Monday, 5 December 2011

the Saxons of Sherwood Forest

The oldest documented mention of 'Sherwood Forest' comes from a charter dating from 958AD granting Scrooby and Sutton cum Lound in north Nottinghamshire from the Crown to the Archbishop of York.

This charter lists a 'Scirwuda' (Shire Wood) as a boundary mark of the land granted to the Archbishop.

This reference is often used to suggest that there was a common wood of the shire in the 10th century in Nottinghamshire that belonged to the people and was shared by them.

The story then goes that the evil Normans came along and took the shared forest away, for the exclusive use of the king.

As nice as this idea is, there is no clear reference to a forest, or any such shared wood of the shire in Nottinghamshire before the conquest of 1066.

Plus it is not possible to tie the 10th century Scirwuda in the north of the county, with the Royal Hunting Forest that bore the name Sherwood from the late 12th century onwards.

The northern boundaries of Sherwood Forest lay 10 miles south of the location of the wood called Scirwuda.

So although we cannot directly date Sherwood Forest back to pre-conquest times it is possible to learn something of the people of the Sherwood Forest area at the time of the Norman Conquest and before.

One possibility is that the Forest boundary recorded in the 13th century was a reflection of the original forest boundary (see Castles and Sherwood Forest entry for more details).

It is likely that the forest was created in the years following the Norman conquest, around 1066.

So who were the people who lived in the area that was- or was to become Sherwood Forest, in the years around the Norman conquest?

Sadly we cannot know the names of the simple farmers and workers of the land- but the names of some of the landowners from the time of the conquest are recorded in the Domesday book for Nottinghamshire.

They are the names of the local ruling elite who would suffer by losing their lands in the change of power that came with the Norman Conquest.

Most of the landowners listed lost their posessions to the incoming Normans by the time that Domesday Book was written in 1086.

The following is a list of the towns and villages of the Forest, and the names of the original 'Saxon' landowners where they get a mention:

Nottingham: Earl Tosti (brother of Harold Godwinson who was King of England until the Battle of Hastings) owned land and buildings in the town. 

Hugh son of Baldric was its sheriff.

In 1066 King Edward the Confessor held Manors and jurisdiction over land including: Mansfield, Arnold, Sneinton, Warsop, Budby and Edwinstowe,

The other listed landlords are as follows:

Annesley: Leofnoth,

Basford: Alwin, Aswulf, Alfeah, Aelfric and Algot,

Blidworth: the Archbishop of York (Ealdred),

Bulcote: Young Swein,

Bulwell: Aelmer and Godric,

Burton Joyce: Swein,

Calverton: Aelfric,

Caythorpe (Alwoldestorp): Athelstan,

Clipstone: Osbern and Wulfsi,

Clumber: Aethwold and Ulfkell,

Colwick: Godric, Aelfric and Bugg,

Gedling: Toki and Dunstan,

Gunthorpe: Morcar, 

Lambley: Ulfketel,

Lenton: Wulfnoth,

Ollerton: Alfwold and Wada,

Pappplewick: Aelfric, Alfsi and Alric,

Perlethorpe: Thurstan and Wulfmer,

Radford: Aelfric, 

Rufford: Ulf,

Stoke Bardolph: Toki,

Warsop: Godric, Leofgeat and Ulfkell,

Woodborough: Ulfkell, Aelfric, Wulfgeat, Wulfric and Alfsi,

(Ref: all names compiled from Morris 1977)

These names sound ancient and archaic (but also poetic and beautiful) to us now.

That is compounded by the fact that the names that replaced them at the Norman Conquest are so much more familliar to us.

Henry, John, Richard, William, Stephen, were all names of the Norman and Angevin kings who ruled between them from 1066 to 1272. 

All these names were French.

Edward I, crowned in 1272 was the first English King since 1066 to carry an English name.

In Nottinghamshire these name would be replaced powerful Norman landowners including a Roger or two, an Alan, a William, a Walter, three Ralphs, and a handful of Gilberts, to name a but a few...

Although we can't know the characters or the actions of these English rulers- dispossed by the conquest, their names and the names that replaced them do indicate the dramatic cultural shift that took place with the Norman Conquest- at the level of the local ruling class as well as at the top of society.

This change of authority and culture had a great impact on English Society as a whole.

Locally it would bring with it the Laws of the Forest that would have a huge impact on the landscape and the people of this area. 

The area that would become Medieval Sherwood Forest.

(More on the Normans of Sherwood Forest, and more on the earlier Saxons of Sherwood Forest (the names behind the place names), coming soon).

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