The Norman North East 1067-1080

The Norman Conquest of  the North 1067-1080

William the Conqueror’s conquest of the North was not immediate. The northerners massacred his troops at Durham and York and murdered his appointed earls. It was only after William’s “Harrying of the North” in the winter of 1069 that the conquest of the region began. It was completed by the construction of Norman castles at York, Richmond, Durham and “New Castle”. These became the strongholds of Norman control and authority in the North East.

Durham Cathedral western towers
The imposing Durham Cathedral was a symbol of Christianity and a statement of Norman power © David Simpson

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Dec 25, 1066  – WILLIAM I : ‘Conqueror’

Following his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, William, Duke of Normandy ascends to the throne of England. He is crowned king at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. The abbey was built by former King of England, Edward the Confessor, who William claims had promised him the throne.

1067 – Earl murdered at Newburn

King William appoints Copsig, a former lieutenant of Tostig, as Earl of Northumbria but Copsig is captured and beheaded at the royal centre of Newburn on Tyne. Osulf of Bamburgh claims the Earldom but he is also killed, by an outlaw. William appoints a noble called Gospatric.

Newburn church
Newburn church © David Simpson

1068 – North East rebellion crushed

Gospatric supports the Midland-based rebellion of Edwin and Morcar against the King but the rebellion fails and the rebels flee to Scotland.

1068 – William enters York

King William enters York and builds a castle. He grants Yorkshire to William Malet and Robert Fitz Richard. The troops are based at York Castle.

Low Petergate and York Minster
York © David Simpson

Jan 30, 1069 – Normans seize Durham City

Robert Comines, a Norman knight, is appointed Earl of Northumbria by the King. Comines’ 700-strong army seizes Durham City and the Normans murder many people. Æthelwine, Bishop of Durham, warns Robert that he will be defeated.

Jan 31, 1069 – Normans massacred in city

Early this morning a mob of Northumbrians broke the gates of Durham and stormed through the streets killing the Normans. Earl Comines flees for safety into the bishop’s palace but is killed when it is set alight. The blaze threatens the western tower of Durham’s Anglo-Saxon Minster church but the locals pray and the wind diverts the flames. Only two Normans survive and flee.

Durham Cathedral and castle from Leazes Road, Gilesgate
Durham’s Norman Cathedral and castle from Leazes Road, Gilesgate © David Simpson

Feb 1069 – Siege at York

The natives of York besiege their castle. Robert Fitz Richard, a Norman commander, is killed.

March 1069 – William sacks York

York is sacked by the Normans under King William. Churches including the Minster are plundered and the rebels flee. William builds an additional castle and the garrison is placed under WilliamJarrow FitzOsbern.

Stonegate, York
Stonegate, York © David Simpson

Sep 8, 1069 – Danes and rebels in Humber

The Danes under King Sweyn enter the Humber with a fleet of ships accompanied by Edgar of Wessex who claims England’s throne. They march for York.

Sep 1069 – Norman retreat from miracle

Norman soldiers retreat at Northallerton during a march north to attack Durham. Durham folk claim the Normans were frightened by a miracle fog created by St Cuthbert. The real reason is that they have the Danish invasion of York to contend with. The Normans prevent the Danes from making York their headquarters by burning it but the fires burn out of control, destroying the Anglo-Saxon minster and killing many Normans.

Northallerton Town Hall
Northallerton © David Simpson

1069 – Cuthbert folk take flight

St Cuthbert’s Community flee from Durham with St Cuthbert’s coffin to escape the Norman army. They seek refuge on Lindisfarne and are surprised by the receding tide allowing them to cross to the island. They proclaim it to be a miracle of St Cuthbert. Perhaps this was a form of propaganda and boost for morale, as it is hard to believe that the monks were ignorant of the tidal nature of the island.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne looking across the island to Lindisfarne Castle
Holy Island of Lindisfarne looking across the island to Lindisfarne Castle © David Simpson

Dec 1069 – Axholme Danes driven out

Danes fortify the Isle of Axholme near Doncaster but King William’s army attacks them and they flee. William spends the winter at York.

Dec 1069-Jan 1070 – Harrying of the North

King William lays waste to the region in a campaign which will be remembered as the ‘Harrying of the North’, destroying all farmland and property between Durham and York. The whole area is supposedly reduced to wasteland by fire and sword. Many Northerners flee to the hills.

Dec 1069 – Bishop plunders Durham minster

St Cuthbert’s Community returns to Durham from Lindisfarne with their saint’s body only to find the city has been destroyed. A worse discovery is that Bishop Æthelwine (sometimes referred to as Aegelwine) has robbed Durham of its richest treasures and fled. The bishop is subsequently outlawed and imprisoned. The see of Durham is left vacant.

Durham Cathedral and the Fulling Mill with Durham Castle to the left
Durham © David Simpson

1070 – Scots attack the North

Scots under King Malcolm invade the North from Cumbria. They are victorious at Hunderthwaite in Teesdale before plundering Cleveland, Hartlepool and Wearmouth. Gospatric, the reappointed Earl of Northumbria, attacks Malcolm’s territory in Cumbria.

1070 – York Minster

Thomas of Bayeux becomes the first Norman Archbishop of York. He starts building a new Norman minster.

1070 – Normans in the Dales

King William gives Richmond (Hindrelac) in Swaledale to Alan the Red, Count of Brittany, so he can build a castle. Alan also constructs a castle at Middleham in lower Wensleydale for his brother, Ribald.

Richmond Castle
Richmond Castle © David Simpson

1071 – Archbishop offered Hexhamshire

The outlawing and imprisonment of the Bishop of Durham, Æthelwine further adds to the anarchy and vulnerability of the region to Scottish raids. Hexhamshire, a small district in the Tyne valley is particularly vulnerable. Uhtred, Provost of Hexham, who governs Hexhamshire in the Bishop of Durham’s name, offers the political governance of Hexhamshire to Thomas, Archbishop of York which the archbishop accepts. Hexhamshire will develop the status of an independent political liberty, however for now, in ecclesiastical terms, it remains in the Bishopric of Durham. Historically, going back to the time of St Wilfrid, the ecclesiastical status of Hexham seems to have been torn between Lindisfarne (of which Durham was the successor) and York.

Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey © David Simpson

April 1072 – York answers to Canterbury

William orders that the Archbishop of York must answer to Canterbury in terms of seniority. It is a demoralising decision for the North.

Aug 1072 – Waltheof and Walcher

William replaces Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria, with Waltheof, an Anglo-Saxon of Northampton. Waltheof’s powers extend from the Tees to the Tweed. Waltheof builds a castle at Durham for protection against the Scots. Frenchman William Walcher of Lorraine becomes Bishop of Durham.

Castle keep Durham.
Castle keep Durham © David Simpson

1074 – Jarrow and Wearmouth re-founded

The monasteries of Jarrow and Monkwearmouth which had fallen into ruin are re-founded by three Mercian monks headed by Aldwin of Winchcombe with the encouragement of Bishop Walcher.

Remains of Norman monastery at Jarrow
Remains of Norman monastery at Jarrow © David Simpson

1074 – Turgot is Jarrow monk

Turgot, a Lincolnshire noble of probable Scandinavian lineage arrives in North East England after being shipwrecked. Around 1071 he had fled from the Normans to Norway where he had become a close confidant of King Olaf III. Back in England he forms a friendship with Bishop Walcher and becomes a monk at Jarrow. It is likely that Turgot witnessed the ongoing construction of the cathedral of Nidaros (commenced in 1070) in Trondheim during his time in Norway.

May 1075 – ‘Earl Bishop’ of Durham

Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, has been executed at Winchester for plotting against the king. Walcher, the Bishop of Durham, is given the earl’s powers and becomes an Earl-Bishop.

1079 – Scots raid Northumberland

Scots under King Malcolm III ravage the North-East.

1080 – Lumley murder

Liulf of Lumley, a Northumbrian noble, is murdered by officers of the Bishop of Durham. Liulf, a confidant of the Bishop, had aroused much jealousy among the bishop’s men. Bishop Walcher agrees to meet Liulf’s family at Gateshead to make peace.

May 13, 1080 – Bishop murder at Gateshead

Arriving in Gateshead, the Bishop’s peace-making words are drowned out by the mob who shout “slay ye the bishop”. Walcher takes refuge in Gateshead church but it is set alight. He is butchered as he tries to escape. The mob then attacks the Norman castle at Durham but the siege is abandoned after a four day onslaught.

St Marys churchyard Gateshead
St Marys churchyard Gateshead © David Simpson

1080 – Bishop of Bayeaux attacks the North

William sends north an army led by his brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, who destroys much land north of the Tees and steals valuable items from Durham monastery. William appoints a Norman, Aubrey De Coucy (Alberic) as Earl of Northumbria but he will approve ineffective.

Sep 1080 – Newcastle founded

Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, has built a “New Castle” on the Tyne. It is built out of wood and will ultimately give its name to Newcastle upon Tyne. The castle occupies the site of the Roman Fort of Pons Aelius and lies close to a small Anglo-Saxon monastic settlement called Monkchester. Little else is known about the site although an Anglo-Saxon church once stood here. Curthose built Newcastle’s first castle on return from a military expedition in Scotland. It will be rebuilt by William II later in the decade and again during the reign of Henry II, in 1172.

Newcastle Castle keep above viaduct
Newcastle Castle © David Simpson

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