Liveblogging the Norman Conquest: October 25, 1066: Crossing the Thamaes


K.S.B. Keats-Rohan: The Genesis of the Honour of Wallingford:

From a twelfth-century perspective, the honour of Wallingford appears to be a typical Norman institution. However, a re-examination of its constituent parts indicates that through marriage it was largely derived from the lands of Wigod of Wallingford and his family. Wigod appears to have been one of Edward the Confessor’s stallers and the estates that he held were what was effectively a pre-conquest ‘castlery’ with origins in a period before the formation of the county of Berkshire. Throughout its history the honour was to remain under the tight control of the crown, reflecting its strategic role in the defence of the middle Thames valley.

On 14 October 1066 an army led by William of Normandy defeated the English in battle and killed their king, Harold II son of Earl Godwine of Wessex, and thereby changed the course of English history. It was not, however, a decisive victory. There was no immediate offer of the crown to William: indeed, Edgar the Ætheling, a kinsman of Harold’s predecessor Edward the Confessor, rejected as Edward’s heir in January 1066 on account of youth and inexperience, now attracted a band of supporters in London who appear to have elected him king (ASC, 143; Gesta Willelmi, 146).

Unable to take London directly from the south, William set fire to Southwark, at the foot of London Bridge, and then moved westwards along the left bank of the Thames, aiming to create an arc of terror culminating with a descent on London from the north. To achieve this he had first to cross the Thames.

Like the Danes of 1013 (ASC, 143–4) he crossed at the key strategic ford at Wallingford where he received the submission of the controversial Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury (Gesta Willelmi, 146), moving on to Berkhamstead where, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Archbishop Ealdræd of York, accompanied by Edgar, offered the surrender of the country to him (ASC, 144). The Chronicle does not mention the crossing at Wallingford because the final surrender took place elsewhere, but it is mentioned by the Norman chroniclers who understood that the river crossing was a key event.

None of these sources mentions Wigod of Wallingford, who appears as such only in the folios of Domesday Book, written over 20 years later, when Wigod and his son Toki were dead. References to Wigod in Domesday Book, discussed below, suggest that he survived 1066 in the service of the Norman king. It also shows a clear link between him and the manors that constituted the honour of Wallingford after 1066. These holdings form the starting point for a discussion of the honour’s formation.

Let us start with a brief reminder of why Wallingford was important (Figure 6.1). Lying on the river terrace, protected by a hinterland of well-watered higher ground and surrounded by fertile agricultural land, it was an ideal settlement area, well placed for the eventual development of a town. In 1066 Wallingford was the last place upstream at which the Thames was fordable without bridge or boat. It was a significant crossing point on a major waterway which had been exploited by the Saxons during the migration period in the 5th and 6th centuries, and subsequently devel- oped for both defensive and economic purposes...