheney, greatly helped at the time by his daughter, the Lady Margery de Cressy.
Eustace de Mere appears to have failed of the purpose intended in the Coddenham foundation, and eventually to have turned it over to the Austin canons of his establish ment in Royston. That it was intended to be Cistercian is clear by his confirming the grant of Coddenham Church to the convent, which he describes as of the same Order as that of Appleton in Yorkshire, a Cistercian nunnery. Castles and abbeys are manifestly but small factors in this portion of the history of Suffolk. In the north-west the great abbey of St. Edmund grew and prospered, and its liberty, granted by Edward the Confessor, contained the hundreds of Cosford, Babergh, Risbridge, Lackford, Blackburn, Thedwastre, and Thingoe ; and the half-hundred of Exning, consisting of that parish and New market St. Mary’s. As the abbey grew, so its dependencies throve.
Over the rest of the county also a slow and sure development went on. Subsequent changes in architecture have swept much of the Norman work away, but a few grand specimens remain, and many a church-wall of undressed pebbles and flints, now elevated and pierced with third-pointed windows, is the original wall of a little single Norman church. We find in Domesday Book, on the whole, a church to each parish, served by the clerk, nominated in most cases by the Lord of the Manor, whose’ predecessors had erected the building, and from whose acres came the tithe. Such churches we may find at Wiston on the Stour, and at Wordwell, on the heath country between Bury St. Edmunds and Brandon. The nave at Santon Downham and the chancel at Lakenheath are of the same character. Eyke, between Woodbridge and the sea, had a central Norman tower, of which the massive arches are still standing. Little Saxham tower is crested by an elegant circular arcade. At Somerton, Ousden, Mettingham, Wissett, Hargrave, Hawstead, Horham, Kelsale, and other places, are Norman doorways, with that variety of moulding for which the style is remarkable. The beautiful west front of Westhall has been disfigured by a tower of fifteenth-century work built up to it, against which it seems mutely to appeal. Huntingfield and Polstead have excellent arches of this period. But the crown of all the Suffolk work is the great Norman tower at Bury St. Edmunds, originally built as a gateway, restored within my own recollection, and serving now as the campanile for St. James’s Church, whence sound the fine ten bells placed there in 1785.
At once comely and massive, it must be seen to be appreciated. The late Mr. J. H. Parker, to whose action we owe so much preservation of architectural relics, as well as accounts of them, says of it : “This tower affords a valuable specimen of rich early Norman work, of the shallow character, executed with the axe, and not with the chisel. It was built in 1095. A shallow porch has been added in later Norman work.” 60
- Now Freckenham.
- Freeman, ‘Norm. Conq.,’ iii., App. 0, p. 660
- W. H. St. John Hope, in ‘Proceedings of Suffolk Institute of Archeology,’ viii., part i, P.55.
- ‘Churches of Suffolk,’ No. 538