The Normans in St Neots


Following the defeat of Harold Godwineson’s English forces at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, was declared King of England and Normandy. One of his first policies was to put in place a feudal system to help his Norman troops gain control over the Saxon population. Under this system some of William’s relatives and friends in the army were granted land as a reward for helping him defeat the Saxons. In return they pledged (promised) service and loyalty to the King. For example, they had to provide the King with men and boys and weapons whenever an armed force was required. They became the lords of the manor, often taking over the houses of the defeated Saxon landowners and marrying their daughters. Their tenants had to pay rent in kind, often in the form of food, goods or services. When work was needed on the estate the tenants could be asked to do unpaid day work or even a week’s work. 


William didn’t stay in England long and returned to Normandy. His troops did not completely conquer England until 1072. According to the Domesday Book of 1086 Wymarc was the major landowner in Essex whose son, Robert, also owned land in Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire. Whether Wymarc was a Saxon or Danish earl is unknown. He must have agreed to work with the Normans as he became Sheriff of Essex and his son, Swan, became the greatest sheepmaster in that county. Robert’s land in Eynesbury amounted to 15 hides. This was 1,800 acres, enough land it is suggested for 15 households. A household in those days would have been not just father, mother and children but other family members as well like grandparents, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Eynesbury’s population could have been several hundred by 1086. They had 27 ploughs and the parish was valued at £24.


Other land in Eynesbury was “seized” by the Gilbert, the Norman Earl of Eu (Owe) whose two sons had fought with him. Baldwin de Clare was appointed Sheriff of Devonshire and Richard de Clare took over some of 170 estates in Suffolk, 95 of which were attached to Clare Castle. Richard’s wife, Rohais Giffard, was given some of his land in Eynesbury. She had “7 ploughs in lordship. St Neot’s also has 3 ploughs from her in lordship; and in the village itself 19 villagers and 5 smallholders who have 7 ploughs”. A mill was mentioned but its exact location is uncertain. Rohais’ land was valued at 24 shillings (£1.20). There was also a fishery and 65½ acres of meadow. Rohais allowed William the Breton2 hides and 1 virgate of this land [270 acres]. He has ½ plough in lordship”. There were also 3 villagers and 4 smallholders with 1 plough on land valued at 30 shillings (£1.50). (Gorham, Rev. G.C. (1824), A Supplement to the History and Antiquities of Eynesbury & St Neots in Huntingdonshire and of St Neot in Cornwall, London, p.61;; Domesday Book, Huntingdonshire)


It is probable that Rohais and Richard de Clare took over Robert’s manor house in Eynesbury and improved it in Norman style by replacing the wooden structure with stone. They would have needed a large number of Norman speaking cooks, servants, maids and grooms who needed accommodation. With the likelihood of grievances still existing amongst the defeated Saxons, a troop of soldiers was needed to defend the Norman newcomers. They would have taken over and reinforced St Neot’s castle with stronger ramparts and a wooden stockade.


One of the first things Richard and Rohais did was to get rid of the Ely monks from St Neot’s priory in revenge for them offering resistance to King William. Three Saxon monks obstinately refused to leave, despite being whipped and starved. The angry earl had them sent to the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin in Normandy with the order to have them kept in permanently beyond the Channel.


To win influence over the Saxon residents he and Rohais provided funds to build a  monastery in stone. They arranged for Benedictine monks to come over from Bec monastery in Normandy. To help fund the rebuilding he gave these monks the rights to some of the parish tithes, 10% of his peasants' annual produce.


The Domesday Book of 1086 mentioned the Priory as having enough land for three ploughs worth £4. There was no mention of it holding land in other parishes. The accounts for Gamlingay or Waresley made no mention of St Neots Priory so it has been argued that a lot of its original land had been taken by the Norman overlords.


Land on the western side of the river in Eaton Socon had been controlled by the Saxon Wulfmer (sometimes written as Wulfmar), described as the great Bedfordshire ‘thane of King Edward’. This land was confiscated and given to Eudo Fitzhubert (Eudo Dapfier).


It answers for 20 hides. Land for 16 ploughs. In lordship 7½ hides; 4 ploughs there. 38 villagers have 12 ploughs. 7 smallholders and 8 slaves; 2 Freemen who could not grant or sell their land. 2 mills at 36s 6d [£1.82] and 100 eels; meadow for 12 ploughs; woodland, 400 pigs; vineyard, 2 acres. In total, value £15; when acquired £8; before 1066 £10.In this manor were 2 Freemen who could sell and grant their land. Theobald, Countess Judith’s man, claims one hide of this land, of which Eudo [de Rye] dispossessed him after he came to this manor”.


(Domesday Book, Bedfordshire)


This land in Eaton amounted to about 30% of Eudo’s holdings in Bedfordshire. He was clearly a powerful man as he also owned land in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire. (Victoria County Histories, (VCH). Bedfordshire, p.190) The background of these people proves interesting. Eudo is best remembered for founding the abbey of St John of Colchester and building Colchester Castle on the site of the Roman temple of Claudius. It was the largest Norman keep in Britain. His statue can be seen in front of Colchester Town Hall. Although he spent much of his time at Preaux Castle in Normandy, he had extensive estates in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Norfolk. Eudo died in 1120 (Minney, P. (2007), Sutton – Then and Now, The Villager, Potton, p.8). 


An internet search revealed that Wulfmer was a woodsman who was killed at Hastings. His other land in Sandy and Gamlingay was appropriated by Ralph Tailebois and Osbern, son of Walter. Countess Judith was the daughter of William the Conqueror’s sister who had been given Huntingdon as her castle. Her parents were Adeliza, Countess of Aumale and Lambert II, Count of Lens, now a town in Pas de Caliais. She held estates for her uncle in no less than ten counties in East Anglia and the Midlands.



Waltheof, another of Edward’s thanes, survived the battle and was allowed to live. He was trusted by William but joined the revolt against him in 1069. This was put down with excessive force but William wanted Waltheof’s loyalty. In 1072 he was offered Countess Judith as a wife as well as the earldoms of Northumbria and Northampton. He took them all but three years later was caught conspiring with other Norman earls against William. He was beheaded in Winchester. Not wanting a widowed niece, William wanted Judith to marry Simon St Liz, the first Earl of Northampton, but she refused the alliance and was sent to the Isle of Ely. Simon married her eldest daughter instead. To cement ties between other local families Eudo married Richard and Rohais’ daughter Rohesia in 1074.  (;;


Annoyed by her refusal to follow his instructions King William confiscated her estates

Extract from Bernard O’Connor’s ‘Who was St Neot’, (2005)