Robin Hood is often described as a Saxon, competing against his oppressive Norman overlords in various films and novels. So what was Nottingham, the place most associated with the outlaw like, when the Normans began to rule England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The best way to find out, is to look in the Domesday Book, an incredibly unique snapshot of life in late eleventh century England.
Great Domesday was commissioned by William I (the Conqueror) at his Christmas Court in 1085 and the whole enormous work of collecting the information and turning it into the book that survives today, took under two years to complete. A fantastic achievement and a tribute to the political power and formidable will of William the Conqueror. This book is today preserved at the Public Record Office at Kew, but for many centuries it was held at Winchester the ancient Saxon capital of Wessex. It is not only written in Latin, but in a highly abbreviated form of Latin. It took approximately nine hundred sheepskins, soaked in lime and stretched over wooden frames, to make the parchment for the clerk, to give us a snapshot of a world, far different to the one we know today.
The Domesday survey was a detailed statement of lands held by the king and by his tenants and of the resources which went with those lands. It recorded which manors rightfully belonged to which estates, reducing the years of confusion between the Anglo-Saxons and their Norman conquerors . It also gave him the extant to which he could raise taxes! This illuminates a crucial time in our history, the settlement in England of William and his Norman and northern French followers. Local people likened this irreversible gathering of comprehensive information, to the Last Judgement, and by the late twelfth century this remarkable survey became known as Doomsday. Before that it was known as the Winchester Roll or King’s Roll.
Nottingham at this time, is recorded as:
Snoting(e)ham/quin: King’s land. The main landholders are listed as Hugh FitzBaldric; the Sheriff; Roger de Bully; William Peverel; Ralph Fitzhurbert; Geoffrey Alselin; Richard Frail.
A church is also listed, the original Saxon church of St Mary’s, later destroyed in the mid twelfth century. The number of burgesses given is 120 and the amount of families in Nottingham at this time can not have been more than 500.
Roger de Busli or Bully and William Peverel were William the Conqueror’s two great tenants-in-chief. Some believe that Peverel was an illegitimate son of the Conquror. The Domesday Book shows that after the Conquest, Peverel was rewarded for his invovement in the Battle of Hastings with 162 lordships.
After stopping at Nottingham on his way north, William I had given Peverel instructions for a motte and bailey type ‘royal’ castle to be built on the 130 ft. high rock overlooking the town, in the king’s name. Over the following centuries the wooden fortress would be re-built in stone. The castle would be a strategic key to the midlands. Peverel was later made constable of Nottingham Castle and rewarded with a ‘fief’, known as the Honour of Nottingham, which included Sherwood Forest, the High Peak and lands in six shires, to support him. During the reign of King John, the sheriff’s of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire became custodians of land that became known as the Honour of Peverel.
The ‘Peverel Court’ was held in Nottingham up until 1321. It was a Court of Pleas for the recovery of small debts and for damages of trespass and had jurisdiction over 127 towns and villages around the shire. In Basford stood Peverel’s Gaol, founded in 1113 and used for the imprisonment of debtors by the successive sheriffs of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Roger de Busli was rewarded by King William I, like William Peverel for his assistance at the Battle of Hastings and was granted holdings in six English counties, including 174 estates in Nottinghamshire. Very little is known about him and he is described by some as famous in Domesday but nowhere else. His seat of power, became his manor house at Blyth in Nottinghamshire, described in the Domesday Book as:
Blyth (Blide) land of Roger de Busli 1 Bovate of land and the fourth part of 1 bovate taxable. Land for 1 plough. 4 villagers and 4 smallholders have 1 plough. Meadow 1 acre.
Blyth became one of only five designated sites in England, licensed by Richard I to hold tournaments. The area has been recently re-discovered in a field known locally as Terminings (tourneyings) Meadow on a tract of land between Blyth and Stirrup. The Pope had denounced these exhibitions of skill in arms, but Richard refused to be denied the ability to train his English knights to the level of skill of their counterparts on the continent.
Roger Busli also built Tickhill Castle an earthwork motte and bailey fortressfor the king, where he bestowed many great gifts to his followers, to the disadvantage and animosity of the original Saxon landowners.
If we look in the Domesday Book at some of the local villages that later become known as part of Sherwood Forest, we can see how the land was parcelled up between the new powerful Norman lords.
Edwinstowe, now the main modern tourist centre for Sherwood, was land owned by the king, Edenestou 1c. Of land taxable. Land for 2 ploughs. A church and a priest and 4 smallholders have 1 plough. Woodland pasture 1/2 league long and 1/2 wide. Clipstone (Clipestune) was land owned by Roger de Busli as was Cuckney (Chuchenai). Linby (Lidebi) belonged to William Peverel. Mansfield (Mamesfeld/Memmesfed was King’s land with, mill, fishery, 2 churches.
Nottinghamshire was originally included in the diocese and province of York up until 1836 and we see Blidworth (Blidworde) a village in Sherwood Forest, described as owned by the Archbishop of York before and after 1066. Oxton (Ostone/tune) was also land held by the Archbishop of York and the under tenant was Roger de Busli. Papplewick (Papleuuic) was held by William Peverel and Thoresby (Turesbi) was King’s land.
Sherwood Forest is first mentioned 68 years after the Domesday survey when it was controlled for the king by Peverel’s grandson (also called William). But this sandy infertile part of Nottinghamshire was probably afforested by William the Conquror, or his immediate successors, at a far earlier date.
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007