Ashley In the eleventh century

Philippa Smart

Copyright Philippa Smart 2019






THE 11th CENTURY – the early years, up to 1066

1. The national context 

2. Wessex, including Hampshire

3. Ashley


THE 11th CENTURY – 1066 to the closing years

4. The national context

5. Wessex, including Hampshire

6. Ashley

Epilogue: into the future 


Picture credits




Ashley, today, is a suburb of New Milton, Hampshire, situated on the eastern side of the town, and with countryside on its own eastern edge. On the ground, signs displaying ‘Ashley’ are visible to the north, west and south, marking its boundaries. These let us know that, not so long ago, there was a village of this name with its own identity which, over time, has become absorbed into an expanding New Milton.

To the east lies the village of Hordle; to the north is Bashley and the start of the New Forest, and to the south is countryside stretching down to the coast.

But looking at the local street map we can see other places bearing the name of Ashley: Ashley Clinton, Ashley-Arnewood nursing home, Ashley Manor farm. These are scattered over a far wider area that that covered by the street signs. Ashley road itself stretches approximately a mile and a half west to east from the heart of New Milton to the edge of Hordle. Would we say that these names are just anomalies, or are they legacies of Ashley from bygone times? Clearly, providing answers to this would require research covering numerous centuries, and is not within the abilities of this author.

My own fascination, I confess, is with Anglo-Saxon and Medieval history. Accordingly, I selected the century that bridged the two: the eleventh. I was intrigued by the idea that historical sources could shine a light on Ashley ten centuries ago, and I wanted, above all, to find names of people who had lived there then. If I could do that, maybe I could discover something about them, and try to bring to life the times they lived in and the kinds of lives they led.

Primarily, then, this booklet is an amateur historian’s attempt to glimpse Ashley in the eleventh century: in the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods, as they are known. It draws on primary and secondary historical sources, listed in the Bibliography, and has benefited from a reading of a draft by Jude James, local historian. If it paints a picture of the people and the place, in very different times to the ones we live in now, then it will have achieved its aim.

We dare not lengthen this book much more, lest it be out of moderation and stir up men’s antipathy because of its size.

Aelfric. 10th century monk.


As we are about to look back to times that are far removed from our own, this Introduction provides a means to orient ourselves to the start of the eleventh century, where our story begins. It gives an overview of key features of life in late Anglo-Saxon times, focusing primarily on the context best suited to Ashley: the rural, rather than the urban.[1]

It is estimated that not many more than a million people inhabited England at the start of the eleventh century, which equates to one person for every forty or fifty we are surrounded by today. Although approximately 10 percent of people lived in towns in the year 1000, the majority lived in rural settlements in the countryside which have been grouped into those of high status – belonging to thegns and ranks above – and those of peasants.[2] While the former were characterised by a range of buildings, and ditched enclosures, the latter lacked such planning, being more dispersed. The Ashley settlements may well have been typical of the latter, with six to a dozen families apiece, not to mention a range of livestock – ducks, chickens, pigs etc.

The vast majority of peasants lived in modest homes that were made of wood and mud, with thatched roofs. Some would have cob walls, made from clay, straw or heather, and animal dung. People shared a single large room with their animals for warmth in winter, and cooking was over an open fire. Clothes were made of wool, flax and animals skins.

By contrast, the dwelling places of wealthier people such as thegns and their social superiors would have been larger: they might include a number of buildings – a hall, a chamber, possibly a chapel or mill.[3]

For the great majority, life was hard and life was short. Archaeological evidence showing arthritis in peoples’ bones suggests a lifetime of hard manual labour. By the age of twelve a boy was considered old enough to be an adult; at that age he would swear an oath of allegiance to the king. Girls married in their early teens. Most adults died in their forties, and fifty year olds were considered exceptional.

It was also a life lived in community with ones neighbours to a degree quite unfamiliar to most of us today. For the majority of people, this was a means to survival, as much as anything. Typically, this related to the plough, and to the oxen used to pull it across their respective plough strips in the open fields. In order to make payments, whether in rent or kind, to their lord as well as to the church, the agricultural worker needed to cooperate with their neighbour to get the best from their joint resources which were scarce, expensive, and best shared. In addition, meadow was held in common, as was pasture for grazing animals such as sheep and pigs. Another system promoting community cohesion was the tything, a grouping of households in an area comprising ten hides. The heads of those households were responsible for the actions and behaviour of all members of the tything.

England was a rural economy, which meant that everyone was contributing to the production of food through daily routines shaped by the seasons of the year. In spring the animals grazed in the pasture, and seed was sown. Summer was the busiest time, particularly when the harvests of wheat, barley, rye, hay, vegetables and fruit were being gathered. In autumn the animals grazed on the remains of the crops, providing manure for the fields, which were then ploughed. Winter was the time when family, and those animals not killed for meat, stayed indoors.

Unfortunately, food production was precarious. Depending on the weather, food was either plentiful or scarce, and sometimes very scarce, to the point where lives were at risk. The years 1005 and 1041, for example, were recorded as years of famine in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC). Most peasants existed on a subsistence diet of bread, with beans, peas and root vegetables cooked as a stew, supplemented by cheese, fish and fowls and occasionally by red meat. For all of society, beer was the basic beverage. Although it was brewed at a weak strength it was consumed in vast quantities: a gallon a day was the typical consumption for adults.[4]

In many ways, this was essentially a male dominated society. Kings, not queens, sat on the throne, and exercised power within the regional kingdoms. On the other hand, it has been said that Anglo-Saxon women were near equal companions to the males in their lives, such as husbands and brothers, much more than in any other era before modern time. Women were not without rights: in King Canute’s time, for example, widows and single women were protected by law from being forced to marry a man whom they disliked. They were also protected from being assumed guilty for any criminal activity of their husband. Both highly born, and not so highly born free-women could exercise authority over lands they might have inherited and over the people answerable to them. Primogeniture was not the accepted norm. A married women’s morgengifu, the gift of land or property she received the morning after her marriage, was hers to do with as she pleased.[5]

This was clearly an age of faith, when Christianity was the national religion, adopted and promoted by kings. The tone of the code of law of King Aethelred 11 issued in 1008 illustrates this:

And it is the decree of our lord and his councillors that just laws be raised up and every injustice zealously be suppressed, and that every man be allowed the benefit of law, and that peace and friendship be justly maintained in this land in the sight of God and the world.[6]

For the men and women of all ranks, observation of the Sunday Sabbath as a day of rest was expected.

18. And moreover, we admonish that the Sunday festival is to be observed and honoured with all one’s might from Saturday noon until dawn on Monday, and that no one is to be so presumptuous as either to practise any trade or to attend any meeting on that holy day.

Canute’s letter to the People of England. 1019/1020 [7]

In terms of worship, the majority of people lived in settlements without their own church building. Some might have heard mass, or a sermon, from a travelling priest from their ‘mother church’ which, itself, may well have been situated some distance away. [8] This contact could have been at a spot marked by a standing cross, or more rarely in one of the small ‘field-churches’ built in a village. [9]

Higher status people, and those in cities, would be expected to frequent the mother churches, also known as minsters, and the cathedrals. For such inhabitants from rural areas, this could involve a twenty mile round trip: a not inconsiderable journey, particularly in winter weather.

In return for providing for people’s spiritual care by making available the sacraments, such as baptism, and various rituals, including burial, individuals supported their priest through a range of church payments, such as tithes, offerings and alms. In addition, there were numerous fasting and feast days to be marked throughout the year. But, counter to the predictability of the church year, there lay a premonition among some churchmen that the year 1000, or thereabouts, was in fact likely to herald the end of time, as people knew it.

In terms of social relations, this was an age of lordship and servitude, which was lifelong. No matter your station in life, and Anglo-Saxon society was heavily stratified, everyone owed loyalty to a particular person higher up the social scale. At the same time, there was an element of social mobility: people could move up the social scale as well as fall down it. The distinction between a wealthy peasant and a low-level thegn was blurred, and, if the former played his cards right, and had a bit of luck, he could, over time, achieve the rank of the latter.

Thegns were free men, answerable to their overlord. To be a thegn implied ownership, usually through inheritance, of at least 5 hides – approximately one square mile of land. Their duties included managing the land they oversaw, as well as certain civil duties such as settling disputes among the ceorls, who were answerable to them. The thegn was in charge of farming and harvesting, but most of the actual labor was usually performed by peasants and slaves. Most important of their civic duties was to raise an army should the need arise; they also needed to ensure that their settlements could contribute surpluses to the food rent they were liable to pay to support the royal household.


THE 11th CENTURY – the early years, up to 1066

1. The national context

The reigning monarch at the beginning of the 11th century was the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred 11.

(King Aethelred penny)

It had been under his great uncle, Athelstan, that England had first become united in 927; building on King Alfred’s legacy, he brought under one rule the earlier separate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, including parts of the country dominated by Scandinavians.

Viking interest in England had been ongoing since the 8th century. In the following years, the country had suffered extensively through intermittent warfare, and in addition, large sums of money known as Danegeld had been paid out on numerous occasions to buy respite from the Scandinavian invaders, who would agree to leave the country in return. But such agreements were repeatedly broken; indeed, Vikings had become colonisers in the east and north of England, the area known as the Danelaw. By the turn of the 11th century, however, English kings had bought back the Danelaw under their rule, even though intermittent Viking incursions in different parts of the country were still a fact of life, and increasingly so.

The first half of the 11th century was a time of immense turmoil for the country. Today, the Norman invasion of 1066 tends to stand out as the watershed year in the century, marking the end of the Anglo-Saxon era and the beginning of the Norman. But this perspective obscures the earlier conquest: that of the Vikings, which put 4 Danish kings on the English throne between 1013 and 1042 and made this country part of that kingdom for 26 years.

(Canute’s North Sea Empire 1028-35)

Despite the upheavals, there were factors helping to sustain a common identity for the English people. One of these was the shared national language: Old English (OE). This would have looked, and sounded very different to the English of our present time; yet aspects of it are still with us today. We can see it in place names of towns and villages ending in ‘hurst’ and ‘ing’; also in everyday words such as sun and moon. Old English contained Greek and Latin words as well, and in some parts of the country, particularly the former Danelaw areas, Norse words became absorbed.

In many ways, however, some basic aspects of life we take for granted as a nation, such as the numbers we count in, when the New Year begins, the names of the months, would have been quite unfamiliar. For example, Latin numerals, which were used at that time for counting, were only replaced by Arabic ones in the 12th century. As for the start of the New Year, many people viewed the 25th December as the first day of the year.[10] Names for the months of the year were quite different: for example, May and August had a connection to the agricultural cycle of the year: Thrimilce – month of three milkings, and Weodmonath – weed-month.

2. Wessex, including Hampshire

Turning to our own region of the country, by the year 1000 the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex had been incorporated into the Kingdom of England. The power and influence of Wessex, had continued, however, through senior members of the House of Wessex occupying the English throne in succession.

Prior to the start of the century, the region had not been immune to the impact of Viking incursions, which were felt both within the county of Hampshire and in Wessex more widely. For example, the Vikings attacked Southampton and overwintered there in 994. In 1006 they were using the Isle of Wight as a base for their operations. An annal from that year refers to every shire in Wessex being affected by Viking burning and harrying.[11] As had happened previously, more Danegeld was given to the invaders in an attempt to buy peace, and new ships were built for the king’s navy, paid for by local taxes, to defend that peace.

1008 The king bade that all over England ships were to be made constantly, that is, that three hundred and ten hides provide one warship, and eight hides a helmet and byrnie.[12]

Not surprisingly, having been worn down by the burden of the attacks as well as the taxes, some Anglo-Saxons, such as Abbot Elfmar in Canterbury, were known to change sides, and even betray the English to the Viking invaders.[13] We can only speculate what the attitude of local people in this part of Hampshire was to these burdens.

Incursions by the Danes a few years later in 1013 impacted on Wessex and Hampshire greatly: Winchester fell that year, after which the whole of Wessex accepted allegiance to the Danish king, Swein Forkbeard. Swein took the throne from Aethelred 11, and the latter retreated to the Isle of Wight, from where he fled across the channel into exile.[14]

The status of Wessex was reduced under Cnut, Swein’s successor, (1016-1035) but the importance of Winchester as a royal base continued.

In those days, Winchester had become the traditional seat of authority, while London was predominantly commercial. The city served as the royal administrative centre, and, by having three royally founded minster churches as well, it attracted lay and ecclesiastical magnates from throughout the kingdom.[15] For centuries, the kings and their entourages had moved around the country on a regular basis, Winchester being one of the centres where they held court. In addition, the Old Minster at Winchester was the burial place of many Anglo-Saxon kings of Wessex such as Aethelwulf (839-858) and Eadwig (955-959), and subsequently of Danish kings of England such as Cnut and his wife Emma.

Key players in Wessex during the first half of the 11th century were members of the Godwin family. Born in 1001, Godwin himself rose, over time, to become one of the most powerful earls in England. After Cnut seized the English throne in 1016, Godwin’s rise was rapid. By 1018 he was an earl, probably of eastern Wessex, and then by around 1020 of all Wessex. Later, under the reign of Edward the Confessor who was crowned at Winchester on Easter Sunday 1043, he cemented his connection to the royal house when his daughter Edith married Edward in 1045.

(Edward the Confessor penny)

Five years later, he was strong enough to challenge the crown, although unsuccessfully. Returning from exile in France in 1052, he acquired ships and supplies from the Isle of Wight, and is said to have had much support from south coast ports.[16] Once reconciled with Edward, their relationship was short lived as Godwin died the following year. He was succeeded by his son Harold Godwinson, who followed in his father’s footsteps: he became Edward’s loyal lieutenant, and subsequently the richest man in England after the king.

From 1057 Harold began to be singled out by Edward and treated as more than just an earl. His lands were vastly increased, and earldoms were found for his brothers. As we shall see, this was a prelude to his own accession to the crown when Edward died.

Turning now to Hampshire, as opposed to Wessex: the county was known as Hamtunscire in the first half of the 11th century, being one of a number of shire sub-divisions of the then earldom of Wessex, going back to at least AD 757, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

While the most powerful lay person in Hampshire was the Earl of Wessex, the routine work of administration such as the implementation of the king’s wishes, and the maintenance of law and order, was left to the shire-reeve (sheriff) of the county. He would work through the next tier of local government, known as the Hundred, conveying the king’s intentions, ensuring taxes were collected, and visiting the courts held in the Hundreds. Each Hundred was known by a particular name, such as Buddlesgate and Somborne. There were no districts or parishes below that.

The people of Hampshire played their part in resisting Viking attacks, both within the county and further afield. As reported in the ASC for the year 1003:

A very great army was gathered from Wiltshire and Hampshire, and went very resolutely against the force.

But loyalties were fluid in those times, and people needed to know where their best interests lay. When Swein died in the year 1014, for example, members of the nobility in Southampton decided that they would be best served by the continuation of the Danish royal line, and supported his son Cnut, as successor, rather than the Anglo-Saxon Edmund Ironside.

At the beginning of the 11th century, Winchester was a place that was playing a key role in the recording of the history of England through work carried out there on one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Multiple copies of the original annals, which dated back to the 9th century, had been made and distributed around monasteries across the country, where they were independently updated over subsequent centuries. The earliest manuscript is known as the Winchester Chronicle, which contains a record of English history up to 1070.

In addition, Winchester was a hub of cultural excellence, in music and art; this no doubt filtered through to other burghs areas in the county.

(Image of st. Swithun. Benedictional of st. Ethelwold)

The monasteries became famous for a rich style of manuscript illumination and writing, known as the Winchester school. The Benedictional service book of st. Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester 975-980, is the most important surviving work of this school. The scribe, Godeman, was a monk at the Old Minster.

In the Hampshire of Edward the Confessor, the King himself was the most important landed proprietor, and his most strategic estate was the city of Winchester. This was a fortified town – a burgh, created alongside other burghs such as Southampton and Twynham by King Alfred. As well as the king, other powerful landowners in the county were high level churchmen, such as Winchester’s Bishop Stigand, minster church communities such as Wic near Southampton, and Twynham, and high status freemen known as thegns.


3. Ashley

Unlike the national and regional contexts, there are no records that refer specifically to Ashley in the early years of the 11th century. Fortunately, however, there is a primary source of historical evidence that provides us with certain details about people and life here during the middle decades. That primary source is the Domesday Book (DB), written in 1086 for the Norman King William who had conquered Britain twenty years earlier. It provides names of people with known links to Ashley going back to late Anglo-Saxon times, in the reign of Edward the Confessor.

The survey was carried out by specially appointed commissioners who went out into the patchwork of Anglo-Saxon settlements that criss-crossed the country, including the newly named New Forest and its surrounding areas, such as Ashley. The DB is a collection of short profiles of every settlement in the land at three different points in time:

* at the end of the reign of Edward (1042-1066), just before the Norman conquest

* at the time when a settlement was gifted to a new owner under the Normans

* in 1086 when the survey was being carried out.

There are two entries for Ashley in the DB, listed in the Hundred of Rowditch, within the shire of Hampshire:[17]

Domesday Book entries for Ashley

Written in abbreviated Latin, most people today will be hard pressed to understand these DB entries for Ashley. Translated into modern English, however, they provide a remarkable record of the people connected with it over 900 years ago, together with details of their lands and other assets.

The sons of Godric Malf hold 1 hide in ASHLEY. Their father held it from the King. Then [it answered] for 1 hide; now for 1 virgate. Land for 1 plough.
     3 slaves; 1 slave and two smallholders with ½ plough.
     Meadow, 4 acres.
Value before 1066 and later 20s; now 15s.
The king holds the woodland of this manor at 8 pigs in his Forest; value 5s.

The Earl himself has 5 ½ virgates in ASHLEY, and Nigel holds from him. Saewulf held it jointly. Then it answered for 5 ½ virgates; now for 4 ½ virgates; 1 virgate in the Forest. Land for 3 ploughs. It is there in lordship;
    2 villagers and 10 smallholders with 2 ploughs.
    Meadow, 5 ½ acres.
The value was 50s; now 20s; what the King has, 6s.

Before we can appreciate what these entries tell us about Ashley in the late Anglo-Saxon period, we will look, briefly, at some of the terminology used.


Both entries talk about land being ‘held’ by someone. What does this mean? In the era we are looking at, the organisation of the whole of society was based on the holding of land. All land in the country belonged, theoretically, to the king, but it was in his gift to grant swathes of land to people loyal to him. These men ‘held’ this land directly from the king. In turn, such land holders would sub-let parts of their land to others, who similarly ‘held’ it from them, and so on. Such tenure was universal across the country.

Terminology used to describe land is largely unfamiliar to us today. A ‘hide’, for instance, was a measure of land, but a measure used as a unit for assessing taxation. It was not uniform across the country. A hide was equivalent to four ‘virgates’. Taxation (geld) was tied to the number of hides that were held. A settlement answered for a measure of land in the sense of being rated for taxation to that amount.

Originally, ‘hide’ indicated land sufficient to support a family, and was normally regarded as about 120 acres. An ‘acre’ was an area a team of oxen could plough in one day, and across the country this would vary, depending on the soil. So a hide could be anything from 40 to 120 acres. Most of south west Hampshire was probably the least fertile in the county, so a great number of settlements in and around the New Forest in 1066 were rated for geld at only one hide, or even less than that.

A ‘plough’ indicated a plough itself and the plough team of eight oxen; half a plough equated to four oxen. The measure of a plough was the amount of land that such a team could plough in one day. The identification of ploughs in the DB survey was part of William’s attempt to achieve a uniform approach to tax assessment across the country, ironing out any local discrepancies whether historical or locally convenient.

Currency was pre-decimal: 20s stands for 20 shillings.

‘Then’ refers to the reign of Edward the Confessor, and ‘now’ refers to when the survey was carried out.

Key features of late Anglo-Saxon Ashley

Returning to the DB entries for Ashley, we have seen that it consisted of two settlements. The entries tell us that, in the time of King Edward the Confessor, they were held by two different men: one by Godric Malf, and the other by Saewulf. We can now place these men in the context of the overall picture of what we know about Anglo-Saxon life during the middle years of the 11th century.

Godric held his land ‘from the king’, and Saewulf held it ‘jointly’, by which we understand jointly with a kinsman, who is nameless. Both Godric and Saewulf would be highly trusted by the king, and key players in the area.

The DB lists land held by someone called Godric in eight places in Hampshire other than Ashley. They ranged over a considerable area from Great Shoddesden near Andover to Boyatt – part of modern day Eastleigh. There was even one holding on the Isle of Wight. There is every likelihood that there was more than one Godric; this was a common name at the time. What we can be confident about, however, is that the Godric Malf who held Ashley also had other land in, and adjacent to, the New Forest: Crow, Bisterne, Minstead, and probably Fernhill and Wootton.

Similarly, the name Saewulf is linked to seven places other than Ashley, ranging from Kingsclere in the north of the county to Milford on the coast. As with Godric Malf, some of these were in, or on the edge of the modern day New Forest: Durley, Hoburne, Battramsley, Sanhest, Milford. We will assume that these were held by the same Saewulf who held Ashley.

To understand the kinds of lives Godric, Saewulf, their families and the other people living in these villages were leading we will turn to broad headings of life in Anglo-Saxon times.

a) Lordship and servitude

As we have seen, Godric and Saewulf were the principal landholders in Ashley, as well as holding other villages in the area. We can say with confidence that both Godric and Saewulf had the social status of a thegn, but quite how wealthy they were we will never know.[18] We can picture them visiting their various lands to ensure that their tenants were sufficiently productive so that they could pay their dues, and ensure the best use of the land.

Other journeys they are likely to have made would have been to the meetings of the County and Hundred courts, held monthly, which they would have been expected to attend. They could have travelled to Winchester or Southampton, for business, and, of course, to the mother church in Twynham. Travelling by horseback, they might have been able to average 30 miles a day.

How Godric and Saewulf came to acquire their social position is a matter of conjecture. They may have inherited it from their fathers, or they could have built up the settlement themselves and acquired thegn status in that way. Either way, they needed to be the sort of men who could manage their relationships with those answerable to themselves, as well as their own relationship with the king and his representatives.

Assuming that the composition of their holding in Ashley didn’t radically change in the twenty years following the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 and the undertaking of the DB survey, we can glean something about the range of people who lived there in late Saxon times from the DB entries.

These entries tell us there was a mix of villagers, smallholders and slaves. Villagers and smallholders were two categories of people belonging to the 95% of the population of the time that were peasantry rather than nobility. Villagers, also known as villeins, formed the largest group among the peasantry: over 40% of the recorded population. In economic terms, the villagers were the wealthiest group among the unfree peasantry, possessing on average 30 acres of land and two plough oxen. In essence, they were almost indistinguishable from freemen. Smallholders formed the second largest group, constituting almost a third of the recorded peasant population. On average, they possessed 5 acres of land and might have a share in the villagers’ plough teams, though their holdings could be more meagre.[19]

It seems shocking to us now that slaves once lived in Ashley, but enslavement and the slave trade were endemic in Anglo-Saxon England.[20] The percentage of slaves in Hampshire, as it happens, was very high, double the average for the rest of the country.[21] There were male and female slaves, and, of course, children were born into slavery. Other ways people might become slaves would be as a punishment for wrongdoing such as theft, or by voluntarily surrendering oneself into that status to obtain the protection of the lord they were beholden to: protection from basic hunger, for example. Which one of these routes into slavery our Ashley predecessors took, we will never know.

These, then, were the people owing allegiance to Godric and Saewulf, and in relation to whom the two thegns had various responsibilities: to ensure they worked hard and stayed within the law, and to make certain provisions for them, such as feasting at recognised times of the year, and basic food, land and accommodation for the slaves.

(The Farmer’s House. West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village)

b) Residence, family and neighbours

While the villagers, smallholders and slaves lived in Ashley, what we cannot tell is where Godric and Saewolf and their families actually lived. It may have been in Ashley, but it could well have been elsewhere, in one of their other settlements. Might the Godric family have lived in Minstead, for instance, the most valuable of their holdings? With regard to Saewulf, maybe he did live in Ashley as, although the value of this holding was not the highest compared to his other settlements, the DB entry refers to it including demesne land: an indication that he had a particular interest there.

As to their families, we know that Godric had sons as they had become the landholders by 1086. We have no information from the Ashley DB entries as to whether Saewulf had offspring; but we know he had a wife. She is listed in the DB as the landholder in 1086 for Hoburne, one of his earlier settlements.

Clearly, up to the end of the reign of Edward the Confessor, the Ashley holding of Saewulf was greater in size of area assessed for tax or services than that of Godric Malf: 5 and a half virgates as opposed to 4. As might be anticipated, the value of the former was greater than the latter: 50s as opposed to 20s. The difference is unexpectedly high, and it is unclear what the reason for this was. In terms of their other holdings in and around the New Forest, those of Godric Malf exceeded in value, by far, those of Saewulf: £17 as opposed to £9.

The following chart gives the names of landholders of settlements bordering on Ashley, and allows for comparisons in respect of area and value just prior to the Norman Conquest. For Ashley as a whole, taking the two settlements together, the total acreage assessed for tax and/or services was 9 ½ virgates, and the value to the two landholders was 70 shillings.

Settlement Named landholder/s Area (in virgates) assessed for tax/services Value
Ashley (x2) Godric and Saewulf 9 ½ 70s
Fernhill Godric 3 15s
Hordle Iusten 20 160s
Barton (x2) Aelfric and Wulfward 11 60s
Milton Alwin 6 40s
Bashley Alsi the priest 7 20s
Arnewood Siward 5 30s

We can see that Hordle had by far the highest assessed acreage, and highest value to the landholder; no doubt the latter was due to the presence of a mill and salt houses. It is easy to imagine the people of Ashley taking their corn to the mill at Hordle for grinding, and making trips to Hordle for salt. On the other hand, they may have taken corn to Bashley which the DB records as having half a mill.[22] If we regard Hordle as somewhat of an exception in terms of value, then Ashley can be seen to top the list of the remaining settlements, higher than Barton, for example, even though the assessed land is slightly smaller.

Interestingly, the landholder at Hordle – Iusten – has a Danish as opposed to an Anglo-Saxon name. Here we see, at a very local level, the impact of the years of Danish rule and influence: a man who could either be a direct descendent of an original Danish settler, or someone given a Danish name by parents who wanted a Danish-style identity for their son.[23]

c) Religion and faith

No church is recorded for Ashley in the DB. But, close-by, Bashley is listed as a settlement held by a priest named Alsi, who was a member of the religious community at Twynham, known today as Christchurch.

Through Alsi, Bashley was linked to one of the longest standing Christian communities in the county: its origin is said to date back to the 7th century.[24] Elsewhere, it is recorded that in the reign of William Rufus there was a church at Twynham with nine chapels within the cemetery.[25] We can assume that these buildings were also in place a generation earlier, in the period we are considering. The church at Twynham, known then as the church of the Holy Trinity, was the ‘mother church’ or minster for a wide parochial area, stretching from Sopley in the west to the modern day Beaulieu river estuary in the east, and from Burley in the north down to the coast. There being no other ‘mother church’ between Twynham and Eling, Ashley would have been part of the former’s wide, parochial district responsibilities, and had been so for centuries.[26]

It is difficult to imagine, in a rural setting such as Ashley, regular weekly availability of clergy to mark the holy day of Sunday by a service or preaching. We know from the Anglo-Saxon cleric and scholar, Aelfric, who wrote in the late tenth and early eleventh century, that weekly worship was not necessarily happening everywhere in the country.[27] But, living so close, Alsi would in all probability have visited Bashley from time to time to oversee his land and tenants; he is not recorded as having any other holdings in Hampshire. It could be that he provided spiritual support and preaching to people there, and, if so, to people in nearby settlements as well. Might this have extended to Ashley residents, such as the villagers, smallholders and their families? In the absence of a local church, a gathering place for these encounters could have been a wayside cross, maybe somewhere along Bashley Cross Road, as it is known today.

As for Godric and Saewulf and their families, belonging to the thegnly class they would have been expected to make their way to a minster church for Sunday and major feast day services, for the receipt of other sacraments such as baptism and marriage, and for burials.

d) The landscape and rural economy

Ashley lies in the area of south west Hampshire known in late Saxon times as Ytene: land of the Jutes.

The name Ashley, or Esselei as it is referred to in the DB, is derived from the Old English words ‘aesc’ (ash) and ‘leah’ (meadow, forest clearing). The name tells us that, well before the 11th century, inhabitants had already made their impact on the landscape by clearing woodland and creating meadows. Maybe they were drawn here, in part, by the usefulness of ash, which could be grown to produce large timber for the making of wagons and implements, for example, as well as coppiced for small poles for fuel or other uses. To settle here they would also have needed to carve out lanes and tracks, and build themselves homes and other shelters.

There is no recorded description of the two settlements in Ashley to give us an idea of where they were located in the 11th century.[28] We might conjecture that they sat somewhere in the area of land going – west to east – from the middle of modern-day New Milton to the natural boundary of the Dane stream, and – north to south – from the southern edge of Fernhill down to the edge of Downton. With this image in our minds we can see reflections of that landscape and rural economy, even today.

The DB entries let us know Ashley had a mixed landscape: woodland, land for ploughing, and meadows are specifically mentioned. No doubt there were other categories of land in the vicinity, such as waste where peasants might feed their livestock, obtain fuel and other useful commodities.

Pretty well everyone in Ashley and its surrounding areas would have been engaged in agriculture, working to ensure that, each year, they could grow enough grain to supply themselves with staple items such as bread and beer, and sufficient food to see them through the winter months. In everyday domestic and working life people made use of simple organic materials such as wood, flax, and reed, as well as animal products such as leather, bone, horn, and antler.

The use of the plough in the open fields would have been a familiar sight, as would the grazing of animals such as sheep and cattle on the common land, including pigs in the more wooded areas. We would be mistaken, however, if we assumed this was an idyllic way of life.

‘For the average Hampshire peasant life was often harsh, short and wearying, an existence only lightened by the holy days of the church’.[29]

(The month of May, from an Anglo-Saxon, 11th century calendar)


THE 11th CENTURY – 1066 to the closing years

4. The national context

In the closing years of Edward the Confessor’s reign (1042-1065), politics in England was dominated by the question of who would take the throne when Edward died, given that he had no son that might succeed him. One candidate was William, Duke of Normandy, who, according to the Norman view of the historical record, sewn into the Bayeux Tapestry after the event, had been promised the accession by Edward.[30] Other candidates for the throne were Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, and Edgar Aethling, great nephew of Edward the Confessor.

In the event, none of these succeeded Edward; instead, the throne went to Harold Godwineson, the most influential Earl in the country. His reign was brief, however: his life cut short on the battle field near Hastings, on 14th October 1066, when William challenged for the throne. Thus ended Anglo-Saxon rule: replaced by that of the Normans.

William’s first task was to establish a hold over London and to extend his rule over the rest of the country, setting his troops to building and fortifying castles. To ensure his presence across the land, he followed the Anglo-Saxon custom of holding court in key cities across the country: London, Gloucester, Winchester. He divided his time between England and Normandy, leaving key followers, such as Bishop Odo, who was his half brother, and William fitz Osbern, his trusted friend, in charge of the former when he was away.

He imposed heavy taxation, and from 1067 began distributing among his supporters land forfeited by the English who had fought at Hastings. His reign did not go unchallenged, by the English, as well as in Normandy. But each time he fought and defeated the usurpers.

An obvious, immediate change in our country was the use of Norman French. Initially, this was the language of the ruling elite, centred on the court. Old English was degraded to that used by provincial society. In the early years after the Conquest, the need for translation and interpretation must have been a daily occurrence, prompting all parties, even the king, to acquire some knowledge of each other’s tongues.

By the end of William’s reign, the average peasant was no better off, often having suffered higher taxes and depletion of land.[31] For those who struggled to earn a living from the land, the struggle would have been even harder in years such as the 1080s, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us there were poor harvests, disease, deaths and famine.

A remarkable achievement towards the end of William’s reign was a national survey, ordered in late 1085, and resulting in what became known as the Domesday Book. No part of the country was untouched by this exercise, which had the effect of making every man, woman and child aware that they were now answerable to French overlords, not English.

The context for the undertaking of the DB survey is as follows. In the years following 1066, William found different ways to assert his kingly authority across the land: by rewards of land and wealth to those who had fought for him, by a seat at his council for trusted advisors, by the building of castles. Then, in 1086, the survey was carried out. Twenty years had elapsed since the invasion, and the process of enforcing Norman control within the country was ongoing. In addition, this was a time when threats from outside, such as those from Norway and Denmark, were never far away. It was essential that the king affirmed his authority throughout the land. What better way than to make a record of everything owned by him, and of the key landowners owing allegiance to him. Primarily, however, the survey was undertaken to give the crown a detailed record of who was liable to pay tax, and the value of all estates. Waging war and paying Danegeld to the Vikings was a costly business.

Another aspect of life which changed under the Normans was the church. William of Malmesbury, writing some sixty years after the Conquest, described how the Normans revived the observances of religion:

‘They [the Normans] revived by their coming the practice of religion which everywhere was lapsing; throughout the land you might see churches rising in every vill, monasteries in the towns and cities, built in a style unknown before.’[32]

English abbots and bishops were replaced by Normans, and English saints were removed from the Church calendar. A vast church building programme got under way, bringing a new style of architecture which came to be known as Anglo Norman.

When William died on campaign in Normandy in 1087, he was succeeded by his son William, known as William Rufus, whose authority was challenged in 1088 and 1095 by those who backed his brother Duke Robert of Normandy as successor to the throne. These uprisings were suppressed, but William went further and led his own, eventually successful, campaign in Normandy against Robert.

Rufus’s love of hunting was his undoing; he was killed by an arrow while out on the chase in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100. He was succeeded by his brother Henry, who was crowned in Westminster Abbey just three days later.

5. Wessex, including Hampshire

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Wessex was a politically important and wealthy part of England. Its southern coast, in particular the Isle of Wight, was the centre of key offensive and defensive actions between May and September 1066. In those months leading up to Duke William’s invasion, Harold resisted an incursion by his alienated brother, Tostig, and then based his headquarters on the Isle of Wight for the whole of the summer. To stand guard against the threat from Normandy he stationed levies all along the south coast. There can be little doubt that the men of Wessex would have been called to undertake their fyrd duties in support of their king.[33]

As it turned out, however, the earldom of Wessex ended with Harold at Hastings. A few weeks after William and his troops defeated the English, Winchester surrendered, the message conveyed to the new king in a note sent from the former queen Edith, Edward’s widow, who lived there.

Given the primacy of Winchester, both as a place where the king held court, and where the treasury was located, William was not slow to strengthen the city. He ordered a palace to be built, and sanctioned the construction of a new cathedral which was begun in 1079. When it was finished, it stood second in size only to st. Peter’s church in Rome.[34] He maintained the custom of former kings of holding court at Winchester at Easter. A new castle was erected in Southampton around the same time, confirming the town as an important embarkation point and trading port for northern France.

Winchester and Southampton, flourished in the remaining years of the century. Trade increased between England and France, bringing great wealth to the inhabitants of the latter, and an influx of Normans who chose to settle there. Many merchants became bi-lingual. Latin continued to be the language of the church, and Norman-French evolved to gradually supersede Old English in the administration of the country.

(Page from the Winchester Troper)

Winchester excelled as a place of learning and culture. The Winchester monasteries continued to flourish as places of learning and the arts, as evidenced by the copying out of music manuscripts such as the Winchester Troper. Today, the Troper is perhaps the oldest large collection of two-part music in Europe, music that would have been used in Winchester cathedral itself.[35] In addition, in due course, Winchester became the location for the compilation and production of the Domesday Book.

The impact of the handing over of English estates to new Norman landholders was felt across Hampshire. Only a few Anglo-Saxon thegns survived these changes, even though the landholdings of monastic foundations largely continued as before. By the time of the survey for the DB the greatest of the new landholders in Hampshire was Hugh de Port, who held land in other counties as well.

The Normanisation of the church was mirrored in Hampshire. In Twynham, for example, the DB records refer to a very large local population under the lordship, in 1066 as well as 1086, of the religious community of cannons at the church of the Holy Trinity. Up to this time, the leader of this religious community had been an Anglo-Saxon, but by the last decade of the century it had come to be headed by Ranulph Flambard, a Norman cleric who held influential governmental positions in the reigns of both William 1 and 11. It was he who, in 1094, initiated the taking down of the Anglo-Saxon church and surrounding chapels and the building of a new church, in the Norman style.

William and his sons were frequently in Hampshire, to exercise their governing role at Winchester, but also to enjoy hunting in the various forests. Hampshire, at this time, was by far the most extensively forested county, not only in Wessex but in England as a whole.[36]

We need to remember that the word ‘forest’ was used then to describe tracts of land that were not necessarily wooded but were reserved for the King and his barons to hunt in. Hunting had been a sport enjoyed by Anglo-Saxon Kings, and it was particularly popular among the Norman nobility as well. William used Forest law to protect the deer and the countryside within which they, and other beasts of the chase, lived. To ensure the law was upheld, forest officials and courts were set in place, with powers to inflict punishments for contraventions, both great and small.

The exact location of the death of William Rufus out hunting in the forest in 1100 is uncertain. Also uncertain, is whether his death was a tragic accident or the result of a conspiracy. Hunting carried its own risks: the New Forest had been the place of a similar accident in earlier years when William’s older brother Richard died there sometime between 1069 and 1075. Whatever the particular circumstances were on that fateful day, Hampshire was the location not only of the king’s death, but also, subsequently, of his burial at Winchester. Winchester was also the place where William’s brother Henry claimed the throne, and called for the keys of the Treasury to confirm his newly acquired power.

6. Ashley

We return now to the Domesday Book to find out about the changes that took place in Ashley following the Norman Conquest.

Domesday Book entries for Ashley

The sons of Godric Malf hold 1 hide in ASHLEY. Their father held it from the King. Then [it answered] for 1 hide; now for 1 virgate. Land for 1 plough.
    3 slaves; 1 slave and two smallholders with ½ plough.
    Meadow, 4 acres.
Value before 1066 and later 20s; now 15s.
    The king holds the woodland of this manor at 8 pigs in his Forest; value 5s.

The Earl himself has 5 ½ virgates in ASHLEY, and Nigel holds from him. Saewulf held it jointly. Then it answered for 5 ½ virgates; now for 4 ½ virgates; 1 virgate in the Forest. Land for 3 ploughs. It is there in lordship;      2 villagers and 10 smallholders with 2 ploughs.
    Meadow, 5 ½ acres.
The value was 50s; now 20s; what the King has, 6s.

Key features of early Norman Ashley

a) Lordship and servitude

The DB entries tell us that the primary landholders in Ashley had changed over the period 1066 to 1086. Godric’s settlement had passed to his sons, who are nameless, and Saewulf’s settlement was now held by the Earl: Earl Roger de Montgomery.[37] So, although the former settlement was still headed by an Anglo-Saxon family, the latter had passed to a Norman, a compatriot of King William.

We can only speculate as to why one land entitlement passed down a generation while the other did not.

Regarding the continuity of the Godric entitlement, this could be attributed to a number of things. It may have been a reward to the men of that family for not supporting Harold at Hastings, or for responding promptly to William’s call for military support in the years of rebellion (1066-71). Interestingly, the brothers held onto not just Ashley but four other settlements that their father had held formerly: Minstead, Bisterne, Hanger, Crow.

Another possible explanation might be that the Godrics were tenants in sergeanty: that is to say, holding land in return for some specialized form of service to King William. Could they have been tasked with special duties relating to the New Forest, such as huntsmen, or foresters, and their particular expertise, dating back through earlier generations, saved their landholdings? Whatever the explanation, the record shows that there was a downside to the brothers’ holdings in Ashley: they had become smaller in acreage, and of reduced value to them.

Looking now at the other Ashley settlement, the complete change of lordship there could have come about by Saewulf dying and leaving no heirs; but we know from the DB he did not die. Another explanation might be that Saewulf fought for King Harold in 1066, or showed some disloyalty to William after the Conquest. The punishment might have been forfeiture of Ashley and other settlements, the former, in turn, becoming part of a parcel of local land (Ashley, Barton and Fernhill) that went to the Norman Earl Roger. If this was the case, there must have been some redeeming factor, however, as the DB records that Saewulf held on to one of his former settlements, Battramsley, and another, Hoburne, is recorded as being under the lordship of Saewulf’s wife, who was also tenant in chief there. While unusual, there are a few examples in the DB of non-royal married women holding land in their own right.[38] Conceivably, the 1086 record is reasserting Saewulf’s wife’s right to land that had always been hers by inheritance, possibly part of her dowry, but had been registered in Edward the Confessor’s time in her husband’s name. We shall never know for sure.

With regard to the new Norman landholder: who was Earl Roger, and how did he come to hold land in Ashley?

Roger de Montgomery, was born in 1022 and came from Saint Germain de Montgomerie in central Normandy. He had inherited large estates from his father, and moved in high circles, including that of the Duke of Normandy, who appointed him one of his principal counsellors. At the time of the 1066 invasion of England, Roger promised sixty ships in support of William’s bid for the English throne. He did not fight at the battle of Hastings as he had been given the strategic responsibility of ensuring the safety of Normandy while William was away. For his reward, Roger was given lands in Sussex in 1067, and later, sometime in the 1070s, made Earl of Shrewsbury, a title he held until his death in 1094. While his major landholdings were in Shropshire, he had land in nine other counties, including Hampshire. This pattern of multiple ownership was not uncommon.

Roger was one of the half dozen greatest magnates in England during the reign of William 1, honoured by him with the title of Earl, the most prestigious a king of England could bestow. He was a member of the king’s ruling council where William was accustomed to look for advice and support in matters of great importance, such as finance, security and justice. By virtue of his title, Roger had military responsibilities, as well as authority in the courts of the shires and hundreds.

From the Tenants in Chief down, all held their lands from the king in return for undertaking military duties.

‘It was essentially a military society which, if not actually engaged in war, had to be always prepared for it’.[39]

Typically, an Earl like Roger trained a certain number of men as knights, and equipped them so that they would be ready to fight when called upon. In all likelihood, these knights would have been given land in return for a pledge of allegiance and service. Alternatively, their allegiance may have been secured through a position, or right of exploitation, such as hunting or fishing.

Roger had a large family: a wife, ten sons and a daughter. Clearly, he had a variety of interests, but he harboured mixed political loyalties. After the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, he, together with some of his sons, took part the following year in a rebellion against William Rufus. The intention of the rebels was to unite Normandy and England under a single ruler, Duke Robert of Normandy. As it turned out, Roger allowed himself to be persuaded by the king to change sides, and in so doing avoided losing any of his lands.

At his main residence, Shrewsbury, the Earl would have had his household and affairs organised pretty much like that of the king, but on a smaller scale: sub tenants, courts, council, reeves. Magnates such as Roger would no doubt visit other parts of their lands, to make their presence felt and administer justice; but it seems unlikely that Roger spent time visiting Hampshire, as opposed to passing through it, possibly, on his way to Sussex where he held eighty three settlements, compared to nine in Hampshire.

Given the Earl’s many responsibilities and high rank, the oversight of a collection of smaller holdings such as Ashley, Sway, Hinton, Beckley and Fernhill, would be left, no doubt, to his appointed sub tenant: Nigel. But these were not Nigel’s only responsibilities.

The Domesday Book records Nigel the Doctor as holding numerous settlements across a number of counties. In some, such as Shropshire and Wiltshire, he was both sub-tenant and Tenant in chief. In others, for example Gloucestershire, he was sub-tenant to King William as Tenant in Chief. This was a highly placed man, with extensive lands gifted to him by the king, as well as by Earl Roger. For this reason it is said that Nigel was physician to both men.[40]

While such members of the aristocracy had the benefit of Nigel’s advice about their health, less highly-placed people would have relied on Anglo-Saxon physicians, members of their own family, or other neighbours who claimed special knowledge about such problems.[41] One such physician was Aelfric whom the DB tells us lived in Edgegate Hundred, to the west of Rowditch Hundred. Might Godric Malf and Saewulf have consulted him in their lifetimes?

As with Earl Roger, because of the wide geographical spread of Nigel’s lands it is difficult to imagine him having much of a visible presence in Ashley. Even if he visited from time to time, he may have employed an Anglo-Saxon bailiff or reeve to act in his name, overseeing the estates. Such an arrangement would have avoided the need for an interpreter.

(Tomb of Roger de Montgomery, Shrewsbury Abbey)

After the death of Roger de Montgomery in 1094, his Norman and English estates were divided between his older sons: Robert and Hugh. Hugh received the bulk of the English lands, and inherited the title of Earl of Shrewsbury. When Hugh died in 1098, fighting against Norwegians in north Wales, his older brother Robert, known as Robert de Belleme, inherited the title and English lands, adding these to his estates in Normandy.

b) Residence, family and neighbours

As we have seen, the DB records how many villagers, smallholders and slaves were living in Ashley in 1086 at the time of the survey; but this was not the total population. By one method of calculation, that total would equate to 30 in Godric’s sons’ settlement, and 60 in Nigel’s.[42]

Looking at other local DB entries, we can compare this population size of Ashley with those of its neighbouring settlements:

Settlement Size of population
Ashley 90 (30+60)
Fernhill 5
Hordle 75
Barton 45 (40+5)
Milton 30
Bashley 20
Arnewood 50

The total population of Ashley is the highest of its neighbours, followed by Hordle. These two settlements are considered to be medium sized, as opposed to Fernhill and Bashley, for example, being very small. Even though, like Ashley, there were two villages in Barton, that settlement was still quite small.[43]

How had Ashley grown to this size, one wonders? In an age when freedom of movement was highly restricted for the majority of the population who were unfree, the answer cannot have been by people’s choice. Originally, it may have been something to do with the actions of the thegn in control of the area, who would be free to buy and settle additional slaves there, for example, and even partially free them in order for more land to be cultivated. How long Ashley had been this size, or continued to be so, we do not know.

What we do know are the changes that had occurred by 1086 regarding who held lands in the areas adjoining Ashley.

Settlement Landholder in 1066 Landholder in 1086 Sub-holder in 1086
Ashley Godric Sons of Godric Malf  
Saewulf Earl Roger Nigel
Fernhill Godric Earl Roger Nigel
Hordle Iusten Ralph de Mortimer Oidelard
Barton Aelfric Earl Roger Durand
Wulfward Earl Roger Durand
Milton Alwin Hugh de Port William Orenet
Bashley Alsi Alsi  
Arnewood Siward Hugh Latimer  

Continuity of holdings by Saxons only applied in two settlements: one in Ashley, the other Bashley. Otherwise, land had transferred to Normans. Moreover, there was now an extra layer of land sub-holders in six of the settlements, also Norman, and presumably requiring their share of rents from the local inhabitants. As we have seen with Nigel, even these sub-holders could be wealthy men with a string of holdings in several counties, and unlikely, therefore, to be visible in our area. If so, then maybe that suited Saxon folk who had no need of being reminded that they were beholden now, in every way, to their conquerors.

c) Religion and faith

The relationship between the minster at Twynham and Ashley’s population continued through the second half of the 11th century: the ‘mother-church’ providing spiritual oversight, and local people supporting that community with money and in kind.

There were 25 canons at Twynham in 1086: Alsi the priest, who held Bashley when Edward the Confessor was king, was still one of them. The canons lived a semi-communal life, praying eight times a day, and holding most of their income in common. However, the availability of these priests to minister to all their many parishioners, including those in Ashley, was gradually reduced once Ranulf Flambard took charge of the community in or around 1087. Flambard set about reducing the numbers of priests by not replacing those that died. He also ensured that he was in control of the bulk of the income. His ambition was to be in a position to initiate the building of a new church in Twynham: this he achieved just before the end of the century.

(Norman stonework in Christchurch Priory nave)

For local Ashley residents who ventured across to Twynham, the sight, from 1094, of the pulling down of the Anglo-Saxon church and related buildings, and the construction of a new one in the Norman style, must have been unsettling and inspiring at the same time. Unsettling, in the sense that many of them would never have attended any other church in their lifetimes. Inspiring, in terms of the great size and imposing Norman architecture.

It is true that the DB records two churches in the Rowditch Hundred at this time: in Milford and Brockenhurst. The former, and probably the latter, were initiated by the local thegn, Aelfric, who held both settlements. Sometime after 1086 a similar church was built at Hordle. However, there were clear restrictions on such places of worship; they were dependent on their ‘mother-church’ and only the thegn and people bound to him would have been served by them. For example, only Aelfric’s poorer tenants, including his slaves, rather than those of any other local thegn, could be buried in the graveyards. With regard to burials, everyone dying in Ashley ought to have been conveyed to Twynham for internment there, paying the appropriate soulscot (funeral payment) on the day.[44] Whether this conveyance happened for all peasants is a matter of conjecture; archaeological evidence shows that not all cemeteries in the late Anglo-Saxon period were adjacent to churches.[45] But maybe this is where Saewulf and his wife lie buried; and if Godric Malf lived in Minstead a nearer place of burial could have been Eling minster church.

d) The landscape and rural economy

No doubt, in the long run, the daily and annual routines of the majority of people living in Ashley stayed pretty much the same in the second half of the century as in the first. Crops would have continued to be sown and harvested, animals tended and slaughtered, tools and clothes made and repaired. This is the cycle of rural life which earlier generations had followed and which a Norman Conquest wasn’t going to alter.

However, in all probability, there was disruption in the local rural economy in the months following King Edward’s death in January 1066, through to the battle of Hastings in the October of that year, and on into the years immediately afterwards. In peacetime all freemen were accustomed to being called away to perform military service obligations in the fyrd; their absence would put a strain on their families and those who would cover their work, but usually this did not last too long. In wartime, the length of time away was more unpredictable, and the burden falling on others that much greater. We can expect Godric and Saewulf to have been called on, in this way, up to the Conquest, and likewise Godric’s sons in the years that followed, each time there was a threat to the realm.

Additional disruption came about as King William began the process of rewarding his followers with tracts of land, formerly held by Saxons. For example, when Saewulf’s settlement changed hands, even though we don’t know when that happened exactly, the continuity of oversight, the give and take of his involvement locally, and the predictability of what was expected between himself as landholder and his Ashley tenants altered forever.

With regard to the landscape, a major change to the local countryside took place between 1070 and 1081 with direct consequences for Ashley’s residents. This change was the designation of Ytene as a royal hunting area for King William. The land included in this ‘New Forest’ became subject to Forest Law, and animals suitable for hunting were introduced and encouraged.

The DB entries tell us that both settlements in Ashley lost land to the forest as a result of the changes: by 3 virgates, for that of Godric Malf’s sons, and by one, for Nigel’s. The value of the holdings reduced accordingly. In addition to this reduction in land, Ashley residents would have been adversely affected by Forest Law which was designed to preserve, increase and protect the game (the venison) to be hunted, such as deer and boar, and to protect the greenery (the vert) that sustained them. For people like the inhabitants of Ashley, this will have meant a reduction in the areas where they might fatten their pigs, for example, and gather wood for fires and building material; also, where they themselves might have hunted for rabbits and other small game with which to supplement their diets, or to sell.

The enforcement of Forest Law was harsh in the early Norman period.

‘If anyone doe offer force to a Verderer, if he be a freeman, hee shall lose his freedome, and all that he hath. And if he be a villain, he shal lose his right hand’.[46]

With regard to hunting and killing a stag, the penalties increased in severity depending on one’s social status, the slave receiving the harshest punishment: loss of life.

(Image from the month of September, from an Anglo-Saxon, 11th century calendar)

Epilogue: into the future

As the 11th century drew to a close, and the 12th century began, people in Ashley and surrounding areas were living in an environment of uncertainty and vulnerability, much as they had been one hundred years earlier.

We have seen that at the start of the 11th century they were vulnerable to Viking incursions; a hundred years later we can imagine them fearful of what would follow after the death of their king, William Rufus, on 2nd August 1100 while hunting in the New Forest. The exact location of his death will never be known. If one theory is to be believed, Rufus and his party were staying at Malwood hunting lodge close to Minstead; if this was so, then it is conceivable that the sons of Godric Malf were closer to the events of that fatal day, and those that followed, than they may have wished.[47] Even for those not directly involved, uncertainty about possible retribution may have preyed on peoples’ minds.

The following year saw Hampshire involved again in a threat to the crown: the new king Henry’s brother, Robert Curthose, landed at Portsmouth from Normandy and marched on Winchester, in a challenge for the English throne. Once more, by association, Ashley and surrounding areas were drawn into those events, this time by virtue of its overlord, Robert de Belleme, son of the late Earl Roger, siding with the Norman Robert Curthose over the king of England. Ultimately, once Henry and his brother had arrived at an amicable settlement, the Montgomery family forfeited all their lands in England and Wales; they retreated to their estates in Normandy, from whence they had come a generation earlier.[48]

Despite these unsettling events, the opening years of the new century saw an upturn in the prospects of at least one small group of inhabitants in Ashley, and other local settlements: namely those of slave status. In 1102, the Church Council of London, convened by Anselm, issued a decree:

‘Let no one dare hereafter to engage in the infamous business, prevalent in England, of selling men like animals.’[49]

William the Conqueror had already introduced a law to abolish slave trading, and this reinforcement by the church strengthened that position further. It wasn’t too long into the 12th century before slavery itself disappeared altogether, prompted by economic factors and moral reasoning. Rural life was still a struggle, but at least one of the worst characteristics was on the wane.


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive, but none are the original version created in the 9th century.

Burgh: an urban settlement, normally fortified.

Ceorls: general term for freemen, below the rank of thegn.

Danegeld: tax, initially raised to pay off Viking invaders

Danelaw: area conquered by the Vikings in the 9th century, and subsequently controlled by them. Largely in the east, and north-east of England.

Demesne: land devoted to the lord’s profit, whether his whole land, or a portion of it, worked by peasants as part of their obligation.

Domesday Book: the name, acquired in the 13th century, for the manuscript compiled from detailed surveys of landholdings across all counties, ordered by William the Conqueror in 1086.

Earl: highest members of the ruling nobility, under the king. Not a hereditary title, but only open to a few families.

Freemen: constituted the third largest group (14%) among the peasantry. They were expected to do military service and to fight, if called on, from a young age. Freemen were not bound to the land they worked, ie. they were free to take their service to other lords and villages, but could owe rents or obligations to whoever was their lord.

Fyrd: the English militia before 1066.

Hide: the basic unit of assessment for tax. In most areas the hide divided into four virgates. The amount of land thought sufficient to support a household.

Hundred: the main administrative sub-division of a county, including a Hundred court, with a significant role in financial, military, judicial and political matters. Made up of ten tythings.

Lordship: a legal requirement on all free men: in return for fidelity and service, a man received his lord’s protection.

Peasantry: 95% of the recorded population in 1086, carrying out a variety of rural occupations. They could be either free or unfree.

Plough: primary agricultural technology in the 11th century, used for turning and aerating the soil. Eight oxen made up the standard plough team.

Reeve: an official, found at every level of administration.

Sergeant: a lesser tenant in chief, normally performing some particular service to their lord eg. hunting, forestry, the bedchamber etc.

Slave: a person in the bottom 10% of the economic and social scale. Normally without resources of their own, they owned no land, and their lives were largely dictated by their lord, for whom they worked.

Smallholder: a member of the second largest group among the peasantry, constituting almost a third of the recorded population but with less land than a villain.

Tenant in chief: a landowner who held their lands directly from the Crown.

Thegn: a man of noble status, as opposed to a peasant. In post Conquest England, the nobility were ranked in the order of earl, King’s thegn and median thegn.

Tything: the households in an area comprising ten hides where every member was expected to take responsibility for each other. Thus if any one member broke the law, the others needed to bring the accused to court. If they failed, they would face the consequences themselves.

Villager: word used interchangeably with villein.

Villein: an unfree peasant who owed his lord service as well as farming land for himself. Villeins were the largest (40%) and wealthiest group in the peasantry.

Virgate: a unit of land, typically ¼ of a hide.

Ytene: name for the area of Hampshire now known as the New Forest, prior to Norman times.


(The reader is requested not to download images from this document, other than those originated by the author)

Frontpage: image of men ploughing the land, from Anglo-Saxon 11th century calendar, held by The British Library, Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part 1. Accessed from The National Archive website: World of Domesday.

p.4 : Ethelred 11 AR Penny, SE 1144. With permission from; ex CNG auction 69 lot 2109, June 2005: map of Canute’s North Sea Empire 1028-35. Obtained from CC BY-SA 3.0. File:Cnut lands.svg

p.5 : Edward the Confessor AR Penny, SE1171. With permission from; ex CNG auction 69 lot 2118, June 2005

p.6 : image of st.Swithun. Obtained from Wikimedia Commons. File:st.Swithun, Benedictional of Ethelwold, London, BL, MsADD.19598,Fol 90V.jpeg

p.7 : entries in the Domesday Book relating to Ashley. Obtained from the free online copy of the DB: OPEN DOMESDAY: Created by Prof. J.J.N. Palmer and team. University of Hull. English translations of entries from the Phillimore translation: Morris, J. (ed.), Domesday Book. Hampshire, Philimore and Co. Ltd., 1982

p.10 : photo by Alan Simkins of ‘The Farmer’s House’, Anglo-Saxon reconstructed house, West Stow Anglo-Saxon village, Suffolk. Obtained from ‘A Heritage Drive: West Suffolk (and the Anglo-Saxons)’ page of the Heritage Journal website,

p.12 : photos of Ashley, taken by the author : image of the month of May, from an Anglo-Saxon, 11th century calendar, accessed from the online manuscript collection of The British Library, Medieval England and France 700-1200. The British Library, Cotton MS Julius A.

p.13 : map of William the Conqueror’s Invasion route. Obtained from Photo by Mark Needham

p.15 : page from the Winchester Troper, accessed from Wikimedia Commons. File: Winchester Tropar.png

p.18 : photo Tomb of Roger de Montgomery, Shrewsbury Abbey, created by Jayden Woods. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. obtained from

p.19 : photo of interior of Christchurch Priory, taken by author

p.21 : image of men hunting swine, from an Anglo-Saxon, 11th century calendar (month of September), accessed from The British Library


  1. The content of the Introduction draws on material in Lacey, R. and Danziger, D., The Year 1000, Little, Brown and Company, 1999, as well as the websites of the National Archives and the British Library. Other references are listed below.
  2. Gardiner, M., Late Saxon Settlements. Chp.12 in H. Hamerow, D.A Hinton, and S.Crawford (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, OUP, 2011.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hanson, D.J., Historical evolution of alcohol consumption in society. In Boyle, P., (ed., Alcohol: Science, Policy and Public Health, OUP, 2013.
  5. Fell, C., Women in Anglo-Saxon England and the impact of 1066, British Museum Publications, 1984.
  6. Swenton, M., Anglo-Saxon Prose, J.M.Dent, 1993, p.8.
  7. Quoted in Crossley-Holland, K., The Anglo-Saxon World. An Anthology, OUP, 2009, p.31.
  8. Hase, P. H., The Church in the Wessex Heartlands. In M. Ashton and C. Lewis (eds.), The Medieval Landscape of Wessex, Oxford Monograph 46, 1994.
  9. Tinti, F. (ed.), Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Studies 6, The Brydell Press, 2005, p.4.
  10. A Church Calendar, in Swenton, ibid. p.70.
  11. Whittock, M. and Whittock, H., The Viking Blitzkrieg: AD 789-1098, The History Press, 2013, p.178.
  12. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle online: A ‘byrnie’ was a coat of mail.
  13. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ibid. Entry for 1011.
  14. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ibid. Entry for 1013.
  15. Carpenter Turner, B., A History of Hampshire, Darwen Finlayson, 1969, p.19.
  16. Rex, P., Edward the Confessor. King of England, Amberley Publishing, 2013, p.109.
  17. Morris, J. (ed.), Domesday Book. Hampshire, Philimore and Co. Ltd., 1982. There is some disagreement in the DB sources consulted as to whether one of the Ashley settlements is outside the Rowditch 100: the Williams and Martin translation lists one in the Boldre 100. The Open Domesday website, however, lists both settlements as being in the Rowditch 100.
  18. Wood, M., Domesday. A Search for the Roots of England, BBC Books, 1987, p. 106. Wood refers to two categories of thegns in late Saxon England: a top tier of 120 or so men, and a far larger group of lesser thegns below that, holding a minimum of 5 hides.
  19. Hull Domesday Project,
  20. Whittock, M. and Whittock, H., The Viking Blitzkrieg: AD 789-1098, The History Press, 2013, p.35.
  21. Dyson, T., The History of Christchurch from Saxon Times to the Present Day, Henbest Publicity Services, 1955, p.36.
  22. A fraction of a mill indicates that the mill was shared, or somehow was only taxable on part of it.
  23. Danes settled in Wessex to such an extent that, by 1066, there were 81 individuals with Danish names who were recorded in the DB as landholders, of one rank or another. Lewis, C.P., Danish Landowners in Wessex in 1066. In Lavelle, R. and Roffey. S. (eds.), Danes in Wessex: The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c800 – c1100, Oxbow Books. 2015.
  24. Stannard, Michael., The Makers of Christchurch. A thousand year story, Natula Publications, 1999, chp.1.
  25. Hanna, K.A. (ed.), The Christchurch Priory Cartulary, Hampshire County Council, 2007, ref.972, p.304.
  26. Hase, P.H., The Mother Churches of Hampshire. In J. Blair (ed.), Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition 950-1200, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1988.
  27. Wilcox, J., Aelfric in Dorset and the landscape of pastoral care. In Tinti, F. (ed.), Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Studies 6, The Brydell Press, 2005.
  28. Winchester College Catalogue of MSS. Section relating to Fernhill. Among the College’s collection is a 13th century document relating to a grant of ¾ acre of meadow lying between East and West Ashley. Might these locations be related to those identified in the eleventh century?
  29. Carpenter Turner, B., A History of Hampshire, Darwen Finlayson, 1969, p.37.
  30. The Tapestry was commissioned by Odo, William’s half -brother, bishop of Bayeux and earl of Kent.
  31. Savage, A. (translated and collated by), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Bramley Books, 1997, p.211.
  32. Gesta Reum Anglorum in Allen Brown, R., The Norman Conquest of England. Sources and Documents, The Boydell Press, 1984, p.116, para.147.
  33. Fyrd service was related to the amount of land held: one warrior for every five hides. He was given money for his own maintenance from the lands he was serving.
  34. Morris, Marc., The Norman Conquest, Windmill Books, 2013, p.298.
  35. Encyclopaedia Britannica,
  36. Bond, J., Forests, Chases, Warrens and Parks in Medieval Wessex. In Ashton, M. and Lewis, C. (eds.), The Medieval Landscape of Wessex, Oxbow Monograph 46, 1994, p.119.
  37. Bearman, R. in Charters of the Redvers Family and the Earls of Devon 1090-1217 raises the possibility of Roger Earl of Hereford rather than Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, being the Tenant in Chief for Ashley and five other Hampshire settlements.
  38. Fell, C., ibid. chp. 4, and Wood, M., ibid. Introduction.
  39. Poole, A.L., From Domesday Book to Magna Carta 1087-1216, OUP, 1966. P12.
  40. Hull Domesday Project,
  41. Even before the Conquest there were accepted remedies, known as leechdoms, for multiple problems, such as difficult wounds, sore eyes, and adder bites. In the main, these relied on herbal concoctions, but other remedies made use of such things as dead bees, horse dung, and goat’s hair. Bald’s Leechbook in Swenton, M., Anglo-Saxon Prose, J.M.Dent, 1993, p.257.
  42. Tinti, F. ibid. Chp.3, Footnote 24 p.59. Population estimates are made by multiplying the DB numbers by five to include other members of the household.
  43. The descriptions of settlement size are those used in the online copy of the DB: Open Domesday,
  44. Hase, P.H., The Mother Churches of Hampshire. In J. Blair (ed.), Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition 950-1200, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1988. Chp. V.
  45. Hadley, D.M. and Buckberry, J., Caring for the Dead in late Anglo-Saxon England. In Tinti, F. ibid. Chp. 7.
  46. Stenton, D.M., English Society in the Early Middle Ages, Penguin Books, 1967, p.111. Reference to a 17th century translation of Norman Forest Law.
  47. Grinnell-Milne, D., The Killing of William Rufus. An investigation in the New Forest. Duncan and Charles. Newton Abbot. 1968, pp.67,68.
  48. The new overlord for Ashley became Richard de Redvers, to whom king Henry 1 gifted the honour of Christchurch, which included the castle and priory.

    Primary Sources
    Allen Brown, R., The Norman Conquest of England. Sources and Documents, The Boydell Press, 1984

    Anglo Saxon Chronicle online:

    Britannia History. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

    Crossley-Holland, K., The Anglo-Saxon World. An Anthology, OUP, 2009

    Hanna, K.A. (ed.), The Christchurch Priory Cartulary, Hampshire County Council, 2007

    Morris, J. (ed.), Domesday Book. Hampshire, Philimore and Co. Ltd., 1982

    Savage, A. (translated and collated by), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Bramley Books, 1997

    Swenton, M., Anglo-Saxon Prose, J.M.Dent, 1993

    Williams, A. and Martin, G. (eds.), Domesday Book. A Complete Translation, Penguin Books, 2002

    Winchester College Catalogue of MSS. Section relating to Fernhill.

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    Bearman, R., Charters of the Redvers Family and the Earldom of Devon 1090-1217, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, 1994

    Bond, C.J., Church and Parish in Northern Worcestershire. In Blair, J., (ed.), Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition, Oxford, 1988

    Bond, J., Forests, Chases, Warrens and Parks in Medieval Wessex. In Ashton, M. and Lewis, C. (eds.), The Medieval Landscape of Wessex, Oxbow Monograph 46, 1994

    Carpenter Turner, B., A History of Hampshire, Darwen Finlayson, 1969

    Dyson, T., The History of Christchurch from Saxon Times to the Present Day, Henbest Publicity Services, 1955

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    Finberg, H.R.R., The Formation of England 550-1042, MacGibbon, 1074

    Gardiner, M., Late Saxon Settlements. In H. Hamerow, D.A Hinton, and S.Crawford (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, OUP, 2011

    Grinnell-Milne, D., The Killing of William Rufus. An investigation in the New Forest. Duncan and Charles. Newton Abbot. 1968.

    Hadley, D.M. and Buckberry, J., Caring for the Dead in Late Anglo-Saxon England. In Tinti, F. (ed.), Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Studies 6. The Boydell Press. 2005

    Hagen, A., A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink. Production and Distribution, Ango-Saxon Books, 1995

    Hampshire County Council, Hampshire’s Countryside Heritage. No.2 Ancient Woodland, 1983. No.8 Man and the Landscape, 1984. No.9 Meadows, 1984

    Hanson, D.J., Historical evolution of alcohol consumption in society. In Boyle, P., (ed., Alcohol: Science, Policy and Public Health, OUP, 2013

    Hase, P. H., The Church in the Wessex Heartlands. In M. Ashton and C. Lewis (eds.), The Medieval Landscape of Wessex, Oxford Monograph 46, 1994

    Hase, P.H., The Mother Churches of Hampshire. In J. Blair (ed.), Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition 950-1200, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1988

    Holland, T, Millenium. The End of the World and the Forging of Christendum, Abacus, 2008

    James, J., The Story of Hordle Parish and its churches, Hordle Parochial Church Council, 1998

    Lacey, R. and Danziger, D., The Year 1000, Little, Brown and Company, 1999

    Lewis, C.P., Danish Landowners in Wessex in 1066. In Lavelle, R. and Roffey. S. (eds.), Danes in Wessex: The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c800 – c1100, Oxbow Books. 2015

    Morris, Marc., The Norman Conquest, Windmill Books, 2013

    Poole, A.L., From Domesday Book to Magna Carta 1087-1216, OUP, 1966

    Rex, P., Edward the Confessor. King of England, Amberley Publishing, 2013

    Stannard, Michael., The Makers of Christchurch. A thousand year story, Natula Publications, 1999

    Stenton, D.M., English Society in the Early Middle Ages, Penguin Books, 1967

    Taverner, L.E., The Common Lands of Hampshire, Hampshire County Council, 1957

    Timmins, G., New Milton. A Village History, 2007

    Tinti, F. (ed.), Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Studies 6, The Brydell Press, 2005

    Whittock, M. and Whittock, H., The Viking Blitzkrieg: AD 789-1098, The History Press, 2013

    Wilcox, J., Aelfric in Dorset and the landscape of pastoral care. In Tinti, F. (ed.), Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Studies 6, The Brydell Press, 2005

    Wood, M., Domesday. A Search for the Roots of England, BBC Books, 1987

    Yates, E.M., The Landscape of the New Forest in Medieval Times, Occasional Paper No. 24 University of London Kings College, Dept. of Geography, 1985



    BHO (British History Online)

    Encyclopaedia Britannica,

    Hull Domesday Project,

    Open Domesday, calendar