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What was Harold Godwinson, King of England's, connection with Hereford?

Harold had been Earl of Hereford and had held large tracts of land in the county. The best way to find out how much land he had held is to look at theDomesday Book for Herefordshire (Domesday Book 17, Herefordshire, edited by Frank and Caroline Thorn, published by Phillimore, 1983). The Domesday Book was a survey taken by King William's officials in 1085-6 to gather information on who owned what property. This document tells us who held land before the conquest and who then held it after 1066, and how much it was worth.

After King Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, King William, the new king, distributed Harold's lands. The Domesday Book tells us who the owner was in 1085-6.

William was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy - to this day some Normans still call him William the Bastard - and although his father made his knights swear to uphold William's right to succeed him as the next ruler of Normandy, when the Duke died some of the barons rebelled and tried to murder the young William. On one such occasion, a knight called Osbern died by having his throat slit whilst trying to defend the boy. It is interesting to note that after the conquest of England, William put his friend William fitz Osbern (fitz means "son of") in charge of Hereford and much of the border area. Osbern would have been pleased that his loyalty and bravery were eventually rewarded. In fact it was William fitz Osbern who, as Earl of Hereford, re-built Hereford Castle. [If you want to read more about this Norman knight, see "William fitz Osbern and the Norman settlement in Herefordshire" by David Walker, inTransactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Volume XXXIX, 1969.]

Many landless knights fought for William at the Battle of Hastings and were rewarded by him with land. Many Saxons lost their land and their homes. William was a shrewd man. So that an individual knight did not get too powerful, the parcels of land granted to him were often spread out all over the country. That is one of the reasons important families often had estates in different counties.

After 1066 there was a lot of destruction because many Saxon nobles rebelled against King William. The Normans used great force to keep the land under their control and often destroyed the farms and manors which had belonged to the rebellious Saxon nobles. This is why many farms were not worth as much just after the conquest as they were beforehand. In Herefordshire there is the additional problem of recurrent attacks by the Welsh.

Here is what the Domesday Book tells us about some of the land previously held by King Harold in Herefordshire:

"Harold also held Chickward. 1 hide and 3 virgates of land, waste... In Huntington 3 hides... In Rushock 4 hides. Earl Harold held these lands. Now the King has them; they are waste."  (Frank and Caroline Thorn (eds.), Domesday Book 17, Herefordshire, 1,69, Phillimore, 1983)

Here is another Domesday Book example of a manor previously held by Harold:

"(Much) Marcle. Earl Harold held it. 17 hides which pay tax. ...

"In lordship 4 ploughs;

"36 villagers and 10 smallholders with 40 ploughs. These villagers plough and sow with their own seed 80 acres of wheat and as many of oats, except for 9 acres: 6 of these belong to William son of Baderon, 3 to St. Mary's of Cormeilles.

"In this manor is a reeve, 1 Frenchman and 1 riding man; they have 3 ploughs. 8 slaves, 1 ploughman and 6 female slaves.

"A mill which pays nothing, except sustenance for its keeper.

"Woodland which pays 5s which are given to Droitwich for 60 measures of salt ...

"... 1 hide of this manor is at Turlestane; before 1066 it paid 50 lumps of iron and 6 salmon ...

"Value before 1066 £30; value now as much." (Domesday Book 17, Herefordshire, 1,7)

This is obviously a much richer manor which managed to retain its value. Taxes during this period were usually paid in money, however there were a number of Welsh communities settled in the southern and western part of the county and these were usually governed by their own traditions. With regard to taxes, for example, they often paid in kind, that means they paid with things they made or grew.

Manors were more or less self-contained, meaning that they managed to feed, house and clothe the villagers with items grown or made locally.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002]