1902 Encyclopedia > London > Norman Period (1066-1154)

(Part 35)


London History (cont.) - Norman Period (1066-1154)

After the battle of Hastings certain of the defeated chiefs retired upon London and urged the men in power to resist the Norman, and set up Edgar Atheling as king, which, as the Saxon chornicler says, "was indeed his natural right." On hearing of this action William marched towards London, and was attacked by the Saxon party at Southwark, who were repulsed by the Norman horse, but with such loss to the latter that William thought it imprudent to lay siege to the city at that time. The Londones began now to see the hopelessness of their cause, and Archbishop Eldred, and Edgar, and earls Edwin and Morkere, and "the best men of London" repaired to Berkhampstead, where they submitted themselves and swore fealty to the Conqueror. One of the earliest acts of the Conqueror was to commence the erection of a citadel which should overawe the citizens and give him the command of the city. Some writers have supposed that King Alfred erected a palace or castle on the site of the Tower, but without sufficient authority, ad a writer in the Quarterly Review (art. "Middlesex," vol. cl. P. 48 nte) says "the Tower almost certainly stands on foreshore which was not dry land before the Conquest." As the Tower was situated at the eastern limit of the city, so not far from the western extremity was built a strong fortification called Baynard’s Castle after its founder Baynard, one of the followers of the Conqueror. In the second year of his reign William granted the remarkable charter written in Anglo-Saxon which still exists among the archives of the city of London. There are but four lines and a quarter, and the size of the slip of parchment is only 6 inches by 1 inch. It runs thus – "William the king greets William the bishop, Godfrey the portreeve, and allthe burgesses within London, both French and English. And I grant that they be all law-worth, as they were in Edward the king’s days. And I will that each child be his father’s heir after his father’s days. And I will not suffer that any man do you wrong, God keep you." William Stigand, the bishop of London, was a Norman, and possibly had some influence with the king in obtaining this charter. A wonderful improvement in the appearance of the cities of the country almost immediately followed the advent of the civilizing Norman. Within a few years the whole area of London must have been changed, and handsome buildings arose as if by magic in all parts of the city. Many Normans had settled in London during the reign of Edward the Confessor, but after the Conquest they swarmed in and naturally became the dominant party. In August 1077 occurred a most extensive fire, such a one, says the Chronicle, as ‘never was before since London was founded." This constant burning of large portions of the city is a marked feature of its early history, and we must remember that, although stone buildings were rising on all sides, these were churches, monasteries, and other public edifices; the ordinary houses remained as before, small wooden structures. The White Tower, the famous keep of the Tower of London, was commenced by Gunduph, bishop of Rochester, about the year 1078. In 1083 the old cathedral of St Pual’s was commenced on the site of the church which Ethelred is said to have founded in 610. But four years afterwards the chronicles tells us "they holy monastery of St Paul, the Episcopal see of London, was burnt, and many other monasteries, and the greatest and fairest part of the whole city." In this same year (1087) William the Conqueror died. In 1090 a tremendous hurricane passed over London, and blew down six hundred houses and many churches. The Tower was injured, and a portion of the roof of the church of St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, was carried off and fell some distance away, being forced into the ground as much as 20 feet, a proof of the badness of the thoroughfares as well as of the force of the wind. William Rufus inherited from his father a love for building, and in the year 1097 he exacted large sums of money form his subjects with the object of carrying on some of the undertakings he had in hand. These were the walling round of the Tower, the rebuilding of London Bridge, which had been almost destroyed by a flood, and the erection of the great work with which his name is most generally associated, Westminster Hall. In 1100 Rufus was slain, and Henry I. was crowned in London. This king granted to the citizens their first real charter, in which he promised to observe the laws of the Confessor and to redress many special grievances; but he paid little attention to his engagements, and constantly violated the articles of his charter. When Stephen seized the crown on the death of Henry I., he tried successfully to obtain the support of the people of London. He published a charter confirming in general terms the one granted by Henry, and commanding that the good laws of Edward the Confessor should be observed. The citizens, however, did not obtain their rights without paying for them, and in the year 1139 they paid Stephen one hundred marks of silver to enable them to choose their own sheriffs. In this reign the all-powerfulness of the Londoners is brought very prominently forward. Stephen became by the shifting fortune of war a prisoner, and the empress Matilda might, if she had the wisdom to favor the citizens, have held the throne, which was hers by right of birth. She, however, mad them her enemies by delivering u the office of justiciary of London and the sheriffwick to her partisan Geoffrey, earl of Essex, and attempting to reduce the citizens to the enslaved condition of the rest of the country. This made her influential enemies, who soon afterwards replaced Stephen upon the throne. The Norman era closes with the death of Stephen, 1154.

We have already alluded to the great number of ecclesiastical foundations which marked the Norman period, and will here note some of the chief of these, to show how completely the new buildings must have changed the whole appearance of London, and raised it from a mean congregation of houses to the rank of a city, having features of considerable architectural merit. The college of St Martin-le-Grand within Aldersgate was founded in the year 1056 and its rights were confirmed by the Conqueror in the second year of his reign. He gave the dean and secular priests more land, and added to their privileges. A nunnery of the Benedictine order, dedicated to St Leonard, near Bronley, was founded in the reign of William the Conqueror by William, bishop of London, for a priories and nine nuns, and in Stephen’s reign Sir William Mountfitchet founded an abbey at Stratford Langton, which was subsequently known as West Ham Priory. In 1082 a convent of monks dedicated to St Saviors was founded at Bermondsey by Alwin Child, a wealthy citizen, and seven years afterwards some Cluniac monks came from France and settled in the new convent, of which one of them was chosen the first prior. In 1094 William Rufus added the manor of Bermondsey to the other benefactions of this fortunate monastery, which became very powerful, and was frequently used as a royal residence. At Clerkenwell tow religious house were established in the year 1100, viz., the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, and they priory of St Mary for nuns of the Benefictine order. It was said that the number of monasteries built in the reign of Henry I. was so great that almost all the laborers became bricklayers and carpenters, and there was some discontent in consequence. Matilda or Maud, the wife of Henry I., was much interested in the foundation of these religious houses. She established the priory of Holy Trinity, called Christ Church, which was situated to the north of Aldgate, in 1108, and about 1110 two hospitals, one for lepers at St Giles’s-in-the-Fields, and the other for cripples at Cripplegate. The priory of St Bartholomew was founded a few years earlier, and the Benedictine nunnery of St John the Baptist at Halliwell near Shoreditch soon afterwards The Nights Templaurs made their first habitation in the neighborhood of London in 1118, and did not remove from Holborn to Fleet Street until nearly seventy years afterwards. The royal hospital of St Katherine’s at the Tower was originally founded by Matilda, wife of king Stephen, and the famous St Stephen’s chapel at Westminster owes its origin to the king himself. It was, however, rebuilt by Edward II. It will be seen from the above list that a large proportion of these buildings were outside the walls, and this shows how extensive the outskirts of the city had become in Norman times. No doubt many of these religious persons sought out somewhat quiet neighborhood, but around each of them would naturally grow up villages formed by those who were chiefly dependent upon the monks and nuns.

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